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08/05/2021 05:31 PM EDT
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
1:33 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: A couple things at the top today, and then we’ll move on to your questions. First, today’s announcement of Deferred Enforced Departure for Hong Kong residents currently in the United States provides Hong Kongers who are concerned about returning to Hong Kong with temporary safe haven in this country.
The United States will defer the enforced departure of all Hong Kong residents, who are physically present in the United States as of today, August 5, 2021, for a period of up to 18 months.
The United States stands in solidarity with the people in Hong Kong in the face of cruel repression by the PRC.
This is not just about the United States standing up for people in Hong Kong. We join our allies and partners, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia in offering options to those who fear returning to Hong Kong.
Our announcement today is in response to the PRC and Hong Kong authorities’ repeated actions to undermine rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino Joint Declaration, which is a binding international agreement.
We strongly urge Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to cease their continued attacks on Hong Kongers for exercising protected rights and freedoms, and that includes the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, and to allow people in Hong Kong to participate meaningfully in their own governance.
We again call on the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
 Yesterday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced over $720 million in new funding to intensify the fight against COVID-19 abroad, respond to humanitarian crises exacerbated by COVID-19, and support a global recovery while preparing for future pandemic threats. This announcement caps the end of her trip to Ethiopia, where she emphasized the urgent need for full and unhindered humanitarian access in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and reiterated the U.S. commitment to support African countries in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her visit, the administrator toured a USAID-supported food commodities warehouse and a COVID treatment center and joined humanitarian partners to discuss the response to efforts in Tigray. In the lead up to the administrator’s travel, the U.S. announced more than $149 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray. Administrator Power met with Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to discuss the expansion of the U.S. Government partnership.
The administrator also held substantive, frank discussions with Ethiopia’s Minister of Peace Muferiat Kamil and separately with the chairman of the Ethiopian Red Cross. She later had the chance to meet with young civil society leaders to discuss ethnic conflict, Tigray, and the future of the country, among other issues.
Before her visit to Ethiopia, Administrator Power spent four days in Sudan, where she met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Sovereign Council Chairman Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Foreign Minister Dr. Mariam Al-Mahdi, and other transitional government leaders, as well as citizens who led the protests that resulted in former dictator Omar al-Bashir’s overthrow in 2019.
 In a speech to students, academics, and democracy activists at the University of Khartoum earlier this week on August 3rd, Administrator Power announced an additional $4.3 million to support electoral processes in Sudan, making a total of $12 million USAID has committed in election-related assistance as Sudan prepares for democratic elections in 2024. She spoke with displaced communities in Darfur and Ethiopian refugees who fled the harrowing conflict in Tigray to eastern Sudan and saw some of the USAID programs that are providing them with life-saving assistance.
So with that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. And sorry, I don’t have anything really to start with. But just on the Hong Kong thing —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — there are a bunch of questions that this raises, but I suspect that they will be more – they’re probably DHS questions so – in terms of, like, what kind of passports do Hong Kongers have, whether they’re British Overseas National passports, or Chinese passports. Does that matter or is this – should specifics of this go to DHS?
MR PRICE: Many of those questions about enforcement would need to go to DHS.
MR PRICE: Great.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow up on Hong Kong?
MR PRICE: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: Can you give us a little better sense of that 18-month decision? What happens after 18 months? Is there a plan in the works to offer the equivalent of refugee status to Hong Kongers who look to leave the territory to the U.S.? And I mean, if in 18 months their status hasn’t changed and they have to go back, how does that actually help residents of Hong Kong?
MR PRICE: Well, in terms of how this program will work, as I told Matt just now, the Department of Homeland Security will have additional details on the Deferred Enforcement Departure, including the mechanics of it and details. They will be providing information to make sure that eligible individuals in this country; that is to say, residents of Hong Kong who are based here as of today, August, know how to proceed, given this announcement.
From a policy perspective what this announcement signals is very clear. It is a testament to the fact that the Biden administration will – has and will continue to take steps to ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values. We have and we will stand up for all of those who are struggling to defend their rights, to defend the – to defend their democracy. There are a number of tools we have at our disposal to demonstrate that support. This is just one tool of many. Each situation is different, as we have said.
Even in recent weeks, we have announced a number of measures to support the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, to defend what was given to them, what was guaranteed by the PRC to them. You have heard us talk about the Hong Kong business advisory that we released last month, essentially warning American businesses of the deteriorating climate for the private sector in Hong Kong. In conjunction with that, we announced a series of sanctions on PRC and Hong Kong authorities. Today, this deferred enforced departure announcement that President Biden made and that you’ve heard more about from the Department of State and Homeland Security, and all throughout our work with the international community, our partners around the world, in Europe, in the Indo Pacific, to make clear that the United States and our likeminded allies and partners are standing with the people of Hong Kong, that we are by their side as they are seeking to protect, again, that which was guaranteed to them.
QUESTION: Rather than just deferring this enforcement, is the administration considering any scenario under which you would offer permanent residency to Hong Kongers who are in the U.S. or Hong Kongers who want to flee Hong Kong to the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Well, what is true is that residents from Hong Kong can be referred to consideration to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or any U.S. embassy. Any resident from Hong Kong referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and guaranteed and granted refugee status will be admitted, consistent with the annual presidential determination on refugee admissions. There isn’t, as you know, at this time a special program for Hong Kong. Residents from Hong Kong referred to the program will be required to pass the same security and health screening as any other refugee in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. What we did today, of course, applies to Hong Kong residents who are already in this country.
QUESTION: All right. But really just to bring it back, why now? Why not a month ago? What is the U.S. seeing that’s happening in Hong Kong that made the government say we need to protect people who theoretically could be facing real harm if they were to go back, say today, August 5th?
MR PRICE: Well, the why now question is all around us. And virtually every week we have spoken of additional crackdowns, of additional incidents of repression, of continuing efforts by the part of PRC and Hong Kong authorities to assault the fundamental rights, freedoms, and again, the guarantees that to which the people of Hong Kong were promised. It is clear when you look at what is happening that PRC authorities seek to use the tools that they have given themselves – and that includes, of course, the national security law and other legislation – to make arbitrary arrests, politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates and politicians, activists, and peaceful protestors with the goal it seems – or certainly the end result – of creating an atmosphere of fear, of self-censorship, of repression among the general populace. And our measures today are a response to these and other actions by the PRC and other Hong Kong – and Hong Kong authorities to undermine, again, what was promised to the people of Hong Kong, and that is the high degree of autonomy, the freedoms for people in Hong Kong and its democratic institutions.
QUESTION: What’s the estimated number affected by this memorandum? Or if that’s not available, what’s the number of Chinese citizens arriving from Hong Kong who are in the United States right now?
MR PRICE: I don’t have those numbers with me. We’ll see if we can offer anything on that front for you.
QUESTION: Do these things – does the date get renewed as well? Like if someone from Hong Kong were to come tomorrow, fleeing persecution from the national security law, is that the kind of thing that has been renewed in the past, where the date is renewed and future people could get protection as well?
MR PRICE: There are various programs that afford this type of protection. Deferred Enforced Departure is one. There is a separate program, Temporary Protected Status, with which you are all aware. We are always evaluating conditions on the ground in countries to which these programs apply. So this is what we’re announcing today.
As I’ve said before, even in recent weeks, we have announced a series of policy measures to indicate that we’re standing with the people of Hong Kong: the business advisory, the sanctions, the statements, the spotlight that we’re putting on what is – what has been going on in Hong Kong for some time now. So if conditions warrant and an additional policy response is appropriate, we will make that clear.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify one thing? Did the State Department have any way to collect data on how many people from Hong Kong arrive in the U.S.?
MR PRICE: I believe most of these questions will need to go to DHS.
QUESTION: So you don’t? I mean, you might get it from DHS, but unless they’ve gotten a visa, and even if they have gotten a visa, if they need a visa to get in, you wouldn’t know, first off? I mean, you might know if you get it from DHS?
MR PRICE: We talk to our interagency partners quite frequently, yes, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, and I know, but you do not collect that information?
MR PRICE: That is primarily a DHS issue, correct.
QUESTION: Can I have move to Iran?
MR PRICE: Iran and then I’ll go to the back, sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. So the new Iranian president sent some mixed messages today, saying he’s ready to support any diplomatic plans to lift the sanctions, but also that he won’t back down from defending their rights and their nuclear program. Are you – now that he’s in place, are you telling the Iranian Government that now is the time to resume talks in Vienna, or are you ready to wait for some more time?
MR PRICE: Well, we wouldn’t want to weigh in on the messages that the new Iranian president may or may not be sending. What I can say is that our message to President Raisi is the same as our message to his predecessors, and that is very simple: The U.S. will defend and advance our national security interests and those of our partners. We hope that Iran seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions and the diplomatic solutions that are before all of us. We are waiting to see, as I’ve said before, the approach that the new government in Iran will take. And we will in turn respond in consultation with our partners. For our part, we’ve made very clear that we are prepared to return to Vienna to resume negotiations.
We are prepared to do that for one simple reason, and that goes back to the message – our message to President Raisi: Doing so is in our national security interests. It is in our national security interests and in the national security interests of our allies and our partners the world over to once again permanently and verifiably ensure that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude our work. We’ve heard what the new Iranian president has had to say on that score.
But at the same time – and the Secretary has said this message, you’ve heard it from here as well – this process cannot go on indefinitely. The opportunity to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA won’t last forever. The longer this goes on, the advantages to our national security that would be accrued by a mutual return to compliance will start to chip away by the advancements that Iran is able to make while the shackles are at present removed from its nuclear program. So we’re mindful of that, and that’s why we urge the new Iranian Government to return to diplomacy.
QUESTION: How specifically —
QUESTION: How long are you ready to wait for?
MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to put a timeline on it, but for us, this is an urgent priority, knowing the issues that are at play, and we hope the other – we hope the Iranians treat it with the same degree of urgency.
QUESTION: How specifically is the U.S. worried about losing by this extended delay and the return to talks? What progress has been made that you think could be degrading because there aren’t these conversations happening?
MR PRICE: Well, for us, the more important issue – it’s less the progress that has been achieved in the sixth round of talks. I think the United States and our partners, we assume that the seventh round would pick up where the sixth round has left off. For us, the more important issue is what – the implications of further delays for the broader issue that we’re talking about, and that’s Iran’s nuclear program.
Again, this goes back to the original advantage of the JCPOA. When it was being negotiated in 2014 and 2015 and the preceding talks before that, Iran at points was a handful of months away from being able to produce the fissile material required for a nuclear weapon should it decide to weaponize and pursue that route. The advantage of the JCPOA was that it extended that so-called breakout time to 12 months, to a year. For us, this has always been the advantage of the JCPOA. It is the extension of that so-called breakout time, but even more so, it’s the permanent and verifiable prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
So now that Iran has been – has distanced itself from its nuclear limitations since 2018, the breakout time, according to published reports, is back down to a handful of months. For us, that is not a proposition that can last indefinitely, and it is also not a proposition that can last indefinitely when, as these nuclear constraints aren’t applied, Iran’s advancements continue day by day. And we are not comfortable with an Iranian nuclear program that is able to make advancements without these checks in place.
So that’s why we’re treating this as an urgent priority. We’re treating it as an urgent priority to return to the diplomacy, but more so as an urgent priority to ensure that those permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program and that permanent and verifiable prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is back in place.
Anything else on Iran?
QUESTION: Yeah, on Iran, Ned.
MR PRICE: Iran?
QUESTION: Sorry for coming in late, Ned. On the sanctions, President Raisi said today, as he said in the past, that his focus is on lifting the sanctions. Now, you guys have said in the past that you are willing to consider lifting the sanctions that were imposed under former President Trump. Is that the case? I mean, would – that probably covers all the sanctions that Iran would want lifted.
MR PRICE: Well, again, the nature of sanctions relief is a primary topic of discussion in Vienna. If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well, that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna. The formulation that was enshrined in the original JCPOA, the JCPOA with which we’re trying – we’re attempting to see if we can resume mutual compliance, was a formulation that called for the lifting of nuclear sanctions in return for these permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
This is something that in 2015 was in the interests of the United States. It was in the interests of our P5+1 partners. According to the supreme leader then and now – the now former president of Iran, it was in Iran’s interest at that time. You just cited President Raisi’s statement about wishing to see that sanctions relief come into play once again. That might suggest that there’s an appetite on the part of the new Iranian Government to engage in this diplomacy. We certainly hope that’s the case, because we believe profoundly that it remains in our interest – in the interests of our allies and partners – to see Iran’s nuclear program once again permanently and verifiably restricted.
But this is a new administration in Iran. We’ve heard their words, but to us, actions will speak louder. And the Iranians clearly have some decisions to make.
Anything else on Iran before —
QUESTION: Yeah, just because – actions speak louder, yeah, okay. Let’s leave apart the increased aggression in the Gulf, the attacks on various ships, drone attacks, whether or not you guys have decided who is responsible for the – for the incident involving multiple vessels the other day, the kidnapping attempt on someone who’s living in the States, the increase in Houthi aggression in Yemen, the Hizballah rocket attacks on Israel.
So let’s leave aside all of that right now and just focus on the nuclear side of it. It is your position, right, that since January 20 – since this – the Biden administration took office, that Iran has become less compliant with the JCPOA, right? They have taken steps since January to bring themselves further out of compliance. That’s correct, right?
MR PRICE: What is correct is that since the last administration left —
QUESTION: No, no, no. I’m just talking about since January. Since you guys have been running the show —
MR PRICE: It’s a little nuanced, as is often the case in foreign policy, so if you’ll give me a second to explain, I will.
In 2018, the last administration left the JCPOA. In 2019 —
QUESTION: I’m well aware of that. (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: In 2019, Iran began to distance itself from the limitations that were on its nuclear program. So —
QUESTION: And the previous administration took action, whether or not it was successful or not, but they imposed more and more sanctions on them, right? So since January, the Iranians have continued to distance themselves from the agreement, correct?
MR PRICE: Since January, the Iranians have continued to pursue the path that they have gone down since 2019, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Fair enough. But they’ve gotten – but it’s gotten worse. Their compliance has gotten worse, right? Or they are —
MR PRICE: They’ve continued to go down the path that has been —
QUESTION: And what has this —
MR PRICE: — that has been available to them since 2019.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And so what have you guys done? What has this administration done since January to make it clear to Iran, other than getting up on the podium or – and condemning them, what actions has this administration done to show your disapproval or to punish them or to – however you want – whatever word you want to use? What have you done to make it clear to them that this is not acceptable?
MR PRICE: Matt, as you said yourself, Iran has been under heavy sanctions since 2018. Those sanctions – every single one of them remains in place. We have not removed —
QUESTION: Okay. So they’ve gotten worse, and you guys haven’t done anything. In fact, you’ve lifted some sanctions, correct?
MR PRICE: We have not lifted —
QUESTION: Ned, in New York, you guys went back on the snapback. You lifted the prohibitions, the travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats who were accredited to the UN. You’ve removed at least five – maybe not you, but Treasury has – at least five, maybe six or seven, Iranian individuals and entities from sanctions lists. But have you imposed any new costs on Iran since January?
MR PRICE: There is a strict and comprehensive sanctions regime that is in place against Iran. That will remain in place against Iran unless and until we reach a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Okay. But you guys have not added anything to the sanctions regime that was imposed by the last administration, correct?
MR PRICE: We absolutely have added sanctions against Iran.
QUESTION: You have?