2:36 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: So let’s go ahead and get started. We do have some groundbreaking news to start us off. In his very first remarks as Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken laid out his vision for strengthening the State Department both in the near term and in the years to come. In those remarks, he acknowledged that we cannot do our job of advancing America’s interests, values, our commitment to democracy without a State Department that is truly representative of the American people, linking improved diversity and inclusion to the broader success of U.S. foreign policy.
Today Secretary Blinken announced the creation of a new chief diversity and inclusion officer position which will report directly to him. The CDIO, as it’s known, will align and advance DNI policies across the department, bring transparency to these initiatives, and hold senior leadership accountable on progress. Additionally, each of our bureaus will also designate an existing deputy assistant secretary to support that bureau’s own efforts and to serve on a newly created diversity and inclusion leadership council, bringing senior leaders together from across the State Department to achieve the goals laid out in the upcoming diversity and inclusion strategic plan.
Diversity and inclusion make us stronger, smarter, more creative, and more innovative. The work of building a State Department that truly represents the American people is just beginning, but today’s announcement underscores the Secretary’s commitment to seeing it through.
In other developments, I’m sure everyone saw the Secretary’s statement this morning announcing the U.S. intent to seek an elected seat on the Human Rights Council. In addition to that statement, the Secretary made an address to the council members today in Geneva to underscore the U.S. determination to reassert its leadership in this body. HRC elections are slated for October of this year, with elected members assuming their seats on January 1st of 2022. As the Secretary made clear today, this decision aligns with the President – with President Biden’s determination to reinvigorate American diplomacy with a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality.
So with that, Matt, do you want to start?
QUESTION: I do have some questions about the diversity and inclusion thing, but I don’t have any policy-significant – or at least significant policy questions that I think should – so I will defer as long as I can reserve the right come back to —
MR PRICE: I am sure we will be hearing from you, else —
QUESTION: Okay. I will defer.
MR PRICE: Okay. We’ll start with Humeyra, then we’ll go to Barbara.
QUESTION: Okay. So on Iran, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva today told this disarmament conference again that U.S. should go first. This who should go first thing has been out there for some time and we know that some officials don’t see this as a top problem, but I’m just wondering if the U.S. offer or the willingness to come back to the table has an expiration date. How long will you guys wait for them to come back to the table? And then I – I’ll go onto something else.
MR PRICE: Well, I think a couple things are true here, Humeyra. The first is that as you have noted, we did make clear last week, after consultations with allies and partners over the course of several weeks and then following a session with the EU 3, that the United States would accept a proposal from the European Union to take part in talks under the auspices of the P5+1 with Iran. Ever since that offer has been on the table, and it has been on the table for just about a week now, we have made very clear that questions like the one you raised today are best addressed in that setting. It doesn’t help us to posture from this podium. It certainly – we certainly know there is posturing going on elsewhere. Our intent is to see to it and our desire is to see to it that discussions, fruitful discussions together with our closest allies and partners – the P5+1 in this case – with principled, clear-eyed diplomacy – that’s where we think these questions can be best adjudicated and resolved.
QUESTION: During that week, have you received any formal or informal indications, signal from the Iranians that they’re likely to come to the table?
MR PRICE: I am not aware that they have changed their position, but obviously that’s best addressed to the Iranians.
We’ll go to Barbara and then Andrea.
QUESTION: I have a question about Navalny. As you —
MR PRICE: Well, let’s – anything else on Iran before we move on?
QUESTION: I also have a question on Iran.
MR PRICE: Why don’t we do that, and then we’ll —
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a question on Iran.
QUESTION: So the question on Iran is related to what we were talking about in terms of who should go first and the compliance for compliance. Is there any consideration of lifting the nuclear waivers as part of a way to get back to talks? Because they also help Iran meet its nuclear commitments. So is that something that’s on the table?
MR PRICE: I am happy to do the same windup I did, but I think I will spare everyone the extra time and just say that, again, questions about the specifics of what might be on the table going forward – those are all things that we together with our partners would want to discuss in the context of the offer we’ve put forward, the offer being to take part in discussions with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1, relying on that principled, clear-eyed diplomacy in lockstep with our closest allies.
QUESTION: This isn’t going forward. This is going to the issue of whether or not you as an official for the United States have confidence that the recordings from those cameras that are supposed to be held for three months will not be violated, erased, tampered with, otherwise doctored.
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to the accommodation that was reached between the IAEA and Iran. As we said for the past couple days here, we fully support IAEA Director General Grossi’s efforts to ensure full implementation of IAEA verification in Iran and we have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. We – of course, he gave a press statement, I believe it was on Sunday. So when it comes to the accommodation that he reached with the Iranians, we would want to defer to the director general, but our general attitude is that we have full faith and confidence in the director general and in the IAEA.
QUESTION: Do you have any independent way of verifying that they’re not being too accommodating given that Iran maintains access to those cameras for three months?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t want to go too much into it from here, obviously, but of course the IAEA – we have full faith and confidence in its ability. And it goes without saying that Iran’s nuclear activity is of great interest to the United States Government. I think I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up on —
MR PRICE: On – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: On Humeyra’s question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that the questions like that are best addressed in the setting at the table, but I think what she was asking is: Is the U.S. offer to come to that table in the first place – how long does that last? Is there an expiration date at which point —
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that this is an urgent challenge for us, and by challenge, I’m not specifically referring to a potential return to the JCPOA in the sense of compliance for compliance. What I’m referring to is the fact that Iran, over the course of the past couple years – ever since May of 2018 when the United States left the JCPOA, Iran has taken steps away from the nuclear deal, the nuclear deal that, when it was in effect, was verifiably and permanently blocking Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon. I think I said this yesterday. But that’s not my opinion; it is the opinion of our Intelligence Community, of this building, of international weapons inspectors, the IAEA, our closest allies and partners.
Now, with Iran having distanced itself from several of these key constraints, its nuclear program has become more advanced in certain ways. One way we look at that is the so-called breakout time, the time it would take Iran to acquire the nuclear material required to build a nuclear weapon if Iran chose to do so. When the JCPOA was in effect, that was at 12 months. That time was significantly lengthened from the time when the Obama-Biden administration started these negotiations. At one point, it was measured in a small handful of months.
We are now, according to some published reports, back in that time frame of a few months. Our goal in all of this is to ensure that we once again have verifiable and permanent constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and to ensure that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. So all that to say our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe – and the President has been clear on this ever since he was running for high office – that the United States and he felt that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy.
That is what we are engaged in now. Heretofore, we’ve been engaged in that – in those consultations with our allies, with our partners, with members of Congress. And now, as of last week, as of a week ago today I believe it was, we have put that offer on the table, that through the – under the auspices of the P5+1, we would be willing to engage in that diplomacy, in those consultations directly with Iran, together with our closest allies and partners.
QUESTION: Ned, can I just make one – one point here? You keep saying that Iran was in complete compliance with the agreement before May 2018, but that’s not entirely the case because the way the – the way the deal was structured, if Iran came out of compliance for any reason, there was a way for them to get back into compliance. And so, in fact, there were numerous incidents of non-compliance or what might uncharitably be called violations, particularly with the heavy water production and storage. And when they exceeded – on the heavy water – when they exceeded their heavy water production storage, the U.S. and other countries stepped in and bought it, the excess, from them, which meant that if they violated the agreement, they would actually get paid for it. So it’s all very – it’s all very well to say that they were —
MR PRICE: The great irony here, Matt – the great irony of this is that with the United States not in the JCPOA, we no longer have that remedial method. We —
QUESTION: You’re no longer able – you’re no longer able to pay the Iranians for violating the agreement?
MR PRICE: We can’t – we can’t go back to the Joint Commission —
QUESTION: No, hold on, wait, wait. You’re saying that —
MR PRICE: We can’t go back to the Joint Commission and make clear when we think Iran has come into violation of the JCPOA. Look, again, I would point you to the fact that we have full faith and full confidence in the director general of the IAEA, full faith and full confidence in the IAEA. The IAEA, while the Iran deal, while the JCPOA was in full effect, while Iran was abiding by it, they expressed confidence that Iran was living up to its limits.
Now, this is a – not an uncomplicated set of issues, and I know you’re referring to some of these technical matters. But the IAEA – and I certainly wouldn’t want to speak to them, but I suspect if you go and ask them, they will tell you that they were satisfied by Iran’s compliance with the deal. Iran was complying with the deal. More importantly, Iran was permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s what we’re going for here.
QUESTION: You can say that there are technical issues, but that’s – the entire agreement hinged on technical issues, right? Inspections —
MR PRICE: The entire agreement hinged —
QUESTION: So —
MR PRICE: — hinged on a very simple premise.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah – I —
MR PRICE: Iran was permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: You guys, it sounds as though you’re upset that you’re not able to pay Iran to come – after it violates the agreement to come back into compliance because —
MR PRICE: Matt, you didn’t hear those words come out of my mouth. They came out of your mouth. So yes, Kylie.
QUESTION: Just to button this up, have you guys been briefed by the IAEA since the weekend?
MR PRICE: So we’ve seen the IAEA’s latest quarterly report on Iran. It does remain restricted until the IAEA board decides they – it can be released publicly. So we’re not going to wade into the details of it.
QUESTION: Okay, and then can we move on to Saudi Arabia?
QUESTION: Just one more thing on Iran?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Conor asked a version of this question yesterday regarding South Korea. What’s the message you’re giving to U.S. allies and to other countries about Iranian assets? Does the United States object to the unfreezing of assets? Is that something that the United States supports?
MR PRICE: Well, so on the question of South Korea, we don’t have anything new to announce at this time. The Government of South Korea, the ROK, has made clear it has not released the $1 billion in funds to Iran. We remain in ongoing consultations with South Korea. I believe their ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement on this – on this and made clear that the Iranian assets locked in South Korea will be released after – only after consultations with the United States. South Korea is a vital partner. South Korea plays a vital role in sanctions enforcement, not only when it comes to Iran but also to North Korea, of course.
QUESTION: So are you okay with them releasing it?
MR PRICE: Look, these issues are issues that we would want to discuss in the context of diplomacy, not in the context of speaking from podiums, posturing from podiums. That is why a week ago today we put that offer on the table with our P5+1 partners to partake in that diplomacy.
I heard Saudi.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m curious about Special Envoy Lenderking. While he’s in Riyadh, will he have discussions about the findings in the unclassified intelligence report into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi officials?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start by saying – and I’ve said this before from this podium – that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a horrific crime. The administration is prepared to release an unclassified report with full transparency for Congress. This is the law. We will follow the law. You heard this from then-DNI-designate Haines during her confirmation hearing, and I understand now that she is in charge of the DNI as the Director of National Intelligence, the DNI is preparing to do just that. When it comes to details of that report and details for its release, I would refer you to the DNI. I don’t think we have anything additional to read out on Special Envoy Lenderking’s discussions with Saudi officials on this front.
Of course, his remit is Yemen. His remit is to prioritize diplomatic engagement to bring about – again, in close coordination with the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths – a diplomatic resolution to the long-running conflict in Yemen, knowing that the people of Yemen have suffered enormously, knowing that Yemen is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. That is Special Envoy Lenderking’s focus and that is what he is doing right now in the region.
QUESTION: But if the matter comes up while he’s meeting with Saudi officials, he’s not prevented from discussing it with them, is he?
MR PRICE: I – look, his focus is the conflict in Yemen. We have been in touch with Saudi officials at multiple levels. As you know, the Secretary has spoken I believe it is twice now with his Saudi counterpart. The Department of Defense read out a call with Secretary Austin and his Saudi counterpart. So it need not be that Special Envoy Lenderking is our only channel to Saudi authorities. We have regular, regular discussions with them on a range of issues.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Saudi Arabia?
MR PRICE: Sure, Andrea and then Barbara.
QUESTION: First, the – Jen Psaki said that there was going to be the call soon – there’s been some reporting that it’s going to be imminent, as soon as today or tomorrow – by the President. Do you have any better understanding of the timing of the release? And there’s a CNN report – I defer to my colleague from CNN – which traces the airplane used in the Khashoggi murder back to ownership the year prior – this is based on court documents filed in Canada. Are you aware of that? Is that – is the State Department looking into that?
MR PRICE: So what I will say is that the DNI has committed to release an unclassified version of this report to Congress. I understand that will take place soon. I believe that’s what my counterpart Jen Psaki said today at the White House press briefing. I, of course, wouldn’t want to weigh in on any potential calls or consultations the President might make, but the point I made just prior to this stands, that we have been in touch with Saudi officials at numerous levels in the early weeks of this administration. The Secretary has done that, others have done that from this building. We mentioned Special Envoy Lenderking. We know that has taken place at the Pentagon as well, but I don’t have anything else to read out there.
When it comes to the details of Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder, the DNI compiled a report essentially to look at these very issues, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of what may be in that report.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia is being sued by the families of the victims of the shooting at the Florida military base, Pensacola. So you may remember that President Trump promised the families that the Saudis would pay them. Are – is the State Department encouraging the Saudis to settle this lawsuit? And also, this – the shooter was part of this military training program that’s connected to weapons sales. Is that – is that still happening, that military training program, or have there been any steps taken to increase vetting?
MR PRICE: Well, as I understand it, the specific training program in question was administered by the Department of Defense, so I would need to refer you there. But what I would say broadly is that, as we have said, Saudi Arabia is a partner across many priorities, including regional security and counterterrorism, and professional military education programs managed by both State and the Department of Defense help build the capacity of partners to provide for their own defense, to improve relations and interoperability between our national forces and those of our partners, and to provide our own forces with exposure to foreign theaters and cultures just as we advance U.S. values with our allied militaries, such as an understanding and respect for human rights and the law of armed conflict.
When it comes to the lawsuit you mentioned, obviously, you’re asking about pending litigation. We don’t comment on pending litigation beyond to say – beyond saying that our thoughts and prayers, of course, remain with the victims and survivors of this tragic attack as well as with their families. I’d refer you to DOJ for comments on the litigation.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Navalny as well?
MR PRICE: Sure. Anything else on Saudi? Great, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. So Amnesty International is no longer calling Alexey Navalny a prisoner of conscience because it says of these comments he made, anti-migrant statements he made in the 2000s reached the threshold of the advocacy of hatred. How does the State Department view Mr. Navalny? Do you see him as a prisoner of conscience?
MR PRICE: We view his detention as politically motivated. As we have said, Russia has a abysmal record when it comes to human rights. The detention of Mr. Navalny is just one element of that. The detention and the violence perpetrated against those brave Russians who took to the streets to protest his detention is another element of that. But, of course, those are just two more recent incidents in a long-running series of offenses when it comes to Russia’s lack of respect for human rights. When it comes to Amnesty’s determination regarding Mr. Navalny, I’d need to refer you there.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Just returning to the diversity and inclusion that you mentioned at the top, is that going to apply to just the State Department overall in terms of the entire workforce, or is there going to be an effort made for the very senior ranks, ambassadors, assistant secretaries, under secretaries, and such? And then a related question: Are you going to be nominating more senior level – we have an under secretary for political affairs nominee, we have deputy secretary of state. Are you going to be nominating more senior diplomats as this administration tries to engage the world more?
MR PRICE: To your first question, this is a prioritization at all levels. The Secretary has made it clear that this is a department that represents America to the world. This is a department that needs to reflect the full diversity of the American people. And he doesn’t see that just as a virtue. He sees it as a strategic necessity knowing that, if we are to harness our full competitiveness, our full comparative advantage, we have to harness the full set of strengths of the American people and ensuring that we have a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace. This is true in junior level positions just as it is at the very highest positions within this building.
I can tell you that the Secretary is absolutely prioritizing these issues – diversity, equity, and inclusion – when it comes to the appointment, or nomination, as the case might be, of senior officials going forward. There will – you will see that reflected as the fuller team comes together. That includes with assistant secretaries, under secretaries, and additional nominations and appointments that you’ll be hearing more about.
QUESTION: What’s the Secretary’s preferred approach, and would it be to promote a black American or a person of color or other minority from the career staff to a senior leadership position in the department, or to bring out – to bring in someone, an outside – an outside political appointee, as we’ve seen?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the approach is to harness our full national strength. And we are grateful to have within this building some of the most experienced, capable individuals on any given region or functional topic as the case might be. And so for that reason, I think as these appointments and nominations go forward, you will be hearing a number of names who are career officials, who are Foreign Service or Civil Service, in many cases have spent years and even decades in this building. That will be the case at – within – with some of the highest-level positions here.
Now, of course, there may also be some positions where someone with an outside perspective brings unique strengths. And so I think the North Star, as it were, will be to leverage our full strength and to choose the people who are best suited for those particular jobs. But in many cases, you will be hearing from the Secretary or from the President in the case of a nomination that the person best suited for a particular job will be a career official.
QUESTION: So, Ned – so I wanted to ask about this at the beginning, but I didn’t think it – policies should take priority over that. Can I just ask you, I mean, how exactly is this CDIO going to incorporate diversity and inclusion at every level? Is it just with appointments? Is there more to it?
MR PRICE: No. It is about a workplace culture. And of course, nominations and appointments are key to that. But it is about building and strengthening a culture within this building that is consistent with the culture that the President of the United States and the Vice President of the United States, and of course Secretary Blinken himself, wish to inculcate – in the case of those first two, across the federal government, and in the case of Secretary Blinken, of course, at the United States. And the second point I would – in the case of the State Department, I should say.
The second point I would make is that it’s about holding us accountable, holding senior leadership accountable for making progress.
QUESTION: How exactly do you hold them accountable?
MR PRICE: Well, for one, you give this individual direct access to the Secretary, to the seventh floor. This individual will, as I said before, report directly to the Secretary of State because the Secretary of State wants the unvarnished view of how we are doing against that metric of building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace – recruiting and retaining a workforce that fully represents the United States of America.
I also have mentioned in the topper, and the Secretary mentioned in his statement, it is about designating at the DAS level, at the deputy assistant secretary of state level, an individual within each bureau to help track progress, to represent that bureau within the diversity and inclusion council. And so this will take place at multiple levels, but I think importantly the Secretary will be hearing directly from a direct report about the progress we are making against this goal.
QUESTION: The thing that I – the reason I’m asking this is because I’ve been doing this a long time. Some people I would think probably say too long. But since I started covering this building, this has been a constant refrain.
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: From every administration, starting with the Clinton administration, okay. And now we have a – and it never seems to get any better. And in fact, report after report comes out every year saying it’s less diverse, it’s not representative. And now we have a situation where the President of the United States actually happened to have been the number two of the country, the entire country, for eight years, and the Secretary of State happened to have been the deputy secretary of state for four years. Why didn’t they do something then about this? Why is it – it’s not as if they weren’t in positions of leadership before, prior to four years ago. Why now? Why all of a sudden now? This has been a problem that’s gone back decades. Why didn’t they do something about it then?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the short answer is that they did, and in fact, there was a presidential memorandum signed to this very effect. But the more important point is that no one is satisfied with the progress that was made then nor with where we are now. That is precisely why we are taking these steps, the step that the Secretary announced today. I don’t believe, Matt, that this department has ever had before a chief diversity and inclusion office or an officer report directly to the Secretary of State on these issues. I don’t believe, Matt, that this department has ever before designated deputy assistant secretaries within each bureau to track this issue. I think when you look at our approach, it will be different from the approach that previous administrations have taken, and I think that it is our hope and it is our expectation that we will make progress where progress before has not been achieved.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I wish them luck, but I – you’ve been in government for a while, and so you know that adding a layer of bureaucracy or a – one position isn’t always a – it’s not always a panacea for it.
Can I ask one more question about – it’s unrelated to this, but I’ll let someone go. But it’s about UN, the Human Rights Council.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: I can wait, though. I don’t need to —
MR PRICE: Anything else on this? No? Okay, go ahead, and then we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Oh, you want me to go?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, so on the HCR, so yes, he did announce that you guys are going to seek re-election. How ardently are you going to campaign for this post?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t think we would announce that we’re going to seek a seat and then not —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, are you going to try someone – try and push someone else in the – you know what WEOG means, right?
MR PRICE: I do, I do.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. All right, all right. So you going to try and kick someone else out?
MR PRICE: Look, we are – I’m not going to discuss private diplomatic conversations. I think the fact is that we are privileged to be a part of a regional group where all those that have announced their candidacies have a shared, determined commitment to advance and protect human rights. I think we are running for a seat or we will be running for a seat for a very simple reason, and I think when you hear the Secretary, he often puts it this way: When the United States isn’t in a leadership role, when we aren’t galvanizing collective action, one of two things happens and neither of them are good for our interests or our values. Either no one steps up and chaos ensues or, potentially worse, an adversary of ours or a competitor of ours seeks to fill that void and our interests and our values are worse off because of it. We have seen instances of that, of both of those outcomes in recent years.
What we are doing today in the context of the Human Rights Council, in the context of issues and challenges across the board, is that we are stepping back up. America is back, as the President put it before the Munich Security Council last Friday, and America is back because we know that when we are at the table, we can shape developments, events, institutions in a way that we could not when we are absent. And that is precisely what we plan to do here.
Yes. I’ve seen your hand up for a while. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Christiane Jacke from the German press agency DPA. I have a – can you hear me or is the microphone off?
MR PRICE: You’re fine. You’re fine.
QUESTION: I have a question concerning appointments and nominations, but Germany-related. It’s about the U.S. ambassador to Germany, because this position has been vacant for quite a while, since June. I know it’s not a top priority, obviously, but could you still give a rough timeline for when a nomination could be expected there given this long vacancy, given the declared wish to revive partnerships with European allies? And also, before Richard Grenell took office in 2018, I think there was a vacancy for about 16 months, so is that something – a timeline that Germany has to brace for, or is it going to be a little quicker?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start by saying when it comes to our relationship, our bilateral relationship with Germany, that Germany is an important U.S. ally, of course an economic partner as well. Rebuilding and strengthening the U.S.-Germany relationship, it’s a priority for this President. It’s a priority for this Secretary of State. Our relationship with Germany is built on shared values of freedom, of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and that is why, of course, the role of our ambassador to Germany will be so important.
I discussed this yesterday in a separate context, another important diplomatic post, but the same is true. Ambassadorial nominations are nominations of the President of the United States, and so that process will – is administered by the White House, of course, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Department of State. I think it is absolutely true, and you can expect that any – when we do have an announcement of a nominee for ambassador to Germany, that person will have the trust not only of the Secretary of State, but also of the President himself given how important this diplomatic post is for us.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Do you have a readout for the Secretary’s call with the Omani foreign minister? And are you planning to use Oman as a venue to talk to the Iranians again?
MR PRICE: So we – I don’t have anything to read out just yet. If we do have something later today, we will let you know. When it comes to timing, when it comes to venues for potential discussions with Iran in the context of the P5+1, all of that is still to be worked out. So I don’t have any more for you there. Obviously, Oman has played an important role in the past. We’re grateful for that. But I don’t have any update there.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran quickly?
MR PRICE: Yeah, okay.
QUESTION: Sorry. But there – there is just a report out saying that the U.S. and Israel are going to reconvene a strategic working group on Iran to discuss intelligence, and that the meetings – the first meeting could take place in the next few days. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment specifically on that. I would note more broadly that this administration and President Biden’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. You, of course, know that from his time as vice president, when now-President Biden played an important role negotiating the 2016 memorandum of understanding on security assistance, which at the time, and still today, was the largest commitment to security assistance in U.S. history. Under the terms of the $38 billion MOU signed by the United States and Israel in 2016, we set funding for Israel at levels of $3.3 billion in FMF, in foreign military financing, and $500 million for cooperative programs for missile defense per year, over a period of 10 years, which is how you get to that $38 billion figure.
The Biden-Harris administration will uphold the commitment in the 2016 MOU without reservation, and we will also take action when it comes to our shared challenges in coordination with our allies and partners to deter and to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, its malign influence in the region. There should be no doubt that Israel can count on the United States, and we do remain committed to the idea of Israel’s qualitative military edge, consistent with U.S. law. So, of course, there will be that close coordination going forward.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that? So Mr. Blinken talked about consulting with the Saudis and the Israelis on Iran policy. So how important would this close type of consultation – as would happen in this strategic working group, which existed before, of course – how important is that kind of close consultation to the – your strategy for Iran?
MR PRICE: Well, consulting with our partners and allies, it’s critical to our strategy to Iran.
QUESTION: But especially for Israel, because the Israelis have a – what do you say here, a dog in the fight —
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: — or whatever?
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: That’s probably wrong.
MR PRICE: Of course. We have —
QUESTION: You say “hunt,” not – you don’t say “fight.”
QUESTION: I don’t think it’s —
QUESTION: Anyway, especially since the Israelis have been talking about how to not follow your strategy, actually, they’ve been talking about the dangers of going back to the JCPOA. So what – is this in particular important for how your strategy evolves?
MR PRICE: Well, we have committed to consult closely with our partners and allies, including those in the region. Of course, the P5+1 was the body that ultimately culminated, or consummated, I should say, the JCPOA – the JPOA in 2014, the JCPOA in 2015. But, of course, as you mentioned, there are countries in the region, close U.S. allies and partners that do have a profound stake in this, with Israel being one of them. And so that is why we are – we have committed to undertaking those consultations and consulting closely with our Israeli partners going forward. You’ve seen that now in a couple calls between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Ashkenazi. You, of course, saw the President himself spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu. That close coordination and consultation is taking place at multiple, multiple levels.
QUESTION: Sorry. I have one question on Iran and one on Europe. On Iran, I wanted to know if we could get any updates on the negotiation going on for the U.S. citizens who are hostage in Iran. And are you going to make the release key of the – of your Iran policy?
MR PRICE: Are we going to – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: To make their release key of – a key part of your – yeah.
MR PRICE: I see. I see. So on the U.S. citizens who are unjustly detained in Iran, we have no higher priority than their safe and expeditious return. Our strong message, as I believe we said to the Iranians, is that we won’t accept their continued detention in an unjust and a wrongful manner. It’s a significant priority for this administration to get them home safely.
You heard from National Security Advisor Sullivan over the weekend on Sunday that the United States has conveyed this message to the Iranians. When it comes to these issues, the nuclear issue and the safe return of the Americans who are wrongfully and unjustly held, look, we don’t want to tie their fates to an issue that is complex and that is challenging and that may be a longer-term proposition. We want to make clear that their safe return home is an urgent priority for us, and it is something that, as the National Security Advisor said, we have made very clear to the Iranians themselves.
QUESTION: Sir, and —
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Sir, just on Europe, do – when President Biden starts traveling again, do we know which country in Europe he will go first? Will it be France, for instance? (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: It’s the million-euro question, I suppose. No, look, we don’t have any updates on travel. What we have said is that the Secretary will start traveling when it is safe to do so, when it is safe for those who would be accompanying him, when it is safe for those who would be meeting him on the other side. And so as soon as we have an update there, we’ll let you know when it comes to timing, and also of course when it comes to location.
Final question, Shaun?
QUESTION: Sure. Could – just have two things about Burma/Myanmar. Malaysia has deported over 1,000 Myanmar citizens back. Rights groups have been criticizing that. Does the United States have any comments or concern about this?
MR PRICE: We do, and we are concerned by the reported deportation of nearly 1,100 Burmese nationals from Malaysia, this in spite of a Malaysian court order barring their deportation and in light of ongoing unrest in Burma that, of course, has been taking place since the coup of February 1st.
We continue to urge all countries in the region contemplating returning Burmese migrants back to Burma to halt those repatriations until the UNHCR can assess whether these migrants have any protection concerns before being sent back to Burma, noting that the Burmese military has a long-documented history of human rights abuses against members of religious and ethnic minority groups.
As for the United States, we will continue lifesaving humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in need, including those in the region.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: You had a second question or – okay.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MR PRICE: We’ll take —
QUESTION: I don’t want to take your question.
QUESTION: Well, look, there’s just one other thing on Myanmar. The – a group of NGOs has been calling for an arms embargo at the UN level on Myanmar. Obviously, that’s something the U.S. individually supports, but is there some push that you intend at the UN level to make that a UN (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been pushing on this issue within the UN since the early hours after the February 1st coup. The United States, of course, was pivotal to the statement you saw emanate from the UN Security Council in the days after – in the days after this. We’ve been pressing individual UN Security Council members, both publicly and privately, to condemn what has taken place and to join us and to join our likeminded partners and allies in pressing for the restoration of civilian-led leadership in Burma and in standing with the people of Burma in their aspirations for a return to democracy.
Final question here.
QUESTION: Yesterday, my VOA colleague asked you about this, whether the United States received the formal request from the Burmese diplomats in the U.S. who are asking for asylum. You said you were going to get back to her. Did you – do you guys have an update?
MR PRICE: So that is an issue that I would need to refer you to DHS. They, of course, handle asylum claims.
QUESTION: Does that mean they have made an asylum claim (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: It means I would need to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: So the Department of Homeland Security is looking into it?
MR PRICE: The Department of Homeland Security is the department that adjudicates such claims.
QUESTION: Well, when they’re made inside the United States.
MR PRICE: Correct, correct.
QUESTION: If they are made outside the United States —
MR PRICE: But the question was, as I —
QUESTION: So – all right. Well, then, let me ask this: Have any Burmese diplomats come to U.S. missions overseas seeking asylum?
MR PRICE: The question —
QUESTION: Don’t refer me to DHS because it’s not their (inaudible).
MR PRICE: No, I would not in that context. The question yesterday was “Have Burmese diplomats in the United States requested asylum.” I would refer you to DHS. If there’s anything more we can share on diplomat – on Burmese diplomats who have requested asylum around the world, we will let you know.
Thank you very much.
MR PRICE: See you all tomorrow.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:21 p.m.)
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