Channel 1 Los Angeles
2/9/2021 Washington D.C.
The United States is deeply concerned about the absence of an election implementation agreement in Somalia. While this is an issue for Somalis to resolve, the United States views immediate elections as critical to Somalia’s future. Consensus can be reached. We call on Somalia’s leaders to resume their dialogue urgently so that national elections can take place now. The impasse hinders pressing reform and counterterrorism efforts, and continued delays will only increase the risk of instability.
It is the responsibility and the duty of national and regional leaders to act in the interests of the people of Somalia, who, of course, deserve the best from their leaders. Partial, parallel, or alternative election processes, including prolonged interim governing arrangements, would increase prospects for instability and be a major setback for Somalia. The United States opposes the use of violence by any party. We remain committed to the development of democracy in Somalia, and we want Somalis to enjoy the long-term stability, prosperity, and peace they deserve.
With that, Matt, do you want to kick us off?
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I’ve got a question about COVID, actually two, but they’re kind of – well, they’re obviously related, but they’re on different things. So I’m going to just start with the first one, and then other people can go. And we’ll get back to the second one unless someone else asks it in the meantime.
You have seen, I imagine, the WHO statement out of Wuhan or out of China today saying that they do not believe that corona – that the coronavirus was the result of a lab leak. You will also know, having been alive for the last year, that the previous administration, including the previous secretary of state, had suggested on numerous occasions that the virus may have gotten out as a result of a leak from a lab. The WHO statement or finding, whatever you want to call it, today says that that does not appear to be the case, and so I am wondering what you guys make of this.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, when it comes to the report you’re alluding to or the findings you’re alluding to, I think in the first instance we look forward to receiving the report and the data from the WHO investigation. Broadly speaking, we have expressed our concerns regarding the need for full transparency and access from China and the WHO – access from China and the WHO to all information regarding the #earliest days of the pandemic. It’s imperative that the world learns as much as possible about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can understand its origins and so, importantly, we can prevent future biological catastrophes.
Now, you referenced statements from the previous administration. If I’m not mistaken, I believe this department on January 15th put out a fact sheet, and in that fact sheet it was not conclusive regarding the origins of the coronavirus. So where we are today is that we look forward to receiving this report and the full data and to digging into that ourselves, knowing that we do need that full transparency.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so you’ve put a premium on full transparency thus far. And recognizing that it is not finished yet, are you satisfied? Are you pleased with the transparency that the Chinese have given to the WHO team?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the jury is still out. I think, clearly, the Chinese, at least heretofore, had not offered the requisite transparency that we need and that just as importantly, again, the international community needs so that we can prevent these sorts of pandemics from ever happening again. This goes back to one of the very first actions that President Biden took as president when he re-engaged with the WHO.
Look, we know that there needs to be international cooperation if we are going to be able to be in a position to staunch future outbreaks or epidemics before they become pandemics. The WHO is leading this investigation. We clearly support this investigation. We recognize there is an urgent need for an investigation. But I wouldn’t want to be conclusive yet about any sort of cooperation that the WHO may or may not have received from China.
QUESTION: But thus far, are you pleased with the cooperation that you have seen that they have gotten or are you —
MR PRICE: Again, I wouldn’t want to be conclusive before we’ve seen the report. I think it’s premature for us to go there.
QUESTION: Same topic. As Matt referenced, Secretary Blinken’s predecessor has said there was enormous evidence supporting the lab theory. Is it the Secretary’s view that that’s not the case, that there is not enormous evidence?
MR PRICE: The Secretary’s view is the view of the department, and that is that we need to see this report. We look forward to seeing this report. We’re supportive of the WHO investigation. And I think more broadly too, we can speak to our own efforts. We will work with our partners and also draw on information collected and analyzed by our own intelligence community to evaluate the report once we’ve received it as well as the data from the WHO evaluation.
So look, I think rather than rush to conclusions that may be motivated by anything other than the science, we want to see where that data leads us, where that science leads us, and our conclusions will be predicated on that.
QUESTION: But just following up on that —
MR PRICE: Let’s move it around a little bit now.
QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on that, the Chinese have suggested that maybe that you should expand the investigation because the cases only – the first cases were in December 2019 and there have been cases elsewhere in the world. Do you think that there should be investigations into the origins elsewhere, or do you think this focus should remain on Wuhan?
MR PRICE: Well, we are talking in this case about the origins of the coronavirus. I don’t think there is any reasonable person who would argue that the coronavirus originated elsewhere, so that is why our focus is on this WHO investigation. We look forward, again, to seeing the report, to seeing the underlying data, to using what we may have within our own reach based on our own intelligence and analysis to corroborate what the WHO has found and to reach our own conclusions.
QUESTION: Following up on what Matt and John said, the previous administration had a great deal of intelligence and other evidence about what it believed was the origin of the coronavirus, and you guys presumably have access to the same intelligence. The secretary – previous secretary came out and said, as John said, that he believed there was significant evidence of a possible lab origin. Are you guys – why can you not draw conclusions from the evidence that they were drawing conclusions from? And are you then not ruling out the possibility that there was a lab origin to the virus?
MR PRICE: Well, I would note a couple things. Number one, I’ve certainly seen the reports of what the WHO seems to have found. And those reports indicate they, at least in this initial stage, have reached a conclusion vis-a-vis the origins of the virus. But again, we want to see that for ourselves.
What I can speak to regarding what you have heard from this department prior to January 20th, I would point you to the January 15th fact sheet. The January 15th fact sheet was very clear that it was inconclusive. It didn’t give credence to one theory over another. That is why, again, we are looking forward to receiving this full WHO report, to reviewing it, to reviewing the underlying data, and to cross-referencing what may be in our own holdings with that.
QUESTION: Ned, so part of this was they said that the lab theory they don’t think should be in the hypothesis that we will suggest for future studies. So does the State Department agree that we should cease that vein of inquiry and stop investigating whether or not it did come from a lab?
MR PRICE: The State Department, again, wants to see the report. We want to see the underlying data. We intend to marry that underlying data with what is in our own broader holdings, to include within our Intelligence Community. We are going to base our conclusions on nothing other than the data, nothing other than the science. And based on that, we’ll come to a conclusion.
QUESTION: One more on the WHO. The previous administration as well made the argument that the WHO allegedly was influenced by China, and that was one of the reasons that the previous administration moved to exit it. Are you confident with how the WHO is handling this? Do you feel confident that whatever they reach will be independent and not unduly influenced by one country?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to what I was saying before. It also goes back to what I was saying yesterday in a very different context, that across the board the United States believes as a general matter that when we engage, when we are at the table, we can help shape world events, we can help shape institutions. When we are not within the WHO, when we’re not acting in that capacity, we don’t have any influence to see to it that the WHO functions as the way it was intended to function, the way we hope it would – it should function.
So clearly, by re-engaging with the WHO, the United States will be in a position to push any necessary needed reforms. And to be clear, there are necessary and needed reforms. Just as any institution or just about any institution, the WHO is far from perfect. That is precisely why we re-engaged it, why President Biden announced our intention to re-engage it on his first day in office on January 20th.
QUESTION: So you’ve made reference several times to the January 15th State Department report saying it’s inconclusive. You also said at one point that you don’t want to rush to a conclusion that might be motivated by something other than science. I think that’s a quote, unless I’ve gotten my notes wrong, which is possible, but I think that was pretty much what you said. Are you suggesting that the previous administration’s or the previous Secretary’s comments about this were motivated by something other than science?
MR PRICE: Matt, I – my orientation from this podium will be to look forward, not to look back. I am talking about our orientation. We are going to be guided by the science; we are going to be guided by the data. I wouldn’t want to characterize the actions of the previous administration. I’m here to characterize our own actions.
QUESTION: Well, but – yeah, but you did, because you said that —
MR PRICE: No, I didn’t, Matt. I said our actions will be guided by the data and guided by the science.
QUESTION: You said that you were not going to rush to conclusions that might be motivated by something other than science.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: Suggesting to all but the most – I don’t know – a slug that the previous administration was motivated by something other than science. Are you —
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: Are you saying that you’re not trying to suggest that? Is the slug wrong?
MR PRICE: There was – I haven’t diagrammed the sentence, Matt, but I think there was one subject in that sentence, and it was us. I never raised the previous administration. I don’t intend to from this podium.
QUESTION: Can I ask some more on this? Do you think that the U.S.’s absence in this interim from the WHO has made it less objective in things like this? Do you think its objectivity was damaged by not having the U.S. in the room to be involved in these discussions and these decisions?
MR PRICE: Well, I think what is undeniable is that the U.S. had not been engaged with the WHO during a critical period. That is precisely why on the campaign trail then-candidate Biden pledged to reenter the WHO on his first full day – on his first day in office. That is precisely why on his first day in office he made good on that promise. Again, when we are at the table, when we are taking part, when the United States is present, when we’re engaged, whether that’s with the WHO, with UN bodies, with other elements, we can see to it that our interests and our values are there, that they are being represented. And I think when it comes to the WHO, that’s precisely what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: During his confirmation hearing, Secretary Blinken said that the administration intends to join COVAX. Do you have any update on that effort and whether or not you’ll provide a certain amount of funding for the vaccine distribution?
MR PRICE: So I don’t have an update for you on specific funding. I think what I can say generally is that the United States will support multilateral efforts in the international COVID-19 public health and humanitarian response, including Access to the COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX facility. In addition, we’ll also be taking steps to provide congressional-appropriated funds to Gavi, which will support international vaccine procurement and distribution. We’ll also develop a framework for providing surplus U.S. Government vaccine doses to countries in need once there is sufficient supply in the United States, including through the COVAX facility as appropriate.
And just to anticipate a follow-on question, we believe and we know that we can do both, that we can support these humanitarian efforts and these global efforts while ensuring that we have a safe and equitable access to the vaccine here in the United States to our own citizens, which of course is our priority in the first instance.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In your evaluation of the current refugee resettlement system, what kind of challenges do you have getting to 125,000 next year, and will that require an investment beyond what Congress has been providing over the past few years?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that this is a priority of the President’s. It is a priority of the President’s because it is very much in our DNA to be a country that welcomes, that provides refuge, that provides safe haven to those in need. This of course was a priority that you heard from then-candidate Biden. It was, of course, something that the President has spoken to in recent days.
The White House has set an ambitious target. There is a target for this fiscal year; there’s a target for the next fiscal year. And of course, as with many elements of our policy, many processes that we look to, it will take some time for us to get to those targets, precisely because, in this case, the U.S. refugee admissions process has – had essentially come to a standstill in recent years. And so there will be an effort within this building, with our interagency partners, to see to it that we can revive that program, that program that has important humanitarian functions, that has important strategic functions, that is reflective of who we are as an American people. Of course, this won’t happen overnight, just because it will take some time to get those engines back up and running. But the President is committed to it.