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12/07/2022 07:59 PM EST
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:17 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: As you can see, we have a couple very special guests with us. As I think many of you may know – as all of you soon will know – we are in the midst of the International Anti-Corruption Conference, so we thought it prudent to have two of our top experts on anti-corruption speak to you today for a few minutes and then take a couple of your questions. I don’t think either needs an introduction, but we of course have with us Todd Robinson, our assistant secretary in our Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs; we also have Richard Nephew, who is the coordinator on global anti-corruption.
I will turn it over to Todd, you’ll hear from Richard, and then they’ll take your questions, and then we will continue with our regularly scheduled program. So with that, Todd.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Thank you. Hello, everyone. Great to be here with you today and to briefly speak about our anti-corruption efforts, which is a huge theme this week and also in the long term for us. I am here today with Richard Nephew, our Coordinator on Global Anti-Corruption.
Last year, President Biden designated the fight against corruption as a core national security priority and released the first U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. A year later, we are showcasing efforts across the U.S. Government to implement the goals set out in the strategy and commitments made during the 2021 Summit for Democracy.
Yesterday, National Security Advisor Sullivan opened the International Anti-Corruption Conference here in D.C., which the department is co-hosting with Transparency International. The IACC is the leading global anti-corruption gathering, with almost 2,000 in-person attendees from around the world, and thousands more virtually. Transparency International has proven to be a valued partner in our efforts to raise awareness and combat corruption. And I would invite you all to follow along on our social media accounts for more announcements and developments.
Looking ahead, this Friday, International Anti-Corruption Day, Secretary Blinken will participate in the department’s International Anti-Corruption Champions Award ceremony. We will honor eight individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption around the world. These individuals have been participating in a two-week International Visitor Leadership Program around the United States and we’re incredibly excited to have them here with us to take part in the event. We hope you’ll follow the ceremony on Friday at 9:00 a.m. to learn more about the honorees and their impressive work.
Additionally, we’re looking forward to Secretary Blinken participating in a fireside chat later that day with three or four of our champions as part of the IACC. They will exchange ideas and lessons learned in their efforts to promote transparency and accountability in their countries and communities.
Clearly, no country can effectively fight corruption alone. We are honored to work alongside anti-corruption champions all over the world, like those who will be recognized Friday, and with international partners around the globe to defeat corruption.
With that, I am happy to turn this over to Richard and look forward to taking any questions you may have. Thank you.
MR NEPHEW: Hello, and thank you so much, Todd, and thank you, Ned, for the opportunity to be here today as we recognize several important events in our global fight against corruption.
As Todd noted, it was almost a year ago exactly when President Biden released the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. The first pillar of the strategy focuses on modernizing and integrating our U.S. Government efforts to counter corruption. My position – which was established by Secretary Blinken last December – is a direct result of this aspect of our national strategy and a reflection of the President’s elevation of anti-corruption as a core national security interest of the United States.
My role is to help guide the State Department’s implementation of the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, to ensure that we are championing and elevating anti-corruption efforts, that we are undertaking these activities in an integrated way, and that we as a department are advancing the President’s designation of anti-corruption as a top foreign policy priority and one critical to our broader efforts to encourage democratic renewal globally.
Since taking this role in July, I have met with officials throughout the State Department and U.S. Government, with foreign partners, with non-governmental organizations, with private sector groups, and courageous activists – including those who will be honored by Secretary Blinken on Anti-Corruption Day this Friday. I have been truly inspired by the work that this dynamic coalition is advancing each day in the fight against corruption.
This week’s International Anti-Corruption Conference offers a perfect opportunity for these groups to come together and focus on the enduring challenges posed by corruption. Even as we point to real achievements, there is still much to do, and the impacts of corruption continue to be felt at all levels of society in countries all around the world.
At the State Department, we’ll be working to improve our policy coordination, make sure our foreign assistance is strategically focused, deploy all available tools to prevent and combat corruption, and ensure we, along with our partners, are implementing the international anti-corruption architecture that we’ve built over the last several decades. We’re also paying particular attention to transnational corruption and kleptocracy.
In all these efforts, we will approach our task with humility and know that we must continue making reforms here at home, such as through rules related to beneficial ownership. We’ll also continue to find inspiration in the contributions of anti-corruption advocates from around the world, like those who are gathered in Washington this week.
Our efforts underscore the global nature of the corruption threat, one that impacts each and every country around the world, but also the global coalition that is working to fight and defeat corruption.
Thank you very much for your time, and I look forward to taking your questions.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Nice for you to be doing this. What kind of yardstick do you use to measure corruption in a particular country? Especially countries like Iraq. I mean, I remember a while in Iraq at one time it was, I think, the most corrupt country in the world, right after the American occupation.
MR NEPHEW: Yeah. So I would say actually you point to something that we’re actively working on as well. One of the key priorities of Secretary Blinken is what we’re calling the learning agenda, this idea that we need to engage in continuous research – knowledge development, learning – so that way we can try and understand better the dynamics that we’re seeing and our responses to them.
And so there are a number of different indicators that are already out there. You have the Transparency International indicators that are out there about perceptions of corruption, and others that exist as well. We’re undertaking a pretty thorough review of how you measure corruption, how you measure your responses to it, and then trying to embed that kind of work into our anti-corruption efforts so that we know that we’re actually having the impacts that we’re seeking to have.
QUESTION: If I may just follow up – in a country like Venezuela, does politics enter into this? Because you – it’s classified as one of the most corrupt countries and so on, and there’s also – there’s a great deal of political differences with Venezuela. Does that ever factor into, let’s say, a country’s status?
MR NEPHEW: Well, no. Again, the work that we’re doing is focused on corruption as the problem as it is and attempting to measure that as a problem. I think some of the challenges that actually we face from a number of countries in fact result from the fact that there is endemic corruption, that there is autocracy, that autocracy is benefitting from corruption, so forth. So it may be that the relationship works actually the opposite way in terms of where you see a lot of these difficulties. You actually will often find corrupt actors and a corrupt issue.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Would you just mind bringing us up to date on corruption in Ukraine? And given the war over the last year, has the government been able to do much on fighting corruption, or has it been distracted by the war and unable to do too much in terms of forward progress on getting corruption out of government?
MR NEPHEW: I’m happy to give a first answer, and if Todd would like to add, too. What I’ll say is that our Ukrainian partners are working very much on the issue of anti-corruption reforms. In fact, last evening I moderated a panel at the IACC that was talking about some of the work that’s being done on anti-corruption reforms, the efforts that are being made by judges, the efforts that are being made by the officials that are investigating corruption. So I think there’s a very real commitment to anti-corruption efforts, and we’re seeing a lot of work being done.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Yeah, I think the only thing I would add is the Ukrainians I’ve spoken to clearly want to get back on the anti-corruption reform effort once they get through the war footing that they’re on now because this is part of their European aspirations, and we support their aspirations to be closer to Europe.
QUESTION: And then just one quick follow-up on that. What’s your response to those who say that the history of corruption in Ukraine should raise alarm bells about providing them with too much support?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: What I would say is part of the reason – we know that part of the reason Putin took the extraordinary and horrendous step that he did was because this – the current government was working hard to fight corruption, to reform its institutions and make a change. And we were helpful in that, the Europeans were helpful in that. We have confidence that the aid that we’re giving them is going in the right direction and being used appropriately.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I can’t – I don’t remember who it was, but someone out there in the ether pointed out the appropriateness of having a senior official dedicated to fighting corruption, kleptocracy, and nepotism, his name is Rich Nephew. (Laughter.) So just to point that out.
MR NEPHEW: (Laughter.) I enjoyed that thoroughly. Just to be clear, it never really occurred to me until it was pointed out.
QUESTION: You talked about how you approach this with humility, and the idea that the United States also has to do its own. With that in mind, and bearing in mind that the new Congress is going to be coming into session in January – at least the leadership, the Republican leadership, has pledged a whole lot of investigations into alleged corruption within the U.S. Government, some of which is at least tangentially related to the State Department – are either of your offices preparing to answer some of the questions, allegations, charges that are being made? Or is this something that is being left entirely to DOJ?
MR NEPHEW: (Laughter.) I’ll just say that again, the work that I am focused on is on the international anti-corruption efforts and working with our partners around the world. The work that we’re doing in terms of domestic pieces is taking what we’re hearing from our partners, what we’re seeing in mutual evaluation reports like the FATF and other organizations put together, and then bringing that information back home about reforms and things that we can do such as with regard to beneficial ownership and those sorts of things. Questions about investigations, those sorts of things, I don’t think are going to fall within my purview.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Coordinator Nephew, you mentioned part of your job is to ensure that foreign assistance is properly used. Can you name any corrupt country or entity that has already been affected by (inaudible) foreign assistance since you have assumed office?
MR NEPHEW: Well, look, I wouldn’t want to describe or engage in any specific country-by-country kind of evaluation. What I would say is this: The issue of corruption is one that affects every single country on Earth, and so the efforts that we’re going to undertake are both about ensuring that our foreign assistance continues to meet the high standards that it does, and as Todd was saying, we’ve got every confidence that it does. But this is a constant process, a constant evaluation process to make sure that things are handled properly.
And then second, to ensure that going forward we’re taking a very strategic approach with how we provide capacity-building assistance to make sure that it’s doing the most good. And that’s a lot of what my function is going to be doing, trying to evaluate all the support that we’re giving and kind of identify and prioritize and ensure that we’re using our resources as best we can.
MR PRICE: And for one final question, Daphne.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Friday is International Anti-Corruption Day. Is the administration planning any concrete actions to mark that, such as sanctions?
MR ROBINSON: The short answer is yes, but I don’t want to get ahead of any statements the Secretary might make.
MR PRICE: Okay, that was such a short answer we can take one more question. (Laughter.)
MR ROBINSON: I should have made it longer. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Hi. So Richard, to go back on Iran, I have a question on that. The previous administration kept on saying – labeling Iran as a kleptocracy. Do you maintain the same result for the Iranian – for the Islamic Republic, and if yes, why, and if not and have changed, why not?
MR NEPHEW: Yeah. Again, I’ll defer to Ned to speak on issues more focused on Iran issues and so forth, but I’ll just say, again, our – I’m not going to speak to any specific country and specific concerns that we have there. But we’ve made clear in many, many different statements the broad-range concerns that we have got with the Iranian Government policies and Iranian Government practices and the nature of the government as well. And so I’ll defer to Ned to any further answers on that.
MR PRICE: Richard, Todd, thank you very much.
MR ROBINSON: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Hope you come back soon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay. Before we get to your questions, we have a couple things at the top. Today, Iranians are observing the Day of the Student. It is a day that for many Iranians enshrines the freedom of speech and association and the role of university students in promoting those very freedoms.
Today, Iran’s students continue to protest. We are aware of reports that security forces violently attacked students who were rallying against today’s visit by President Ebrahim Raisi to University of Tehran.
The courage of the Iranian people is an inspiration to the world, especially the courage of the women, girls, youth of Iran, who are leading these peaceful protests. Iran’s students and children are the very people who should be the future of their country. Instead, authorities are attacking them and arresting them by the thousands. As the people of Iran continue to peacefully protest and bear the violent, ongoing crackdown, we will continue to stand with them to shine a light on the human rights abuses perpetrated by Iran’s leadership.
 And next, as you saw yesterday, we welcome the December 5th signing of an initial framework political agreement in Sudan. We commend the parties’ efforts to garner support for this framework agreement from a broad range of Sudanese actors and their call for continued, inclusive dialogue on all issues of concern and cooperation to build Sudan’s future. There is now a credible path to final agreement on forming a civilian-led government that would take Sudan out of its current political crisis – we respectfully urge all Sudanese stakeholders to seize this opportunity.
Now more than ever, all political stakeholders and civil society actors must put Sudan’s national interest above narrow personal and party ends.
In support of the Sudanese people who continue to demand freedom, peace, and justice under a democratic government, and recognizing the fragility of democratic traditions#post-402022-endnote-1, the Secretary announced an expansion of visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C), or the “3C” policy, of the Immigration and Nationality Act to cover any current or former Sudanese officials or other individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic transition in Sudan, including through suppressing human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the immediate family members of such persons. This should send a clear signal that the United States will promote accountability in an effort to prevent spoilers – whether military or political actors – who attempt to undermine or delay Sudan’s democratic transition.
With that, turning to questions.
QUESTION: Right. Yeah, thanks, Ned. I’m wondering if you can explain what seems to be an amplification of the statements of concern and expressions of concern about the potential for Iran sending more drones as well as sending ballistic missiles or missiles of some sort to Russia for them to potentially use in Ukraine. Are these concerns, which were – started to come out again yesterday, they’ve been out there for a while but – and there’s – seem to have resurfaced yesterday and then again this morning – are they based on any new intelligence that such deliveries are imminent or have already happened? Or is this just kind of like a reminder to those two countries that you’re watching?
MR PRICE: Matt, this is not a new concern of ours. And you referenced it in your question, but this is a concern that we have voiced very publicly since this summer. It is a concern that has come to fruition in the form of Iran’s provision of drones, lethal drones to Russia, which in turn Russian pilots are using to attack Ukrainian civilians. We’ve voiced our concerns that Russia could look to Iran for ballistic missile technology. We’ve voiced our concerns that cooperation between Iran and Russia could extend to other realms – sharing knowhow, expertise, I hesitate to say best practices but perhaps worst practices when it comes to the suppression of peaceful protesters.
These are the things that we’re concerned about. We’ve spoken very openly about this partnership, and we’ve spoken about it openly because we believe it should be a concern not only for the region but for the broader international community. It’s why we contributed to a UN session over the summer to discuss Iran’s UAV program. We’ve shared information with authorities in New York regarding our knowledge, the threat that we see from Iran’s UAV program, and we’ll continue to work with partners and allies around the world, including using our own authorities to go after these proliferation networks in Iran, in Russia, anywhere they may exist to try to disrupt this dangerous nexus in the flow of lethal assistance.
QUESTION: Right, but do you have – do you have information or any kind of indication that there is – there are actual shipments of ballistic missiles or anything beyond the drones that you’ve already seen being used, that those kinds of shipments are happening or are about to happen?
MR PRICE: I think you heard from my colleague at the White House this morning that we don’t have any information to share at this point regarding current deliveries of ballistic missiles, but we know that Russia’s brutal assault against Ukraine has forced Russia to extend its relatively scarce quantities of weaponry, including ballistic missiles. In turn, we have imposed these export controls on Russia in a fairly novel and especially painful way on the Russian military industrial complex such that Russia now does not – certainly does not have the same access to the key inputs, the key raw ingredients it needs to indigenously produce some of its war-making capabilities and machinery, including ballistic missiles.
So the concern remains that Russia may look to other countries, including Iran, to help replenish its stocks of ballistic missiles just as we continue to be concerned that Russia continues to look to the DPRK when it comes to other forms of assistance for its illegal war against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Ned, Ned, is it the belief of this administration that Iran, a third-world country that has been under maximum sanctions for many, many years, can actually produce enough drones and enough ballistic missiles to give Russia, who has pioneered rocketry and space and so on and all these things, tip the balance in the war?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to say “tip the balance.” Certainly that is not an assessment that we are offering. But Iran is a country that over the course of decades now has prioritized not the needs of its people, not its own economic development, but in many ways has used resources – resources that have been scarce because of international sanctions owing to its range of malevolent actions in the region and around the world – using those scarce resources in a way that prioritizes some of its military elements, its support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups, its support for other destabilizing forces, its support for other malign actors in the region in a way that in a sense deprioritizes the needs of its own people.
So the premise of your question, the second element of your question, is not something I would quibble with because even though Iran would stand to perhaps use its revenues more judiciously and to invest in areas that would actually help the people of Iran, it has instead chosen to develop other elements of the state, including its security apparatus, in a way that has allowed it to provide what have become important contributions to Russia’s war effort. Those contributions are all the more important because of the point I made just a moment ago: the export controls that we have leveled against Russia has left, to some degree, much – Russia much less able to indigenously produce the components it has used, it would otherwise seek to use in its brutal aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on one of your toppers – Sudan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can I just stay on Iran for just one —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One quick question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And Russia. So just to follow up on this concern about the relationship, CNN and The Washington Post, I believe, had reported a few weeks ago that there was an intelligence assessment that Iran and Russia reached an agreement to start a production line of attack drones in Russia with the blueprints and the components coming from Iran. So is there anything that you have to say on that specific aspect of the relationship potentially growing?
MR PRICE: There is nothing specifically on that report that I can say at this moment other than the fact that Iran has made very clear, despite its public protestations to the contrary, that it is willing and able to provide UAV technology to Russia that Russia has in turn used against innocent civilians in Ukraine, that is more recently used against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, in an attempt to weaponize winter, to turn off the lights, to turn off the water, to attempt to freeze Ukraine and Ukrainians into submission. So I don’t have anything to offer when it comes to potentially moving that production chain onto Russian soil, but the transfer of technology between these two countries is something that we’re deeply concerned with. It is something that we are using various tools at our disposal to disrupt.
QUESTION: Same topic? Yes.
MR PRICE: Same topic?
QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Matt’s question. The new information is that Russia resumed using those drones as of today. You told us from this podium that you knew that – you believed that they were possessing hundreds of drones. It was a couple months ago. If they were running out of them, that means they are purchasing new ones. If your measures that you have taken have not prevented them from sending new drones, are there other, let’s stay, stones that you have not looked under yet, or you are still seeking new tools to prevent them from sending their drones?
MR PRICE: So when we first declassified or released the information regarding Iran’s provision of lethal UAV technology to Russia, I believe the term we used was at least dozens. So I’m not in a position to go beyond that, but Russia – excuse me, Iran has indeed provided at least dozens and perhaps much more of these Iranian drones to Russia for use inside of Ukraine. The Ukrainians, using their own capabilities but also using the air defense capabilities that the United States and many of our partners have provided, have in fact been able to target and have been able to neutralize many of these UAVs, but, of course, these UAVs continue to be incredibly lethal, continue to be incredibly damaging not only to civilian populations but also to civilian infrastructure in a way that has implications for hundreds, thousands, or more innocent civilians in Ukraine who need that infrastructure for electricity, for heat, for water, for basic survival.
So I couldn’t offer any more on the inventory that Russia currently has at its disposal, but to your question, we are using relevant tools. We have used our sanctions authorities against Iranian targets, against Russian targets, and we’re prepared to use them against any additional targets anywhere around the world that is part of this proliferation network that has allowed Iran to send this lethal, this very deadly technology to Russia.
QUESTION: Now, let me get your reaction to Putin’s today’s calling nuclear weapons a tool of deterrence in Ukraine. (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I – again, we have heard from countries around the world a reaffirmation of the very simple statement that has been around since the Cold War – namely, a nuclear war is something that must never be fought and can never be won. We have heard that from the PRC, we have heard that from India, we have heard that from our allies. We have reaffirmed it, and we’ve also heard it reaffirmed by Russia. We think any other rhetoric, whether it is nuclear saber-rattling or even raising the specter of the use of tactical nuclear weapons – it’s something that is irresponsible, it is dangerous, and it goes against the spirit of that statement that has been at the core of the nuclear nonproliferation regime since the Cold War.
QUESTION: But is it also your assessment the risk of a nuclear war is on the rise, as Putin wants you to believe?
MR PRICE: Could you repeat that one more time?
QUESTION: Putin said today that the risk of nuclear war is on the rise. Is that your assessment as well?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m just not going to get into our assessment. We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible. It flies in the face of the very statement that Russia formally signed onto in January of this year in the context of the UN Security Council. It flies in the face of the statement that we’ve heard from Russian officials even in recent weeks reaffirming that very simple principle about a nuclear war. So that is what we continue to point to.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on your comments on Sudan at the beginning?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: If not mistaken, it was $700 million was suspended at the – when the coup took place in October of 2021. Does that remain suspended with the tentative agreement on Monday? Is there any timeline, perhaps, for when that could be restored, potentially?
MR PRICE: There has been no change in our suspension of the emergency funding for Sudan. Of course, we are watching very closely. We are – we welcomed the announcements, the announcement that we saw from the parties. This was a very positive step. We still know that this is a process that is subject to spoilers and to those who would put their own personal agenda over the best interests of the Sudanese people.
So Sudan has a long way to go back on that path towards democracy. It has made that path, it has made that trek once before. We are going to continue to stand with the people of Sudan who so clearly aspire to continue down, to advance down that path towards a democratic transition, and we’ll be there to support them along the way.
QUESTION: Sure. Completely different topic, unless somebody wants to follow up on Sudan. Peru.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Saw that the ambassador, Lisa Kenna, I believe on Twitter made some comments just an hour or so ago, but could I get the State Department’s take on what’s happening? Is there a sense that this is a coup, in the determination of the State Department? Is there a sense that this could – that President Castillo’s actions maybe won’t go forward (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: So you are correct that our ambassador in Lima, Lisa Kenna, did issue a short statement on Twitter. She made very clear that we categorically reject any acts to circumvent or to contradict Peru’s constitutions. We categorically reject any acts that undermine democracy inside of Peru. This is not only a concern of the United States, it is a concern that we share with our partners. They have raised this at the OAS, within the Organization of American States. Under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we share a hemispheric commitment to upholding democratic values, human rights, and the rule of law. I noted that it was in Lima itself where the Inter-American Democratic Charter was signed more than 10 years ago – more than 20 years ago, excuse me.
We understand that many of the deputies within Pedro Castillo’s government have since resigned. We understand that congress has since taken action to impeach Pedro Castillo. But we will continue to support the people of Peru. We will continue to stand against and categorically reject any acts that contradict Peru’s constitutions, any – constitution – any act that undermines democracy in that country.
QUESTION: Sure. Appreciating that this is very new, this is just in the past few hours, but is there any sense – is there any intention in the United States to actually take some sort of punitive action, whether it’s toward – toward Castillo, toward the president.
MR PRICE: Well, my understanding is that, given the action of the congress, he is now former President Castillo. The virtue of democratic systems around the world is the fact that they are self-correcting, and we continue to watch these events very closely – they are fluid – but it seems that Peru’s congress has taken a corrective action by, it seems, impeaching Pedro Castillo. We’ll continue to watch developments closely as they unfold, and we will act in accordance with the wishes and the aspirations of the Peruvian people.
QUESTION: Thanks. Unless anybody else wants to jump in, just something completely different as well: Afghanistan. Public executions are back. Does the United States have any take on that?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen the reports that the Taliban has ordered judges to impose their interpretation of Sharia law. That includes public executions; it includes amputations; it includes floggings. We’ve seen the reports of a public execution today. We’ve seen despicable videos that have circulated online in recent days regarding some of these tactics. This indicates to us that the Taliban seek to – seek a return to their regressive and abusive practices of the 1990s. It was an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans then; it would be an affront to the dignity and the human rights of all Afghans now. It is a clear failure by the Taliban to uphold their promises.
Afghans continue to reject these actions by the Taliban, and we’re closely watching the Taliban’s treatment of the people of Afghanistan. As we’ve said both publicly but also in our private engagements with the Taliban, their relationship with us, with the international community depends entirely on their own actions. It depends largely on their actions when it comes to human rights, when it comes to the rights of all Afghans, when it comes to the rights of women, girls, minorities, and other marginalized communities in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So – all right, so are you starting to get the message, then, that when you were claiming a year and a half ago that the Taliban were interested in a better relationship with the outside world, and that when you left that they would – are you starting to get the idea that you were wrong?
MR PRICE: Matt, the Taliban – and I’m not going to —
QUESTION: You were told by pretty much everyone that they didn’t care what the rest of the world thought about them, and you kept saying – not just you, and not you personally – the administration kept saying: well, they say they want a better relationship and we’re going to take them at their word. Well, that appears to have been a mistake, doesn’t it?
MR PRICE: So, Matt, it is undeniable that the Taliban continue to seek relations with countries outside of Afghanistan. It is equally undeniable that, despite what any individual actor within the Taliban movement might want, the Taliban needs relations with the rest of the world. This is a country that has been able to subsist for decades now with a hefty dose of international aid, development assistance, humanitarian assistance. The people of Afghanistan – and Afghanistan itself would not and will not – be in a position to have prosperity, stability without continued international assistance.
The United States is doing our part by providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan – of course, circumventing the Taliban in doing so – but the Taliban recognize and know full well that if theirs is to be a movement that is to lend any degree of prosperity, of stability to the country, whether they like it or not, they will need to have relationships with countries outside of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the point is that they don’t care. So why do you keep making the point that if they want to have a functioning – a prosperous society with equal rights for everyone that they need to have a relationship with the outside world? Because they’ve demonstrated time and time again since you guys withdrew that that’s – they’re not interested in that.
MR PRICE: Even if it is motivation that consists of nothing more than self-interest – and it may well be on the part of some actors within the Taliban – they will need those relationships in order to continue, if they want to continue in the position they are in. It is our message consistently to them that the relationship that they’ve made very clear that they wish to have with the United States, countries that we consider allies and partners – if they wish to have any semblance of improved relations – relationship with us, it will depend entirely on their conduct. It will depend entirely on what they do when it comes to those areas that are in our national interest. Human rights is a core interest of ours; the rights of women and girls, it’s a core interest of ours. Safe passage, counterterrorism, the Taliban’s ability or willingness to form of government that is representative of their people – we are looking to all of these things and will continue to do that as we chart our own potential engagement.
QUESTION: I’ll take you at your word that they’ve told you that they want to have a better relationship. But given the conditions that – what you’re just said – isn’t it clear to you now, or haven’t they demonstrated over the course of the past year that they don’t care?
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