US State Department Deeply Concerned About Turkish Military Activity In Syria
SYRIA - The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that they are "deeply concerned" about increasing tensions in Northeastern Syria regarding a suspected Turkish drone attack that killed four teenage girls and injured 11 other people who were playing volleyball at a girl's center in Hasakah, Syria.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said that "they remain deeply concerned about the destabilizing impact military activity has had on the region, including our efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS".
"We urge all parties to de-escalate, maintain, and respect ceasefire zones, and to work towards a political solution to the conflict," Price continued, and said that ISIS is still active and remains a threat.
The General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi said on Sunday that areas in Syria occupied by Turkey have become a safe haven for Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cells, and said that the terrorist group is waiting for the right time to carry out their attacks.
"We will not be able to fight on two fronts at the same time. We will naturally focus on one. Our focus will be on the northern front to protect the area against Turkish attacks, and our operations against ISIS cells will likely decline,” he stated.
U.S. State Department Press Briefing - August 18th, 2022
MR PRICE:: Good afternoon. Quite a crowd we have today.
MR PRICE:: Good to see so many people. I have one element at the top and then I’ll turn to your questions. The United States remains deeply concerned about Russia’s military takeover and continued control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency must be given access to ZNPP as soon as possible and in a manner that respects Ukraine’s full sovereignty, to help ensure the safety and security of the plant and monitoring of its nuclear material.
Brutality has been a hallmark of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The United States is aware of reports that Russian personnel have abused and coerced members of the ZNPP staff. We applaud the Ukrainian authorities and operators for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most trying of circumstances. The United States condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s reckless disregard for nuclear safety and security. Along with our allies and partners, we call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, and to return full control of the ZNPP to Ukraine.
We continue to support the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency to fulfill its safeguards mandate, and to assist Ukraine with nuclear safety and security measures across its nuclear facilities.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Oh, that was brief —
MR PRICE:: Breezy? Yes.
QUESTION: — briefer than I thought – well, I wouldn’t say breezy, but briefer than I thought it would be. Okay, thanks for that.
Can we start with Israel?
MR PRICE:: Sure.
QUESTION: You have seen, no doubt, reports about the raid that – raids that were conducted on these NGOs and the closure of the offices. And I’m wondering what, if anything, you guys have to – you guys have to say about it, and what, if anything, you have to say about the review of the material that the Israelis gave to you last year about them being terrorist organizations.
MR PRICE:: Sure. We’re concerns – we are concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today. We have reached out to the Israeli Governments at – including at senior levels, including here from Washington as well as from our embassy in Jerusalem, for more information regarding the basis for these closures. And we’ll will continue to seek additional information and to convey our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners. Our Israeli partners, in turn, have assured us that more information will be forthcoming regarding the basis for their actions. We of course, have assured them that we will review that information on a timely basis and very carefully as well.
We have, in the course of recent events but also in recent months and beyond, made clear to our Israeli Government partners – and to the Palestinian Authority as well – the fact that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel must be able to continue their important work. Civil society is a thriving – is an integral element to thriving democracies the world over, and of course that applies here.
To your specific question about our review of the material that has been provided to us to date from our Israeli partners, what I can say is that we have provided that information to our partners within the U.S. Government. There are various departments and agencies who have taken a look at this material.
What I can also say is that when it comes to reviewing information, whether that’s intelligence information, whether that’s open-source information, we’re always reviewing new material, which is why we’ve conveyed directly to the Israelis that any new information they provide, including the information that have pledged to provide regarding the basis for today’s action, that would be something that we would review carefully, thoroughly, and immediately.
As I think you know, Matt, the – through the course of our review of this information, we have not changed our position on or approach to these particular organizations. I should note that we designated the PFLP as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 – several decades ago. It is also a specially designated global terrorist group. It remains designated today. We have never funded any of these organizations, but again, we have not seen anything that has caused us to change our approach to or position on these organizations.
QUESTION: Okay. So, does that mean that based on what you know now pending the arrival of this new information that the Israelis say that they’re going to give you, you do not see any basis for the raids and the closures that took place today?
MR PRICE:: Again, we have been promised additional information regarding —
QUESTION: But I’m not asking about what you might learn in the future because that’s a hypothetical. I’m asking you about what you know now, and based on what you know now, were these – was this action legitimate?
MR PRICE:: We have conveyed the message that there must be a very high bar to take action against civil society organizations. Our Israeli partners in turn have conveyed back to us that they have met that high bar.
MR PRICE:: That is why —
MR PRICE:: That is why we are going to carefully review the information that they have pledged to provide. We will form a conclusion, on the basis of that information. We don’t have that information yet. In the interim – in the interim – to your question – that is why we voiced our concern. We have voiced our concern publicly. We have also voiced our concern directly and privately to our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: Okay. But you got information about these groups from the Israelis a year ago, and you still haven’t made a conclusion. So, I’m sorry, it’s just a little hard to believe —
MR PRICE:: Well —
QUESTION: — that all of a sudden new information is going to arrive, and you’re going to make it – when you haven’t made one in a year on the previous information, that you’re going to be able to say something – or will say something anytime soon about this.
MR PRICE:: So, Matt, a couple things. As I mentioned a moment ago —
QUESTION: It stays at a – it’s in a perpetual state of limbo.
MR PRICE:: Well, as I mentioned a moment ago, Matt, the – we have seen nothing in recent months that has caused us to change our approach to or position on these particular organizations.
QUESTION: Okay. But that —
MR PRICE:: But the other point is that when it comes to these matters, we are always reviewing new information – new information that is in our possession, new information that our partners provide to us. That will certainly be the case with the information that our Israeli partners —
QUESTION: I get that, but —
MR PRICE:: — have pledged to provide in this case.
QUESTION: But – okay. I guess this is kind of a futile line of inquiry. Let me just go —
QUESTION: Can I follow up on —
QUESTION: I mean, I don’t want to belabor the issue or even beat the dead horse, because you guys received that information – as Matt said – on the 26th of October last year. It’s been a long, long time.
MR PRICE:: So, Said, let me clarify.
QUESTION: No – just – wait a minute, just let me follow through on my question, okay? The – and you keep saying that the Israeli Government or the Israeli authorities met the bar – met the bar. Okay. Have they met the bar?
MR PRICE:: Said, what I said was our Israeli partners have conveyed to us their opinion that they have met that bar. As I said, we do not have the information yet in our possession that they have pledged to provide us. As soon as we receive that, we will begin reviewing it. We’ll review it – we’ll review it thoroughly. We’ll review it carefully. I imagine we’ll also provide it to other departments and agencies who have a stake in this. To your first point, our Israeli partners did provide us with information last year, but I do want to clarify to underscore that what has been promised to us today is additional information – information regarding the basis for their actions over the past 24 hours. So, we will of course review that carefully just as we have carefully reviewed the information they provided to us last year.
QUESTION: Okay. And your – Israel’s record is clear in meeting this bar and being really truthful of what they say in their accusations, right? We have always had – we can look and review this record and find that Israel was always right in its assessment and so on, or its accusation, as far as you’re concerned, right?
MR PRICE:: I am not going to be categorical about anything like that, Said. What I will say – what I will be categorical about is the fact that we will review what is provided to us, and come to our own conclusion.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you keep saying —
QUESTION: Well, what was the conclusion that you came to, based on the previous information that was given to you last year? Is there —
MR PRICE:: Matt, I’ve said this now a couple times. We haven’t changed our position on those organizations.
QUESTION: But that’s – but what was your conclusion about the information that they – did you – do you agree with them that these groups are terrorist organizations or connected to terrorist organizations?
MR PRICE:: What happened last year is the Israeli Government designated these organizations.
QUESTION: I know; I remember it very well.
MR PRICE:: We have not – we have not followed through with any designations, nor have we changed our approach to these designations.
QUESTION: Okay, so that – okay, so then why can’t you just come out and say that you don’t accept the Israeli allegations —
MR PRICE:: We are going to continue —
QUESTION: — (inaudible) the previous one.
MR PRICE:: We are going to continue to review any information that’s provided to us.
QUESTION: Well, have you gotten anything since – since October of last year and today?
MR PRICE:: We’ve been promised information today.
QUESTION: Yes, but have you gotten anything since October and today that would make you – apparently not.
MR PRICE:: As I just said, we have not changed our position on these organizations.
QUESTION: Okay. So, you don’t believe the Israelis’ information?
MR PRICE:: This is information – intelligence information is always information that is the subject of analysis, and different parties can read information differently, can perceive of threats differently. Our own analysis heretofore of the information that was provided last year has not caused us to change our approach to these organizations.
QUESTION: I was just wondering – you express you concern, but you don’t go as far as to condemn it. If that had been any other country, you would probably condemn the raids against civil society NGOs. So could you express why you’re using that language of concern and not condemning the situation?
MR PRICE:: Well, I think the fact is that our Israeli partners, as I mentioned a moment ago, they took an action last year to designate these organizations as so-called terrorist organizations. What we’ve seen publicly, what they have conveyed so far privately in recent hours, is that there is an appropriate basis for the actions that they have taken. It will be a matter of urgency for us to review the basis for that information. We have not received it yet. It was pledged just today. As soon as we do receive it, we’ll begin reviewing that.
QUESTION: When do you expect to receive it? Do – did you give the Israelis a deadline? When do you expect to receive it and come up with – and conclude what the substance of these accusations?
MR PRICE:: These conversations have taken place just within recent hours, so —
QUESTION: Okay, just let me follow up on – just a little bit on this. You keep saying that you have designated the PFLP as a terrorist organization a very long, long time ago. Yet, the connections between these groups and the PFLP is almost nonexistent. It’s so flimsy that your partners, your European partner, dismissed this altogether. So why do you keep repeating this? Why do you keep saying as if: that’s what the Israelis say that these guys were somehow – nobody knows of the connection is, but somehow were connected with the PFLP. You have no evidence, right? You have no evidence that these organizations have had any kind of connection, whether military or non-military or otherwise, with the PFLP, do you?
MR PRICE:: Said, it is a fact when it comes to the PFLP that we designated it several decades ago in 1997.
MR PRICE:: I wasn’t implying any explicit connection or denying any explicit connection between these six organizations and the PFLP. What we are going to do is take a very close look at any additional information that is provided to determine the nature of any links between – whether it’s the PFLP or any other organization we consider to be an FTO or an SDGT to these six organizations that Israel took action against today.
QUESTION: Israel —
QUESTION: Can I just ask you what is – what is your sense? I mean, you said you’re going to look at this with a sense of urgency, so another year before you – before you even deign to —
MR PRICE:: Matt, I —
QUESTION: I mean, I don’t get it because you have – you’ve had this information about these groups for a year. You can either reject it, which it sounds like you’re doing but you don’t want to say that you don’t believe it, presumably because it’s Israel, a partner, that provided the information in the first place. But if that’s – but if that information was also reviewed with a sense of urgency, your definition of urgency seems to be a bit lacking. So —
MR PRICE:: We began review of that information as soon as we received it. In the case of that information, what I can tell you is that we immediately provided it to a number of our partners throughout the interagency, other departments and agencies who have an equity in this, who have an interest in this, and who have the wherewithal to help us understand the information that our Israeli partners provided in this case.
Now, I don’t want to delve into a hypothetical because, again, we haven’t received the additional information that’s been provided today, but I would imagine that we, too, will share that information with other departments and agencies. So even as we begin reviewing it on an immediate, urgent basis, it is going to take some time for us to understand what I presume will be a complex set of issues and set of facts.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just – on a technical point?
MR PRICE:: Sure
QUESTION: You just said the information that’s been provided today. So, did they actually provide you information?
MR PRICE:: I’m sorry. The information that has been pledged today.
QUESTION: That they said that they would provide?
MR PRICE:: That is correct.
QUESTION: They said today they would provide to you, but they didn’t say when they would provide it?
MR PRICE:: That is correct.
QUESTION: All right. Relatedly, just – I’m sure that you may have – or I’m sure that you’ve seen these reports. Apparently, there – senior Israeli officials gave some kind of a background briefing in Israel to Israeli reporters in which they said that Prime Minister Lapid has sent a letter to President Biden saying that the Iranian response to the EU text is not acceptable and that you can’t —
I want to ask you about – I know that you’re not going to respond to unnamed officials, but the fact of the matter is that yesterday or the day before, you made a point of saying that countries that were not quote/un – were not “wild” about the JCPOA the first time around had changed their tune. And this seems to just fly in the face of that, unless I’m just completely misreading the stories that are coming out of Jerusalem.
MR PRICE:: I don’t know if you’re misreading stories, but I think you’re either mis-recollecting what I said or mis-portraying what I said, because I did not say that every single country has as a matter of government policy changed its tune on the Iran deal. That is not what I said and that would not be true.
QUESTION: You said that members – you said that countries that were not, quote – unquote “wild” about the nuclear deal in 2015 – and then you specifically mentioned countries in the GCC, so the Gulf Arab states, and then you mentioned members of the security establishment in Israel —
MR PRICE:: That is correct.
QUESTION: — had changed their tune.
MR PRICE:: That is correct.
QUESTION: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Government of Israel has not changed their tune.
MR PRICE:: But Matt, you just changed the subject of your sentence. You went from “members of the security establishment” to “the Government of Israel.” I am —
QUESTION: It was members of the security establishment in 2015. Members of the Israeli – some members of the Israeli security establishment in 2015 also were okay with the deal.
MR PRICE:: And the —
QUESTION: But the government, the elected government, was not.
MR PRICE:: And I have not said anything about the position of the elected government, current or then, to the Iran deal. Their position on the Iran deal is quite clear. It is something that we all know quite well, and something of which we are quite frequently reminded.
So of course, our Israeli partners have not changed their official position on the Iran deal. The point I was making, and the point that you at least portrayed accurately in one instance here, is that members of the security establishment, individual members of the security establishment, including some who were not, at least publicly, in favor of the Iran deal in 2014 and 2015, have voiced support for it now.
QUESTION: Follow up?
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, on the Iran issue – although I want to go back to the Palestinian issue at one point, but since we’re on Iran, you told our colleagues at Alhurra today that you made it clear for Iran – or to Iran – in the past that releasing Americans is a priority. Does that mean that any signing of the deal is contingent upon the release of Americans beforehand?
MR PRICE:: It means that our approach to the Americans who are detained unjustly, wrongfully, by the Iranian regime – our approach has not changed. The priority that we attach to their return, as a matter of urgency, has not changed. We have conveyed quite clearly to the Iranian regime over the course of 18 months now the priority we attach to this as a foreign policy goal of this administration.
QUESTION: Okay. So but we still – I still don’t understand. You’re saying that – is it contingent upon their release? I mean are they connected, or are they one issue?
MR PRICE:: We’ve —
QUESTION: Because I know that when Iran, let’s say, asked for something, you said you reject any extraneous demands and so on. Could this be like an extraneous demand that is not really at the crux of the Iran deal itself?
MR PRICE:: These are two separate issues, and we’ve been very clear that we have sought to maintain these as two separate issues, precisely because the Iran deal has always been a very uncertain, at times quite dubious, proposition. It has always been a priority of ours to see these Americans, these dual nationals, released. We want that to be a certainty. So, from our perspective, we have very intentionally not tied the fates of these Americans to what has always been an uncertain proposition.
Anything else on the region before we move on? Gitte? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. Following up on what Matt asked about the Israeli issue, Axios has actually mentioned that it was the Israeli prime minister who sent a message to the White House saying that the – what they’re working on, the text that they’re working on, goes beyond the redlines of the Biden administration, and that it should walk away. And we know next week the Israeli national security advisor is coming to Washington. Is – and of course, they’ve also mentioned again that they don’t have to abide by the deal if it happens. Will the – if the deal happens, would that – apparently not, but would the Biden administration be able to convince the Israelis not to take any action because it is being – the nuclear program is being controlled by this agreement?
MR PRICE:: Well, to Matt’s question, to Said’s question, it is no question that we have tactical differences with our Israeli partners when it comes to this question, the JCPOA. There is also no question that when it comes to the strategic objective, the overarching objective, we see entirely eye to eye. We are aligned. We are aligned in the firm belief that Iran must never be allowed to acquire or possess a nuclear weapon. We happen to believe that diplomacy, through the – centered around a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the most effective means by which to accomplish that, the most effective means by which to once again see to it that Iran is subject to permanent and verifiable limits on its nuclear program as well as to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated.
If we are able to effect a mutual return to compliance with the Iran deal, Iran will not be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon. It is not for me to speak to Israel’s foreign policy, but we have heard from our Israeli partners; and when we’ve been together this message has been echoed by both of our principals. We see eye to eye on this overarching priority of ensuring that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: It seems like today there was indirect communication between Tehran and Washington. The Iranian foreign minister called the Omani counterpart, and then the Omani foreign minister apparently called Special Envoy Malley. The topic, according to the Omani foreign ministry, was the implementation or the nuclear agreement. Can you add anything else to us – for us? Has there been progress towards giving an answer to Iran’s answer to the EU text?
MR PRICE:: So, what I can say on that front is that our review of Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposal continues. We have continued to convey our feedback directly and privately to the EU, as has been requested.
When it comes to Oman, I don’t have any calls to confirm or to read out, but what I can say is that Oman has played an important role – an important role when it comes to discussions regarding a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and has also played an important role when it comes to our efforts to see those Americans who are unjustly and wrongfully detained in Iran – to see them free. We thank Oman for that role it’s played.
Yeah, anything else on the region?
QUESTION: Ukraine, Russia?
QUESTION: Yeah – Ned, yeah.
MR PRICE:: Yes, in the – Michel.
QUESTION: When do you expect the review to finish?
MR PRICE:: Again, we have been conveying our feedback directly and privately to the EU. We’re not going to negotiate in public. We’ll do, as requested, with and through the EU.
QUESTION: This week, next week?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) because the Iranians – or somebody said (inaudible) that the Iranians actually placed a deadline that apparently passed last night, on Wednesday. There is no such deadline?
MR PRICE:: We will leave it to the EU to speak to the parameters of —
QUESTION: So there is no deadline? The Iranians placed no deadline on their response?
MR PRICE:: The – we will leave it to the EU to speak to the parameters they’ve requested. Anything else on the region?
QUESTION: Follow-up on two of the points we’ve – you’ve been discussing. Number one, regarding the Iran deal, in that article that my colleague over here mentioned, there was a report that Prime Minister Lapid had conveyed to Ambassador Nides that he’s concerned that the U.S. is not fully aware of the concessions that were proposed within the EU framework that was proposed. Did the U.S. see a full copy of the framework the EU was proposing before it was sent to the Iranians?
And then on the issue of the NGOs in Israel, what is the bar that – for the U.S. to be able to say – what evidence would it have to see to be able to sort of agree with the Israelis’ allegation that these NGOs were front groups for terrorism?
MR PRICE:: So, on your first question, this – part of that goes back to what has been the case for several months. And the EU proposal that the high representative put on the table several weeks ago now was substantially based on the draft agreement that had been rather painstakingly negotiated between the parties, of course with our indirect communication with Iran, but directly through our European allies and others, that had been essentially agreed-upon since March. And so the EU proposal, as we’ve said, was substantially based on that March proposal.
Of course, when the high representative tabled what he has put forward as the best and final offer, we studied that proposal very carefully. We have conveyed, as I said just a moment ago, our feedback directly and privately to the EU on that initial draft, and in turn on the Iranian comments on that proposal. But again, that initial EU proposal was based substantially on the agreement that has been on the table since March and that Iran has been in a position to accept since March, if it had the political will to do so.
When it comes to your question on Israel, look, I’m just not going to entertain a hypothetical. There is no question regarding the terrorist threat that Israel faces. We’ve all been reminded of that, tragically and vividly, to include in recent days. Israel cites security concerns; Israel cites terrorist threats. We will be looking to the information that they provide to us as we form our own judgment regarding these organizations and recent actions.
Anything else on the region?
MR PRICE:: Syria. Okay.
QUESTION: I’ve recently been in northeast Syria, so I just wanted to pick your brains about a few things there. On the 20th of January, ISIS carried out, as you know, its biggest attack since it lost all of its territory when it tried to break out thousands of its members from a prison in northeast Syria. And as you also know, hundreds of people were killed in the battle. On the 22nd of January you said that ISIS had been planning this attack for a year. If you knew that ISIS had been planning to attack that prison for so long, why were thousands of men, some of them allegedly the most dangerous in the region of the world, kept in – why were so many men kept in a makeshift prison that was once a school, where it was overcrowded and clearly a security risk?
And just a follow-up from that as well. We know that there were hundreds of children that were being held in that prison, and we know that some of them were killed. Yet nobody seems to have any figures; no one seems to be able to tell us how many of those children were killed. Do you know how many children were killed? And why did the United States, which leads the coalition, sanction children being indefinitely held in a prison that has been described by human rights organizations as Guantanamo on steroids?
MR PRICE:: So, there are a lot of premises and suppositions in your question, several of which are just not supported by the facts. When it comes to the region you’re talking about, the – it is not exactly a permissive security environment. Of course, there are a number of threats, not the least of which is the threat that’s posed by ISIS, the threat that manifested itself in the ISIS attack on that prison. Of course, no country has done more than the United States working with the dozens – some 70 countries who are now part of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS that the United States started to put together in 2014, and we’ve continued in the nearly decade since to amass this coalition and to maintain it.
Through that coalition, we’ve been able to make significant progress against ISIS, against its so-called territorial caliphate, including in parts of Iraq, more recently parts of Syria. We’ve been able to shrink the size of the territory that ISIS controls substantially by some 90 percent by some estimates. So, the idea that the United States or any member of the counter-ISIS coalition has given license to ISIS to conduct any attack or to undertake or take part in any activity, that is just belied by the facts. And —
MR PRICE:: Again, this is not exactly a permissive security environment. This is not U.S. soil. American troops are in Syria in small numbers as part of the counter-ISIS mission – again, as part of our collective efforts, but efforts in which the United States is still engaged, to maintain that pressure against ISIS – pressure that has prevented a number of ISIS attacks, pressure that has precluded the group’s ability to at least some extent to project power, to project attacks beyond the territory it controls. But this is a group that, as this attack illustrates, still continues to pose a threat. It is why —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) report stated that this prison was a security risk. When I was there in 2020 and in reports previously, the SDF warned over and over again that they couldn’t handle it, that security was an issue and that there potentially could be a prison break. There was an attempted prison break in 2021 as well that was foiled before it happened, and we know that there were – was opportunity to move them into a new facility that was funded by the Brits. But it seems as though – that you didn’t have your foot on the gas.
MR PRICE:: So, by your own admission you have said the SDF, which are our partners on the ground, an important partner in the counter-ISIS coalition. If the SDF has said that the security situation was precarious, if the SDF, the local partner, is not in a position to take action, the United States as a country is going to have an exceedingly difficult time to do that. Again, we would like to be in a position to fully neutralize ISIS, and to do everything we can to starve it of its resources, to fully wrest any remaining territory that the group holds; but we are always going to be challenged by the operating domain, by the terrain that in this case is quite dangerous.
QUESTION: What specifically was the reason why the prisoners were not transferred to a more secure facility? They were transferred pretty quickly after the attack. Why was that delayed?
MR PRICE:: Again, I can’t speak to the specifics of this. But much of it owes to the precarious security situation on the ground. This is a region of the world where ISIS is quite obviously active, a region of the world that is under threat from multiple directions. So, we may not have full freedom of movement, certainly the ability to do everything that we would like. That’s including why we are in many cases dependent on our partners on the ground, including the SDF.
QUESTION: So, on the children – what about the children? Do you know how many were killed in that attack?
MR PRICE:: Again, I don’t have these details at my fingertips.
QUESTION: But why do you not have that information? I mean, it’s a pretty big deal, isn’t it, to have hundreds of children who were kept in a detention facility in one of the most dangerous prisons in the world.
MR PRICE:: You’re asking me a very specific question about something that happened eight months ago. I – I’m sorry I don’t have that specific detail at my fingertips, but if we can provide it, we will.
QUESTION: On the same issue, there was apparently an incursion by Turkish forces into northern Syria. They killed 17 – I guess three Syrian soldiers and maybe 12 or 14 SDF members, and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Is that the beginning of the much talked about entry into Syria and occupation of the northern part?
MR PRICE:: I’m not aware that we’ve seen any indication that this is the prelude to a broader offensive, but what I can say is that we remain deeply concerned about the destabilizing impact military activity has had on the region, including our efforts to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. We urge all parties to de-escalate, maintain, and respect ceasefire zones, and to work towards a political solution to the conflict.
Anything – okay.
QUESTION: Yes, Russia?
MR PRICE:: Russia? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, Russia, China, and North Korea. The Chinese ministry of defense announced that the People’s Liberation Army of China is participating in the eastern army exercise in Russia. They also – they’re reported that North Korea and China will conduct its own military exercise – I mean technical exercises. These three countries are ignoring U.S diplomatic efforts and are having strong military ties. In this regard, what kind of readiness do U.S. and ROK, Japan, our allies have?
MR PRICE:: What kind of readiness?
MR PRICE:: So, on your first question, if I – if you’re referring to the exercises that are taking place in Russia, this is something that we discussed yesterday. These are exercises that involve a number of countries, not only the countries that you mentioned but a number of countries including some partners with whom we regularly conduct our own exercises. So as far as these broader exercises are concerned, we don’t read much into the specific participation of individual countries.
What I can say more broadly, however, is that there are a number of challenges to the security environment in the Indo-Pacific, including in North Asia. This is – there is perhaps no greater challenge to peace and security in the region – in that region than that posed by the DPRK. And in the face of the DPRK’s provocations, including its multiple ballistic missile launches, including its ICBM tests and launches in recent months, we have taken action with our treaty allies – Japan and the ROK – to ensure readiness, to ensure appropriate deterrence against the threat that we collectively face from the DPRK.
Now, again, our preferred approach is one of dialogue and diplomacy. We seek to take part in dialogue – direct dialogue with the DPRK – as a means by which to advance our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But in the absence of the DPRK’s willingness to do so, and in the presence of the DPRK’s continued provocations, including those provocations that create a very – a much more unstable environment. We’ll continue to coordinate closely with Japan, with the ROK, and to take appropriate steps when it comes to their security and our collective deterrence.
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. and ROK joint military exercise is necessary for extending the deterrence?
MR PRICE:: So, these exercises – and I will leave it largely to the DOD to speak to these exercises, but these exercises are purely defensive in nature. These exercises, as are all of our military exercises with the ROK and our allies and partners around the world, are intended to see to it that together we’re able to defend our collective interests, our shared interests, including from any potential threats or provocations from the DPRK. But these are purely defensive in nature.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE:: Thanks.
QUESTION: On Russia-Ukraine?
MR PRICE:: On Russia?
MR PRICE:: Sorry, what —
MR PRICE:: Okay. Let’s stay on Russia, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Okay, Russia-Ukraine. So there —
MR PRICE:: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a report that the Ukrainians believe that the Russia is laying groundwork for a false flag operation on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant tomorrow. Does the U.S. have any reason to believe that they are making plans for that?
MR PRICE:: I’m not in a position to speak to what Russia may or may not be planning, but these types of statements, including some of what we’ve heard from Russian officials, are cause for concern. They’re cause for concern because they fit squarely within the Russian playbook: accuse others of what it is you have done or what it is you intend to do. We have seen both before February 24th, before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also since that Russia has engaged in a number of false flag operations. And typically, what they have done – and what they have done over the years now going back for quite some time – is to level statements along these lines to accuse others of planning or conducting the types of operations that they have either undertaken or plan to undertake.
So again, it’s something we’re watching very closely when it comes to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. We – just at the top of this briefing – reiterated our desire to see IAEA access consistent with Ukraine’s sovereignty. And just today, we heard President Zelenskyy invite IAEA inspectors onto Ukrainian territory to be present at or near the nuclear power plant. And we reiterated our calls for a demilitarized zone in and around the ZNPP because Russia’s continued conduct of operations, its continued pursuit of military objectives in and around a nuclear power plant, that’s the height of irresponsibility.
QUESTION: But in the past you guys have been very explicit when you have information that would lead you to believe that Russia’s planning a false flag information. So are you changing your policy of revealing that information, or do you have less visibility on what Russia is planning?
MR PRICE:: We haven’t changed our policy, and what I can say – and you just alluded to – there have been a number of occasions where we have previewed our concerns regarding specific false flag operations. There have been times where we have had information in our possession regarding a potential false flag operation that, for whatever reason, we weren’t in a position to speak to publicly. So, I wouldn’t read much into our posture regarding any specific planning or potential planning, or lake thereof, but it is something just hearing that gives us concern.
QUESTION: And just one quick follow-up while we’re on Russia and nuclear issues. Is there any reason to believe that New START could be in jeopardy at this moment in time?
MR PRICE:: Again, we see the value of New START. It is as valuable to us today – in some ways even more so – than it has been in the course of its existence. We want to see the important parameters of New START continue to be implemented. As you heard from President Biden on the occasion of the start of the NPT Review Conference on August 1st, we are prepared, if Russia is willing to engage as a responsible nuclear power, to begin negotiating a new framework once New START expires in the coming years.
QUESTION: So – but you didn’t say if you believe it’s in jeopardy or not. Is it on solid ground right now? You feel good about the treaty?
MR PRICE:: Well, obviously there are two primary parties to New START – the United States, and Russia. Even during times of conflict, this conflict, we’ve been so far in a position to pursue the shared goals as spelled out under New START, the important goals, when it comes to transparency and arms reduction – again, goals, that are just as important now as they were when New START came into existence.
So, if it is up to us – and we are going to continue to do everything we can to bolster New START and to see its key provisions preserved.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions. The first question is the following: Today’s EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo again reached a stalemate. Can you give us a sense of where things stand from the U.S. perspective given that Mr. Escobar, official from the State Department, was in Brussels today? Can you tell us more? And then I have a follow-up.
MR PRICE:: Sure. Do you want to ask your follow-up, and I’ll take both?
MR PRICE:: (Laughter.) Okay, okay. So yes, you are correct that our – that Gabe Escobar, Deputy Assistant Secretary Escobar is in Brussels. He is there as an observer. He is not there as a participant, so we will let the participants to these discussions speak in detail to their progress. Our understanding is that talks are ongoing. We, in partnership with the EU, are watching very carefully. We encourage both sides to use the dialogue effectively, and we urge the parties to remain at the negotiating table.
As I said yesterday or the day before, we fully support this dialogue. We believe that it’s important that both parties use these talks effectively to advance their discussion on normalized relations centered on the premise of mutual recognition. We would like to see progress made on implementation of past dialogue agreements; and we believe that, as a broad principle, dialogue and compromise are critical components of governance, including in the case of Kosovo and Serbia. Far from seeing compromise as a symptom or a reflection of weakness, we believe that it is essential to reach an agreement on the normalization of relations, which remains fundamental to both countries’ aspirations for EU membership.
We’re hopeful that the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo understand the importance of moving forward, not backward, through this very EU-facilitated dialogue.
QUESTION: So, my follow-up question: I was told that American ambassador to the EU was – that he gave a message from someone from the White House to the EU during the talks today. So, can you confirm that? And if this is true, is this all the White House is doing, just sending letters through the EU? In other words, are you willing to get involved more directly in order to reach a solution there?
MR PRICE:: Well, there are a number of senior officials who are watching this very closely beyond the one senior official who is actually in Brussels physically observing these talks. I can assure you that this has high level of attention. Our ambassador to the EU, Ambassador Gitenstein, is one of the officials who is watching this very closely, but there are senior officials here who are doing so as well. I know that this is an issue that Secretary Blinken himself has spent quite a bit of his time personally invested in.
So, this is a priority across this enterprise, from our representatives in the field and back here at home.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Russia (inaudible) —
QUESTION: I have a follow-up on —
QUESTION: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: On Kosovo?
QUESTION: No, I was going to go back to Russia.
QUESTION: Oh, okay, sorry. Just to follow up on Kosovo.
MR PRICE:: Sure.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. be in a position or willing to pressure Pristina to delay the implementation of the measures on September 1st? It already happened once, they delayed it once, the visa restrictions and all that, and now it’s stated to go into force September 1st. Would the United States be in a position to suggest to Pristina to maybe delay that again for a second time?
MR PRICE:: Well, again, we believe that there needs to be a timely basis for these discussions. It’s why we’re pleased that these discussions started yesterday, are ongoing right now, because there are upcoming milestones that may have a bearing on the ability of these countries to carry this forward. We are going to remain engaged directly and privately with both our counterparts in Kosovo and in Serbia as well as through our observation of the EU-mediated talks, but we’ll leave the messages – any messages that we’re passing to our partners in Kosovo and Serbia in private diplomatic channels.
QUESTION: Just going back to Russia quickly, Russia’s defense ministry said today that three war planes equipped with hypersonic missiles have been relocated to its Kaliningrad region, according to Interfax. And Finland has also said, today, that two Russian fighter jets are suspected of violating Finnish airspace. How concerned is the State Department about these moves, and do you have any information about the potential violation of Finnish airspace?
MR PRICE:: I would leave it to our Finnish partners, soon to be Finnish allies, to speak to any violations of their airspace. I think it is fair to say that we have seen Russia act aggressively and irresponsibly across a number of domains, domains that go well beyond what they are doing to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
I’ve seen the announcements from the Russian Federation regarding the repositioning of their assets. They have – of course, portray this as a matter of prudent defense and deterrence. That, of course, is nonsense. Russia does not face a threat from NATO. Russia does not face a threat from Finland. Russia does not face a threat from any other country. It is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine that is the cause of the brutal suffering in Ukraine; of the death, destruction we’ve seen in Ukraine. It is also the cause of the concern we have more broadly and the measures that we have taken to enhance – for reasons that are very obvious the world over – our defense and deterrence, the defense and deterrence of our partners in Europe but also collectively of NATO.
Well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we pledged that we would do a few things if Russia went forward with its aggression. We pledged that we would provide unprecedented amounts of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. We have, of course, done that – some $10 billion to our Ukrainian partners in self-defense assets since the onset of Russia’s aggression on February 24th. We have imposed unprecedented costs on Russia in the form of sanctions, export controls, other measures to exact a price on those responsible for this war and to starve Russia’s war-making and war-fighting machine of the inputs that it needs. But we also said that we would enhance our own defense and deterrence and that we would take steps together with our NATO partners but also under our own national auspices and authorities to do just that.
QUESTION: Unless someone has something else on Russia, could I ask you about the Solomon Islands quickly?
MR PRICE:: Sure. Anything else on Russia? Nope? Okay.
QUESTION: The Solomon Islands are moving ahead with a plan to build Huawei mobile towers with a $100 million loan from Beijing. This comes just after Wendy Sherman was in the Solomon Islands. What’s your reaction to this, and was this part of Sherman’s conversations when she was there?
MR PRICE:: It’s always part of our conversations – the shared threats and challenges we have, including the threats and challenges that may be posed by technology, including telecom issues. These are regularly on the agenda. I’m not in a position to speak to her specific agenda, but these are conversations that we regularly have. It’s important with our partners the world over that we have confidence in the security and the integrity of networks. And of course, Huawei has a track record as a vendor that is not in a position to provide the appropriate assurances that either the United States or our partners should require when it comes to network security.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. I would like to ask visa appointment waiting times in Turkey. When we check the capital of Turkey, Ankara U.S. Embassy, it say emergency appointments only. And when we check consul in Istanbul, applicants need to wait more than a year. Is there any specific reason for that, why Turkish people have to wait too long?
MR PRICE:: Unfortunately, this is a challenge that we’ve faced around the world, and it’s a challenge that owes primarily to COVID and some of the COVID restrictions that have been in place and some of the lingering effects in places where those restrictions have only recently been lifted. I can assure you this has nothing explicitly to do with Turkey.
It’s a problem that – it’s a challenge that we are addressing in Turkey equally as we are around the world, understanding that these COVID restrictions and some of the limitations on our workforce have led to extended wait lines for various visa classes, and it’s something we’re addressing with urgency. I know there are countries around the world where we’ve been able to shrink that wait time significantly, in some cases in half or more. But we will not stop working on this challenge until we are back to the baseline before COVID.
QUESTION: Actually, when I check Istanbul, the visitor’s visa 368 days, and students visa more than 300, almost 400, and non-immigrant almost 150. And when I check the countries around Turkey, five days, only five days in Bosnia-Herzegovina for visitor’s visa, Greece seven days, and for Azerbaijan, visitor’s visa 60 days. When I look around Turkey, I can see they can get a visa easily. But in Turkey, are you short-staffed or do you have something more than COVID? Because when I checked, as you say, around the world, we are – have problem, but especially Turkey more problem than the other countries. When I told the number, what is your comment about it?
MR PRICE:: There are a number of factors that will go into visa wait times that – in any country around the world: size of the population, of course, Turkey is a larger population than all of those, or nearly all of the countries that you’ve mentioned; the size of our embassy community, specifically the size of our consular section; whether there are consulates in a given country. So, I can assure you this is not a challenge that is confined to Turkey. We are doing everything we can, both in Turkey, in surrounding countries, and around the world, to bring down these wait times, knowing that there are students, there are non-immigrant visa holders, there are diplomats, and others who are –
QUESTION: And businessmen also.
MR PRICE:: And businessmen and women, absolutely.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you – even the school is going to start.
MR PRICE:: Yeah.
QUESTION: The COVID. They had the pandemic at the college. They need some money. They need some students, unfortunately, and I got many phone calls about that. Even they cannot –
MR PRICE:: I can assure you, we do, too. But we – when it comes to students, we of course put a priority of students before the beginning of the school year. We often times do surge resources, knowing that students need to be in country. The fact that so many thousands upon thousands of students come to this country every year – it is one of our greatest advantages, the fact that students come from around the world, enrich our educational communities, enrich our country. We want to see that continue, and we want to see that continue at levels that are as high as can possibly be achieved.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE:: Yep.
QUESTION: On Taiwan.
MR PRICE:: Okay.
QUESTION: Yes. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink said the U.S. has conveyed to China in every conversation that it does not seek, will not provoke a crisis. But right after Speaker Pelosi’s visit, we’ve seen a group of lawmakers just visited Taiwan, and yesterday USTR just announced a new initiative on trade and investment. How can you convey – how can you convince China that the United States is not taking provocative actions?
MR PRICE:: There is absolutely nothing provocative about a lawmaker – a duly elected lawmaker of an independent and coequal branch of government – making a peaceful visit to Taiwan. Whether that is the speaker of the House, whether that is a member of the House or member of the Senate, there is nothing provocative or unprecedented about that whatsoever. Even in the past year alone, there have been a dozen or so congressional delegations that have visited Taiwan. The same is true of recent years. The same is true of the past 40 or so years.
We have been publicly and privately very clear. Our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent for decades and across administrations. We remain committed to our “one China” policy. It’s guided, as it always has been, by the Taiwan Relations Act, by the Three Joint Communiques, by the Six Assurances. We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. So you’ve heard from us before: we don’t support Taiwan independence. We expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means. We’ve conveyed this message very clearly, privately, to our PRC interlocutors. We regularly take the opportunity to convey it publicly, because we believe it is so important.
Now, the same, unfortunately, could not be true of the PRC. The aggressive maneuvers and military operations that we saw in the aftermath of the speaker’s visit was nothing more than a pretext for the PRC to continue taking aim at the cross-strait status quo that has been at the crux of peace and security and stability across the Taiwan Strait for some 40 years. We have seen the PRC, in recent years, grow increasingly aggressive in an effort to rewrite the rules, to rewrite the status quo, and to challenge what has been one of the central elements undergirding stability in the region.
QUESTION: But this is a very sensitive time of period. Are you saying those visits by speaker or by other lawmakers are help? Are they helpful to calm the situation down?
MR PRICE:: They are part of a demonstration for our support and for our unofficial relations with Taiwan and the people on Taiwan. It is nothing more, nothing less. It is entirely peaceful. It is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy. It is entirely precedented, given that these types of delegations have been taking place for decades now.
QUESTION: But talking about “one China” policy you have – keep emphasizing it, what have you done to honor this commitment?
MR PRICE:: What have we done to honor our “one China” policy?
MR PRICE:: Every element of our approach to Taiwan, to cross-strait issues, is centered on our “one China” policy. We have not done anything that runs contrary to our “one China” approach. We’ve been very clear about what that means, in terms of our support for Taiwan, in terms of our lack of support for Taiwan independence. We have been nothing but transparent, but clear and stable in both our actions and our words as well.
QUESTION: The status quo in the past 25 years was there’s no speakers visited Taiwan. And there were four speakers actually in the past 25 years who chose not to visit Taiwan. So, who is breaking the status quo here by having the speaker going to Taiwan?
MR PRICE:: At the center of the status quo is peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. There is nothing that runs counter to the status quo with a peaceful visit by an elected lawmaker from this country. There was nothing aggressive; there was nothing provocative, there was nothing unprecedented about Speaker Pelosi’s travel. Speaker Pelosi decided to undertake this travel on her own volition, but we fully support the right of an elected lawmaker of a coequal, independent branch of government to undertake what is nothing more than a peaceful visit to Taiwan.
QUESTION: Lastly —
MR PRICE:: Yes.
QUESTION: — what steps does the United States – will you take to resume the normal relationship with China? Or are we going to see this tit for tat for long periods of time in the future?
MR PRICE:: Well, the fact that you would portray this as evenhanded, as having a degree of equanimity, I think is not the case. Of course, it is China, the PRC, that is part of its response to Speaker Pelosi’s visit that unilaterally cut off contact, cut off cooperation in key areas, in areas that are important to us, but in areas that, in some ways more importantly, are important to the world.
Take climate change. The fact that the PRC – again, in the aftermath of what is a visit that is – that has a precedent, that was peaceful – would cut off communication and coordination regarding climate issues, that is not punishment for us; that is punishment for the world because as the two largest emitters, the United States and the PRC, we have a special obligation, we have a special responsibility to engage in climate talks, to engage in climate cooperation. We are not going to be in a position as a global community to keep emissions down to the level necessary to prevent, to forestall, global warming that would be irreversible should the United States and the PRC not be in a position to cooperate together.
The same could be true of other areas where the PRC has committed to cutting off cooperation, drugs, for example, the fentanyl challenge. It’s a challenge here, but of course it is a challenge around the world.
So, countries around the world want to see the United States and the PRC act responsibility, to work together where it is that we can and where our interests align. That is also what we seek to do. We’ve made very clear that there are discrete areas where we have overlapping interests with the PRC: climate, public health, nonproliferation, drugs and drug precursors, for example. All of those are areas where cooperation is in our interest, it is in the PRC’s interest, but it is also in the global interest. And it’s a real shame – and countries around the world feel this – when the PRC unilaterally cuts of contact, cuts off coordination in those or other key areas.
QUESTION: But the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, actually rejected your – what you just said on climate. He said China is going to keep its commitment on climate and the United States can’t represent the world. What’s your response to that?
MR PRICE:: The United States can represent —
QUESTION: Can’t represent the world on climate because China is going to keep its commitment to —
MR PRICE:: He said that we can represent the world?
QUESTION: You can’t.
MR PRICE:: Can’t. We don’t purport to represent the world. We purport to represent the world’s second-largest emitter. The PRC is the world’s first largest emitter. So of course it stands to reason that we have to work together, given that together the United States and PRC – and the PRC produce the lion’s share of global emissions. If we don’t work together, we are not going to be in a strong position to keep climate change – the threat, the specter of climate change – at bay.
QUESTION: Ned, a quick —
MR PATEL: Has anyone not asked a question? Yes, sir. Yes. Yeah, please. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, (inaudible).
MR PATEL: Great.
QUESTION: Thank you. So, President Yoon Suk-yeol said at a press conference on the hundredth day of his inauguration that the Korea-Japan relationship is important in global security in the future and, I quote, “In the process of solving the issue of forced labor, we’re looking for compensation without the issue of sovereignty conflict that Japan is concerned about.” What is the U.S.’s response to that?
MR PRICE:: There are – well, one, let me start with the importance of the trilateral relationship. There are a number of challenges, including first and foremost the threat posed by the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, that neither of our countries could effectively confront alone. We work very closely bilaterally with Japan on the DPRK. We work very closely bilaterally with the ROK on the threat posed by the DPRK. But we also recognize that the trilateral relationship and trilateral cooperation is indispensable if we are going to effectively confront this threat, because it is a collective threat that the DPRK poses to our alliance – the alliance that we have with the ROK, the alliance, we have Japan, but also to our collective trilateral interests.
We have had a number of occasions, including recently at the G20, to have high-level ministerial level engagements with our Japanese and South Korean counterparts. We’ve done so at the leaders’ level as well – the first time in several years that there has been a trilateral engagement at the leaders’ level with President Biden. Understand that there are historical differences and issues that are sensitive to both countries, and we encourage Japan and the ROK to continue that dialogue, to continue to address those difficult historical issues, so we can be most effective together when it comes to that trilateral coordination.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you said sanction will continue unless North Korea alter its fundamental approach. The South Korea Government, however, said it will seek to exempt U.S. sanctions from the beginning of the negotiation with North Korea through its Resources-Food Exchange Program. So, do you believe this level of sanction relief is possible or helpful for denuclearization of North Korea?
MR PRICE:: We believe that there are practical steps that can be taken that help advance that shared goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We don’t believe that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will take place in one fell swoop. We don’t think it will take place overnight. We think that it will be an incremental process where both sides will be in the position to take incremental steps that help move us along towards that collective goal.
The first step would need – would need to be for the DPRK to indicate some willingness to engage in dialogue and diplomacy. We’ve taken the precursor step many times; I’ll repeat it here today. We are prepared to engage with the DPRK in direct diplomacy. We believe that diplomacy, direct dialogue, presents the best means by which to accomplish our collective task of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; but we have not heard yet an affirmative response. Were the DPRK to accept the offer that they have heard from us, from our treaty allies in the region as well, that would be a welcome first step, and we could start the conversation from there about what those incremental steps would look like.
QUESTION: So fundamental changes. Do you think that showing their confidence of the denuclearization could be the fundamental change?
MR PRICE:: Excuse me. Could you repeat that?
QUESTION: Yeah, the showing. The North Korea showing their confidence of nuclearization, then you can consider it as a fundamental change?
MR PRICE:: I wouldn’t want to weigh in on hypothetical steps because we haven’t seen any of these steps. Were the DPRK to voice its support for the ultimate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that would be welcome. But again, the – it is incumbent on the DPRK to respond, and we hope to respond positively to the overtures that they’ve heard from us, they’ve heard from our treaty allies in the region.
A final —
QUESTION: Just one.
MR PRICE:: Okay.
QUESTION: Just one more.
MR PRICE:: Okay.
QUESTION: The Voice of America, citing a UN Security Council official, reported South Korea’s Resources-Food Exchange Program could violate sanctions against North Korea and also said it’s almost impossible to exempt sanctions. Does the U.S. Government have the similar view?
MR PRICE:: That – I’m sorry, that the ROK’s program towards what could violate sanctions?
QUESTION: Yeah. The South Korea seek to the Resources and Food Exchange Program, and it could be violate the sanctions. So do you believe that, or —
MR PRICE:: So, I can’t be categorical about this. I haven’t seen precisely what the UN official was referring to. But broadly speaking, our sanctions regimes – our sanctions regime and international sanctions regimes do exempt humanitarian assistance, including food.
QUESTION: Really quickly —
MR PRICE:: We’ll go here and here, and we’ll conclude.
QUESTION: Any updates on the talks between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime dispute?
MR PRICE:: Nothing that we’re prepared to announce today. I can tell you that – and as you know, Amos Hochstein was recently in the region. He’s continued from – upon returning from his travels to engage with the parties to build upon some of the progress that has recently been made to see a satisfactory resolution to this issue.
QUESTION: A very quick question. Today marks the 100th day since Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by the Israelis. And Secretary Blinken met with the family I think on the 27th of last month. And he talked about and he reasserted that there will be a thorough investigation and so on. Can you update us if anything has happened since – in the last three weeks?
MR PRICE:: There have been a number of conversations at various levels. Some have taken place here in Washington and some have taken place in Jerusalem, where that core message has been reiterated. We believe in the importance of accountability in this case. Ultimately, it is our goal to see to it that measures are put in place to prevent something this tragic, something this horrible from happening again. We – that was the message that Secretary Blinken conveyed to the family of Shireen Abu Akleh. It was the message that Secretary Blinken himself has conveyed to his interlocutors. It’s the message that Wendy Sherman, in her most recent discussion with Minister Barlev also conveyed directly as well.
QUESTION: Ned, a quick final question. Is there any U.S. analysis regarding North Korea’s cruise missile launch yesterday?
MR PRICE:: Again, I don’t have a specific reaction to that, but the broader point is that the DPRK has taken part in a slew of provocations – really at an unprecedented pace in recent months – provocations that have included ballistic missile launches, including intercontinental ballistic missile launches. These are cause for concern. They’re a threat to international peace and security. And we’ll take an appropriate response to see to it that we have appropriate defense and deterrence together with our allies in the region.
QUESTION: So. you – I mean, U.S. didn’t make an assessment (inaudible) —
MR PRICE:: There’s just no assessment that I’m prepared to share.
QUESTION: Thank you.
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