Department Press Briefing – April 22, 2021

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

2:43 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Earth Day, everyone. With that in mind, just a couple things at the top. I’ll start on that subject.

We are grateful to each and every leader who has participated in today’s Leaders Summit on Climate. And of course, we look forward to the summit’s continuation tomorrow.

I think President Biden’s announcement speaks for itself: The United States has put forward a more ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030.

I do want to highlight just a few encouraging announcements by several key allies. With ambitious new 2030 commitments by Japan and Canada, and the European Union’s move to put their 2030 target into law, and the UK’s new pace-setting 2035 goal, more than half of the world’s economy is now committed to the pace of emission reductions required globally to keep a 1.5 degree Celsius future within reach. And we know this coalition is growing – including with South Korea’s newly announced commitment that it will strengthen its 2030 target.

We saw a variety of other announcements today about the increasing scope and pace of action around the world. For example, Argentina announced an increase in its nationally determined contribution, or NDC, as well as new steps to make it happen, including scaling renewables and addressing deforestation as well as methane pollution. India is formally stepping up its commitment to accelerate renewable energy deployment. South Africa is strengthening its own NDC. The Republic of Korea announced an end to external coal finance. And countries are moving in the right direction, but of course, we know there is more to do.

Again, we are grateful to each nation that has contributed to the summit’s success thus far and, most importantly, we look forward to working with all nations to increase ambition during this decade of action to put the world on a sustainable path towards climate reduction.

Next, April 25th will mark the 32nd birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – the 11th Panchen Lama – the Panchen Lama who is forced to spend another year disappeared, separated from his community, and denied his rightful place as a prominent Tibetan Buddhist leader. The United States supports Tibetans’ religious freedom and their unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity. We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.

We call on the PRC Government to immediately make public the Tibetan-venerated Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to give us this opportunity to meet with the Panchen Lama in person.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, actually I’ve got a bunch of kind of minor things but nothing that really merits leading off, so I’ll pass to – as long as I can come back.

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: That’s unexpected. Russia and Myanmar actually. So Russia said it was ordering troops back to base from the area near the border with Ukraine. What is the U.S. assessment on this view? Are you seeing some weaponry also being moved back? What do you think this is?

MR PRICE: Well, we have heard Russia’s announcement – its announcement that it would begin withdrawing troops from the border of Ukraine. As I’ve said, we’ve heard words. I think what we’ll be looking for is action. The United States will continue to monitor the situation. We’ll do that closely and we’ll – we’ll coordinate closely with Ukrainian officials as well as other – as well as allies and partners throughout.

We have made clear in our engagement with the Russian Government that it needs to refrain from escalatory actions and immediately cease all its aggressive activity in and around Ukraine, including its recent military buildup in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s border and its intention to block specific vessels in the parts of the Black Sea. We of course reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrities, and of course that extends to Ukraine’s territorial waters. So our message is we’ve heard the announcement. We’ll be watching closely for that follow-through.

QUESTION: So yesterday, before this, Ukrainian foreign minister gave an interview with Reuters, and he talked about how they needed more Western support. What else the United States could do about that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Well, he – do you want me to go —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. What —

QUESTION: What else the United States can do about that? He reiterated that Ukraine needs more Western support.

MR PRICE: I see.

QUESTION: Obviously, there was, like, a NATO meeting, and there has been a serious of statements, but he – nevertheless, he mentioned this again yesterday that he needs more from the West. What can the U.S. do?

MR PRICE: Well, we have provided our partner, Ukraine, with significant support since 2014. We have stood by Ukraine. We have committed more than $2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the years. And of course, we’ll continue working to provide Ukraine the security assistance it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression, including the lethal defensive weapons based on an evolving assessment of Kyiv’s needs.

QUESTION: Is there a specific new plan on that assistance?

MR PRICE: It is something we are always taking a close look at. It’s something we’re always evaluating. Of course, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, just a few days ago in Brussels. We discussed continuing to work closely together and to standing by as a partner, including when it comes to Ukraine’s security needs.

QUESTION: Two on Russia?

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible) follow-up on that? So just to put a finer point on it, are you currently considering the option of sending more lethal weaponry to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to get ahead of any additional moves we might make. But look, the Ukrainian Government has no doubt where we stand. Similarly, I think it is also fair to say that Moscow has no doubt where we stand, and that is firmly in support with our partner, Ukraine, including its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and that includes in the maritime domain.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border, was this signaled in any way ahead of time? In other words, was the Biden administration surprised to see this happen? And then also, I see that Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both expelled more Russian diplomats over the last 12 hours. Notwithstanding the expulsions that were announced here last week, I’m wondering if there’s any additional considerations to shut down more consulates in – Russian consulates in the United States to bring it in line with the American consulates that have been shut down in Russia.

MR PRICE: Well, as we said yesterday, we have had an opportunity to engage in discussion in Moscow. Our embassy took part in a discussion with Moscow authorities, and we expect those discussions will continue in the coming days, perhaps even the coming weeks. So we’re not going to get ahead of where those discussions might lead. Of course, President Biden announced just a few days ago a very strong response to the different categories of Russia’s malign activity, and that includes its interference in our democracy; that includes what we have seen vis-a-vis Mr. Navalny; it includes the reports of bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan; and of course, it includes SolarWinds. And so we will continue to have discussions in Moscow, but again, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to get ahead of those discussions right now.

QUESTION: How about were you all surprised about the troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border? Was this —

MR PRICE: Well, again, we’ve heard the announcement. And to the best of our knowledge, it remains an announcement. That’s why we’re going to continue to watch very closely.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I just need to be clear on this. I mean, were you all signaled ahead of time that this might be happening?

MR PRICE: We’ve heard the announcement, but you’ll have to speak to Russian authorities when it comes to their future plans or their motives.

Yeah.

QUESTION: To follow up on my colleague’s question, were you signaled ahead of time that there would be the announcement?

MR PRICE: Did the Russians tell us ahead of time that they planned to make an announcement that —

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s the question.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s not a ridiculous question.

QUESTION: In the phone call, for example, between the two presidents, was there a hint that some kind of drawdown might be coming?

MR PRICE: We have – we have read out the phone call between President Biden and his counterpart, Russian President Putin. We’ve read out the phone call between National Security Advisor Sullivan and his counterpart. I’ll have to refer you to those readouts. I don’t have any more to add to that. But look, our point is that we have heard words from Moscow. The entire world has heard those words. It’s an announcement insofar as we know yet. We’ll be looking for follow-through when it comes to what the Russians actually do.

QUESTION: Okay, can I try a different one then?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Russian MFA has said that it’s going to prohibit local staff from working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Can you give us an idea of how many people that is? Is there a deadline for when they have to stop working? Some of these people have worked there for more than decades. Is this going to force a drawdown of the embassy, and how is it going to impact operations?

MR PRICE: Well, it is true that we have had discussions with the Russian Government, and they have relayed their – elements of their response. We were – we have received the official diplomatic correspondence, as I mentioned yesterday, that lists the diplomats that the Russian Government has PNG’d. Now, the Russian Government has made a public announcement when it comes to locally employed staff. That is an unfortunate announcement. As we have said, steps to prohibit locally employed staff will impact our personnel. It will impact the community. We know that locally employed staff in Moscow and around the world – they are key members of our workforce and their contributions are important to our operations. They’re also important to the bilateral mission.

Even as we have these profound disagreements with Moscow, even as we enact our own policy response in the aftermath of Russia’s malign activity and behavior, we know that only through continued engagement and diplomacy will we be able to aspire to have that predictable and that stable relationship with Moscow that we seek to have. Now, locally employed staff are a key component of our embassy operations. That, in turn, makes them a key component of that ability to engage diplomatically. So again, we haven’t received formal notification when it comes to locally employed staff, but we’ve heard the announcement and we continue to consider that quite unfortunate.

QUESTION: Just on climate, you asked people – countries to come to the summit with more ambitious targets. You’ve mentioned allies that did; Australia did not. Is that a disappointment to you?

MR PRICE: Well, what is true is that we have heard ambitious announcements from partners, allies, even some countries that don’t often fall into either of those categories. Now, of course, Australia is a very close ally and we’re pushing countries around the world, including ourselves, to be as ambitious as we can be, knowing the stakes of this existential threat. We know that we can solve this, but we know that in order to do it we’ll have to work together.

Australia is a strong ally across the board, in technology development and the opportunities – and in opportunities for policy development. We have a long history of cooperation with our Australian allies, and we see enormous potential for joint work between our two countries.

At the same time, we know that cooperation on technology or any other innovative climate solutions will only achieve the necessary scale if they are, in fact, coupled with ambitious climate policy and commitment. And that’s why we know that the coming decade will be decisive. The steps that countries commit to now will set us up for success or they will set us up for failure. And to keep that goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach we know we have to get on that right path now. That’s why we’ve been pushing our allies, our partners, even countries that don’t fall – typically don’t fall into either category towards that direction.

QUESTION: So you’re saying you would have liked to have seen Australia commit to a more ambitious target?

MR PRICE: The entire world needs to do more. That is precisely why President Biden and the White House announced an ambitious NDC on our part; it’s precisely why we have encouraged countries around the world to do more. We’ll keep doing that. This climate summit is not the end of the road. This is, in fact, the start of the road to Glasgow, and of course we’ll continue from there. So we will keep this up. We will keep the pressure on ourselves as well, knowing that what the United States does tends to have a catalytic effect. And that’s why, for us, it was so important to announce an ambitious NDC, 50 to 52 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030. And that’s what we hope to see from countries around the world.

QUESTION: Just to follow up. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was pretty far down the list of speakers, I think 21 out of 27, even behind Bhutan for instance. Is that any sort of reflection on Australia’s perceived lack of commitment to climate change?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t read more into the order or the sequence than is necessary. Of course, Australia is a close ally. We have an incredibly close partnership across many realms, and just as we do with all countries, we hope and expect Australia will commit to bold ambition when it comes to climate. It’s what we have sought to do ourselves and we’ll continue to have those conversations going forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Wait. How much is necessary?

MR PRICE: How much is necessary? Well —

QUESTION: Well, you said don’t read anything more into the placement of speakers than is necessary. So how much is necessary? It clearly wasn’t alphabetical if she’s right and Bhutan went ahead of Australia; I’m pretty sure B comes after A. So how much do we read into the fact that he was – whatever he was – 21st, or 27th?

MR PRICE: I do not think order was indicative of anything other than temporal sequencing. So I think you’re probably reading too much into it.

QUESTION: I’m not reading anything into it. You’re the one who said don’t read more into it than you should, and so how much should we read into it?

MR PRICE: Well, I think just the fact that the question is being asked is perhaps parsing things. But look, we are gratified at the 39 other countries that have showed up at this summit. We are gratified at the commitments that we’ve heard today, the commitments that we’ve heard preceding this, and – knock on wood – the commitments that we’ll hear going forward as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: On climate, in your opening remarks you didn’t mention China. Has China’s commitment today met your expectation, and what role do you like to see China to play in the next phase?

MR PRICE: Well, we know that every major economy, every country that is responsible for a large share of global emissions – and China would certainly fall into that category as the world’s largest emitter – has a special responsibility. That is precisely why we have not shirked our own responsibility as the world’s second-largest emitter. It’s precisely why President Biden and the White House put forward that ambitious nationally determined contribution in the last day or so.

So I’m not going to speak to what we would like to see specifically from Beijing, but it is absolutely true that China, the United States, other major emitting countries do have a special responsibility to step up, if we are going to remain – to keep that target of 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.

QUESTION: So at this summit, while the former secretary, the – Special Envoy Kerry is talking about cooperation, but this week Secretary Blinken, he actually said the USA is falling behind on the renewable energy, and it’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China. Are you sending a mixed message?

MR PRICE: No. I think if you look at the fuller context of what he said, that the – that we see climate both as an existential threat, which is what has in many ways galvanized our action, but we also see it – and this may sound like a paradox, but it’s absolutely true – as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to create opportunity within this country – good-paying, green jobs for American workers. That is what Secretary Blinken was speaking to, the two sides of this climate coin, the threat and the opportunity.

And certainly I think it is fair to say that the United States has not done enough yet to seek to seize that opportunity, to seek to seize what this climate challenge has put before us in terms of the economic opportunities for American workers, in terms of our ability to demonstrate our own ambition, and to galvanize the rest of the world to action. That’s precisely what this administration has sought to do really since day one by rejoining Paris, by putting forward this NDC, by convening this summit of 40 countries from around the world, to focus the world’s attention on the threat while also making clear that here at home domestically, this presents an opportunity for us that we would be unwise to pass up.

QUESTION: I have a last question. Two days ago, you said the department has completed deployment of vaccines to all the posts abroad. Does it mean that the United States embassies and consulates around the world are going to restore the full capacity of your visa service? And also, are you considering ease the travel restriction between United States and China, given the United States is the most vaccinated country, and China has controlled the virus pretty successfully?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re always going to listen to science. We’re always going to listen to medical professionals and public health professionals when it comes to that guidance. That is why CDC is in the lead on these issues. And so this isn’t a question of politics; it is a question of public health. And that’s how we’re going to treat it. So when the science says that it is safe to ease restrictions or if the science requires that we impose additional barriers, whether that pertains to China or any other country, I suspect that’s what you’ll see us do.

When it comes – remind me of your first question.

QUESTION: The embassy and the consulates, are they going to restore the full capacity?

MR PRICE: So certainly our hope is that over time, we will be able to restore the capacity within our embassies, our posts, missions, consulates around the world. We need to take into account not only the vaccination status of our own employees, but also the rate of the virus, the virus’s toll in that particular country. So there are a number of factors that go into this, but certainly our hope going forward in the coming months is that we will be able to restore a good deal of that functionality in our missions around the world.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Any comment on the pressure between Israel and Syria, and on the Iranian announcement that the missile that targeted Israel and landed near Dimona facility is an old generation Iranian? Do you view an Iranian escalation or an escalation in the region?

MR PRICE: Well, we support Israel’s ability to exercise its inherent right of self-defense. We condemn any actions that threaten Israel and regional security more broadly. I would need to refer you to the Government of Israel for more details about its operations. I know they’ve spoken to it, but I would need to refer you there for a reaction.

QUESTION: Do you view any Iranian role, and especially after confirming that the missile was Iranian?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a confirmation of that that I’m prepared to offer from here. What I would say is that we condemn any action that threatens Israel and regional security more broadly.

QUESTION: And one more, please. Do you welcome the meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Iraq, and it looks like there’s another meeting?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to those two governments to speak to that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Australia has moved to cancel two projects that the Victorian government had with China regarding the Belt and Road Initiative. Of course, it has been labeled by critics as a debt trap diplomacy, and also a scheme to take over parts of the world. Is the U.S. looking at taking similar sort of moves, or has the U.S. spoken to Australia at all about that move?

MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to that move, this is a decision made by the Australian Government. We would refer all questions on Australian law and the substance of these decisions to the Australian Government, our ally there. We continue to stand with the people of Australia as they bear the brunt of the PRC’s coercive behavior. I believe it was Foreign Minister Payne who made clear in her statement that the Australian Government has determined that the agreements you refer to – to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to Australia’s foreign relations. The government’s cancellation of these additional arrangements with entities in Iran and entities in Syria further demonstrate that Australia is focused on protecting its national interest from all international concerns – this is not unique to the PRC – but these are decisions by the Australian Government.

QUESTION: But is the U.S. talking to partners about potentially pushing back against the Belt and Road Initiative?

MR PRICE: What we’ve made clear is that what unites us are our shared values, are our shared interests. We know that allies around the world, we know that partners around the world are going to have relationships with Beijing that may look slightly different than the relationship that we have. That’s okay. As Secretary Blinken said recently, we’re not going to put our allies or our partners in a position to choose between the United States and Beijing. We are going to focus on what unites us. There is much more that unites us with our partners and certainly our allies, and certainly that’s the case with Australia, than any disagreement we may have when it comes to China or any other issue.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. express its concerns about this agreement? Did the U.S. induce the Australians in any way to consider canceling these agreements?

MR PRICE: This is an – again, this is an action that is internal to Australia, so we would need to refer you there. Of course, it is also true that Australia has borne a tremendous toll of the coercive actions on the part of the PRC. So this is a country that has been really on the front lines of this coercive diplomacy. But when it comes to their actions, we would need to refer you to Australian authorities.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. pleased that the Australians have canceled this deal?

MR PRICE: Look, we continue to work closely with our ally Australia on any number of fronts. We – a number of senior officials have made comments that the United States is standing with Australia in the face of coercive action, coercive diplomacy by the PRC. But these decisions to cancel arrangements at the sub-national level, that’s a matter for the Australian Government.

QUESTION: Are you then having conversations with Australia regarding the cancellation of the contracts?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any conversations to read out on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Two questions, if I may. The first is on Japan’s announced targets of 46 percent cut to emissions by 2030. During Prime Minister Suga’s visit, there were some reports that the U.S. was seeking a 50 percent cut. So I just wanted to ask if the U.S. is satisfied with Japan’s announced target of 46 percent.

And then separately on Taiwan, on Monday, the head of Taiwan’s defense ministry’s strategic planning office said that he was seeking U.S. long-range cruise missiles. Is this something that Taiwan has been in contact with the State Department about? Is this something that the U.S. is open to providing Taiwan?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Japan and Tokyo’s target, just as the question that pertained to Beijing, I’m not going to prescribe from here. The United States Government is not going to prescribe specifically what targets certain countries should have. Our goal is to raise ambition across the board. And again, we have sought to do that in any number of ways, including through conversations, but also including through the catalytic power of our example. And that is why President Biden thought it was so important and the White House released the United States NDC, which is quite ambitious, for the rest of the world to see. And so we will continue these conversations, whether it is with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, our allies in Europe, and in some cases, countries that have not been allies nor would not be allies going forward.

When it comes to Taiwan, our commitment, I would say, to Taiwan is rock solid. It contributes to the maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan Strait and within the region. It has been longstanding U.S. policy and it is reflected in the Taiwan Relations Act that the United States maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, social, or economic system of the people on Taiwan. We’ll continue to work with allies and partners in support of our shared prosperity, security, and values in the Indo-Pacific and that includes peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Taiwan? Is it possible for the U.S. to speed up the delivery of arms to Taiwan that have already been sold but have not yet been delivered there?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to speak to the logistics of that or what might be required there.

QUESTION: Right, but is it under consideration?

MR PRICE: Look, I – again, our support for Taiwan is rock solid. We continue to have a dialogue with Taiwan on a range of issues. Security, of course, is one of them. But I’m not going to get into the details of that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then can I just ask a question on Navalny? So yesterday National Security Advisor Sullivan said that he reiterated that in private conversations, Navalny’s been discussed. And he said that U.S. officials have told Russian officials, quote, what would unfold should the worst befall Navalny. I’m just wondering what the strategy is behind that. Why tell the Russians privately what the U.S. would do if Navalny dies but not publicly? Describe that – what’s the benefit there?

MR PRICE: Well, I think what – and by the fact that you’re asking about it, what you heard is that we have had those private discussions. I think the National Security Advisor made the point that sometimes points are conveyed and have more effectiveness when they are conveyed privately, in private channels, and perhaps in a different level of detail as well. But also, he made the point that we’ve had these discussions privately, that we have made very clear to the Russians in private and now we’ve made this public for all the world to know that we – that we consider Russia, Moscow, responsible for anything that would befall Mr. Navalny while he is in detention.

I don’t think it does Mr. Navalny any good, I don’t think it does the United States any good for us to forecast specifically what that might look like if something were to befall Mr. Navalny. The point we have made to the Russians privately and the broader point we have made publicly is that there would be consequences, there would be severe consequences were something to happen to him in their custody.

QUESTION: Can you describe for us an example of when having these private discussions with Russia has actually benefited a situation and produced tangible results?

MR PRICE: Well, look, I would hesitate to do that in any specific case. I will say, broadly speaking, there are certain cases when private diplomatic exchanges and keeping a matter in those channels could be to our benefit. Hostage negotiations, for example, or the negotiations over a wrongful detainee, someone who is wrongfully held, could be one such example of it. But when it comes to our relationship with Russia, I wouldn’t want to go into those details.

QUESTION: So this strategy hasn’t worked during the Biden administration to date yet?

MR PRICE: You certainly didn’t hear me say that.

QUESTION: Well, no Americans have been released from Russia since the Biden administration came in.

MR PRICE: We – this is now month three, I suppose. It is certainly the case when it comes to Trevor Reed, when it comes to Paul Whelan, when it comes to the Americans who are being held unjustly in Russia that we have regularly raised their cases, that we have continued to work closely with their families. Our embassy in Moscow continues to provide the level of support that we can, and it remains a priority for us to see them safely and quickly reunited with their families.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on Mr. Navalny. Given all these high-level conversations about him recently, is it fair to assume that his fate has become a national security priority for the Biden administration?

MR PRICE: Certainly, human rights in Russia has always been a concern for us. Mr. Navalny, I think, embodies and in many ways personifies what has befallen to the broader issue of human rights in Russia. The fact that the Russian Government has sought to silence Mr. Navalny, has literally attempted to assassinate him using a banned chemical weapon; the fact that he now sits in their custody, is in their custody; the fact that the Russian Government has clamped down, including even in recent hours, on those Russians who have peacefully taken to the street to do nothing more than to exercise the rights that are guaranteed to them under their own constitution, the Russian constitution, I think is emblematic of what has become of human rights in Russia. That is what we are standing up for. Mr. Navalny has long sought to be an advocate and has long been an advocate for human rights, for anticorruption in Moscow. It’s precisely why he now sits in Russian custody.

So that is why his case is of such interest to us, but we also would note that it is not just an interest to us. It’s an interest to our allies, to our partners around the world. We’ve seen multilateral statements, very powerful multilateral statements on paper. You have seen messaging from some of our closest allies and partners that has been coordinated to make clear that this is not a question of the United States, of Washington versus Moscow. This is a question of countries standing up for basic values, universal human rights, values that have come under tremendous threat, tremendous strain from President Putin and Moscow.

QUESTION: Armenia?

QUESTION: Can I —

MR PRICE: I heard Armenia.

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: So ahead of this Saturday’s Armenian Remembrance Day, does this administration has anything new to say about what happened in 1915 regarding the deportations and massacres against Armenians?

MR PRICE: I know that the White House press secretary was asked about this. I know that she said that there would be more to say in the coming days, so I would just leave it there.

QUESTION: Well, in 2019 – the end of 2019, the U.S. Senate adopted unanimously S.Res. 150 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Does the State Department endorse this congressional action?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m going to defer to the White House. I know that, as the press secretary said, there will be more to say on this subject, but I’m going to leave it there for now.

QUESTION: One more on Turkey and Ukraine.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you support Turkey providing drones to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: I – we’ll – if we have anything to say on that, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay, I’ll ask —

QUESTION: Can we go to Afghanistan?

QUESTION: Oh, let me follow up on Turkey then.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So the expectation is that the President is going to recognize Armenian genocide. Relations with Turkey are already in a pretty bad situation. Where do you think that is going to leave things on – after this? How do you expect to have any further leverage on Ankara?

MR PRICE: Well, I’m not going to weigh in on a hypothetical. Again, when it comes to any announcements that the White House would make, I would refer to and defer to the White House. What I would say more broadly and taking a step back from the immediate question is that Turkey, as you know, is a longstanding and valued ally and NATO ally.

QUESTION: That we have a lot of problems with.

MR PRICE: We have shared interests with Ankara, and that includes countering terrorism. It includes ending the conflict in Syria. It includes deterring broader malign influence in the region. And we seek that cooperation on common priorities because, again, Turkey is an ally. And where we do have disagreements, as you referred to, we engage in dialogue as allies do.

QUESTION: So what is the current dialogue then?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: What is it about? Is it about S-400s?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with his Turkish counterpart twice recently. They met in – they were together in Brussels. They had a bilateral meeting at our – during our first trip to Brussels. And so the bilateral – the dialogue there reflects the bilateral relationship in that —

QUESTION: Have you gotten any indications from Turks that they might back down from the S-400s or even if they wouldn’t back down, there would be a way going forward?

MR PRICE: What I will say is that bilateral meeting that they had reflected the relationship. We talked about those shared interest. We talked about security challenges. We talked about terrorism and countering terrorism. But Secretary Blinken, as he does in all engagements, as appropriate, does not hesitate to raise those areas of disagreement. And of course, there are some when it comes to our alliance with Turkey: the S-400 you raised; human rights is another. And we won’t shy away from raising those. We know that we can do those two things simultaneously. As friends, as allies, when we have disagreements, we raise those. We discuss those. And there’s no – there’s no papering over them.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I go to vaccine diplomacy?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So India is currently facing a horrible surge in coronavirus infections.

MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And we reported that they’ve asked United States to lift a ban on the export of —

MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — vaccine raw materials, which basically threatens to slow the country’s vaccination drive. When will the administration decide on that?

MR PRICE: So we’ve addressed this a couple times in the briefing. As I’ve said, this is a question for USTR when it comes to —

QUESTION: But why is it a question for USTR? Blinken had – Secretary Blinken had a phone call with his counterpart.

MR PRICE: That’s right. And they did discuss COVID. But when it comes —

QUESTION: And this didn’t come up?

MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that call. And as that call – as the readout of the call notes, they did discuss the COVID-19 response. You asked about intellectual property and certain controls. That was – is within the purview of USTR. What I will say broadly is that the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people. That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons.

Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone. But there’s also a broader point here that I made yesterday that it’s, of course, not only in our interest to see Americans vaccinated; it’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated. The point the Secretary has made repeatedly is that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. So as long as the virus is spreading uncontrolled in this country, it can mutate and it can travel beyond our borders. That, in turn, poses a threat well beyond the United States.

It is true that even as we focus on this, we have also played a leadership role when it comes to containing, seeking to contain the virus beyond our borders. We have re-engaged with the WHO on day one, the $2 billion we’ve contributed to COVAX, with 2 billion more on the way. When it comes to our own hemisphere, the loan arrangement with Canada and Mexico, and when it comes to India, the Quad and the arrangement with the Quad, including to increase production capacity in India.

So as we are more comfortable in our position here at home, as we are confident that we are able to address any contingencies as they may arise, I expect we’ll be able to do more. And we will, of course, always do as much as we can, consistent with our first obligation.

QUESTION: Can I ask you two really brief ones?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Well, they should be really brief, I think. Yesterday, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared off on two more State Department nominees, but also at the same time unanimously approved an amendment that would kind of force the administration’s hand on Nord Stream 2 sanctions. So I’m wondering, while you – I’m sure you welcome the movement to the floor for votes on Toria Nuland and Uzra Zeya. What do you think of the Nord Stream 2 provisions?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Matt, we don’t comment on legislation. But I think the – what is true is that this administration, the President, Secretary Blinken, we share an overall attitude towards Nord Stream 2 with many on Capitol Hill. And that is the position that it is a bad deal. We have called it a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security, and that of Ukraine and the eastern flank of our NATO Allies. That’s why the Secretary has emphasized that he opposes it, the President opposes it, and will continue to do everything we can, including consistent with legislation that’s already on the books, to oppose its construction and finalization.

QUESTION: So you do comment on legislation?

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: You comment on legislation all the time.

MR PRICE: No.

QUESTION: It’s only when you don’t want to that you say, we never – oh, no, no, we never comment on legislation.

MR PRICE: That’s not true. That’s not true. That’s not true. I didn’t – I did not comment on legislation that is pending.

QUESTION: You do it all the time.

MR PRICE: I commented on the law that’s on the book – on the books, PEESA and PEESCA

QUESTION: That’s legislation. Anyway, number two. Yesterday, a senior State Department official talked about this administration’s belief that the previous administration had disingenuously or improperly imposed sanctions on Iran for terrorism, ostensibly for terrorism reasons, but they were really designed to make it harder for any future administration to return to the nuclear deal. In other words, they labeled what – nuclear sanctions as terrorism sanctions, or human rights sanctions, things that would be exempted or wouldn’t be allowed to be done under the deal. Can you give us an example of one sanction, or set of sanctions, that you think fits that category?

MR PRICE: Well, your question is a very good way, device, to seek me to – an attempt to elicit some more detail on the various sanctions —

QUESTION: No.

MR PRICE: — and the categories of sanctions. But let me make the broader point —

QUESTION: I’m not. I just want one example of a sanction, or set of sanctions, that you think was improperly or illegitimately or that the – that the Trump administration imposed with an ulterior motive of tying your – of tying this administration or any other administration’s hands in returning to the deal. Just one. Just one. I’m not asking for the whole set.

MR PRICE: I would make – I would make the point that there are sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. And as we have said, if Iran resumes its compliance with the nuclear deal – meaning that if Iran once again becomes subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated – we would be prepared to lift those sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA. There are sanctions that are consistent with the JCPOA. I —

QUESTION: And then there’s the third category that this official talked about. And all I’m asking for is one example. There are —

MR PRICE: There are sanctions that are consistent with the JCPOA. And the point —

QUESTION: No, one example of what you think was duplicitously or disingenuously imposed.

MR PRICE: The point I made yesterday is that there is nothing in the JCPOA that does not, that prohibits us from countering Iran’s broader malign behavior – its ballistic missiles program, support for terrorism, support for proxies in the region.

Now, the point of these negotiations, and the point of these talks, is that if it were very clear if sanctions were – came to us, came to this administration, labeled green or red, it would be a much easier proposition for us to resume compliance, to do what we would need to do to resume compliance if Iran committed to do the same. As you know, sanctions do not come pre-packaged. The diplomacy did not come pre-arranged for us. And that’s why we’re engaging in these talks in Vienna. This is precisely —

QUESTION: Yeah, but then you can’t have it – make an accusation like this official did that the previous administration acted in bad faith, that it was only attempting to screw over anyone who came after them who might want to get back into the deal by mislabeling or improperly labeling nuclear sanctions as terrorism sanctions, I think you have an obligation to give one example of the kind of sanction that you think needs further study so that you can determine what the motive is. I mean, it’s a pretty serious allegation, right? Is it not?

MR PRICE: The challenge, though, Matt, is that this is very much the subject of diplomacy in Vienna. And again —

QUESTION: You’ve already identified the three baskets, according to this official. You’ve got these three baskets: consistent, inconsistent, and gray area that you’re trying to determine. I don’t see what the problem is in identifying one example of something that falls into a gray area.

MR PRICE: It’s a little more complicated than that, in part because there are going to be differences of opinion between the United States and Iran as to what may fall within that gray area as you —

QUESTION: But Ned, there’s clearly a difference of opinion between this administration and the previous administration.

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Okay? So talk – let’s forget about the Iranians for a second. What does this administration – give me one example of what this administration thinks was a – is a sanction that may have been duplicitously imposed by the previous administration for – in an attempt to tie your hands.

MR PRICE: The reason I am hesitant to do that is because you’re asking me to prejudge what may happen withing —

QUESTION: You already have decided which there – which sanctions fit into that third basket.

MR PRICE: No, Matt, I think that the comments yesterday made very clear that this is a subject of ongoing diplomacy, ongoing discussions in Vienna. Again, if it were clear cut, if they came pre-labeled and pre-packaged for us, it would be a much easier proposition. It’s precisely why —

QUESTION: But they did come pre – they came pre-labeled. You’re saying you don’t agree with the label and that they were acting in bad faith when they did it. So just one.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: All right. Really —

MR PRICE: This is the point of diplomacy.

QUESTION: Just a follow up. So when you guys do roll out this sanctions relief, can you identify some of those as having been disingenuously put into place by the Trump administration?

MR PRICE: I would suspect that if, and that remains a big “if,” we are able to get to a point where Iran has committed to resume its compliance with the nuclear deal, that is to say, once again be subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime of a nuclear program ever negotiated, and we have found a way for us and devise what it is that we would need to do to resume our own compliance with the JCPOA, that that roadmap will become clear. Because if we get back to that point, we will need to lift sanctions that are inconsistent with the deal.

QUESTION: Can we – can I go at it a slightly different way? Can you define what makes the sanction inconsistent? What are the qualifications that make it inconsistent versus – is it they’ve sanctioned a certain group, a certain military group, for example, a certain individual, versus consistent? How are you defining those two baskets?

MR PRICE: The JCPOA, the original agreement, makes that very clear. It lays out precisely what the sides would need to do. So this is not something that we are writing on the fly. Again, our – the proposition that has always been on the table is compliance for compliance. If Iran were to resume its full compliance with the JCPOA, we would do the same. So the JCPOA, that original agreement, spells out precisely what is allowed, precisely what is prohibited in order for a country to be in compliance with it. That remains the blueprint for all of this.

QUESTION: But that’s up for interpretation, as we’ve all been discussing. So if you’re narrowing that, can you say what would make something consistent? Could you give us an example of what would make a sanction inconsistent?

MR PRICE: What would make a sanction consistent?

QUESTION: Inconsistent. Sorry, masks.

MR PRICE: Inconsistent. There are very clear cases, as you heard yesterday. Sanctions – nuclear sanctions would be inconsistent.

Anyone else? Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:27 p.m.)

# # #

 

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

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    Mandatory arbitration clauses in civilian employment contracts and consumer agreements have prevented servicemembers from resolving certain claims in court under two laws that offer protections: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, as amended (USERRA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as amended (SCRA) (see figure). Some courts have held that claims involving mandatory arbitration clauses must be resolved with arbitrators in private proceedings rather than in court. Although we reviewed federal court cases that upheld the enforceability of these clauses, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented DOJ from initiating lawsuits against employers and other businesses under USERRA or SCRA. However, DOJ officials noted that these clauses could affect their ability to pursue USERRA claims against private employers on behalf of servicemembers. Servicemembers may also seek administrative assistance from federal agencies, and mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented agencies from providing this assistance. For example, officials from DOJ, as well as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Labor (DOL), told us they can often informally resolve claims for servicemembers by explaining servicemember rights to employers and businesses. Examples of Employment and Consumer Protections for Servicemembers Note: USERRA generally provides protections for individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave civilian employment to perform service in the uniformed services. SCRA generally provides protections for servicemembers on active duty, including reservists and members of the National Guard and Coast Guard called to active duty. Data needed to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on the outcomes of servicemembers' employment and consumer claims under USERRA and SCRA are insufficient or do not exist. Officials from DOD, DOL, and DOJ told us their data systems are not set up to track these clauses. Further, no data exist for claims settled without litigation or abandoned by servicemembers. Finally, data on arbitrations are limited because they are often private proceedings that the parties involved agree to keep confidential. Servicemembers are among millions of Americans who enter into contracts or agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. For example, these provisions may be included in the contracts servicemembers sign when they enter the civilian workforce, obtain a car loan, or lease an apartment. These contracts generally require disputes to be resolved in private proceedings with arbitrators rather than in court. Due to concerns these clauses may not afford servicemembers certain employment and consumer rights, Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to study their effects on servicemembers' ability to file claims under USERRA and SCRA. This report examines (1) the effect mandatory arbitration has on servicemembers' ability to file claims and obtain relief for violations of USERRA and SCRA, and (2) the extent to which data are available to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on servicemember claims. GAO reviewed federal laws, court cases, and regulations, as well as agency documents, academic and industry research, and articles on the claims process. GAO interviewed officials from DOD, DOL, DOJ, and other agencies, academic researchers, and a range of stakeholders representing servicemembers, businesses, attorneys, and arbitration firms. GAO also identified and evaluated potential sources of data on servicemembers' employment and consumer claims collected by federal agencies and the firms that administer arbitrations or maintained in court records. For more information, contact Kris T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Strengthening human capital management at federal agencies, particularly those with science and technology missions, can help agencies build a diverse, highly qualified, and agile workforce. GAO's past work demonstrates three key areas for strengthening and sustaining the federal science and technology workforce. Strategic workforce planning to identify gaps and future needs. To successfully implement their missions, agencies need to identify current skill gaps and future needs in their workforce, and select the right human capital strategies to address them. However, GAO's prior work has identified science and technology workforce strategic planning challenges that agencies have not fully addressed. For example, in October 2019, GAO evaluated major agencies' implementation of cybersecurity workforce planning strategies for information technology (IT) workers. GAO found that most of the 24 federal agencies had not fully implemented five of the eight key workforce activities that GAO identified because of reasons such as competing priorities and limited resources. GAO recommended that the 18 agencies fully implement the eight key IT workforce planning activities. Thirteen agencies agreed with the recommendation, while the other five expressed a range of views; however, while some agencies have made progress, none have fully implemented the recommendation. Improving federal pay and hiring. Agencies may experience challenges in recruiting and retaining a diverse, highly-qualified workforce due to differences in pay compared to private sector employers and challenges related to the hiring process. Generally, federal agencies have seven broadly available government-wide special payment authorities to help address recruitment and retention challenges. In December 2017, GAO reported that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) collects data on use of these authorities but had not analyzed how much the authorities help improve recruitment and retention. GAO also reported that the agency may be missing opportunities to promote strategic use of these authorities by providing guidance and tools on assessing effectiveness. Similarly, in August 2016, GAO reported that OPM and hiring agencies had not used hiring data to analyze the effectiveness of hiring authorities. Across these reports, GAO made six recommendations to assess and improve the use of pay and hiring authorities. OPM generally agreed with GAO's recommendations, and has implemented two of the six recommendations, but has not fully implemented the other four. Addressing factors that affect the federal work environment. Factors affecting the working environment may also influence agencies' ability to attract, hire, and retain personnel. For example, GAO reported in September 2020 that individuals who experience sexual harassment are more likely to leave their jobs. Also, in March 2015, GAO reported that impediments to interacting with non-federal scientific peers because, for example, of restrictions on conference participation can be a disincentive to federal employment. Agency officials told GAO that scientists and engineers establish their professional reputations by presenting research at conferences to have their work published and, without such opportunities, researchers may find federal employment less desirable. Addressing such factors could help agencies build and sustain a diverse, highly-skilled science and technology workforce. Why GAO Did This Study The federal workforce is critical to agencies' ability to address the complex social, economic, and security challenges facing the United States. However, across government, mission critical skill gaps are undermining the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions. Federal agencies face the difficult task of staying apace of advances in science and technology while competing for talent with the private sector, universities, and non-profit research centers. GAO has had long-standing concerns about federal agencies' strategic human capital management, an issue highlighted in GAO's High Risk Series since 2001. This testimony summarizes GAO's insights based on a wide range of GAO work covering various human capital management- and science and technology-related issues from March 2015 through February 2021. In particular, the statement focuses on (1) workforce planning to help ensure agencies are better positioned to implement their missions; (2) opportunities and challenges to recruiting a diverse, high-qualified science and technology workforce; and (3) factors that can affect the work environment. For this testimony, GAO selected prior work across human capital management- and science and technology-related topics.
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    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Financial Management Business Transformation (FMBT) program has begun implementing the Integrated Financial and Acquisition Management System (iFAMS), with the first deployment of certain capabilities at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) on November 9, 2020. FMBT program officials identified various challenges, such as FMBT program funding shortfalls, which represent the difference between VA's original requirement and the President's budget request, and coordination with other major initiatives. VA has taken various steps to address its challenges. For example, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, VA postponed the initial NCA deployment 4 months and converted planning, training, and testing activities to virtual events. In addition, the FMBT program and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) worked together to address the FMBT program funding shortfall by postponing iFAMS implementation at VHA for at least 2 years to coordinate with the implementation of a new logistics system. Following information technology (IT) management best practices on major transformation efforts, such as the FMBT program, can help build a foundation for ensuring responsibility, accountability, and transparency. VA has generally met such practices for program governance, Agile project management, and testing and defect management. However, it has not fully met certain best practices for developing and managing cost and schedule estimates. As a result, its estimates were not reliable. Specifically, VA's estimates substantially met one, and partially or minimally met three of the four characteristics associated with reliable cost and schedule estimates, respectively. For example, VA minimally met the “credible” characteristic associated with reliable cost estimates, in part, because it did not compare its cost estimate to an independently developed estimate. GAO Assessment of VA Cost and Schedule Estimates against Best Practice Characteristics Cost estimate characteristic Assessment of cost estimate Schedule estimate characteristic Assessment of schedule estimate Comprehensive Partially met Comprehensive Partially met Well-documented Substantially met Well-constructed Partially met Accurate Partially met Credible Partially met Credible Minimally met Controlled Substantially met Legend: substantially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a large portion of the criterion; partially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies about one-half of the criterion; minimally met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a small portion of the criterion Source: GAO assessment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Management Business Transformation program documentation. | GAO-21-227 Reliable cost and schedule estimates provide a road map for project execution and are critical elements to delivering large-scale IT systems. Without reliable estimates, VA management may not have the information necessary for informed decision-making. Further, following cost and schedule best practices helps minimize the risk of cost overruns and schedule delays and would better position the FMBT program for effective and successful implementation on future deployments. Why GAO Did This Study VA's core financial system is approximately 30 years old and is not integrated with other relevant IT systems, resulting in inefficient operations and complex work-arounds. The FMBT program is VA's current effort and third attempt to replace its aging financial and acquisition systems with one integrated system. The first two attempts were unsuccessful after years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost. GAO was asked to review the progress of the FMBT program. This report (1) describes the status of the FMBT program, including steps VA has taken to address challenges it has identified, and (2) examines the extent to which VA has followed certain IT management best practices. GAO summarized FMBT program risks and challenges that VA identified, reviewed FMBT program documentation and compared it with relevant guidance and best practices, and interviewed cognizant VA officials.
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    Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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