State Department spokesman Ned Price was briefly left tongue-tied Tuesday after another verbal sparring match with Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee.
Lee, who tangled with Price back in February over the Biden administration’s approach to the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany — even accusing Biden appointees of “taking credit for stuff the previous administration did” — fired the first rhetorical salvo by asking about the administration’s Afghanistan policy as the final withdrawal of US forces takes place.
Earlier in the briefing, Price said that when Biden took office, “there was already an existing agreement between the United States government and the Taliban. And so like it or not, on May 1st the status quo that would have been in place on April 30th was going to change. And so the administration, the president, was confronted with a situation in which on May 1st, because of an agreement that the previous administration negotiated … that American troops would potentially come under attack starting on May 1st if they remained in the country … [and] to continue to have a larger number of US military forces in harm’s way was not something that the President was willing to commit to.”
Moments later, Lee told Price: “The argument that you guys inherited an agreement with the Taliban that the previous administration concluded and that you had no choice, I don’t understand that.
“This administration inherited plenty from the previous administration that it absolutely reversed,” the reporter added. “Are you saying that you’re not … confident in your negotiating skills that … you couldn’t have renegotiated a deal with the Taliban and … are you saying that the President, in fact, didn’t want to take troops out, didn’t want to withdraw?”
Price responded by suggesting that Lee was “confusing different things”.
“These are apples and oranges,” the spokesman said. “Yes, we changed quite a few US policies across a number of fronts, but I think you would be hard-pressed to find an international agreement that the United States signed on to during the last administration that this administration has jettisoned, done away with.”
“How about the Geneva protocol on the anti-abortion stuff?” asked Lee, referring to a declaration signed by the US and 33 other countries last year that states “there is no international right to abortion.” Biden removed the US from the declaration in January.
Price, attempting to continue his earlier answer to Lee’s question, plowed on: “This was the point that we have made on any number of steps about the importance of the durability of American foreign policies – American foreign policy across administrations.”
“How about the agreements with the Northern Triangle, with Mexico and the Northern Triangle [on illegal immigration]?” Lee persisted. “Those are international agreements that you guys jettisoned.”
“These, these are –” Lee began before saying,” Matt, uh, no. I-I think –“
“I mean, you just challenged me to come up with an international agreement that the previous administration signed that you guys have walked away from,” Lee retorted, “and I just gave you, I think, three.”
“The previous administration had its own policies,” said a seemingly recovered Price. “This administration has different policies across a number of fronts. But this administration also understands the importance of when the United States signs its name and gives its word in the context of a formal international agreement, especially one where the stakes are profound for … the American people, including our service members, deployed service members, that’s something that we take very seriously.”