Department Press Briefing – February 11, 2021


Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:43 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

Just one element at the top today. A Russian court has sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Alexander Ivshin to seven and a half years in prison for his religious practice, marking a new record-length sentence for a Jehovah’s Witness for one’s religious belief. The United States condemns Russia’s continued crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other peaceful religious minorities in the strongest possible terms. The United States affirms that as a matter of human rights, all people are entitled to believe or not to believe according to the dictates of their own conscience.

So with that, Matt, do you want to take it over?

QUESTION: Yeah. So I’ve got a bunch of sanctions questions, but they’re on different countries, so I’ll just start with one and let – and then we can move on and I’ll try to come back to the others.

First, on Yemen. I was not here yesterday; I’m sure you missed me. But I understand that during the – during the briefing, you mentioned that the leaders of the Houthis have not actually been removed from all sanctions, that they still – that they are still sanctioned under some – under some authorities, and that the removal of the FTO designation did not affect those.

So I’m just wondering, given the fact that the Houthis seem to have stepped up their activity, their offensive, their offensive operations in Yemen, and which critics of this administration say is a response to your removal or is somehow related to that, why – why did you remove these – this one layer of sanctions and then leave the other on? Because it seems that they’re still impacted by sanctions.

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, Matt, we covered this at some length yesterday, but let me just reiterate what we discussed. You heard from the Secretary himself when he was standing right here, I believe it was two weeks ago to the day, when he was asked about his priorities for the areas that he wanted to review on exigent basis. And he raised the Houthi designation, the designation of Ansarallah, as a broad movement.

And he said very clearly that the United States – as do bipartisan members of Congress, as do the United Nations, as do humanitarian aid organizations – that we had profound concerns about the implications of that broad designation for the people of Yemen. Yemen, now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, noting, as I believe the Secretary did at the time, that some 80 percent of Yemen civilians live under Houthi control.

When the Secretary – and we confirmed this on Friday – when he communicated to Congress his intent to remove the designation of Ansarallah as a broad movement, we made very clear that it has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct. We spoke forcefully and in no uncertain terms about their attacks on our partner Saudi Arabia – which, as you alluded to, have continued, their kidnapping of American citizens, their malign influence throughout the region.

We reiterated that the intent the Secretary has communicated to revoke this broad umbrella designation, instead, is about those humanitarian implications, the fact that as a country we do not want to do anything that would worsen the plight of the millions of Yemenis who live under Houthi control. And again, it was the considered assessment of bipartisan members of the Hill, the United Nations, various humanitarian aid organizations, that a broad designation would do just that.

And so that’s why yesterday I went to some lengths in explaining that just as we – just as the Secretary has an intent to remove that broad designation, we will continue to keep up the pressure on the Houthis. If the Houthi leadership is under any illusion that the intent to revoke this designation suggests that we are going to let up the pressure on them, they are sorely mistaken. I mentioned yesterday that we continue – and you alluded to this – have designations on the Houthi leadership, Ansarallah leaders Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim. They all remain designated under both UN sanctions and our sanction under Executive Order 13611, which is related to acts that threaten the peace, security, or the stability of Yemen.

Our goal, as we have said, and as the President, in fact, alluded to last week when he was here, our goal is in the first instance to support the diplomatic process, to move that forward under the auspices of the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Our goal and our plan is to help our Saudi partners defend themselves. And just as we take prudent steps like this or intend to take prudent steps like this to alleviate or at least not worsen the suffering of the Yemeni civilians who live under Houthi control.

QUESTION: So, in fact, there is no change to any sanctions on these individuals.

MR PRICE: There is no change.

QUESTION: So what was the point, then?

MR PRICE: Well, I just spent I think five minutes explaining it. The point was to – the intent was to revoke the broad designation that has profound, steep, and precarious humanitarian implications for the people of Yemen. We are distinguishing between the people of Yemen and the Houthi leadership.

QUESTION: Right. Well, you know what? Various U.S. administrations – I’ve covered a bunch of them now – have always said there is a distinction between the people and the government or the people and the leadership or the people and the rebel organization, whatever. But I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that there was no – is there – was there any practical effect —

MR PRICE: Of?

QUESTION: — of removing the FTO designation and the terrorism designation? What —

MR PRICE: So to be clear, the Secretary on Friday communicated his intent to revoke. The —

QUESTION: And we’ll get to that in two seconds.

MR PRICE: As I said, I believe it was a couple days ago now. Our process and our orientation is to get back to regular order. That includes regular order when it comes to our communication, our dialogue, our consultations with members of Congress. Members of Congress have a prerogative to be informed, to be in the know when it comes to these intents, and that, of course, is why we notified them ahead of time.

QUESTION: Last one on this. So this revocation, these revocations, took effect today with the publication in the Federal Register?

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: I don’t know if you do every morning, but I do. It’s very exciting to go through the Federal Register and look to see what’s going on. It’s 260 pages today. The only two notices that are in the Federal Register that there is no link to – in other words, you can’t click on it, you can’t see what the document actually is – are these two revocations.

MR PRICE: Yes. And I can explain that.

QUESTION: Oh, really?

MR PRICE: I can.

QUESTION: Okay, go ahead.

MR PRICE: In fact, Matt, what you saw was not a revocation, a formal revocation. It was, unfortunately, an administrative error. The Federal Register note is pre-published prior to the conclusion of the congressional notification required for the revocation of the FTO designations. So the designation does, in fact, remain in place.

QUESTION: So – okay. So the notice that was sent up to the Hill, put into the SCIF – even though it’s not classified, but it was still put into a SCIF that was sent to the SFRC and others – so in fact, the FTO designation has not yet been revoked?

MR PRICE: The congressional review period is ongoing.

QUESTION: So it has not. So —

MR PRICE: It has not. Said.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Changing topics, okay, the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, the Israeli press is saying that Israel is aiming to pressure you guys to tie whatever restoration or resumption of talks with the Palestinians over relations or aid or anything to them committing themselves to refraining from going to the ICC. Is that what’s going on?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. Could you repeat that once more?

QUESTION: Yes – condition resumption of relations and aid to the Palestinians to them refraining from going to the ICC.

MR PRICE: Look, we have spoken here before about our intend – about our intent to provide assistance to the benefit of all Palestinians, including to Palestinian refugees. We are in the process of determining how to move forward with the resumption of that assistance consistent with U.S. law, consistent with our interests.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re not going to make that contingent on them refraining publicly from going to the International —

MR PRICE: We are going to make it contingent on our values and our interests.

QUESTION: Just a couple more, if you would indulge me. The Secretary of State has said Monday when he – on his interview with CNN that he asked, actually, he appealed to both sides not to take any unilateral measures that may hinder whatever process may go on. Today the Israeli press is also reporting that the Jewish National Fund is set to approve a new policy on Sunday that will allow the organization to officially purchase land in the West Bank for potential expansion.

Now, this did not happen in the past, and the U.S. has looked not too kindly on such an effort. What would be your reaction if this happened?

MR PRICE: Well, I think there is a broad point at play here, and that point is this: We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated, two-state solution. And unilateral steps might include annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, the provision of compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism. We have continued to emphasize that it is critical to refrain from all those activities.

QUESTION: Last one, really quick. Now, also the Secretary of State did not respond to a question on East Jerusalem. Now, if you’re calling for a two-state solution, there seems to be an international consensus that if the Palestinians are to have their state and to have a capital for that state, it will be in East Jerusalem. So why would the Secretary sort of fray and say this is – we must leave this to final status issues and so on?

MR PRICE: Well, this has been the longstanding policy of the United States, and I think this is what the Secretary was referring to. The ultimate status of Jerusalem is, in fact, a final status issue which will need to be resolved by the parties in the context of direct negotiations. That is not a change to longstanding policy.

QUESTION: One more on the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: And some of it’s not longstanding policy. The previous secretary of state issued guidance saying that he does not think that Israeli settlements in the West Bank or other Palestinian land are illegal under international law. Is that still the policy of this administration? Do you still abide by that guidance? Has that guidance been revised or is it being reviewed?

MR PRICE: We abide by the principle that I just invoked in response to Said’s question. We believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: So there has been no change in the secretary’s revocation of the Hansell memorandum?

MR PRICE: What we have said —

QUESTION: No, no, I don’t want to know what you have said. I want to know whether there’s been a change in that, because it was a big deal when he basically said that that is no longer the policy of the United States.

MR PRICE: What we have said – and this is the principle that is at play – is that we encourage Israel and the Palestinians to avoid unilateral steps that put the prospects of a two-state solution further out of reach.

QUESTION: But also does that mean, then, that there has been no change in the previous administration’s decision on passport – on using Jerusalem, comma, Israel?

MR PRICE: We have no changes to announce to the current guidance on passports.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple questions on Latin America. The first one is about Cuba. I know the government is currently reviewing the policy towards Cuba, but so far, has the new administration found any evidence that the Cuban Government was responsible – behind the attacks in the embassy in Havana? And also, what is the Biden administration doing to find out what was the cause of those attacks?

MR PRICE: Great. Well, I appreciate the question, and I would start by saying that – and it’s something I’ve said here before – is that, of course, we have no higher priority than the safety and the security of U.S. personnel, their families, other U.S. citizens, both, of course, in this country and around the world. The U.S. Government is working to determine what happened to our staff and their families and to ensure the well-being and health of our officials going forward. That investigation remains underway. It remains a high priority, and I can tell you that during the transition period, this was one of the first briefings, comprehensive briefings that, as Secretary-designate at the time, Secretary-designate Blinken requested of the transition team. And he has, in fact, received updates during his time as Secretary of State. He has made clear that this is a priority for him, and those updates will continue going forward.

What I can also say is that – and the department established an interagency task force to coordinate the government’s response to these incidents in May of 2018. More recently, and in fact, just this week, to reassert the department’s leadership and responsibility for U.S. Government personnel overseas, we elevated, as I said, this week the coordinator role to a senior-level position so that a high-level official will be empowered to advise senior departmental leadership, coordinate the department’s interagency response to the health security incidents, and to provide continuing support to affected personnel. This advisor will be positioned in a senior role and will report directly to the department’s senior leadership to ensure, as I said, that we continue to make significant strides to address this issue and to ensure our people are receiving the treatment they need. We’ll have additional details on this new role in the coming days, I would expect.

QUESTION: And my second question was about Colombia, if you’re worried about the rising number of human rights defenders who are being murdered – Human Rights Watch put just today a report out – and if you think that Ivan Duque’s government is doing enough.

MR PRICE: Well, we have seen the Human Rights Watch report that you alluded to. We are concerned about ongoing violence against human right – human rights defenders who play a vital role in building a just and lasting peace in Colombia. Reducing this violence and prosecuting these crimes is a top priority for both the United States and Colombia, and it’s an issue we raise with the Colombian Government. It is crucial to recognize those responsible for these brutal killings: the illegal, non-state armed groups and narcoterrorists who wreak havoc on parts of the Colombian countryside. We are proud to partner with the Colombian Government’s security services and civil society to strengthen human rights protections and rural security, and to fight the narcotics trafficking groups that drive this violence.

QUESTION: And just a follow-up on this. You just mentioned that the Biden administration raised this government – sorry, raised this issue with the Government of Colombia. When was that, and who was involved in those conversations?

MR PRICE: So human rights are an issue that we raise routinely with our partners, with our allies. It is a staple of our conversations, whether it’s the Secretary of State, whether it’s the President of the United States, whether it is any other senior U.S. Government official. You have seen this reflected in the readouts that we have issued. At last count this morning – and I think this tally needs to be updated – the Secretary of State has had 42 calls with his counterparts around the world. The President of the United States continues to make calls and to have discussions with his counterparts around the world. This is something that will continue to be at the center of those conversations at all levels, including the most senior ones.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hello, (inaudible) Guita with Voice of America.

MR PRICE: Great.

QUESTION: I have a couple of – a number of questions on China.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: As you know, President Biden spoke with his Chinese counterpart last night, and then the White House put out a statement saying that, and I quote, “President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including…Taiwan.” From the other side, China has said that the two sides agreed to keep in close contacts on issues of mutual concern, and also asked the two countries to re-establish a dialogue mechanism. Now, is the old bilateral U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue officially dead, or is the administration looking to a new format of dialogue?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have any upcoming engagements to announce at present. I know I’m the one who normally answers the questions, but can I ask you a question? Do you have the readout in front of you? Can you read the last line of the readout?

QUESTION: That President – well, not the entire thing, but “President Biden underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including towards Taiwan.”

MR PRICE: Well, there’s a final sentence there in that readout from last night that I think really helps to contextualize what our posture is towards Beijing. And it made very clear that even though – the readout broadly made clear that even though we see this relationship through the lens of competition and our broad posture vis-a-vis China is to work to position ourselves to compete and to outcompete with the Chinese across any number of realms, the readout from last night made very clear that the President of the United States – and this also applies to the Secretary of State and to other officials – we will engage the Chinese when it is consistent with our interests, when it is our – is in our interests, and consistent with our values.

So, again, I don’t want to get into formats or any other upcoming engagements, but it is fair to say that when it is in our interest to cooperate and to work constructively together with Beijing, with the Chinese, we will do that. That will be our North Star: America’s interests, America’s values. And that will guide our interaction with the Chinese.

QUESTION: So there won’t be a framework for continuous dialogue?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are. This was – we are just a few weeks into this administration. Last night, it was the first discussion between President Biden and President Xi. As you know, Secretary Blinken spoke with Director Yang just less than a week ago. We are still in the initial stages of our engagement with the Chinese. I would hasten to add that that initial engagement at the level of the Secretary of State and the President of the United States took place only after a number of calls with our closest allies and partners. There’s a reason why these engagements didn’t take place on day one. We wanted to make sure that we had coordinated closely with our allies, including our allies in Europe and our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific, but also our partners, including our partners throughout the Indo-Pacific, to make clear that our approach to Beijing was known to them, that we coordinated on that, and that, again, we positioned ourselves to – we positioned ourselves vis-a-vis China in the strongest possible position.

When we talk about our strength in the context of the relationship with China, we derive strength from our values. We derive strength from our alliances, our partnerships. But we also derive strength from what we do here at home. And you have heard quite a bit about that from the White House, from the national security advisor, but also from the Secretary of State. We see our strength as a – our domestic capabilities, our workforce, our education, our technology, the steps we take to protect our supply chains. All of that are source – important sources of strength that will propel us, again, to compete and to outcompete with the Chinese when we must. And when it is – when it is in our interest to cooperate with the Chinese, we’ll do just that.

QUESTION: A follow-up on China?

QUESTION: Can I continue on —

MR PRICE: Okay, we’ll do a couple more on China.

QUESTION: Could we stay on China?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: May I have one more? All right, based on the values that you just mentioned, on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, there’s mounting calls for the games to be moved from China over the human rights – its human rights record and the U.S. determination that the Beijing government has engaged in genocide against the Uyghurs. Does the U.S. support such call?

MR PRICE: Well, as you said, these Olympic Games are in 2022, so they’re some time away. I think what is true is what I said just prior to that, is that we are consulting closely with our allies and our partners at all levels to define our common concerns and to establish our shared approach to China. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of things. We are in early 2021. We will have plenty of time to talk about 2022 as – in the ensuing months.

China still?

QUESTION: Yes. Both the Secretary and the President and various briefers have said, as you said, that we’re willing to cooperate with China when our interests are served by it, and specifically they have mentioned climate and nonproliferation. I wonder if there are any other issues you foresee where there can be cooperation. What – where would that kind of cooperation go? What do you foresee?

And I had another question on Palestine, if you ever get back to that.

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, I think the two you mentioned are strategic areas of cooperation – potential areas for cooperation, I should say. It is manifestly in our interest to take on the existential threat of climate change, especially with the numbers – with the world’s number-two emitter. It’s something that is absolutely and profoundly in our interest, and nonproliferation as well.

The world’s most dangerous weapons, reducing the risk of nuclear weapons, whether the context is in Russia – and we made a very similar point about why we are engaging in a five-year extension of New START – but also in the context of China. Those are two areas that are in our broad strategic interest.

Now, I don’t want to rule out that there may be tactical areas of cooperation going forward, but again, our North Star is going to be those interests consistent with our values together with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: Can I ask on China?

MR PRICE: China, yeah.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the decision to withdraw this proposed rule from the Trump administration on universities being required to report contacts with Confucius Institutes? Does the administration plan to resubmit that rule? And then I just have one more after that.

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, I’m glad you asked, because there has been some misreporting on that, so allow me to give just a little bit of background. When it comes to the Confucius Institutes, we have ongoing concerns about activities of the CCP, including through these institutes, given that they might affect academic freedom in the United States. The State Department, as you know, designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the PRC. That stands.

Now, reports asserting that the Biden administration withdrew the draft DHS rule from the Federal Register – that’s just not true. It’s false. The Trump administration never submitted it to the Federal Register in the first place because OMB never completed its review of the draft rule during the Trump administration. It was stuck in OMB’s interagency review on Inauguration Day, as we understand it.

On that same day, on Inauguration Day, the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain released a memo freezing all regulatory process, very similar to those submitted by his predecessors in that position. That freeze meant that it was withdrawn from the review process and would need to be resubmitted. This withdrawal applied to all other rules that didn’t make it through the OMB review prior to the change of administrations.

Now, when it comes to this administration, we’ll treat Confucius Institutes as part of our overall approach of how best to respond to China’s use of information operations and other coercive and corrupting efforts to undermine and interfere in democracies. That’s something we will continue to do.

QUESTION: Are you saying – would you consider resubmitting this rule? Do you think it’s a good idea?

MR PRICE: We will, as we said, treat the Confucius Institutes as part of our overall approach when it comes to how best to respond to China’s use of information operations and other coercive diplomacy.

QUESTION: And then just one more on supply chains and ties between U.S. companies and Chinese companies. Does the Biden administration broadly support the Trump administration move to put Chinese companies, particularly linked to Xinjiang, on the Commerce entities list and restrict U.S. companies from doing business with them?

MR PRICE: Well, we certainly understand – and I would think in the first instance, I would need to refer you to the Department of Commerce to speak to these issues in particular. But we certainly understand and have some of the same profound concerns with China’s predatory behavior when it comes to technology. It’s something we’re going to stand up to. It will be part of the review I mentioned, as we determine how best to defend ourselves, but also to promote our interests and to promote our values in the context of that bilateral relationship more broadly.

Kylie.

QUESTION: One more on China?

MR PRICE: We’ve spent a lot of time over here. Anyone else on China?

QUESTION: Yes, on —

QUESTION: It’s a big pile.

MR PRICE: It is.

QUESTION: Can you talk more about China’s decision to take the BBC World News off the air? Particularly, this comes in light of their report on the pieces against the Uyghur community.

MR PRICE: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that. We absolutely condemn the PRC’s decision to ban BBC World News. The PRC maintains one of the most controlled, most oppressive, least free information spaces in the world. It’s troubling that as the PRC restricts outlets and platforms from operating freely in China, Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation. We call on the PRC and other nations with authoritarian controls over their population to allow their full access to the internet and media.

Media freedom, as we’ve said, is an important right, and it’s key to ensuring an informed citizenry, an informed citizenry that can share their ideas freely amongst themselves and with their leaders.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that the Chinese people should have the same access to misinformation from their leaders as the rest of the world? Is that kind of what you – is that kind of what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: We are saying that – and I hope you would agree with this – that free, pluralistic media environments are important the world over, whether that’s in China, whether that’s in Eastern Europe, whether that’s within our own hemisphere.

Yes.

QUESTION: It’s actually a China and Myanmar story. Does the U.S. believe that China has been aiding the Myanmar generals who have performed a coup in Myanmar? And particularly, are they helping them to regulate the internet and censor particular websites?

And further – yeah, there were some reports that the Chinese are helping to regulate the internet in Myanmar. Is that something that you’re expressing concerns about on the call with Xi yesterday?

MR PRICE: One, I wouldn’t want to contextualize the President’s call with his counterpart from here. I would need to defer to the White House to offer any augmentation to the fairly robust readout that they issued.

But I think the broad point remains – and we’ve made this point from this podium before – we continue to call on China to condemn the coup that took place in Burma on February 1st. We would hope and we would expect that the Chinese would play a constructive role in bringing about the restoration of democracy, of civilian rule to Burma. This is – it’s consistent with and it’s actually a shared interest that we have. And so we continue to call on China to do more and we’ll continue to do that until China’s orientation changes.

QUESTION: You don’t have specific information on whether they’re supporting the generals? Do they have a relationship with those generals?

MR PRICE: Nothing I’m prepared to go into today.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Sung Kim met with Taiwan’s envoy on Wednesday. Do you have a readout on that?

MR PRICE: Well, I understand that our EAP Bureau did issue a tweet that had some details there, so we don’t have any further readout of the meeting with the TECRO representative. What I can say broadly is that we’re committed to deepening ties with Taiwan, given that Taiwan is a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Kylie.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? Has the assistant secretary or acting assistant secretary also met with the Chinese ambassador here?

MR PRICE: I don’t know. We can get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And was Secretary Blinken on the phone call between President Trump and President Xi?

QUESTION: President Biden.

QUESTION: Biden.

QUESTION: I mean, sorry, President Biden. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Maybe he – if he was on the call with Trump and Xi, please let us know. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I don’t believe he was, but we’ll let you know if there is information to the contrary.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask a Cuba question?

MR PRICE: Anything else on China?

QUESTION: I have one more on China.

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Since Tuesday, has the U.S. seen the WHO report on the – their visit to China? And can the U.S. say whether or not they share the conclusions that it is unlikely that the virus emanated from a lab?

MR PRICE: Well, we spoke about this a great deal earlier in the week, and we said at the time that we note the importance of the ongoing work of the international investigation team into the PRC. The WHO origins inquiry should be granted full, transparent, and complete access required to fully conduct a thorough, scientific investigation into the critical question of the origins of COVID-19, wherever it may lead. I went to great lengths earlier this week to say that we look forward to reviewing the findings, the science, the data ourselves to marrying what the WHO team has found with what is in our own holdings, including within our intelligence holdings.

So until we’re able to do that, until we’re able to see the full data, we’re going to reserve judgment and we’re going to form our conclusions based on the science and the data and those findings.

QUESTION: Ned, I want to ask a Cuba question, if I may.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. A month ago today, in one of its last acts, the former administration listed Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. Can you update on what is happening? Are you going back to a detente with Cuba? Are diplomats going to be going back, some of the —

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: — diplomats that were withdrawn? Just update us on the Cuba situation.

MR PRICE: Well, I think when it comes to Cuba, we have – there are broad principles at play for our orientation towards the country. First, support for democracy and human rights will be at the core of our efforts through empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future. And second, we believe that Americans and especially Cuban Americans are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. You’ve heard me say in this briefing, in previous briefings, again, that we are committed to making sure that human rights are a core pillar of foreign policy. We are redoubling our dedication to human rights throughout the hemisphere, and I think that will, again, be a North Star as we review our approach to Cuba going forward.

QUESTION: You have a lot of north stars going on. Can I —

MR PRICE: I think every time it’s been interests and values, and interests and values are inextricably linked when it comes to our human rights.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that, on Cuba? And this is a very specific question, so if you could – if you don’t have an answer, I understand, but if you could take it. And that is that you probably know that the Cuban Government has introduced COVID restrictions requiring people coming into the country to quarantine in hotels. Well, Americans and Cuban Americans are not allowed under – or they can, I suppose, but then they’re subject to Treasury penalties – to stay in almost all Cuban hotels.

So as part of the review into the Cuba policy, is this something that you guys are looking at with an eye toward perhaps doing it more urgently than in other parts? Or are these people who are going in just SOL?

MR PRICE: You’re right. Let me take that question back. I think that our review of our approach to Cuba is very much ongoing. But let me take that question back and see if we have anything we can add.

Michel.

QUESTION: Poland?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Polish authorities today announced charges against Marta Lempart, a leading abortion rights activist. I was wondering if the United States has any comments on this and any comments more generally about the trajectory in Poland?

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, when it comes to these charges, we are aware of the charges against Marta Lempart. We’re watching the situation very closely. Promoting, advocating, and defending freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest, and judicial independence – these are critical to every democracy.

Poland is a valued NATO ally we consult with regularly on a range of issues. We are committed to strengthening our partnership with Poland and advancing the administration’s commitments to supporting democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law.

Of course, the charges today I think are part and parcel of a constricting space for civil society within Poland, so we do have broader concerns, including the proposed media tax that has been unveiled recently as well. As I was saying in the context of a very different media crackdown, we’re committed to supporting a diversity of independent media voices and opinions, which we believe are essential to vibrant democracies.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran. I’m Michael Crowley. Good to see you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: Hi.

MR PRICE: Didn’t recognize you behind the mask.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hiding behind the mask. President Obama used to say before the JCPOA that it was unacceptable for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, explicitly ruled out containment of a nuclear Iran as a policy option, and reserved all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb. Is it – does this administration view it as unacceptable for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon?

MR PRICE: President Biden, candidate Biden, they have been very clear. Our policy will —

QUESTION: They’re the same person.

MR PRICE: As a candidate and as President, Joe Biden has been very clear. We will not countenance a nuclear-armed Iran. Our approach – and as we have talked about, we are pursuing a diplomatic one – will be to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon. That was at the crux of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It will be a guiding principle of our approach towards this challenge, their – period.

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR PRICE: We’ve got – on Iran, one last question. I know we’ve gone on for a long time.

QUESTION: Thank you. You’ve been saying from the beginning of the podium about Iran that you’re – the administration is consulting with friends, partners, allies, and Congress on how to approach this issue, the nuclear issue, and the agreement. Now, Iran just announced that they’re going to have their presidential elections in June. The West considers the present Iranian president as moderate, and there’s a lot of talk about hard-liners possibly being in the pool for the next presidential race. What is the administration looking at as its approach to Iran, whether you’re thinking about right now dealing with so-called “moderate” Rouhani or a – what – is it an overall comprehensive approach that you’re looking at, irrespective of who is the president and his approach?

MR PRICE: I think we aren’t looking at it in those terms. We are looking at it through the lens of our national security, of the security of our partners and allies in the region, and that’s why in response to Michael’s question I was very clear that our policy, the President’s policy, at its core is an understanding that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. So regardless of the constellation of actors, that will continue to be a core principle for us. It’s precisely why the President has put forward the formulation that is now very familiar to everyone in this room. If Iran resumes its full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, we’ll do the same. We’ll seek to lengthen and strengthen the provisions of that deal. We’ll use it as a platform to build and to negotiate follow-on agreements to address other areas of Iran’s malign activity.

That will be our approach. I don’t think we are going to let developments elsewhere dictate any changes to that approach.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

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