Department Press Briefing – May 11, 2021
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
May 11, 2021
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN ISSUES
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN ISSUES
2:07 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. A few things at the top.
First, we are deeply concerned about the escalation between Israel and those launching rockets from Gaza, and we call for restraint and for calm. Israel has the right to defend itself and to respond to rocket attacks. The Palestinian people also have the right to safety and security, just as Israelis do.
We are also deeply concerned about the reported loss of life in Gaza and Israel, including the deaths of children as well as many innocent civilians injured. Similarly, in Jerusalem, where there reportedly have been hundreds of Palestinians injured, as well as Israeli police, we call on all sides to exercise restraint and to exercise calm.
The United States will continue to remain engaged with senior Israeli officials and Palestinian leadership in the days and weeks ahead. Just today, in fact, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to his counterpart, Israeli Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, to condemn the rocket attacks and to reiterate this important message of de-escalation.
Next, in view of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Brazil, the United States is partnering with the Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, to provide access to approximately $17 million worth of essential medications to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients who require intubation to be connected to lifesaving ventilators. Today, 164 pallets of medication arrived in Sao Paulo and are being prepared by the Brazilian ministry of health for distribution to hospitals across the country.
The United States Government-facilitated supply will enable Brazil to meet its critical hospital needs for at least 30 days. This action comes in addition to over $16.9 million in direct U.S. Government assistance and $75 million in private sector support to Brazilian communities and governments across the country.
As we have consistently said, as long as the virus continues to spread anywhere, it remains a threat to people everywhere, including to Americans here at home. That is why this administration has stepped up to again help lead the global effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to do so going forward.
And finally, the United States Government welcomes the announcement by President Ghani that the Afghan Government will join the Taliban in observing a ceasefire over the Eid al-Fitr holiday. We urge both sides to build on the momentum of the ceasefire by engaging in serious negotiations on a political settlement, and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
While the Eid ceasefire is a positive step, innocent Afghan civilians have borne the costs of decades of war, and they deserve much more than just three days free of violence. The United States remains committed to the Afghan peace process, which presents the best opportunity for Afghans to reach a just and durable political settlement, and to ensure a future for Afghanistan that is free of terrorism and of senseless violence.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks. Ned, on the call between the Secretary and the foreign – the Israeli foreign minister, when you said that he condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and then you also said he reiterated our important message of de-escalation, to you, or to the administration, what does that mean from the Israeli side?
MR PRICE: Could you repeat that? What does that mean from the Israeli side?
QUESTION: From the Israeli side, what specifically would you like to see them do to de-escalate? I'm going to ask the same thing about the Palestinian side.
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, we have called on both sides, and in fact, given Hamas's horrific terrorist attack, its rocket fire, into Israel, we have called on all sides, of course including Hamas, to cease this activity. The loss of life – the loss of Israeli life, the loss of Palestinian life – it's something that we deeply regret. We are urging this message of de-escalation to see this loss of life come to an end.
As you know, we've been very clear that Israel does have a right to defend itself. At the same time, reports of civilian deaths are something that we regret and that we would like to see come to a stop.
QUESTION: Yeah. But what specifically do you want to see? Other than an end to the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, which is a specific thing which you've called for already, from the Israeli side and from the Palestinian side in terms of what's happening in East Jerusalem and on – around the holy sites, what specifically would you like to see?
MR PRICE: Well, what I would say is that we have seen some encouraging steps, both from Israel and from the Palestinians. The decision yesterday to reroute the Jerusalem Day parade, the decision on the part of the Israeli supreme court to delay the Sheikh Jarrah decision, was – was welcome.
QUESTION: Okay, but this is things that happened yesterday and the situation got worse.
MR PRICE: As – as was – as was the decision by prime minister Abbas to —
QUESTION: President Abbas.
MR PRICE: — President Abbas, excuse me, to call off the Eid celebration – Eid celebration. So, look, I am not going to offer specific advice to both sides for either side from the podium. I will say that our message continues to be one of prioritizing de-escalation, urging calm, urging restraint on both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my last one, and it's just – so that message that has been – and people look at that on both – from both sides look at that, and many of them – and you can see this on social media; you can see it in their own words, interviews that they've done – don't think that this administration is doing enough or that it is pursuing somewhat of a halfhearted or trying to do an all-size – an all-size-fits – one-size-fits-all kind of policy that has resulted in both the Israelis and the Palestinians being upset at what they perceive to be a lack of U.S. leadership on that. How do you respond to that criticism?
MR PRICE: Well, I would respond to that criticism, Matt, by noting that the United States is doing what we can, knowing that we don't – our ability in certain situations is going to be in some cases limited. But we are speaking to our partners, we are speaking to our Israeli partners, we are speaking to Palestinian officials, again, to do what we can in conjunction with the international community. Yesterday again we spoke to this statement on the part of the Quartet that was issued. Other countries, other international bodies, multilateral fora, have issued similar statements. I think the international community by and large is calling for precisely what we are calling for, doing precisely what we have attempted to do and to urge calm, de-escalation, and restraint on both sides.
QUESTION: Maybe I missed it. Does that mean that you dropped your opposition, your objection to the UN Security Council statement?
MR PRICE: Matt, as we – as I said yesterday, we want to see to it that steps, whether they emanate from the Israeli Government, the Palestinian Authority, or the UN Security Council, serve not to escalate or provoke but to de-escalate.
QUESTION: So the short, one-word answer is no, you haven't dropped your opposition to it?
MR PRICE: We have —
QUESTION: Has the Council come out with a statement? I'm sorry, I may have missed it.
MR PRICE: We have – we have continued to call in multiple fora for de-escalation and to see to it to do what we can to ensure that no actor takes provocative actions.
QUESTION: I get it. You don't —
MR PRICE: We don't – we don't want to see provocations. The provocations that we have seen have resulted in a lamentable, deeply lamentable, loss of life —
QUESTION: Got it.
MR PRICE: – of Israeli life and of Palestinian life.
QUESTION: But to give me a one-word answer, yes or no: Have you dropped your objection to the Security Council presidential statement on the situation?
MR PRICE: Matt, as you know as well as anyone does, private sessions of the UN Security Council —
MR PRICE: — are not – are not sessions that we read out. But again, our message continues to be one of de-escalation. We do not want to see any actor, be it a government or be it an intergovernmental body, take an action that could serve to escalate rather than de-escalate.
QUESTION: Thank you. I'm sure you'll agree that there has been no de-escalation in the last 24 hours, despite your calls, rather on fresh escalation. Would you say that Israeli response is consistent with the right to self-defense, or is it an escalation that you ask them to stop or moderate? And also, has the foreign – the Secretary of State asked to his counterpart precisely to stop or halt the demolitions and evictions of Palestinians' family?
MR PRICE: Well, in terms of Sheikh Jarrah, as we have learned, that is a matter that the supreme court will issue a ruling on in the coming days. Obviously, we have made our views clear on this, noting that the Palestinian families, who in many cases have lived there for generations, should be treated with compassion and humanity. And that continues to be where we stand on this as the matter is adjudicated within the Israeli legal system.
In terms of Israel's response, again, Israel has a right to self-defense. We also recognize that the Palestinian people need to be able to live in safety and security, just as Israelis do.
QUESTION: Do you consider that they are within their right to self-defense, or that the current strikes and the pledge by Prime Minister Netanyahu to even intensify them is an escalation that you condemn?
MR PRICE: We stand by Israel's right to defend itself. We also stand by the principle that Palestinians deserve the right to live in safety and security. I'm not here to adjudicate military operations, to say what is proportional precisely, what is not. But the United States certainly stands by the principle that civilians should not – that any loss of civilian life is deeply lamentable, whether that is a Palestinian life or an Israeli life. That is why we've continued to call on calm – continued to call for calm, continued to call on all sides to de-escalate and to exercise restraint in their actions.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Palestinian News Agency is saying that President Abbas received a letter today from President Biden dealing with the current situation and bilateral relations. Can you confirm that?
Secondly, when it comes to East Jerusalem, my understanding from what you said yesterday is that the State Department regards it as disputed rather than occupied territory. Is that correct?
And thirdly, following on these questions about de-escalation, as you probably know, Israeli politics have shifted even further to the right over the past four years. The Israeli Government has shifted further to the right. There is the influence of the hard right has grown. What makes you think you're on the same page when you call for de-escalation?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, I don't have anything to offer when it comes to any reported presidential correspondence. I would need to refer you to the White House for that. What I will say, however, is that American officials, including those in the State Department, have been in touch with Palestinian officials both in this period of increased tensions and throughout this administration as we work to build ties with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.
What I said yesterday was just a slight modification on a question that was proposed because the question, I thought, put words in my mouth. I made the statements several weeks ago now that it continues to be the policy of the United States Government that the West Bank is occupied. Jerusalem, as we know, is a final status issue, which is – the status of which is to be determined by the parties in the conduct of diplomacy.
QUESTION: So do you mean that that's – is it disputed, then? Is that how you see it?
MR PRICE: It is an —
QUESTION: Rather than occupied? You don't classify it as occupied?
MR PRICE: It is an issue that – whose final status needs to be determined by the parties in the conduct of diplomacy.
QUESTION: And then my last question?
MR PRICE: Your last question was?
QUESTION: Was that the Israeli Government has shifted —
MR PRICE: Ah, yes.
QUESTION: — to the right considerably. What makes you think you're on the same page when it comes to de-escalation, especially given the influence of the hard right, as we've seen with these provocations in Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: Well, look, we are speaking to – we will always have a partner in the Israeli Government. We are speaking to our partners in Israel, just as we are speaking to the Palestinian Authority, reiterating this same message, a message that prizes de-escalation and calm in an effort to put an end to the loss of civilian life on both sides.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. doing to restore calm, other than calling the two parties to restore the calm? And other than the Israeli foreign minister, did the Secretary call someone else from the region?
MR PRICE: So on your – well, to take both questions, what I would say is that senior American officials and American officials at various levels, in fact, have been in touch with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts in recent days. We have, of course, mentioned National Security Advisor Sullivan's call to his counterpart. Deputy Secretary Sherman has spoken to her counterpart. Secretary Blinken has spoken to his Israeli counterpart as of just a couple hours ago. Now, the same is true with – when it comes to Palestinian counterparts. That interaction has taken place with both Israeli and Palestinian counterparts from this building, from our embassy in Israel, and it will continue going forward as well.
Look, the United States is doing what we can. We are doing what we can in close coordination with the international community. We know, whether it is this issue or just about any other issue under the sun, that when we demonstrate engagement, when we step up and use our voice, as we have done both in public and in private, that it tends to have a catalytic effect. And we have been gratified by the international community largely speaking in unison, calling for restraint, calling for calm, calling for de-escalation. We know that it is going to be an important ingredient if we are to fulfill our desire to see a diminution of this violence and of this bloodshed, which of course, remains our ultimate goal.
QUESTION: Thanks. So you started off yesterday by saying that we are condemning the rocket attacks into Israel, and today was no different. You again condemned the attacks against Israel by the Palestinian side. But yesterday, you fall short of condemning the pictures of Palestinian children killed as a result of Israeli airstrikes. Have you seen those pictures, first of all? And does the State Department have anything to say against that?
MR PRICE: I have seen those pictures, and those pictures – it's hard not to look at those pictures and feel – sense the suffering. It is precisely why today we have called for restraint and de-escalation in an effort to preserve civilian life. And we recognize that Israelis have been killed, Palestinians have been killed.
And you raised yesterday. I – what I said yesterday I think bears repeating, because I don't want it to be glossed over. When I came out here yesterday, reports had just emerged. We didn't have independent verification of what had transpired. And so we think it's important that before we speak publicly, whether it's the State Department or the U.S. Government, that we have a solid understanding of the facts on the ground. Today, some 24 hours later, we have a solid understanding of the facts on the ground. We have developed that understanding over the course of yesterday, and today, of course, we've seen more deeply disturbing developments. The loss of life of Palestinian – innocent Palestinians, of innocent Israelis, is something we deeply regret, and is precisely why we are doing everything we can. We are doing everything we can in coordination with our international partners to put an end to a cycle of escalation and a cycle of violence.
QUESTION: Okay. Having seen those pictures quite clearly, do you think those pictures, those scenes, are something to condemn right now?
MR PRICE: I'm sorry. I didn't —
QUESTION: Do you think – having seen those pictures, do you think those pictures, those scenes of Palestinian children having been killed by Israeli airstrikes, do you think that's something to condemn today?
MR PRICE: Well – and I said this yesterday, that the loss of innocent life is something that we would – that is deeply regrettable. It is – of course, Israel has the right to defend itself against those attacking Israel, against Hamas and terrorists responsible, including for the loss of life in Israel, but the loss of civilian life in these operations is something that we deeply regret. It is precisely why we have said that, just as the Israelis do, the Palestinians have every right to live in safety and security.
QUESTION: Does the administration regret not appointing a special envoy for the Israel-Palestine conflict, and is that something you're considering doing now? And you mentioned these discussions you're having and hoping to play a de-escalatory role. Does that involve contact directly with Hamas?
MR PRICE: Our policy vis-a-vis Hamas is very clear. Hamas is a foreign terrorist organization and it will be treated as such. When it comes to our approach to this, look, I don't want to get ahead of where we are. We spoke to this yesterday in some detail, and I made the point that it is not that we have failed to prioritize this; that is not the case. What we have recognized is precisely what other governments have recognized and what is plain as day, is that the two sides are not at the present moment in a position to undertake meaningful negotiations to advance a two-state solution. If there – if that becomes – if that opportunity becomes riper, if there is an opportunity to advance that ball in a meaningful way towards a two-state solution, the United States will continue to be deeply engaged towards that end.
And we will continue to be deeply engaged towards that end because we recognize that only a two-state solution will serve the interests of Israelis, of Palestinians, and would be consistent with our interests and our values. It would preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state. It would fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for sovereignty and dignity in a state of their own. That's what we would like to see happen. That has been the longstanding position of successive American administrations. Now, of course, a negotiated two-state solution has eluded any number of American administrations over time. We are doing what we can now to, I would say, lay the groundwork to be in a better position going forward to potentially make progress.
Of course, we have a stalwart relationship with Israel. Those ties continue to be close, of course. When it comes to the Palestinians, this administration has made an effort to re-establish ties with the Palestinian people, with the Palestinian Authority in any number of ways, whether that is our humanitarian assistance, whether it is our engagement as well, and that will continue. So it is not that we have not been paying attention. We have been very much engaged, deeply engaged, and that predates this cycle of escalation that we've seen over the past several days and it, in fact, started in the earliest days of this administration.
QUESTION: Is the administration any closer to naming an ambassador to Israel, and is that something that's going to be expedited in light of the current tensions?
MR PRICE: Well, so as you know, there have been, I believe, 11 ambassadorial nominations put forward by this administration – nine of career officials, two of non-career officials, both of whom – of course, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, who is now confirmed as our U.S. ambassador, and Chris Lu, who is now nominated to also serve at the USUN.
When it comes to forthcoming nominations, I know that all of these are a priority, but it's especially a priority when it comes to our closest partners. And Israel, of course, is among them, but I just don't have a timeframe for you on that.
QUESTION: Claudia Uceda with Univision Network. Talking about the situation in Colombia —
MR PRICE: Is there anything more on —
QUESTION: Yeah. I just have a really brief —
MR PRICE: Before – let me just make sure we get questions before we go back.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Just a bureaucratic – in line with what Jenny was asking, Barbara Leaf has been nominated but hasn't had a hearing yet; is that correct?
MR PRICE: That is my understanding, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday, there was stark contrast between the statements that Secretary Blinken made and Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi in which Blinken emphasized the two sides and Israel's right to self-defense, whereas Safadi was very firm about all of the Palestinian grievances; that's what he emphasized. How do you bridge that gap, as you try to find international partners like Jordan, like Egypt, to deal with this crisis?
MR PRICE: Well, I think if you look at the statement, both from Secretary Blinken and the foreign minister, what you saw yesterday was agreement that the status quo of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif needed to be preserved. Both sides were very much in agreement there. Both sides were very much in agreement in calling for de-escalation, calling for calm. So I think I would take issue with the idea that there was much daylight there. Now, of course, we only speak for ourselves, but the preservation of the status quo and prioritizing call for restraint, call for calm, call for de-escalation is something you certainly heard from both individuals yesterday.
QUESTION: One last one —
QUESTION: So you said Wendy Sherman talked to her counterpart?
MR PRICE: She did.
QUESTION: To his – her Israeli counterpart?
MR PRICE: Her Israeli counterpart.
QUESTION: The deputy Israeli foreign minister.
MR PRICE: That's correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So you have these three calls then. And when was that?
MR PRICE: Sorry, what was what?
QUESTION: When was that?
MR PRICE: That was over the weekend.
QUESTION: So around the same – roughly the same time that Jake Sullivan spoke to his – okay. So you have these three calls, then – Sullivan, Blinken, Sherman.
MR PRICE: I don't want to say that's the entirety. Those are the —
QUESTION: Well, no, I – okay, but that's what the Israeli side —
MR PRICE: Those are the principal-level calls that we have read out.
QUESTION: So – okay. Well, have any of those people spoken to anyone on the Palestinian – from the Palestinian Authority, or do you believe that they don't have any influence or they're not able to —
MR PRICE: No, I didn't say that at all. I didn't say that at all. In fact, I said that there has been engagement with the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: At what level? Not these levels?
MR PRICE: At the appropriate level.
QUESTION: Well, what does that mean?
MR PRICE: At the appropriate level. We —
QUESTION: Has the Secretary or the deputy secretary made any effort or – called or made any effort to call to Palestinian leaders?
MR PRICE: We have engaged our Palestinian counterparts both in the context of this but well before this too on a regular basis to discuss issues of mutual concern.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, who? If you're happy to talk about the Israeli foreign minister and the Israeli deputy foreign minister and the Israeli national security advisor, who on the Palestinian side have these people been in touch with?
MR PRICE: We have engaged with various Palestinian officials —
QUESTION: Do you even know their names?
MR PRICE: — at different levels, but I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: All right. And then just the other thing —
QUESTION: And why don't you want to tell us?
QUESTION: Just – I mean, that's a good question that Francesco is – why?
QUESTION: Do they not have names? Do you think that they don't have any influence and that's why you —
MR PRICE: No, that's not it at all, Matt. We have engaged with them.
QUESTION: But why is it a secret? If you're happy to talk about going – calling up the Israelis and telling them in person, personally – voice to voice, if not face to face – to exercise restraint, who on the Palestinian side are you calling? You can't talk to Hamas, so presumably you've got to talk to someone in the PA. Who is it you're talking to?
MR PRICE: If we have any more details to read out of those calls, we'll let you know, but we have engaged regularly in an effort to discuss these areas of mutual concern.
QUESTION: And then just on the other question about Jerusalem and you saying the final status needs to be adjudicated, that's fine, that's well and good; the question, though, is what is the – what does the U.S. regard the status of East Jerusalem right now?
MR PRICE: Jerusalem is a final status issue that needs to be —
QUESTION: What is the status of it right now? Because yesterday we heard the Jordanian foreign minister, as was mentioned, calling for continuation of the status quo.
MR PRICE: And absolutely.
QUESTION: So if that's something you agree with, what is the current status quo?
MR PRICE: We have also called for a preservation of the status quo, especially on these holy —
QUESTION: What is it?
MR PRICE: — pertaining to these holy sites.
QUESTION: But what is the current status quo?
MR PRICE: Temple – the Temple Mount. Obviously, Jordan has an important custodial role there as well. But Jerusalem is a final status issue that it has been the position of successive American administrations that Jerusalem and its final status needs to be determined by the two sides.
QUESTION: Ned, I want to ask you —
QUESTION: One more, please.
MR PRICE: One more on Israel? Sure.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. ready to call for an international conference or regional conference to push the two-state solution?
MR PRICE: I think this goes back to what we were saying before. What we have been focused on, one, is when it comes to the Palestinians, re-engaging with the Palestinian leadership, with the Palestinian people. Obviously, we've been in close contact and coordination with our Israeli partners as well. I think if we get to a point where a – some sort of personnel announcement or some sort of gathering, international gathering would be potentially conducive to advancing the two-state solution, that is something we would approach in turn. But I think the reality at the present moment, as we all have seen in recent hours, in fact, is that we're not at that point. The time is not yet ripe to do something like that. It is our goal to lay the steps and to make incremental progress in the hopes that we can be in a position to move the ball forward towards a two-state solution over time.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about the India situation. What is your assessment about it and how is the COVID-19 assistance to India from the U.S. going on? How long this will continue? Can you give us an update?
MR PRICE: Sure, happy to do that. As you know, Lalit, the USAID issued a pretty comprehensive fact sheet when it comes to our aid to India in recent days. Taken together, our assistance to combat COVID-19 in India has totaled about $100 million in all. We're continuing to work closely with Indian officials and health experts to identify continued needs and emerging needs in this ongoing crisis. As you know, there have been now six airlifts to India deployed in the course of six days. Among the supplies included in those airlifts: 20,000 courses of remdesivir, nearly 1,500 oxygen cylinders, 550 mobile oxygen concentrators, 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, nearly 2.5 million N-95 masks, a large-scale deployable oxygen concentration system, pulse oximeters, and I could go on and on. In addition, USAID immediately allocated funding to purchase locally an additional 1,000 mobile oxygen concentrators.
I would add that even as the United States Government has delivered these supplies totaling some $100 million, other elements have also stepped up – NGOs as well as the private sector – and we understand that the private sector to date has donated an additional $400 million, totaling a half-billion dollars, in assistance to India. Just as I was talking about our catalytic effect in another context earlier, as you know, Secretary Blinken, Special Coordinator Gayle Smith participated in calls the other week with the U.S.-India Business Council and the Chamber of Commerce in an effort to elicit – and to elicit additional supplies from the private sector, which we've been terrifically gratified to see.
QUESTION: And secondly, you must have seen the news reports that China has warned Bangladesh against joining Quad. So two question: Either in move to expand the Quad, and secondly, how do you see this statement coming out of China?
MR PRICE: Well, we have taken note of that statement from the PRC ambassador to Bangladesh. What we would say is that we respect Bangladesh's sovereignty, and we respect Bangladesh's right to make foreign policy decisions for itself. We have an incredibly strong relationship with Bangladesh. We work closely with our partners there on a range of issues, from economic growth to climate change to humanitarian issues. And when it comes to the Quad, we've said this before, but the Quad, it's an informal, essential, multilateral mechanism that right now conveys – convenes likeminded democracies – the United States, India, Australia, and Japan – to coordinate in the Indo-Pacific, and fundamentally, to push forward our goal of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
QUESTION: One more, if I can. India has started 5G trial, and Chinese companies have not are not being allowed to be part of it. U.S. have been insisting on its friends and allies that they shouldn't let the Chinese companies be part of the five – 5G trials. How do you see the developments by them?
MR PRICE: Well, this was a sovereign decision on the part of the Indian Government, so we refer you to the Government of India for any comments on that decision. But I would say more broadly, and we've talked about this before, but it is true that we are deeply concerned about the dangers of installing networks with equipment that can be manipulated, disrupted, or potentially controlled by the PRC. And allowing untested communications, untrusted telecommunications suppliers like Huawei or ZTE, to participate in or to have any control over any part of a 5G network creates, we think, unacceptable risk to national security, to critical infrastructure, to privacy, and to human rights as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Australia's foreign minister will be here in a couple of days, Marise Payne. I was wondering what will be top of the agenda for the administration? And specifically, will you have a message on climate, given Australia didn't make any new commitments on emissions reduction at the latest summit a couple of weeks ago?
MR PRICE: Well, we're very fortunate to have a strong and broad relationship with our Australian ally. It will be an opportunity for the Secretary and his counterpart to discuss a range of issues, including this idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific that we've discussed both bilaterally and multilaterally, in the context of the Quad. But I don't want to get ahead of the bilateral meeting.
QUESTION: About the situation in Colombia, how does the U.S. Government receive these allegations of human rights violations and also police abuses in the Colombian protests? And also, my second question is: The U.S. is Colombia's largest trading and investment partner. Shouldn't the U.S. use this as an opportunity to promote peace and justice in Colombia? And my third question is: What are the steps that the U.S. is taking to help Colombia with these protests, with this crisis?
MR PRICE: Well, we've made this point before, but it bears repeating, that we're deeply saddened by the loss of life during the protests that have taken place throughout Colombia in recent days. And we send our condolences to the victims as well as to their families and other loved ones. All over the world, and of course this includes in Colombia, citizens in democratic countries have every right to protest peacefully. But we also know that violence, that vandalism, is an abuse of that right.
We call on – just as we condemn violence and vandalism, we do call upon the police to respect the rights of peaceful protesters. We continue to urge the utmost restraint by Colombian police in maintaining public order. We also call on Colombian authorities to continue to investigate reports that have emerged of police excess. We welcome the Colombian Government's proposal to bring together stakeholders in political dialogue and to – and we encourage full participation in those talks. And we'll continue to address these issues through peace and political dialogue in a way that puts human rights at the core of that policy going forward.
QUESTION: Do you think the U.S. should do more to help Colombia with the situation? I mean, it's escalating. It's been already two weeks. There are hundreds of deaths, missing people.
MR PRICE: We have continued to engage with our Colombian partners on this. We have done this from the State Department here, from our embassy in Bogota, and that won't change. We'll continue to be engaged.
I think we've called on – yes?
QUESTION: I have an Open Skies question. Since Russia is going forward with the withdrawal, which of course was decided after the U.S. one by the previous administration. Can you – do you have any comments on that and do – can you take the opportunity to precise what this administration's stance towards Open Skies is?
MR PRICE: Well, we haven't made a decision on the future of American participation in the Open Skies Treaty. We are at the moment actively reviewing matters related to the treaty. Importantly, we are consulting with our allies and partners as we always do on these matters. Russia's own continuing noncompliance with the treaty is one of several pertinent factors as we take stock of things. As this process continues, we encourage Russia to take steps to come back into compliance with the treaty.
Saw one more hand. Okay, seeing – well, sure.
QUESTION: Afghanistan – I don't know if anyone else has anything on Russia.
MR PRICE: Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Are you any closer to assessing who's to blame for the deadly explosion over the weekend? Yesterday, you said it bore resemblance to attacks by ISIS-K, but have you determined that they are in fact behind that attack?
MR PRICE: We haven't yet determined attribution for the attack. What I said yesterday about the attack bearing some of the hallmarks of previous ISIS-K attacks, including the location of this attack, continues to be the case, but we don't yet have conclusive attribution.
QUESTION: And then on Mark Frerichs, the hostage being held by the Taliban, are you closer to getting him out as we are moving further along in the withdrawal process?
MR PRICE: We have no higher priority than the safe release and the return of detained Americans held all over the world. That includes Mr. Frerichs in Afghanistan. The Secretary in one of his earliest engagements had an opportunity to meet with many of the families of detained Americans so that he could personally and sincerely relay the priority we attached and we do attach to all of these cases. You've heard us say in the case of Mr. Frerichs, he has been – we have repeatedly raised his case, including in Doha, and we will continue to do everything we can to effect his safe return to his family.
QUESTION: Quick one on Russia and Ukraine. Couple of Ukrainian officials have spoken about the supposed withdrawal of Russian troops from around the border and – saying that only about 3,500 troops actually withdrew and there's about 100,000 troops remaining on the border. Do you – does your assessment kind of concur with those numbers? And are you still concerned about that situation?
MR PRICE: Well, I'm not in a position to give you precise numbers on – of Russian troops that remain on or near the border. What I can say, however – and you heard this from Secretary Blinken when we were in Kyiv last week – he made the point that even as we have seen reports of Russian withdrawal and we've been able to confirm that some Russian forces have been relocated, tensions remain high because Russia does maintain a large number of forces along the border. The number of forces that Moscow continues to maintain in the region still is – has not been matched since the 2014 invasion. And so it is still a cause for concern. It was a topic of discussion when we were in NATO several weeks ago now, it was a topic of discussion at the G7 last week, and, of course, it was a topic of discussion in our meetings with our partners in Kyiv. And we went there precisely to signal that the United States stands with Ukraine, the international – I should say the – we and our likeminded partners stand with Kyiv in the face of this intimidation, and we'll continue to do so as long as these acts of aggression and intimidation persist.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)
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