US State Department Briefing-February 9, 2023 Spokesman Ned Price held forth on earthquake relief efforts in Turkey & Syria, ongoing developments in Ukraine, and a mission of mercy from Nicaragua

The Transcript:

Earlier today, a plane arrived at Dulles International Airport carrying 222 individuals who had been held by the Government of Nicaragua. That includes students, journalists, and political activists. Some of these individuals had spent years in prison.

The Government of Nicaragua decided to release these individuals, and the United States decided to receive them on humanitarian grounds. Everyone who left the country voluntarily consented to travel. The individuals released have access to medical and legal assistance, and we continue to look for ways to support them as needed.

All individuals entering the United States were screened and vetted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as is standard for those receiving humanitarian parole.

We welcome the opportunity to offer this humanitarian protection to these political prisoners. The release of these individuals by the Government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step towards addressing the human rights abuses in that country. This action opens the door to discussion of other matters of mutual concern.

The United States remains committed to a dialogue with the Government of Nicaragua on these and other matters, and we’ll continue to support the Nicaraguan people.

Next, now for an important update on the U.S. emergency response following the devastating earthquakes affecting Türkiye and Syria earlier this week. This earthquake was one of the strongest in a century, and our sincerest condolences continue to go out to all of those impacted – victims, survivors, rescuers, first responders, families, neighbors, and friends.

The United States is working very hard to support the people in Türkiye and Syria in their hour of need. More than 15,000 people, including U.S. citizens, have lost their lives. The number continues to rise by the hour.

Earlier today, Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to express our continued support and to discuss how the United States can continue our ongoing efforts to provide assistance in both Türkiye and Syria.

The United States is providing lifesaving assistance as our emergency response teams are on the ground and hard at work. In Türkiye, the U.S. Government is providing a Disaster Assistance Response Team that will coordinate with Turkish authorities on the full range of U.S. support. The DART team comprises some 200 people, including two highly trained urban search and rescue teams, specialized equipment and canines, and these teams have specialized training to coordinate with international partners in exactly this kind of situation.

Emergency responders, hazardous material technicians, engineers, logisticians, paramedics, and planners, along with 170,000 pounds of specialized tools and equipment have arrived. In addition, we are sending concrete breakers, generators, medical supplies, tents, water, and water purification systems.

U.S. helicopters are helping rescue personnel reach areas difficult to access, given the extent of the destruction. We are prepositioning additional relief equipment into the region that we hope will be able to join the recovery efforts.

Our existing humanitarian partners are using U.S. resources to provide critical emergency relief, including food, water, shelter, medical care, and support staff to search and rescue efforts. We are proud to join the global efforts to help Türkiye, just as Türkiye has so often contributed its own humanitarian rescue experts to so many other countries in the past.

In Syria, U.S.-funded humanitarian partners have been responding, including with U.S. resources, since the moment the earthquake struck.

The White Helmets, whom we have proudly supported for years, reacted immediately and have pulled more than 1,000 survivors from the rubble. U.S.-supported Syrian medics have been treating survivors across Idlib, Aleppo, and other affected areas.

Our UN and NGO partners mobilized food, water, shelter, and other supplies for hard-hit communities. This lifesaving work is happening across Syria – in areas controlled by the Assad regime and elsewhere – on the basis of need and need alone. We are committed to providing immediate, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to help the people in Syria recover from this disaster.

The United States has been leading the humanitarian – has been the leading humanitarian donor since the start of the Syrian war, providing more than $15 billion to the Syrian people in Syria and throughout the region. We will show that same leadership in response to this new crisis.

We will also continue to demand unhindered humanitarian access all across Syria, including cross-border aid. We are grateful to the Government of Türkiye from moving swiftly to reopen border crossings so aid can flow into non-regime areas of northern Syria, and we welcome the news that the first UN aid convoy arrived today via the Bab al-Hawa crossing. We call on the Assad regime to immediately allow aid in through all border crossings, and to let humanitarians access all Syrians in need without exceptions.

There are many hurdles to overcome when providing humanitarian assistance in Syria and especially after devastating earthquakes this week, but our Syrian sanctions policy is not among them.

In both Türkiye and Syria, the United States will remain committed to doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes, to provide any and all necessary assistance to those impacted by these devastating earthquakes.

And finally, today the Secretary hosted the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Fuad Hussain and his delegation in the first-ever economic-focused Higher Coordinating Committee of the U.S.‑Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, reinforcing the strong relationship between our countries. The Iraqi delegation will meet with a range of U.S. officials to discuss strengthening Iraq’s economy, pursuing Iraqi energy independence, and combatting climate change. This is our first HCC since Prime Minister Sudani formed a new government, and we are looking forward to a robust discussion.

The United States supports a strong, stable, and sovereign Iraq, and we recognize the critical important of a healthy and growing economy for this end.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Well, that’s a lot.


QUESTION: Let’s just – let me just start really briefly with the Nicaragua thing.


QUESTION: And that is: These people, now that they’re here, whose custody are they in? Is it your – is it DHS? Is it HHS? Whose? And how long are they able to stay?

MR PRICE: Sure. So Matt, this was an effort that was the result of concerted engagement by the Department of State. Today’s outcome is very welcome news. It’s very welcome news for these 222 individuals. As I said just a moment ago, it’s a positive, constructive, welcome step from the Nicaraguan Government.

To your question, while the engagement with the Nicaraguan Government was spearheaded by the Department of State, we’ve worked very closely in the final days of this process to ensure that these individuals will have what they need upon arriving in the United States. The vetting that they are undergoing is something that’s conducted by CBP; DHS also plays a broader role. But we’re also working with partners beyond government to see to it that these individuals have a roof over their heads. We’ve arranged for hotels for them for some time. We’re providing them with short-term assistance. We’re also engaging with NGOs, resettlement NGOs who are very skilled and experienced in precisely these types of operations.

QUESTION: But the resettlement NGOs are mainly for refugees. These people are not considered to be refugees.

MR PRICE: They’re here under humanitarian parole. They’re being paroled into the United States. But we’re also working – we have worked – with the diaspora population, knowing that there is a very active and engaged Nicaraguan diaspora population here in the United States, who we imagine and are confident will be here to greet these individuals and to welcome them to the United States.

QUESTION: Okay. And then you said that this was the result of a concerted effort by the Department of State. And yet, from everything that we’ve heard, you guys are also saying at the same time that the Nicaraguans did this on their own —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — that it was entirely on their initiative. So what exactly —

MR PRICE: So both of those things, Matt, can be true. First, this was a decision – a unilateral decision – that the Nicaraguan Government took. It was the Nicaraguan Government that decided to offer the opportunity to these individuals to travel to the United States. We agreed that we would, of course, receive them.

When I say this a product of American engagement, as you know, Matt, we have long called for the release of individuals imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms as a first step towards the restoration of democracy and an improved human rights climate in Nicaragua. We’ve done that publicly; we’ve also done that in private with Nicaraguan officials.

So they arrived at this decision. They offered the opportunity for these individuals to travel to the United States. We offered the opportunity to facilitate that travel and to welcome these individuals into the United States. We also, before these individuals boarded the plane, were in a position to ascertain and to confirm that each and every one of these individuals wished to travel to the United States and would be doing so based on their own decision, based on their own free will.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on Nicaragua?


QUESTION: One of the things is since they left, the Nicaraguan parliament has said that their citizenship is being revoked and so that they won’t be able to participate in politics in the future. Do you have any reaction to that? Is there a concern that by doing this, while obviously great on a personal level for them not being locked up, that basically that Ortega is getting rid of the opposition there?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Shaun. First, we are proud to welcome these individuals to the United States. We think this is a welcome, positive, constructive step on the part of the Nicaraguan Government. Of course, this is not a panacea to the many concerns we have with the Nicaraguan Government. One of those concerns, a concern that we’re talking about today, remains even after the arrival of these 222 individuals, and that is the imprisonment of individuals for exercising nothing more than rights that should be universal. There remain political prisoners in Nicaragua.

We are going to continue, both in public and in private, to engage, to encourage additional such steps, to encourage the Nicaraguan Government to be in a position to advance the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people for greater levels of democracy, their aspirations to have their human rights respected, their aspirations for a future of opportunity and prosperity. That is not going to change. So we will continue to engage with the government. We will continue to lobby for additional positive, constructive steps. And we certainly hope that this is the first of more to come.

QUESTION: Not to press too much, but the – on the citizenship issue specifically, is that a concern that their citizenship was revoked by the parliament?

MR PRICE: Well, again, these individuals made the decision to travel to the United States. We are in a position to grant them parole in the United States. We are in a position to offer them assistance, help, both directly via the government but also through private NGOs, through the diaspora community as well. I’m not going to comment on the decision that the Nicaraguan Government has made, except to say regarding the decision to take this step, to allow these 222 individuals to leave the country, that is something we find to be positive, something we find to be constructive, something that we hope we can build upon in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION: I take the vetting that you talked about, that took place in Nicaragua or is taking place right now?

MR PRICE: So for the specifics of that, I would need to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security. But there were Department of Homeland Security personnel meeting the individuals upon their arrival here at the United States, in the United States.

QUESTION: Right. But based on the vetting so far, you’re confident this isn’t like the Nicaraguan equivalent of the Mariel boatlift?

MR PRICE: We are confident in this step. Now, of course, there are – there is a vetting process built into this to ensure that we’re taking all prudent and responsible steps. But yes, we are confident that this was a step that was taken in the spirit in which it was discussed, a spirit – in the spirit of taking a step in the right direction for the people of Nicaragua, certainly for these 222 individuals. But we certainly hope this will be a harbinger of additional steps to come.


QUESTION: Two quick —

MR PRICE: Humeyra.

QUESTION: If it’s Nicaragua —

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s Nicaragua. Just two quick questions. This is a pretty unique situation. Can you help us understand if it would have been possible, or if the U.S. Government would have done this if there wasn’t one American that was part of this group? Like, would you still have flown out more than 200 political prisoners? And then just the makeup of the group, we know there’s one American – are all of the rest Nicaraguans by nationality?

MR PRICE: So we aren’t in a position to offer additional details regarding the individuals. Of course, they will be in a position to publicize their stories if they choose so. Right now, I can imagine that they’re focused on their processing into the United States and settling here to begin this next chapter.

Of course, one of the 222 individuals is an American citizen. Every time we are able to bring an American citizen back to this country, that is something that we commend, we celebrate; it is something that we strive to do every single day. But like these other individuals, I’m not going to comment on that person’s – the details of that individual’s, and we’ll leave that to this individual should she or he choose to do so.

This is an atypical development. It is, I think, reflective of the challenge that we face in Nicaragua. It’s not a challenge that is unique to Nicaragua, but the number of political prisoners that had been held in Nicaragua of course was something of great concern to us. The continuing detention of political prisoners in Nicaragua will continue to be a concern to us. This is, we hope, not the last step in the process like this. We are going to continue to be engaged to do everything we can to support the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people for greater levels of democracy, for greater respect for their own human rights.

Anything else on Nicaragua?


MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. Either one.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that they have already arrived here? And –

MR PRICE: Yes. They arrived a couple hours ago. They were on a flight that the United States Government facilitated from Nicaragua to the Washington, D.C. area.

QUESTION: And where are they staying? In hotels, or —

MR PRICE: So we have arranged for them to stay in hotels for their initial – for the initial period, and then we’re working with NGOs, we’re working with the diaspora community as well for longer-term support.


QUESTION: Nicaragua. I have two questions. Can you confirm that it’s actually the 222 were coming on that flight? Because there’s been reports that at least it was publicized in Nicaragua just had 130 people. The other – just by the Government of Nicaragua in the court this morning. The second question on that is: Has – you mentioned that the State Department led the engagement to do this process. Is that any exchange, or any reduction in sanctions? Is the plan to re-engage the communication with the government of Ortega? And then you also said that they voluntarily came to the United States. We know there is about 23 prisoners that have not been or at least is reported that is – are not part of that group. Do you have any information on that group?

MR PRICE: So let me take those questions as I recall them, at least. So we did confirm this morning that there were 222 individuals on board the flight from Nicaragua to the Washington, D.C. area. There were two individuals who, on their own volition, chose not to travel to the United States. As I said before, we were sure to ascertain that everyone on that plane wished to be on that plane and was doing so based upon her or his free will. So there were 222 individuals.

When it comes to our approach to the Government of Nicaragua, this was not part of a broader bargain, this was not part of a broader deal with the Government of Nicaragua. This was a unilateral decision on the part of the Government of Nicaragua to release these individuals. We decided that we would be in a position to accept these individuals and to welcome them to the United States.

This, I think, is – we think, is a positive reflection of our advocacy both in public and in private for the human rights of all Nicaraguans and our consistent calls that those who had and have and are being held for nothing more than the exercise of rights that are universal to them should be released. But I will say that our sanctions and other restrictions remain in place even as we hope that this is a step that the United States and Nicaragua can build on going forward.

We hope to have, we would like to have, a better relationship with Nicaragua. That ultimately is up to the Government of Nicaragua, what the government does or does not do to advance the aspirations of its people for greater levels of democracy and for greater human rights.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up: Is any – any other countries or, like, the Vatican were involved? We know that some of the political prisoners were priests that were detained under Ortega. So any other countries or organizations were involved on this communication and the deal?

MR PRICE: This was an arrangement between the United States and Nicaragua.

Anything else on Nicaragua?

QUESTION: Yeah, just one.


QUESTION: Was there a specific catalyst that led to this outcome and this deal?

MR PRICE: Humeyra, that’s probably a better question for the Government of Nicaragua. What I can say for our part is that consistently since the start of this administration, we have advocated for the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people. We have called publicly and privately for the Nicaraguan Government to release those who are held on unjust charges, who are held for doing nothing more than exercising their universal rights.

Nicaragua? No. Okay.

QUESTION: Can we go to – can I continue with Türkiye and Syria?

MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. So you said the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu. Was there anything specifically new? Because both the Secretary and you said you guys were looking for additional funding and there is quite a bit of a shortage of food and water and blankets and shelter. So is there anything – was he able to promise them anything new aid-wise?

MR PRICE: So this was primarily an effort to garner from our Turkish allies what they would like to see from the United States, what more they would like to see from the United States. So Secretary Blinken thought it was important to pick up the phone to his foreign minister counterpart now for the second time in nearly as many days to have a conversation with the foreign minister about what his government was in need of, how the United States could continue to be a partner in this effort, and how we could actually redouble our support for efforts on both sides of the border – the efforts that our Turkish allies are undertaking, and the efforts to save and to help the people of Syria ultimately rebuild.

I will leave it to the foreign minister and to our Turkish allies to speak to their needs, but the – but the foreign minister did offer to Secretary Blinken some specifics. We will do everything we possibly can to fulfill the needs that the Turks have put forward. We have – and I think we’ll be in a position before too long to speak to additional humanitarian assistance for Türkiye, to speak to additional steps that we’re taking on both sides of the border. We know that right now we remain in an acute phase of search-and-rescue operations. The DART teams, the search-and-rescue teams have been focused on that day in, day out, nearly since these earthquakes struck.

Over time, we are going to move into different phases of this. The requirements on the part of our Turkish allies, the needs on the part of the Syrian people will continue to evolve. So we are going to continue to remain engaged. We are determining what more we can provide, and I would expect before too long we will have more to say about what more we can provide.

QUESTION: Right. And the – staying on the earthquake but going to Syria briefly, you said you guys welcomed UN chief’s effort to seek an expanded mandate. How will the United States support this process? How can you convince Russia? Is there going to be a high-level engagement from U.S. with Russia or an outreach given the circumstances?

MR PRICE: So a couple things. First, we’re – as I said a moment ago, we are calling on the Assad regime to immediately allow all humanitarian aid in through all border crossings and to allow humanitarian access – to let humanitarians access all persons in Syria in need without any exception whatsoever. That’s what we’re calling on the Assad regime to do.

But to your question, Humeyra, this is an exceedingly challenging situation for a number of reasons. In the first instance, because of the strength and magnitude of these quakes, but on the Syrian side of the border, the challenge is compounded by the fact that there is only one border crossing point, only one crossing point, and for much of the past 48 hours that crossing point had been rendered inaccessible because of damage to the area.

There is really only one reason why there is only one border crossing point; that is because the Russian Federation has consistently vetoed, overturned any efforts to open additional border crossings. You recall that twice a year now in recent years, we have gone through this unnecessary exercise of reauthorizing a single border crossing via a vote in the UN Security Council. It has always been our contention that there should be a longer duration to this border crossing authorization, and that there should be more than only one border crossing. I think today we are seeing the utility of having redundant, alternative border crossings. Were we in a position to have more border checkpoints, we would be in a position to facilitate the provision of additional aid.

This is something we have made no secret of. We made no secret of it earlier this year – I should say last year, the last time the reauthorization came up for a vote in the UN Security Council – and it’s something that we continue to believe to be the case. It is incumbent on all responsible stakeholders to make a decision: Do they want to see humanitarian access to those in need in Syria, or are they comfortable with humanitarians being unable to reach those most in need? It really boils down to whether countries around the world, including what are supposed to be responsible stakeholders in the UN Security Council, whether they are comfortable doing nothing in the face of death, destruction, and suffering as a result of these earthquakes.

QUESTION: Well, will you be able to do anything different to get the Russians on board? Because their position has been known. And is there going to be, like, a different kind of outreach from U.S.?

MR PRICE: Humeyra, these are – these are also good questions for the Russians. It would be a good question to ask them how they can possibly justify voting down an effort to provide expanded humanitarian access to the people of Syria. By the way the people of Syria who have been enduring profound needs long before the earthquakes of earlier this week. That’s a better question for them. The question is not for us: What are we going to do to change the Russian mindset? The question is for the Russians: Why is it that they are comfortable shooting down, vetoing efforts to provide more for people who are in desperate need?

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Follow-up – follow-up on this?

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I – thank you. You said that there are many things that hinder search and rescue effort in Syria, but the sanctions were not among them.

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: That’s what you said. So if the Syrian Government were to import, let’s say, equipment to facilitate search and rescue and so on from Europe, from other places, the CAESAR law or the sanctions will not stop them from doing that?

MR PRICE: Said, so a couple things. Our sanctions are in no way an impediment of our ability to provide humanitarian assistance to our humanitarian partners on the ground in Syria. We have been working with our humanitarian partners since the start of the civil war. We’ve provided some $15 billion to Syrians in Syria and to Syrians in the region who have been forced to flee in some cases.

It is incumbent on the Syrian regime to allow that humanitarian access, to allow that humanitarian support and those humanitarians to gain access to those in need. Our humanitarian support that has totaled, again, more than $15 billion over the past dozen years has flowed through our humanitarian partners on the ground.

QUESTION: But just for me to understand, still these laws, the sanctions that are in place, will stop access by the Syrian Government to equipment that it may need. Another thing is, under these laws also, Syrians are unable to send money to their families – Americans, Syrian Americans. They can go to Western Union, I guess, and send up to $400, but they cannot send more than that. I mean, that’s what I have been told. I don’t know how accurate that is.

But will the U.S. Government, let’s say, lift restrictions or create like a temporary kind of a thing for Syrians to send in – to send money to their families that are in larger amounts than $400 through the American banking system?

MR PRICE: So Said, I think it’s important that the first assertion isn’t allowed to stand on its own. Our sanctions do not target humanitarian aid. Our sanctions have longstanding authorizations, longstanding carveouts, to see to it that humanitarian aid is allowed to go into Syria. Not only are we not standing in the way of humanitarian aid getting into Syria, we’re calling on countries around the world to do all they can to help our Turkish allies in Türkiye and also to help the people of Syria, the people of Syria whose needs long predate these earthquakes of recent weeks.

We have worked very closely within our government, within the UN system, with financial institutions over the course of our Syria sanctions program to update and, when necessary, to clarify the authorizations that are in place, in some cases granting additional authorizations, to make crystal clear to everyone that we are in no way impeding the flow of humanitarian aid to the people of Syria.

Yes, Nadia.

QUESTION: A follow-up, thank you. A few follow-up on Syria. You said in your opening statement that actually some of the aid is going to the regime-controlled area; is that correct?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: So it’s being reported today that some of the international aid that was going through the Syrian regime control has been stolen. How can you ensure that actually this aid that going through the regime is going to the people that they need it the most? And I have two other —

MR PRICE: So – but Nadia, I just – again, I want to make sure it is understood this aid is not going to the regime. This aid is going to our international partners on the ground, who have been positioned in some cases over the course of a dozen years, to use that aid and to put it to good effect.

We don’t have sanctions on humanitarian assistance. That has always been the case. We have worked to clarify and to make sure that we’re taking appropriate steps to see all humanitarian assistance be able to reach those in need. That is precisely why our humanitarian assistance has been able to reach our partners on the ground, including in regime-controlled areas.

The partners we worked – we work with are vetted. They are trusted. These are organizations that we know. We’ve taken steps to do everything we can to mitigate the risk of diversion to the Assad regime, to other nefarious actors, but our first priority at the moment is seeing as much assistance as we can get to those in need. And you have to remember we are talking about lifesaving support, precisely what the Syrians need. Whether it’s winterization supplies, whether it’s food, whether it’s water, we are providing precisely what the people of Syria need and we’re basing what we are providing based on what we’re hearing from those humanitarian partners on the ground.

QUESTION: When you talked about border crossings, you mentioned Bab al-Hawa and you also mentioned the Russians. Are we going to see – I know it’s just follow-up to Humeyra’s question. Are we going to see any new initiative led by United States at the Security Council trying to bring the situation into attention and see if they can open more border crossing – not just Bab al-Hawa, maybe Bab al-Salam and others?

MR PRICE: You are asking if we are going to do what we have done year in, year out, in recent years.

QUESTION: But this is in – that was during the war, but I’m talking about the earthquake.

MR PRICE: The answer is yes. We have – our position has always been the same. We want to see additional humanitarian crossings. We want to see additional humanitarian assistance reach the people of Syria. We have done that in the context of now the semiannual exercise, this unnecessary exercise of reauthorizing these humanitarian crossings twice a year. We don’t think the world should be called up on to do it twice a year for something that is just – seems pretty basic to us that the people of Syria should be able to receive humanitarian assistance without a twice-yearly authorization.

We are going to continue to do everything we can to see to it that there are additional humanitarian access points. To Humeyra’s question, unfortunately, the reality has been – up until now, at least – that one country primarily has stood in the way of that. The Russians have consistently threatened or used their veto when it comes to expanding border crossings. We’re going to continue to make the case, countries around the world are going to continue to make the case, and we certainly hope that Russia and all those who would stand in the way are hearing and seeing these just heartbreaking images from Syria today.

QUESTION: And just finally, can we get a list of the partners, U.S. partners on the ground that’s working now in northern, eastern Syria?

MR PRICE: I don’t know that we’re in a position to give you a list of our partners. In some cases, this is for their own safety. We want to make sure that we’re not in any way setting up obstacles to their own work, but these are organizations with whom we have in many cases a longstanding relationship, organizations that – with whom we have a relationship of trust and who have a track record of effectiveness.


QUESTION: Thank you. As you know, the Iraqi delegation have come to talk about security relationship and politic and economy. My question is: Does the U.S. Government instead on it is demands on the Iraqi Government in terms of trade relations with the countries that are listed on your sanctions, including Iran and Russia?

MR PRICE: Our relationship with the Government of Iraq is one based on partnership. It is one based on mutual respect. It is based on our mutual interests and what works to the benefit of both of our countries. It is not our approach, whether it is the Government of Iraq or any other partner of ours, to issue demands, to issue decrees. When we engage with our Iraqi partners, we do often talk about the challenges that we confront in the region and well beyond. Many of those challenges are challenges to both of our interests. Iranian-backed forces in some cases pose a challenge to both of our interests.

So when we talk about sanctions, we don’t talk about it in terms of what we are demanding of our Iraqi partners. We talk about it in terms of what is good for both of our countries, and there is a lot that is good for both of our countries. That is the relationship of shared interests, mutual interests we have. The very fact that we have so many mutual interests allows us to have these conversations and allows us to arrive at common positions.

QUESTION: Syria, please? Syria.

MR PRICE: Let me – sure. Yeah, Türkiye-Syria, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great, thank you very much.


QUESTION: You mentioned that there was a phone call – actually two – in the past two days, and you said that they’ve been able to at least flesh out the further assistance that might be needed, and you talked about a list of needs from the Turkish side to Secretary Blinken. What tops the list of needs at the moment from the Turkish side? Can you please clarify a little bit? Because obviously that’s been a topic of discussion and people want to really know in Türkiye what the further assistance could look like. And what tops the list from the Turkish side?

MR PRICE: As you know, we don’t read out the other side of a conversation when Secretary Blinken picks up the phone or other senior officials in this building pick up the phone. I will leave it to our Turkish allies to speak to what they need from the rest of the world. As I’ve watched coverage of this, we’ve heard very clearly from our Turkish allies the details of their response, what it is that they’re doing, how they’re doing it.

What is – what we want to make crystal-clear is that we are going to remain engaged with this response for as long as it takes. Türkiye is an ally. We have – when it comes to the people of Syria, this is a great humanitarian concern of ours. We have already engaged and launched a robust response, and I would expect before too long we will have more to say about what more we can do.

QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up on that?


QUESTION: I know that you obviously can’t talk about the list of needs that the Turkish Government has provided, but is it looking like from the American side that that list could be scrambled as soon as possible and dispatched to Türkiye? How is it looking?

MR PRICE: It is – from our side, it is looking like we are providing additional assistance every single day. Every day over the past few days, large cargo planes have touched down in Türkiye from the United States, ferrying needed personnel, equipment, supplies. That will continue in the immediate search-and-rescue phase. It will continue as we move on to different phases of a response to this just horrific earthquake.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) a couple different questions on this. You mentioned that the U.S. offered to redouble its efforts. Can you just unpack it a little bit what did you mean? Is it about rescue efforts? We are galloping against time; every single minute matters. And other thing about logistical concerns, and do we know how much success has been during the phone conversation in terms of resolving those problems?

MR PRICE: Do we know how much —

QUESTION: Success. I know you can’t talk about the content of the phone call, but was it successful in terms of resolving the logistical concerns you may have faced?

MR PRICE: So this was not a phone call about our concerns. This was a phone call first and foremost about what needs our Turkish allies have for their response. We want to make sure that what we are providing is specifically tailored to what our Turkish allies need most on the ground right now. As I said a moment ago, we are still in this acute and, to your point, very urgent search-and-rescue phase. That will evolve in the coming days, in the coming weeks, and what our Turkish allies need now will be different from what they need a week from now or two weeks from now. The same is very true on the part of the Syrian people.

So our response is going to continue to evolve, but our response is going to continue to evolve in one direction. It will become larger, it will become more expansive, it will become more comprehensive as we’re in a position to provide more, as we’re in a position to do more.

QUESTION: And very quickly, can you just confirm the reports about the number of U.S. citizens – American citizens that are known that have lost their lives so far?

MR PRICE: We – we’re in a position to confirm last night that there is an initial tragic tally of three Americans who have been known to have lost their lives in these earthquakes. Unfortunately, given the scale, given the magnitude of the destruction and ultimately the death toll, I think we are all under the, again, somber expectation that that number could rise.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the balloon?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: The – the spy balloon?

MR PRICE: Anything else on – we’ll take one more on Syria, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Ned, it has been 72 hours, so the hope of finding new survivors is fading. And it’s already late, but since you said – and you spoke about your partners on the ground, and you spoke about White Helmets. White Helmets said today that the assistance that they get today, it is not earthquake-related. What did you do during the last, the past 72 hours? I am talking about earthquake-related assistance. And what are you planning to do? And not – I’m not – I don’t want to ask again about the border crossing. I want to ask about the areas controlled by Türkiye. Are you having conversation with Türkiye to help the people there? And also, with the Kurds, your allies there, you can help through these two channels. What are you doing?

MR PRICE: So a couple of things to your question. Our partners on the ground inside Syria are in a position to be operational and to respond in many ways because the United States and other generous countries around the world have provided financial backing over the course of the past 12 years. The United States for our part has led the humanitarian response to the needs of the Syrian people – some $15 billion over the course of the past 12 years. So the fact that there is a contingent of partners who are able to spring into action the second these earthquakes struck, that is a testament to the profound level of support that the United States has provided to these humanitarian partners over the course of 12 years.

Now, it is true that there’s always going to be a lag from the time a natural disaster – whether it’s an earthquake or a wildfire or a weather-related event – strikes. In this case, we began assembling a response package almost immediately when those reports first started to come in on Sunday night. It’s precisely why large cargo aircraft from the United States have landed in Türkiye full of people, full of supplies, over the past several days. While these cargo aircraft have landed in Türkiye, these are teams that are bringing supplies, that are bringing expertise, whose purpose is cross-border. Some of it is going to be focused on Türkiye; much of it is going to be focused on Türkiye. Some of it is going to be focused on the Syrian people as well.

The other point I just want to reiterate is that there have been logistical difficulties in recent days owing to the fact that there had been only one UN-authorized cross-border transit point that, by the way, had been blocked. It had been very difficult to reach and it had been impossible to cross for some time. There was a convoy, as I said earlier, that was able to cross over Bab al-Hawa. That was the first convoy that had been able to cross in some time owing to damage from the earthquake.

So we are resolving these logistical issues. We are pre-positioning more people, more supplies in place, and all of that, much of that will very shortly, if not already, be in position to help the people of Türkiye and to help the people of Syria.

Anything – well, one more question on this.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Syria, yeah.

MR PRICE: Let me go – let me go to the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Just to follow up on my colleague’s question about the Russian sanctions related to Iraq, what – I met deputy prime minister yesterday. He said that we owe the Russian companies, but the United States will not let us to pay them back because they are imposing sanction to us. Then my question is that: Are you going to waive Iraq from the Russian sanctions to pay their owes, their debts to Russian companies?

And my second question: Last week, the House Representatives Foreign Affairs chairman, he sent a letter to Secretary Blinken and said when you have a meeting with the Iraqi delegation, bring the dispute between KRG and also Baghdad into the table, because some of the disputes, they make problem for oil and gas companies to working in Kurdistan Region. Then – but I don’t hear you and Secretary Blinken to mention that. Have you touched this issue with the Iraqi delegation?

MR PRICE: So a couple of things. We’ll have more to say on the meeting, I would expect, later today. But this meeting was the first time the Higher Coordinating Committee met exclusively on economic issues. The fact is that we have a 360-degree relationship with our Iraqi partners. That means that, beyond our cooperation in the security and defense realm, we’re committed to expanding all facets of that bilateral relationship: fighting corruption, combating the climate crisis, growing the private sector, creating jobs, improving public services, expanding educational and cultural programming, establishing Iraq’s energy independence, and strengthening Iraqi sovereignty.

Now, today’s session is focusing on the economics of all of that, the climate impacts of that relationship, the energy elements of it as well. So I would expect the issues that you raise will be up for discussion. I suspect we’ll have more to say before —

QUESTION: What about disputes between —

MR PRICE: — the (inaudible). Go ahead.

QUESTION: The disputes between KRG —

MR PRICE: Let me – let me move around. I need to move to others. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible), Epoch Times. You shared some information about the balloon, the Chinese balloon. Now that we know the balloon carried surveillance equipment and China wasn’t truthful about it, is the State Department considering countermeasures like sanctions against the Chinese Government?

MR PRICE: So let me say a couple things about this. You heard from the Secretary yesterday, you’ve heard from the President and others our deeply held view on this, and a view that the rest of the world has been in a position to see. China acted irresponsibly by violating our sovereignty. This was a profoundly irresponsible act in response to which we acted responsibly and prudently to protect our interests. This is not something that only the American people have been able to see in recent days. China’s irresponsible actions were visible to us but also to the world, and China as a result has a lot to answer for. They are presumably getting questions from countries all over the world about the nature of this program, about previous violations of sovereignty of some 40 countries across five continents, as we said earlier today.

Now, we are always going to protect our interests. We did so in the tactical case of this balloon. We also said today in the release that you mentioned that we’re exploring taking action against PRC entities linked to the PLA that supported the balloon’s incursion into U.S. airspace. We’ll look at continuing these broader efforts to expose and to address the PRC’s larger surveillance activities that pose a threat to our national security and that to our allies and partners as well.

You’ve heard us speak in recent days of our efforts to engage allies and partners. We have engaged them via the State Department here in Washington, D.C. We’ve engaged them via our embassies around the world. This is a program that not only threatened and violated our sovereignty but the sovereignty of dozens of countries, so we think it’s important to share what it is that we know, to hear questions and to answer questions from allies and partners around the world, and to approach this challenge as we have many other challenges we face from the PRC with allies and partners by our side.


QUESTION: Thank you – yeah.

QUESTION: No, can we stay on the balloon?


QUESTION: So since you just said it, 40 countries, 5 continents. What other countries?

MR PRICE: Matt, we released a number today, but we did not release the countries.

QUESTION: I know. Why I’m asking you – that’s why I’m asking.

MR PRICE: Oh. Got it.

QUESTION: Which other countries —

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to release the countries. Of course, these countries are free to speak to what has happened to them should they choose to do so.

QUESTION: Do they know?

MR PRICE: We are having conversations with countries that we are not having with you, sorry to say, and it’s up to these countries to —

QUESTION: That’s fine. How do you know these other – I mean, obviously, the U.S. airspace was breached. We all saw it. We saw it come down. But how do you know that 39 other countries were affected by similar incursions?

MR PRICE: So we have a variety of means at our disposal, Matt. Some of them are available to you. You presumably have seen videos, pictures of these types of systems overflying other countries as well. There has been public reporting on countries that have said —

QUESTION: Not on the 40.

MR PRICE: There has been public reporting of other countries that have said that they —

QUESTION: How do you know, and were these incursions over these other 39 countries also violations of sovereignty?

MR PRICE: Matt, when a surveillance balloon goes into your airspace with the express point of collecting intelligence on countries around the world, that would strike us to be a violation of sovereignty. We will let other countries speak to what has happened to them. We – what we think is important is for the American public and people around the world to at least have a broad sense of what this was.

This to us was very clearly a violation of our sovereignty, but this program did not only target the United States. And so just as we have confronted virtually every other challenge we face from the PRC with allies and partners by our side, part of what we are doing in the engagement with our allies and partners, both here in D.C. and embassies around the world, is to make sure that a broad array of countries understand this threat and are in a position to protect against it.

QUESTION: Okay. But did these other – did any of these other 39 countries come to you and say, “Hey, oh, the same thing has happened to us”?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to go into our private diplomatic —

QUESTION: Okay. Then that suggests that, in fact, you guys are conducting exactly the same kind of surveillance over these countries that you’re accusing the Chinese of doing over yours.

MR PRICE: Matt, that is —

QUESTION: How do you know?

MR PRICE: Matt, that is a —

QUESTION: How do you know that a balloon was flying over Botswana, to give an example?

MR PRICE: We did not name any countries, Matt, and —

QUESTION: I know you didn’t. I’m just using that as an – fine, I’ll use a fictional example. The one I was going to use was Atlantis, but it’s under water, so that’s a bad one. But how do you know?

MR PRICE: How do we know – we have had conversations with countries —

QUESTION: Because those countries have come to you and said, “Hey, look, we had the same thing happen to us”?

MR PRICE: We have – we – I will state broadly that we have a range of means at our disposal. What we released today was based on information available to us via a range of means. Some of that is going to be diplomatic correspondence. Some of that is going to be open-source reporting, the likes of which you’ve seen that you may be playing ignorant to now.

QUESTION: No, no, I – Ned, I don’t —

MR PRICE: Some of it will be means that I just can’t get into from here, and I hope you understand that.

QUESTION: But I haven’t seen any open-source reporting on anything other than, like, Colombia and possibly in the Caribbean and Japan.

MR PRICE: Well, you’re —

QUESTION: And that’s it. And that’s not 40. That’s like four. And if you guys are so sure that 40 other – or 39 other countries were breached, I just – how? How do you know for sure?

MR PRICE: Matt, this goes back to a conversation you and I have had many times. We are attempting to be as transparent as we can possibly be to do everything we can to sensitize the rest of the world to this challenge, a challenge that countries in private – some countries in private – have recognized for some time, because they’ve been subjected to it.

Now, what it is also true that I just can’t go into the full set of details. We aren’t going to be in a position to reveal sources and methods. We aren’t going to be in a position that would weaken our defenses against a program like this or any other type of surveillance program that the PRC or any other competitor might have aimed at us or our partners and allies around the world.

QUESTION: Can you say, in the spirit of transparency, this five continents and 40 countries – how long has this been going on?

MR PRICE: Over the course of several years.

QUESTION: Several.

QUESTION: Are they —

QUESTION: And – just one second, Alex. And if it wasn’t for this incident, were you guys going to let those countries know?

MR PRICE: Humeyra, we have conversation with our partners and allies in private about a range of challenges, threats, and opportunities that we face. I can tell you, without going into detail, that we have pretty in-depth conversations – we have had pretty in-depth conversations with our allies and partners around the world about the challenges that China presents. There are a number of challenges. One of those challenges is espionage, surveillance, the type of activity that we’ve been talking for the past few days. Those are the types of conversations that we’ve long had with allies and partners.

QUESTION: So you have let them know for a while – a while ago about the program of Chinese surveillance balloons?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to go into discussions that often do take place in intelligence channels. I will just make the broad point that we think it is important to share as much as we can with our partners and allies around the world about these types of activities, because, again, we are not the only country that’s been subjected to them.

QUESTION: You have to stay on —

MR PRICE: I need to —

QUESTION: One more.

MR PRICE: On the balloon? Go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: Can you —

MR PRICE: Alex, I need to move on.

QUESTION: State Department has said that there were ongoing talks with South Korea regarding balloon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Thank you.

QUESTION: I talked balloon already. (Laughter.) And what is the result? Is South Korea is included in this incident?

MR PRICE: Just as we haven’t publicized the list of countries that have been subjected to this by this particular program, we’re also not detailing which countries we’ve engaged with. But I’ll tell you it’s been dozens of countries around the world, across multiple continents.

QUESTION: And the balloon, Latin America.

QUESTION: And one more.

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned Colombia and Costa Rica was spotted. Is any concerns, beyond the fact that you are communicated – is any concerns that the region is being targeted? We know that China has a lot of influence within Nicaragua, within Venezuela, as well as some other countries. Have you had that conversation with those countries? We know the president of Colombia said that it wasn’t against their sovereign space. He was not concerned, publicly at least. Is any concerns by the State Department? Is any possibility of engaging with them in terms of like trying to figure that out?

MR PRICE: We have broad concerns about this program. We know this is a program that has spanned, again, five continents. We’re not going to detail those countries that we’ve engaged, but we have issued broad invitations to have discussions with us. We have had a number of large group discussions with other representatives of other countries, and our embassies are engaging allies and partners around the world with information.


QUESTION: I’m sure you’re aware of the —

QUESTION: In the initial phase as you told us that these balloons, surveillance balloons, are not of much interest, value because the information they can get other satellites as well. That was initial assessment. Now, it looks like you – these balloons have much more intelligence value. They collect much more than what you initially felt was. Is that correct?

MR PRICE: So I’ll make a couple points. One, we were able to minimize the intelligence collection value of this particular system because we identified it early on, and we took prudent steps, including steps on the ground, that would minimize its ability provide valuable intelligence back to the PRC.

Not every country is going to be in a position to do that, so we want to provide countries with information that they may need to help defend themselves against this type of program, similar types of programs going forward.

QUESTION: The conversation that you are having with other 39 countries, are – were they having the same kind of balloons or they were different kind of intelligence gathering?

MR PRICE: This – we – you saw the information that we released today. This is a program that has spanned five continents, 40 countries, and this is a program that has deployed these types of assets around the globe in that regard.

QUESTION: Two quick questions: one, are you trying to create a coalition of these 39, 40 countries on balloon itself; and secondly, Chinese are denying it, right? They’re saying they don’t have any such program, right?

MR PRICE: Well, I think the fact is that they have a lot of explaining to do. They have a lot of questions from countries around the world. It’s not surprising to hear them issue these types of denials. They’re in a very difficult spot, but they’re in a difficult spot because they placed themselves there. They decided to take this action against the United States. They’ve decided to leverage this program against dozens of countries around the world.

I wouldn’t say that we are seeking to organize a formal coalition of countries that have been subjected to this specific program. What I would say is we have, as part of our diplomatic blocking and tackling since really day one of this administration, sought to have a convergence of views regarding the challenges presented by the PRC. There are a number of countries with whom we consult very closely about these challenges. We work very closely, coordinate our approach so that it’s most effective. We do that with Europe; we do that with countries in the Indo-Pacific; we do that with countries in the Western Hemisphere; and we do that with countries in Africa, among other places.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Have you been made aware —

QUESTION: Can I just —

MR PRICE: Let me –

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR PRICE: Well, I’ll take one more on this.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) How do you define those 40 countries? What brings them together, in your opinion? I mean, are they politically different —

MR PRICE: Alex, I’m just – I’m not going to further characterize these countries.


QUESTION: I have just one question about the balloon. Are you guys off that?


QUESTION: Okay. Sorry. So one of the primary questions on the Hill today has been why the administration didn’t shoot it down either while it was over the Alaskan islands, which are not very populated densely, or why it wasn’t shot down before it came into Alaskan airspace. Do you have an answer for that right now for us?

MR PRICE: You heard that from briefers who were on the Hill today. What you heard from our briefers is that when it entered North American airspace we were tracking it very closely. NORAD had custody of it. It was scrutinizing it and watching it very closely. NORAD, our military officials did not assess it to be a military threat. At the same time, just as it wasn’t deemed to be a military threat, there was value to us in tracking and assessing the activities of the balloon so that we could, in a sense, flip the script, so that we could learn more about this capability, even as the PRC has deployed it in our airspace in an effort to learn more about us.

As I said to one of your colleague’s questions a moment ago, just as we took these steps to train our own assets on this system, we also took steps on the ground and otherwise to minimize any intelligence collection value that the PRC would be in a position to collect from this system.

Finally, you know and you heard from DOD that there was a concern, of course, even if the possibility would have remote, of damage, destruction to property on the ground or, worse, injury or potential fatalities on the ground as a result of a military operation over the United States. The President, when he was briefed on this, immediately instructed his teams to develop options and to bring it down when it was safe and responsible to do so. And that’s what happened last weekend.

QUESTION: So you – so just to be clear – so it was the Biden administration’s assessment that it was of a higher U.S. intelligence value to allow it to go over the U.S. and then take it down versus the capabilities you would have been able to collect if you took it down before?

MR PRICE: With all of our actions, Kylie, we look at it through a cost-benefit lens. There would have been costs, potentially very high costs, to taking this system down over the United States. The U.S. military has spoken to the possibility of destruction, injuries, potentially even deaths. Of course, that is not something that we would seek to invite.

There was also a benefit, yes, in terms of watching this system, as we minimized its ability to collect against the United States. The military devised a plan at the direction of the President to bring it down at the first moment where it was safe to do so, and that’s precisely what happened.

Said, sure.

QUESTION: Can I change topics? (Inaudible.) Can I move to the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Okay. Axios just published an article saying that the Biden administration warned the Israeli Government that it would consider any transfer of civilian authority in the occupied West Bank to far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich as a step toward annexation. Two Israeli – he claims that two Israeli and U.S. official sources have said. Can you confirm that?

MR PRICE: You are asking me about something that presumably just came out while I was here, so I’m —

QUESTION: Would the U.S. Government consider that giving this file, whatever you want to call it, this responsibility to Smotrich as a step toward annexation?

MR PRICE: We are not going to comment on a hypothetical. What we will say and the message that we conveyed consistently from the Secretary when we were in Israel and the West Bank is the criticality of Israel and the Palestinian Authority of refraining from any unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step solution. We’ve been very specific about those steps, but I’m just going to comment on what would be a hypothetical.

QUESTION: That brings me to my second point, that Israel, despite your call for – to cease demolishing of homes and so on, they really have stepped up demolitions of homes in Jerusalem. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: Said, our comment has been consistent, and it’s the comment – it’s precisely what you heard from Secretary Blinken. We’ve called on Israel, we call on the Palestinian Authority to avoid any such unilateral steps. That includes annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolition, violence and incitement to violence, or providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, Ned, I asked about how Gazans are not allowed to cross borders for medical reasons and so on. Today, we have a doctor from Gaza testifying before Congress Yasser Abu-Jamei and he’s talking about these conditions. Are there any plans to meet with him or anything like this? Or is the United States – can the United States take any unilateral steps to accelerate medical aid to Gaza?

MR PRICE: Said, one of the early tasks of this administration in the region was to re-establish relations with the Palestinian Authority but also with the Palestinian people – the Palestinian people in the West Bank, but also the Palestinian people in Gaza, whose needs are extreme. As part of that, we have also re-engaged UNRWA. We have provided humanitarian assistance to the tune of $1.1 billion to the Palestinian people – again, not flowing through any de facto governmental entity in Gaza, but going directly to partners on the ground to help those Palestinians in the West Bank, in Gaza, who are in need, who are in need of precisely the types of elements that you just spoke to.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Leaders of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been a meeting in Cairo this week. Do you have any comment on those meetings?

MR PRICE: I don’t.

QUESTION: And have you spoken with the Egyptians or Israelis about them?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any comment on those. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank – thank you. On North Korea, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussed the completion of war readiness at the central military commission of the party and regarding the demonstration of new weapons at North Korea’s military parade last night. How do you assess on that?

MR PRICE: Janne, these are propaganda exercises on the part of the DPRK. We’re, of course, aware that the DPRK staged this parade, but we’re not going to comment on it. What I will say is that our goal remains the same; that’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are prepared to engage in dialogue, in diplomacy with the DPRK to that end. In the absence of any apparent inclination on the part of the DPRK to do that, we are going to continue to coordinate closely, to sit down to engage in diplomacy with our allies – Japan, ROK in this case, but also with partners and allies around the world.

QUESTION: And Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said at a recent congressional hearing that the United States should not relieve sanctions and reduce the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises in order to talk with North Korea. Can the State Department give up sanctions or U.S.-ROK joint exercises for dialogue with North Korea?

MR PRICE: Janne, we have an offer on the table to the DPRK for dialogue right now. This is an offer that the DPRK could have accepted over the course of nearly two years, and so far has chosen not to. Instead, the DPRK has engaged in provocation after provocation, each one of which poses a threat to international peace and security in the region and potentially beyond.

What you’ve seen from the United States and the ROK – and the United States and Japan – the types of defensive maneuvers that we have undertaken, that is to ensure that we make good on the commitment that we have to the ROK and Japan that our commitment to their security remains ironclad. We are doing that in the face of provocations from the DPRK. We would like to see the DPRK cease these provocations. We would like to see the DPRK engage in dialogue. But until and unless that happens, our approach will remain the same.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: You’ve already had a question. I want to make sure that you – go ahead, you haven’t had a question.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m sure you’re aware of the new report from Seymour Hersh, how America took out the Nord Stream pipeline and the White House’s denial of any involvement. Given the longstanding U.S. opposition to the pipeline, Secretary Blinken’s calling its demise a tremendous opportunity, and Under Secretary of State Nuland’s saying that the U.S. officials were pleased with the destruction of the pipeline, and especially the – Sweden’s secretive investigation, do you think the U.S. Government’s denial of involvement is credible?

MR PRICE: I absolutely do, and I repeat it here. Anything else?

QUESTION: So let me follow up on that, if I might. Have you or anybody else at the State Department been in communication with German, Norwegian ambassadors, or other allies or officials on this matter?

MR PRICE: On the matter of Nord Stream 2?

QUESTION: On the matter of the latest allegations which give a fairly – I mean, it’s one anonymous source, but it is a fairly detailed inside —

MR PRICE: It is – (laughter) – it is – it would not be typical for us to engage allies and partners on something that is utter and complete nonsense and that should be rejected out of hand by anyone who is looking at it through an objective lens.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more aspect on this. One of the allegations that Hersh makes is that it was taken off the CIA in order to prevent involvement, oversight as a covert operation. Did you read the piece?

MR PRICE: I’m familiar with it.

QUESTION: One of his allegations is that it was taken off the CIA platform —

MR PRICE: Look, rather than let this propaganda get —

QUESTION: No, no, this is a very specific legal —

MR PRICE: — be aired in the briefing room – but let —

QUESTION: This is a legal question I’m asking.

MR PRICE: Let me just say it is a fundamental misunderstanding of oversight in our U.S. Congress. Beyond getting his facts entirely wrong, as he has before in very high-profile ways, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to suggest that our Intelligence Community is not subject to oversight. Anyone who writes that, anything who writes anything like that should not be believed on —

QUESTION: No, no, no, that’s not what he wrote.

MR PRICE: — any facts that he or she puts forward.

QUESTION: No, no, no. He wrote that it was taken off of the CIA and put under military in order to prevent —

MR PRICE: Our military is also subject to rigorous oversight. Go ahead.

QUESTION: That’s my question, that’s my question.

MR PRICE: Yes. The answer is yes.

QUESTION: Do you recognize and abide by the war powers clause in such a situation and the War Powers Resolution in such a situation? That’s my question.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) In a situation – your question is if we abide by the War Powers Resolution in a situation that never occurred?

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In any situation —

MR PRICE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: In any situation involving U.S. military, do you abide by the War Powers Resolution?

MR PRICE: We follow the law in every instance, yes.

QUESTION: Including the War Powers Resolution?

MR PRICE: We follow the War Powers Resolution and the broader law in every instance, yes.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A quick follow-up on the Chinese entities that are linked to PLA, which were involved in this balloon program. You said you’re considering taking action against these entities. When should we expect to receive some information about that? And a broader sanction against the regime is off the table – my understanding – is that correct?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to go further into that than the information we released earlier this morning. We’re always going to take action to protect our people, to protect our interests, to guard against what is a challenge to those. And if it’s appropriate for us to respond, whether it’s against PLA related entities, or to continue the type of declassifications and public releases that we’ve been doing, that’s something we won’t hesitate to do.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So on the balloon, can you at least say if any EU country was concerned? And more broadly, do you know what the general or specific purpose of this global campaign of balloons is? And I mean, is there, like, a specific goal? Do you know that?

And separately, on different topic, the Belarussian regime has sentenced Polish journalist and community activist Andrzej Poczobut for eight years in prison two days ago after another sham trial. Do you have a reaction to that, and any action that you might consider taking?

MR PRICE: On your last question, I’m not immediately familiar with it but we’ll get back to you if we have any reaction to that. On your first question, these are really questions for the PRC. This was a PRC program. What they intended to garner from it, beyond the obvious, is better directed towards them. And again, to reiterate, I’m just not going to specify countries.


QUESTION: Thank you. So quick follow-up on the balloon issue. When do you think China started surveillance activities on more than 40 countries? And also, when did the U.S. find these activities across five continents? Was it just after U.S. detected the recent balloon?

MR PRICE: So as we said this morning, these were – this activity was undertaken in recent years, across five continents, 40 countries who had their sovereignty violated. We have spoken in some detail to previous instances of balloons in our airspace. I’ll let other countries speak to balloons that may have traversed their airspace. But what I can say broadly is President Biden ordered the – his team to do all we can to step up our capabilities to be sensitive to threats like Chinese espionage, Chinese surveillance, Chinese spying.

As a result of that, in the aftermath of that, we’ve been able to piece together elements that we, in some cases, didn’t previously know. We are going to continue to do everything we can to protect our interests, to protect our people against a challenge like this, but any other challenge we could face from the PRC or any other competitor.


QUESTION: Yeah, President Biden said in an interview yesterday – he was asked if the balloon incident represented a big hit to relations with China, and he said no. Do you share that assessment? Is the postponement of the Secretary’s trip and the verbal back and forth that’s happened since between the two sides, is that not a big hit to relations?

MR PRICE: I do share that assessment, unsurprisingly, because, Dylan, we’ve been under no illusions about the challenges that the PRC presents. We’ve always known this is a relationship that is competitive at its core, that has conflictual areas that – potentially conflictual areas that we’re determined to see don’t veer into actual conflict, but also areas in which we need to – we must in some ways – work together if we’re going to address challenges, threats to the American people and to people around the world. So of course we didn’t wake up recognizing anything about the PRC or the challenges we face from the PRC that we didn’t know prior to last week.

Now, this has crystallized that in the minds of many Americans. It may be the first time that many Americans have seen such a vivid demonstration. But we’ve always been attuned to these challenges and, more than that, attuned to the need to manage this relationship responsibly.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thanks. I have a question about the news that the UK is considering sending fighter jets to Ukraine. I guess my first question is: Is this something the U.S. has a stance on given that we have expressed the belief that it’s not a system yet that’s appropriate for the war in Ukraine? And two, is this – is there any coordination between the UK and the U.S. on this decision about fighter jets?

MR PRICE: My understanding – and of course, I would refer you to our British authorities, to our British allies for this – but I’m not sure that’s quite right, a rendering of what they said yesterday. I think the question of provision of aircraft is something that they’re looking at, but they did speak to training.

QUESTION: Okay, yeah.

MR PRICE: As for us – and the same would apply to our British allies – these are discussions that we have with our Ukrainian partners to determine, in the first instance, what it is that they need. We then have these conversations between and among partners and allies to determine what it is that any given partner has, what we collectively have as countries who are standing up for Ukraine, and what would be appropriate for us to do. These are decisions that we take in close consultations with Ukraine, partners and allies, but we’re just not going to get ahead of that process with any single system or with the specifics.

I – all right – I don’t think you’ve had a question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So I have a question for the Chinese balloon. So you said the Chinese balloon was flying, like, all over the world, and then you said they got 40 countries and four continents. So what’s the ratio? Is it the 40 country is mostly, like, Asian country, or do you have, like, any, like, sense for this one?

MR PRICE: I’m – again, I’m just not going to go into the countries specifically. What we made public this morning is that this is a program that has violated the sovereignty of 40 countries across five continents, and I’ll leave it there.

Thank you all very much. Thanks.

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