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Department Press Briefing – March 28, 2023

2:05 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon. I have two very brief things off the top and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

So first, today the United States took action in coordination with the United Kingdom to designate key individuals supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the production or export in Syria and Lebanon of a dangerous amphetamine-type stimulant known as Captagon.

The trade in Captagon is estimated to have become a billion-dollar illicit enterprise.

The U.S. designated six key individuals facilitating the production and export of illicit drugs in Syria and Lebanon, and two entities owned by one of those individuals.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s family members and associates rely on the illicit drug trade to fund his regime’s violent oppression and commission of abuses against the Syrian people. The individuals and entities being designated today have enabled the Syrian regime to continue carrying out abuses against the Syrian people by providing funds to the regime derived from trade in illicit drugs.

Captagon trafficking by the Assad regime, Hizballah, and their affiliate poses a significant threat to stability, public health, and rule of law in the region.

These designations, some of which are being implemented pursuant to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, also highlight the important role of Lebanese drug traffickers – some of whom maintain ties to Hizballah – in facilitating the export of Captagon.

The United States will continue to coordinate with our allies and partners to target traffickers of illicit drugs and those who provide support to the Syrian regime’s vicious war.

Additionally, I want to also express my deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the tragic detention center fire in Ciudad Juárez last night. Our hearts go out to their loved ones, and our prayers are with those still fighting for their lives. This tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the risks migrants and refugees around the world face. Mexican authorities are investigating the cause of this tragedy, and we stand ready to provide any assistance they may request.

Matt, if you want to take us away?

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Happy Tuesday, I guess. Let me just start – and really briefly, if you could give – explain this in a nutshell. What exactly did you guys inform the Russians about information sharing under New START the other day?

MR PATEL: So Matt, under the New START Treaty, the U.S. and Russia, as you know, are obligated to exchange comprehensive databases twice a year. We offered to continue reciprocal implementation of this obligation. Unfortunately, Russia informed the U.S. that it will not engage in this data exchange due to its purported suspension of this treaty.

As we’ve said before, the suspension was legally invalid. Russia’s failure to exchange this data will therefore be a violation of the treaty, adding on to its existing violations of the New START Treaty and, as a result, lawful countermeasures intended to encourage Russia to return to compliance with the treaty. And the U.S. will likewise not provide its biannual data update to Russia.

QUESTION: Okay, and what’s the practical impact of this?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, as you know, New START is an important treaty as it relates to arm control and maintaining strategic stability. This is something that the Secretary, the President, others have spoken to about the importance of this treaty. And Russia’s decision to not exchange in this – take part in this data exchange is another example of the dangerous and reckless actions it’s taking as it relates to its responsibilities to New START.

QUESTION: That’s fine, but what’s the practical impact?

MR PATEL: What do you mean, Matt?

QUESTION: What does it mean?

MR PATEL: The important piece, as you know, about New START, is the —

QUESTION: If you’re not – all right, let me make it maybe a little bit easier. What does it mean that neither side is going to exchange this data that they used to exchange on a twice-a-year basis?

MR PATEL: Matt, the important piece about New START is there is a verifiable aspect to this, which we have continued to offer reciprocal implementation of, of this obligation.

QUESTION: Okay, but what is the practical impact of it?

MR PATEL: I’m happy to —

QUESTION: Do it make you – does it make you less aware or them less aware of what’s going on? Because as I understand it, this is only the twice-a-year, the biannual compilation of data, and not like other stuff.

MR PATEL: Well, that is true. But broadly, it is a lack of an exchange of information that otherwise would have normally take place that allows a verifiable exchange of data and information that I think is at the key of the New START Treaty.

QUESTION: Well okay, but how is it verifiable?

MR PATEL: Because of the exchange of data, Matt. That’s – the exchange of data as well as —

QUESTION: Well, an exchange of data that does not mean verifiable. How —

MR PATEL: As well as the —

QUESTION: How is it verified?

MR PATEL: As well as the other piece of this, which is the in-person component, is another verifiable piece of New START. I’m happy to circle back with you if there’s —

QUESTION: Okay. And when did you guys tell the Russians this?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any – I don’t have specific diplomatic engagements to offer, Matt, but it is something that we were made aware of recently. But I’m happy to check if we’ve got a more specific time.

QUESTION: Well, can you be a little bit more specific as to when?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a more specific time to offer, Matt. But —

QUESTION: So there wasn’t a specific meeting at which you told them this? Because —

MR PATEL: Again, I’m happy to see if we have additional information. But the bigger takeaway here is that we have offered continued reciprocal implementation of this obligation —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I just wanted – the reason that I keep pressing this is that I’d like to know if this is something that is a new development, as has been reported, but – or if it’s something that you guys decided on almost a month ago when the Russians pulled, said they were suspending, and then Putin signed the law to —

MR PATEL: That was my – my understanding is that’s a – was a separate piece of this, that this, as it relates to this data exchange and Russia’s decision to not engage in this data exchange, that that is a new piece of this. But I’m happy to double-check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Congressional leaders told the Congress – military leaders – my apologies – told the Congress that they had further interactions with Russia on this very topic yesterday. Are you aware of any meeting (inaudible) of the U.S.?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any such meeting, Alex.

QUESTION: Is this the end of New START?

MR PATEL: Alex, I would reject the premise of your question because, as it relates to New START, we have been pretty clear from the get-go that we believe this treaty is an important, it’s a responsible one, and under international law the U.S. has a right to respond to breaches of the New START Treaty. And if you recall, the Secretary spoke quite clearly about how irresponsible Russia’s decision to withdraw from the treaty was when the Russian Federation announced that news, I believe a number of weeks ago, when we were on travel in Europe.

QUESTION: And what’s the next step from here? If you don’t share anything and if they don’t share anything with you, what’s the next step?

MR PATEL: Look, aside from the biannual data exchange, the U.S. continues to provide all required notifications under the New START Treaty, and we’re carefully assessing the national security impact of Russia’s failure to comply with its notifications and other treaty obligations.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions for South Korea.


QUESTION: On anti-corruption, South Korea’s opposition leader is being investigated by prosecutor for extorting huge sums of money. What is the – your action given the State Department fight corruption worldwide?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of those reports, Janne. I’d refer you to the Government of South Korea. This is an internal matter for them to speak to.

QUESTION: Because you – you never watched the news? Because he’s trying to go to prosecutor’s (inaudible) all the time?

MR PATEL: Again, I’d just refer you to the Government of South Korea to speak to this.

QUESTION: Okay, and one more on human rights issues. In the 2022 Human Rights Report, freedom of press in South Korea was mentioned. Is this something that happened under a certain president, or is it generally so?

MR PATEL: I will have to check on the specific language that was used in the Human Rights Reports, Janne. But obviously, what I would say is South Korea is an important partner in the region. They’re important to our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. And as it relates to press freedom, this is an issue we raise directly with countries around the world in our engagements with them.

Shaun, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I go back to Russia-Ukraine a bit?


QUESTION: I wonder if you had any reaction to the International Olympic Committee’s – I guess it’s a lack of a decision, but their stance today saying that they’ll consider it later (inaudible) be conditions on Russian and Belarusian athletes going to the Olympics in 2024.

MR PATEL: So, Shaun, we are continuing to consult with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and other likeminded nations as we review the IOC’s recommendations to international federations on the potential participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes. We continue to have serious concerns around the direct links between the Olympic and Paralympic athletes and the Russian and Belarusian militaries and national security agencies, as well as the IOC’s enforcement mechanisms, which were not outlined in the news that was shared today.

The Biden administration is also proud to – proud of its close partnership with Team USA, and we look forward to our collective work to use support for good in the United States and for – around the world. But I’d refer you to the USOPC for anything further on this.

QUESTION: Okay, so you won’t see it as a step forward or back in terms of your —

MR PATEL: Yeah, I don’t have any other – any other assessment to provide.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I move to the Israeli-Palestinian issue?

MR PATEL: Anything else?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) if you don’t mind.

QUESTION: No, please, go ahead.

MR PATEL: We’ll do one more and then we’ll go to Said. Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Media reports citing the State Department officials suggesting that the U.S. supports the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine. Could you please expand on that concept?

MR PATEL: Sure, Alex. The U.S. supports the development of a special tribunal on the crime of aggression against Ukraine in the form of an internationalized court that is rooted in Ukraine’s judicial system with international elements. We envision such a court having significant international support, particularly from our European partners, and ideally located in another country in Europe.

We believe that the special tribunal should be rooted in Ukraine’s domestic judicial system as this will provide the clearest path to establishing a new tribunal and maximize our chances of achieving meaningful accountability.

QUESTION: Just one thing on that announcement.

MR PATEL: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: So what’s the next step for you guys, like after this? How is this going to run in parallel with the ICC? Can you talk a little bit about, like, how will you contribute to this? And have you also conveyed this to the Ukrainian officials, and what have they said?

MR PATEL: We of course engage with our Ukrainian partners on a number of issues and have had conversations about this as well. To take a step back, Humeyra, a tribunal of this type would enable the prosecution of crimes of aggression, and it would complement the work that will be undertaken by the International Center for the Prosecution of Crimes of Aggression by ensuring that the information and evidence collected by the center can be effectively put towards accountability purposes.

I would also say broadly that the U.S. supports all international efforts to examine atrocities in Ukraine, including the investigation by the ICC and the reporting by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. Obviously, the key aspect here is the piece about aggression, which is what would set this special tribunal apart.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this, if you don’t mind.

MR PATEL: Alex, you’ve had a bunch of questions already.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: You’ve patiently had your hand up.

QUESTION: According to Haaretz, that Ben-Gvir, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security in Israel, only agreed to Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul delay in exchange for an Israeli national guard, in essence having his own militia. Do you have any assessment of that? I mean, how would you look at something like this?

MR PATEL: Said, I’ve seen those reports, and I would refer you to the Government of Israel to speak specifically about any next steps or engagements that are happening. What I would say broadly about the news yesterday about the – this issue having reached an agreement for – just to have further conversations about it is that we have long said that compromise is precisely what we have been calling for. And we continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders and Israeli citizens to find a compromise. But I don’t have any assessment to offer on that specific report, Said.

QUESTION: But if this turns out to be true, it would be alarming, I mean, for someone to have, like, his own army, his own militia, probably largely composed of settlers. Right?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to categorize a hypothetical.

QUESTION: All right. Let me ask you about Hawara. The Israeli army continues to impose closures around Hawara in the northern occupied West Bank, and especially in the month of Ramadan. Do you have any comment on this?

MR PATEL: We have said a number of times we believe Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of prosperity, freedom, and security. And we remain deeply concerned by the sharp rise in violence in the West Bank and continue to urge parties to take immediate steps to prevent further loss of life.

QUESTION: And lastly, very quickly, last week Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland asked the Secretary of State during the hearing whether the United States would look weak for not acting on its own – on your statement, actually; he mentioned your statement – if they don’t really carry on or do something or leverage what you said that day, on last Tuesday.

MR PATEL: Was there a question at the end of that?

QUESTION: Yes, there is. I mean, do you think the United States looks weak by not doing anything to back up its statement that – that statement that you did?

QUESTION: And remember, Vedant, that your – and your job depends on the answer.

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) No.

QUESTION: And so when you say yes, yes, the Americans – the United States looks weak – (laughter) – you should say that.

QUESTION: No. That’s not – (laughter) – that’s not what I’m saying. I am repeating what the senator said.

MR PATEL: Said, what I am —

QUESTION: Do you think – okay, let me rephrase this.


QUESTION: I think the senator’s probably thrust behind what he asked: Does the United States look weak by not acting on its outrage or the statement or connections about —

MR PATEL: No, Said. I do not think – no, Said. The United States does not look weak. On this issue, which, as you know, is a very challenging and complicated issue, this administration, this President and this Secretary, have shown leadership. They have shown leadership in their engagement with our Israeli partners. They have shown leadership in their engagement with the Palestinian Authority. They have shown leadership in how we have constantly urged both sides to avoid steps that further incite tensions and take us further away from a two-state solution. And we have directly and candidly raised these issues in private, in public, through diplomatic channels, when we feel that steps are being taken by either side to take us away from what we view as our ultimate goal here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. On the Ciudad Juárez tragedy, does the U.S. Government trust the safety of Mexican facilities to hold U.S.-bound migrants?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to offer an assessment of another government’s facility from here. As you so note, this was a facility that was within Mexico’s immigration system, so that is a question for the Mexican Government.

QUESTION: Well, a second question, a clarification – a request for clarification. I don’t know if I heard you correctly, but did you say that the tragedy in Ciudad Juárez last night shows the risks of irregular migration? But weren’t precisely the migrants already under Mexican Government custody?

MR PATEL: What I said was that the risks – it shows the risks that migrants and refugees face broadly around the world. I’m not here to offer an assessment on where these migrants originated from or where they were going or what their status was or anything like that. What I would just say is that this is something that the Mexican Government is investigating. We are ready to support that effort should we be asked, and we are – stand ready to provide assistance.

QUESTION: But isn’t precisely your statement linking this to irregular migration instead, for example, to the safety and secureness of the facilities themselves?

MR PATEL: I am not – I’m not here to offer an assessment on the facilities of another government.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: But broadly speaking, across this administration we have long talked about the risks that irregular migration poses. I am not speaking about this incident specifically, but broadly, those who chose to transit anywhere irregularly put themselves at risk.


MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Couple questions. Does the administration have any reaction to the riots in France?

MR PATEL: Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

QUESTION: In France, over the past several weeks, even today, escalating, there have been riots nationwide, including in Paris, of President Macron’s effort to increase – correct me if I’m wrong – the retirement age from 62 to 64. And there have just been – there have been fires in the streets. Does the U.S. have any response to all of that?

MR PATEL: Well, first what I would say broadly is that we, of course, respect the right for anybody to peacefully protest and peacefully express themselves, but it’s never appropriate to take violent actions. What I would say broadly, though, that this is a domestic French issue and I’m not going to weigh into that. But what I will say is that France is a vital partner and one of our oldest allies, and we place the highest value on our alliance with them. And we have a long, shared history of shared democratic values.

QUESTION: Not – not one of. Is.

MR PATEL: The – our oldest. That’s correct. That’s correct, Matt. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And a new report showed dozens of countries that are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative are battling to pay their debts and are relying on Beijing for additional emergency funds. Are you worried about Beijing’s growing influence and predatory lending practices in these countries?

0MR PATEL: What I would say broadly, and I spoke a little bit about this yesterday, is that our efforts in any part of the world are not about any one particular country. It is about what a partnership with the United States can look like and what a deepening partnership with the United States can benefit, not just the people of the United States but the people of that specific country as well.

As it relates to the Belt and Road Initiative, we have not parsed words that often these infrastructure projects saddle countries with bad debt; that the local workforce end up – do not end up reaping the economic benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative; that often these projects are undertaken without consideration of the environment or human rights. And as you so noted, that, again, sometimes these countries are saddled with debt that is difficult for them to pay off. So this is something we’ve spoken to before.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Goyal, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: I – let – I’m – I’ll work my way front. Let me go to Goyal and then I will come – I will come forward. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Vedant, sir, two questions on U.S.-India relations.


QUESTION: A few weeks ago I brought to this department’s attention that Indian American community in the U.S. are under fear from the few elements, or Khalistani elements, and especially in San Francisco. And after that, what happened two weeks ago? The Indian consulate in San Francisco was vandalized, and also one of the diplomats was beaten up. And now those elements are still sitting in front of the consulate and people cannot go and come out and go in for services like passport and visa and all those services, and they are under fear. And police have not done anything, and still no one was arrested, and still same people are sitting there who vandalized and all the – but also —

MR PATEL: I’m going to – I’m going to jump in, Goyal —

QUESTION: And one —

MR PATEL: — that the U.S. Government, we condemn the recent violent incidents that have taken place during protests at Indian diplomatic facilities in the United States. Look, we support the First Amendment rights of protesters, and we support engagement of free speech activities. However, violence or the threat of violence is never an acceptable form of protest.

Consistent with our Vienna Convention obligations, the department is committed to taking all appropriate steps, including coordination with federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities, to protect the safety and security of these facilities and the diplomatic individuals who work within them as well.

QUESTION: And second, sir, in Washington, D.C., one of our reporters – Mr. Lalit Jha – among others, was attacked by these elements or this movement of people in Washington just over the weekend. And thanks to the Secret Service, he – his life was saved. And they were abusing the Indian ambassador and the Indian community, and he was – he had bruises and all that. So what I’m asking you now – this is ongoing on even here in Washington, D.C., at the Indian embassy, and Indian embassy issued a assault report and statement. I think you may have seen it. And I was also there among – abused and all that.

MR PATEL: So, look, attacks against journalists are never acceptable, and we condemn any incidents of violence against a member of the media just doing their job, and any act of violence or vandalism against a diplomatic facility as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: And finally, sir, just quickly —

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room, Goyal.

QUESTION: Sorry. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wonder if you have update on Secretary Rick Waters’ trip to China last week.

MR PATEL: Yeah, thank you so much for your question. DAS Waters met with working-level counterparts and U.S. Government colleagues in an official capacity. He visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing as part of his trip, and I don’t have really anything additional to offer at the moment.

QUESTION: Just specifically, what is the purpose of this trip given he was the highest-level official from this building visiting China after December? Is it – is there anything related to prepare for Secretary Blinken’s trip to China or the two presidents’ call, potential phone call?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any call to preview or anything like that. As it relates to the Secretary’s trip, we have long said that the trip is postponed and will be rescheduled at a date when conditions allow.

The important thing to remember here – and I think this is a key piece of DAS Waters’ trip – is we have long said that we believe it is important to maintain lines of communication with the PRC. The Secretary has reiterated that in his engagements with his counterparts as well, and so we’ll continue to do that through appropriate levels also.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I want to —

QUESTION: But wait, you can’t offer a single topic that they mentioned? What did they talk about, the weather?

QUESTION: Or balloons?

QUESTION: No, forget about balloons. What did they – I mean, he didn’t go there just to say hey, great to see you. He obviously had some kind of message that he was carrying. Can you give us an idea of any topic, not specifics?

MR PATEL: He also partake – partook in some think tank activities as well. However, beyond any engagements that he had with the PRC counterparts, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of those engagements.

QUESTION: So the trip was basically meaningless, then?

MR PATEL: That is not what I said, Matt. I said it was a working-level discussion with his counterparts and U.S. Government colleagues.

QUESTION: Well, it is what you’re saying, because – what – about what? Did they talk about Ukraine? Did they talk about Russia?

MR PATEL: About a wide range of issues that we have as it relates to our bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: Did they talk about the South China Sea? Did they talk about —

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to get into specifics of diplomatic engagements, Matt.

QUESTION: So they basically talked about the weather, right?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic engagements, Matt. I appreciate you asking.

QUESTION: I’m not even asking for the specifics. I just – I mean, he didn’t go there just to, like, shoot the whatever you want to —

MR PATEL: Shoot the what?

QUESTION: Yeah, you know what I’m saying. He didn’t go there just to do that. He obviously had – there was something that he went there to talk about and something that the Chinese had to say to him.

MR PATEL: Matt, we – as it relates – as it relates to the PRC, we have long said that we believe it is important to maintain open lines of communication. We also have a number of issues to – that we have with them as it relates to our bilateral relationship. A number of those issues you have seen myself, the Secretary, others talk about.

QUESTION: Okay, so did he raise any of those?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into specifics about his diplomatic engagements. This is all heard – stuff that you’ve heard me say before, but broadly, I will reiterate that this is – this was a working-level visit with his counterparts as well as USG officials also.

QUESTION: If you can’t get into the topics, are you able to characterize how it went? Was it fruitful, constructive, not good?

MR PATEL: It was a working-level meeting, Humeyra, in which they talked about a number of issues and he had the opportunity to meet with his counterparts as well as U.S. Government officials.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Summit for Democracy that you’re hosting – there’s a big challenge of disinformation that’s impacting democracies. What is the strategy of the U.S. Government? Are you going to do anything specific in collaboration with your other democratic partners to combat disinformation which is specifically emanating from China, Russia, and it impacts democracies across the globe?

MR PATEL: Of course. Combating disinformation is, of course, something that the bureau that we all live under within Global Public Affairs as well as the GEC – it’s something that they are quite focused on, and we have a number of lines of effort to ensure that we have pieces in places to push back on disinformation regardless of where it might be originating from.

QUESTION: Vedant, one more?

MR PATEL: I’ve called on you, Janne. Go ahead, Elizabeth. You had your hand open. No, no, no, I’m going – okay, go ahead. I’ll come to you, Elizabeth, after. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you.


QUESTION: North Korea fired an SRBM, short-range ballistic missile – nuclear aerial explosion test yesterday. What is the State Department position on this?

MR PATEL: So you have seen us speak about this quite regularly in that we continue to feel that these actions, these provocative actions being taken by the DPRK, are destabilizing, they are unsafe, and they put the broader region at risk. And as it relates to the DPRK, our goal continues to be the same, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have also made clear that we are open to meeting with the DPRK without preconditions, but of course, the DPRK has yet to reciprocate.

Elizabeth, go ahead.

QUESTION: How do the Captagon sanctions today fit into the administration’s wider strategy in Syria and preventing the normalization of Assad?

MR PATEL: Sure. So broadly, on normalization, our stance against normalization remains unchanged. We will not normalize with the Assad regime, nor would we encourage others, absent an authentic and enduring progress towards a political solution, to do so.

What I will say broadly is that today’s actions are a reflection of a deep interagency approach across multiple fronts to address the Captagon trade, and specifically the Caesar Act is a valuable tool. It’s a tool that we have at our disposal to hold the Assad regime accountable. But of course, it’s not the only tool that we have, and you’ve seen us take additional actions over the course of this administration as well.

QUESTION: Two quick follow-ups, if I may. Because you mentioned the interagency approach, do you have an update on the status of the interagency strategy on Captagon that was required by the NDAA?

MR PATEL: I don’t, but I’m happy to check and see if we’ve got an update for you.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just one more.


QUESTION: I think today – well, today’s designations mark the first use of the Caesar Act by this administration. Is there a reason why the administration waited two years to use this sanctions rule?

MR PATEL: This is of course a process that is intensive and that we want to make sure that we get right. The administration has worked actively to identify persons who are subject to designation under the Caesar Act. And as you just heard me say, it is a valuable tool, it’s an important tool, but it’s not the only tool that we have available to hold the Assad regime accountable. There are several executive orders that give Treasury and State sanction authorities to target those who are complicit in corruption, complicit in human rights abuses, those who are complicit in support for terrorism and other malign actions in Syria as well.

QUESTION: Vedant, excuse me, a quick follow-up.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: At the top, were you accusing Bashar al-Assad himself of being responsible for the manufacture and trafficking of Captagon? Is that what —

MR PATEL: What I will —

QUESTION: Is that what this is all about?

MR PATEL: What I will say, Said, is that we know that the Assad regime has its hands in a number of malign destabilizing activities, and this is just yet another example of that.

Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Can we go to Africa?


QUESTION: Kenya. I wanted to ask about the – there’s been some political protests there – opposition protests (inaudible).

MR PATEL: Yeah. Yeah, you asked about this yesterday. Broadly, Shaun, the U.S. regrets the loss of life and damage to property in recent protests in Kenya. And we encourage political leaders, protesters, and all parties to refrain from violence and rhetoric that could incite violence. And we call on government security forces to act with restraint while protecting public safety and property. The rights to freedoms of expression and association and the right to peaceful assembly are core tenets to democracy, as we’ve said previously.

QUESTION: Could I just pursue that last part, peaceful assembly?

MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is that criticism of the ban on opposition protests?

MR PATEL: Look, Shaun, we encourage political leaders, protesters, and all parties to refrain from violence and rhetoric that could incite violence. And we call on government security forces to act with restraint while protecting public safety and property.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I just do one more on Africa?

MR PATEL: Yes, please.

QUESTION: I know the Secretary issued a statement on Friday, but I guess we didn’t talk about yesterday – Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina.


QUESTION: First of all, can you confirm – I guess, maybe you can’t – but that he’s in Qatar now? And could you say a little bit broadly what it means for the relationship with Rwanda? Do you see it as the Rwandans say that this is a reset in the sense of having better relations with them?

MR PATEL: I will say a couple of things about that, Shaun. I will – obviously there’s a limit to what I’m going to get into out of respect to Mr. Rusesabagina’s privacy, but I can confirm that he did touch down in in Doha yesterday and of course will continue on to the United States. But again, I’m going to, out of respect for his privacy, not offer anything further.

Broadly, this process largely began with – well, I won’t say began, but Secretary Blinken’s trip in August, which many of you were on, played a key role in eventually resolving this case. And it was an example of cooperation between partners to resolve an issue that both governments had prioritized.

Okay. Mikhail, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any comment on the new approach – of course, a positive approach – between Türkiye and Greece? And as I understand, it started after the visit of the secretary of state, who played, of course, a role on this.

MR PATEL: Well, Mikhail, this is something that, of course, you saw the Secretary speak to when he had the opportunity to be both in Ankara and Athens as well. And we have long said that as it relates to disputes between our NATO Allies, Türkiye and Greece, that these issues be resolved peacefully, that these issues be resolved through diplomatic dialogue and in line, of course, with the UN Charter. So that continues to be the case.

QUESTION: Can I ask – I asked you yesterday about this new position of Türkiye on Sweden and NATO, and you gave me the general answer, but I wanted to ask you the question again if –hoping for to have a specific answer. Mr. Kalin, who is also the spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, is saying that Türkiye is not going to approve Sweden membership if they don’t get the F-16. And are you going to accept this new position by Türkiye?

MR PATEL: So again, you saw me speak to this yesterday. We believe that both Sweden and Finland should be in NATO, and they should be in NATO as soon as possible. Both are strong, capable partners, and they share NATO’s values, and them joining the Alliance will not only strengthen the Alliance itself but also contribute to European security. We support and welcome President Erdogan’s announcement that he will send the protocols for Finland to Turkish parliament soon, and we look forward to that process concluding. And we also encourage our Turkish allies to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well. Again, Sweden and Finland joining NATO will not only strengthen the Alliance, but it will also contribute to European security as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have two questions. On human rights, in light of Democracy Summit, I want to draw your attention to the initiative you guys announced in January, Without Just Cause Campaign. First and last time I heard about that publicly was in this room when it was announced. Can you fill us in where exactly that mission has been done – has done to get those individuals, 60 individuals featuring Kara-Murza from Russia, Elchin Mammad from Azerbaijan, and others out of jail?

MR PATEL: Alex, I will have to check in on the specifics of that announcement. But I will say broadly, though, human rights is an issue that this department and this Secretary raises regularly with our allies and partners, as well as with countries where we perhaps might have differing views on some of these issues. And that’s why you saw the Secretary come here to this podium to release the Human Rights Report. It’s why you see him taking such an active role in the Summit for Democracy because, again, we believe that democracies and the strength of democracies are a key tenet of human rights as well.

QUESTION: Excellent. And back to special tribunal question, just to clarify, based on your response to Humeyra, as I understand it correctly, this is going to – this initiative will walk shoulder to shoulder to another initiative that ICC has put together, it’s not necessarily going to be part the ICC initiative.

MR PATEL: I would not – I would not view it as an alternative or a replacement. What this is is another mechanism in which we support all international efforts to examine atrocities.

QUESTION: Will the administration support the idea of trying Putin in part of special tribunal you guys are —

MR PATEL: The important thing to remember here, Alex, is that it is clear that what Ukraine and other champions of accountability want is a – fair and effective prosecutions. And we believe that an internationalized court with broad internationalized support is the most likely and most effective pathway to achieving that shared goal. But I’m not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals about potential actions that it might take.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Robinson from INL is traveling to Mexico to talk about fentanyl. Are there specific asks for the Mexican Government by Secretary Robinson that he’s going to present?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific asks. Obviously, one, as it relates to countering fentanyl and countering fentanyl precursors, Mexico and the Government of Mexico is a key and important partner. This is something that is a priority for the Secretary as well. And so I know the assistant secretary looks forward to robust discussions on that.

QUESTION: How does it affect that the President of Mexico doesn’t recognize that fentanyl is produced in Mexico?

MR PATEL: Again, that’s a question for the Government of Mexico. I’m – what I would say is that this is an important priority for the Secretary. You’ve heard him talk about it. And I know that Assistant Secretary Robinson looks forward to continuing to have these engagements as well.

Goyal, last question.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: I just wanted to say that Mr. Lalit Jha, who is your senior correspondent for Press Trust of India, he’s just shaken up, really. Any message for him from the Secretary, and also for the Indian or other press who are covering and doing their jobs?

MR PATEL: What I would say, Lalit, is – or, sorry, what I would say, Goyal, is what I just said a few moments ago, is that of course any violence against members of the media or journalists who are simply doing their job is unacceptable. I’ve had the opportunity to know Lalit for a number of years now, and I’m glad that he is doing well and largely doing a lot better. So –

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:46 p.m.)

# # #


Department Press Briefing – March 27, 2023

2:13 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: So I’ll start with Israel. And I realize that you’re not going to have more – much more to say, if anything more to say, than what your colleague at the White House just said, so on camera. But I’m wondering if you do have anything more to say about the latest developments and the prime minister’s decision to put a pause on the judicial —

MR PATEL: Yeah, let me say a couple things to that, Matt. First, we welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise. And compromise is precisely what we have been calling for, and we continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that it’s the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest base of popular support.

What I will also add, Matt, is that this is something that you know the President had the opportunity to recently discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu that democratic principles have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

QUESTION: Okay. So I don’t want this briefing to turn into a repeat of the White House briefing, but obviously you can – I don’t know, because it’s still going on, if she was asked about the allegations, the accusations that have been made by some commentators that the U.S. somehow funded the protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. These allegations, accusations were repeated, or retweeted, rather, by the son of the prime minister.

MR PATEL: Let me also say a couple things to that, Matt. These accusations are completely and demonstrably false. The Movement of Quality Government is a NGO, and it received a modest grant from the State Department that was initiated during the previous administration, and the latest disbursal of funds came in September of 2022, prior to the most recent Israeli elections. And this grant supported an educational program for Jerusalem schools that supplemented their civic studies curriculum. As you know, Matt, the department supports a wide range of programming by civil society actors around the world on strengthening awareness for human rights and democratic values. But any notion that we are propping up or supporting these protests or the initiators of them is completely and demonstrably false.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you think that it’s irresponsible for people to repeat these kinds of things or to even make the accusation in the first place?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to characterize anybody’s comments, Matt. But what I’m here to say and to affirm what we said over the weekend on this as well is that these accusations are completely and demonstrably false.

QUESTION: Well, have you made that point to the prime minister, the prime minister’s son?

MR PATEL: We talk about our bilateral relationship and our Israeli – relationship with our Israeli partners at a number of levels. I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements on this issue or another one, but again, just reiterate what I’ve previously said just now that these accusations are false.

QUESTION: Do you know if anyone in the department actually has any contact with the prime minister’s son?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware, but again, the important takeaway here, Matt, is that these accusations are false, but also broadly, we have a deep relationship with our Israeli partners. We discuss with them a wide-range of issues, but I couldn’t speak to any specific discussions on this.

QUESTION: Last thing on Israel, I just want to check on —


QUESTION: — and I think this’ll be – your response will be very short. The embassy – your – the U.S. Embassy in Israel was always open, right? It was not —

MR PATEL: That’s my understanding.



QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this?

MR PATEL: Can I go to – I’ll come back to you, Shaun? Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: On the same topic?


QUESTION: Please, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just briefly.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: When you say that Israel put a pause, is a pause enough? I mean, is this something that – could it just be a delay tactic? Is there a position that perhaps these reforms to begin with weren’t consistent in —

MR PATEL: Well, Shaun, broadly, we continue to monitor the situation. We continue to monitor the developments out of Israel, and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts. And we continue to urge strongly with our Israeli partners to find a compromise as soon as soon as possible. And we believe that that is the best path forward for Israel and its citizens.


QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow up – first of all, let me ask you about the Israeli embassy in town. I mean, they said they suspended their operation for today and so on. How did they inform you about that? What is the – I mean, I’m just curious to know, what are the channels that are normally —

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to – I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we communicate with foreign missions as it relates to them communicating their operating procedure here in the National Capitol Region or otherwise, but our Israeli partners this morning were quite communicative publicly about their decision to close their mission here in D.C. I also believe that they have since stated that it will be reopening tomorrow, so I will – I’ll let them speak to – speak to that.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Now, I know that the prime minister just suspended the judicial law and so on. So what do you expect? What should happen next? Or what would happen next? Or what would you like to see happen next?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to prejudge or offer an analysis or prediction of what will or should happen next. This is for the leaders of Israel and the Israeli people to determine. And what I would say is reiterate what I told Shaun and Matt, that we’re continuing to monitor these developments coming out of Israel. We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and we continue to urge strongly for a compromise to be found, if possible, because we believe that is what’s in the best interest of Israel and its citizens. And as I said, this is something that the President had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu – how democratic principles are and have always been a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

QUESTION: Does it strike you – I mean, all these demonstrations that have been going on for three months now, almost, for many, many weeks – absent from these demonstrations and protests and so on is the occupation, which is the big elephant in the room? Do you think that Israeli society may have missed an opportunity to make its position known on this occupation that has gone on for too long?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to offer a – I’m not going to attempt to speak on behalf of those protesting or anything like that, as that would be inappropriate.

QUESTION: And just one – I have one last question.

MR PATEL: Okay, and then I’m going to work the room a little bit, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you – can you give us the status of Mr. Hady Amr? Is he in town? Is he – because he was meeting with Palestinians I think last week and so on.

MR PATEL: I believe he is in D.C., but I will – I don’t – I don’t know for 100 percent sure, but I’m happy to check and we can follow up with you, Said.

Go ahead, Simon.

QUESTION: Yeah, just to – I’ve got a follow-up on Shaun’s question, really. But you mentioned once again that you want – you want to build consensus. Can you just clarify, is the – the U.S. position is that there should be consensus no matter what the outcome in the – if they’re able to build consensus but they do go ahead with judicial reforms that strip the supreme court of the oversight role over the government, is that okay?

MR PATEL: Simon, it just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to prescribe any kind of outcome here, and I think what I would reiterate again is that we are urging Israeli leaders and our partners in Israel to find a compromise as soon as possible. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances. That’s something I’ve been very clear about, the Secretary has, as has Ned when he was briefing up here. And fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of support. But again, it would be – I’m not going to prescribe any kind of outcome or offer any kind of end scenario that the United States is wishing or hoping for other than to say that we believe that finding compromise is the best path forward.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that there may be concessions that have been given to the right wing, to Ben-Gvir in this, in order to agree to this delay?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate on that, Simon.

Janne. Any – actually, before I call on you, anything else on this question?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on this topic.

MR PATEL: Yeah, and then I’ll come to you after. Go ahead, Kylie.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering, just basically, does the Biden administration still have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR PATEL: We have – Kylie, let me say a couple of things. Israel has enjoyed a strong democracy since its founding 75 years ago, and as I told Matt and Shaun, the hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, a big piece of it has always been democratic principles. And that is something that President Biden had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu recently. And we continue to support Israel’s security, and our commitment to Israel’s security and democracy continues to remain ironclad, and we work with our Israeli partners on a number of issues, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.

QUESTION: So you’re still confident in his leadership capabilities at this time?

MR PATEL: I have no different assessment to offer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. What terms would be acceptable to the administration as it pertains to Israel’s attempt at judiciary reform?

MR PATEL: I think I just answered your question when speaking to Simon. It would be inappropriate for us to prescribe any kind of outcome here. That is for the leaders of Israel and the citizens of Israel to determine.

QUESTION: But you just (inaudible).

MR PATEL: What I am here to – what I am here to say is that we continue to believe that Israeli leaders should find a compromise as soon as possible because we believe that that is the best path forward, and we’re continuing to monitor the developments out of Israel and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just before we leave this —


QUESTION: — I just want to ask about the Summit for Democracy.

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. So there’s no change? Given this development – in other words, the prime minister agreeing to a pause, which you welcome – there’s no change?

MR PATEL: Israel is an invitee to the Summit for Democracy this year, as it was last year, and —

QUESTION: And that won’t change?

MR PATEL: That – I have no change in programming to announce.

QUESTION: Could I piggyback off that?


QUESTION: Just in terms of other democracies invited to the summit, India. Rahul Gandhi, the opposition leader, has been expelled from parliament. Do you have anything to say about that? Is that consistent with democratic values?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Shaun. So respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we’re watching Mr. Gandhi’s case in Indian courts, and we engage with the Government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values – including, of course, freedom of expression.

In our engagements with our Indian partners, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles and the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression, as a key to strengthening both our democracies.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up briefly?


QUESTION: You just said engaging with the Government of India. How about with Mr. Gandhi himself? Is the United States still engaging with him as the opposition leader?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements to read out, Shaun. But as I’m sure you know as someone who’s covered this department for some time, it is normal and standard for us to engage with members of opposition parties in any country where we have bilateral relationships. But I don’t have any specific engagement to read out.

QUESTION: Summit of Democracies?

MR PATEL: Sure. And then I’ll come back to you, Janne. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Is Mexico still invited to the Summit of Democracies, considering that President Obrador is also pushing for these legal changes to undermine the independent elections body in Mexico?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any change in invitation status. But I will – we’ll check specifically and see if we have any updates to get back to you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the latest developments on the – that issue of the undermining of the independent elections body in Mexico?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that Mexico is a close and valued partner of the United States, and we work together to address a number of shared challenges that span not just our hemisphere, but all areas of bilateral cooperation. Through the commitments made at the North American Leaders Summit, through the Bicentennial Framework, our countries have worked closely to promote human rights, to promote democracy, and to protect vulnerable populations as well.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Two questions. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently said that the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea should be considered. Do you think it is possible to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea for stronger extended deterrence?

MR PATEL: Janne, specifically as it relates to our deployment or any posture, I will let our Pentagon colleagues speak to that. But the one thing I want to be very clear about is that our exercises and our cooperation with the ROK are longstanding, they are defensive, and they are routine. And as it relates to the DPRK, the U.S. harbors no hostile intent, and we’re committed to the security of the ROK and our alliance’s combined defense posture. But I will let the DOD speak to specific postures.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, North Korean foreign ministry announced that it would respond with nuclear weapons if anyone forced CVID – complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement – on North Korea. How would your comment on this?

MR PATEL: Well, I didn’t hear the first part of your question, Janne. What are you speak – comment – what did the foreign ministry say?

QUESTION: North Korea foreign ministry announced that it would respond with North Korean nuclear weapons if anyone forced CVID to the North Korea.

MR PATEL: Janne, what I would say is that we are committed to a diplomatic approach with the DPRK, and we harbor no hostile intent. And our ultimate goal here continues to remain the same, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And our commitment to our partners of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.

Nazira, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. There is a problem from the Afghan girls. Still Taliban are not able to reopen the school for them. And Afghan women, they were in the street and Taliban respond them, and they put them – some of the Afghan women and Afghan girl in the jail. What’s your respond?

And number two, Dr. Zal Khalilzad, U.S. former representative in Afghanistan, yesterday – actually, yesterday he confirmed that Taliban killed two leader of ISIS in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-e Sharif. And he said that I think – he thinking, Dr. Zal Khalilzad thinking – that Taliban keep their commitment in Doha agreement, and if they continue to commit to their commitment, Doha commitment, he satisfy. The State Department has the same opinion? What’s your respond?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Nazira. First, as it relates to your announcement about the schools, we deplore the edicts that the Taliban have promulgated regularly that fundamentally repress the right of Afghan women and girls, and we’ve seen this now time and time again – denying them education, denying them the ability to work, denying them the ability to participate in the provision of humanitarian assistance that benefits all Afghans. And it’s safe to say from conversations among countries around the world that to the extent that the Taliban is looking for more normal relations with countries around the world, that will not happen in a long time, so as they continue to advance these repressive edicts against women and girls.

I’ve not seen those specific comments that you’re referring to, Nazira, but what I will say is that broadly, the Taliban’s recent actions have demonstrated a total disregard for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan and their lack of interest in normal relations with the international community. And we hope that they understand the implications of some of these disastrous decisions, like banning women from schools and things of that sort.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Wait a second. Just before you move on, do you understand that the complete – the – I don’t even know how to say it. You say that if the Taliban wants to have better relations with the rest of the world, they need to reverse these policies. And then two sentences later, you say they have demonstrated absolutely no interest in wanting to do this. So why —

MR PATEL: By the pursuit of these policies —

QUESTION: Well, exactly. So what – I mean, I – this is – you’re basing your – it’s a hope that you think the Taliban might change their policies because they want better relations with the rest of the world. And at the same time —

MR PATEL: That is their own —

QUESTION: — you admit and concede that they haven’t shown any interest in it and don’t want better relations with the rest of the world. So I think the question that she is asking is: What are you going to do about it?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Taliban accountable.

QUESTION: Like what?

MR PATEL: We have – I’m not going to preview actions from here, which is no surprise to you.

QUESTION: Well, you don’t have to preview anything. What tools – what tools do you have?

MR PATEL: We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal, visa restrictions and otherwise, to hold the Taliban accountable, as well as tools that we can pursue with our allies and partners. And I would – the point that I was making, Matt, was that this is a self-prescribed goal by the Taliban of normalization of relations with the international community. And yes, the steps that they are taking as it relates to women and girls runs contrary to what is the expectation of them from not just the United States but also from our international partners as well.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: On China. Could you please provide a readout on Deputy Assistant Secretary Rick Waters’ trip to China?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics for that from – for you right now. But I’m happy to check with the team and see if we have an update.

QUESTION: Can you confirm this trip?

MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any travel to offer any confirmation on. But I can check with the team, see if we have anything else for you.

QUESTION: Follow-up China question?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Honduras switched its relations from Taiwan to China last week. Does the State Department have any comment?

MR PATEL: Well, this is ultimately a sovereign decision. An important thing to note is that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remains unfulfilled. And there are many recent ongoing examples of such behavior in Latin America and around the world. Regardless of this decision, though, the U.S. will continue to expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Couple questions. Let me start with the democracy summit. Assistant Secretary Zeya just posted early this morning that they’re going to be focusing on the U.S. partnership to prevent conflict and to promote stability. Now, look at the list. I see some of the countries that did not vote along with the U.S. during the last UN vote on Ukraine are part of the summit. Where do you draw the line? How much of this conversation will be focused on the conflicts and democracy versus autocracy in – with this particular focus on Ukraine conflict? And secondly, did Putin just jeopardize your first Year of Action?

MR PATEL: Can you repeat your second question?

QUESTION: The first Year of Action that you announced, did the war just jeopardize – is it your view that the war jeopardized your goals, having looked back to the first summit and look forward at —

MR PATEL: Certainly not, Alex. I mean, I think what the conflict and the war in Ukraine has highlighted is the importance of respecting a rules-based order, and respecting the UN Charter, and having respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. But broadly, of course the conflict in Ukraine will be an important topic of discussion in the Summit for Democracy. But there’s also a number of other issues at stake as well, and President Biden has spoken about this previously, that we’re currently at an inflection point when it comes to the future of democracy, both within the United States and globally. The defining question of this age is whether democracies will continue to deliver for their people in a rapidly changing world. And this was a summit that launched last year – or, sorry, the first year of this administration, in early 2021 – to put new and high-level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions.

QUESTION: And how much the war will impact the conversation this week?

MR PATEL: Again, Alex, I’m not going to prescibe it. But of course Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine will no doubt be a topic of discussion, I’m sure.


QUESTION: Can we move Russia, if you don’t mind? A couple questions on Russia as well.

MR PATEL: Can I come back to? You’ve – Camilla’s had her hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on Secretary Blinken’s hearings last week. Do you – can you confirm whether or not the State Department will hand over the requested dissent cable that Mike McCaul has asked for by close of business today?

MR PATEL: So let me say a couple of things broadly, Camilla. The first is that the department is committed to working with congressional committees with jurisdiction to appropriately accommodate their need for information to help them conduct oversight for legislative purposes. And the department has provided more than 200 briefings to bipartisan members and staff on Afghanistan policy since the withdrawal. As Chairman McCaul has said previously, he and the Secretary have had constructive decisions – conversations about this. The Secretary reaffirmed his commitment to cooperate with the committee’s work. And we have provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s request regarding Afghanistan.

On the dissent cable specifically, we of course – I want to make clear that we are working to provide all the information that Congress is looking for and that is – that its oversight responsibilities authorize it to look into. But on the dissent cable, the tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished here in the department and goes back decades. It is a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it without fear or favor. And they do it via the regulations we have established for these cables in a privileged and confidential way. It’s vital to us that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel. The Secretary reads every dissent channel that he gets and responds to every dissent channel cable that he gets as well.

And so we have – you saw the Secretary speak to this in his hearing. We understand that – appreciate that there is a real interest in the substance of this specific cable, and in the spirit of that we have – we are prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available, including through briefings or some other mechanisms. And again, we understand the importance, but I don’t have a specific to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: And is the department prepared for a subpoena if it is issued?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals. Again, we recognize the importance and the – we recognize the keen interest in this cable, and we’re prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available through briefings or some other mechanisms.

I’m going to go in the back. Alex, I’ve called on you a couple of times already. Yeah. No, you go ahead. Mikhail, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Mr. Kalin, the advisor of president of Türkiye, says that first that you have to find the formula for the F-16 with the Congress and especially with Senator Menendez; and at the same time, he threatened United States, saying that they will not approve – the Turks – Sweden’s membership if you do not give them the F-16s. What is your answer to it?

MR PATEL: I’m not – whose comments are these?

QUESTION: Mr. Kalin. He is a number-one advisor of President Erdogan, of president of Türkiye.

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. I’ve not —


MR PATEL: I’ve not specifically seen those comments. But as you saw me speak to last week, Mikhail, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement that he will send Finland’s NATO accession protocols to the Turkish parliament, and we look forward to a prompt and positive conclusion of that process. And we also encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s protocols as well. We believe that Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The International Chamber of Commerce in Paris decided last week in favor of Iraqi Government against Türkiye in regards to KRG oil exporting to the international market through Türkiye. As of now, the KRG oil exporting is halted to just about a half million barrels per day, and some of the companies who were and are working on extracting and exporting the oil are the American companies. We know that there was some correspondence from the Congress last year to resolve the issues between Erbil and Baghdad, especially on oil and gas.

The first: How does the U.S. views this decision, and do you have any engagement with Erbil and Baghdad to overcome their gas and oil (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things to that. First, I don’t have a comment for you on the merits of the case or the court’s decision. But what I would say broadly is that since the ruling we have urged the governments of Türkiye and Iraq to resume the flow of oil through the Iraq-Türkiye pipeline. Disruptions to global energy supply would not serve anyone’s interest.

We also understand that the Kurdistan Regional Government is in discussion with the Government of Iraq to find a mutual acceptable path forward on related budget and hydrocarbon issues. As was discussed during the February U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee in Washington, U.S. officials continue to urge the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to resolve their budget and hydrocarbon disputes in a manner that will benefit the Iraqi citizens.

QUESTION: My second question?


QUESTION: Your consul general in Erbil shared a report in LinkedIn that was published on Foreign Policy, and the title of the report said “Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards is Collapsing.” And there were a lot of reactions in the Kurdistan Region towards this re-sharing the post. Later, he removed the post but the question is that: Has the U.S. policy towards the Kurdistan Region changed? What is your comment on sharing a report titled like that by your consulate general in Erbil?

MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that specific social media post. But what I will say broadly is that Iraq, including the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, is a strategic partner of the U.S. and we have a long-term commitment to this region. And we reaffirmed this fact in July of 2021 in the Strategic Dialogue that was held when representatives of the two countries met to discuss strengthening our long-term strategic relationship not only in security but also in economic and trade issues, culture, education, environment, health care, and more as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in his recent statements is seen advising Pakistani Government and Pakistani Supreme Court regarding the political situation of Pakistan. There’s a general perception in Pakistan that his statements are kind of expressing the sentiments of U.S. Government. I know he’s not a part of the current administration, but could you clarify this that his statements is not a —

MR PATEL: Well, I think you just hit the nail on the head. Mr. Khalilzad is a private citizen, and any social media activity or comments or tweets that you might reference, those are done in his private capacity, does not represent U.S. foreign policy, and he does not speak for this administration.

QUESTION: Sir, what is your opinion about the current political chaos in Pakistan? The interior minister of Pakistan issued death threats to former Prime Minister Imran Khan live on public TV.

MR PATEL: So we have previously stated that any implication of violence, harassment, or intimidation has no place in politics, and as we do with our partners all around the world, we encourage all sides in Pakistan to respect the rule of law and allow the people of Pakistan to democratically determine their own country’s leadership pursuant to their own constitution and laws. And specifically, for any reaction to the comments, you would have to go to Mr. Sanaullah, the – not – that’s not for me to speak to.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question about the largest democracy in the world, India. Indian officials disqualified leader of Congress Party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, from his seat in the parliament for calling Modi – for calling Modi a thief. He was also sentenced to two years in prison for the same reason. Sir, what are your comments on this specific issue and about the freedom of speech in India?

MR PATEL: I’m not sure if you were late to the briefing or not, but Shaun already asked the question about Mr. Gandhi’s case, so you can check the transcript for that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: My question (inaudible) Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands has award a multi-million-dollar contract with a Chinese state company to update international port. I’m just wondering how is the State Department view or see this event?

MR PATEL: I didn’t hear the first part of your question, if you could speak up.

QUESTION: For the Solomon Islands has award a multi-million-dollar contract with a Chinese state company to update international port. How do you – State Department – see this event?

MR PATEL: That is a – that’s a question for the Government of the Solomon Islands as well as the PRC. What I can say is that our partnerships and our relationships with any country is about deepening partnerships with the United States and what a partnership with the United States can look like. Deputy Secretary Sherman had the opportunity to visit Solomon Islands and the region mid to the fall of last year, if I recall correctly, and had some important engagements and important discussions. It’s an important region for the United States and we’ll continue to work cooperatively in the region as well.

Go ahead, Simon.

QUESTION: I wanted to just follow up on an answer you gave a while ago about Honduras and the PRC.


QUESTION: You mentioned the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic relation – recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled. Do you want to give some examples of that?

MR PATEL: I think the track record is pretty clear, Simon, not just necessarily in Latin America but around the world, whether it be projects for its Belt and Road Initiative, loans that end up saddling countries with very complicated and bad debt, partnerships and deepening of cooperation on infrastructure projects that end up bearing no benefit to job creation for the local economy, the local workforce. There’s a number of examples like that around the world.

QUESTION: Is there some – something that you’re aware of in the Honduras case that – a promise that was made?

MR PATEL: No. We again – I would reiterate that this is a sovereign decision and it is – but also important to note that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled.

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned that – recognition of Taiwan is something that you guys would like to see more around the world, right, presumably. It sounds a little bloodless, the way —

MR PATEL: These are sovereign decisions, Simon. These are sovereign decisions, Simon. What I can speak to is what the United States is interested in, and that is we will deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our “one China” policy. We believe that Taiwan is a reliable, likeminded, and democratic partner, and its partnerships around the world provide significant and sustainable benefits to citizens of those countries.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Kyiv has indicated multiple times in recent days that the lack of ammunition is holding back its planned offensive. Just wondering, does the U.S. assessment match that, that Kyiv is lacking ammunition or other equipment to carry out an offensive right now? And if so, are there any plans in place to address that need?

MR PATEL: Shannon, I’m not going to get into battlefield assessments from up here, and in fact, some of our Pentagon colleagues might be better positioned to speak to that. But what I will say – this is not something you’ve – not something new – is that we have over the course of this war, since February of last year, even before, have offered security assistance to our Ukrainian partners and we have done so through assessments of what makes the most sense for the current status of the battlefield. And we’ll continue to do that. We recently announced another security assistance package and we’ll continue to support our Ukrainian partners on this as well.

Go ahead in the back. Yeah, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Will Russia’s decision to place tactical nuclear arms in Belarus have any impact on U.S. policy on New START agreement?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. First is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. But candidly, this announcement is one that we condemn. This is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia. No other country is inflicting such damage on arms control, nor seeking to undermine strategic stability in Europe. Russia’s decision led to the termination of the INF Treaty in 2019. It recently purported to suspend participation in New START. No other country has raised the prospect of potential nuclear use in connection with this conflict.

Let’s remember no country is threatening Russia or threatening President Putin. And as the G7 has made clear, any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in this conflict would be met with severe consequences.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Also – also on the issue —


QUESTION: EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell on Sunday said that the EU is ready to impose more sanctions on Minsk and Moscow for placing nuclear arms in Belarus. Does the U.S. also plan to do this?

MR PATEL: I will let the EU speak to its own comments. But over the course of this war, we have had a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners, and we’ll continue to do so. I’m not going to preview any actions from here, which is pretty standard.

QUESTION: May I just follow up on something?


QUESTION: Can you please a little bit expand on the previous question on your answer in light of Nikolai Patrushev’s today’s comments threatening the U.S. that we can actually hit – we have weapons to hit the U.S., and also in light of Putin’s attempts to draw some similarities between his plans and the U.S. presence in Europe?

MR PATEL: So again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic posture, nor any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We are going to continue to coordinate and consult closely with our allies and call on Russia to de-escalate, starting by ceasing its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a very quick one on China.


QUESTION: Is there any discussion or preparation being done to resume Secretary Blinken’s trip to China?

MR PATEL: As we’ve said previously, that trip will be rescheduled when conditions allow, but I don’t have any specific scheduling update to offer.

Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on what she had asked you earlier about Rick Waters being in China last week. Why can’t you guys give a readout of those meetings if they’ve already taken place?

MR PATEL: I’m just going to want to make sure we get the most update – updated information for you. So we’re happy to follow up afterwards.


MR PATEL: Sure, Said. And then I’ll come back to you, Shaun.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: And then we probably have to wrap.


MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: What do you make of all the rapprochement that is happening right now from the Saudis? The – Türkiye is trying to reach out to Syria, to President Bashar al-Assad and so on, and there’s a movement in Arab countries. Many of them are your allies. So what is your take on that? And second, I want to ask about the military confrontation a couple of days ago. So.

MR PATEL: Sure. So our stance against normalization remains unchanged. And we have been clear about this; I was clear about this as recently as last week. Our consistent messaging to regional partners who are engaging with the Syrian regime has been that credible steps to improve the situation for the people in Syria should be front and center in any engagement. And we continue to be very clear about that.

QUESTION: So what kind of an outcome should there be, and what kind of process to lead to the outcome that you want in Syria should be taking place right now? And why is it – isn’t taking place?

MR PATEL: Said, we have been very clear about this. We – the United States has been very clear that our goal here is a political outcome that is reflective of the will of the Syrian people and improves the lives of the Syrian people. But broadly speaking, Said, we also have continued to be the largest humanitarian donor to the people of Syria. We continue to have a presence in northeast Syria because we continue to believe that the degradation of ISIS is a key priority, not just for northeast Syria and northern Syria but the broader region as well.

QUESTION: But you don’t set as a precondition that the current regime in Syria should not be part of any political process that would arise out of —

MR PATEL: Said, I’ll reiterate what I just said, which is that we feel that improving the situation for the Syrian people needs to be front and center in any engagement anyone has with the Assad regime.

QUESTION: And lastly, yesterday Mr. John Kirby, Admiral John Kirby’s – told Face the Nation, I believe, that the American troops are in Syria to stay. Basically that’s what he said, that we are there to stay until the mission is over. What is the mission? When can this mission be declared over?

MR PATEL: Said, we – I just spoke to this, but the degradation of ISIS in the region has been a key priority for the United States. Our presence in northern Syria has been a key aspect of that, but I will let our colleagues at the Pentagon speak to more details on that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Belarus?

MR PATEL: Shaun, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I – today’s theme of democracy’s —


QUESTION: — potential problems, Kenya – I was wondering if you have anything to say about the situation there. There’s some violence today. The government has banned protests by the opposition – it’s a dispute over the election. Is there anything you have to say about that, particularly about the ban on the opposition protests?

MR PATEL: I don’t initially, Shaun, but I’m happy to check if we have any updates on the ground and we can follow up with you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. On this High Dialogue with Colombia —


QUESTION: — are you expressing to the Colombian delegations any concerns of the new approach on drugs and extraditions of the Petro administration?

MR PATEL: So this dialogue serves as a flagship opportunity for the U.S. and Colombia to deepen our cooperation across a broad set of bilateral issues. All discussion are focused on what we view as shared goals, and that of course includes cooperation in areas of migration, security, counternarcotics, human rights, equity, education, deepening economic opportunities, deepening energy cooperation, and addressing the climate crisis as well.

Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much. I want to follow up on question on Honduras and China.


QUESTION: Honduras established diplomatic ties with China, while Taiwanese President Tsai plans to transit the U.S. this week. Do you think this timing of announcement of establishing diplomatic relations was related to Tsai’s trip, and China tried to put pressure on the U.S. and Taiwan?

MR PATEL: So again, that’s not something that I’m going to speak to, but as I previously said that the Government of Honduras’s action is a sovereign decision. And on President Tsai’s transit, what I would say is that this transit is consistent with longstanding U.S. practice, the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan, and U.S. policy, which remains unchanged. Transits are taken out of consideration for the safety and dignity of the passenger and are in line and consistent with our “one China” policy, which also remains unchanged.

Alex, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Very quickly on Russia-Iran. You probably have seen the media reports on Iran receiving advanced digital surveillance technology software from Russia in return for the drones. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that reporting, Alex, but what I will say is that of course Russia’s deepening of relationships with malign actors like Iran continues to be a deep concern. And it should be a concern for countries not just neighboring Russia and Iran but the world broadly. We have seen the havoc caused by Iranian-made drones that Russia has unleashed on Kyiv, targeting energy and civilian infrastructure, so of course this relationship is one that we are paying close attention to.

Final question?

QUESTION: And final question – my final question on Armenia-Azerbaijan.


QUESTION: Do you have anything for me on the latest situation on the ground?

MR PATEL: Sure. So Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried spoke with Foreign Minister Bayramov this morning and expressed concern over Azerbaijani military movements. She emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations. As the Secretary has also spoke about this quite repeatedly, direct dialogue is key to resolving this issue and reaching a lasting peace. There is not a military solution to this conflict. We’ll continue to facilitate discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan bilaterally as well as with partners, and as well as throughout multilateral organizations as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So two questions. Has the United States seen any proof that Vladimir Putin has put nuclear weapons in Belarus?

MR PATEL: So I spoke to this a great deal already, but I will reiterate what I said, which is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. That being said —

QUESTION: Belarus?

MR PATEL: That being said – that being said, we strongly condemn this announcement by President Putin, and it is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion. No other country —

QUESTION: What would the administration do – or what will the administration do if Putin follows through on his announcement?

MR PATEL: We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable. You have seen us take action over the course of their unjust and barbaric war in Ukraine, but again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications that Russia is planning to use a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Like what tools, Vedant?

MR PATEL: We have a number of tools at our disposal.

QUESTION: Sanctions?

MR PATEL: Sanctions, export controls – I’m not going to preview or be prescriptive about tools from here.

Guita, I think you had your hand up or was that —


MR PATEL: No? Okay. Thanks everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)


Department Press Briefing – March 21, 2023

2:18 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I am sorry we are a little tardy today. We’ll try to avoid that as best as we can. I have a couple things off the top before I dive into your questions.

So first, yesterday, the U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad opened a new state-of-the-art facility in the city’s bustling Financial District.

The move brings our government closer to U.S. companies that have invested billions of dollars in the India’s tech, defense, aerospace, and pharmaceutical sectors. Five of the highest valued companies in the world – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Meta – host their largest presence outside the United States in Hyderabad.

Our consulate in Hyderabad is a key to linking businesses and people from the United States and the Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Odisha. We continue to welcome Indian visitors, businesspeople, and students from those states, and this new facility puts us in a position to increase Mission India’s consular services in the future.

The new facility, with a project budget of $340 million, pays respect to the local landscape, and through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, we are working with local partners to preserve historic monuments. The new space will help consulate staff work with local journalists, it will increase reporting on climate change, and share information on educational opportunities. The new consulate in Hyderabad will also host countless visitors, as our militaries regularly team up for joint exercises based out of India’s Eastern Naval Command.

Put simply, this dynamic region plays a critical role in the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership, and our new consulate chancery in Hyderabad represents a tangible investment by the United States in the growing bilateral relationship.

I also wanted to offer an update on some of the earthquake efforts on behalf of Türkiye and northern Syria.

We support and applaud our international partners who raised $7.5 billion in earthquake assistance pledges for Türkiye and Syria at yesterday’s EU-hosted International Donors’ Conference in Brussels.

During this conference, the United States announced we are providing an additional $50 million in urgent humanitarian assistance to help earthquake-affected communities in Türkiye and Syria. This brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to support the earthquake response to 235 million. With this additional humanitarian assistance, U.S. partners are expanding existing deliveries of food, relief items, shelter, safe water, sanitation, clothes items, and other things to reach millions impacted in Türkiye and Syria.

We are grateful for the successful efforts of the organizers of this meeting, which was co-hosted by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and by the Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson, for the Swedish presidency of the European Council.

As Secretary Blinken said, the U.S. will remain committed to providing necessary assistance to those impacted by these earthquakes. The U.S. will continue to support those impacted in Türkiye and Syria, and we welcome and encourage continued support from our international partners in this time of great need.

And lastly, the United States is extremely troubled that the Israeli Knesset has passed legislation rescinding important parts of the 2005 disengagement law, including the prohibition on establishing settlements in the northern West Bank. At least one of these outposts in this area, Homesh, was built on private Palestinian land, which is illegal under Israeli law.

It is all the more concerning that such a significant piece of legislation passed with just 31 “yes” votes out of an assembly of 120 members. De-escalating and reducing violence are in all parties’ interests, including Israel’s. The U.S. strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of settlers to the area covered by the legislation, consistent with both former Prime Minister Sharon and the current Israeli Government’s commitment to the United States.

We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution. This certainly includes creating new settlements, building or legalizing outposts, or allowing building of any kind on private Palestinian land or deep in the West Bank adjacent to Palestinian communities, all of which would be facilitated by this legal change.

The action also represents a clear contradiction of undertakings the Israeli Government made to the United States. Nearly 20 years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on behalf of Israel affirmed in writing to George W. Bush that it committed to evacuate these settlements and outposts in the northern West Bank, in order to stabilize the situation and reduce frictions.

The amendments to the disengagement law are also inconsistent with Israel’s recent commitments to de-escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Just two days ago, Israel reaffirmed its “commitment to stop discussion of any new settlements for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months.”

Coming at a time of heightened tensions, the legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative and counterproductive to efforts to restore some measures of calm as we head into the Ramadan, Passover, and the Easter holidays.

With that, Matt, happy to kick it off with you.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that was quite a mouthful, wasn’t it?

MR PATEL: I know. Sometimes we have things to share.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I do want to – before I get back to that, let me just ask one real quick question about —


QUESTION: What’s your understanding of the status of detained American citizens in Saudi Arabia? Then I’ll go right to Israel.

MR PATEL: Sure. So Matt, the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens overseas is the – as you know, the highest priority of the Department of State. We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was released from prison in Saudi Arabia, and of course we welcome this news. But there’s a limit to any further detail that I’m able to get into, given privacy considerations.

QUESTION: So you can’t say at all whether it is correct that Mr. Almadi, whose son has talked publicly about his father being released —

MR PATEL: What I would say is that we’re aware of these reports and we welcome this news, but I’m not able to get into any further details.

QUESTION: Okay. Then on your opening statement about Israel and the Knesset law, I’m just wondering – those are strong words but are you going to do anything in response?

MR PATEL: Matt, this is —

QUESTION: Or is it just something that you’re going to criticize verbally?

MR PATEL: Matt, this is – these are topics and issues that we raise directly with our Israeli counterparts. As I outlined in my topper, we did so as recently as over the course of the past two days, at the Aqaba meetings, as well as the meetings taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh. This is something we have raised consistently through channels in this building, through Ambassador Tom Nides. It’s something that President Biden had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s something the Secretary has raised as well, and this is something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged and vocal about.

QUESTION: Okay. So the short answer is no, you’re not going to actually do anything, other than make statements like – critical statements from the podium? Is that —

MR PATEL: Matt —

QUESTION: Is that a fair assessment?

MR PATEL: Like I said, this is something that we’re going to – we continue to raise directly with our Israeli counterparts and remain engaged on. And it’s why, quite frankly, as an administration we continue to remain deeply committed to a negotiated, two-state solution.

QUESTION: Right. But you’re not actually going to do anything about it, other than say that you don’t like it. Is that correct?

MR PATEL: Matt, we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to engage with our partners and to make our viewpoint quite clear.

QUESTION: So other than this one, you speaking from the podium right now, can you give us one or two examples of what those tools are?

MR PATEL: Matt, this is something that we raise directly. It’s something our allies and partners in the region also raise directly with Israel and other countries as well.

QUESTION: So just – are you on the same topic?

QUESTION: Same topic, yeah. Just one sec, one thing to clarify. You said that this was raised at the – in the Aqaba meeting but also like recently. I mean, what was the highest level of engagement from State Department to Israelis?

MR PATEL: Again, this is something that we raise regularly, the desire to take steps to calm tensions, especially as it relates to the growth and expansion of settlements and outposts. You’ve seen our Ambassador Tom Nides speak openly about his engagements on this subject with our Israeli partners. We’ve done so through Assistant Secretary Leaf and others. The Secretary had the opportunity to discuss this when he was in Jerusalem. And by “this” I mean specifically the – just the growth of outposts and settlements, not – I’m not talking about this legislation specifically.


MR PATEL: Right.

QUESTION: But does the Secretary now have any plans or any other high – any other plans for any other high-level engagement on this specifically on the settlements —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls to preview or to get ahead of. But again, this is something that we remain deeply engaged and in close contact on.

I’m going to go to Said, and then I can come back to you, Leon, since he’s had his hand up.

QUESTION: I just wanted to have a – try again what Matt just asked you. So aside from the really strong words – and they were – what can you do? I mean, how can you leverage your statement? How can the United States of America leverage its anger at this decision by the Israeli Knesset?

MR PATEL: Said, first what I would say broadly is that the comments from the United States, they’re not going into some sort of abyss or vacuum. When the United States speaks about something, countries around the world are listening. And when the United States is engaged on something and committed to something, I believe that the rest of the world is paying attention.

And as I have said, this is something specifically we have been very clear about, that the growth of settlements and outposts is inconsistent with our views on what steps are necessary to get us to a negotiated two-state solution in a peaceful way. I was just quite clear about that.

QUESTION: So countries around the world may be listening. Is Israel listening? Is the Government of Israel listening?

MR PATEL: Said, we engage with the Government of Israel quite regularly on a number of issues, including these ones.

QUESTION: Vedant, I mean, only yesterday Smotrich said there is no such thing as the Palestinians. I mean, he – and he said he wants this heard in the White House. He made sure to underscore the White House. He’s telling you that we’re not listening to you; we’re not taking anything that you might say into account. That’s what he is saying.

MR PATEL: Well, what I would say to that – Finance Minister Smotrich is not the only individual in the Israeli Government, but what I would say to his comments broadly, Said, since you’ve given me the opportunity, is the latest comments by Mr. Smotrich, which were delivered at a podium adorned with an inaccurate and provocative map, are offensive, they are deeply concerning, and, candidly, they’re dangerous. The Palestinians have a rich history and culture, and the United States greatly values our partnership with the Palestinian people. And as President Biden said last summer in Bethlehem, the U.S. remains committed to two states for two people, both of whom have deep ancient roots in the land, living side‑by‑side in peace and security.

We also affirmed that two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps remain the best way to achieve equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom and democracy for Palestinians and Israelis alike. We underscore the importance of the U.S. strategic relationship with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the second Arab state to take the courageous step of making peace with Israel. And we welcome Israel’s reaffirmation of the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.

QUESTION: Well, just if I may follow up, I mean, this person – this Israeli minister was here only ten days ago. Are you – is this administration willing to declare him a persona non grata, for instance?

MR PATEL: Said, I —

QUESTION: What measures can you take against such a statement?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not here —

QUESTION: I am sure if somebody – if somebody denied the existence of another people elsewhere, you would take a very strong statement against such individual?

MR PATEL: Said, we’re taking a strong statement now, and I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what we would do if another government official in another country did something hypothetical. What I am here to tell you, as I just said a moment ago, is that we found those comments to not only be inaccurate but also deeply concerning and dangerous. So –

QUESTION: But the Knesset action ‑-

QUESTION: He simply does not care. He said that, I want this heard in the White House. He said that exactly. I mean, you have no response to him? You can’t say this person is not welcome in the United States?

MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any designation or characterization to offer, Said. What I will just leave it at is that those comments were concerning, they were dangerous, and they were offensive.

QUESTION: But the Knesset vote is not a hypothetical. It’s happened. They clearly were acting at the behest of the government, of the prime minister, of the finance minister. How can they be held accountable? Where – to repeat what Matt and Said have been asking, where is the leverage? What is the discussion in this building about how to hold Israel accountable, keeping in mind that the U.S. has a vested interest in protecting it from a security standpoint? But how can this government allow Israel to undermine the goal of a two-state solution when things such as this have now happened?

MR PATEL: Well, first, you are absolutely right. Our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s security concerns are ironclad, but I will also note that we have, when we need to, very frank and honest conversations with our Israeli partners.

And there is no hypothetical about it. You’re right. This kind of legislation does undermine what we think could be required for a negotiated two-state solution. We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and an obstacle to achieving a two-state solution and that certainly the – what this legislation would do would be create new settlements or buildings and legalize outposts. All of this would further incite tensions and put a negotiated two-state solution further away.

I’m not going to stand up here and offer a litany list of all the ways in which we can and hold our Israeli partners accountable, but – beyond to say that we raise these issues directly. We raise these issues regularly. We do it through this building. We do it through the President. We do it through Secretary Blinken. We do it through our ambassador. All of those ways are opportunities for us to engage on this issue, which is very, very important to us.

QUESTION: But the point is, even granted that the President had a discussion with the prime minister this past weekend, given that ten days ago the finance minster was in this country and no one in the U.S. Government made a point of meeting with him, not to mention all of the affinity groups that pointedly did not meet with Mr. Smotrich, it looks like it’s all talk.

What are the things that are being looked at? Could there be travel restrictions on those members of the Knesset who voted for this legislation? Could there be a restriction on funding provided to the Israeli Government that does not affect the security portfolio? Could there be anything done – does this mean that it makes it more likely that the Palestinian consulate is reopened in Jerusalem? What are the things that this government is prepared to do in order to send the message? Because clearly, all of the talk has not given what the U.S. would like to see change in the situation.

MR PATEL: There are a number of options that we continue to look at in which we can and do engage with our Israeli partners. I’m not going to get into previewing them, but what I will just say again and reiterate is that this is an issue that is of utmost concern to us and something that we have, quite directly and candidly, will continue to raise with our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: I mean, I’m not suggesting that the administration might want to consider the James Baker solution of ’91, but you have to get the government’s attention if you’re serious about trying to reach a solution that goes back to ’67 with the Green territory talks.

MR PATEL: We are serious about a solution and we have – this administration has taken a number of actions and the comments that we’ve offered have indicated how serious we are. And when either side has taken steps that we think put us further away, whether that be the Israelis or the Palestinians, we have been quite vocal about how those steps are unhelpful to getting us to what the United States views as our – as a goal.

As I just was at the beginning of this briefing, we have not parsed words when we have felt that certain actions take us away towards what we believe is the best solution for the Israeli and Palestinian people as well as the best solution that will offer a long-term stability, security, and peace for the region as well.

Leon and then I’ll get to the back of the room. Go ahead, Leon.

QUESTION: Yeah, I was going to ask on Israel, but my question has been answered, so I’m going to move on to another region. Is —

MR PATEL: Anything else on the region before we move on?


MR PATEL: On Israel or —

QUESTION: No, no, no. The —

MR PATEL: No? Okay, then I will come back to you, Janne. Go ahead, Leon.

QUESTION: Okay. I was wondering, Vedant, if you have any information, detailed insight you could give us to the Secretary’s role in the liberation of – well, two hostages, one French, one American in Niger which were released yesterday. And since, of course, the Secretary was in the region in Niger just last week.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Yeah, thanks, Leon. So the U.S. is pleased to confirm the release of U.S. citizen Jeffery Woodke, who had been held hostage in West Africa for more than six years. This release is thanks to the extraordinary cooperation of the Government of Niger and the sustained efforts of countless organizations and individuals around the world. We want the American people to know that the U.S. Government has no higher priority than their safety and security, and the Biden administration will continue to work aggressively using a wide range of tools until all U.S. citizens being held hostage or wrongfully detained are brought home.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of sensitive diplomatic conversations, Leon, but at this point in this administration, it should be no surprise to you that in any country where U.S. nationals are being held hostage or wrongfully detained, we, the State Department, raise those cases at every opportunity. And as I said, this release is thanks to the extraordinary cooperation of the Government of Niger.

And you all had the opportunity to hear from Secretary Blinken yesterday from this very podium, and later in the day, we are able to share that he was able to speak to Mr. Woodke’s family and share in their excitement for his return. He also reiterated that the United States will continue to provide all appropriate assistance.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on China and North Korea.


QUESTION: First question in North Korea issues: The United Nations Security Council’s condemnation statement and adoption of sanctions against North Korea’s ballistic missile launch violations failed due to China and Russia’s use of their veto power. How does the U.S. respond to poor role of the UN Security Council?

MR PATEL: So first, Janne, let me say that the United States condemns the DPRK’s March 19th ballistic missile launch which came just three days after the DPRK’s most recent ICBM launch. This launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and is the latest in a series of launches that pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and undermine regional security. And it’s particularly concerning that the DPRK categorized – characterized this launch as the simulated use of a tactical nuclear weapon.

As it relates to the UN Security Council, we continue to believe that all members of the Security Council have a role to play in holding the DPRK accountable, especially those that have influence over Pyongyang, and particularly that now is not the time to be using vetoes to cover up for the DPRK.



QUESTION: China is secretly supplying weapons to Russia and ignoring North Korea’s series of missile provocations. Do you see any objection to China’s role as a peace mediator?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Janne. First, the – we encourage President Xi to advocate for the point that they outlined in their own 12-point plan, which is respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. We encourage President Xi to advocate for this point, which must include withdrawal of Russian forces from sovereign Ukrainian territory consistent with the UN Charter. I think it’s quite clear that the entire world would like to see this war end, especially the Ukrainians themselves who have put forward their own plan for a just peace which draws on these very UN principles that I just spoke about. And let’s remember this war could end today if Russia withdrew its troops from Ukraine.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Blinken is set to testify on the Hill tomorrow and Thursday. The House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul has put out, made public, another letter that he sent the Secretary, asking for the same documentation that he’s already previously asked for related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. I know that Ned last week said that the State Department is working to comply with providing that documentation in time for the House committee’s deadline of March 23rd, or by close of business tomorrow. Can you give us an update on whether the State Department will meet the expectations of the House committee, whether documentation will be provided, and if so, in what form?

MR PATEL: I will echo what Ned said, that we are and we intend to comply. The State Department is committed to working with all congressional committees with jurisdiction to appropriately accommodate their need for information and to help them conduct oversight for legislative purposes.

The department has provided more than 200 briefings to bipartisan members and staff on Afghanistan policy since the withdrawal of U.S. Afghanistan – U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Additionally, senior department representatives have appeared in public hearings and answered questions on Afghanistan policy. And the department has responded to numerous requests for information from members and their staffs related to Afghanistan policy.

As Chairman McCaul also has previously said, he and the Secretary have had a constructive discussion when the chairman visited the department earlier this year, and the Secretary reaffirmed his commitment to cooperate with the committee’s work. And we have since provided hundreds of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s request regarding Afghanistan, and we will continue to do so.

We are working as expeditiously as possible to accommodate what was an extensive and detailed request, and our provision of information and documents to the committee will continue as we collect and process additional responsive records.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Oh, Kylie had a follow-up, then I’ll come back to you, Alex.


MR PATEL: Go ahead, Kylie.

QUESTION: Just to be a little bit more specific, they’ve obviously requested a tremendous number of documents from this building. But there’s three sets of documents, or documents that they have said they prioritized or would like you to prioritize giving to them. One is the dissent cable that was written from diplomats last July, the second is the department’s Afghanistan withdrawal after-action report, and the third is multiple versions of the department’s emergency action plans for Kabul.

On those three specific things, can you give us an update as to if you think that those documents will be provided to the committee by the end of the day tomorrow?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into a tit-for-tat litany of the work that’s been ongoing. What I will just reiterate is that we have since provided hundreds of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s request. We’re going to continue to do so. We’re working as expeditiously as we can. As you know, this whole process requires very intensive and detailed work processing and looking at records and figuring out what is responsive to the various requests. So I’m going to let that process continue to play out.

QUESTION: And just – I assume, then, that the department is prepared to have to deal with subpoenas if those documents aren’t provided to the —

MR PATEL: We – at any turn, this department is always going to intend to comply with the law.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. A couple questions, but let me just follow up with China first.


QUESTION: Let me get your sense on today’s second days of meeting between President Xi and Putin. Other than just lavish display of solidarity and friendship we have seen, what do you think China’s president is really after in Russia?

MR PATEL: Alex, that’s a question for President Xi. I’m not going to speculate there. You should reach out to his spokesperson.

QUESTION: Sure. You probably have seen – you probably have seen Russian officials today said that they are planning to put together a UN Security Council meeting, informal meeting, on, quote/unquote, “the truth about Ukrainian children being transferred to Russia.” Let me get your reaction to that, and also to the fact that a man who is wanted by ICC for war crimes is going to actually lead the world’s most important security body as of next week.

MR PATEL: Alex, we know the truth about what’s happening to Ukrainian children. Our colleagues at Yale University and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations have shown immense leadership in unearthing the horrific truths of what is happening to Ukrainian children. We are seeing numerous reports, have seen numerous reports, of children being separated from their families, being sent to facilities all across Russia, some that are closer to the United States when it comes to mileage as opposed to Ukraine; Russian – Ukrainian children being forced to be adopted by Russian families. We know what’s happening to Ukrainian children. We don’t need the Russian Federation to tell us.


QUESTION: And the second part of my question —

MR PATEL: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: — was about Putin, the fact that Putin is going to lead that world’s most important body. Do you have any problems with —

MR PATEL: He’s going to lead what?

QUESTION: The UN Security Council as of next week.

MR PATEL: I think what I would say, Alex, again is that we have been quite consistent in any multilateral setting, whether it be the G20 or even now the UN Security Council, that as it relates to Russia, it cannot be business as usual. And quite candidly, Alex, we know that the countries that make up the UN membership agree. As recently as just a number of weeks ago, you saw more than 140 countries speak in unison about how the Russian Federation needed to respect territorial integrity, respect sovereignty, and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.


QUESTION: Thank you. May I also ask about —

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little, Alex.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the China-Russia joint statement, could you provide a general assessment – U.S. assessment? Do you see anything new there? And I know you do not comment on intelligence matters, but do you have anything to share on if the U.S. has any indication that Russia, President Putin, has asked Xi Jinping to provide lethal weapons during the visit? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Like I – like you so aptly pointed out, I’m not going to – that’s a better question for them. I don’t have any information to offer on that. But broadly – and this is something that the Secretary has spoken about quite consistently going back to on the margins of the Munich Security Conference – any steps being taken by China to provide lethal aid to Russia would be deeply problematic and of great concern to the United States. It’s something that we are paying very close attention to and will take appropriate action, as needed, should a certain line be crossed.

As it relates to the joint statement, though, Nike, on Ukraine, the two sides said that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter must be observed and international law must be respected. Well, following the UN Charter would mean that Russia withdrawing from the territory of another UN member-state it has invaded. The UN Charter enshrines the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. And if China wants to play a constructive role in this conflict, then it should press Russia to remove its forces from Ukraine’s sovereign territory.

As I have said on a number of various intervals, this war could end today if Russia were to choose to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

QUESTION: On a related subject, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Kyiv, and as we see the foreign news, President Zelenskyy said that he would attend the G7 summit later. Do you have anything on the timing and the implication of Kishida’s visit to Ukraine?

MR PATEL: On any of the scheduling of the G7, that’s – I would refer you to our Japanese partners. Obviously, they are the G7 – they have the G7 presidency this year, so I will let them speak to and announce any schedule. But broadly speaking, we strongly support Prime Minister Kishida’s decision to make this historic visit to Ukraine in support of the Ukrainian people and in support of the UN Charter and the universal values that it enshrines.

Michel, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple —


QUESTION: — of questions, please. First, do you have any comments on the warm reception for the Syrian president in the UAE?

MR PATEL: Well, Michel, we have remained focused on helping the Syrian people, who continue to suffer through more than 12 years of wars and atrocities at the hands of Assad, and now a devastating earthquake. Our stance against normalization remains unchanged. We will not normalize with the Assad regime, nor will we encourage others, absent authentic and enduring progress towards a political resolution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We have been clear about this, and we have been quite clear about this with our partners as well.

QUESTION: Did you ask formally or directly your partners and allies not to normalize with the regime?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into the specifics of our diplomatic engagements, Michel. But we continue to urge anybody engaging with Damascus to consider sincerely and thoroughly how their engagements can help provide for Syrians in need, no matter where they live.

QUESTION: UAE president has said that it’s time for Syria to return to Arab fold. Do you support Syria’s return to the Arab League?

MR PATEL: Again, I think I was quite clear: We will not normalize with the Assad regime nor will we encourage others, absent authentic and enduring progress, for them to normalize their relations with Syria, either.

QUESTION: And my final question on this.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, on this, on Syria, I just want to know: Is it still the administration’s or the U.S. position that Assad’s days are numbered?

MR PATEL: That Assad what?

QUESTION: His days are numbered?

MR PATEL: I’m not here to announce or make new policy, Matt.

QUESTION: Oh, I know, I just am wondering. I mean, it was about a decade or a little over a decade ago that the former president of the United States said – or a former president of the United States said his days were numbered, something that was repeated over and over and over again, and here we are now, 10 years later or even more —


QUESTION: — and he’s still there and he’s visiting one of your good friends.

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I don’t have a new U.S. policy to announce beyond what I said our – that our hope is for an authentic and enduring progress toward a political solution that is in line with the will of the Syrian people.

Back to you, Michel.

QUESTION: And my final – my final question on this.


QUESTION: Are you considering to apply the Caesar Act against the countries who normalize with the Syrian regime?

MR PATEL: Michel, I’m not going to preview or get ahead of any actions. I think what I will just say again and reiterate is that we remain committed to assisting the Syrian people by working with international partners to deliver lifesaving assistance. But broadly, as it relates to normalization, we will not normalize with the Assad regime, nor will we encourage others absent authentic and enduring progress as well.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Vedant. Jack Richman with The Epoch Times.

MR PATEL: Great.

QUESTION: John Kirby stated yesterday that Secretary Yellen and Secretary Raimondo may potentially visit China. Do you have any information regarding the objectives of this visit?

MR PATEL: I will let the Secretaries of Commerce and Treasury speak to their own travel. Specifically as it relates to Secretary Blinken, though, as he has said quite openly before, we will reschedule our visit to the PRC when conditions allow. I don’t have any updates on when or what that could look like, but it’s a line of effort we’re continuing to pursue.

QUESTION: And does the department have any reaction to Putin and Xi’s pledge to deepen their strategic relations today?

MR PATEL: Well, I think I just answered a number of questions about President Putin and President Xi’s meeting.

QUESTION: Okay, and then one final one on – on Ukraine. Poland and Slovakia pledged fighter jets for Ukraine. Does this change the U.S. position on providing jets for the war? What are the factors preventing the U.S. from providing the jets?

MR PATEL: It does not change our position, and the Secretary had an opportunity to speak to this a little bit in Niamey during his press conference, but the transfer of military equipment is a sovereign decision for a country to make in a manner consistent with its international obligations. Poland and Slovakia have both been providing a significant amount of security assistance to Ukraine, as have more than 50 nations around the world alongside of the United States.

You’ve heard the President and leaders of the Pentagon be quite clear F-16s are not something we are considering right now. We have been focused on sending Ukraine what they need to succeed in each phase of this war, as we have consistently done so since even before February of last year. Right now our focus is on air defense capabilities and weapons and equipment they need to retake the ground.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Japanese and Indian prime minister met in New Delhi and agreed to maintain the rule-based international order. So are you welcoming this meeting as a partner of Pacific Quad?

And one more is the Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi has been criticized by some media outlet when he was absent in the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting because of a domestic cabinet session.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. On your second question, I will let Foreign Minister Hayashi and his team speak to his own schedule, but what I can say is that Secretary Blinken enjoyed being with Foreign Minister Hayashi the very next day, in which they were able to sit together on a panel for the Quad during the Raisina Dialogue. They also had the opportunity to have a great bilateral engagement on the margins of the Raisina Dialogue as well, and we continue to view Japan as an important and critical partner when it comes to not just only our priorities in the Indo-Pacific but in the world broadly.

And to your first question, I will let, of course, New Delhi and Tokyo speak to their own engagements, but of course members of the Quad engaging in their own bilateral engagements is a good and welcome thing. But I will let them speak to that.

Go ahead, then I’ll come back to you. Sorry. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized earlier today the – your Human Rights Report, and he called the State Department a liar. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Well, what I would say is that the United States has worked for decades to strengthen and – respect for human rights, and this commitment reflects core American values and internationally recognized human rights enshrined in documents such as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a report that we have released regularly on an annual basis, and it is about recognizing and promoting the human rights and the foundations of freedom and justice and worldwide peace.


QUESTION: It was pretty much the same question, but I mean, do you actually have a response to him calling you guys liars? And they also say U.S. believes it’s the government of the world. Those are, like, pretty strong words. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: We have never been ones to indicate that we are the government of the world or some kind of edict like that. Specifically as it relates to Mexico, though, the reported involvement of members of Mexican police, military, and other government institutions in serious acts of corruption and unlawful, arbitrary killings remain a serious challenge for Mexico, and that’s why they were highlighted in our report.

But also broadly, as it relates to the United States, we have never been one to try and imply we don’t have our own challenges domestically. This Secretary has spoken to this quite candidly before, and as he likes to say, we do not sweep these issues under the rug. We talk about them openly. We engage on these issues.

And the Human Rights Report – another thing important to remember is that it is something that’s mandated by Congress. We of course don’t critique and look at ourselves through the auspices of this report specifically, but we do do that broadly and we do that in other multilateral settings, and we take part in forums as it relates to human rights in the United States as well.

Nick, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Team Cuba catcher defecting to the United States after his team was eliminated in the World Baseball Classic. Are you familiar with that story? You have any comment on it?

MR PATEL: I am not familiar with that, Nick. I’m going to have to check on that and get back to you. I haven’t seen that reporting.

Go ahead in the back, Mikhail.

QUESTION: Thank you. Are you satisfied with results of the negotiations between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden? The reason I’m asking you is because you said many times from the podium that you wanted both countries to join NATO.

QUESTION: Well, Mikhail, as we said last week, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement that he will send Finland’s NATO accession protocols to the Turkish parliament, and we look forward to the prompt, positive conclusion of that process. We also encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well.

Our belief continues to be – as robustly as when this process started – that Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security. The U.S. believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible

QUESTION: So you are not – you are not agree with the actions by Mr. Erdogan, who is stopping the Sweden to join the NATO, as I understand?

MR PATEL: We remain fully committed to Finland and Sweden’s accession. The strength of that support can be clear in our own Senate overwhelming bipartisan vote, as well as the swiftness of President Biden signing those protocols, as well as the Department of State accepting them as well. This is something that we are deeply, deeply committed to.

Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I’d like to follow up on Japanese prime minister visit to Ukraine, which started just after Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s meeting with Putin in Russia. During Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Ukraine, what kind of message and support does the U.S. hope Japan to offer?

Also, did the U.S. offer any help for Prime Minister Kishida’s visit to Ukraine to be safe?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any engagements like that. But what I will say broadly and reiterate again is that we strongly support Prime Minister Kishida’s decision to make this historic visit to Ukraine. Japan has been an incredible partner in holding the Russian Federation accountable, in supporting our Ukrainian partners. They have done so since this conflict started, and I know that they will continue to do so, especially this year as they are going to take the presidency of the G7. And the G7 body as a whole has also played an incredible role in not just supporting our Ukrainian partners but holding the Russian Federation accountable.


QUESTION: If we could go back to Saudi Arabia —


QUESTION: Are there currently any cases of wrongfully detained U.S. nationals in the kingdom?

MR PATEL: It is not my understanding that there are, that there are any wrongfully detained cases in the kingdom right now.

QUESTION: And then can you provide any update on the handful of Americans that are under a travel ban in the kingdom? Has the administration made any progress in seeking their release?

MR PATEL: So broadly speaking, we have no higher priority than the well-being and fair treatment of all U.S. nationals detained overseas. Our consular officers overseas seek to ensure that U.S. nationals who are detained are receiving humane treatment and that all fair trial guarantees are respected.

And as we would with any country, we continue to push for regular and consistent consular access. But I don’t have any specifics on specific cases to offer.

QUESTION: Well, can you speak to the broad issue of the travel bans themselves? Do you think they’re okay, if that’s the law of the country? Or do you think that foreign countries should not be allowed to ban an American citizen, even if they are a dual national, from leaving that country?

MR PATEL: Matt, of course each country is going to have its own sovereign laws, and each case is different, so I’m not going to speak about this in a broad brushstroke.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any – there’s nothing in your guidance about the travel ban issue in Saudi Arabia specifically, even if it doesn’t discuss specifics —

MR PATEL: What I would say is that the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens overseas is the highest priority —

QUESTION: Yeah, you’ve said that’s now four times, but —

MR PATEL: — and we continue for – for American citizens who are placed under – who are detained or are placed under travel bans, we continue to engage directly with them through our consular officers to try and find ways to rectify those circumstances if we can and ensure that U.S. detained nationals are receiving humane treatment and that all relevant fair trial guarantees are respected.

Final question, we’ll go to Alex and Nike and then we’ll wrap.

QUESTION: Thanks so much, Vedant. On Armenia-Azerbaijan.


QUESTION: I was hoping you would help us better understand the first line in your readout of the Secretary’s calls with both Yerevan and Baku. You said he called them to offer continued U.S. assistance in facilitating peace discussions. I was – I thought that’s what you guys were doing. You had last week a senior advisor in the region was engaging with the sides. Why would the Secretary make that call to ask for U.S. – facilitation —

MR PATEL: He was offering his continued support on the U.S.’s assistance in these engagements, which as you know, Alex – you’ve watched this issue quite closely – is something that we have remained quite committed on. Obviously through Secretary Blinken’s commitment to this issue, when Ambassador Reeker was leading this portfolio through his work, and now through the work of Lou Bono as well.

QUESTION: And there’s one line I did note at this time on the call to Azerbaijan, which was about human rights. Yesterday, which was discussed in this room, you guys mentioned that you are raising all those cases. Did the Secretary raise human rights issues?

MR PATEL: I don’t have specifics to get into about the diplomatic engagements, Alex, beyond what was in the readout. But of course, human rights is something that we raise regularly with all our partners, including those in the South Caucasus.

QUESTION: Would you be surprised if he didn’t?

MR PATEL: Alex, again, I’m just not going to get into his specific diplomatic engagements.

Nike and then we’ll wrap.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Taiwan. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen with stopover New York and California before heading to Central America, do you have anything on that? Given that they are presidents and all democratically elected Taiwan presidents have transited through the United States during their terms, should it be a pretext for any military escalation in the Taiwan Strait? And do you know if anyone from this building planned to meet or to talk to her, physically or virtually. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things, Nike. This transit is consistent, as you so said, with longstanding U.S. practice, the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan, and U.S. policy, which remains unchanged. Transits are taken out of consideration for safety and comfort and convenience and dignity of the passenger and are in – consistent with our “one China” policy, which also remains unchanged. Transits are private and official – and unofficial. And every Taiwan president has transits in the United States.

President Tsai has transited the United States six times since taking office in 2016, and high-level officials have typically met with members of Congress, which is a separate and co-equal branch of government, and engage in other public and private activities during those transits.

QUESTION: Anyone from the building is going to meet with him during —

MR PATEL: Again, this transit is private and unofficial, so as of right now I am not aware of any plans for any meetings with the department.

QUESTION: Vedant, Vedant.

QUESTION: Vedant, sorry, but could I just ask you about the convenience part of this?


QUESTION: Right. Transits are done – or approved based on the – for the safety, comfort, convenience, and dignity of the passenger. How exactly is it convenient to fly from Taipei to Guatemala through New York?

MR PATEL: Matt, I’m not going to try and pretend that I understand flight patterns or anything like that.

QUESTION: I just looked up – I looked up the flight plans. It is about a 15-hour flight from Taipei to New York City. It is only an 11-hour flight from Taipei to Los Angeles. So in other words, this is not particularly convenient for her to fly through New York to get to Guatemala and Belize.

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, this transit is consistent with longstanding U.S. practice. And they are, indeed, taken out of consideration for the safety, comfort, and convenience, and dignity of the passenger as well.

Final question, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Iraq, since nobody has.

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, yesterday marked the 20th anniversary since the invasion and occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces. And I wonder if this administration or this Department of State reassess this whole episode and – or this whole tragedy. It’s the – close to 4,600 American troops died there; maybe upward of 300,000 Iraqis. I know; I worked at the UN. We counted in Iraq those figures and so on. The country is still broken. It is dysfunctional. There is more influence by Iran than at any other time. I wonder if you guys sort of take a pause and take a look at this whole thing, and how do you assess it?

MR PATEL: Said, our administration, our intention is – as it relates to our relationship with Iraq is forward-looking. Currently, Said – and I’m sure you’re familiar with this – 50 percent of Iraq’s population is 20 years old[1], and so much of our work is concentrated on them and looking forward. Our attention is on expanding the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement beyond security to a 360-degree relationship that delivers results for the Iraqi people.

We have been through much in the past 20 years – conflict and rebuilding, the fight to defeat ISIS and terrorism, the COVID-19 pandemic, a global financial crisis, climate change challenges, water scarcity. Twenty years in, the U.S. and Iraq continue to build on our strategic partnership. This means we’re growing areas of cooperation to include all facets of our bilateral relationship.

Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Sudani on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, and we agree on the need to ensure an enduring defeat to ISIS, establish Iraq’s energy independence, support the growth of the private sector, improve public services, in addition expand educational and cultural programming. Our ultimate goal is to strengthen Iraqi stability, security, and sovereignty.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:11 p.m.)

[1] Half of Iraq’s population is under 20 years old.

Department Press Briefing – March 14, 2023

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us today. Before I start taking your questions, we are joined at the top by a special guest. We have with us Ramin Toloui. Ramin, as many of you know, is our Assistant Secretary of State in our Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Ramin will have some opening remarks on the implementation of the State Department’s components of the CHIPS and Science Act, and then we will take a few questions for Ramin before he departs. So I would ask that as you listen to Ramin, please only indicate that you have a question if your question is for Ramin. We will then bid him adieu, and I will be happy to take your questions on unrelated subjects.

So with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Toloui.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: Ned, thanks a lot. It’s great to be with you today and with everyone who is on the call.

So last year, President Biden signed a historic piece of bipartisan legislation – the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Through tax credits and more than $50 billion in direct investments, the CHIPS Act is aimed at securing American technological leadership through a renaissance in high-tech manufacturing and research and development.

Why is this important? Because semiconductors and telecommunications networks are critical sectors for both economic competitiveness and for the well-being of Americans. We learned during the COVID pandemic how disruptions in semiconductor supply chains had the potential to affect key sectors that impact our citizens, in everything from cars to medical devices.

And that reliance on semiconductors will only grow over time, as more and more sectors of the economy harness the power of digital technology to increase productivity and improve the quality of goods and services.

So global economic security and stability hinges on our ability to create robust and reliable semiconductor supply chains, prevent misuse or exploitation of semiconductor technology, and develop and deploy secure and trustworthy information and communications technology – or ICT – networks and services.

Recognizing that global cooperation is essential to realizing the goals of the CHIPS Act, Congress also appropriated in the act $500 million over five years to the Department of State for the International Technology Security and Innovation Fund, or ITSI Fund.

And I am delighted to announce that today the State Department is releasing the outline of its strategy for implementing the ITSI Fund. And this strategy has two parts: the first one relates to semiconductors, and the second one relates to information technology and communication networks and services.

On semiconductors, State will use the ITSI Fund to work collaboratively with our partners and allies on four priority areas of work that will strengthen the resilience, diversity, and security of global semiconductor supply chains.

The first area of focus is securing and diversifying the sources of critical mineral inputs that are needed in microchip fabrication. This is the so-called upstream component of the semiconductor supply chain. So the fabrication of semiconductors requires reliable access to critical minerals such as cobalt, aluminum, arsenic, copper, and rare earth elements, and we want to bring new, more diverse, and resilient mining, refining, processing, and recycling capacity online to support global chip production, including in the United States.

The second area of focus is diversifying and ensuring the resilience of the later downstream activities of the semiconductor supply chain – namely the assembly, testing, and packaging of microchips that’s needed to take those pieces of silicon and put them in the products that we use. As the United States ramps up its own fabrication, we want to make sure that there is a diversity and robustness of these downstream elements of the supply chain, particularly in the Indo-Pacific and in the Americas.

The third area of focus is strengthening the policy coordination with our allies and partners. And the goal here is to help ensure complementarity in our respective approaches to industry incentives, as well as improve collaboration during disruptions in supply.

And the fourth and final area of focus on the semiconductor side is protecting national security. Some uses of advanced semiconductors can pose national security risks, and the goal is to strengthen mechanisms to mitigate those risks through collaboration with international partners on export controls and licensing policies.

Now, moving over to the secure information and communications technologies side, the ITSI Fund will support programs across three workstreams, aimed at helping our partners harness the benefits of a vibrant digital economy underpinned by secure and trustworthy ICT infrastructure and services. First is capacity building to help governments create enabling environments for investments in interoperable and secure ICT ecosystems; second is the financing and investment de-risking to support the deployment of secure ICT networks, including Open Radio Access Networks or Open RAN; and third is working with partners to help them prepare for, and defend against, malicious cyber activities.

Now, no single country can onshore or conduct all the essential activities in the modern semiconductor supply chain. Collaboration with our allies and partners is critical to realizing the ambitious goals of the CHIPS Act, and the United States looks forward to accelerating our work in this regard under the ITSI Fund.

So thanks very much to all of you, thanks to Ned for this opportunity to share the details, and I’d be happy to take any questions.

MR PRICE: Excellent. Thank you very much. Just a reminder, we will first take questions for Assistant Secretary Toloui only. So, Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating instructions to ask a question of the assistant secretary.

OPERATOR: Sure. And once again, if you wish to ask a question, press 1 then 0; and you may remove yourself by repeating 1, 0 command.

MR PRICE: Give it a moment. We will go to the line of Joel Gehrke.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We have you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Cool, thanks for doing this. Yeah, I just wondered, as you think about the CHIPS Act and sort of this broad priority, what do you think of the objections that we’ve heard even from the Taiwanese industry that this is not on anything like the scale needed to really offset or mitigate the effects of a conflict or any kind of disruption around Taiwan? And frankly, the – Taiwanese officials and industry leaders are pretty candid about saying that they don’t want to see too much of their semiconductor capacity removed to the United States or other places, because they regard that as increasing the geopolitical value of Taiwan and thus making it more important to the U.S.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI: So I think the CHIPS Act is – has several goals. The overriding goal is to restore and maintain America’s technological leadership and generate a renaissance in American high-tech manufacturing and continued leadership in research and development. Embedded in that objective is this goal of creating globally more resilient, diversified, and secure semiconductor supply chains. And so the main body of the CHIPS Act, which is the production incentives and the support for R&D, is being implemented and executed by the Department of Commerce. But when Congress passed the CHIPS Act, they recognized that international collaboration was essential to helping realize that goal.

And so what I was describing today were really actions that are intended to advance that goal of not only the increased domestic production and increased R&D leadership but also that international connectivity that’s critical to allowing that to happen and realizing that objective. So that’s – that’s really what we’re aiming at with the CHIPS Act, and that’s what we’re aiming at in particular with the ITSI Fund is that international partnerships you mentioned.

MR PRICE: Excellent. We’ll give it just a moment in case there are other questions for the assistant secretary.

OPERATOR: And as a reminder, if you have a question, press 1 then 0.

MR PRICE: Excellent. Thank you, Mr. Assistant Secretary. Much appreciated. We will now go on to – appreciate it – with the rest of the briefing. Let me start with one additional item at the top.

Today, the department is releasing our latest Global Engagement Center bulletin on the Kremlin’s biological weapons disinformation.

The bulletin demonstrates that the Kremlin has for many years now peddled false claims about biological weapons to create mistrust in the peaceful global efforts and public health institutions that counter biological threats.

It illustrates how Russia falsely built a disinformation campaign about, quote, “biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine” in one of many failed attempts to justify its unjustifiable war in Ukraine.

The report also breaks down the methods Russia uses to disseminate disinformation, including its parliamentary commission, Kremlin-funded media outlets, Russian-intelligence linked websites, and use of Kremlin-selected so-called “experts.” These entities work together to inject the information environment with a sustained drip of disinformation narratives to create the illusion of multiple voices echoing one another.

We will continue to call out the Kremlin for spreading disinformation, including about biological weapons. Russia has a history of accusing others of doing what it is itself doing, and its recent biological weapons claim related to Ukraine are no different. The United States assesses that Russia continues to maintain an offensive biological weapons program in violation of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.

So with that, we will turn to your broader questions. We’ll start with the line of Matt Lee. Matt, go ahead. Let’s see, do we have Matt Lee?

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, all right. I said thanks and I presume this is the end of your extended farewell tour, right?

MR PRICE: Matt, you’re welcome to give me another tribute if you would like, and go on at length, please. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’d love to. I was just going to wait – are you going to show up outside the Saks Fifth Avenue at some point doing another briefing? Seriously, I have two things, both on Russia, and they’ll both be really brief.

One – the first one – is your colleague John Kirby at the NSC said a little bit earlier that you guys, i.e., the State Department, were going to be in touch with the Russians over this drone incident over the Black Sea. Has that happened? What – if it has, where did – who spoke to who? Was the Secretary involved at all? I realize – I think he’s just landed or about to land in Ethiopia.

And then secondly, on the GEC report, why today? Was there any specific reason for releasing this report today? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Matt. I’ll take your questions in the order you offered them.

First, this wasn’t exactly your first question, but let me start by saying that we have engaged at high levels with our allies and partners in the first instance to brief them on this incident and to let them know what we know, just about as soon as we were learning of the details.

To your more proximate question, we are engaging directly with the Russians – again, at senior levels – to convey our strong objections to this unsafe, unprofessional intercept which caused the downing of the unmanned U.S. aircraft. As to the particulars, we are summoning the Russian ambassador to the department, where we will convey this message. In Moscow meanwhile, Ambassador Tracy has conveyed a strong message to the Russian ministry of foreign affairs.

On your second question regarding the GEC report, as you know, Matt, disinformation routinely springs from the Kremlin and its information organs. We are releasing this bulletin now to set the record straight, including because we expect the Russians to release another so-called report full of lies and disinformation in the coming days. The bulletin we have just described describes the types of disinformation on biological weapons deployed by the Kremlin in a failed attempt to justify its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Russians have pushed this false narrative for decades in an effort to create mistrust in the peaceful global efforts and public health institutions that counter these very biological threats. So as we are preparing for the Russians to repeat these lies, we wanted to be sure to repeat the truth.

We will go the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Ned. Following up on Matt’s questions, can you say – you said you are summoning the ambassador, so he has not been summoned yet. Who will he meet with here at the State Department?

And then are you asking for any assistance from allies in retrieving the drone? My understanding is the – it has not been retrieved by the U.S.; it’s not in the U.S.’s possession at this point. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Jenny. We are in the process of summoning the ambassador. I would expect that that high-level engagement will take place with the ambassador later this afternoon, where the ambassador will hear directly from senior officials about our strong objections to what was clearly an unsafe and an unprofessional intercept on the part of a Russian aircraft. As for efforts to recover the craft, that’s a question I will leave to my colleagues at the Department of Defense.

Let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.

QUESTION: Ned, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much, Ned. On the drone incident, can you say it was a clear Russian aggravation against the United States and allied nations of Ukraine?

And also, moving away from the situation over the Black Sea for a moment, two developments happened around Wagner today. Russian parliament voted to censor Wagner critics and Lithuanian parliament labeled Wagner Group a terrorist organization and urged the other countries to do the same. Judging from the department’s tweet from yesterday on Wagner, when do you think is the best time to add the mercenary group to the FTO list? Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Alex. On your first question, we’re not in a position to speak to what the Russians intended to do. We’re not in a position to speak to what their motivations may have been. We are in a position to speak to what happened, and what happened was an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver on the part of a Russian aircraft, a maneuver that was also tinged with a lack of competence that caused the U.S. military to need to bring this unmanned craft down. That is the result, again, of these Russian actions. We can characterize them, but we can’t characterize the motivations. In a sense, however, the motivations matter much less than what actually transpired, and that’s what we’re speaking to today.

When it comes to the Wagner Group, Alex, as you know, we have used a range of authorities to pursue the Wagner Group. We have used designations. We have used sanctions. We have designated the Wagner Group a transnational criminal organization. And we have encouraged countries around the world to treat the Wagner Group with the same severity and the same level of priority that we do. Our work with countries around the world on Wagner to counter its malign influence and its malicious efforts wherever we can is ongoing. Countries around the world have their own authorities. Each of those authorities is going to be unique to the country in question. It’s up to the country in question to determine whether a particular authority is relevant to the Wagner Group. And in this case, one of our partners was able to establish a fact pattern that according to their own legislation – which is different from ours – allowed them to take this step.

When it comes to other tools that we may use, Alex, our task is always to look at the facts, as the Wagner Group is perpetrating its malicious activities in Ukraine, in Africa, in other parts of the world, and apply them to the laws as they are written in this country. That is what has allowed us to use a range of sanctions authorities, of designations, and to designate the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: I can, yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I have two questions today, both on North Korea. Yesterday, you said that the U.S. would much rather be engaging in dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea instead of being in a position to reaffirm the security commitment that you have with ROK and Japan. The question yesterday for this answer was about the joint military exercises between the U.S. and the ROK. So I’m wondering if there is a possibility that you would tone down the exercises when and if North Korea decides to engage in diplomacy or even stop launching missiles.

My second question – do you mind if you – go for the first one first?

MR PRICE: Sure, sure. Go ahead with your second question.

QUESTION: Sure. My second question: The UN Panel of Experts on North Korea in their last year’s report said that North Korea uses its territorial waters as ship-to-ship transfer areas, so – transferring illicit items such as coal or oil. And VOA so far this year has found more than 30 ship-to-ship transfer cases on the west coast of North Korea via satellite imagery. So what is your comment on this, the fact that North Korea continues evading sanctions? I mean, how can you, I mean, stop them? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Yeah. Thanks, Jiha, for both of those. On your first question, it unfortunately is a purely hypothetical question. It’s an academic question, because we have been clear and consistent in conveying publicly and through all channels available to us that we are prepared and willing to engage in constructive diplomacy with the DPRK towards what is the goal we share with our allies and partners of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And I say it’s hypothetical and academic because at every turn the DPRK has failed to engage meaningfully on these offers. But were that to be the case, were the DPRK to take us up on this, we would look to see if we could devise practical steps that could help to advance what is that longer-term objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

I’m not in a position today to say whether any of the exercises you refer to would be implicated as part of those practical steps. We’re always going to have an ironclad commitment to the security of our treaty allies, including the ROK and Japan in this case. We’re always going to remain committed to the extended deterrence that we afford to our treaty allies. But the practical, specific steps that we may be in a position to take with the DPRK, were it to engage – that would be the subject of dialogue and diplomacy, the very dialogue and diplomacy in which the DPRK has refused to engage.

When it comes to ship-to-ship transfers, as you know, Jiha, we routinely designate additional actors in the DPRK or entities in or working on behalf of the DPRK for its efforts that are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions or other forms of international law. In addition to finding new targets, much of our work is focused on sanctions enforcement, and so when we have an opportunity to identify activity that seeks to circumvent the sanctions that are on the books, whether they’re U.S. sanctions, where – whether they are UN sanctions, we look to go after those evasion networks. And there’s a good example of the United States just within recent days going after a large evasion network that is responsible for providing billions of dollars’ worth of support to the DPRK regime. Whether that’s in the form of ship-to-ship transfers, whether that’s in the form of overland transfers, regardless of the form, we are going to look for the activity and look to devise ways that we can counter it.

Let’s go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION: I was just wondering what kind of a response Ambassador Tracy received when she raised this with the Russian foreign ministry. How would you describe that?

And also, this is not the first time that U.S. has been flying drones over that airspace. This has been the case for over a year. Do you have any assessment on why this incident has taken place now? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Humeyra. You’ve – you saw from the statement from European Command earlier today a reaffirmation of the fact that we fly, we sail, we operate everywhere international law allows. And when it comes to this region, U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa routinely fly aircraft through Europe over sovereign territory and throughout international airspace in coordination with applicable host-nation and international laws. Of course, this unmanned craft was downed – forced to go down, I should say, in international airspace in what was a brazen violation of international law. And so we are conveying in strong terms our objections to this.

I can only speak to what we are doing and what we are conveying. I am going to leave the Russians – leave it to the Russians to characterize their response. But Ambassador Tracy did convey a strong message on behalf of the department earlier today to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, and I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for all the hundreds – literally – of briefings and your being available and flexible for answering some of my questions.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Pearl.

QUESTION: I look forward – and good luck on your next step.

So, Ned, I have a couple of questions for you. As of right now, we are almost exactly two weeks away from President Biden’s second democracy summit, and taking a look at the promotion of it on the State Department website, there’s very thin information about what exactly the Biden administration and State Department are doing in terms of the democracy summit. Could you speak to the second democracy summit, and also let me know if any elements of it are going to be weaved into Secretary Blinken’s trip while he is in Africa? And also, do you have any idea whether since Vice President Kamala Harris is planned to be in Zambia, and where Zambia is also going to be a co-host, might that element be threaded in?

And then, to what extent might press freedom and journalists being a pillar in democracy be part of your public diplomacy planning? Please just let us know what is going on with the second democracy summit. We’re not hearing anything from the State Department about the second democracy summit.

Thanks, Ned. I may have a follow-up question.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Pearl, and I very much appreciate the question. I can assure you, you will be hearing additional concrete details as the second democracy summit approaches in the coming days, but let me say a couple things. First, as you alluded to, we will co-host the second summit for democracy with the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Zambia later this month. It will take place on March 29th and 30th. Similar to the first summit, world leaders will gather in a virtual plenary format. What will be new this year will be in-person and hybrid events held in host countries, including here in the United States.

This – we believe this co-host format really reinforces the notion that democratic renewal is a truly global and truly shared effort, and we look forward to partners coming together at the second summit to report on progress in implementing the over 750 commitments made at the first summit to support a meaningful declaration of our collective priorities that address the challenges of our time, and to recommit to strengthening that democratic resilience globally.

Pearl, this summit is taking place on March 29th and 30th, but democracy and the underlying principles are on the agenda every single day in everything that we do. So as the Secretary is traveling this week in Ethiopia and Niger, he will have an opportunity to stress and to speak to some of the very principles that will be on full display during the democracy summit later this month. Human rights are always on the agenda. Universal rights, more broadly, are always on the agenda. And one of those universal rights is the freedom of expression, is freedom to access information; press freedom is part and parcel of all of that. And we demonstrate that and recommit ourselves to that in a number of ways. When the Secretary is in Ethiopia and Niger, you will see him take questions from journalists in both places, including from Ethiopian journalists and Nigerien journalists when he is in Niamey. We bring a press corps with us everywhere we go. That itself is a very tangible and real demonstration of the commitment we have to press freedom and to holding ourselves accountable, making sure that the Secretary is always surrounded by those who can ask the tough questions of him.

So you are very much going to see these themes as the Secretary is in Africa this week, just as you see these themes as the Secretary has traveled to dozens of countries around the world and as we look to the summit that will take place in Washington later this month.

Let’s go to Tetsuo Shintomi.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Before the question, I would like to thank you for your professional work. You are the spokesperson answering my questions sincerely all the time. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is going to visit Japan on this Thursday and meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Are you welcoming two leaders’ meeting in terms of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation? And also, is U.S. planning any diplomatic engagement with ROK and Japan during President Yoon’s two-day visit? Thank you.

MR PRICE: What was – sorry, what was the second part of your question? Are we planning any engagement?

QUESTION: Sure. Is United States planning any diplomatic engagement with ROK and Japan during two-day visit of President Yoon?

MR PRICE: Thank you. Thank you very much for the question. Yes, we very much welcome the upcoming meeting between the leaders – between the leaders of the ROK and the leaders of – and the prime minister of Japan. This is part and parcel of the announcement that we heartily welcomed earlier this month, when those two countries issued the historic announcement that bilateral discussions between them to resolve sensitive historical issues had concluded. At the time, we encouraged the ROK and Japan to build on this step to continue to advance those bilateral relations, and the meeting between the president of South Korea and the prime minister of Japan will be a tangible manifestation of the efforts on the part of these two staunch allies of the United States to advance their own bilateral relationship.

We applaud those efforts because we always appreciate seeing our allies working collectively and constructively with one another, but also because in this case the three of us have what is to us and we think to both the ROK and Japan an especially important trilateral relationship. We, of course, engage bilaterally across a number of issues with both countries, but it’s a trilateral relationship that in so – in some ways allows us to be all that more effective when it comes to the core challenges that we face in the Indo-Pacific and in some ways even beyond. Whether it is the challenge posed by the DPRK, whether it is other elements of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s the shared challenges that all countries around the world face, like a warming climate or COVID, our cooperation in all of these areas has been important to us and important to the ROK and Japan as well.

Beyond those shared interests, though, the trilateral relationship is so vitally important because the United States, the ROK, Japan, we have shared values. And at the core – at the center, I should say – of those shared values is an enduring belief and a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. That’s the vision that we have long worked bilaterally with the ROK on, bilaterally with Japan on, and it’s a vision that we would like to deepen our cooperation on a trilateral basis with the ROK and Japan going forward.

We’ll go to Samira Gharaei.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Perfect. Ned, I sincerely want to thank you for all you’ve done as spokesperson. For one, you gave me so much confidence to ask questions when I was just starting my job at the State Department. Thank you, and you will be dearly missed.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: So let’s go to my question – sure. It’s about Roger Carstens’ trip to Doha. We heard about it yesterday, the start – he started yesterday. Are you proceeding with a deal with Iranians? Can you give us more details about the purpose of this trip? Is it done?

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Samira. I appreciate the kind words.

Roger Carstens has traveled to Doha. He is there primarily to attend the Soufan Forum. It’s a gathering that brings together a number of stakeholders from around the world, and that’s primarily what he’s engaged in in Doha.

Of course, when it comes to Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world, whether that’s in Iran or anywhere else, we are working relentlessly in every possible way to see their prompt release. Samira, you know well that we have conveyed from the earliest part of this administration to the Iranian regime the priority we attach to seeing the release of the three Americans who continue to be wrongfully detained in Iran. It’s not productive for us to speak to the particulars of what precisely we are doing or contemplating as part of that, but our commitment to do everything we can to see their release is firm and it is steadfast, and we are working on it all the time.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I need to – can I ask another one, please?

MR PRICE: Quickly, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to ask about a wrap-up about your Iran policy, because during the last two years, we did not see any dual nationality or American citizen getting released, JCPOA talks have gone nowhere and reached a dead end, and Iranians have started one of their biggest movements against the Islamic Republic and they are still upholding it. How do you judge the U.S. Iran policy after you are finishing your job as a spokesperson?

MR PRICE: Thanks, Samira. Look, of course Iran poses a number of challenges, and we’ve always been clear-eyed that those challenges are difficult, they are – they are complex; they cross into many different realms. But I think when you take a look at each one of those realms, you have seen us work with allies and partners in ways that meaningfully protect our interests and promote our interests.

When it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, of course this is one of those core challenges. But I think when you look at where we are now as opposed to where we had been or where the previous administration had been, we are now united with our European allies. When this administration came into office, for far too long it had been the case that it had been the United States that was in some ways diplomatically isolated and we were sitting on opposite sides of the table from what should have been our closest allies. We quickly fixed that, and we now come to this challenge alongside the E3, in this case, our close European allies – the French, the Germans, and the Brits as well – working in lockstep.

Now, you know, Samira, that the Iranian regime has not been true to its word when it said early on in this administration that it sought a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. It has consistently proven itself unable or unwilling to do so, and the JCPOA is no longer on the agenda. But what very much is on the agenda is working with our European allies, other allies and partners in the Middle East, and other parts in the world to do what we can to counter this program, to impose additional pressure on Iran in response to its intransigence and its continued advancements when it comes to its nuclear program.

You look at other areas, Samira, and the challenges that Iran has posed – from the funding of terrorist groups and proxies to its other malign capabilities – we have enacted sanctions; we have enacted designations as well. We’ve worked with our partners in the region to help bolster their defensive and deterrent capabilities to, in the first instance, protect themselves from the type of cross-border attacks that Iran has in many ways supported and even fueled, but also to helping them deter such attacks in the first place. Baquer Namazi, of course, is – has been reunited with his family. We are working steadfast, as I said a moment ago, to do everything we can to bring home the three Americans who remain wrongfully detained in Iran.

Let’s go to – let’s see – we’ll go to Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) and I wish you all the best. I have two questions. First, any comments on the Syrian president’s visit to Russia today?

MR PRICE: Michel, I don’t have any particular comments on that. Of course, these are two countries that have long been aligned. These are two countries that have long cooperated together, much to the detriment of the Syrian people, of the people in the region. So it’s of course no surprise to see high-level engagement between these two countries.

All right. Okay, we will conclude there. Many thanks to all of you who were able to join today. If you weren’t able to ask a question, you know where to find us, and we’ll be happy to take your questions offline. Thank you all very much. Talk to you soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – March 13, 2023

2:09 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Now, if you’ll bear with me, I have only seven or eight toppers to get through today.

No, actually, I only have one. As many of you may have surmised, this will be my last on-camera briefing. And so, with your forbearance, I want to spend just a couple minutes offering some parting thoughts.

As I was thinking about what to say, I took a look back at my first briefing on February 2nd of 2021. I realized in doing so just how much has changed over the past couple of years.

First, that briefing was only 38 minutes long. (Laughter.) Could you imagine? I know many of you have pined for those days.

Here’s what else has changed: You were all so polite, you were introducing yourselves, you were limiting yourselves to a single question, to being judicious with follow-ups. I’ve since pined for those days.

And looking out on this room now, there are now many more of you than there were on February 2nd of 2021. Now, perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we’ve lifted the COVID capacity limits. But, again, it’s my last briefing, so let me think for just a moment that it has more to do with making this room the place to be for foreign policy reporters.

Let the transcript reflect there was no laughter. That’s great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That’s because they’re all watching Kirby’s Zoom call. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: Thank you, Matt. I would expect nothing less on my last day.

And maybe they’ve since done something with the lighting in this room, but looking back at that first briefing, I think my hair looked distinctly darker at the time. Now, I’d never want to imply that this group made me go even grayer.

But on the other hand, so much has remained the same over the past couple years. Some of my answers to those first questions a couple years ago, while wordy, may not have been entirely responsive. I used plenty of references to “allies and partners.” We started that briefing by calling on our distinguished colleague from the AP. We also heard from said colleague during the middle of the briefing; we heard from said colleague at the end of the briefing.

And speaking of Matt, he at one point interjected to offer his own thoughts about how I should run the briefing room. So, as I said, not much has changed over the past couple years.

In all seriousness, though, there is so much else that has remained constant. Every day since then I’ve walked into the briefing room with a team by my side, and the team you see here today — Vedant, Nathan, Jen, Julia — is just a sliver of the larger enterprise without which I could not do my job. The podium may be made for one person, but the briefing requires the support and teamwork of so many more, from my colleagues across the bureaus who brief me every day to come out and to field your questions to the members of the press team who oversee that process, to our video team and technical experts across the building, to those who have the onerous chore of transcribing and later disseminating every single word that’s uttered in this room.

I said during my first briefing that I was proud to call the public servants across the State Department colleagues. That was more than 200 briefings ago. And now that I’ve reached the last in-person briefing, I should say that I’m both proud and immensely grateful to call them colleagues. As I told my colleagues last week, any success I’ve had in this job is a product of that very partnership. All of my failures, on the other hand, are attributable to me and to Matt Lee. (Laughter.)

And speaking of those failures, I’ve been able to do this job taking the tough questions on difficult, complex issues because I’ve always known that my colleagues at all levels will have my back – even, and especially, when I may have missed the mark.

I told this story when Secretary Blinken surprised all of us — me most of all — here last week. But on his first day in office, in his first meeting, the first guidance out of his mouth was to convey that we should be operating on our toes, not on our heels, in telling the story of America’s role in the world. And he hastened to add that, when you’re operating on your toes, there are times when you’ll lean too far forward and perhaps fall flat on your face. I can relate.

But just as he said he would, the Secretary and his team, along with Deputy Secretary Sherman and all of my seventh floor colleagues, have had my back each time that’s been the case. I’m immensely grateful to them for this opportunity, but also for the trust, the confidence, the grace that they have demonstrated to me and to all of our colleagues who have done our best to lean forward every single day.

There’s a reason I’m not going far after leaving this job. I deeply admire this institution. I deeply admire the people who make it tick. There’s no better mission, there’s no finer set of colleagues. I truly mean that, and I’m truly grateful to all of them.

Finally, that brings me to all of you. I said this to several of you last week in a very different setting, but I’m so appreciative of the relationships that we’ve developed. There’s always going to be, of course, an inherent tension between the person in my job and those of you in your jobs. If there weren’t, one of us wouldn’t be doing our job.

Through it all, though, we’ve never doubted each other’s intentions or our integrity, and we’ve recognized that we have ultimately the same objective: providing audiences around the world with accurate and timely information.

There is also something very special about the State Department press corps: You care about these issues. You all know about these issues. Some of you know far too much about these issues. (Laughter.) But in the end, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Your questions are good ones, and you, in turn – you, and, in turn, the American people, deserve answers to all of them. It’s all part of making real the idea of an informed citizenry, which is the bedrock of any democracy, including, of course, our own.

Everyone who has sat in this room is committed to that. I mean, one of our colleagues nearly paid for it with his life when his car came under attack from Russian forces in Ukraine last year. I’m confident my successor will have the opportunity to welcome Ben Hall back to the briefing – a moment we’ll all relish, no matter where we are.

Let me conclude with this. As I was preparing to take on this job in late 2020, a predecessor of mine told me the – it would be the best job I would ever have. To be sure, there were days when I doubted her; there were days when I outright cursed her. But the longer arc and perspective of the past two years has left me convinced that she was right. She was right.

I’m grateful to everyone for this opportunity, to all of you in this room, to everyone in this building. I’m very deeply appreciative. Thank you.


QUESTION: Okay. Well, thanks for that, and thank you to you. Who was that predecessor, by the way? (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I will leave the innocent nameless.

QUESTION: I mean, we know that it’s a woman, right? So anyway, let me just make – a couple things on timing here. It did not escape my notice that your departure coincides exactly with the start of the NCAA basketball tournament.


QUESTION: And now that you’re going to be – yes, and our team is, like –

MR PRICE: Our beloved Hoyas are – yes, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, nowhere; not even in the NIT, I don’t think. But anyway, I hope you enjoy watching the next couple weeks in your free time.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: And then secondly, the other thing on timing is that it won’t – as everyone knows, the Academy Awards were last night. And I’m pretty confident that, if there were a category for best State Department spokesman for 2022 – (laughter) – you would have been a shoo-in, or at least a relatively high competitor.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) I appreciate that. I appreciate that.

QUESTION: But anyway, listen, we all – on behalf of everyone in here, we appreciate your returning to the podium daily, and your willingness to engage even questions that are irritating or uncomfortable for you, at length, and even though your responses may be infuriating to us. So anyway, thank you.

MR PRICE: I appreciate that.

QUESTION: And good luck in your next assignment.

As the Secretary said on Thursday when he was here, one of his – well, one thing that he noticed was our sparring on the JCPOA. So I figured I’d start with Iran.

MR PRICE: Excellent.

QUESTION: Not – first the JCPOA. But you guys had some pretty harsh – not just you, but the NSC did, as well – had some pretty harsh reaction to the Iranian foreign minister’s comments yesterday, that there was at least an interim or an initial deal in place to – for a prisoner swap. You called it a cruel lie. I’m wondering if you can expand on that at all. Why – is he just making this up out of thin air?

MR PRICE: So Matt, thanks for that. First of all, it was a particularly harsh response, but deservedly so. We often deal with the lies that emanate from senior regime officials in Tehran; that’s nothing new. But we did call this one especially cruel because there are lives, families, loved ones that hang in the balance. This is about the fate of three Americans who have been wrongfully detained going on years now. And the fact that the foreign minister would state something that was as untrue as this is just a sad reflection on the way the Iranian regime has engaged in this practice, a practice that should have been relegated to the dustbin of history many years ago, a practice that should not be alive and well in the 21st century.

What I can tell you is that we are working relentlessly to secure the release of these three Americans. We have made this – we made this an early priority of this administration. We conveyed in no uncertain terms to the Iranians that this would be a priority of ours. We were going to do everything we possibly could to secure their release. The fact that these three Americans still languish behind bars, wrongfully detained, is, unfortunately, a reflection of the fact that the Iranians have so far not been willing to budge.

But we are going to keep at it. It is not helpful for our efforts to secure the release of these Americans for us to detail exactly and precisely what we’re doing, but it is something that we’re working on every, every single day.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, the idea that this money that is being held or is frozen right now in South Korea as part of the deal, can you rule that out? Can you say that that’s not part of a potential agreement?

MR PRICE: I just can’t speak about our efforts to secure the release of these Americans. It is not helpful to their freedom.

QUESTION: All right. And then my last one is then if, as you say, the Iranians are that untrustworthy and they lie all the time, as what you just said, why on earth would you ever trust them to uphold a nuclear deal?

MR PRICE: Because, Matt, the nuclear deal – the JCPOA – and this goes back to the 2014-2015 period now; we’re not talking about this —

QUESTION: I know. And —

MR PRICE: We’re not talking about this in the current context, but the JCPOA was not built on trust. If it was an agreement that was built on trust, it wouldn’t have been worth the paper it was written on. The JCPOA was built on verification. It was built on monitoring. It was the most rigorous and stringent verification and monitoring protocol that was ever peacefully negotiated. And through the verification and monitoring protocols, the international weapons inspectors, the U.S. Intelligence Community, this building over the course of successive administrations were able to determine that Iran was in fact abiding by the terms of the JCPOA. That was the case until mid-2018 when the last administration decided to abandon the Iran deal, and Iran has since developed its nuclear program in ways that are entirely inconsistent with the JCPOA, but more concerning to us, in ways that are dangerous, in ways that are a threat to peace and stability, potentially, in the region and beyond.

QUESTION: Okay. And you still believe that despite all the lies, everything that they’re saying that you say is untrue and duplicitous, that a return to the JCPOA, if it were possible, is the way to go?

MR PRICE: We’re not —

QUESTION: Is the way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon despite all of your misgivings?

MR PRICE: A return to the JCPOA hasn’t been on the agenda for months now, Matt.


MR PRICE: And it —

QUESTION: It was, and you just said that they have repeatedly lied —

MR PRICE: And it —

QUESTION: — over and over and over.

MR PRICE: And it hasn’t been on the agenda for one primary reason, and that’s because when it was on the agenda, there were concrete opportunities that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 had really at our fingertips to go back in to the JCPOA. We thought we were on the precipice of it, only for the Iranians to once again prove that their word was unreliable and to pull back what they had agreed to.

So that’s not on the agenda. What is always going to be on our agenda as a first resort is diplomacy. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the only permanent, durable, verifiable means by which to address Iran’s nuclear program. We’re not giving up our ambitions and our hope on that, even as we’re preparing for all potential contingencies.


QUESTION: I want to just follow up on a related issue regarding China and Iran and the Saudis, but first I just want to say as a matter of personal comment that when I first came here as a very inexperienced correspondent, Tom Donilon was the spokesman and then Richard Boucher and then Nick Burns and a whole series of very credible people – then more recently Kirby and Psaki of course. But what you have done after an interregnum was to restore the credibility of a podium, the frequency of the briefings, the knowledge of the spokesperson what – in terms of policy, which made all the difference, and the willingness to grant access on the plane, on travel, as well as in this room and outside of this room.

So we’re just very grateful, and I think it’s – it extends to the foreign press corps, many of our colleagues who attend your other briefings, and just the importance that you from the top on down, but that you carried out – the 24/7 access, and we all know what that means. So thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about China’s involvement in the Middle East and what that means. Does this in fact sideline the United States to have China mediating between Iran and the Saudis? And also the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporting from Friday that the Saudis are pressuring the U.S. – in order to grant Israel diplomatic recognition, pressuring for some major concessions from the United States. If you could take both of those.

MR PRICE: Sure. So you’re asking in the first instance about the PRC’s role because of the announcement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in recent days of the steps that those countries have pledged to take. First, I think it’s worth noting that this has been a question that I have been asked over the past couple years from this podium. And each and every time, starting in 2021 and 2022, that I was asked this question, I made a very simple point: We support dialogue, we support direct diplomacy, we support anything that would serve to de-escalate tensions in the region and potentially help to prevent conflict. If this is the end result of what was announced in recent days, that would be a very good thing. This is something that has – this is a process that has unfolded over the course of some two years now. We have, as I said before, encouraged it. We have supported it. The substance of the joint statement that was issued late last week is quite similar to what has been discussed during previous rounds. This is a process that has gone through Oman. It has gone through Iraq. And we have been there supporting it in every – at every step of the way.

We’ve been doing that because, again, anything that would serve to de-escalate tensions and to prevent conflict is in our interest. It’s in the interest of the region. Any efforts that would help to end the war on Yemen, also manifestly in our interests; of course in the interests of the countries in the region as well. We believe it’s long overdue that Iran cease activities aimed at destabilizing its neighbors. Should Iran, as an outcome of this agreement, again, change its longstanding behavior and actually take steps to respect the sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of its neighbors, that would be beneficial to the region; that would very much be in our interest.

When it comes to our role in the region, Andrea, and let me address your question, this was not about the PRC. This was about what Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia committed to. When it comes to our role in the region – and whether, as I’ve read, our role may be being supplanted, some allege – I have a difficult time wrapping my head around our role could be supplanted when no country on Earth has done more to help build a more stable, a more integrated region.

This goes back to the first days of this administration. I think one of the big – one of the first personnel announcements we made was the appointment of a special envoy for Yemen. We were determined in the earliest hours of this administration to do everything we could to bring an end to the violence in Yemen, to save lives, to inject humanitarian assistance. That’s precisely what we’ve helped to do over the course of these past two years. We’ve supported our Gulf partners as they’ve enhanced their defensive capabilities; we’ve done that in very real and tangible ways – these same partners that have been subject to outrageous attacks, including cross-border attacks from Yemen and from elsewhere as well.

Our engagement with the Gulf has led to more opportunities for people throughout the region: Omani airspace, Saudi airspace, other tangible steps; the Negev process that the United States has been deeply invested in, bringing together foreign ministers and senior leaders from countries throughout the region with Israel as part of our staunch efforts to build bridges across the region and beyond; I2U2, the partnership that we’ve conceived of together with our partners, to stitch together our own longstanding partnership with Israel, with India, and with the United Arab Emirates in a novel partnership that is reflective of our broader efforts to stitch together our longstanding allies and partners into something that helps to serve the common good; and of course our engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I don’t think there is any other country around the world who has worked more concertedly and intensively with Israelis, with Palestinians to, in the first instance, de-escalate tensions, and to preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state solution. You’ve seen us do that in particularly acute and even dangerous moments, as in mid-2021, in the conflict between Israel and Gaza then. You’ve seen us do that when tensions are at a heightened state in the West Bank; we’re in one of those periods now.

And you’ve seen our officials engaging directly on the ground. Secretary Blinken was in the region. Jake Sullivan was in the region. Secretary of Defense Austin was in the region just last week, not to mention many other lower-level officials. And our humanitarian assistance – our humanitarian assistance to places like Yemen, to the Palestinian people, a relationship that we made an early point of restoring with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian people.

So I think in any way you look at it, America is deeply engaged with the Middle East. We have, I think, demonstrated results in those efforts to leave a region that is more stable, is more integrated, is more prosperous. We have a long way to go, but everything we’ve done over the past couple years points to what we’re trying to achieve.

QUESTION: And the other question was: Is the United States going to even consider nuclear – nuclear reactors or nuclear civilian reactors to the Saudis in exchange for them recognizing Israel?

MR PRICE: Let me just say that of course we support normalization between Israel and its Muslim and Arab majority neighbors. And I use that term “neighbors” loosely because we want to broaden the aperture and look at opportunities for countries around the world to normalize their relationship with Israel. Of course we support normalization between Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is going to have to be a process that those two countries, in the first instance, are engaged in, but we are going to do what we can as a partner to both to support that process. It’s something we’ve discussed at great length, the potential for normalization, but as for the content of those discussions, we’re going to leave that to what we’ve said behind closed doors.

QUESTION: Would you rule out the nuclear piece?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to weigh in on a specific proposal.


QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how you have engaged with me, and I thank you for that all throughout. I appreciate it.

I wanted to follow up on the Iran-Saudi deal, and then I want to ask any – a question on the Palestinian issue, if I may.

On the Iran-Saudi deal, do you feel that this deal can actually bring tensions down? Does it scale back the tension that was building up and the fear of some sort of a military confrontation with Iran?

MR PRICE: If the deal is fully implemented, of course it has the potential to de-escalate tensions between these two rather large countries in the Gulf. Of course it does. I think you have to take a look at where we were just a couple years ago and even in some ways just a couple months ago. Several years ago – 2019 I believe it was – the attack on the part of the Iranians to – against Saudi Arabia, the potential for attacks that our Saudi partners have endured since then, including as recently as late last year when the United States worked with our Saudi partners to enhance defensive and deterrence capabilities that ultimately mitigated what was the real – very real possibility of further Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia.

So yes, both in the theoretical sense and in a very real and practical sense, if Iran takes the steps that it has pledged to take, we believe it would.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and in my tradition of asking the simple question on this Palestinian issue: Today an Israeli court added another 180 days to the Palestinian Ahmad Manasra, and of solitary confinement. He was in – he’s been in solitary for 480 days. I believe the internationally sanctioned solitary confinement thing is like 15 days. He’s been in prison since he was 13 years old. He is 20 today. He has mental issues. He has physical issues. He’s isolated. He cannot get visitation and so on. I want your reaction to such a draconian measure.

MR PRICE: Said, I am not immediately familiar with the details of the case, so I can’t offer an immediate reaction. But this is all part and parcel of what we have sought to encourage on the part of both sides. We’re at a very dangerous period. Tensions are running high. Israel obviously faces very real risks to its security. We’ve seen – we’ve seen vivid demonstrations of that in recent days. We’ve encouraged all parties to avoid steps that serve only to exacerbate tensions and raise the potential for even greater violence. This is a period in recent months that has seen an unprecedented number of Palestinians killed. It has seen a large number of Israelis killed. We have been deeply engaged with Israelis, Palestinians, with our partners in the region, the Egyptians and the Jordanians, as part of that to do what we can to de-escalate tensions.

As it pertains to this case, if we have a particular comment, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: But, Ned, I mean, we’re not asking Israel to stop imprisoning Palestinians or stop killing them. It would be nice if it did, but we’re not asking them that. We’re asking them to abide by international law when they imprison these boys – I mean, 13 years old and 14 years old – and keeping them under administrative confinement, which nobody else in the world does except for the state of Israel. What is your position on this? Is this part of collective punishment? Do you consider that to be part of a collective punishment?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been very clear that collective punishment is never appropriate. I’m going to hesitate to put a label on this particular case or this particular practice. But what we have sought across the board is for our Israeli partners, our Palestinian partners, to avoid the type of steps that only serve to exacerbate tensions. We need the opposite. We need the opposite especially now, and especially as we’re entering a period where the three great faiths that in many ways have their roots in this very region will coincide in the coming weeks.

So we’re deeply engaged and we’ll continue to use our voice and to meet with and to do what we can to see to it that the violence – the cycle of violence – comes to an end.

Yeah, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Can I just do a follow-up on Andrea’s question and try to get you to talk a little bit about these conversations with Saudis on normalizing relations with Israel? Is it the U.S. assessment that after this Iran-Saudi development, it would be more complicated at least? Like, when you were in discussions with your Saudi partners, what are – what did they say on the prospects of normalization? That’s a – that’s very broad.

MR PRICE: So first, the potential implications of what we saw late last week on Israel, on normalization, on Israel’s security – this is – this is about an agreement that was reached between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so of course this is going to be about those two countries. There is no greater supporter of Israel’s security than President Biden. As you’ve heard him say consistently, our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. We are going to continue to do everything we can not only to make good on that commitment to Israel’s security but, where we can, to help expand the bridges that have been built in recent years.

And I think you look at the engagement that we’ve undertaken in the region, including when President Biden traveled to the region, to Israel and to the Gulf last summer, you see the very tangible results of that. Saudi airspace that for the first time has been opened up, again, creating opportunities for Israelis, creating opportunities for people across the region. You see that in terms of what we’ve been able to achieve with the help of many of our partners around the world, including the UN, on Yemen. A more integrated, a more stable region is good for our interests, it is good for Israel, and it is good for people across the region.

QUESTION: You literally repeated what you answered to Andrea. But did the – I’m basically wondering in what —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, we can’t expect anything else on your last day (inaudible). (Laughter.)

What was the – I mean, what did the Saudis say? And then I’m going to repeat myself: What did the Saudis say on their normalization prospect, or what is your assessment whether you think it’s going to be more complicated, or is this going to somehow help at all?

MR PRICE: This ultimately is a question for Israel and Saudi Arabia. It is a process that we support. It’s a process that we’ve supported. It’s a process we’ve discussed with both of our partners. But this is a question for Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As for the contents of our discussions, just as a general rule, you know that we don’t read out private diplomatic conversations. But we’ve remained engaged on this and we’re going to do everything we can to be a supportive partner to both countries.

QUESTION: And one last thing. When the Saudis were informing you of the – of what was happening, were you in turn informing Israelis? Like, were you keeping them in the loop on a daily basis or frequently?

MR PRICE: We have close relationships with both countries. We consult regularly. As we’ve said before, we were not taken by surprise by the announcement that came out on Friday. Our Saudi partners had kept us up to date. We engage regularly with our Israeli partners. Secretary Austin was there just last week, and there are many levels at which these conversations occur.

QUESTION: And I take it the Chinese weren’t in touch?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we heard from the PRC on this.


QUESTION: On that note actually, the newly named Chinese Minister of Defense General Li Shangfu has been subject to CAATSA sanctions since 2018. Those include visa restrictions. So what is the administration’s plan to potentially ameliorate some of that – the challenges that might pose to Secretary Austin being able to meet with his counterpart?

MR PRICE: Well, Secretary Austin now has on a couple of occasions attempted to reach out to his counterpart. Unfortunately, it has been the PRC that has failed to reciprocate. Each time we’ve made the point that we believe as a responsible country that it is in our interests, it’s in the interests of the PRC, it’s in the interest of countries around the world, for us to maintain open dialogue – multiple, even redundant channels of dialogue – as we attempt to perform what is our most important and pressing task: to establish a floor on the relationship and to establish those guardrails to see to it that the competitive aspects of the relationship between us can’t veer into conflict. That’s why Secretary Blinken has picked up the phone and been in touch with Wang Yi. That’s why he met Wang Yi in Munich. That’s why we’re regularly in touch with the PRC embassy in this country and vice versa from Beijing. When it comes to Secretary Austin, you saw the readout that the Defense Department put out several weeks ago now making clear that the PRC refused to engage.

When it comes to this individual, as I understand it, this is a largely ceremonial role. It’s a different one than the role that Secretary Austin has in our system. But we are prepared to engage when it’s in our interest to do so. We’ve made that clear from the very start. Many of you recall the first foreign trip that we took, took us to Japan, took us to South Korea. On the way back we stopped in Anchorage with Secretary Blinken and Jake Sullivan to engage very early on with our PRC counterparts. There have been in-person meetings since, there have been phone calls since, there have been video teleconferences ever since, precisely because we do believe what we say about establishing those communications channels as part of an effort to prevent that conflict – that competition from veering into conflict.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Well, as one of the beneficiaries of these daily briefings, not only on behalf of colleagues, also on behalf of my audience, so I just – everything has been said. After 200 and plus briefings, I have two more questions to ask. So on – all on Iran. So let me throw them all at you so you can maybe take a note on that.

One is Russia is sending apparently captured U.S. weapons to Iran. There’s a report about that. What is your level of concern on that?

And another one, we heard – we have seen videos of President Lukashenka meeting with Iranian president today, and one of the topics that they have been discussing was apparently basic coordination on how to evade sanctions. Iran wants to share its experience on that. I just want to get a reaction to that.

And lastly, there is an increasing tension between Azerbaijan and Iran after Iran last weekend tried to basically influence flights – jet, fighter jet, on the border, and just – may I get a reaction to that, as well? Thank you so much.

MR PRICE: So first, on Lukashenka’s visit to Iran, we see this as, in some ways, an extension of the deepening relationship between Iran and Russia. We’ve been – had no shortage over the past year of sharing our concern of the deepening relationship between Iran and Russia. We’ve talked about it in terms of the security assistance that those – that Iran is providing Russia, and vice versa, and we’ve also made the point that, in what Lukashenka has offered to Russia, he has essentially ceded his sovereignty to the Kremlin, to Russia.

And so now, with Lukashenka in Iran, in some ways you can see that as an extension of the deepening partnership between Iran and Russia. But it’s something we’re watching very closely. These are two birds of a feather, and oftentimes they do flock together.

When it comes to the Iranian weapons – or, excuse me, the weapons that have reportedly been captured, I’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to confirm those reports. As you know, we have a robust monitoring plan in place that takes a look at any potential instances of diversion. We are still where we have been for – since the start of this conflict. We have not seen any credible indications that security assistance that we have provided to our Ukrainian partners have been diverted to any other actor, but we’re watching this very closely.

And on Azerbaijan, and Iran, of course Iran is a – has long been a malign actor in the region. It’s engaged in malign activities, activities that threaten its neighbors both near and far. So we watch these types of tensions with concern. Our approach has been to invest in our engagement with Azerbaijan, with Armenia in the South Caucasus to, as we were saying in a very different context a moment ago, to create a South Caucasus region that is more stable, that is less prone to conflict, that is less prone to tension.


QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. Thanks for the wonderful briefing during your last hour, and thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Good luck.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah. My question on the North Korea. North Korea launched strategic cruise missiles from a submarine last Sunday. What kind of diplomatic action is the United States currently taking in response to North Korea’s high-intensity provocations?

MR PRICE: So, Janne, we’re aware of the DPRK’s submarine launch cruise missile test. As we’ve said in the context of similar actions, these only serve to heighten tensions in the region. The DPRK’s unannounced cruise missile tests are yet another example of DPRK actions that threaten regional peace and stability. They also present an unacceptable safety risk to civil aviation and to maritime operations, as well.

We remain focused on close coordination with our allies and partners to address the multitude of threats that’s posed by the DPRK, and to advance the shared objective that we put forward in the early months of this administration, namely the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We have had an opportunity in recent weeks to engage in depth with our Japanese allies, with our ROK allies. We’ve had the very happy opportunity to welcome deepened cooperation between those two allies, and to make the point that we are going to continue to engage bilaterally, but also trilaterally, knowing that the trilateral relationship between the United States, between the ROK, between Japan is critical to our shared efforts. Because we share, along with the ROK and Japan, a vision of an Indo-Pacific that is free and open. That’s going to be the crux of what you hear today from President Biden when he travels to San Diego and he meets with another one of our partners in the Indo-Pacific.

But Japan, and the ROK, the United States, others, we share this vision. The DPRK has consistently posed a challenge to the rules-based order and to the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. As we continue to see these provocations, we are going to work with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, we’re going to work with our partners on the other side of the Atlantic to hold the DPRK accountable.

We are going to look at additional ways to do that. Just within recent days you’ve heard from us on some of the steps that we have taken to clamp down on sanctions evasion and to pursue targets that support the DPRK’s WMD programs.

We are also going to continue to make the point, and to find ways to reinforce the point, that it requires concerted action on the part of – especially on the part of all members of the UN Security Council, especially permanent members of the UN Security Council. The DPRK is subject to a number of UN Security Council resolutions owing to the provocations that it has engaged in in recent years. Each and every one of these UN Security Council resolutions were voted on and approved by the permanent five members of the Security Council. It is incumbent on all five of those members – including Russia and the PRC – to uphold the commitments that they’ve made, to uphold the commitments that have been signed into international law, and to recognize that a DPRK that is not held to account, that is able to engage in these type of provocations without concerted accountability from the international community, is not in the interest of Russia, it’s not in the interest of China, it’s not in the interest of any country around the world.

And so our task is to continue to work with our partners and allies to hold the DPRK accountable while we are recommitting to the commitment we have to the security and to the defense of our treaty allies in this case.

QUESTION: Do you think North Korea will conduct another nuclear test during the U.S. and ROK’s joint military exercise now ongoing (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: I would hesitate to offer a prediction, but we’ve said for a number of months now that the DPRK has finalized all of the steps it would need to take to conduct what would be its seventh nuclear test. A seventh nuclear test would be a dangerous provocation that would itself constitute a significant threat to peace and security in the region. The entire world would need to respond in a case like that. Countries on the Security Council, especially the permanent five, we would expect to see – hope to see, I should say – concerted action in response to such a destabilizing event.


QUESTION: Yeah. Question on Russia. But before I ask you that question, just a follow-up on North Korea. Is it useful in the context that you mention, that we all know, these escalating tensions, to have these, the most important maneuvers in five years with South Korea, military maneuvers between Washington and United States and South Korea? I mean, how useful is that in the context to try and de-escalate the situation?

MR PRICE: So Leon, a couple points. We’ve made abundantly clear early on in this administration – and I’ve repeated it too many times to count since – that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We believe that dialogue and diplomacy would be the most – would constitute the most effective means by which to advance in practical ways our policy objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We’ve made clear that we harbor no hostile intent, we’ve made clear that we’re ready to engage in dialogue and diplomacy. It’s the DPRK that has consistently rebuffed that, both by its silence, its failure to respond meaningfully to those overtures, but also by taking the actions that it has taken, including the provocations the likes of which we are talking about now.

Look, the exercises that you’re referring to are longstanding, they are routine, they’re purely defensive in nature. They support the security of both the United States and, in this case, the ROK. And unfortunately, the DPRK has put us in a position to have to reinforce in tangible ways the security commitment that we have. They have made the security environment in Northeast Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region all the more dangerous, all the more threatening to our deployed troops, to Americans in the region, and of course to our treaty allies, the – Japan and ROK.

So it is as a result of that security environment that we are – as a result of that, we are continually in a position to have to reaffirm that security commitment to make sure that we’re able to make good on that commitment. We would much rather be engaging in dialogue and diplomacy, and advancing in real ways the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Thanks for that. Question on – related to news of today on the Black Sea Initiative. The Russians have agreed to – if I understand it correctly, the Russians have agreed to a 60-day extension. On the table, I think, unless I’m mistaken, it was 120 days. What are your thoughts on that? Would you accept a 60-day extension, or are you – or not?

MR PRICE: So first, let me just say we’re at a critical moment in these negotiations. Extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative requires the consent of all the parties, and that’s something the UN secretary general is working on, including at this very moment. So we’re going to defer to the UN secretary general, we’re going to defer to the other parties that are directly involved in the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

And I need to be circumspect about the details beyond that, because this is a critical moment. But our position has always been clear: The world needs this. The world needs the Black Sea Grain Initiative. We believe it should be extended. We believe it should be expanded. And we believe that because we’ve seen the implications of a world with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and we’ve seen a world without the Black Sea Grain Initiative. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year, we saw this price in – this spike in world food prices. World food prices spiked nearly 30 percent. Wheat and fertilizer prices spiked nearly 30 percent in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion. It wasn’t until the Black Sea Grain Initiative was put into place with a great deal of diplomatic support from the United States and of course the parties themselves – the UN secretary-general, Türkiye, Ukraine, and also with the cooperation of Russia – that these crises started to actually go down.

And we have seen millions of metric tons make it to the countries that need food the most. Over 4 million metric tons of wheat have gone directly to developing countries as a result of the Black Sea Grain Initiative that may not – that may seem like an abstract number, but it boils down to 8 billion loaves of bread to the developing world. The World Food Program has been able to take advantage of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. 16 World Food Program ships have left Ukrainian ports as a result of this initiative, taking wheat to places like Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia – the places around the world that need it most. So this is a critical instrument at a critical time. We know that the world needs this. We certainly hope and expect to see it extended and expanded.

QUESTION: But you don’t want to say 60 or 120? You’re not going to —

MR PRICE: We’re going to let the parties themselves speak to it before we do.

Yeah, Edward.

QUESTION: Hey, Ned. I’d like to ask you about a report that the Times had last week on the Biden administration so far refraining from turning over evidence of Russian war crimes to the International Criminal Court. And apparently the main reason this is – that they’ve refrained from doing so is because the Pentagon objects to that action, saying that that might open the way in the future for easier prosecutions of U.S. troops. Can you address that and talk about the rationale behind this? And related to that, in your 200-plus briefings at the podium, one phrase you’ve mentioned repeatedly is “the rules-based international order,” and you say the U.S. defends this order. Can you give us a more precise definition of that and when the U.S. decides to opt into these international institutions and norms and when it decides to opt out of those?

MR PRICE: So a couple things, Edward. First, on your first question about the ICC, this goes back to a point I was making in response to a very different region, to a very different question about our inheritance when we came into office in January of 2021.

Over the past two years, we have worked very hard to reset and to improve our relationship with the International Criminal Court. In the first instance, we lifted the sanctions that never should have been imposed in the first place. We returned to engagement with the court and the Assembly of States Parties. We have identified specific areas where we can support ICC investigations and prosecutions, including steps to support the court’s work in Darfur and assistance in locating and apprehending fugitives from international justice, and that includes high-profile fugitives like the LRA’s Joseph Kony. We also offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, the transfer, the conviction of foreign nationals accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity or genocide before the ICC. So we do provide many forms of support.

What we don’t do, however, is detail in a specific – in specific forms what that support looks like or what we may be providing directly to the ICC. And we don’t do that for a very simple reason: this is an international court that is pursuing accountability, it’s pursuing justice. We don’t want to do anything or to say anything that could jeopardize the sanctity of an investigation, that could set back the pursuit of that justice.

I’d make one other point on this, Edward, that your paper reported on one form of support that we’re allegedly not providing, but you’ve heard us over the course of the past year speak to the efforts we are resorting to around the world to empower a number of organizations to collect, to preserve, to analyze, to disseminate precisely the kinds of information that would be court admissible, that international tribunals – whether it’s the ICC, whether it’s the UN’s Commission of Inquiry, whether it’s the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism – could in fact use to pursue and to advance cases that could culminate in accountability and justice for those who are responsible for some of the most heinous war crimes and crimes against humanity that we’ve seen in Ukraine.

The virtue of this type of support is we are empowering organizations to collect open-source information, information that is available to everyone but that in turn these organizations package in such a way that they are comprehensive, they are done in a rigorous way, and they’re court admissible.

So beyond the categories of support that I just listed, we are enabling a number of actors around the world to do what they can to support the ICC, to support other venues including courts of national jurisdiction in places like Ukraine and other countries around the world that have universal jurisdiction where war criminals – or accused war criminals, I should say, could be tried.

On the second part of your question, Ed, this is not a rules-based order that the United States created. It is not – created alone. It is not a rules-based order that is a product of the West. This is a rules-based order, when we talk about that rules-based order, that emanated from the ashes of the Second World War that was created in the aftermath of that to see to it – at least in every reasonable way – that the Second World War wouldn’t one day give rise to a third. It is enshrined in so much of what the United States is committed to and where you see us engaging every single day. The UN system, the UN Charter, international law, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, whether it’s the Ukraine context, whether it is any other context – just about every single day you hear us speaking to the importance of these elements. You’re seeing us taking actions around the world to preserve, to promote, to defend these elements. And where countries around the world are flouting the rules-based order, you see the United States oftentimes leading the charge for accountability. That takes us back to your first question.


QUESTION: Can I just – I’ve got just a quick one.


QUESTION: I mean, as I understand it, the answer you just gave now in response to the first question is that nothing has changed since you answered the question on Thursday.

MR PRICE: That is correct.

QUESTION: Okay. So you’re saying – but then the second thing is that you brought this up in talking about the LRA and how you cooperate with it. But in that case, with the Obama administration, they actually did provide specific intel to the ICC.

MR PRICE: But Matt —

QUESTION: And the Pentagon or whoever, if they had an issue with it, it didn’t seem to stop it. So what’s the difference here? Because the LRA didn’t – don’t have nukes?

MR PRICE: No. So, Matt, I’m not saying that there is a difference because we are just not speaking to the forms of support we provide to the ICC. It —

QUESTION: Well, but okay. But the administration that you previously served in did speak to that.

MR PRICE: But the administration did not speak specifically to forms of support that we provided to the ICC.

QUESTION: No, but you gave them a satellite photo and (inaudible).

MR PRICE: And we are – we are taking precisely the same approach in this administration in this case. Yes.

QUESTION: So you’re just not telling the Pentagon? You’re doing it over their objections and not telling them? Is that it?

MR PRICE: No, no, no, Matt. I’m speaking about what we talk about publicly. In the Obama-Biden administration, we didn’t detail specifically the type of support and assistance that we provided to the ICC. In –

QUESTION: Well, then I’m just saying you’re not going to do it at all because —

MR PRICE: No. I just –

QUESTION: Well, it’s the story –

QUESTION: The Times report says they will refrain –

MR PRICE: And I – and I am –

QUESTION: The Times report that you just talked about on Thursday —


QUESTION: – and gave the exact same answer to, you didn’t say that it was wrong. In fact, you’ve now said that it was correct.

MR PRICE: I’m just —

QUESTION: And now we’re —

MR PRICE: I didn’t comment on the veracity of the report. I’m not speaking to the veracity of the report. What I’m saying as a general matter, whether it was in the last administration, the administration before that, we don’t speak in specific terms to the type of support that we do or do not provide to the ICC.

QUESTION: Well, the last administration actually spoke. But the point of —

MR PRICE: I stand corrected there, yes.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Jackson Richman with The Epoch Times. I have two questions. The first one is: Based on reports from the field, the conflict in Ukraine shows no signs of ending any time soon. Meanwhile, public support for continued U.S. assistance for Kyiv appears to be waning. In light of these realities, is the State Department prepared to reconsider its policy of backing Ukraine, quote/unquote, “for as long as it takes”?

And then my second question is: Two big name banks in the U.S., Silicon Valley Bank and Signature, have been shut down by the Feds. This has ramifications not just in the U.S. but also abroad. How do these shutdowns reflect the United States on the global stage?

MR PRICE: So a couple things. First, let me just take the second question first. I’m going to let my colleagues at the Treasury Department, the FDIC, and other colleagues handle these questions. I don’t want to say anything from here that could roil financial markets, certainly not on my last day. (Laughter.)

Your first question – your first question about standing with Ukraine. We are committed to standing with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We are committed to our Ukrainian partners. But ultimately, what we are committed to is, to go back to Edward’s question, the rules-based order. What is at play when it comes to Russian aggression against Ukraine is yes, about Ukraine in the first instance, Russia attempting to deny Ukraine the right to exist, to dictate Ukraine’s foreign policy, the choices that should be and must only be up – only to Ukrainians.

But in some ways this is much larger than Ukraine or any single country. It is about the basic notions that are at the heart of the UN Charter, that are at the heart of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, at the heart of international law. And they basically boil down to, whether you call it the rules-based order or the rules of the road, but very simple premises: big countries can’t bully small countries; might doesn’t make right; countries have a sovereign right to determine their own future, their own partnerships, their own alliances, their own aspirations.

If Russia is permitted to challenge that in an unchecked way in Ukraine, countries around the world may well take license to challenge that in other regions. When the rules-based international order comes under threat anywhere, we believe it comes under threat everywhere. And so it’s important for the United States to be resolute, along with the dozens of countries around the world who have not only stood with Ukraine but endorsed the UN system, the UN Charter, international law, the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

More than 140 countries around the world have done that three times now. And that is because this is not a Western construct, it is not an American construct; this is an order that countries around the world believe in. It is an order that countries around the world have witnessed undergird unprecedented levels of stability, of security, of prosperity since – over the 80 years or so since the end of the Second World War.

QUESTION: Then why not send Ukraine fighter jets and enact maximum sanctions against Russia similar to the U.S. maximum pressure campaign on Iran?

QUESTION: Well, I think you look at the sanctions that we’ve enacted against Russia, and what you see is a comprehensive sanctions regime that is – that has in the first instance crippled the Russian economy. It has caused the Kremlin to have to resort to extraordinary measures to prop up Moscow’s economy, to prop up the currency, to prop up financial markets in a way that is just not sustainable over the longer term. And you look at the broader set of measures, the export controls that we’ve put in place that have systematically deprived Russia of the ability to import the raw materials that it will need over the longer term to project aggression against Ukraine or any other country for that matter. And so however you look at it – whatever economic, financial metric you look at, you see that the sanctions the United States and our dozens of partners around the world have implemented have had tremendous effect.

On the question of the F-16, what we have done is to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need for the battle they are facing at the moment and the direction in which that battle is evolving. And you don’t have to take our word for the effectiveness of that approach. You can look at the determination, the resilience, the grit of our Ukrainian partners but also the success that that has translated to, and that in some ways has been enabled by the massive amounts of security assistance that the United States and some 50 countries around the world have provided. These are decisions that we make on a dynamic basis, looking at precisely what the needs are in conversation with our Ukrainian partners, in conversation with our partners in Europe, in NATO, and around the world as well.


QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, over the weekend, CENTCOM Commander General Kurilla was in Syria, and he visited two camps – two ISIS detainee camps. He said there is no military solution to the ISIS detainee population. There are thousands of detainees, and including new generations are being raised in these camps. What is the department doing in order to empty these camps?

MR PRICE: We are focused with countries around the world on what will be the sustainable solution, and that’s repatriation. We have applauded a number of countries, including in recent days, who have been able to repatriate their citizens from al-Hawl, from other detainee camps. We believe that’s the only means by which to address this challenge. Our Bureau of Counterterrorism has been going around the world, as have our regional bureaus, to make specific, general asks of countries as well to do everything we can to lesson the detainee population and to do what we can to responsibly close these detention facilities.

QUESTION: Most of countries try to appear indifferent to their citizen in those camps. Isn’t there a concern that these people are further radicalized in those camps and converts the U.S. mission in Syria into a creep mission?

MR PRICE: Into a what mission? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Into a mission creep, like a —

MR PRICE: A mission creep. Well, there are a number of reasons why we want to sustainably lesson the population at these camps. Some of it has to do with humanitarian conditions. Some of it has to do with the ability for individuals to be radicalized in a place like this. But it just speaks to the urgent need that we see for countries around the world to take decisive and bold steps to repatriate their citizens. We have attempted to lead by example. There are a number of countries around the world who have also sought to lead by example, and we’re encouraging more of that.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, and congratulations on your last briefing.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: I for one appreciated your gratitude for this press corps. I believe it was the previous Secretary who described us as hyenas, so I’m not going to ask you what group of animals this State Department —

MR PRICE: I appreciate that.

QUESTION: — may compare us to – (laughter) – but thank you.

QUESTION: Jackals.

MR PRICE: Not lapdogs; I will tell you that.

QUESTION: But I would be remiss not to ask you one of your favorite topics: On Afghanistan. Representative Michael McCaul told CBS on Sunday that he’s given the Secretary until March 23rd to hand over what he describes as outstanding documentation regarding the administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. That includes a dissent cable, Ambassador Dan Smith’s after-action report, and the Kabul Embassy emergency action plan. I was just wondering if you had a response to what he said.

MR PRICE: Sure. Look, we are committed to working with all congressional committees with jurisdiction to appropriately accommodate their need for information to help them conduct their oversight for legislative purposes. We had a very productive, very constructive relationship with the 117th Congress. We hope and expect to have a very similar relationship with this Congress. We have provided more than 150 briefings to bipartisan members and staff on Afghanistan policy since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Additionally, senior officials from this department have appeared in public hearings and answered questions on Afghanistan, and the department has responded to numerous requests for information from members and their staffs related to Afghanistan policy.

As Chairman McCaul said, I believe, on your network yesterday, he and the Secretary had a very constructive discussion when the chairman was here at the department earlier this year. It was then that the Secretary reaffirmed directly to Chairman McCaul his commitment to cooperate with the committee’s work, and we’ve since provided hundreds of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s requests on Afghanistan. We’re working as expeditiously as possible to accommodate what was just about by any measure an extensive and detailed request, and our provision of information and documents to the committee will continue as we collect and process additional responsive records.

Yeah, Jenny.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I want to echo everyone else’s thanks for all your work.

There are reports that three American women went missing in Nuevo León, Mexico several weeks ago. Does the State Department have any information on this?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports, but we’re not in a position to confirm them, and in fact, we are not aware that these reports are accurate. We are aware of three Mexican nationals who resided in Texas who have been reported missing, however.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Senator Markey is calling for a higher Travel Warning against travel to Mexico?

MR PRICE: Our Travel Warnings to Mexico, as they are to countries around the world, are dynamic. They are based on the conditions on the ground. When it comes to Mexico, our Travel Warnings are especially dynamic in that they are organized by state, and so the travel guidance that we provide to American citizens is tailored to each individual Mexican state and the security situation that we assess on the ground at any given time.

QUESTION: Are you considering upgrading?

MR PRICE: We are always looking at information to determine whether it is necessary to move our Travel Warnings in one direction or another. These —

QUESTION: In this case, are you considering a higher level of warning?

MR PRICE: Again, our —

QUESTION: I mean the – I mean just because of the recent kidnappings.

MR PRICE: The – our Travel Warnings for Mexico, again, are organized by state, and so we’re looking at conditions state by state to determine if an upgrade, if a downgrade is necessary. That is a process that happens every single day between our embassies; between, in this case, our Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, our Bureau of Consular Affairs. As soon as we have made the decision that a change in our Travel Advisory is warranted, it will be updated online and we’ll alert the American citizen community.

QUESTION: Ned, just in response to your – so you think that this report, the report that there – another three American women may be confused or may be inaccurate because they’re actually Mexican citizens?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t say. I —

QUESTION: Would they have had – do you know if the three Mexicans who – Mexican women who you believe have been reported missing had U.S. residency or —

MR PRICE: Matt, I couldn’t say, and I wouldn’t want to speak to the details, but we are aware of reports of three missing Mexican citizens who previously resided in Nuevo León.

QUESTION: Where are the – so they resided, they lived in Texas?

MR PRICE: That’s right.


MR PRICE: Correct, yes.

QUESTION: Was State under the impression that they were Americans? Because over the weekend we got a response that you were aware of three U.S. citizen – reports of three U.S. citizens missing in Mexico.

MR PRICE: We’ll check on that, but we’ll get back to you if I have anything else to offer.


QUESTION: I obviously haven’t been here always, but we’ve always been watching, so thank you for bringing back the daily briefing.

Questions about AUKUS. I know that you won’t get ahead of the President, but a few questions I think you can answer. First one: Xi Jinping last week accused the U.S. of containing – trying to contain China. How is sending American submarines and helping Australia build Virginia-class submarines not an example of the U.S. containing China?

MR PRICE: So first, Nick, I don’t want to get ahead of the President, and he’ll be speaking to this later today, I believe in the 5 o’clock hour Eastern time, so I will refer you to his remarks on AUKUS specifically.

On the broader question, however – and this is something we talked about last week – our goal is not to contain China. It is not the case that we or any other country could even if we wanted to, and again, that is not our goal. Our goal is not to hold China back. Our goal is to uphold the rules-based order that applies equally in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe and places in between. Our concern is that contrary to our goal of preserving, defending, promoting the rules-based order, we have seen the PRC attempt to challenge it, to challenge it in a number of important and in some ways destabilizing and dangerous ways.

We share the vision – the vision we share with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, and it’s certainly the vision we share with our Australian allies, in this case, is one of a region that is free and open. That is what our work together in the Indo-Pacific is about. Every time we see the PRC attempt to challenge the rules-based international order, attempt to challenge the status quo in various places, that is of concern to us. It’s of concern to countries around the world.

QUESTION: I’m trying to stay broad, but I do have to ask one question about AUKUS. There’s been bipartisan questions, as you know, about the submarine industrial base, the U.S.’s ability to actually build their own submarines, let alone lend them or rotate them or sell them to Australia, and some people who are in favor of AUKUS are worried about this. Is it the administration’s belief that Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarine in some ways provides more deterrence to China than the U.S.’s 22nd Virginia powered submarine, and is that part of the effort behind AUKUS, the overall complication of China’s efforts when it looks at the military across the Pacific?

MR PRICE: Our colleagues from the Defense Department offered some words on this last week. I suspect you’ll hear more about this later today. But let me just make the broader point that this is about a vision of the Indo-Pacific that is free and open. It is a vision that we share with our Australian partners in this case, but it’s a vision that we share with our other allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.

AUKUS itself is also a reflection of what we’ve sought to do around the world, not only to revitalize the alliances and the partnerships that were in many cases deeply frayed or atrophied when we assumed office in January of 2021, but to take those longstanding partnerships and alliances and to stitch them together – to stitch them together within theaters, in some cases to stitch them together across the globe, bringing our Australian allies together with our British allies in this case.

We’re doing that because we share, again, these common interests, common values, in the Indo-Pacific. It’s a vision of the Indo-Pacific that is free and open and that in too many places is coming under challenge.

QUESTION: And in terms of – sorry, just the last one, on coming under challenge. Has the U.S. done enough not only to deter China with militarily but also with investments and political participation, especially in the Pacific Islands? Some people still criticize you for not having enough of an answer, for example – Chinese investment, Chinese 5G, and only threatening people when they consider partnering with China.

MR PRICE: Nick, look, I can’t speak to the approach of previous administrations. I wouldn’t want to speak to the approach of previous administrations, I would say. But you’ve heard consistently from us this is not about forcing countries to choose between the United States and China, the United States and any other country. This is about providing countries around the world with choices – affirmative choices, desirable choices, choices that would allow the United States and countries in the Indo-Pacific, in this case, to pursue our collective interests.

We talked about the funding and the infrastructure element a bit during the budget rollout late last week. But the point I made then is that we are not seeking to match the PRC dollar for dollar in the amounts that they provide to let’s call them infrastructure projects around the world. In some ways we couldn’t do that, given that they have a state-run economy and a command-style economy that we don’t, obviously.

But what we bring to bear is a whole-of-society approach, an approach that not only harnesses what the federal government does, and obviously the budget request the President sent forward on Thursday to Congress has a tremendous amount of resources that would allow us to compete and ultimately to outcompete with the PRC in the Indo-Pacific. But we have an American private sector. We have ingenuity within the American people. We have a system of alliances and partnerships that is unmatched by any other country.

And when you bring all of those to bear, we believe that the United States, and acting together with our allies and partners, present that affirmative, desirable choice that so many countries around the world want and seek. One tangible illustration of this is the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. Again, this is not about matching the PRC’s spending dollar for dollar from the federal budget, but this is bringing to bear funding from our respective governments, the governments with whom we partner on PGII, but also the private sector to mobilize over the course of five years hundreds of billions of dollars for high-quality, transparent, eco-friendly infrastructure projects the likes of which no other country could provide and the likes of which would be a difficult proposition to turn down for any country in that region or elsewhere.

I’ll take a final question or so. Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

MR PRICE: Abbie, go ahead and I’ll come back to you. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks so much, and I want to echo, obviously, the thanks of my colleagues —

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: — for bringing back the briefings. And I wanted to ask – follow up on Mexico. There’s been reports that there’s more than 550 Americans missing in Mexico. Can you speak to that report or offer an alternative number if —

MR PRICE: I can’t – I can’t speak to that figure specifically, and I understand this is a figure that was aggregated over the course of many years now. And so I can’t speak to that figure specifically. But we – whenever we receive a report of a missing American citizen, our team on the ground, the team back here, springs into action to support the family, to support the loved ones in every way we can.

The other complication when it comes to missing American citizens – and this is not unique to Mexico; this happens around the world – oftentimes our embassy will receive a report of a missing American only for the family to be reunited with that American hours or in some cases slightly later, and without that follow-up to the U.S. embassy. So there are many cases that, while they may look unresolved on our books, cases that have been long resolved, where families and loved ones have been reunited. But I’m just not able to comment on that figure specifically.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. First of all, best wishes for your next professional move.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: And we heard recently voices out of Israel expressing concern about violence and even civil war in that country. And we’ve also heard from the former Israeli prime minister a call for civil disobedience if the current status of the Israeli supreme court were to be changed. And I just wanted to ask you if you had – or to what extent you are concerned, the U.S. is concerned, about its – about the future of its interests in the Middle East in light of what’s currently going on in Israel?

MR PRICE: We are always going to have an abiding interest in the Middle East. We are always going to have an ironclad partnership with Israel because it is a relationship – the U.S.‑Israel relationship is one that since its first moments in 1948 has been predicated on, yes, those shared values, but also shared interests as well.

Our goal in our engagement with our Israeli partners has been – and with our Palestinian partners for that matter – has been to encourage de-escalation. This is a volatile moment for many reasons on – in different realms. When it comes to tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, we’re engaged on that. When it comes to the vibrant and dynamic debate that is taking place within Israel, we are speaking to our Israeli partners as a fellow democracy. We are offering the perspective that we have as a fellow democracy, again, offering the idea both publicly and privately that from our vantage point building consensus for fundamental changes is the most effective way to see to it that any change is durable, any change is sustainable. There is a dialogue going on now between the prime minister, between the president, between citizens of Israel at every level. This is a dialogue for them to have, but we have offered our perspective, again, as a fellow democracy.

QUESTION: And to the extent that the U.S. describes Israel as a democracy, as you’ve just said, there are now Israelis who are saying that it’s not so until the Palestinians are free of Israeli occupation. I just wanted to see to what extent you agree with that parameter for describing – for continuing to describe Israel as a democracy.

MR PRICE: We have a vision, as do so many countries around the world, as do Israelis and Palestinians, for a negotiated two-state solution, the end goal of which would be a Jewish democracy living side by side next to a Palestinian state with security and stability afforded to both.

Our goal at the moment is not to set the parties on an immediate path to discussions towards that negotiated two-state solution, but initially at least to preserve the viability for a two‑state solution. Our concern is that both parties – Israelis and Palestinians – not take steps that put that viability of a negotiated two‑state solution further out of reach. It’s important for the near term, but it’s also quite important for the longer term as we hope to do everything we can to advance the shared vision many of us have for that negotiated two-state solution.


QUESTION: Can I follow up with this?


QUESTION: It’s one thing to say that there should be de-escalation on both sides, but we’re at a – Israel is at a pivotal point. According to President Herzog, leaders of – former leaders of Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as the 37 elite pilots who refused to train last Wednesday and half a million people in Tel Aviv on – protesting. So civilian society is torn apart. Does it still remain a democracy if these proposed changes go through as proposed and there is no compromise? Does the – doesn’t the U.S. have a view about Israel as a democracy based on our economic, military, and other commitments to it that are based on it being a democracy?

MR PRICE: What you are saying and what you’ve just pointed to, we think is a reflection of the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy. This is a conversation that is taking place across Israel. As it so often is in democratic systems around the world, it can be messy, it can be ugly, but ultimately this is a conversation between Israelis to determine the types of steps that they think is appropriate or not.

Our perspective on this is not to weigh in on specific reform proposals, but we have perspective gained over the course of our 250-year history on how to achieve a degree of durability, how to achieve a degree of sustainability, when it comes to any proposals, reforms that have put forward – that have been put forward. That’s the kind of guidance – that’s what we’re offering to our Israeli partners. That’s what you heard the President speak to and the Secretary as well.

QUESTION: There’s no step that they could take that would get us to rethink some fundamental aspects of the relationship?

MR PRICE: Andrea, it’s hard to envision a day when we do not share interests and we do not share values with our Israeli partners. We are fellow democracies, we have been fellow democracies since 1948, and we are fully confident that that is not going to change as this debate plays out in Israel.

I’ll take a final question. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have one. Thank you, Ned. I personally want to thank you as well, especially for the respect you have given to the foreign journalists, and I personally enjoyed your metaphors a lot. In every press briefing, you have some metaphor, and today the metaphor was “two feathers from the same bird.” That was the metaphor. And I think you have done a great job in telling the American – President Biden’s story in the foreign relations.

So I want to start – just one question about the UK. Ambassador Craig Murray just tweeted a couple of days ago that President Biden has basically removed the former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, from power. And since he has been removed, 80 cases has been registered against him, which includes terrorism, murder, sedition, and all these things. And I’ve heard you say this several times on this – standing here, that President Biden stands with countries, not individuals. So anything about that? Like, what is the – what is the stand on Pakistan? Since 11 months, I’m very confused how – what’s the position of Biden’s administration on Pakistan.

MR PRICE: Well, you just said it yourself. I think we’ve been clear and consistent on this. We support the peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles around the world, and of course that includes in Pakistan. Regarding the specifics of domestic politics between parties, we don’t take a position. We don’t favor one political candidate. We don’t favor one party over another. What we do favor is a constitutional system, is a legal framework, and all parties – including in Pakistan – abiding by that constitutional framework.

QUESTION: Okay. Then how can President Modi, about whom New York Times has written two editorials in last one month about the way he’s treating journalists?

And lastly, I want to ask you about the BBC documentary. You had not watched that documentary. Have you read the New York Times editorials of how journalists and Muslims are being treated in India under his rule? Because I understand India is the partner, but should you defend President Modi to this extent?

MR PRICE: We defend our shared values. We defend our human rights around the world. We make the same points when it comes to civil society, human rights in Pakistan, as we do in India, as we do in other countries around the world.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. (Inaudible). So on reports that Xi Jinping is going to talk to Vladimir Zelenskyy after his Moscow visit, an attempt to become more engaged in negotiation and conflict resolving, does the U.S. believe that these efforts can lead to any meaningful and positive outcomes? So what are your expectations?

MR PRICE: Well, we would certainly like to see and hope to see an engagement between President Xi and President Zelenskyy. It’s our understanding from our Ukrainian partners that there is not an engagement yet on the books, but we’ll see what develops and what the parties say.

There are countries around the world that have a relationship with Russia that we do not have. China is at the top of that list in terms of the relationship it has with Russia and the leverage that it has with Russia. We would like to see counties around the world use those relationships and use that leverage to help encourage the Russians to end this brutal war of aggression, to put an end to the violence and the killing that has claimed far too many Ukrainian and far too many Russian lives as well.

Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see the PRC do that. Even as the PRC professes to have this veneer of neutrality, the PRC has supported Russia’s aggression in important ways – economic support, political support, diplomatic support, rhetorical support in terms of parroting and echoing the dangerous messaging and lies that we’ve heard from Moscow.

So we would certainly like to see the PRC use the leverage that it does have to bring about an end to this invasion. We haven’t seen that yet. We’ll wait and see if there’s an engagement between President Xi and President Zelenskyy.

Yes, final question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vershinin said today that the sanctions relief on Russian agricultural products and fertilizers doesn’t work. Do you have any comments here? And does the U.S. stand ready to consider legitimate Russian concerns here?

MR PRICE: We find it difficult to believe that when we know, and the rest of the world knows, that Russia’s exports of food and fertilizer are back up to pre-war levels. This has been the case for some time now, but when we hear the Russians saying that they are being held back from exporting grain, from exporting fertilizer, it’s just not true. We have made very clear in the imposition of sanctions on Russia for this brutal aggression that we’ve exempted food, we’ve exempted fertilizer. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to communicate to the private sector, to communicate to governments around the world that all of our sanctions have carve-outs. All of our sanctions have carve-outs for food, fertilizer, other important humanitarian carve-outs, as they do in our sanctions regimes around the world. So it’s just not true.

We’ve heard a number of excuses from Russia in recent days and weeks as to why the Black Sea Grain Initiative might not be extended. We believe it boils down to the fact that the world needs this Black Sea Grain Initiative. The world needs grain from Ukraine, wheat from Ukraine. The world needs to be able to feed itself and to take advantage of this initiative that, since its launch in of August of last year. has decreased food prices, has led to an influx of wheat and other foodstuffs on the global marketplace, and in the end has certainly saved lives.

QUESTION: One more? Last one.


QUESTION: Last week —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Thank you. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:40 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – March 9, 2023

2:02 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy budget day. It’s a very special day every year. Today, to help commemorate the occasion –

QUESTION: A very special day?

MR PRICE: A very special day every year. And to help commemorate the occasion, we have two very special guests. I am very pleased to introduce to you Ambassador John Bass – he, of course, is the Acting Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources; and our colleague Paloma Adams-Allen – she is the USAID Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources. Both will offer some opening remarks on the FY 2024 budget request for Department of State and USAID, and then we’ll take your questions, and then we’ll proceed to our normal programming.

So with that, Ambassador Bass.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Great. Thank you, Ned, colleagues. Good afternoon. Great to be with you. And before I start, I just want to take a minute to thank Ned for his remarkable –

MR PRICE: This was not part of the program.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: — service and leadership. It’s not Ned Price Day, but maybe it should be. And I –

QUESTION: No, that’s every day. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: But I know I speak for all of our colleagues in wishing you all the best with your next adventure. And as Ned mentioned, I’m joined today by my friend and colleague Paloma Adams-Allen, Deputy USAID Administrator for Management and Resources. And we’re here, of course, to present the highlights of the Fiscal Year ’24 budget request for the department and for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The resources detailed in our combined Fiscal Year 2024 budget are essential to the Department of State and USAID’s work to advance the Biden administration’s vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world, while delivering on issues that matter most to the lives and livelihoods of our fellow Americans.

The President’s FY 2024 budget request requests $63.1 billion for State and USAID. This is a $4.9 billion increase, roughly 9 percent increase, above what Congress enacted for comparable State and AID programs in Fiscal Year ’23. And we deeply appreciate the support and partnership from Congress in resourcing this department and USAID to meet the moment that we face.

The budget is an extension of principled, clear-eyed leadership by the United States in the face of a set of generational challenges that require sustained commitments to address.

First, as you have heard so often from the Secretary, our approach towards the generational challenge posed by the PRC focuses on investing in our own domestic capabilities, aligning our efforts with those of allies and partners, and competing with the PRC where interests and values differ.

Our competition with the PRC is unusually broad and complex, which requires a different approach than traditional budgeting. And to meet this challenge, therefore this budget requests mandatory spending on top of the traditional discretionary resources within the budget. As part of an interagency mandatory proposal, the State/AID budget request includes in mandatory spending: $2 billion to strengthen Indo-Pacific economies and supporting our partners in pushing back against predatory and opportunistic competition by China; $2 billion to support high-quality, strategic hard infrastructure projects globally; $2 billion for a new revolving fund at the Development Finance Corporation to boost equity investments; and $7.1 billion over 20 years to support the renewal of the Compacts of Free Association.

We believe that discretionary resources alone cannot meet the needs posed by this generational challenge. And we believe it is imperative to have mandatory, reliable funding to prevail in this competition with China.

The second priority is to ensure that we continue to carry forward our pivotal work as part of the broader administration efforts to ensure that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains a strategic failure, while supporting the Ukrainian Government and the people of Ukraine. The FY24 budget will advance that commitment while promoting oversight and accountability to ensure taxpayer resources are appropriately spent and accounted for.

Third, we are mobilizing and enhancing resources to address shared global challenges, including economic challenges, energy challenges, food security, health security, the climate crisis, and other challenges that defy national borders such as irregular migration. And we will continue to work together to shore up fellow democracies and build resilience against authoritarians’ efforts to undermine democratic states and democratic norms.

Fourth, the budget will continue our work to ensure U.S. interests and values are protected in the digital and emerging technology sector, including through the CHIPS International Technology Security Innovation Fund, for which we are grateful to Congress for providing us with $500 million over five years to empower the department to work with our partners and allies in securing and expanding our crucial semiconductor supply chains and promoting the adoption of trustworthy telecom architecture and technologies.

Fifth, we will continue the Secretary’s ambitious agenda to modernize American diplomacy and our diplomatic operations globally to ensure we’re equipped to address the challenges and seize the opportunities presented to us in the coming years.

In addition to these five major priorities, I just want to take a minute to highlight several other critical investments that the budget proposes.

To support all that we are doing globally, our request includes over 500 new staff positions for the State Department. And these will focus primarily on expanding our footprint in the Indo-Pacific region, increasing professional development and training options to ensure our personnel are best prepared to meet some of these complex challenges, and bolstering our consular staff to meet unprecedented demand for passports, visas, and other services.

We will also continue to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives, to include our broader efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce that reflects the true breadth of representation and diversity across this nation.

We also are requesting $6.3 billion to protect our diplomats, our embassies, and our data, which will help us to secure our global workforce from a wide array of threats to their health and safety, help us address infrastructure vulnerabilities, and ensure that we are securing sensitive data.

And finally, I want to address one component that I know matters to many of our fellow citizens and to people around the world. As the department takes over responsibility from the Department of Defense for key aspects of our ongoing relocation of Afghan partners under Operation Enduring Welcome, we are requesting that Congress establish an Enduring Welcome program account to provide a consolidated, flexible funding source to meet our commitment in the months and years ahead to those who served alongside us in Afghanistan.

So with that, I would like to turn the podium over to my colleague, Paloma Adams-Allen, to preview the top lines for USAID.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you, John. Thank you, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. The President’s FY24 budget request reflects the decisive juncture at which the United States finds itself, with an opportunity to lead the world in extending the reach of human dignity to all. The requested funds will allow the United States to continue to support our country partners on the front lines of multiple overlapping crises, including responding to climate change and food insecurity.

The FY24 budget request for USAID is $32 billion in fully and partially managed accounts – an increase of 3 billion or 10 percent above the FY23 Adjusted Enacted levels.

It includes vital assistance to support American foreign policy priorities, including: additional resources to assist the people of Ukraine and all of those impacted by Putin’s brutal invasion; and confronting the rise of autocracy and anti-democratic threats posed by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.

There is significant funding to help our partners and allies bolster democracy, fight corruption, strengthen global health security, and combat infectious diseases, and much more, so I’ll highlight some of them now.

As the United States Government’s lead on humanitarian assistance, USAID responds to more than 75 crises in 65 countries on an annual basis, including currently in Ukraine and the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.

This year’s budget requests 10.5 billion in humanitarian assistance, 6.5 billion of which will be administered by USAID.

To assist Ukraine and manage the aftershocks of Putin’s invasion, the request includes 469 million to bolster the economy and ensure the continuity of government services, strengthen their energy infrastructure and cyber security, and ultimately promote the resilience of the Ukrainian people.

It also includes 1.11 billion for our Feed the Future programs to address the global food security crisis resulting from Putin’s unprovoked war and the ongoing impacts of climate change.

We know we can’t tackle all the world’s challenges alone. To lower the barriers for the private sector to partner with us and particularly to scale our efforts to expand economic opportunity for all, the budget requests 60 million for USAID’s Enterprises for Development, Growth, and Empowerment Fund or EDGE Fund.

This funding is one part of our request for 2.6 billion for economic growth programs to address persistent needs in the global economic system, including double digit inflation, slow growth, and financial systems weighed down by corruption and economic headwinds.

The budget also requests funding for what we call our Bright Spots Initiative, which will position us to be more nimble – we hope – and effective in supporting partner governments and local stakeholders in countries experiences promising democratic openings.

And we’re committed to continuing our work to combat democratic backsliding and pervasive authoritarianism. This is why the budget requests 2.8 billion for USAID’s fully immersed partially managed accounts to foster democratic governance, counter corruption, and deliver on our commitments under the Summit for Democracy and the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal.

To support democratic strengthening and economic resilience in Central America, we’re requesting more than 1 billion across the U.S. Government, including 739.6 million for USAID’s managed accounts. This funding will help us advance the administration’s Root Causes Strategy and deliver on the President’s 4 billion, four-year commitment to strengthen the region as a coalition of resilient democracies that can deliver security, development, and economic opportunities for its people.

To reaffirm continued U.S. global health leadership, the budget requests 4.1 billion for USAID managed accounts to combat infectious diseases, prevent child and maternal health deaths, bolster nutrition, control the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and provide dedicated funding to support and protect the global health workforce through the President’s Global Health Worker Initiative.

This includes 745 million for USAID to prepare for, prevent, detect, and respond to future infectious disease threats.

The global challenges I’ve outlined here continue to disproportionately impact women and girls, especially in crisis and conflict settings, including limiting their access to educational, economic, and leadership opportunities.

The budget will support implementation of the National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality through our historic request of 3.1 billion for State and the USAID to uplift the role of women and girls in all of their diversity.

Specifically, the request includes 200 million for the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund to advance women’s economic security.

In addition to providing USAID with critical programmatic resources, the budget recognizes that in order to continue to advance critical foreign policy priorities and ensure accountability of U.S. taxpayer dollars, the agency must be fit for purpose.

In light of this, we’re requesting 2.3 billion for USAID to build a responsive and resilient workforce and strengthen its operations globally. These funds will position us to increase the size and diversity of the permanent career workforce by 230 positions, provide flexibility to hire non-career, direct-hire staff for our crisis response, and address shortages in key technical and operational functions.

In sum, the FY24 Budget Request demonstrates American values and identifies priorities that will strengthen the national security through investments in development and humanitarian assistance.

Thank you for your interest and happy to take questions.

MR PRICE: Excellent. Thank you both. We’ll take questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I guess, Deputy Secretary, this is for you. And I realize this is kind of the drop in a bucket of $63 billion budget request, but I’m curious about the 150 million you’re asking for to – for UNESCO. Because although there had been talk about rejoining, it had never been official. This seems to me – maybe I’m wrong, but this is the first time that you guys have sought money to pay these arrears. And I’m just wondering, how serious are you about this, because apart from the broader question of how – what a lot of people think is that the entire federal budget is DOA on the Hill anyway, but how serious are – is the State Department about wanting to rejoin UNESCO? And how will you overcome the legal challenges – the legal hurdle to do it?

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Well, thanks, Matt. I’d say a couple of things. First of all, we appreciate the waiver authority we received in the omnibus for this fiscal year that gives us a path to begin the process of rejoining UNESCO, should we elect to do so an administration. We’re currently considering carefully those options. I would also say, if we do rejoin – if we do choose to rejoin – it will help address a critical gap in our global leadership toolkit and capacity, and it will also help us address a key opportunity cost that our absence is creating in our global competition with China. I think a lot of the focus on UNESCO overlooks the extent to which that entity is an essential element of setting and shaping standards for, among other things, STEM education around the world.

So if we’re really serious about the digital-age competition with China, from my perspective, in a clear-eyed set of interests, we can’t afford to be absent any longer from one of the key fora in which standards around education for science and technology are set. And there are a number of other examples in that space of UNESCO’s mission where our absence is noticed and where it undercuts our ability to be as effective in promoting our vision of a free world.

MR PRICE: Andrea.


QUESTION: Under Secretary Bass, how will this – beyond Enduring Welcome, how will this help address the problems of repatriating more Afghan SIVs and others, and some who are caught in third countries? If you could give us some detail as to what the commitment in this budget is compared to last year’s.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Sure. So in specific budget terms, you will not see new money in the State Department’s budget. That’s because we assess that the resources that we are receiving through a transfer from DOD and the OHDACA account gives us enough to work with for the current fiscal year and for Fiscal Year 24 to sustain a robust effort to continue to relocate Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan to the United States or other third countries. In addition to that financial piece, we have a set of positions, a set of people in the department and at a number of locations overseas who are continuing to work full-time on this vexing challenge.

I have to say, in 35 years in this business, this is one of the most complicated, challenging problems to deal with, and it is going to continue to take a really sustained focus, which Secretary Blinken, myself, and many colleagues across this department are absolutely committed to.

QUESTION: I mean, you know this better than anyone, having been on the ground, so you’re in a unique position to assess. The criticisms at the hearing yesterday were pretty direct. I mean, could we just ask how you feel the State Department is addressing this? Because a lot of us are still getting appeals from people, including some who’ve come here and just can’t get jobs.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: So I’d say a couple of things. Like many, I was moved by the testimony yesterday of people across this country representing people across this country who care deeply about Afghans and Afghanistan. And that’s a reflection of the breadth and depth of a 20-year commitment, of which thousands of my colleagues here in the department were also a part.

That depth and breadth of commitment for such a long time is manifested in so many different ways for individuals. And we see the reflection of that, both in the continued scale of need, the outreach, the individual stories of Afghans who are still looking for support. We’re not going to be able to meet that need in the moment as quickly as all of us wish we could. But that does not mean we are not going to do everything possible to do right by as many people, to keep faith with as many Afghans to whom we have an obligation, as we can. And it’s why we are continuing to build out that capacity and ensure that we have sustainable capacity in the department to keep at this for as long as it takes.

MR PRICE: Kylie.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. I have a quick question on the funding related to competition with China. And this proposal includes two billion to support high-quality, strategic hard infrastructure projects globally, and that’s part of the portion of the budget where it speaks about outcompeting China. But obviously when you look at what China has done with its Belt and Road Initiative over the last year, reports are that it invested more than 19 billion in direct investments in countries for the Belt and Road Initiative. 19 – more than 19 billion and two billion are just numbers that are completely at odds with one another. So how do you outcompete China, particularly in this space of infrastructure investment, when the U.S. Government just isn’t putting down the funds that appear to be competitive?

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Thank you. I think it’s important to differentiate between quantity and quality. We are not looking to match China dollar for dollar, in part because any number of Chinese investments – or, quote/unquote, “investments” – don’t make a lot of commercial sense. And so if we’re trying to do this in a thoughtful way that reflects economic norms and good business practice, we need to be supporting a proper evaluation of some of this on the merits.

By the same token, what we are finding as we are looking to support infrastructure development in many different countries and markets and sectors is that in an enormous number of places, partners – whether they’re governments, whether they’re companies – prefer to work with the United States or with our Western allies and friends. And often they are willing to do so at – on the face of it, at a disadvantage, in terms of what might be an offer from the PRC.

So it’s a matter of finding what in that particular transaction, in that particular infrastructure is a need that they are looking for, where a contribution that’s from the U.S. Government or supported by the U.S. Government would make the difference to them and give them the reassurance that we’re going to be present and we’re going to be partnering with them, and therefore tip the scales in their decision calculus, if you will, towards an investment other than one made by a Chinese state-owned enterprise.

MR PRICE: Could I amplify one point there? Where John started, I think, is a critical point because we are never going to match the PRC dollar for dollar in state capital, in a state-run economy like the PRC’s. But where we can compete, and in fact outcompete, is by harnessing the power of the American private sector, of private sectors in our closest allies and partners. That is precisely the objective of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the initiative that President Biden launched with his G7 partners in 2021. You talked about $19 billion that the PRC has put forward. This is an initiative that is going to bring together hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five or so years.

So it is a whole-of-society effort. It is what we can put forward in our budget, it is what our private sector can put forward itself, and it’s what our closest partners and allies can do, again, with their private sectors as well.

QUESTION: Do you know how much of those hundreds of billon dollars have actually been committed up until this point? Because some of these projects are in countries where U.S. business might not be all that interested in the returns they might get.

MR PRICE: We can get you a list of current projects.

Yeah, Simon.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to drill down on some of the funding that is mentioned for – it’s also related to China, but for Indo-Pacific partnerships and alliances. I think it’s 2.3 billion for this – towards the Indo-Pacific Strategy. It mentions especially the Pacific Islands. How much of that 2.3 billion is for the Pacific Islands? And I wonder if you could say how much of that is new, I guess, in relation to the summit that happened last year. There was some new funding pledge, but it’s unclear exactly how much of that is sort of additional to previous funding that was there and how much specifically for the Pacific Islands.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: Let us get back to you in terms of differentiating between commitments last year and this particular funding. I can’t recall precisely how much of that was future projections last year.

But what I would say is we are envisioning this as a flexible instrument that allows us to, again, mobilize partnerships with individual allies and with constellations of countries in the region, and those partners who also have enduring interests and support for the Indo-Pacific, to maximize our ability to support those nations and work on common problems, whether that’s climate change adaptation, whether that’s energy security going forward, things like that.


QUESTION: Thanks so much. I thank you both for coming down here. I was wondering how much of your programs that are designed to help on Ukraine’s reconstruction and other impacted countries have a rule for potentially relying on seized Russian money, and if there’s any backchannel work going on in terms of how much to focus on it and also how to allocate that funding.

UNDER SECRETARY BASS: So the resources we’ve described today in general terms are coming from the U.S. budget. So anything that might involve Russian assets would be an entirely separate conversation, and I would defer to some of my colleagues who are much more conversant with those issues at this time.

MR PRICE: Excellent. We’ll take one more question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Ms. Allen, you talked about 10.5 billion for humanitarian assistance, and you mentioned also responses to more than 75 crises in 65 countries on annual basis, including the recent earthquake’s impact on Syria and Türkiye. Is there anything for Türkiye and Syria earthquake-impacted areas in the current budget, proposed budget for the next fiscal year or not?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: So the budget was put together prior to the earthquake, so we’re responding to the current situation using our existing resources, including resources in FY23. We do have always built-in contingency funding for unplanned crises, and so that is built into our FY24 ask. And so if that’s needed, we would deploy those as needed.


QUESTION: About the PREDICT program, yes? DNI is set to declassify from 18 agencies, including State, information that indicts the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but not other information which might indict other institutions, including U.S. institutions. I asked last month about USAID’s PREDICT program funding bioweapons agents discovery research through EcoHealth Alliance. You funded such bioweapon agents discovery research done by Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Meanwhile, USAID has not released unclassified information as FOIA’d by U.S. Right To Know, a transparency group, from 2020, going on three years, causing the group to start litigation against USAID.

Question: Why does USAID fund bioweapons agents discovery research? In particular, why has USAID funded bioweapons agents discovery research performed in collaboration with China, which may have caused the pandemic?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: You want to take that one?

MR PRICE: Sure. Thank you both very much, Deputy Secretary, Deputy Administrator.


MR PRICE: Thank you very much for —

QUESTION: Are you going to answer the question?

MR PRICE: — for your time.

QUESTION: Talk about the PREDICT program. How much are you funding the PREDICT program this year?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: I’m happy to get you a response on that.

MR PRICE: We can —

QUESTION: Can you say how much you’re funding a program that could have caused the pandemic?

MR PRICE: We can respond in writing on a question that specific.

QUESTION: In writing? I’m not asking about some obscure subject, Ned. I’m asking about –

MR PRICE: We – Sam, thanks.

QUESTION: — a program that you ran, that you continue to run, that could have caused the pandemic. Can you answer? Can she answer? She’s walking out of the room.

MR PRICE: Sam, our – what we fund around the world is biosafety programs. We are working around the world with partners to prevent the sort of thing that we have suffered over the course of the past two years.

Now, there is an effort underway, as we’ve talked about, to determine the origins of COVID-19. That is an effort that lives with the Intelligence Community. You heard from our Intelligence Community leaders last – yesterday the current state of those assessments. We’re going to let them speak to the assessments. The short answer is we don’t know the origins of COVID-19. There are two primary theories; our Intelligence Community continues to look into that.

But our priority around the world when it comes to our funding, and including when it comes to the program you’re referencing, is biosafety, Sam. I’ve —

QUESTION: Ned, you may well know –

MR PRICE: Sam, we need —

QUESTION: — and well have the information, but you’re refusing to disclose it. Why —

MR PRICE: Sam, I ask that you be respectful to your colleagues.

QUESTION: I asked last month, why have you refused to disclose information to U.S. Right To Know? They FOIA’d documents relevant to this issue in 2020, going on three years. They’re in litigation, and you want to hide this fact. You and the rest of the U.S. Government wants to pin this solely on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and you –

MR PRICE: Sam, I would ask that you be respectful of your colleagues.

QUESTION: I am being very respectful.

MR PRICE: You’re not, in fact.

QUESTION: I’m being respectful of all of the people and all of the suffering from the pandemic. Will you release the information?

MR PRICE: Sam, as –

QUESTION: Why are you continuing to fund a program that could have caused the pandemic?

MR PRICE: Sam, as I told you last time, you are welcome to send these types of detailed questions in writing —

QUESTION: I did that last month, and I haven’t received anything.

MR PRICE: — and we will get back to you. Let –

QUESTION: You’ll get back to me? After the Senate passes a resolution saying we’re going to put out all the information on the Wuhan Institute of Virology and none of the other information. It’s deny and delay.

MR PRICE: Sam, we need to –

QUESTION: It’s deny and delay. And meanwhile, you’re endangering the world with these programs.

MR PRICE: Let me start with one thing at the top, and then we’ll –

QUESTION: And you’re smiling.

MR PRICE: Sam, because you’re engaging in conspiracy theories. And these –

QUESTION: It’s not a conspiracy. That’s the exact same rhetoric that we got three years ago. “Oh, it couldn’t come out of a lab; it’s a conspiracy.” Bunk. Bunk.

MR PRICE: Okay, Sam. I —

QUESTION: Release the documents. Why aren’t you releasing the documents, Ned?

MR PRICE: I think your colleagues here – I think your colleagues want to hear about and ask about matters that are not conspiratorial, that are in fact –

QUESTION: This is absurd. It’s absurd after all we’ve been through, after all we’ve been through and after all of the government’s denies and delays about COVID origins, that you’re saying –


QUESTION: — that it’s a conspiracy theory when all I asked – I asked last month, “Why aren’t you releasing the documents,” and you’re not releasing the documents. And meanwhile, the DNI –

MR PRICE: We will take – as I said before, we will take a look at the specific question you asked, and we’ll get back to you. I don’t want to waste any more of your colleagues’ time.

QUESTION: “Waste.” “Waste.”

MR PRICE: I have one thing at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions. First, today marks 16 years since Robert “Bob” Levinson’s abduction from Kish Island, Iran. The past 16 years have caused unspeakable grief for Bob’s family, and Iranian authorities have yet to account for Bob’s fate. We once again call on them to do so.

Bob Levinson’s legacy endures through the Levinson Act, which bolsters our ability to bring home hostages and wrongfully detained U.S. nationals held overseas. In July of last year, President Biden signed a new executive order that builds on the Levinson Act and reinforces the tools available to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.

Iran continues to wrongfully detain citizens of other countries for use as political leverage. This practice is outrageous, and it must end.

We remain committed to securing the release of Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and Siamak Namazi from their wrongful detention in Iran. We are working tirelessly to bring them home. It is time for all three to return to their loved ones, who have suffered for far too long.

With that, Matt, would you like to kick us off?

QUESTION: Sure. I was going to ask about the PREDICT program, but – (laughter). But I think we’ve exhausted that topic, or at least as much as you’re going to –

MR PRICE: You’re probably right, yes.

QUESTION: — as much as you’re going – you’re going to ask. I actually only have one question, and I know that you’re not going to be able to answer it, so I ask it with hesitation. But I still do, and it has to do with the Israeli finance minister and whether or not the administration has any issue with him visiting the United States. I’m not – I’m specifically not asking you about a visa issue that you can’t discuss for legal reasons, but I’m asking you about whether the administration has any – has any thoughts about whether he should or shouldn’t come.

MR PRICE: Well, you’re right; we can’t discuss the specifics of individuals’ visa, anyone’s eligibility, ineligibility, or visa status. What I can say, however, is that we’ve been clear about the remarks we heard from the minister a couple weeks ago now. We have since heard very clear responses from senior Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Netanyahu, from President Herzog, from others across the Israeli Government. We very much appreciate those denunciations. We have noted too that the minister has attempted to walk back his comments.

Our position remains this is a time for de-escalation, not for rhetoric that serves only to escalate tensions. But I’m not aware that the minister has announced any particular travel plans. We wouldn’t comment on any hypothetical travel.

QUESTION: Well, no, but I’m not – that’s not what I – just, do you have a position on whether he should or shouldn’t? Not whether he is allowed to necessarily, but – no?

MR PRICE: Matt, individuals are free to make their own travel plans. We have a role in that. I can’t speak to that role when it comes to the specifics.

Yeah, Liam.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Stay on this? Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: And Liam, are you the same topic?

QUESTION: Yeah, no, no.

QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to follow up on this because the minister himself issued a statement saying that he did not realize that his call for wiping out could be given as a direct order to pilots to go ahead and bomb them. That is not an apology. Is that considered an apology in your judgement?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what the minister has since said. I did characterize our reaction to what he said initially, and you know where we stand on that. We now know where senior officials across the Israeli Government stand on that because we’ve heard them distance themselves, condemn, denounce these remarks. The minister has since made remarks. I can’t speak to his intent. But our position is clear: Now is not the time for escalatory rhetoric; now is not the time for any comments that can only serve to exacerbate tensions.

QUESTION: I promise to be brief. Now, your French counterpart today, Anne-Claire Legendre, called on the Israeli Government to provide protection to Palestinian civilians. Would that be something that as the governing authority, the occupying authority, would – is that something that the United States would consider, also calling on Israel to protect the Palestinian civilians under its authority?

MR PRICE: Our overriding objective, Said, is to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians alike live with equal levels of stability, of security, of prosperity. That is – that has been at the crux of our policy, of our approach. So this is very much what we seek to effect.

QUESTION: And lastly, the Knesset today, the Israeli parliament foreign relations committee and security committee, approved this morning in a parliamentary reading a bill that cancels the 2005 disengagement in the north of the West Bank and allows Israelis to enter the area again. The bill violates the Israeli Government’s commitment to the Bush administration and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: We remain deeply concerned, as I said before, by the sharp escalation of tensions we’ve seen over the course of many months now. Our call to refrain from any unilateral steps remains, and those steps certainly could include any decision to create a new settlement, to legalize outposts, or to allow building of any kind deep in the West Bank adjacent to Palestinian communities or on private Palestinian land.

Again, what we want to see is de-escalation. We want to see both parties take the steps that only they can take, the steps that are incumbent on them to take, to see a de-escalation of tensions and to see to it over the longer term that Israelis and Palestinians are able to work together, and work together cooperatively towards what has been the approach of successive American administrations. That is a negotiated two-state solution, Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with equal measures of security, of stability, of democracy, of dignity as well.


QUESTION: Following up on that, does that admonition extend to daytime raids such as the raids that have taken place? And more broadly speaking, the U.S. commitment to Israelis and Palestinians having equal opportunities and eventually a two-state solution – how do you see that affected by the proposed changes in the judicial system and the independence of the supreme court?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that, Andrea. First, when it comes to Israel’s right to defend itself, that is a principle that Israel of course have – has. We have seen far too many demonstrations – vivid, awful demonstrations, including of late – of the need for Israel to – oh no.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I heard there was a meeting going on in here. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I suppose a should cede the podium.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: What question were you addressing there?

QUESTION: He was doing great, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I don’t want to interrupt the flow. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I don’t think you want to take this one.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh yeah, probably not. Or any one for that matter. Thanks for letting me crash the party.

Listen, I just wanted to come by to say a couple of things today. And I don’t want to take too much time to do it, but I want to say first of all that, Ned, you have been a remarkable spokesperson. You all know this better than just about anyone: Ned was instrumental in restoring the daily briefings here at the department, something that I felt very strongly about, the President felt strongly, but Ned has really been driving. And if nothing else, I am so glad that we have restored that dialogue between us. It really matters.

You’ve had a chance under Ned’s leadership to ask tough, albeit multi-part, multi-prong, multi‑person questions, not just to him, but to me, to other senior officials in the department. By our count, during his tenure, he’s conducted more than 200 briefings and traveled to more than 50 countries with me.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve watched every single briefing from start to finish. (Laughter.) That would not be accurate. But I know that we’re all going to miss some of the more memorable moments. (Laughter.) Like the time that Ned sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA, or the time he sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA – (laughter) – or, more recently, the time that he sparred with Matt Lee about the JCPOA. And I have to tell you, this is true. This is not hyperbole. (Laughter.) The number of times I’ve got asked on foreign travel, “Do you know Ned Price? Is Ned Price here?” (Laughter.) If I had a dollar for each time, I’d be doing very, very well. And yes, I do in fact know Ned Price, and I am so much the better for it.

Over the course of my time as Secretary, I have constantly benefited from his counsel, from his deep understanding of our foreign policy, and from the integrity that he brings to this job. I could not have asked for a better traveling companion, a better advisor, a better friend over these last two years.

The really good news from my perspective, though, is that after a little bit of well-earned time off to rest and refit, Ned is going to be prepared to reattack and bring his wisdom again to the department and to me, so more about that later. And I’m also very grateful to Vedant Patel for picking up the baton now so that we continue to provide the customer service for which we are increasingly renowned.

So, Ned, my friend, thank you. Thank you for your incredibly hard work, for your service, and thanks to all of you for letting me crash today. And then back to the – back to the show. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.


MR PRICE: I will —

QUESTION: Who’s the next spokesperson?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m sorry? Oh, more to follow.

MR PRICE: More on that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: More to follow. And I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions at the Gridiron. See you there. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: If I could just say one thing with – I promise I will be answering questions, but, sir, what has really stuck with me over the past two years is what you said in your first staff meeting, and I think it was the first thing out of your mouth. I think it was January 26th of 2021, and at the senior staff – the first time we all congregated with you there – you gave us our first instruction, and that is to lean forward and to always be out there making the case about America, what we’re doing in the world, how we’re doing it, and with whom we’re doing it. And you added the corollary point that sometimes when you’re operating on your toes, you’re going to fall flat on your face.

And I know I have made very clear that that is true, and each time where I’ve gotten ahead of my skis or I’ve fallen flat on my face, you have been nothing but gracious about it. And I’ve heard nothing but support from you and this team, and it’s just an incredible, incredible group of people. And as I said to the Secretary this morning, he makes what are very difficult jobs about as easy as they can be because we have you as a model and we get to work with you day in, day out and such a tremendous team. So thank you.


MR PRICE: Thank you. Appreciate it.


SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.

MR PRICE: Thank you. Where were we?

QUESTION: Let’s go to the JCPOA. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I think Ned was answering the question about how the supreme court proposals —


QUESTION: — would affect your – the American – the U.S. goals —


QUESTION: — for equity between Israelis and Palestinians.

MR PRICE: So Andrea, this is something – speaking of Secretary Blinken – that he has had an opportunity to speak to. President Biden has spoken to this as well. As we often do, we don’t speak about specific proposals. We’re not going to weigh in on the merits of individual proposals, but as a democracy ourself, as a democracy that is witnessing what is happening in democracies around the world, including in Israel, we have perspectives on the process.

And the point we’ve consistently made in the context of Israel and other fellow democracies around the world is that the most effective way to build consensus for – the most effective way to ensure that proposals are embraced is to build consensus for them, and that is something that we have heard from Israelis as well. We know there’s an ongoing dialogue between the prime minister, between the president. This is a conversation that the people of Israel are having, as they rightly should.

But from our perspective, that process of building consensus is always going to be key to durability. In some ways, you can’t have durability without consensus, but ultimately the path forward is going to have to be one for the people of Israel to decide.

QUESTION: And that said, understandably, but is the level – the extraordinary level of U.S. support for Israel in all regards, isn’t that intricately related to their being a democracy?

MR PRICE: Well, of course it is. Of course it is, Andrea. And that is why we have the relationship we do have with Israel. We have interests, but just as importantly in some respects, we have values. And the fact that Israel has been a thriving democracy in the Middle East since its founding in 1948 has connected our two countries, has connected our two peoples. It’s precisely the reason why the U.S. president was the first to recognize Israel within eight minutes or so of its founding in 1948.

So this has always been at the crux of our relationship. It is always going to be at the crux of our relationship. There are difficult questions every democracy has to grapple with. We have been no exception to that, of course. And so as a friend to Israel, as a fellow democracy ourselves, we have offered this advice in private. We’ve also offered it in public as well about the imperative of finding, of achieving that consensus as proposals are being debated, even heartily debated.


QUESTION: I admire your capacity to – (laughter) – to switch immediately to the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict. But my question arguably will be a bit simpler. I – so the Secretary evidently spoke to the – his French counterpart today. There was a readout. Could you expand on that readout, on that conversation? Specifically, there was a mention of the Indo-Pacific, and therefore looking forward to Monday’s summit, the AUKUS group. I wonder what the Secretary told his counterpart. Any reassurances? And particularly on the issue of nonproliferation, which is – which will be key, obviously, in these submarines.

MR PRICE: So, Leon, on this question let me say that we did issue a readout. I’m not in a position to go beyond that readout, but as they often do, the Secretary and the foreign minister had an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that we care about deeply, some of the issues on which we’re engaged. The situation in Ukraine of course always features in those discussions, or has of late, I should say.

But – and this goes back to what I was saying to Andrea in a very different context – France is our oldest ally, and at the heart of that relationship is shared values. And what we enjoy with France is a global partnership, a global alliance. It is a partnership that allows us to work together in Europe, in Africa, others parts of the world, and yes, in the Indo-Pacific. And we’re able to do that because we share the same values and we share the same vision. When it comes to the Indo-Pacific, we very much share the same vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. These values of freedom and openness, they are critical to what we’re trying to support in that region, just as they’re critical to what we’re trying to preserve when it comes to Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.

I’m not in a position to go beyond that. You asked about nonproliferation standards when it comes to AUKUS. As you know, when the AUKUS agreement was announced in September of 2021, we said at the time there would be this 18-month consultation period to provide a conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine – and I emphasize conventionally armed; these submarines are nuclear-powered, but they are conventionally armed – to deliver that capability to Australia at the earliest possible date and, critically, in a way that meets the highest possible nonproliferation standards. We are committed to that. We are committed, as we know our Australian partners are, our British partners are, and we’ve been closely engaged not only with them but also with the IAEA on this question as well.


QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ned. I have a couple of questions. North Korea fired multiple ballistic missiles into the west coast yesterday. How would you comment on that?

MR PRICE: Janne, I think you saw from our colleagues at Indo-Pacific Command that we condemn the most recent ballistic missile launch. This launch, like previous launches, is in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. It poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. And we remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we call on the DPRK to take us up on the offer that we have put forward consistently in multiple venues and in multiple forms. Just as we are committed to diplomacy, we are likewise committed to the defense of our treaty allies. And our security commitments to the ROK, to Japan, those are ironclad. We’ve talked a lot in recent days about the bilateral relationship we have with both of those countries, the trilateral relationship that the three of us have, and the work we’re doing bilaterally and trilaterally on the challenge that the DPRK poses to the region and beyond.

QUESTION: Okay. The Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee recently that North Korea – Kim Jong-un would never give up their nuclear weapons programs. Will the U.S. keep its diplomatic doors open and continue to wait for dialogue with the North Korea, or will you seek for other measures?

MR PRICE: Janne, our policy approach – and I think it’s important to differentiate between intelligence and policy. Director Haines was speaking to our current intelligence assessment, our current analysis of the DPRK regime. Our policy is something separate, and our policy approach is predicated on what we would like to see happen, what would be in our interests. And it would be profoundly in the interests of the United States and countries around the world if we were to fulfill the objective that we set forth, and that is an objective for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We have made very clear that these programs pose a challenge, not only to our treaty allies but to the United States. We want to achieve this and make incremental progress towards this through dialogue and diplomacy. Now, of course, the DPRK hasn’t responded to that outreach. That offer remains, and we do hope that the DPRK changes its position, it ceases with the provocations, and demonstrates a willingness to engage in the genuine offer of diplomacy that we put forward.

QUESTION: But the North Korean ambassador in Geneva recently stated that there will be no talks for denuclearization. How are you waiting for the dialogue because —

MR PRICE: Janne, we’ve seen periods of provocation from the DPRK and we’ve seen periods of engagement with the DPRK. I think it’s very fair to say that we are in the depths of a period of provocation at the moment. We’ve seen a record number of launches, of tests, of other forms of provocative behavior. We are seeking with our partners around the world, including action in UN, action that we’ve taken, including action this month and actions that our partners and allies are taking, to make clear to the DPRK that the costs are going to continue to increase until and unless it changes its approach.

We want to see the DPRK change its approach in the direction of dialogue and diplomacy. This is what we have put forward multiple times now. We believe that through dialogue and diplomacy we can make the kinds of incremental, real, practical progress towards that overall objective of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Before my two questions, just my personal views. I wish you all the best, first of all, and I hope this is for your best and better and promotion. You deserve that.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: I don’t want to say maybe next year ambassador or so somewhere. My question is that – two questions. One, Secretary was here, of course. Recently Secretary was in India, and was he carrying any message from the President? And he had met many, many foreign ministers, and Indian foreign minister of course, the Russian foreign minister, but also embassy staff and all that, which he always does that. So was he carrying any message from the President and what – where we stand now as far as the recent visit to India is concerned?

MR PRICE: So Goyal, the Secretary did have an audience with the prime minister when they were in New Delhi for the G20. He had a chance to speak to the prime minister. I’m just not in a position to detail what was exchanged between the Secretary and the prime minister.

But our message to India and about India is consistent. India is a global strategic partner of the United States. The engagements we’ve had with our Indian partners at the ministerial level, at the leader level, at all levels has been in furtherance of deepening the already extensive ties between our two countries. These are ties that are political in nature, diplomatic, economic, security, and importantly people-to-people ties. There is a vibrant Indian diaspora in this country. There is quite a bit of interest on the part of the American private sector in India, exchange students. There are various ways in which our two societies are intertwined.

So every time we have an opportunity to meet with our Indian counterparts, it is an effort to deepen what is that already quite extensive global strategic partnership.

QUESTION: Second question is that was actually as far as budget is concerned. Recently I have been interviewing or talking to many, many American Pakistanis in the area. What they are telling me is that as far as budget is concerned or any U.S. or global help to Pakistan is concerned that goes in the pockets of the corrupt politicians or military dictators. And U.S. especially or other countries when they are sending money to Pakistan for the development of the people that may be hurricane or earthquake or any other natural or internal disasters are concerned, it never reaches to the people more than 1 percent.

And the money should go directly to the people, not to the corrupt politicians or corrupt military dictators, because they said recently – and the – Mr. Bajwa, he may have taken billions and billions of dollars after retiring as military dictator, but now he’s said to the next one now it’s your turn. So and – question is that internally situation is so bad that it may happen a civil war within Pakistan because Prime Minister – former Prime Minister Imran Khan and all those things as you know going on. So can you make sure that I can tell them now to these, my friends, Pakistani friends, that next time any help or any money goes from the U.S. into the country will go to the – directly to the people for the development that’s supposed to be?

MR PRICE: A couple things, Goyal. So first, on political questions, those are questions for the Pakistani people to decide for themselves. The United States does not take a position. We only take a position in support of Pakistan’s democracy and its constitutional system.

Our goal for Pakistan is a country that is peaceful, stable, and prosperous, and you referenced this, but Pakistan has encountered economic headwinds of late. They – the Pakistani people are facing record levels of inflation. Of course, this comes on the backs – on the back of the extensive flooding through parts of the country, and it has only put a spotlight on our need to continue to work together to help the Pakistani people on a – put them – to help put themselves on a sustainable economic path and a durable path to the prosperity that we seek for the Pakistani people.

There are – there’s a reform agenda that the Pakistani Government is in the midst of. We encourage Pakistan to continue working with the IMF, especially on reforms that will improve Pakistan’s business environment, and we know that doing so will ultimately make Pakistani businesses more attractive and competitive around the world. This is a country with tremendous potential, and we have partnered with Pakistan. We want to make sure that the resources that Pakistan has itself, the resources that the United States is contributing, that other countries are contributing, and the resources that have and will continue to come from international financial institutions – they’re managed responsibly as part of responsible and responsive governance.

Let me move on just to – go ahead, Kylie.

QUESTION: Question on Siamak Namazi, who’s been wrongfully detained in Iran since 2015. He gave an interview today to Christiane Amanpour from Evin Prison, and he said a lot, but a few of the things he said is that he’s deeply worried that the White House doesn’t understand how dire his situation is. Obviously he’s been left behind multiple times when other prisoner swaps have happened. He called it “deeply upsetting” that Biden hasn’t met with his family.

I know there’s not much you can say about White House meetings for families of Americans wrongfully detained, but what is your response to the fact that he took this risk and went on CNN, gave this interview to make this plea so publicly from Evin Prison?

MR PRICE: Kylie, I think our response is less about the brave decision from Mr. Namazi and more about the cruel practice that we have seen from the Iranian regime to arrest, detain, and to hold wrongfully for, in many cases, years on end, as is the case with Siamak Namazi, for political leverage. This is a cruel practice. It is a practice that uses humans, human beings as political pawns. It is a practice that Iran has engaged in over the long term.

We have made very clear to the regime since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to seeing the prompt release of those Americans who are detained wrongfully. We are always going to stand up for the rights of our citizens who are wrongfully detained, and that of course includes Siamak Namazi. Senior officials from this building as well as from the White House meet and consult regularly with the Namazi family and will continue to do so until this wrongful and unacceptable detention comes to an end.

We are committed not only to this case but to continuing to work to free all of those Americans around the world who are wrongfully detained. In some cases, we have – the world has seen the fruits of those efforts and Americans have come home from Afghanistan, Burma, Haiti, Russia, Venezuela, west Africa, and other locations where they have been held. Our fervent hope is that Siamak and the other two Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran will soon be among that list.

QUESTION: And do you believe that Siamak and those other two Americans are any closer to being released today than they were when the Biden administration came in more than two years ago now?

MR PRICE: I don’t think it’s helpful for us to characterize the status of our efforts to see these Americans freed, nor am I in a position to characterize what the last administration may or may not have done. But what I can tell you is that we made very clear in an unambiguous way to the Iranian regime within days of this administration the priority we attach to seeing the release of these three individuals. It is a wrongful practice. It is a practice that should be ended everywhere and anywhere. And the Iranians know that we are going to do everything we possibly can to bring back these Americans who they have kept from their loved ones for far too long.


QUESTION: Can I follow up? Thanks. In your topper, you talked about this. From your tone I got the sense that you sounded a little more optimistic than previous times. I know you’re not going to answer directly to this, but what can you say?

MR PRICE: There’s really not much I can say. Our overriding objective is to bring these Americans home, to bring home every American who’s wrongfully detained anywhere around the world. If we start to suggest where we are in negotiations, or where we aren’t for that matter, it certainly doesn’t help our efforts to fulfill that overriding objective.

We are working on it. We are working on it relentlessly. But that’s as far as we can say.

QUESTION: Could the Iranian New Year be a target date?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Could the Iranian New Year, 10, 12 days away, be a target date for the —

MR PRICE: The target date we have is today. It is tomorrow. That has been the case for the entirety of this administration. We want to see this practice of wrongful detention put to an end as soon as we can.

QUESTION: Ned, on this?


QUESTION: How do you view the Iranian authorities allowing Siamak Namazi showing up on CNN from the prison?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to weigh in on their thinking. I think we all may have theories about why they did this. The fact is that they are holding Siamak, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi for political leverage. They may think that they can exact additional leverage from these types of practices. Our message to them is that we want to see these Americans returned home, and this is a practice that with partners around the world we are working to eradicate around the world and to hold accountable those regimes who engage in it. There should not be this practice of holding human beings as political pawns in the 21st century.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple of questions. Let me start with Georgia. I was wondering if you have anything to add to the U.S. embassy’s statement on the latest developments? And what’s your level of optimism – I can actually say cautious optimism – after all these developments? Can the Georgian Dream government be trusted? And also, how much have these latest developments damaged your relationship with Georgia?

MR PRICE: So, Alex – and I think you saw a statement that came from our embassy in Tbilisi as well, but it’s very clear that the Georgian people have once again spoken clearly that the only choice for Georgia is a secure and prosperous European future. We – while we welcome the decision to withdraw the draft law on, quote/unquote, “foreign influence,” we urge the ruling party to officially retract this bill and not to further this type of legislation, precisely because it’s incompatible with Georgian and Euro-Atlantic values and the protection of fundamental freedoms. We encourage Georgia’s political leaders to work together in earnest on the reforms urgently needed to obtain the EU candidate status that Georgia’s citizens overwhelmingly desire.

But the point of all this, Alex, is that over the course not only of the past couple weeks but over several decades now, the Georgian people have made very clear with their voices, with their expression that they seek a Georgia that is democratic, that is prosperous, and that is integrated into the Euro-Atlantic region. They did that again, and the United States will continue to be a partner to those aspirations.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to Ukraine, do you have anything on the last wave of Russian missile strikes? Is it your impression that Russia has become emboldened even more than last week, previous weeks?

MR PRICE: Alex, it’s difficult to speak to just how emboldened the Russians are when you have a starting point of this brutal aggression that is now well – we’re now well into the second year that sought to topple the government, subjugate the Ukrainian people, and erase Ukraine from the map. That was a bold ambition to start with.

It is also the fact that these types of strikes – Russia has tried to make them the new normal. It has only been a few weeks since we’ve seen strikes across the country on this scale. The fact that this has become, because of President Putin’s actions and decisions, what they would like us to view as the new normal speaks to that level of brazenness and the level of brutality that they are willing to perpetrate against the Ukrainian people.

So our charge is to work with the allies and partners around the world to make clear that this can’t be normal. We cannot become numb to this. Russia’s efforts to wipe out power-generating facilities, food and agricultural storage sites and agricultural infrastructure – it is part and parcel of an effort to hold the people of Ukraine hostage to President Putin’s objectives and to his will. The people of Ukraine, on the other hand, have demonstrated very clearly that they won’t be subdued, they won’t be held hostage, and they are going to continue to defend themselves with the support of the United States and our partners and allies around the world.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. And my final question, on a different region: Armenia-Azerbaijan. The U.S. intelligence yesterday announced that it predicts tension in their relationship in the absence of a peace treaty. I’m just wondering, moving forward, how much urgency does it add on in terms of the – your efforts to bring about peace to the region?

MR PRICE: There’s always been urgency with this, Alex, and there’s been urgency because this is a delicate situation. It’s a situation that is far too prone to violence, as we’ve seen in recent days in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and it is a longstanding conflict that the United States would like to do everything we can to support its resolution. We’re going to continue to do that by working bilaterally with these countries, trilaterally with Armenia and Azerbaijan, supporting their own efforts at dialogue and diplomacy, but also through all appropriate mechanisms to help these countries themselves conduct the diplomacy and reach the agreements that we hope that they will be able to make.

Yes, Jahanzaib.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. It is about U.S. intelligence report released recently in which United States expressed concern about the peace and security of South Asia mainly because of Pakistan-India tensions. Pakistan offered a hand – like offered to have peace talks with India many times, but Indian Government tried to avoid that. So when you engage with Indian authorities, what reason they say – why they don’t want to talk to Pakistan on the pending issues?

MR PRICE: I will speak to the message we sent to both India and Pakistan. We support constructive dialogue. We support diplomacy between India and Pakistan to resolve, again, another set of longstanding disputes. We are a partner. We are willing to support that process in any way that they deem appropriate, but ultimately these are decisions that India and Pakistan themselves are going to have to make.

QUESTION: So many analysts believe that United States has the power and authority to mediate between the two partners; Pakistan and India is partners of yours. So why don’t you just mediate?

MR PRICE: Because these are decisions for the countries themselves. If they agree on a particular role for the United States, the United States is prepared to, as a partner to both countries, support that process in any way that we responsibly can. But ultimately, it is not for the United States to determine the modalities or the way in which India and Pakistan engage one another. What we support is constructive dialogue, meaningful diplomacy between India and Pakistan in the first instance to resolve longstanding conflicts.

QUESTION: This is the last question. I hope you’re aware about the police baton charge in the women – at the Women’s March. I know you try to avoid commenting on the domestic issues, but this is like brutal attack on the women during the Women March on the International Women’s Day.

MR PRICE: We’ve seen those reports, and unfortunately, we’ve seen reports of violence and repression against marches on International Women’s Day around the world. We condemn reports of police violence against peaceful protestors who took to the streets to defend their human rights and fundamental freedoms across the globe on International Women’s Day. It is to us reprehensible that some countries on International Women’s Day, a day for the international community to come together to celebrate the leadership and contributions and accomplishments of women and girls was marred in far too many places by violence and repression against the very persons we came together to honor.

Women and girls deserve the ability to exercise their freedom of expression, their right to peaceful assembly, and association without fear or retribution. We know from experience that governments that treat women and girls equally – that fail to treat women and girls equally and that don’t respect their fundamental human rights are societies that are not in a position to reach their full potential.


QUESTION: Ned, today the Israeli defense minister during a press conference with Secretary Austin said, “Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons requires Israel to be ready for any action and important decisions lie ahead,” he said. He signaled as if some military contingencies are not too far now. Does the administration share this sense of urgency with the Israeli administration regarding Iran?

MR PRICE: We share the assessment that Iran’s nuclear program is an urgent challenge. We have a solemn commitment that Israel – excuse me – that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon. We are determined to make good on that commitment. We believe the most effective means by which to fulfill that commitment is through diplomacy. Only through diplomacy can we achieve a permanent and verifiable solution to the challenges that are posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Diplomacy is always going to be our first resort, but if we aren’t met with a willing partner on the other end, it won’t be our last resort. So we’re always engaged in consultations with allies and partners around the world about this challenge because it is a challenge that has implications for our friends around the world.

QUESTION: You appear to share the sense of urgency, but you don’t appear to share the same method that should be addressed. You are saying diplomacy; Israelis are signaling or somehow implying military action. Do you think that you are on different pages with Israeli administration?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to my Israeli counterparts to speak for their own approach. We have discussed our approach with them at the highest levels. It was a discussion between Secretary Blinken and the prime minister and other Israeli counterparts when we were in Israel earlier this year. Our Israeli partners know, because we are transparent with them, the fact that we believe that only diplomacy can achieve a solution that is durable and that will provide a permanent resolution to the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program.


QUESTION: Also, a separate – a separate topic. I’m sorry. So Saudi Arabia – we have seen a report that Saudi Arabia is asking the United States to provide security guarantees and help to their civilian nuclear programs as Washington tries to broker diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Do you have anything on that? Can you just —

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to offer on that specific report. Of course, it’s well known that we are a full and eager proponent of normalization between Israel and its Muslim-majority and Arab neighbors, both near and far. We have had conversations with countries almost literally around the world on this front, and we’re going to continue to support Israel’s efforts, our collective efforts to expand the set of bridges that Israel has been in a position to build with its Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors and also other countries. But I don’t have anything to offer on that specific report.


QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, Ned.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Saudi foreign minister visit to Moscow and the commitment to increase commerce between the two countries?

MR PRICE: I’d refer you to the Saudis for comment on the foreign minister’s visit. I would just add that the visit does follow a very recent visit of this foreign minister to Kyiv, where he announced that Saudi Arabia will deliver $400 million in critical humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, including $300 million in energy products. That was the first visit of a senior Arab official to Ukraine since the war began. We’ve also seen our Saudi partners vote repeatedly, including as recently as February 24th – just last month – in the UN General Assembly to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the principles of the UN Charter.


QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to quickly ask on Poland. Do you have any comment about the Polish foreign ministry calling in the U.S. ambassador over this documentary critical of the late Pope John Paul II aired on a local broadcaster which is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery?

MR PRICE: I don’t beyond noting that the ambassador was at the foreign ministry for discussions. I’m not in a position to detail those discussions.

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on Afghanistan?


QUESTION: Okay. The Washington Free Beacon claimed that the Taliban are in possession of $7.2 billion worth of American arms that were left behind, including airplanes, ground-to-air missiles, and so on that pose a threat to U.S. interests. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I’m not familiar with that report, and that’s an issue that our colleagues at the Department of Defense would be in a better position to respond to. What I can say is that since August of last year, we have found that previous estimates – and I can’t speak to this one, because I’m not familiar with it – of material that may be in the Taliban’s possession that was left behind after the evacuation – those estimates were inflated by a large degree, but I can’t speak to this.


QUESTION: Thanks. Josh Keating at Grid. I was wondering, can you clarify at all the U.S. position on whether crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court given that Russia is not a state party to the court? And do you anticipate that the U.S. will provide evidence or any other assistance to the court in investigating such crimes given that the U.S. is also not a member of the court?

MR PRICE: So first, a couple things. Over the past two years, the United States has worked hard to improve and to in fact reset our relationship with the International Criminal Court through, in the first instance, the lifting of sanctions that we think should never have been imposed in the first place, a return to engagement with the court and the Assembly of States Parties, and identifying specific areas where we can support ICC investigations and prosecutions, including steps to support the court’s work in Darfur and assistance in locating and apprehending fugitives from international justice, including the LRA leader Joseph Kony. We also offer rewards for information leading to the arrest, transfer, or conviction of foreign nationals accused of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide before the ICC.

But what we don’t discuss is the specific forms of support that we may or may not be providing to the ICC. We don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize the sanctity of an investigation, that could set back the pursuit of justice.


QUESTION: And your position now on the jurisdiction question over whether the court would have jurisdiction over Russian crimes in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: We support the investigation that the prosecutor has announced. Ukraine is a state party to the ICC.


QUESTION: North Korea-related question. Since March 13th, U.S.-South Korea military exercise will start. Do you think yesterday missile launch is something related with that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, could you repeat that?

QUESTION: So since March 13th, U.S.-South Korea military exercise will start. Do you think yesterday’s missile launch is something related with those things?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t say the motivation behind the DPRK’s launch. If they are under the mistaken impression that the defensive exercises that we are conducting with our partners, the ROK and Japan, are intended to pose a threat to the DPRK, they’re mistaken. We are exercising only because the DPRK has engaged in provocations and has put us in a position to ensure that we’re capable of making good on the ironclad defensive security commitments that we have to our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan.

We’ve stressed time and again that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK; we’re ready and able to engage in dialogue and diplomacy to bring about what is our overarching policy goal. But the DPRK has met those offers with only additional provocations.

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) is reporting is that those two dead American citizens who were kidnapped in Mexico are still in the morgue in Mexico. I was wondering if you could tell me if that’s the case, and if so, why it’s taking so long to get them repatriated.

MR PRICE: So our consular staff in Mexico are assisting in line with the wishes that the families have put forward with making arrangements to transport the deceased and their personal effects back to the United States. I think it’s fair to say that we are in the final stages of doing just that. We’ll continue to work around the clock until their remains are repatriated back to the United States. Of course, all throughout this we have offered our most sincere condolences to the families, the loved ones of the victims as we keep in mind the Americans who were released from captivity.

We are working on this as diligently as we can, but I can say as a general matter that there are oftentimes processes that need to be completed. Some countries require, for example, that an autopsy be conducted before the remains are repatriated. But as we do in all cases – in all similar cases – we are working around the clock to effect that repatriation.

QUESTION: And just a follow-up, if I can. A Mexican cartel appears to have taken credit or blame – however you want to put it – for these kidnappings and the murders. Can you say that – will the administration rethink its position on designating a cartel or more cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations?

MR PRICE: So as for the claim, I’ve seen that claim. This would be a claim that our law enforcement colleagues and our Mexican counterparts would need to speak to. We’re just not going to speak to the investigation or its status. We’re going to use every tool that is appropriate and that’s available to us to pursue these transnational criminal organizations, these drug trafficking organizations, to the fullest extent. They not only breed the insecurity that is pervasive in parts of Mexico that we’ve spoken to in our Travel Advisories, but they also of course have an impact on Americans in the United States across the border.

So it is a focus of ours. We have designated them and pursued them vigorously with the authorities that are available to us. But we’re going to continue with our Mexican partners to look at all the tools that may be available to make sure that we’re tackling this challenge as effectively as we can.

Yeah, final question.

QUESTION: About Syria. An estimated 8.8 million individuals have been affected by the earthquake, as you know, there. And 10,000, more than 10,000 buildings have been partially destroyed. About 55,000 households as displaced — leave them as displaced, either within or between assessed communities. Northeast Syria is different than Türkiye; Türkiye has a government and they are helping those people who have been affected by the earthquake. Do you have any plan to help those people who are looking for a hand to bring them out from this dire situation?

MR PRICE: So first, when it comes to the earthquake, we are committed to our Turkish allies. We are committed to the people of Syria. Nationality, of course, means nothing when you are suffering the implications of a natural disaster like this. And our commitment of resources, our commitment of focus, that is for both the Türkiye – the people of Türkiye and the people of Syria.

In these early weeks, we have put – when it comes to Syria – an emphasis on seeing to it that humanitarian aid is flowing from Türkiye into Syria so that when it comes to our contribution of $185 million, we can ensure or do everything we can to facilitate the passage and transfer of that assistance across the border into Syria. The rest of the world is stepping up as well, and we want to see the – we want to see the border crossings that have now been opened continue to operate, to have trucks and convoys continue to be able to transit from Türkiye into Syria so that people across Syria can receive this much-needed assistance.

Of course, our commitment to the people of Syria is longstanding. Over the course of the past 12 years, over the course of the Syrian civil war, we’ve contributed some $15 billion to the humanitarian response that’s been necessitated by what the Syrian regime unfortunately has perpetrated on the people of Syria. Far too many Syrians have been forced to flee from their homes and from their home country. Many of them have found and started new lives in Europe. Many of them have come to the United States, and we are prepared, as a country that has always not only welcomed but benefited from the integration of refugees into the fabric of American society, to continue to welcome those from around the world, including from Syria, who go through the appropriate procedures and arrive in the United States as refugees.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – March 8, 2023

2:51 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for bearing with us. We wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to see the Secretary and the First Lady’s remarks for the International Women of Courage Awards.

That brings us to our first announcement today. In recognition of International Women’s Day, the U.S. Department of State is proud to once again celebrate the immense courage, strength, and leadership of women through the annual International Women of Courage Awards. Just a few minutes ago, Secretary Blinken continued our long-standing tradition of honoring an extraordinary group of women leaders at the 17th Annual IWOC Award Ceremony.

In celebration of the return to our first in-person ceremony since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony took place at the White House. Secretary Blinken was joined by First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Under Secretary Zeya, Senior Official in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues Kat Fotovat, and other high‑level U.S. Government officials in applauding these incredible women.

From defending the rights of LGBTQI+ persons in Argentina, to advocating for equal access to justice in Jordan, to fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities in Malaysia, and beyond, the 2023 International Women of Courage have set an example that we should all strive to follow. Their strength is endless, their courage is unyielding, and their leadership inspires us all. In a few days, the awardees will embark on an International Leader – International Visitor Leadership Program exchange to meet and engage with American counterparts in civil society, academia, government, and the private sector in cities across the United States.

This year, in honor of Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s legacy and her championship of women’s rights, we are proud to announce a new, annual Madeleine Albright Honorary Group International Women of Courage Award. Given her longstanding support for women’s empowerment and leadership, we can’t think of someone who exemplifies the goals and values of the IWOC Award better than Former Secretary Albright.

This honorary group award provides us the opportunity to recognize the courage and leadership of women who would not normally be able to be feasibly or safely recognized with an individual IWOC Award. We’re proud to recognize the women and girl protestors of Iran with the inaugural Madeleine Albright Group Honorary Award this year.

We know that countries that empower women and girls to be safe and meaningful participants in social, political, and economic life are more just, they’re more peaceful and prosperous. It is a great privilege for the United States to recognize our IWOC awardees for their efforts to advance human rights and highlight the contributions of all women working for a better future. We remain deeply committed to advancing gender equity and equality at home and around the world as a central foreign policy and national security priority.

For more information and updates on the 2023 International Women of Courage, we encourage you to follow the hashtags #WomenOfCourage and #IWOC2023 on social media.

Next and finally, the Black Sea Grain Initiative is a vital tool to combat global food insecurity and stabilize food prices. The United States strongly supports the efforts of Secretary General Guterres, in partnership with Türkiye, to bring Ukrainian and Russian grain to world markets. We echo the secretary general’s call from Kyiv today for the initiative to be extended and expanded before March 18th, and we agree that the initiative should enable the greatest possible use of Black Sea export infrastructure.

Since August of last year, more than 23 million metric tons of grains and oilseeds have shipped through the humanitarian corridor created by this initiative. This includes over 4 million metric tons of wheat that have gone directly to developing countries, the equivalent of about 8 billion loaves of bread. The initiative facilitated 16 ships from the World Food Program with grain destined for places in the world facing the most dire food security crises, like Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Before the Black Sea Grain Initiative, when Russia was blocking Ukraine’s food exports, prices of wheat and fertilizer spiked nearly 30 percent – a price shock that disproportionately affected vulnerable people worldwide. The Black Sea Grain Initiative has been successful in keeping the prices down, the grain flowing, and millions of food-insecure people in the developing world have been saved from acute food insecurity.

The bottom line is that the world needs Ukrainian grain – and we are all better off when Ukrainian grain gets to world markets.

With that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Sorry, I missed the very top so I don’t know if you were talking about then. Was it your departure?

MR PRICE: No, we were talking about the International Women of Courage —


MR PRICE: — Awards. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Something far more important than —

MR PRICE: Far more important, yes.

QUESTION: — personnel matters.

MR PRICE: Of course.

QUESTION: Well, anyways, on the subject of personnel matters, let me just say – and I’ll let Shaun speak for the association, but just on a personal note, I wanted to say thank you for your time up here. We’ll – I’ll have more to say. There’ll be a proper – I’m sure – time for a proper sendoff/roast with perhaps a couple of surprises on the occasion of your final briefing from the podium, but anyway.

MR PRICE: You’re not – you’re making me nervous hearing about this.


MR PRICE: But I appreciate the sentiment. Thank you.

QUESTION: Anyway, let’s start for right now with – I’m very curious about this flurry of reports both here and in Germany over the Nord Stream 2 sabotage, and these what appear to be more than just suggestions and fanciful speculation that Ukraine or pro-Ukrainian groups, Ukrainian partisans were responsible. And I’m just wondering what you make of all this, particularly in light of a report – one specific report – that I think remains unmatched by anyone – that the U.S. was actually responsible for this.

MR PRICE: So Matt, I’m glad you posed the question, because I want to be very clear about this. First, importantly, we’re not in a position to confirm the report you’re alluding to. The anonymous claim —

QUESTION: Which – which —

MR PRICE: I’m referring to the report that came out yesterday.

QUESTION: Oh. The reports that came out – but it’s more than one. I mean, there’s like four in Germany and at least two in the U.S. —


QUESTION: — saying it was – all signs lead – suggest that Ukraine or Ukrainian partisans were behind it.

MR PRICE: So as to all of those reports, I’m not in a position to confirm them. I want to be very clear about that. The anonymous claim in the first report, as I understand the chronology of this, to be clear, is not downgraded intelligence shared by the U.S. Government and the sources quoted in that piece were not authorized to speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.

Our point on this has been consistent. There is an active, ongoing investigation on the part of the three of our European partners – the Germans, the Swedes, the Danes – and that is ongoing. As we always do when there’s a matter that’s a subject of an ongoing investigation, we will let those investigations play out before we’ll offer any comment.

QUESTION: On this point – on this point, if may —


QUESTION: — but of course, first, I also want to give a shoutout to you being there day after day, always being professional and courteous.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: So thank you, and best of luck in your coming endeavors.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: On this point – but you certainly have suspects. I mean, you suspect someone is behind this sabotage, correct? I mean, do you suspect the Russians, for instance? Could the Russians have done something to their own pipeline or their own oil to destroy it?

MR PRICE: Said, it’s not productive or constructive for me to engage in speculation, certainly not from the podium, and certainly not when there are ongoing investigations. And these are not just any investigations; these are ongoing investigations by competent, capable authorities in three of our close European partners – the Germans, the Danes, the Swedes. So we will defer to them, obviously, on the course of those investigations. They will be the one to report on the findings that they come up with in the course of these investigations, but we’re just not going to get ahead of what they may uncover.

QUESTION: So you dismiss the – what was written in The New York Times on this group?

MR PRICE: I’m not dismissing anything. I’m not ruling anything in. I’m not ruling anything out. I’m just saying we’re not confirming, we’re not commenting on the specifics in any of the reports that have emanated over recent days, and we’re not doing that for a very simple reason: there are ongoing investigations. Whether it’s an investigation into an undersea blast like this, or an investigation into any other criminal or terrorist activity, we – our typical posture is to let the investigation play out, and that’s what we’re doing here.

QUESTION: Well, except – the problem with that is that you were very quick to say that the report – the earlier report from last month that said that President Biden had ordered this –

MR PRICE: When – when – when —

QUESTION: You were very quick to say “No, absolutely not, that’s preposterous, that’s ridiculous,” instead of saying “Well, let’s let the investigation play out.”

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Yeah.

QUESTION: So what are we to think, then, when a report —

MR PRICE: You are to think that the reports that the United States Government had anything to do with the undersea blast against the Nord Stream pipelines is ridiculous. We can discount that out of hand.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then why can’t – well, but you can’t say the same about the reports that it was a Ukraine or Ukrainian partisans were behind it, right?

MR PRICE: Because Matt, we can speak to our actions. When it comes —

QUESTION: Or non-actions.

MR PRICE: Or actions that we did not take, in this case. Yes, thank you. When it comes to who may have been responsible for what did, in fact, happen to these undersea pipelines, we’re going to have to defer to the investigations.


QUESTION: Is it okay if switch to Mexico?

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: The Americans that were kidnapped by gunmen in Mexico – have the bodies of the two who died been repatriated?

MR PRICE: So Daphne, we’re continuing to work very closely with our Mexican counterparts on this. We’ve asked Mexican officials to fulfill the families’ wishes for the remains to be repatriated as expeditiously as possible. As of earlier today, that process was still underway. We know that our Mexican partners are working just as quickly as they can to finalize that process.

Again, we express our deepest condolences to the families, to the loved ones of the two Americans who were killed in this violence. Our embassy in Mexico City, our consulate in Matamoros, have been working to support the families, to support their wishes, and working hand-in-glove with Mexican authorities and our U.S. Government counterparts as well.

QUESTION: And do you know if any of the four Americans had any previous trips or dealings with Mexico?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t say, and that’s not the sort of thing we typically would say from the podium. We want to respect the privacy of the Americans who were brought to safety and are now back in the United States. Of course, they are free to speak as much or as little as they would like. It’s not our place to do so. But it is our place to remind all Americans of the travel advisories that are on our website and that we have pointed to a number of times when it comes to this incident and when it comes to the threat risk more broadly. This is an area that we categorize as a Level 4. We have a Level 4 Travel Advisory, meaning that Americans should not travel to this particular Mexican state, because it is dangerous. We have seen incidents of criminality, of violence, and we certainly don’t want to see Americans unnecessarily in harm’s way.

QUESTION: And have you gotten any additional information since yesterday on why you believe they were kidnapped and what happened?

MR PRICE: There’s an active – and this goes back to the first topic we were discussing – there is an active investigation. Our Mexican counterparts are investigating. The FBI, of course, is involved because of the deaths and abduction of American citizens. So we’re going to let that investigation play out.

We won’t be in a position to provide investigative updates, because we want to see accountability rendered in this case. It is important to us that justice is done for the deaths of these two Americans, for the abduction of these four Americans, and we don’t want to do – do or say anything that could stand in the way of that accountability.


QUESTION: Thanks. First of all, I mean, not to have too many (inaudible) on this, but just one word of appreciation particularly for restoring the daily briefings. We’re here today because they’ve been restored, and it’s important.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Shaun.

QUESTION: On behalf of the Association, it’s important that you’ve done that.

MR PRICE: Appreciate that.

QUESTION: Could I go to Taiwan?


QUESTION: I know you were asked about this yesterday, but Speaker McCarthy has said publicly that he’s planning to meet President Tsai in California. I know congressional decisions are for Congress or for the Speaker himself, but do you have any stance on whether this is a good idea, and particularly whether it’s okay for President Tsai to come to the United States?

MR PRICE: This is a decision – when it comes to Speaker McCarthy’s travel – that the Speaker himself will make, a decision that only the Speaker and his office can make. So of course we refer you to the Speaker’s office for further information about his potential travel. I understand that his office has commented. He has confirmed this meeting, but we would refer you to him and to his office for the details.

What I will say – and this gets to your question – that transits of the United States by high-level Taiwan officials are consistent with longstanding U.S. policy and with our unofficial and strong relations with Taiwan. President Tsai herself has transited the United States six times in the last seven years. There has been absolutely no change to the U.S. “one China” policy. We remain committed to our longstanding “one China” policy, which has not changed. It is and has always been guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: I noticed you used the word “transit” rather than visit. I know consistent – that’s in the past been the case, but actually having a meeting in California, that’s consistent with the “transit” by the Taiwanese president?

MR PRICE: Well, again, I would have to refer you to the Speaker for any additional details on what his plans may be. But the presence of the United – in the United States of high-ranking Taiwanese officials, that is nothing new. It is not something that would break any new ground. It is entirely consistent with the status quo, the status quo that’s been dictated by our “one China” policy.

QUESTION: Well, but I noticed that you dropped the standard line. Maybe this has been dropped before and I just missed it. But why is it that these transits are okay for the – do I have to spell it out for you? Safety, comfort, and convenience, right? Is that no longer in the talking points?

MR PRICE: That is. That —

QUESTION: Okay. And so exactly how is spending, like, three days in L.A. – I mean, it may be comfortable and it may be convenient, kind of like spending two weeks in Palm Springs on U.S. Government dime preparing for APEC. But why are you not repeating them now? Or is it just that you’ve decided not —

MR PRICE: There’s no reason. There has been no change in our policy on this. The transit of high-level Taiwan officials is consistent. It’s been done before. It is a practice.

QUESTION: No one’s saying it hasn’t been done before.

MR PRICE: Right.

QUESTION: But, I mean, can you honestly say that having her – that allowing her to transit through L.A. and spend several days there is in keeping with the safety, comfort, and convenience line in the policy?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to President Tsai’s travel plans. I can’t speak specifically to Speaker McCarthy’s travel plans. But what I can say is that this sort of transit is entirely consistent with our “one China” policy and the unofficial and strong relations we have with Taiwan.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if I was flying from the U.S. to China and decided to stop in L.A. for three days, I don’t think the airline would say that that’s transit, right? So, I don’t know. I think something’s got to change. If you’re no longer using that, then those three words for the – as the buzzwords for why Taiwanese officials are allowed to visit the U.S., then I’d just like to know why and when they were dropped.

MR PRICE: Matt, this – the core point here, despite those three words, is that – is the status quo. This is consistent with the status quo. It’s consistent with our “one China” policy. There hasn’t been any change in the way in which we apply our “one China” policy, the types of things that we’re discussing – and again, we’d have to refer you to the Speaker and to President Tsai for their particular plans. But they are entirely consistent with the unofficial and the strong relationship we have with Taiwan.

QUESTION: But there are no plans – last one. There are no plans for any State Department officials to see her?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any such plans.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more on Taiwan?


QUESTION: The Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, he said recently that the U.S. statements – I’m paraphrasing, but that the U.S. warnings against Russia – against China militarily supplying Russia, that there’s a hypocrisy issue and that the U.S. is supplying weapons to Taiwan. Does – do you have any response to that?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to get into a tit for tat with the Chinese foreign minister. But what I will say is that comments like that seem to overlook precisely the state of play. What the United States is doing, along with dozens of countries around the world, is supporting the rules-based order, supporting the order that is enshrined in the UN Charter and international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principles at play that a big country can’t bully a small country, a larger country can’t attempt to redraw borders by force, that might doesn’t make right. These are the same principles that in this case the PRC has signed on to as a member state of the UN and as a country that purports to believe in these very documents and principles – the UN Charter, the precepts of international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What we are doing similarly in Taiwan – with Taiwan – is attempting to strengthen and to protect and preserve the status quo. This is all about the preservation of the status quo, because the status quo has, over the course of decades now, really been at the crux of peace and security across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region. This is the same rules-based order that has been at the core of peace and security, whether it’s in Europe, whether it’s in the Indo-Pacific.

So for the – for anyone to suggest that what we are doing is inconsistent is overlooking, I think, the core concepts that are at play. Everything that we’re doing in the course of Ukraine, everything that we’re doing in support of Taiwan is consistent with the rules-based order. It is an effort to undermine the status quo which in Europe and the Indo-Pacific is responsible, has been responsible for the peace and security that has prevailed for much of the past seven decades.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Well, first let me echo the sentiment in the room.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: Everything that could be said has already been said. I just can only add that our loss in this briefing room will be great gain of those on the eighth or seventh floor.

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) Thank you.

QUESTION: If you want to preview how you’re going to advise the Secretary on South Caucasus and Russia-Ukraine, you’re welcome to talk about that as well.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: Moving to Georgia, if you don’t mind. I was wondering if the events of past 24 hours have changed your view on how to respond to the events.

MR PRICE: Well, Alex, just as we were yesterday, we’re continuing to closely monitor the ongoing protests and the developments on the ground. We urge the Government of Georgia to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any escalatory or violent actions while respecting the rule of law and Georgia’s democratic values. We are, as we’ve said consistently in recent days, deeply troubled by the recently introduced draft foreign agent laws, which – if actually made law – would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better future within their own communities.

Parliament’s advancing of these Kremlin-inspired draft laws is incompatible with the people of Georgia’s clear desire for European integration and its democratic development. Pursuing these laws, we believe, will damage Georgia’s relations with its strategic partners and jeopardizes Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future. These are at the heart of the aspirations of the Georgian people, the project that the Georgian people have pursued over the course of decades now since Georgia’s independence. The United States has been a strategic partner to Georgia; Georgia has aspirations for fuller integration with Europe and the EU. All of those things are in play in the context of the debate that we see raging now in Tbilisi.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you for that. Let me unpack that a little bit. What we see is the Georgian Dream government on one hand has already made its choice. It’s bidding the – Russian bidding. And there is Georgian people out there, they are standing strong, as you articulated yesterday as well, that they are expressing their desire to stick with European pathway. Who are you standing with at this point?

MR PRICE: Again, we are standing with the people of Georgia and the aspirations that they have. It would be our hope that the Government of Georgia, as is our hope around the world – that governments reflect the aspirations of their own people. When it comes to what we’re seeing now, of course we always stand with the right of citizens around the world to exercise their universal rights. It is a universal right to freedom of assembly. It is a universal right to peaceful protest. It is a universal right to freedom of expression. We always stand with those who are peacefully exercising their universal rights.

Now, when it comes to this – these draft laws, this is ultimately a question for the Georgian Government. We have made our views on this very clear. We’ve made those views very clear as a partner to Georgia over the course of decades now, a partner that has helped usher Georgia from its immediate post-independent phase to its consolidation of its democracy, the development of its economy, its aspirations for greater integration in the Euro-Atlantic region. We want to be in a position to continue to do that.

Now, obviously there are a number of countries and entities around the world who share these concerns. We’ve heard from the EU. We’ve heard from the UN. But the voices that we are listening to most closely are those voices on the ground in Georgia. And we have heard strong protests and concern expressed on the part of Georgian civil society, of civil society groups, of independent actors who are in our view legitimately concerned that the passage and the ratification of these laws would hamper and hinder their ability to exercise the very universal rights that are at play in these protests.

QUESTION: That’s a strong reaction. Now, their argument on the ground is that it’s time – if not now, then when is the time to translate that reaction into action? You mentioned that lawmakers who will now vote for that will be responsible. Isn’t it better to hold them accountable beforehand, before they move to a second read, third reading, instead of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen next?

MR PRICE: Alex, this is a logic that really applies across the board. We are not in a position to make choices for any other country. We are in a position to see to it that actors, countries, governments around the world make informed decisions and that they are witting of the consequences of those decisions. We are concerned that the passage of this type of legislation would have consequences for our ability to continue to be the strategic partner that we have sought to be for Georgia and the people of Georgia over the course of decades now. The same would be true of – the same could be true, I should say, of the EU and others.

But again, this is a matter before the parliament. It is a matter that has engendered a good deal of debate and protest among the people of Georgia, we think with good reason, because the implications would be hefty on the people of Georgia and the implications could well be meaningful for the type of relationship we want to continue to have with the Government of Georgia.

QUESTION: And my last one on this. There are also comments on the ground that what we are seeing today is also result of ignorance or maybe like we didn’t pay enough attention from the West to what’s – what was going on in the – in Georgia for a long time, you know there being after U.S. ambassador – UN ambassador, they – what they are doing to their former president. The criticism is that even today when we see this annual threat assessment report came out, there is no mentioning of Georgia at all. The criticism is that U.S. turn its blind eyes and let this just slide. And that’s the result of U.S. – lack of U.S. attention in the region.

MR PRICE: Alex, I think it’s hard to accept the premise of that when we’ve been talking about this very issue over the course of the past week. We’ve had a number of occasion before these foreign agent laws became a live subject in Georgia to talk about the strategic partnership that we have with Georgia. This is a project that the United States has been engaged in, deeply engaged in, over the course of decades now, since Georgia first declared its independence in 1991. We have been a partner along the way. We have sought to do everything we can to support the development of Georgia’s democracy, of its economy, of its further integration into Europe and with Europe as well. The EU has been a partner in that. The international community has been a partner in that.

Now, the testimony you heard today from our senior intelligence officials, that’s focused on threats. That is focused on threats to the United States. There is – and again, I don’t want to characterize intelligence, but we see Georgia as a place that holds tremendous opportunity. It is not in the category of threats as we traditionally conceive of them. There is an opportunity with Georgia to continue to be that partner, to continue to walk down that path of democracy, of responsive, responsible governance, and a Georgia that is in a position to achieve the aspirations of its citizens. That’s an opportunity for the United States as a partner to Georgia. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for the people of Georgia to fulfill those aspirations.


QUESTION: Thank you. I want to switch topics to the Palestinian issue.


QUESTION: With where you began at the top on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. I mean, there are 12 percent of Palestinian households are run by women, responsibility of women. There are 200 women in Israeli prisons today. Some of them have given birth and their children are with them in the prison. They’re toddlers. But my question to you is also – I mean, this is something I found out today. Women in Gaza who suffer breast cancer, for instance, or have symptoms of breast cancer, they resort to mastectomies and lumpectomies and so on as preventive medicine because they’re not allowed to leave. They’re not allowed by the Israelis or by the Egyptians to leave and seek medical care.

And my question to you: Should they be allowed to seek medical care and have free transit to Egypt, to Israel, to the West Bank, to other places?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve talked about the dynamic that is at play here before. First, Israel, of course, faces legitimate threats to its own security. Some of those threats have —

QUESTION: Not by cancer, though.

MR PRICE: No, no, no. And I’m not saying that. Some of those threats, of course, have emanated from Gaza. Israel has the need to take measures to defend itself, to protect against the threats that it has far too frequently endured from Gaza.

Now, you’re raising a humanitarian issue. We think it is possible to take steps to mitigate the threat that Israel has faced from terrorists and militants in Gaza while allowing for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza to be fulfilled. This is something that we have focused on. And we have had discussions with Israel and with our counterparts in the Palestinian Authority about ways to fulfill that imperative of ensuring the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza are met.

For our part, we have provided a significant amount of humanitarian assistance, as you know. We re-established our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, and in doing so have provided more than $900 million to the people of Gaza, to Palestinians in the West Bank over the course of this administration.

We want to see those basic needs fulfilled. We want to see basic services, including food, water, electricity, medical care – to your question – accessible to the people, to the Palestinian people, including, of course, the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Now, at the same time there is a governance dynamic in Gaza. And Gaza is at least on a de facto basis administered by a terrorist group that has shown no regard for the Palestinian people, at least nominally under their control. So that’s a concern of ours.

But taking all of this into account, we are looking for ways, as our Israeli partners are and our partners in the Palestinian Authority are as well, to fulfill those humanitarian needs, to take steps to ensure Israel’s security, and to do so in a way that delivers benefits for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

QUESTION: So just quick – two quick follow-ups on what you’re saying. On the issue of the right to self-defense, Israel uses this to escape any kind of accountability. So should there be some sort of a limit on how this right to self-defense is used by – is utilized by Israel, whether it’s excessive, or utilizing American weapons and so on? Should – or maybe the Palestinians ought to be protected by the UN Security Council under Chapter 7. I wonder if you – the United States would ever support such a thing.

MR PRICE: Said, the right to self-defense – it is written into international law, it is enshrined in the UN Charter. So of course Israel has that right. And unfortunately far too often there have been vivid demonstrations, brutal demonstrations of the need for Israel to exercise that right. Our goal is to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal measures of safety, of security, of stability, of democracy, prosperity, and dignity. And if we get to that end-state – which, as you know, is not right around the corner, unfortunately, but that is an end-state, equal measures of stability and security that would necessitate fewer of the measures that Israel has been forced to resort to, and would allow countries around the world to take additional steps to support the Palestinian people in all of their humanitarian needs.

QUESTION: And lastly, I mean, I read an article on responsible statecraft. It said that, should Biden’s new arm transfer policy apply to Israel? And because he tied all – series of human rights obligations before they could do that. Now, we know that every factory, every military equipment in Israel has basically been built by the Americans. Let’s not go there. But Israel exports their weapons to countries that are well-known human rights abusers and so on.

So should there be a connection between sending so many arms and sending $4 billion a year in arms to Israel, with its human rights record?

MR PRICE: So Said, our Conventional Arms Transfer Policy — and we just rolled this out for the administration a couple weeks ago now – but it provides a framework for U.S. security cooperation worldwide for all countries. It applies to all countries. And of course, that includes Israel. Other countries’ arms export policies are their own sovereign decisions. All security cooperation on our part is assessed on a case-by-case basis on its individual merits according to the criteria laid out in that Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. And we can provide you with a pretty exacting list of the criteria that we look at when we make these case-by-case decisions, looking at the merits of each particular case.

Where Israel is concerned, that also includes our longstanding commitment to Israel’s security and its – and to its qualitative military edge, which is enshrined in law. We’re committed to that. We’re committed to our Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. We’re committed to Israel’s security and to pursuing all of these things responsibly as a partner to Israel.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Israel.

MR PRICE: Stay on Israel? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Syrian state media reported yesterday that an Israeli air strike knocked Aleppo airport out of service and forced the Syrian authorities to reroute flights carrying aid for people affected by the earthquake. Do you have any information on this? Can you confirm whether it was an Israeli air strike?

MR PRICE: I can’t speak to attribution, but we have seen these reports. I don’t have any additional information I can share at this time.

QUESTION: Or any information.

MR PRICE: Well, but let me – let me –

QUESTION: “Additional?” Additional to what?

MR PRICE: Let me say this, let me say this: Again, without speaking to the details of this, we would be concerned about the effects of any prolonged closure on the flow of humanitarian aid into those in need. This is an airport that has provided – has been a landing point for humanitarian assistance to those who have been affected in Syria by this devastating earthquake. And that would be a concern of ours if there was a prolonged closure and a prolonged impediment to the flow of humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: What kind of message is there to do this strike so soon after the visit of the top American general to Syria?

MR PRICE: I’m not —

QUESTION: What message is there? What are the Israelis are trying to say to you and to the rest of the world?

MR PRICE: I – Said, first, we’re not speaking to attribution; second, General Milley, of course, did not go to Aleppo and —

QUESTION: Well, he was in Syria, not that far away.

MR PRICE: I – yeah, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I contribute today another round of appreciation for your hard work and professionalism, sir. Thank you very much for that.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much.

QUESTION: I got the exclusive article – it’s about Nord Stream. I wrote the explicit article of Das Erste, the German public broadcaster. And the original text says that German investigators have achieved a breakthrough, and there are no concrete truths at the moment, but the traces are leading to Ukraine. So as you can see, even the German public broadcast, so the pressures of – they’re building up. I just want some kind of clarification as to whether the United States has intelligence but is not going to discuss it until investigators have come to conclusion, or you’re also with the rest of the world on “Let’s see what the investigators come up with”?

MR PRICE: First, we, as a standard matter, don’t discuss intelligence that remains classified, so I couldn’t speak to that element of the question. On —

QUESTION: Even if there’s intelligence or not?

MR PRICE: I just can’t speak to intelligence that we haven’t been in a position to declassify. On the first part of your question, though, it’s my understanding – correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that German authorities are not quoted by name in any of these articles; nor are Danish authorities, nor are Swedish authorities. In all countries, of course, there are leaks, the veracity of which we’ll defer to you all to judge. But we are going to let these investigations play out. We are going to wait to hear from the investigators themselves who presumably when these investigations conclude will speak on a named attributable basis to their findings. That’s something that of course we would take seriously, but anonymous leaks around the world is not something we’re just going to —

QUESTION: It’s my assumption that if the German investigators are leaking or let’s say speaking to the German public broadcaster, they must be speaking to you as well, right?

MR PRICE: Of course, we discuss with Germany a range of issues, but I’m just not going to speak to this particular issue with our German ally because there is an ongoing investigation. It is incumbent on our European partners who are capable, who are competent, in whom we have full faith and confidence to conduct these investigations on an impartial basis and to come to their own conclusions. We’re going to wait for them to come to their own conclusions.

QUESTION: Last question: Can the United States deny then that the traces are leading to Ukraine at the moment?

MR PRICE: We are not conducting these investigations. Our German allies, our Swedish partners, our Danish partners are as well. We are going to let those investigators speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question on North Macedonia.


QUESTION: But before I raise a question, I would like to join everyone in this room by expressing my appreciation for everything you have done in this role, not only that you’re knowledgeable, but I believe your genuine respect for journalism and journalists is unmatched, so thank you for that.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: My question – North Macedonia is supposed to change the preamble of the constitution to recognize ethnic Bulgarians as a constituent group; however, this didn’t happen thus far. My question: In what way, if any, their Euro-Atlantic integration process could be affected in a negative way perhaps if they fail to implement that change through the preamble of the constitution and include ethnic Bulgarians? What is the U.S. stance? Is there some way you can maybe help them achieve that? So what is the —

MR PRICE: This is a question for North Macedonia. It’s a question for the European Union. It’s not a question for the United States. Of course, these decisions are ones that our partners on the other side of the Atlantic are going to have to make. We are a partner to North Macedonia. We want to support the aspirations of the people of North Macedonia for that further European integration. It is similar to the approach that we’ve taken to Georgia and a number of other countries over the course of several decades. We want to continue to be a partner, but ultimately these are going to have to be decisions that are made in North Macedonia and decisions that are made in Brussels.

QUESTION: Just one more question about the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue that is now taking place in North Macedonia in March. Now that the European proposal has been made public, and we have all the articles in front of us, they are now talking about the implementation of the agreement. In what order of implementation does Serbian majority municipalities are going to be implemented? Is this the first thing – first item on the agenda now in March, or you have some other information? Or how do you see from U.S. perspective this going forward – the implementation?

MR PRICE: So a couple things on that. First, I think we’ve said before, but we welcome the leaders’ talks under the EU-facilitated dialogue that took place late last month. We strongly support the process of normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. To your question, this meeting was a good step forward, but difficult work remains. And some of these questions are part and parcel of that difficult work. Agreement on the implementation annex is essential to normalization under this EU proposal, and progress towards establishing the association of Serb-majority municipalities remains critical to building Kosovo’s future as a sovereign, as a multiethnic and independent country integrated into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Through the dialogue, Serbia and Kosovo, we believe, should come to comprehensive agreement on normalization of relations. Progress will then open the door to European integration of both countries, and it’s essential to greater security, stability, and prosperity in the Western Balkans. We believe that normalized relations should be centered on eventual mutual recognition.

This is an EU-led process. The United States has supported our allies in the European Union in every way we can. We have been present for these talks. Gabe Escobar, our deputy assistant secretary, has been actively engaged with the parties as well, and we’ll continue to do what we can to support this process that, again, is – has moved forward in important ways with some difficult work ahead.

QUESTION: How far we are from the mutual recognition? Because some say 10 years from now. Some say until this year. Do you see any timeline in terms of exact for the mutual recognition?

MR PRICE: Of course we want these issues, these tensions between Kosovo and Serbia to be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity. And so we’re going to support this EU dialogue. We’re going to take any steps that we can as a partner to Kosovo and to Serbia and to the EU to support the acceleration in every conceivable way of the improvement of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. But we just can’t put a timeframe on it. Of course we want to see these issues resolved as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: So this is a question on China. Does the administration plan to relax COVID restrictions from people coming from China soon? And if so, why?

MR PRICE: This is not a question for the Department of State. It’s more of a question for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The restrictions that – and requirements that had been put in place, whether on the PRC or, in other times and other contexts, other countries are based on the science. They are based on public health. They are not based on diplomacy. They are not based on matters of policy or policy disagreement. So this is a question for the CDC. The epidemiologists and the scientists and the public health experts at the CDC will make informed decisions about when it’s prudent, if it’s prudent to relax requirements that are in place.

QUESTION: Okay. And just one more on the whole Taiwan status quo issue.


QUESTION: What’s the difference between the status quo and the “one China” policy? Because “one China” policy treats Taiwan as China, correct? And then how does – when you say you want to maintain the status quo, does that mean the same thing as “one China” policy?

MR PRICE: Our “one China” policy is a key element of our efforts to preserve the status quo by adhering – always, consistently – to our “one China” policy. We are, in turn, contributing to the preservation of the status quo – strengthening the status quo, seeing to it that the status quo, in every way we can, that has existed across the Taiwan Strait over the course of several decades now, remains – remains intact and remains strong.

QUESTION: And – sorry. But how is China disrupting the status quo?

MR PRICE: Well, I think we can point to any number of things that are of concern to us. It is a concern to us when China – when the PRC attempts to intimidate Taiwan through aerial sorties, through naval cases, through coercive actions, coercive rhetoric. That, of course, is of concern to us.

In the aftermath of the visit to Taiwan last August by Speaker Pelosi, we saw our – we saw the PRC use that visit – which had been, of course, not unprecedented – as a pretext to attempt to undermine that status quo. And you can look at all of the actions, the coercive actions that sought to do little more than intimidate Taiwan and the broader region and to undermine the status quo that has been at the crux of peace and security across the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: But don’t we run military drills in that area as well?

MR PRICE: We fly wherever international law allows. We sail wherever international law allows. All of our operations are consistent with international law. All of our operations are – whether land, sea, air – are consistent with our “one China” policy.


QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I also want to go – every single colleague of mine here regarding your time here as spokesperson and just a simple thank you. I have a question about IWOC awards.


QUESTION: Specifically, the Madeleine Albright Honorary Group award. What prompted the State Department to create that award? Was – were – was the Iranian women and girls movement that inspired it?

MR PRICE: So Guita, of course the award is named after former Secretary of State Albright and what she embodied in terms of championing the rights of women and girls, championing the upholding of universal rights around the world that have too often come under threat and too often at the expense of women and girls. It was an effort to distill her core essence into a group award that could be provided every year to individuals who epitomize some of those very qualities – the qualities of strength, the qualities of courage, endurance, resilience, determination that she put forward on the world stage, and so often that she put forward on the world stage in service of women and girls around the world.

So over the course of the past six months, as we have witnessed the bravery, the determination, the resilience of the protesters in Iran, so many of whom are women – the leadership of this movement is in some ways dominated by women – we have seen the remarkable courage of these protesters, including these women who have taken to the streets at no shortage of personal risk to themselves, whether through injury, whether through persecution, whether through prosecution. And too many of these brave protesters, who were doing nothing more than exercising the universal right to peaceful assembly, have unfortunately paid a price. They are in prison; they’ve been harassed; they’ve been injured. In too many cases, the regime has ended their lives prematurely for doing nothing more than exercising a right that is as universal to them as it is to women and girls here in this country.

So it was only fitting that, upon witnessing the bravery and determination of these protesters, including the many women and girls at the vanguard of this movement, that the first group award go to the protesters of Iran.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The U.S. intelligence threat assessment report that was released today mentions Pakistan’s long history of supporting anti-India terrorist groups. The U.S. is having a counterterrorism dialogue with Pakistan and Mr. Christopher Landberg was there recently. So will the U.S. take up the issue of support by the Pakistani army and ISI to terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, active in Kashmir, and to Khalistani terrorist groups?

MR PRICE: So the U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism dialogue – it provides an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to – for the United States to convey our willingness to work with Pakistan to address terrorist threats and counter violent extremism, the threats that are in the region, the threats that have the potential to transcend the region as well. We have a shared interest in combating threats to regional security. The goal of a stable and secure South and Central Asia, free from terrorism, depends on the strength of, in large part, our partnership with Pakistan.

The dialogue is a testament to our shared commitment to resilient security relationship and an opportunity for candid discussion on steps we can take together to counter all terrorist groups that threaten regional and global stability. The United States seeks to expand our partnership to address these challenges. Any group that threatens regional and global stability of course is a concern to us. It is something that we discuss in the context of this counterterrorism dialogue.

QUESTION: I have one more.

QUESTION: Question on Pakistan.

MR PRICE: Okay. One more and then I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: So while the issue of support by Pakistan of terror groups against India and its dangers are mentioned in the report, what are your views on some of these groups, like Khalistani activists that are active in North America and which were responsible for the bombing of Air India in 1985? Is the U.S. keeping a watch on the activities of these groups?

MR PRICE: So we condemn terrorism in all of its forms. We condemn terrorism; we condemn violent extremism. We condemn all of those who resort to violence to achieve their ends, whether they are political or otherwise. There is never a justification to resort to violence. Regardless of the motivation, regardless of the perpetrator, we take the threat of terrorism around the world, whether that’s to regional peace and security or to our own security, extraordinarily seriously.


QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) from VOA. So a nuclear-armed country like Pakistan who’s facing major economic issues right now, political challenges as well, and terror attacks are on the rise – is U.S. worried that this strategically important country could fail?

MR PRICE: We are a partner to Pakistan. We have been there for Pakistan since its independence. We seek a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Pakistan. We know that the Pakistani people are facing tremendous hardship, including economic hardship. We continue to look for ways in which we can support the Pakistani people to rebuild and to deepen the economic partnership that has existed with the United States over the course of decades now.

We are working with our Pakistani partners. Of course, Pakistan in turn is also working with international financial institutions, the IMF, to put itself on a sustainable growth path. But when it comes to economic challenges, when it comes to security challenges, when it comes to political challenges, the United States is ready and able to continue to be a partner to the people of Pakistan and to our Pakistani counterparts as well.

QUESTION: Some circles in Pakistan are accusing that because they are looking for and wanting an IMF deal, but they’re saying that because of tensions between U.S., China there’s a possibility that U.S., the friendly influence that they have at the IMF, are not using – could use but is not using for Pakistan to help Pakistan, which is an ally country.

MR PRICE: Ultimately it’s going to have to be decisions on the part of our Pakistani counterparts to unlock this IMF funding. We encourage Pakistan to continue working with the IMF, especially on reforms that will improve Pakistan’s business environment. We believe that doing so – and the IMF believes this – will make Pakistani business more competitive, will also help Pakistan attract high-quality investment.

But more value than the potential investment dollars are the technologies, are the market connections and management systems that accompany foreign investment. They improve the competitiveness of partnering Pakistani firms, fueling economic growth that increases employment and household incomes. We believe that by continuing down this path and continuing to make the necessary decisions – economic decisions – that Pakistan can put itself, with the support of the international community, of course with the support of the United States, on a path to sustainable growth.

QUESTION: Last question about women’s march. Are you aware about the violence that took place in Pakistan during the women’s march and news of police being involved? Is the U.S. going to raise that issue with the allies in Pakistan, with Pakistani Government?

MR PRICE: We are aware of reports about clashes in Lahore ahead of a planned rally by former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. We encourage all to exhibit restraint. We offer our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured in this.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to the government that they should uphold the democratic values that you share and the country —

MR PRICE: It is a constant topic of discussion with our counterparts around the world, including in Pakistan, the importance of upholding the universal rights of citizens around the world, including the right to peaceful assembly.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we just stay on the same (inaudible)?


QUESTION: As you probably saw, the Foreign Relations Committee – the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave a green light finally to Garcetti, Mayor Garcetti, to be ambassador to India. Obviously the administration supports that, I presume, but could you say a little bit about whether there’s optimism about the Senate floor vote? Maybe you don’t want to get into congressional moves, but more broadly what it means to have – what it would mean to have a full ambassador in India after this two-year gap.

MR PRICE: Well, we did see the action on the part of the Senate today. We heartily applaud that. Put simply, the United States needs a confirmed ambassador in India. Our team on the ground, including chargés who have served in the place of an ambassador, have done extraordinary work. But this is one of the most consequential bilateral relationships we have. When Secretary Blinken was in New Delhi last week, much of the breadth and the depth of that relationship was on full display. And our embassy staff, our Mission India, deserves to have a Senate-confirmed ambassador who is – again, with the consent of the Senate – a representative of not only the Secretary of State but also the President of the United States.

There is no other country around the world that would put itself in a position to have a vacancy open in a strategically important and valuable place like India for two-plus years now. We certainly hope that the action that the Senate took today was – foretells additional action. It would be in our interest. It would be in the interest of India. It would be in the interests of both of our people to have a confirmed ambassador in place, and we hope that Mayor and soon-to-be Ambassador Garcetti is able to take up that post before long.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my question. Seems like there are some Chinese-made cranes around the Baltimore and also some other port in the United States. Some report has pointed out those giant cargo crane have a possibility of Chinese spy tool. Do you have any – how do you – how does the State Department view those Chinese cranes?

MR PRICE: This is a better question for some of our colleagues throughout the government. Of course, as an administration, as a government, we are acutely attuned to the various challenges we face from the PRC, including the challenge of espionage. And we’ve had an occasion in recent weeks, as some of you might recall, to talk about the challenge of PRC espionage, including in the United States. We are – it is something that we take extraordinarily seriously, including and especially when it comes to strategically important sectors. But this is a better question for our colleagues across the government.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more question?


QUESTION: So the United States has made an offer to Japan and South Korea to establish a new trial consultative deterrence – no, consultative body on nuclear deterrence. Can you confirm those?

MR PRICE: Our extended deterrence commitment to Japan and the ROK is ironclad. We have taken every opportunity we have to deepen and to make real, to ensure that we’ve made real the extended deterrence commitments that we have. We continue to work with the ROK, Japan, and other partners and allies to jointly strengthen deterrence and to work to limit the advancement of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programs.

Yes, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Congratulations (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: But we’ll miss you, I’m sure.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: So about a month ago the UN World Food Project – Program published a report pointing out that Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen are on the brink of starvation with – moving toward widespread deaths. Since then we’ve had – there are indications, reports of stress on food in Cuba and then also in Türkiye and Syria, parts of Syria because of the catastrophe there. Is grain from Ukraine going to be enough, and Russia, or do we need to do something additional? And is this the beginning of greater stresses on foods?

MR PRICE: Well, we believe it certainly has to be part of the solution, and I think you only look at the counterexample. When grain from Ukraine was blocked from – by the Russians from leaving Ukrainian ports, we saw a spike in food prices around the world that had the most devastating impact on, unfortunately, the world’s neediest – a 30 percent price spike after Russia’s invasion when Russia was blocking ships from leaving Ukrainian ports.

Now, the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and what we hope is the renewal and the expansion of the grain initiative will have to be part of that solution. The World Food Program has been able to export Ukrainian grain precisely because of this initiative. Since August of last year, some 16 total World Food Program ships have left Ukraine, including more than half a million metric tons of wheat to places like what you mentioned – Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Kenya. Spain and Egypt also received shipments. The total World Food Program exports just from this single initiative, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, has totaled about a billion loaves of bread.

Now, the world needs far more, and it is far more than conflict that has exacerbated the price spike. It has been COVID, it has been climate, but it has been conflict. And so we’re going to do everything that we can to see to it that this initiative remains in place and ideally is expanded so that the world’s neediest in some of the countries you mentioned can continue to benefit from this.


QUESTION: Yeah. Defense officials confirmed this past weekend that there were Ukrainian pilots being evaluated in the U.S. on F-16s. So I just wanted to check: has there been any change in the administration’s position that you guys don’t think Ukraine particularly needs those right now and it’s not being considered to send them there?

MR PRICE: There’s been no change in the position. Of course, we’re always working closely with our Ukrainian partners to discuss and to assess with them what their needs are at the moment, what their needs may be down the road. But there has been no change in our position. For additional details on the training that you reference, I’d have to refer you to DOD.

QUESTION: So it remains the case that your main goal right now is to give Ukraine as much of an advantage as you can on the battlefield, and they’re saying they need F-16s and have asked for them. We’ve now got Ukrainian pilots in the U.S. being evaluated on F-16s, but they’re still – even with all that, there’s still no plans to send them there?

MR PRICE: Our position on this has not changed. What we have consistently done is to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to take on the battle they’re facing with an eye to the direction in which the battle’s evolving, and I think you can see the effectiveness of that strategy across all of the fronts that our Ukrainian partners have not only withstood Russian aggression but in many cases have wrested back from Russian control territory that invading Russian forces have – had taken from them. So, obviously, this is a reflection of the bravery and the resilience, the determination of our Ukrainian partners; but the enabling support that the United States Government has provided at every phase of this conflict, along with the support of dozens of countries around the world, has been – has provided a decisive edge in some ways to our Ukrainian partners in their ability to defend their country against this aggression.


QUESTION: Thank you. I also want to thank you for your dedicated work as a spokesperson.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: And I want to follow up on the question of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation. Now the U.S. has a bilateral consultative mechanism on extended deterrence with ROK and Japan separately, and recently ROK and Japan has announced on the historical issues of the forced labor. And generally speaking, what do you think about the need to deepen the trilateral cooperation in order to enhance the extended deterrence for ROK and Japan?

MR PRICE: Well, our commitment to extended deterrence today, going forward, is ironclad. There is no question about that. The ROK, Japan are covered by that policy of extended deterrence. We’re going to continue to work together in every way we can, bilaterally and trilaterally, to counter and to limit the advancements of the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programs. We have done that for decades now.

What we’ve been able to do more in recent years and even more so recent months is that trilateral cooperation, and we believe that the bilateral aspect is important between the United States, the ROK; between the United States and Japan. But the trilateral element is also fundamentally important, not only for the threat that our three countries face from the DPRK but for our shared and collective vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. The fact is that we share – the three of us, the United States, ROK, and Japan – we share interests and we share values.

And so from the perspective of the United States – and increasingly what we’re seeing from the perspective of our treaty allies – is the importance of a trilateral relationship that reflects those interests, that reflects those values, and is effective in protecting and promoting those values in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

QUESTION: Ned, can I go to Africa for a second?


QUESTION: Uganda specifically. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this legislation that is perceived or widely seen as anti-LGBTQ, and also apparently the sponsor – if not the prime sponsor of it – is currently representing Uganda at a UN Women’s Commission meeting in New York, and if you have any thoughts about that.

MR PRICE: So broadly, Matt, I would say that the – we firmly oppose violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, and we urge governments everywhere to repeal laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ status or conduct, and we condemn laws that would undermine freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, and association for LGBTQI+ human rights defenders and their allies. We condemn this, any violence or discrimination targeting vulnerable populations, including LGBTQI+ persons anywhere and everywhere, and governments must work to ensure that all individuals can freely enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are universally entitled.

We remain committed to supporting health, democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and prosperity in Uganda, and we continue to engage with our Government of Uganda counterparts on a wide range of issues, including those related to human rights, to improve the lives of all Ugandans.

Now, when it comes to the representative that you referred to, I’m not in a position to confirm that. The UN may be in a better position to speak to it. What I will say broadly, however, is that the issues that are at play on the Commission on the Status of Women are the very issues that are at play when it comes to the rights of all individuals, including vulnerable individuals, including those of LGBTQI+ persons. It is impossible to separate something like the rights of women from the rights of marginalized people around the world. These are universal rights. We uphold all of them everywhere at all times.

QUESTION: Okay. But have you spoken specifically to the Ugandans about this piece of legislation? Because I get – you speak in broad terms everywhere, and then Uganda, you say you talk about human rights. This is obviously a human rights issue. But have you specifically talked to the Ugandans about this piece of legislation?

MR PRICE: Look, we are going to do and we are going to say from here what we think is most likely to benefit the populations that we’re talking about. In this case it is marginalized citizens of Uganda, including its LGBTQI —

QUESTION: So someone has made a determination that calling the Ugandans out specifically on this piece of legislation will not help the LGBTQ —

MR PRICE: We are going to do – we are going to do what is most helpful to those we’re seeking to protect in Uganda and around the world. Ugandan law already criminalizes same-sex conduct. A bill that further targets LGBTQI+ persons would constituent a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights and would undermine lifesaving programs to address, for example, HIV/AIDS. This is a point that we make around the world. It’s what we believe in this case.

QUESTION: Okay. That wasn’t so hard to say, was it? Why couldn’t you have said that at the very beginning? Then you could have —

MR PRICE: Very quick questions, and we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: A UN envoy in Afghanistan warned today that a Taliban administration crackdown on women’s rights is likely to a drop in aid and development funding in the country. Is the U.S. considering cutting funding?

MR PRICE: The UN has been at the forefront of these efforts. It was a number of weeks ago now that a senior UN official visited Kabul to make very clear to the Taliban that the draconian edict that they implemented on December 24th of last year would have consequences for the ability of the international community to provide the humanitarian assistance that the people of Afghanistan so desperately need. We are in close touch with the UN; we are in close touch with other allies and partners who have also provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan over the course of many years now and over the course, especially, of the past 18 months or so.

You may have seen that United States today with 21 other countries, or 21 countries, and the EU put out a joint statement on the women and girls in Afghanistan on the occasion of International Women’s Day. We are going to continue to do everything we can to work with the international community and to make sure that the Taliban is under no illusions that they can have it both ways, that they can fail to fulfill the commitments that they’ve made to the people of Afghanistan; that they can take draconian steps like the ones they did last year with girls’ educations, girls’ education last December, with the ability of women to work with international NGOs, and not face consequences from the international community.

The UN has made that clear, that that is not the case. The United States has made that clear that that is not the case. And dozens of countries around the world, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a number of Muslim-majority countries, have made very clear to the Taliban that their actions, their efforts to suppress the rights especially of women and girls, but all minorities, will have real costs and consequences for them.

QUESTION: But are you considering cutting funding?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re taking a close look at the implications on our ability to deliver the type of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, the type of assistance that we know they so desperately need. We’re closely consulting with the UN – much of this is done under the auspices of the UN – so we want to make sure that we are in close coordination with our UN partners and other international partners.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:02 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – March 7, 2023

2:04 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Two announcements at the top and then we’ll take your questions.

First, today we learned the very sad news that Mexican state and federal authorities recovered four U.S. citizens kidnapped on March 3rd in Matamoros, Mexico. Two U.S. citizens were returned to the United States. The bodies of two other U.S. citizens killed in the same incident were also recovered. We’re providing all appropriate assistance to them and their families. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased. We thank our Mexican and U.S. law enforcement partners for their efforts to find these innocent victims, and the task forward is to ensure that justice is done.

Next, earlier today at the launch of the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya: A Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh, the United States announced nearly $26 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the region, for those people in Burma affected by ongoing violence, and for the communities hosting refugees from Burma. With this new funding, our total assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State and Rohingya crisis has reached nearly $2.1 billion since August of 2017, when over 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

This new funding allows our humanitarian partners to continue providing lifesaving assistance to affected communities on both sides of the Burma-Bangladesh border, including nearly 980,000 Rohingya refugees hosted by Bangladesh, some 740,000 of whom arrived in the months following August 2017 when they were forced to flee genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and other horrific atrocities and abuses perpetrated by Burma’s military in Rakhine State. This funding will also provide assistance to nearly 540,000 Bangladeshi host community members and to others affected by ongoing violence in Burma.

The United States appreciates the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh and other nations and the hospitality of the Bangladeshi people in hosting Rohingya refugees, especially now that we are in the sixth year of this protracted crisis. We remain committed to working towards durable solutions to the crisis, and we’ll continue to partner with the Government of Bangladesh, the Rohingya community, host communities, and people inside Burma to ensure a coordinated and well-supported response to this humanitarian crisis. The international community must remain steadfast in our commitment to alleviating the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, including through the Rohingya crisis response.

With that, I’m happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you to – or extrapolate a little bit on what you said about the Mexico? So you’re saying that, yes, you have now been able to confirm that two of the four were killed?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: And that the other – and that the other two are now back in the U.S., the two survivors?

MR PRICE: The two survivors have since been repatriated back to the United States. That occurred with the assistance of our Mexican partners, with the assistance of our officials in Mexico. We are in the process of working to repatriate the remains of the two Americans who were killed in this incident.

QUESTION: Okay. So they – so those bodies are not back?

MR PRICE: Not yet.

QUESTION: And I understand that the investigation is still early, but do you have any reason to believe that they were targeted?

MR PRICE: Matt, just as you said, the investigate is in its earliest days. I understand we may have more to share from the FBI at the appropriate time. But from the Department of State, it’s important for us not to impinge on investigative equities, especially in an investigation like this that implicates the kidnapping of four Americans, the death of two Americans, and two Americans who survived what, by all accounts, must have been a traumatic and harrowing experience. So we don’t want to get ahead of that investigation.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: This is ongoing about Georgia. Have you been following the situation in Tbilisi, Georgia? Since morning there were clashes between the protesters and the police, and there were clearly an excessive use of military – I’m sorry, the law enforcement power. And this is over the Kremlin’s-inspired legislation that we – you talked extensively in the last few weeks. So what are you learning about that?

MR PRICE: We have been closely following developments in Georgia in recent hours. We’ve seen the reports that are emanating from Tbilisi. We’ve seen reports that protesters have been met with tear gas, with other efforts to repress and suppress the protest against this draft so-called foreign agents legislation.

Our message to the people of Georgia, to the Government of Georgia, to people and governments around the world, is that the United States stands with all of those who are peacefully exercising what is a universal right. It is a universal right of people around the world to assemble, to have their voices heard, to speak freely, to hold their own governments accountable.

We are going to continue to monitor the situation on the ground in Georgia. But our message is that peaceful protesters should be allowed to exercise that right peacefully. That is a right that is available to people in Georgia; it is a right that is available to people in every country around the world.

QUESTION: And very lastly, today’s latest statement by the embassy of the U.S. in Georgia starts with the sentence, “Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy,” and the entire text is the harshest that I’ve ever seen throughout the 30-plus years of diplomatic relations. So just give me a general sense of – what is the feeling at the State Department between diplomats when they are looking at those human rights records, rule of law, the freedom of speech, and detrimental effect it has towards Euro-Atlantic integration? How much will the U.S. foreign policy and the foreign aid and all of that will change if that trajectory will be continued by the Georgian Government and – which is moving the country towards Russia?

MR PRICE: You asked about the feeling here. The feeling here is one of deep concern. You have heard us express that sentiment consistently in recent days. It is a feeling of deep concern because of the potential implications of this draft law. This draft law would strike at some of the very rights that are central to the aspirations of the people of Georgia for a consolidated democracy, for Euro-Atlantic integration, and for a brighter future. It would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who wish to do nothing more than work together to build a brighter future, a future that is integrated with Europe, a future that is democratic and free, where Georgia is an independent and sovereign country.

We are so deeply concerned and troubled, of course, for what this could mean for the people of Georgia, but also because the United States has been a partner to Georgia over the course of recent decades. Ever since Georgia declared its independence, the United States has been right there with it supporting the aspirations of the Georgian people. And at the earliest days of Georgia’s independence, those aspirations were nascent. They were nothing more than an idea in some cases.

Over the course of ensuing decades, the people of Georgia have worked to realize those aspirations. They have made tremendous progress in becoming the democracy that they sought from those earliest days, in integrating Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic community and ensuring that Georgia stays on that path.

Now, however, we see a draft piece of legislation that would be a tremendous setback. This would be a setback to the aspirations of the people of Georgia; it would be a setback to the ability of the United States to continue to be a partner for the people of Georgia. I made this point yesterday, I think it was, but anyone who is voting for this draft legislation would be responsible in part for jeopardizing those very Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people. We don’t wish to see that happen. Beyond the United States, it is the EU, the UN, of course most importantly the Georgian people, Georgian civil society groups – all of them have issued strong statements of concern about this draft legislation.

Yeah, Alex.

QUESTION: Can I actually follow up on that?


QUESTION: Georgian Government is looking at Hungarians and others and seeing that they did exact same thing and they got away with it. When you say they’re going to be responsible, is there any obvious example that demonstrates what you mean by that? And also, when it comes to Georgia’s aspiration and integration towards European institutions, has the Georgian Dream government crossed a line today?

MR PRICE: Alex, I think really the best example is the counterexample. It is the example of the type of partnership that the United States Government can have with people and countries that aspire to continue down that path of democracy, of democratic reform, of integration with Europe and the broader Euro-Atlantic region. I think the best counterexample is the United States partnership with Georgia, if you want to look at what that partnership can look like, what that partnership can feel like, and how, as we are concerned, that partnership could be – at least in part – jeopardized should a law like this move forward.

Ultimately, these are going to be the decisions of the Georgian people and the Georgian Government. It is our strong hope that the Georgian Government listens to the Georgian people. The Georgian people are speaking with a clear voice. Right now, we’re seeing some of those clear voices, those loud voices drowned out by tear gas, by efforts to suppress those – that peaceful exercise of freedom of assembly. That’s of concern to us. But ultimately, we think it’s important that governments around the world, including of course the government in Tbilisi, listens to its people.

QUESTION: And in terms of accountability, is there anything that prevents the United States Government from sanctioning the man behind all this state – all this historic – Mr. Ivanishvili, who – whose party is obviously bringing up this sort of legislations and basically they are out there and trying to advocate for a pro-Russian, let’s say, pathway?

MR PRICE: So Alex, as you know, I don’t speak to specific individuals or entities who may be subject to U.S. or other sanctions, but we have a number of tools within our purview that would allow us to hold accountable anyone in any country around the world who is responsible for the suppression of what would otherwise be a universal human right. There are authorities that are written into various laws, into executive orders that we will look at closely in this context, as we do in any context, to hold to account those who may run afoul of what the Georgian people want and, most importantly, what the Georgian people expect and deserve in terms of their universal rights.

QUESTION: And also Russia, if you don’t mind.

MR PRICE: Okay. One question on Russia.

QUESTION: Yeah. Russia is slated to lead the UN Security Council next month. Is this something that United States is worried about, the world should be worried about?

MR PRICE: Well, Alex, this is part of a rotation of the members of the UN Security Council. If I recall, Russia was president of the Security Council in February of 2022, and it was during a pretty notable session of the Security Council that Russia tried to bring together to issue its own propaganda to talk about what it termed speciously the violations of human rights in the Donbas region. But despite Russia’s best efforts, the international community came together and exposed what Russia was planning to do to its neighbor on an unjust, illegal basis in the coming days. Secretary Blinken laid that out in that session in pretty exacting detail. Other countries who were represented at that roundtable in the UN Security Council chamber voiced similar concerns, grave concerns, about what we highly suspected Russia would be doing in the coming days.

So even if Russia and when Russia again takes the helm of the Security Council, there will be no amount of propaganda, of disinformation, of misinformation that Russia can attempt to manufacture to drown out its lies and to hide to the truth from those represented in this body and those around the world who are listening to it.


QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to the Palestinian issue. Today the Israeli army stormed the Jenin refugee camp again, left at least six dead, six Palestinians dead, 2,600 wreckage of homes destroyed and so on. And I’m wondering whether – in the statement last night that was issued after meeting with Mr. Dermer and Mr. Hanegbi, the Secretary of State called on both sides for calm. Is that the kind of calm that you expect from the Israelis, your partners, or is it – or are you reconciled to the fact that this government, this Netanyahu government, will take it out on the Palestinians to sort of export its crisis at home?

MR PRICE: Said, a couple things on this. First, we are aware of these reports. We understand the IDF – which they have said publicly was pursuing a terrorist who murdered two Israeli civilians in what can only be described as a horrific attack late last month, on February 26th. Israel, as we have made the point before, has the legitimate right to defend its people and its territory against all forms of aggression, including, of course, those from terrorist groups. And we’ve, as I just mentioned, have seen far too many vivid illustrations of the terrorist threat that Israel faces, including in recent days. We remain deeply concerned by the sharp rise in violence in the West Bank, and we continue to urge the parties to take immediate steps to prevent the further loss of life, as you saw in the readout from the Secretary’s discussion yesterday with Mr. Dermer and the national security advisor. That was a message that the Secretary reiterated in that context as well.

We’ve said this many times before, but we continue to believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, of security, of prosperity. That remains our goal. That remains our long-term goal to, in the first instance, keep alive the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution on the path to realizing that. The near-term goal is the goal we keep stressing in public and in private, that Israelis and Palestinians must take steps on an urgent basis to de-escalate tensions, to restore calm, and to put an end to this cycle of violence that has taken the lives of far too many on both sides.

QUESTION: Ned, this is really like Groundhog Day. I mean, you keep saying Israel has a right to defend itself. Fine, Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel considers most Palestinians to be terrorists. Anyone that lifts a stone or protests in any way is considered in the Israeli parlance as a terrorist. You said day after day, glorifying the Ukrainian people resistant to the Russian occupation, which is great. What about the Palestinians? Do they have a right to resist this military occupation that has gone on for almost 60 years?

MR PRICE: Said, our goal, as I just said a moment ago, is to, in the first instance, keep alive the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution and ultimately to help realize that negotiated two-state solution. The end state that we seek, that successive American administrations have sought, that countries around the world seek is an independent state for the Palestinian people, where they can live with equal measures of security, of prosperity, of stability, of freedom, democracy, and importantly of dignity.

Now, of course, that is not the reality we have today. And so much of our efforts – in addition to attempting to support a restoration of calm, which has been the focus of recent weeks – has been to preserve not only the viability of a negotiated two-state solution but to preserve the horizon of hope, to preserve the horizon of opportunity for the Palestinian people. That was a task that was complicated by our inheritance, what we found when this administration came into office in January of 2021. But we made it an early priority to restore the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people and, as part of those efforts, to preserve and reinforce that horizon of opportunity and hope to provide the Palestinian people with the humanitarian support that they need – more than $900 million worth of humanitarian support to the Palestinian people, to provide them in what we hope are real and tangible ways with an improvement, however incremental it might be, in their quality of life.

Now, of course no one is satisfied; we’re not satisfied. We’re going to continue with that task ahead of us. But ultimately all of this is in service of a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: And for sure, this administration position and restoration and you standing there day after day fielding questions and so on is all appreciated. We see that. We see that the Palestinian issue is being at least addressed. But for – in Huwara, for instance, we just see the settlers doing exactly the same thing – not necessarily with the same bloody outcome, but today, they’re there today. They’re dancing with soldiers, blasting music, chasing Palestinians as we speak here, celebrating Purim. What measures should the United States take to make sure that these settlers do not go unpunished in their daily deeds?

MR PRICE: Well, first, Said, we’ve spoken out clearly on this. We have condemned all forms of violence. We’re aware of reports yesterday – excuse me, we’re aware of reports of another attack on Huwara by settlers yesterday, as you referred to. And that comes just one week after the completely unacceptable attacks and torching of property in the same village. We’re extremely concerned by these events and the continuing violence in Israel and the West Bank. We very much appreciate the statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu, by President Herzog, and others in Israel calling for a cessation of this vigilante violence. Accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence, and equal resources dedicated to prevent such attacks and to bring those responsible for them to justice.

The events of recent days only underscore for us the fragility of the situation in the West Bank and the urgent need to increase cooperation to prevent further violence. We have expressed our concern for the well-being of the civilian population in Huwara, and as we’ve said repeatedly, Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety and security.

QUESTION: Ned, just related to this, very briefly: Have you guys completed your review into the Israeli designation of the six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups?

MR PRICE: Matt, look, these types of reviews are always going to be subject to –

QUESTION: Oh, okay. You —

MR PRICE: These – no, but – if you —

QUESTION: Have you finished?

MR PRICE: If you ask the question, allow me to offer an answer.

QUESTION: Well, I am asking the question, but it, like – you can say “yes” or “no” and then explain, but —


QUESTION: — let’s not get the “yes” or “no” at the very end of a —

MR PRICE: These types of investigations – because “investigation” is not the right term –

QUESTION: Review, whatever.

MR PRICE: These types of reviews are always subject to new information. If we are in receipt of additional information that changes our approach, our decision-making, our calculus on this, we of course will review this carefully and with a critical eye.

What I can say is what we’ve said consistently on this. We have not seen anything that has led us to change our approach to these NGOs. Of course, our approach was different from the one that our European Union allies had. We’ve never funded or supported these groups. But we have not seen anything that has been provided to us that would allow us to take punitive action against any of these groups, for example.

QUESTION: Okay, which means that, what? That there is – I mean, as I understand it, there was never any U.S. money going to any of these groups.

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s correct.

QUESTION: So what does that mean, that you haven’t changed your – you’re not designating them –

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: — like the Israelis did.

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

QUESTION: But you’re – but at the same time, are you also saying that pending some new information that the Israelis provide, that you think that – you think, as you have before, that the allegations against these groups are specious?

MR PRICE: Well, I don’t know that we’ve used that term. What we’ve said –

QUESTION: Right. That they’re not – that –

MR PRICE: What we’ve said consistently is that these types of actions against independent NGOs need to be predicated on a very high bar.

QUESTION: Okay. And when was the last time that you updated either the Israelis or these Palestinian NGOs about the status of the review? Do you know?

MR PRICE: When we spoke to the NGOs themselves?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. I mean, when – you’re saying that you haven’t changed it, but that it’s subject to change depending on there being new information. When was the last time you informed the Israelis of this? Perhaps yesterday?

MR PRICE: We’ve had regular discussions with our Israeli partners on this front.

QUESTION: Did it come up in the conversation between Secretary Blinken and Minister Dermer?

MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that. And —

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. And it didn’t mention it. That’s why I’m asking this question. So did it come up?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to go beyond the readout. What I will say is that Mr. Dermer and the National Security Advisor have a remit that is primarily regional security. Of course, the Secretary did make the point about the need to de-escalate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But much of that conversation was focused on the challenges to security in the region. And of course, at the top of that list is Iran. That was the focus of that conversation.


QUESTION: Back on China?


QUESTION: Have you watched Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s press conference yesterday? And what is your take on it?

MR PRICE: Well, I did, of course, see excerpts of it. I saw some of the excerpts printed in state-run media. Look, our approach to the PRC is always going to remain the same. It is an approach that is predicated on the strategy that the Secretary laid out in May of last year that we’ve spoken to ever since. It boils down to invest, align, compete: investing in ourselves, aligning with our allies and partners, and a recognition that competition is at the heart of this relationship. We hear a number of things from our PRC counterparts.

Of course, the PRC is going through its own internal processes, and I couldn’t speak to the motivation for some of the statements we’ve heard from senior PRC leaders over the course of the past several days. But what I can tell you – and this is a message intended for the American people, the Chinese people, people around the world – that the United States does not seek conflict. The United States seeks a relationship with the PRC that has a floor, that has guardrails, and that ultimately is a relationship that has measures in place to prevent competition from veering into conflict. That has been the core focus of our engagement with the PRC since the earliest days of this administration.

When Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan met with their counterparts in Anchorage to more recent meetings – the meeting between President Biden and President Xi – recent engagements between Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi, it has been about primarily, at its core, one thing and one thing only: responsibly managing this relationship to see to it that competition can’t veer into anything resembling conflict.

QUESTION: So would Qin Gang’s remarks in any way change your calculus or decision-making towards China?

MR PRICE: Again, our approach is based on these extrinsic features: the need to invest in ourselves, which we’ve done; the need to align with allies and partners around the world, which we’ve done – we’ve done that in Europe; you see that reflected in the G7 communique from 2021; you see that reflected in the NATO Strategic Concept that for the first time mentions the systemic challenge that the PRC poses to the rest of the world; you see that in the restoration and the revitalization of the EU China dialogue, an important mechanism that we have with our European Union allies as well; you’ve seen us take that same approach with partners in the Indo-Pacific region – but also competition and seeing to it that the United States is best positioned to compete, knowing that for us at least competition is not a bad thing.

Competition is a good thing. It is what is ingrained in us as Americans as something that is healthy and something that we seek out on a constructive basis. We ultimately, however, seek to ensure that that competition, which we welcome as long as it’s fair, is, number one, fair, and that it doesn’t veer into that realm of conflict.

QUESTION: Actually, talking about competition, he said in reality, the competition – this – your competition aims to contain and suppress China in all respects. Basically, he just accused the United States only accept one result, which is the U.S. wins, China lose. Can you accept other result?

MR PRICE: Of course. This is not about containing any country around the world. This is not about containing China. This is not about suppressing China. This is not about holding China back. This is about upholding the rules-based order, the rules-based order that countries like China have signed onto, that they signed onto in the earliest days of the UN system, that they signed onto in the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that they signed onto in the context of international law, and that countries like China also consistently point to. This is what we’re seeking to uphold.

It is not about holding back China. It’s not about holding back any other country. We want to have that constructive competition that is fair, that allows our two countries to coexist responsibly as we are confident we can, and that has those checks in place to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into that conflict.

QUESTION: And lastly, he warned that if the United States is not going to take a break, you risk conflict with China. Are there any mechanisms left right now to prevent confrontation or – and/or conflict?

MR PRICE: Well, first on that list is dialogue, is communication.

QUESTION: Yeah, but almost all dialogues are suspended.

MR PRICE: Well, that’s unfortunate, and it’s – it is not our wish; it’s not our doing. I would —

QUESTION: Is it true?

MR PRICE: I would also push back – thank you for preempting me on that. I would also push back on the idea that almost all communication is suspended. That’s not the case, of course. We have an embassy in Beijing. The PRC has an embassy here with a new ambassador, in fact, someone who is well known to senior American officials. Secretary Blinken just sat down with Wang Yi in Munich. There have been a number of engagements with our PRC counterparts at various levels, even in recent weeks when, admittedly, tensions have been somewhat elevated.

So first on that list is the ability to engage in dialogue, the ability to communicate clearly, directly with one another. Now, there are areas where there isn’t the level or the cadence of communication that we would like to see, and our colleague at the Department of Defense have spoken to that. Again, that is not our doing; that is because of the decisions that have been made in Beijing, not the decisions that have been made in Washington.

So we would like to see these channels of communication continue, to expand, and, at the appropriate time, even deepen.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that specifically?


QUESTION: When you laid out the Biden administration’s policy approach to China just there, you talked about investing in ourselves, allying with partners and allies, and competing constructively. Another major pillar that you guys have referenced in the past is working with China where interests align. Why did you leave that out today? Is there any reason for it? Are you more pessimistic about working with China at this point in time?

MR PRICE: Not at all, not at all. This is – it is a key element of our vision of the relationship. We know – and there are different ways to talk about the relationship. The pillars that we talked about are the pillars that Secretary Blinken laid out in May. But there are different features of this relationship. There are some features that are competitive, and in fact that’s most features of this relationship, we think. There are some features that have the potential to be adversarial, even conflictual. Those are the areas that we want to confine, narrow, even potentially eliminate if we could. And there are some areas that we believe have to be cooperative and collaborative, not because it’s a favor to the PRC or to any other country but it’s – because it’s profoundly in our interest and in the interests of countries around the world.

We’ve talked about some of those such areas. Climate is one. This is, with the world’s two largest emitters, an area in which we have to cooperate with one another. It’s also an area where we have managed to cooperate with one another now over successive administrations. Fentanyl and the challenge of synthetic drugs of course is another where we have to find ways to work together. We would like to do more with the PRC. We are encouraging deeper cooperation and collaboration on the part of the PRC on a challenge that is the leading killer of Americans aged 18 to 49, but that has wreaked havoc on countries near and far.

All that to say there are transnational challenges, challenges that have a disruptive effect on the lives of the American people, but also on people around the world where the United States and China, we believe, can and should work together.

QUESTION: And I’m sorry, I missed the top of the briefing. I saw your remarks, but I just have a few follow-up questions on the Americans kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. You said that the two bodies of the Americans who were killed had been recovered. Do you have any information for us as to who within the U.S. Government has those bodies right now? Is it FBI investigators? Is it State Department officials? And where exactly those bodies are in Mexico right now.

MR PRICE: I don’t have specific details to relay on where those – where their remains are. We are working collaboratively – our officials from our consulate in Matamoros, our officials based in the embassy in Mexico City are working very closely with their Mexican counterparts, with the FBI, with the DEA, with other partners on this in an effort to repatriate those remains as soon as we can.

QUESTION: And just one more question – actually two. Sorry. Is the U.S. Government satisfied at this point with your engagement with the Mexican Government on this crisis issue? And we’ve heard from yourself and from the White House that you guys are focused on ensuring that justice is done. Can you just explain for us what justice could actually look like in this case?

MR PRICE: Well, first, when it comes to what we’ve seen from our Mexican partners, we do express our deepest appreciation to our Mexican partners as well as to our interagency colleagues for their efforts in facilitating the recovery of these two Americans and for the recovery of the remains of the two Americans who tragically are now deceased.

In terms of justice and accountability, this is something that will be within the purview of our law enforcement colleagues. Of course the FBI is engaged on this, Mexican authorities are engaged on this. It’s not for me or for the State Department to be prescriptive, but ultimately we want to see accountability for the violence that has been inflicted on these Americans that tragically led to the death of two of them.


QUESTION: On Mexico?

MR PRICE: Mexico? Stay on Mexico? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think that the Mexican Government is doing enough against drug cartels? And some Republicans are asking again to designate drug cartels as terrorist groups. What’s your position on that?

MR PRICE: So this is a challenge in parts of Mexico. It is a challenge that has spillover effects for Americans and for the United States. It is a challenge on which we are partnering with our Mexican counterparts. This is of course something that has the full attention of this administration. It is a long-running challenge, but we are going to work cooperatively, collaboratively with our Mexican partners in any way we can to help address these pockets of insecurity, the drug trafficking, the other security threats that are at or near – sometimes cross over into – our border.

When it comes to the drug cartels, we are going to do what is most effective to limit their ability to traffic in their wares. This is something that our colleagues at the DEA are extremely focused on. We have laws on the books. We have designated these criminal organizations, these drug-trafficking organizations, consistent with the authorities that we as a government have, but we are always going to look at every tool that is – by law or any other authority available to us – to attempt to work with our Mexican partners to crack down on what is a threat to Mexicans and to Americans alike.

QUESTION: So you – you’re open to consider them like a group, terrorist groups?

MR PRICE: We have designated these groups as appropriate. We are always going to continue to do what is most effective and what is available to us to hold these groups accountable.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Even after one year of the war, even seeing all these atrocities, Ukrainians are really shocked now because of the footage emerged. And it’s a footage of the Ukrainian soldier reportedly captured by Russian in Bakhmut and to shot by death, standing unarmed, and just saying glory to Ukraine. Two questions, please.

Firstly, could you comment on this, if the State Department is aware of this footage and this reportages? And secondly, may one expect that the international team and American team who is helping Ukraine to investigate the military crime can help with this? Because the country started its own investigation right now. Thank you.

MR PRICE: So of course we are aware of this gruesome video. There is no other word for it. The harrowing imagery of this unarmed Ukrainian being executed after making the simple statement of glory to Ukraine is just breathtaking in terms of its barbarity.

Russia, we believe, should be ashamed of itself. It is flouting the basic rules of war, basic humanity, basic decency, when its forces take part in atrocities like this. Members of Russia’s force have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. We’re not naïve to believe that Russia will admit to this or – in the near term – even change its ways. This, of course, is not the first evidence of Russia’s apparent atrocities in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it probably will not be the last. A tally that our Ukrainian partners are maintaining of potential war crimes or atrocities now has tens of thousands of instances on it.

Russia has – repeatedly says that it wants peace. There can be peace in Ukraine today; there could have been peace in Ukraine a year ago. Russia, if it is serious about that, can withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Russia’s leaders in the Kremlin, as they see these harrowing images, should remember that the international community, including the United States, will do everything we possibly can to see to it that those responsible – at the ground level up to the political level – are held responsible and accountable for these war crimes and atrocities that we’ve seen committed.


MR PRICE: Let me move around just so we can —

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this point. You’re saying that Russia could end this war today. So – but they need to withdraw. Is that – is that a precondition to start any negotiations?

MR PRICE: Said, President Zelenskyy has put forward a vision for a just and durable peace. A just peace means a peace that is consistent with the basic foundational principles that countries around the world, including Russia, have signed up to: the UN Charter; international law; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; basic principles like territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence – everything that is at stake in Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. And durable, meaning that there can’t be a phony peace in which Russia stops fighting only to rest, to refit, to regroup, and to reattack, whether that’s within months or years down the road.

This is a vision that President Zelenskyy has put forward. It’s a vision we believe in, that countries around the world have endorsed as well.


QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. The current Government of Pakistan suspended the transmission and license of ARY News in all over the country, and this is not the first time ARY News is being targeted. We spoke about it many times. Even Counselor Derek Chollet told me that he is going to take up this issue with the Pakistani Government when he was visiting Pakistan. Your thoughts and your comments on that, please?

MR PRICE: Well, this is an issue that we routinely raise. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to stakeholders around the world, including to counterparts and partners in Pakistan. A free press and informed citizenry are key to any nation and its democratic future. As a general matter, we’re concerned by media and content restrictions that undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

QUESTION: So the same Government of Pakistan who suspended the license of ARY News also banned women’s march. They are not giving permission to the women to mark International Day for some reason, and the interesting thing is that the foreign minister of Pakistan is giving lecture in UN right now on women’s leadership and rights of women.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on giving permission to the women to express themselves on International Women’s Day?

MR PRICE: Well, the narrow question you raise is not a question for the United States. The narrow question you raise, as I understand it, pertains to a decision that was put down by municipal authorities in Lahore, and ultimately we would defer to municipal authorities for the narrow question.

On the broader question, we know – the United States knows – that by strengthening gender equity and equality, countries around the world strengthen their stability, prosperity, their security, and their democracy.

QUESTION: So United States Government announced 500 scholarships for the 500 flood-affected students in Pakistan. Can you share some details about that?

MR PRICE: So we did announce 500 new scholarships for Pakistani university students from these flood-affected districts. These scholarships will assist the students in completing their degrees. Our Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Bloom announced the scholarships today as part of an International Women’s Day celebration at the Higher Education Commission in Islamabad.

The United States – through the department, through USAID – has supported scholarships for meritorious yet financially disadvantaged students to pursue higher education at top Pakistani universities. In partnership with the Higher Education Commission, the U.S. Government has awarded over 6,000 scholarships to the merit and needs-based scholarship program, and 60 percent of those scholarships have been awarded to women as part of our support for women’s higher education. And that goes back to the point I made earlier about women’s equity and equality.


QUESTION: Thank you. I just would like to follow up on yesterday’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and South Korean National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han. Can you talk a bit about the outcome of the meeting? Did they also exchanged their views about ROK’s new announcement on historical issue with Japan and coming ROK’s president visit to United States? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes – so the answer to your questions is yes, it was a very productive meeting that the Secretary had with ROK NSA Kim Sung-han yesterday. We issued a readout after that meeting, but as we said, the Secretary heartily welcomed the announcement that bilateral discussions between the ROK and Japan to resolve sensitive historical issues had concluded.

In addition, the Secretary and the national security advisor discussed how both countries can further support – can further offer our support to Ukraine and to boost our collective economic security. And the Secretary assured the national security advisor of the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defense of the ROK, and they also noted how much they look forward to the state visit that was announced by the White House today of President Yoon to the White House in April.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: They talked about it before the announcement was made?

MR PRICE: Sometimes, Matt —

QUESTION: My God, what – how shocking.

MR PRICE: It’s hard to imagine, I know.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. To follow up on the ROK president’s visit to White House, what kind of topics do you expect during the state visit, including security issues in East Asia and economic security? And also, do you hope this state visit will also contribute to deeper trilateral cooperation including Japan?

MR PRICE: So this, of course, will be the second state visit of this administration. I note that because, for us, it’s important that our ROK allies were to have that spot of honor. The upcoming visit celebrates the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance. It’s critical, we believe, to advancing peace, stability, and prosperity for our two countries, for the broader Indo-Pacific region, and for the broader world.

The two presidents will highlight the importance and enduring strength of the ironclad U.S.-ROK alliance as well as the United States’ unwavering commitment to the ROK. They’ll also discuss our shared resolve to deepen and broaden our political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties. Obviously that is a broad set of topics, but the state visit is now about a month away. I imagine we’ll have more specific details to share as we approach that visit.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. It’s about Grossi’s trip to Tehran. You mentioned very briefly yesterday, but have you seen the corrections done by Islamic Republic on Grossi’s verbal report during his presser? Because they are basically denying many of agreements that Grossi talked about, for instance increased monitoring or having access to some people or some suspected sites. Also Grossi said that some cameras are going to start working again, the cameras that Islamic Republic took down in June.

Have you seen those corrections, and where do you stand on that? Because you decided that during the Board of Governors ongoing session to take no actions against Islamic Republic. So how do you interpret this contradictions between what Grossi is saying and what Islamic Republic is claiming?

MR PRICE: To the second part of your question, we are closely coordinating with our European allies, the so-called E3 allies that are part of the P5+1, following Director General Grossi’s discussions in Tehran this past weekend. But we don’t have anything to preview when it comes to our posture at the Board of Governors that will unfold in the coming hours.

We’ll continue to support the IAEA in its efforts to clarify and resolve all outstanding safeguards issues and apply effective verification and monitoring measures at Iran’s nuclear facilities. And we call on Iran to fully comply with its legally binding obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

Now, the key point for us is that the joint statement between the IAEA and Iran was important. What will be much more important is the follow-through. And we have full faith and confidence on the part of the IAEA to monitor Iran’s follow-through or lack thereof, as the case might be. We will judge Iran on its actions, nothing less. And we expect, as does the IAEA, Iran to follow through with the commitments that it made in line with that joint statement.

QUESTION: And do you think anything regarding Iran’s nuclear program is going to happen from U.S. side before the 2024 presidential election? Are you going to take any action before the election?

MR PRICE: I just wouldn’t want to speculate on that. Look, we have a number of concerns with Iran. We’ve repeatedly made the point that we are conveying very clearly to the Iranians three messages: First, stop killing, stop suppressing your people; second, stop providing UAV technology to Russia; and third, release the wrongfully detained Americans that you have held.

Now, of course, when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, that is a threat, is a challenge to the United States. It is a threat and a challenge to our partners in the region. In some ways, it’s a threat and challenge to countries around the world. We continue to believe that only through diplomacy will we be able to address the challenge that Iran’s nuclear program poses, only will we be able to address it in a way that is permanent, is durable, and is verifiable.

Our focus when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program remains on diplomacy. Diplomacy is always going to be our first resort, but that is not to say that it would be our last resort. We haven’t taken any options off the table. We’re very focused on this. Right now, we’re working with allies, partners around the world on the most effective ways to counter Iran’s nuclear program that, of course, is a concern to us.


QUESTION: Ned, Iran?

MR PRICE: Still on Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Report – there were reportedly cross-border missile attacks from Iran into Iraq today. Defense Secretary Austin is there; so is the German foreign minister. Do you think – given what you just said, your messages to Iran and the fact that the U.S. and its allies have been talking, speaking out in support of the Iranian people – that this missile attack may be a message?

MR PRICE: Guita, I’d seen those reports. As of an hour or so ago, we weren’t in a position to confirm those reports, so I can’t speak to the veracity of the information you just relayed. What I can say, however, is that we have seen Iran undertake challenges, threats, provocations with the objective of intimidating or violating the sovereignty of Iraq. We stand by our Iraqi partners; we stand by Iraq’s sovereignty. And any efforts to strike out at Iraq’s sovereignty, its independence, that is something that we condemn forcefully. But we’re just not in a position to confirm those reports just yet.

QUESTION: And on Iran as well?


QUESTION: So with their warships landing in Brazil last week, does the State Department or White House have any comment for the Brazilian Government specifically? And do you guys view this sort of like through a kind of Monroe Doctrine lens of like they’re on our body of land?

MR PRICE: Countries are going to make their own decisions. The Monroe Doctrine is a legacy of history. It is not something that the United States espouses. We have partners in our hemisphere. Brazil, of course, is a close partner of the United States; it’s a close democratic partner of the United States. It’s our impression that no democracy in this hemisphere or anywhere else would want these kinds of Iranian assets, these warships docking in their ports. We want to continue to work with our Brazilian partners to send the right message to Iran, to others who would pose a threat, pose a challenge to our collective interests around the world. We believe, as we’ve said, that warships like this have no place in the Western Hemisphere, given the signal it sends.

QUESTION: And if I could just get one quick on Ukraine that wasn’t mentioned.


QUESTION: Zelenskyy has vowed to retake Crimea, where Russian civilians have lived for almost a decade now. And he said he’s going to launch the spring offensive when Western tanks arrive – or someone in Ukraine, an advisor has. Are you guys concerned about Western weapons being used against Russian civilians in Crimea?

MR PRICE: A couple points. First, and most importantly, Crimea is Ukraine. That has been the position of the United States and the vast majority of the global community since 2014. Only a small handful of countries have offered anything to the contrary. Crimea is Ukraine. It will be Ukraine going forward. That will not change.

When it comes to the decisions that President Zelenskyy and his government will make, there’s – those are their decisions. We are supporting Ukraine, our partners in Ukraine, to take on the battle where it is raging. Right now, it’s raging in the east. It’s raging in the south. We’re providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their democracy, and ultimately to be effective in the battle where it is at the moment.

QUESTION: But if it were to – if civilians were to take casualties, what would the U.S. position, you know —

MR PRICE: Again, that’s a hypothetical. Ukraine is going to make its own decisions. It will define what it seeks to accomplish. But we are supporting Ukraine as it is taking on Russian invaders where the battle is raging right now. That’s in the south, that’s in the east.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, can I just go back to the Brazil question for a second – the Brazil-Iran question? That is, is the administration going to impose sanctions on the Brazilian port, the port of Rio de Janeiro? And any gas – I don’t know what they take – diesel, whatever it is – any vendors that supplied them with fuel or food or other supplies?

MR PRICE: Matt, you won’t be surprised to hear that we don’t preview those types of actions, but Brazil, of course, is a partner. Brazil is a —

QUESTION: Are they aware? Have you made them aware that they are subject to secondary sanctions given the fact that these two warships are designated?

MR PRICE: We are a partner to Brazil; Brazil is a partner to us.

QUESTION: Have they been told?

MR PRICE: We have discussions with our Brazilian partners on a range of issues. They, I am confident, are aware of existing sanctions authorities, but —

QUESTION: Is it not U.S. law that they must be sanctioned?

MR PRICE: Matt, again, we just don’t —

QUESTION: That they must be – is it not the law that they – that you – this is a violation of those sanctions.

MR PRICE: I would have to look into the law —

QUESTION: So is it not the law that —

MR PRICE: I would have to look into whether these are mandatory and what the details are, but again, our Brazilian partners are sanctions – our Brazilian partners are partners. We are going to do what is most effective together in pushing back on the threat and the challenge that Iran poses to —

QUESTION: What does – does that mean that you could decide that what is most effective is not implementing the law?

MR PRICE: Matt, you know we follow the law. Again, I am – I’m not going to – I’m not – I’m not going to —

QUESTION: I don’t know, you seem to be – you seem not – if it were found that the Brazilian port operator and attendant companies – caterers, fuel suppliers, whoever – provided this – provided these two ships, sanctioned ships, with assistance, with support, would the sanctions apply?

MR PRICE: As we always do, we marry the facts with the law and arrive at a decision, but we don’t preview those decisions.

QUESTION: Okay, so the – so – all right, so the answer is yes, if you do determine that the sanctions were violated, then there will be penalties imposed on your “partners,” quote/unquote, in Brazil at the port of Rio and whoever else.

MR PRICE: Matt, I think you’re zooming a bit far ahead. We marry the facts with the law. We don’t preview any actions we might take, but importantly, Brazil is a partner and we’re having these conversations with our Brazilian partners.

QUESTION: Okay, but you can – but you can say that you will uphold the law.

MR PRICE: Matt, we follow the law.

QUESTION: All right. And then just secondly, on your Monroe Doctrine comment, it was back in 2014 or so that Secretary Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine was dead, so that’s not particularly new. But in fact —

MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to make news with that.

QUESTION: Well, I know, but the fact of the matter is – is that it doesn’t really appear to be dead. I mean, you guys say that it is dead, but if you’re going to go ahead and enforce the law when it comes to Brazil and these Iranian warships, that would seem to – now, granted, Iran is not Europe, but it would seem to suggest that you are opposed to and will take action against foreign non-Western Hemisphere interference in the Western Hemisphere, which would suggest —

MR PRICE: You’re making – Matt, you’re making a number of assumptions. What is —

QUESTION: I don’t think I’m making any assumptions.

MR PRICE: What is true – what is true and that you are not wrong in relaying is the fact that a country like Iran poses a collective threat to the United States and to our partners in this hemisphere. It is our intention to work collaboratively with our partners in the region but even closer to this neighborhood on those types of threats.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, do you believe that China poses a threat in the Western Hemisphere, in places like Panama and Central America, in places where they’re making inroads?

MR PRICE: These are decisions that governments are going to have to make on a sovereign basis. Our intention in engagement with these governments is to see to it to do everything we can that their decisions are informed decisions. These are not decisions for us to make.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I have a question concerning Okinawa Governor Tamaki’s visit to the State Department today. Before the visit, Governor Tamaki has said that there is an overburden on the Okinawan residents due to the U.S. military presence there in the island. He’s been calling for the relocation plan of the U.S. base in Okinawa to be reviewed so it is located outside of Okinawa. Could you tell me if any of these issues were discussed today during today’s visit? And how does the State Department address these concerns and claims?

MR PRICE: I – we’ll see if we have anything to offer in the aftermath of the discussion today, see if we can get you some details of that.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: There was a TikTok – I have a question to – America made ban for TikTok, and was there any discussion with the Chinese side about this? I’m just wondering what is the current assignment for Chinese devices?

MR PRICE: What is our current —

QUESTION: Assessment for Chinese devices.

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t paint with a broad brush, but I think you’ve heard my colleagues from the White House and from other partners across the government express the concern that we have for technologies like TikTok, technologies that we recognize that foreign governments could use to pose a threat to the privacy, the personal security to American citizens, or to pose a more systemic threat to the United States and our interests. These are challenges that we’re attuned to, but ultimately, this is a matter that is under review by the relevant authorities in this country and we’re not going to get ahead of that review.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Dylan.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know you said yesterday that it would ultimately be up to Speaker McCarthy to decide what he’s going to do as far as traveling to Taiwan or not. Part of the reporting that covered that also said that there was concern on both sides, including in the administration, about China’s reaction to such a visit. Can you speak to that? Is that true? Is there concern within the department, within the administration about how China would react to that visit if it happened?

MR PRICE: Dylan, Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. The Speaker, any member of Congress is going to make his or her own decision about the meetings that they take or choose not to take or how they take those meetings or where they take those meetings. We routinely engage with members to share information that we have.

Look, our broader concern, leaving aside the reports that have been out there about Speaker McCarthy and a potential engagement, is the fact that the PRC has consistently sought to undermine the prevailing status quo, the status quo that has upheld decades of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

We saw the PRC in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan attempt falsely to claim that her visit was a change to the status quo and to use that as a pretext to undermine the prevailing status quo. Our charge and our goal, unlike that of the PRC, is not to undermine the status quo; it is to reinforce, it is to strengthen the status quo, because we recognize that the status quo across the Taiwan Strait has undergirded peace and security, it’s enabled commerce, it has contributed to the vision we share with so many of our partners of a free and open Indo-Pacific. We are concerned that the PRC and its deeds, its words has sought to undermine that, and that’s something that we’re continuing to watch very closely.

QUESTION: So in the conversations you may have had with McCarthy’s office, has there been increased concern expressed versus, for instance, Pelosi’s visit, since you mentioned that?

MR PRICE: I’m just not going to comment on any conversations we may have had with the Speaker and his office. I’m not aware that Speaker McCarthy has announced any intention to engage in a meeting. I’m not aware that Taiwanese officials have announced any forthcoming travel. Of course, those decisions are going to rest with the Speaker, and we’d refer you to his office in the first instance.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Blinken has just met with business leaders and members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I know that it was simultaneous with this press briefing, but is there anything else that you can update us on?

MR PRICE: We may have some additional details to relay in the aftermath of that engagement today.

QUESTION: In written statement – I mean how —

MR PRICE: We’ll convey it how we’re able to. I think we may have some written material to pass.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question about the Die Zeit report today about the blast on the Nord Stream pipelines. So Die Zeit reported that the investigators established the vessel that was allegedly used to blow up the Nord Stream, and it belongs to two Ukrainian nationals from Poland. So should the investigators conclude that the Ukrainian Government was actually behind the blasts?

MR PRICE: Well, you referenced —

QUESTION: Will it somehow affect the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine?

MR PRICE: You reference the investigators, and in fact there are three countries —


MR PRICE: — that are investigating exactly what transpired: our German allies, our Swedish and Danish partners as well. They’ve opened investigation into what has happened. They – those investigations are ongoing. As we always do, we’re going to let those investigations play out before we comment on any potential findings or conclusions.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Just to follow up on yesterday’s readout on the Russian diamonds – the engagement in this building, I think with industry professionals, ahead of the president on their latest trip to Washington, D.C., is there anything – speaking like from broader picture, anything we should expect on this front in the coming days?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Russian diamonds?

QUESTION: How to respond along with your European colleagues?

MR PRICE: Alex, all I can say – and again, because we don’t preview any actions that we may or may not take – we’re always looking at steps we can take to deprive the Russian Federation of revenue that it would otherwise use to prosecute this brutal war against the people of Ukraine. We have taken steps when it comes to Russian oil, when it comes to Russian energy, when it comes to Russian gold, a number of other assets that Russia would seek to leverage to fill its coffers and that in turn would be fungible as Russia seeks to fund this war, but I don’t have anything to preview at this time.


QUESTION: And separately, can I get a reaction —

MR PRICE: I need to move because we’ve already – yeah.

QUESTION: Going back to Nord Stream.


QUESTION: Can you just say, does the United States intend to eventually make a conclusion of its own based off the variety of investigations? Will it back those findings or not?

MR PRICE: These are close partners of ours who are investigating the blasts. We have full faith and confidence in the investigation that they’re running. Of course, we’re going to wait for those investigations to conclude. We’ll see what they say, but again, we have full faith and confidence in our European partners who are behind this.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – March 6, 2023

2:13 p.m. EST

MR PRICE:   Good afternoon.  Welcome back to all of those who were traveling with Secretary Blinken.  Welcome to the week to everyone else.  I have one announcement at the top and then we’ll turn to your questions.

As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have stated, the United States welcomes the historic announcement that bilateral discussions between the Republic of Korea and Japan to resolve sensitive historical issues have concluded.  We encourage the ROK and Japan to build on this step to continue to advance their bilateral relations.

The Republic of Korea and Japan are two of our most important allies in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and stronger ties between them advance our own shared goals.

The trilateral relationship between the United States, the ROK, and Japan is central to that shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, which is why we have invested so much time and so much focus on this critical partnership.  Specifically, we have had roughly 25 senior‑level trilateral engagements with Japan and the ROK over the course of this administration.  This includes engagements from Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim, and of course from President Biden himself.

We look forward to continuing to strengthen our trilateral partnership to help bring about a safer and more prosperous world.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION:  Great.  Happy Monday.

MR PRICE:  Happy Monday.

QUESTION:  Two things first, really briefly.  Do you have anything to add to the statement that your White House colleague just read about the Americans who have been kidnapped in Mexico?

MR PRICE:  I will admit I didn’t see the full extent of her own statement, but I expect she noted that we are closely following the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens in Matamoros on March 3rd – the FBI, working very closely with other federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies to investigate this.  I’m sure you saw the FBI put out a reward for their safe return.  We’re standing ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.  We do also remind Americans about the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular part of Mexico.  The Travel Advisory for Tamaulipas state remains at Level 4: Do Not Travel.  We encourage Americans to heed that – heed that advice.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So essentially, no, you don’t have anything to add.  Thank you.  But do you —

MR PRICE:  I’m always glad to hear we’re consistent.

QUESTION:  There was a – well, there was a – (laughter) – there was a question about whether all four were U.S. citizens —

MR PRICE:  I see.

QUESTION:  — or not.  Has that been confirmed now to your —

MR PRICE:  We’re aware —

QUESTION:  — satisfaction?

MR PRICE:  — of the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens.  That’s our understanding.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then separate from that and going back to the Secretary’s trip, I just wanted to know, and I’m not really expecting anything here, but just a shot in —

MR PRICE:  Always a good approach.

QUESTION:  — shot in the dark here.

MR PRICE:  Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering after his 10-minute or less-than-10-minute exchange with Foreign Minister Lavrov if there has been any follow-up to that or any conversation at a notable level between you guys and the Russians, or if he left that exchange, that encounter with the idea that there might be in the near future?

MR PRICE:  Well, we’ve always had the idea that we are prepared and ready to engage when our interests are implicated, when the interests of our partners and allies around the world are implicated.  That’s precisely why this wasn’t the first conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov.  It wasn’t even the first since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion against Ukraine in February of last year.

QUESTION:  Well, it was the second.

MR PRICE:  It was the second.  It was the second.


MR PRICE:  But —

QUESTION:  Two in —

MR PRICE:  But we have demonstrated, and two makes this a consistent pattern, but both in word and we’ve also made it clear – both in deed and we’ve made it clear in word that we are ready to engage when it is in our interest to do so, when it’s in the interests of our allies and partners around the world to do so.  The Secretary was clear about the three priorities that he raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov in that meeting.  We’ve also been clear that we didn’t – we wouldn’t expect one particular, one specific meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov would lead to a resolution of the issues that he raised, and that of course is putting it very mildly.

We remain prepared, ready to engage if it is in our interest.  As you know, we do have lines of communication.  We have an embassy in Moscow.  The Russians have an embassy here.  There are other channels from within the State Department, from within other departments and entities within the Executive Branch.  We are going to do – continue to do what is most effective to advance our interests.

We thought that last week because Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov were in the same room, they were in the same place, it was an opportunity for the Secretary to convey very directly, without any room for misinterpretation, the areas that matter a great deal to us.  Whether the Russians will in turn act on that in any way, the jury is still out.  Again, we harbor no illusions that a single, brief encounter would change their position, but it’s important for us to advocate and to advocate effectively for our interests.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Has the Secretary seen the now-infamous clip on social media in which Lavrov claims that the war was launched by the West against him, his country, and that he is out there to stop it?  I was wondering what was the Secretary’s reaction.  Was it reflecting the reaction that we have seen from the audience?

MR PRICE:  I think, Alex, you can’t watch that clip, you couldn’t have been in the room and heard Foreign Minister Lavrov make those remarks and not to have the same reaction that, apparently, everyone else in that room had.  For those who haven’t seen the clip, the room breaks into what can be described as probably uproarious laughter at a statement from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia was attacked and that was the genesis of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

We’ve heard similar statements, outlandish statements like this, from Russia before.  I think it is clear from the reaction in that room the fact that the world is under no illusion about how this started, about who is responsible, and perhaps most importantly of all, who could end it if they – if Russia sought to seek an end to this war today, tomorrow.

QUESTION:  I’m just wondering if there’s any second thought after seeing Lavrov is denying even basic truth.

MR PRICE:  Alex, we’ve observed Foreign Minister Lavrov over the – over the course of the past year.  I think the Secretary has used the term that the foreign minister has an adversarial relationship with the truth.  We didn’t engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov because we necessarily trust what he has to say or what he has said, for that matter.  We engaged with Foreign Minister Lavrov just as we’ve engaged through other channels and through other counterparts because it’s in our interests to do so.  And again, we are clear-eyed about the potential for any sort of change, near-term change in the Russian posture on this.  The point of this brief encounter was not to seek to effect a reversal in the near term over these core issues that matter a great deal to us and to the rest of the world, but it’s in our interests to engage in diplomacy and to make clear where the United States stands.

QUESTION:  Ned, since you’re prepared to comment on that bit with the laughter, what’s your response to the fact that for those of us who were there, that at the beginning of his address at which this thing happened he actually got a round of applause from that same audience when he talked about how NATO was – and the West were encroaching on Russia and going and raising tensions because they’re getting closer?  So if you’re going to talk about the laughter at that one bit, I’m just wondering what you make of the applause.

MR PRICE:  Well, to say I was prepared to respond to it – he asked a question and I answered it, not that this was —

QUESTION:  Well, I don’t know – I don’t – I’m not suggesting it was precooked or anything.

MR PRICE:  Correct.

QUESTION:  But you were – you did respond to that.  So I’m just wondering if you have any concerns at all that that very same audience also seemed to be sympathetic to Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier.

MR PRICE:  Matt, there are misperceptions, and we do our best to counter the misperceptions that are out there, whether they are about the United States, whether they are about our Ukrainian partners, whether they are about NATO.  And we make clear at every opportunity we have that NATO is a defensive Alliance, pure and simple.  NATO has never threatened anyone that in turn doesn’t pose a threat to members of NATO.  NATO has expanded as a result of Russian aggression, and it is incumbent on NATO, on the member states as a defensive Alliance, to take prudent steps in response to what they’re seeing from Russia’s very own actions.

The Secretary almost every opportunity he gets makes the point that President Putin, who I think has done a great deal to not only unite NATO – NATO is now stronger, it is more purposeful, it is more determined – but more broadly than that, President Putin has precipitated just about everything he has sought to prevent.  And this goes back to 2014, whether you look at popular opinion of NATO in a place like Ukraine, whether you look at the Wales commitments that resulted from President Putin’s aggressive action in eastern Ukraine, his attempts to seize Crimea in 2014, the defense – the increase in defense spending that we’ve seen in the aftermath of Wales, and now in the aspirations of two additional European countries to join the world’s strongest defensive Alliance.

QUESTION:  Okay, fair enough.  But you seem to be pleased by the fact that people laughed at him when he made this statement about —

MR PRICE:  Matt, I was – I was simply responding to a question.

QUESTION:  I know, but – I get that.  So I’m asking another question.  I mean, does it not cause you any concern that the same audience was receptive to his argument that you reject, obviously?  But, I mean, we’re talking about an audience of highly educated people in India, nonaligned country, a country with which you are working to increase opposition to the Russian actions or the Russian war in Ukraine, and yet they seemed sympathetic not to the idea that Russia was attacked, but that somehow Russia was provoked or is threatened.

MR PRICE:  Matt, I —

QUESTION:  Is that not a cause for concern?

MR PRICE:  I think I told you at the outset that we have our work cut out for us.


MR PRICE:  It is a task that we have, that NATO has, and that our allies and partners more broadly have to combat misinformation, to combat disinformation.  We know that Russia is sowing disinformation, is sowing lies about the strategic intent of NATO.  We believe the best antidote to disinformation and misinformation is information.  It’s why we get up here and brief every day.  It’s why the Secretary brings reporters with him everywhere he travels.  It’s why we do press avails in – when he’s traveling, especially in – within our emerging partners.  All of that is part and parcel of it.

QUESTION:  Would you say – would you say the same about China?

MR PRICE:  Would I say what about China?

QUESTION:  About promoting disinformation and trying to —

MR PRICE:  I would.

QUESTION:  And just you would; that’s it?

MR PRICE:  Of course we have seen Russia and the PRC peddle misinformation and disinformation, yes.


MR PRICE:  Said.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you.  On the issue of diplomacy, I know that the new American ambassador, Lynn Tracy, only submitted her credentials a couple of months ago and so on.  Are there any – so she met with Russian officials and so on.  But has Ambassador Antonov been meeting with anyone in the State Department?  Has he met with like the Secretary of State or the under secretary of state —

MR PRICE:  Well, it wouldn’t —

QUESTION:  – or the deputy?

MR PRICE:  It wouldn’t be within protocol for the Russian ambassador to meet with the Secretary of State.  That’s not his natural counterpart.  But yes, without going into details of these engagements, Ambassador Antonov has had contact, including recent contact, including in-person contact, with appropriate State Department officials.

QUESTION:  I ask this because I think last month you said he had not met with any American officials in a very, very long time.

MR PRICE:  It may not be to the extent, and the cadence of that engagement may not be to his liking, but lines of communication remain open.  That is of critical importance to us.  And Ambassador Antonov is one element when it comes to those lines of communication.

QUESTION:  And one quick follow-up.  Secretary Austin said from Jordan yesterday that the fall of Bakhmut is not going to change the course of the war.  Can you comment on this?  I mean, are you guys now prepared that Bakhmut all but has fallen?

MR PRICE:  I’m not prepared to offer that assessment.  Of course, our Ukrainian partners in the first instance are going to have the best tactical battlefield update.  Our colleagues at the Department of Defense may speak to that as well.  But the sentiment that Secretary Austin was putting forward is exactly right, as you might expect.  This is a conflict that – a war, an invasion, I should say – whose contours were set in place on February 24th, February 25th, and the days that followed of last year.

It was very clear from the earliest hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that whenever this ended, it would end in a strategic failure for Russia.  That’s because the Ukrainians made very clear in the earliest hours of this conflict that the goals that President Putin sought to pursue – the fall of Ukraine, the fall of its government, the subjugation of its people, the erasure of its identity, the – essentially the subjugation of the country itself, would not be in the cards.

And so yes, we have been very clear that there are going to be tough days ahead.  Fighting, while it has lulled somewhat during the winter months, it has continued to rage, especially in the east, especially in the south.  There have been incremental gains by both sides; we expect that dynamic to continue.  The only reason a town like Bakhmut, which I believe, as Secretary Austin said, holds very little strategic import, is in the news, is in the headlines, is because the Russians have nothing else to point to over the course of more than 12 months of a brutal invasion, of their own brutal aggression.

Were the Russians in any – had they had any sort of success in this effort, the fall or the fact that a place like Bakhmut is being contested wouldn’t even register halfway around the world.  The fact that it is, the fact that people are focused on it, is because the Russians have nothing to point to during the course of their 12 months of brutal aggression against the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainians are, as they have across the country, making a valiant effort.  The broader strategic tide of this invasion, we think, is set in stone.  This will be a strategic failure for Russia.  The Ukrainians have demonstrated that they are in a position not only to withstand advancing Russian forces but to take back territory that has been wrested away from them.  That won’t change.


QUESTION:  Thank you.  Regarding the – I’m sorry.  Regarding the South Korea and Japan did make a decision on historic resolutions, many Koreans still do not agree on the solution of the history between South Korea and Japan, and this is because Japan has not formally apologized.  How do you feel on this?

MR PRICE:  Well, first and foremost, we’ve heartily welcomed the announcement between these two allies of ours, Japan and the ROK.  These issues of history are difficult.  They are complex.  They are complicated.  But both President Yoon, Prime Minister Kishida have demonstrated bold vision.  They have demonstrated courageous leadership by taking this step forward.

The United States is an ally to both of these countries.  We have rock-solid – we have a rock-solid bilateral relationship with both Japan and the ROK.  We have sought from the earliest moments of this administration to deepen and to advance the trilateral relationship, and I spoke a moment ago to some of the metrics that speak to that, some 25 trilateral engagements, several on the part of Secretary Blinken and his ministerial counterparts, several on the part of Deputy Secretary Sherman and her counterpart, Sung Kim and his counterparts, in person, over the phone, as well of course with the leader-level engagements that President Biden has taken part in as well.

And we’re doing that because the trilateral relationship is critical to a vision we share with both countries for a free and open Indo-Pacific.  You can talk about in terms of specific issues, in terms of the importance of trilateral cooperation on the challenges that are posed by the DPRK, but it’s also in some ways broader than that.  These are countries with whom we share interests, we share values, and at the crux of both those interests and those values is that very same vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

So we very much welcome the step forward that Japan and the ROK announced today, and the United States is going to continue to be a partner to do what we can to help these countries as they continue to take additional steps.

QUESTION:  A follow-up on that?

QUESTION:  Do you think Japanese should be – apologize to victims, not the government?

MR PRICE:  These are not questions for the United States to answer.  These are discussions that Japan and the ROK, our dear allies, are having between themselves.  That is the appropriate forum for these questions.

QUESTION:  One more.  South Korean National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han and Secretary Blinken are meeting today.  Why did National Security Advisor Kim suddenly visit to U.S., and what topic will they be talking about?

MR PRICE:  I don’t know that it was a sudden visit.  I think this visit has been on the books for some time.  Of course, it does come on a historic day in the context of our relationship with the ROK and with Japan as well.

They’ll discuss a number of issues.  They’re going to discuss how our two countries can continue to work together collaboratively to support our partners in Ukraine, to ensure our countries’ economic security and economic prosperity.  The Secretary, of course, will welcome the announcement between the ROK and Japan that we’ve been speaking to, and he will reinforce our commitment to extended deterrence in the face of the DPRK threat.  I do expect that we’ll have additional details after the meeting today, and we’ll be sure to share that.

QUESTION:  Are they going to talking about the semiconductor law also?

MR PRICE:  We’ll have additional details after the meeting, and we’ll be sure to share those.

Leon, did you have a follow-up?

QUESTION:  I did, but you answered it.

MR PRICE:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Or you didn’t answer, but – (laughter).

MR PRICE:  We’ll move forward then.  Shannon.

QUESTION:  Türkiye reportedly summoned Ambassador Flake to express their discontent over General Milley’s visit to Syria over the weekend.  Do you have any comment on this, and do you feel that any unease on Türkiye’s part is merited here?

MR PRICE:  We can confirm that Ambassador Flake did go the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs today for meetings and for discussions.  Of course, when it comes to General Milley’s visit, we’d refer you to the Department of Defense; however, it’s our understanding that General Milley met only with U.S. troops while in Syria.  It was only an interaction with American service members.

QUESTION:  Can I have a follow-up on that?

MR PRICE:  A follow-up on that?  Sure, sure.

QUESTION:  Same subject.  What you just said about he was only there to meet with U.S. officials, that is disputed by media that is close to the SDF/YPG, and they are saying that he did indeed meet with Mazloum Abdi, the head of the SDF.  So can you please put it into context for me, because we know that United States ambassador was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to give an explanation, quote/unquote, by the Turkish state agency.  So the U.S. Army chief travels to an area controlled by the YPG/PKK, and they are headed – the SDF is headed by someone who we all know comes from PKK ranks, and he ordered the killings of Turkish and Kurdish civilians as well as NATO soldiers.  So just the optics of that, the U.S. Army chief just doesn’t pop up anywhere around the world, so what is really the explanation for the visit?

MR PRICE:  The U.S. Army chief – and again, I’m not the Pentagon spokesperson so I’m not going to wade too far into this.  But the U.S. Army chief does pop up around the world to visit with U.S. service members.  That’s what he did in this context.  Our service members are deployed in Syria in service of a goal that we share with Türkiye as well as with our other allies as well as with all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  Our service members in Syria serve one function and only one function; that is to see to it that the enduring defeat of ISIS is cemented and that ISIS isn’t able to regain a pivotal foothold that they once had in places like Syria, in places like Iraq.  This is a goal that serves our interests.  It serves Türkiye’s interests.  It serves the interests of every single member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  There are now dozens of countries around the world that are part of this mission.

So no, it is not unusual for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to visit with U.S. service members who are deployed, in many cases deployed in harm’s way potentially and making sacrifices on behalf of their fellow Americans, but also on behalf of people around the world.

QUESTION:  If this man had traveled all the way there, and you’ve made it really clear that he only met with U.S. officials, so if there’s no problem with the fact that he can be seen in the same photograph with SDF officials, why didn’t that happen?  So he wasn’t welcomed by the SDF there in that area that was controlled – that is controlled by the J-SDF?

MR PRICE:  These are questions for the Department of Defense.  It’s our understanding that he met only with U.S. troops while in Syria.

QUESTION:  Just to follow on this, Kobani and that area where he visited, the area under the control of the Democratic Kurdish forces and so on, you can – you still consider that to be part of Syria, correct?

MR PRICE:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Part of the Syria that you recognize.

MR PRICE:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Did the – the chairman get a visa to go there, in Syria?

MR PRICE:  Said —

QUESTION:  I’m – it’s an honest question.  I mean —

MR PRICE:  Said, if that’s a serious question, I would encourage you to talk to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION:  It is a serious question.  How does he go – that – if that area, if you still recognize that area as being part of Syria, the top military leader in the United States of America, he goes there, in and out, without consulting with that government, without doing anything – correct?

MR PRICE:  Said, I would refer you to the Department of Defense if that is, in fact, a serious question.


QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  Secretary Blinken is meeting Lithuanian foreign minister today.  What would you say at least in principle what are the most important points of this meeting?

MR PRICE:  So we will have a fairly robust readout coming out of this meeting with our Lithuanian counterparts.  But Lithuania is a critical ally of the United States.  We share goals, of course, and interests as members of NATO.  We share a number of economic interests.  Lithuania, for its part, has demonstrated tremendous leadership, and beyond that resilience, in the face of the campaign of coercion that Lithuania has endured and of course withstood from the PRC over the course of the past year.

So we’ll have a pretty robust readout to offer in the aftermath of this meeting, but it’s important for Secretary Blinken to sit down with his Lithuanian counterpart to discuss these shared interests, to discuss the values that unite our two countries, and really to commend Lithuania for the leadership and resilience that it has demonstrated across the board.

Yes.  Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, no, I was wondering, the Secretary is also meeting a senior Israeli official today.  And this comes after the trip of the head of the IAEA in Tehran came back and said there was progress in negotiations of cameras and so forth.  So what is the U.S. assessment of Grossi’s trip to Iran, and where do you stand on potentially introducing a resolution or not during this council meetings in Vienna?

MR PRICE:  Sure.  So first, on the visit of the director general to Tehran over the weekend, we welcome and appreciate the efforts of the IAEA Director General Grossi to engage on the importance of resolving longstanding questions related to Iran’s safeguards, obligations, and on other matters related to its nuclear program.

In the joint statement that was announced on March 4th between Iran and the IAEA, Iran committed to take important steps and expressed a readiness to provide long overdue cooperation with the agency on the outstanding safeguards issues.  We expect, most importantly, Iran to take prompt and concrete action in line with the joint statement.  Too many times in the past we’ve seen Iran issue vague promises, only never to follow through.

We and the IAEA Board of Governors have been clear that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA fully and without delay, and we look forward to additional reporting from the IAEA in the coming weeks on the steps taken by Iran.

When it comes to the meeting of the Board of Governors, of course Iran will be a topic at the Board of Governors.  We’re engaged with our European allies, we’re also engaged with the IAEA itself, on the most effective means by which to see to it that Iran is held to the commitments that it has made.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I’ve got a question on the Americans kidnapped in Mexico.  The Mexican president said that they have information that the Americans crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, and then they were detained after a confrontation between groups.  I’ve seen other reporting that said a U.S. official said that they had traveled to the border city for medical procedures, citing receipts found.  Can you just clarify the – confirming either the Mexican president’s comments, or what can you tell us of what’s been circulating?

MR PRICE:  I’ve seen these same reports.  Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to confirm any of them – in part because this is an active investigation.  The FBI is working very closely with Mexican counterparts in an effort to safely recover these Americans.  So we wouldn’t want to get ahead of that investigation to the extent we do know details, but details are also quite scant at this time.

QUESTION:  But you wouldn’t refute what the Mexican president —

MR PRICE:  I’m just not going to weigh in.  I’ve seen those same reports.

QUESTION:  And then one quick follow-up.  I know you’ve said you don’t want to say too much, but are – is the State Department aware of a video that’s been circulating online showing a white van with people getting put into the van?  There’s been a lot of photos and videos circulating online.  I’m just wondering if authorities are at least looking into that, if you can kind of confirm whether those are authentic leads in this incident.

MR PRICE:  These are questions about an ongoing law enforcement investigation.  Certainly we’re not going to comment on any active leads.  I believe the FBI has issued a statement where they have put out some details of the vehicle in which these individuals were traveling.  But again, we’ll have to refer to the FBI on those questions.


QUESTION:  I just want a couple more just following up on that, if there’s any more information that you have or who carried this out, what is being done to get them home safely, and does this put more pressure to label cartels terrorist groups if this indeed is an act by the cartels?

MR PRICE:  So these are questions, again, that are about an ongoing investigation, and especially when an ongoing investigation has the ultimate goal of safely recovering Americans who have been abducted, we don’t want to say anything or do anything that could impair the ability of our counterparts in the FBI or other departments and agencies to safely carry out their mission.  On top of that, information is scant at this point, so we’re just not going to weigh in.

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I want to follow up on the announcement between ROK and Japan.  The U.S. has emphasized the importance of trilateral relationship among U.S., ROK, Japan many times, and on this historical forced labor issue specifically, what kind of advice did the U.S. give to ROK before this announcement?  What kind of role did the U.S. play in this announcement?

MR PRICE:  The United States has played the role of ally.  The United States has played the role of partner to both countries.  These are decisions that Japan and the ROK have had to make and will have to make themselves.  Of course, we are going to play whatever role we can to be most helpful, as helpful as we can, to our treaty allies, but these are decisions that the countries themselves have had to decide to pursue.  And when it comes to the decision that was announced today, it is something that we heartily commend, because we welcome the advancement of the bilateral relationship between the ROK and Japan, but it’s also critically important to us that the trilateral relationship between Japan, between the ROK, and the United States is as deep and effective and seamless as it possibly can be, not only for the core challenge that is the DPRK and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but also for the shared vision our three countries have of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.


QUESTION:  Staying in the region.

MR PRICE:  Sure.

QUESTION:  There’s a Financial Times report that Speaker McCarthy has been convinced by the Taiwan Government to actually meet with their president in California instead of Taiwan due to concerns about a Chinese aggressive response to that visit.  Has the State Department been involved in discussions about planning of that meeting between the two?

MR PRICE:  So first, I’m not aware of any confirmed travel on the part of President Tsai to the United States.  I’m specifically not aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any travel, so I would need to refer you to President Tsai’s office, to Speaker McCarthy’s office for any additional details beyond that.

QUESTION:  But just from like a – from a policy and planning perspective, would this department be involved in those conversations?

MR PRICE:  Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government.  Members of Congress – the Speaker of the House, in a case like this – is going to decide for himself or herself the meeting – the nature of the meetings that he or she wishes to make.  Now, of course, in the conduct of – in the actual travel of a foreign dignitary to the United States, there would be a role to play for the Department of State, but of course I’m not aware of any confirmed travel, nor am I aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any intention to travel.

QUESTION:  And just while we’re on the subject of travel and China, after the canceled visit to Beijing last month for the Secretary of State, you guys said that you would look to planning another visit when the conditions were conducive to that visit, I believe.  Are we any closer to getting that on the calendar?

MR PRICE:  What we said in the aftermath of that postponement – we pointed to the meeting between President Biden and President Xi, the meeting they had in Bali in November of last year, where there was an expansive agenda on the table.  It was an agenda that had different elements, but the crux of that agenda was the priority we place – both of our countries place – in seeking to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict and our shared efforts to build a floor on the relationship and, ultimately, to establish guardrails to see to it that areas that are potentially conflictual don’t actually verge into the realm of conflict.

We made the point in the aftermath of the decision to postpone the visit that it wouldn’t be – that a visit in the aftermath of the high-altitude surveillance balloon wouldn’t be conducive to an agenda along those lines.  We still have lines of communication with our PRC counterparts.  We wish we had more and in some ways deeper lines of communication with our PRC counterparts, but the Secretary, when the time is right, when the conditions are in fact conducive to a meeting with his counterparts in the PRC, is prepared to travel.

This is a decision that we are going to discuss internally within the department and across the Executive Branch, but also, I expect there will be – continue to be conversations between the United States and our PRC counterparts on this.

QUESTION:  So conditions aren’t conducive right now?

MR PRICE:  We haven’t announced any plans to – for the Secretary to travel in the near term.


QUESTION:  Yeah, I wanted to ask about Tunisia.  You touched on it last week in regard to the political situation, but there’s a separate issue.  The World Bank has today said that they’re – or yesterday, I think, in a note said they’re going to pause future work with Tunisia over the president’s statements regarding migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.  I wondered if – I don’t think you’ve spoken on that particular issue, the president’s comments and also the country’s crackdown on migrants, and I wondered if you had any comment on that and whether we could expect any kind of pause or disruption to U.S. aid arrangements to Tunisia.

MR PRICE:  Well, as you heard from the World Bank, we too are deeply concerned by President Saied’s remarks regarding migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and reports of arbitrary arrests of migrants in recent weeks.  These remarks are not in keeping with Tunisia’s long history of generosity and hosting and protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, and we’re disturbed by reports of violence against these very migrants.

We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; and we encourage Tunisian authorities to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations to facilitate the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin.


QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned.  And moving to the Caucasus, if you don’t mind, I’m wondering if you have anything to say about like latest casualties from last night between – well, in Nagorno-Karabakh region.

MR PRICE:  We’re following reports of a shooting incident on March 5th inside Nagorno-Karabakh which killed five individuals, we understand.  We offer our condolences to the families of those injured and killed.  There can be no military solution to conflict, and the use of force to resolve disputes is never acceptable.  The only way to sustain peace is at the negotiating table and to – and the use of force undermines negotiations.  Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Lou Bono is in the region to stress the only way forward is through direct dialogue and diplomacy.  And as the Secretary has emphasized, the United States is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations.

QUESTION:  Any sense of its timing and also its implications for – as you said, the senior advisor is in the – is in the region – its implications for the negotiation process?

MR PRICE:  Its implications for —

QUESTION:  For the peace process.

MR PRICE:  The implication – the clearest implication for us is the imperative of continued direct dialogue and discussion between the parties’ themselves.  This is imperative on the part of the parties.  We have played the role of partner to both countries, facilitating on a trilateral basis engagement between the foreign ministers and between the – at the leader level as well.  We are prepared – whether bilaterally, trilaterally, multilaterally – to continue to be a partner in furtherance of efforts to secure a lasting peace.

QUESTION:  On that point, Azeris heard last week from Lavrov directly when he was traveling in the region that basically it’s better way to solve the problem if they stick with Russian mediating efforts – something that was (inaudible) by actually his spokesperson later on as well.  So I want to give you a chance to make your case why the Western mediation you think is the way to go.

MR PRICE:  This is a question for the parties themselves, and we are not going to put ourselves against any other offer of mediation, and in fact we’re not a mediator.  We are a partner to the two countries.  I think we have demonstrated both in word and in deed the nature of our relationship with the two countries, our ability to bring the two countries together, our willingness and readiness to help bring about additional progress in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

We are not doing this as a means by which to compete with Moscow.  We are doing this in an effort to bring about the settlement and resolution of a longstanding dispute between these two countries, and unfortunately a dispute that has consistently taken lives, just as it did on March 5th.  Our interest here is in peace and security.  It’s in the interests of the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well.


QUESTION:  Thank you.  Going to the Palestinian issues, very quickly the – Hussein Sheikh – he’s the executive director – I mean the director of the – executive director of the PLO – told the Israeli newspaper, The Times of Israel, that Israel has not fulfilled the Aqaba promises to transfer withheld PA funds.  Are you aware of that?  Are you aware of this report and do you have any comment?

MR PRICE:  Said, I’ve seen that report.  We’d have to refer you to the parties themselves.  Generally, our point has always been that we and our regional partners will continue to work with the parties to advance the commitments made in Aqaba.  Resulting from Aqaba was a public statement that spelled out commitments on the part of the parties.  I’m not aware that the commitment that you reference was actually in the communique from Aqaba.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Are you satisfied with Israel’s fulfillment of all the elements that came in the communique of Aqaba?

MR PRICE:  What’s most important to us, Said, is that the parties fulfill the commitments they’ve made.  I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to render a verdict on whether their work is complete.  This is an incomplete project because tensions do remain high.  The situation on the ground remains tenuous.  And so especially as that’s the case, it’s imperative that the parties adhere to the commitments that they made to one another, the commitments that they made to the United States, to Jordan, to Egypt as well.  These commitments are important in and of themselves; but, if and when implemented, these are important commitments that can help to de-escalate tensions, that can help to restore the overriding sense of calm that we and our partners in Egypt, Jordan, and throughout the region would like to see return.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But going back to the settler attack last Sunday, Sunday the 26th of February – while it was shown all over the world and so on, settler violence continues – I mean almost every day – and most of the time with the protection of the Israeli army.  So I don’t know, all these communiques and all these talks and so on that you talk with the Israelis and Palestinians and so on has not seen, at least until now – a week has elapsed – to really impact or to stop Israel from at least giving cover, the Israeli army giving cover to the – to settler violence.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE:  Said, we believe it’s critical that both parties refrain from unilateral steps that serve only to exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.  We’ve been unequivocal in condemning any and all forms of violence.  We are agnostic as to the perpetrator.  Violence is never appropriate.  It is never acceptable.  We condemn it regardless of who’s behind it.

QUESTION:  Is this an issue that you will be discussing this afternoon with Minister Ron Dermer?

MR PRICE:  Minister Dermer and the national security advisor have a portfolio of regional security issues.  I expect the Secretary and the team will have a discussion – a broad discussion – with their Israeli counterparts on the central regional security issues.  Of course, at the top of that list is the challenge that is posed by Iran, its nuclear program, but also the broader set of threats that Iran poses to the region.  We’ll have more to say in the aftermath of that meeting.

QUESTION:  And lastly, I want to ask on – about the whereabouts of Envoy Hady Amr.  Is he still there?  Is he back here?  Is —

MR PRICE:  Hady Amr was in the region last week.  He was in the West Bank last week.  I’d have to check to see if he’s returned, but we’ll let you know.

Yeah, Guita.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Picking up on the reference to Iran, I have a question about the school poisoning.  It has spread, it hasn’t stopped, and more and more schools are bringing – the students are being poisoned.  The government is not doing anything about it.  One thing there seems to be – one thing that they seem to be doing is preventing the medical profession from giving the parents access to their kids’ lab results or even preventing them from seeing their kids while they are being treated.  Some officials say this is just stress-related and some others are saying that the girls are doing this themselves, they are doing the – what there everybody is calling chemical attack.  Would you support or even initiate a call for international investigation?

MR PRICE:  So Guita, first, these reports of continued poisoning of schoolgirls across Iran, they are unconscionable.  These poisonings need to be stopped immediately.  Women and girls in Iran – and women and girls everywhere, for that matter – have a universal human right.  It is the universal right to education.  It’s essential to advancing economic security, prosperity, realizing their potential, whether that’s in Iran or anywhere else.  There must be accountability for those responsible for what is happening.  To your question, if these poisonings were found to be related to women and girls’ participation in protest, then it would be within the mandate of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran to investigate.

Our thoughts do remain with all of those who are suffering from this, and to the other element of your question, we are alarmed by what we’ve seen on the part of Iranian authorities – the reported arrest of a prominent journalist, Ali Pour-Tabatabaei, for investigating the poisonings.  We’re also alarmed by reports that Iranian authorities have intimidated parents, that they have intimidated medical professionals into silence.  The entire world is greatly concerned about these poisonings.  Iranian authorities should cease suppressing the media and allow them to do their jobs.  The same is true for medical professionals.  The same is true for parents who are attempting merely to care for their children.  There must be accountability for these poisonings, and most importantly, they must come to an end.

QUESTION:  Well, the fact-finding mission’s mandate is long.  How about, I don’t know, the WHO or the International Red Cross?  Would it be possible?  Would you call for that?  Do you think that’s something that would be more credible than the government itself doing the investigation?

MR PRICE:  So I’m not going to speak for any other organization that may or may not have a role in this, but there is a fact-finding mechanism within the UN itself.  It was a fact-finding mechanism within the auspices of the – an existing UN body.  If it is determined that there was a motive at play and an effort to suppress the ambitions, the abilities of women and girls in Iran, we do think it would be appropriate for that particular body to – within their mandate to investigate.

QUESTION:  How do – how can you determine the motive if – I mean, presumably you don’t trust any Iranian investigation.  How do you get to the point where you can say that, okay, this now falls within the purview of the —

MR PRICE:  So the world, Matt, is watching very closely, and we are – even in the midst of Iranian attempts to intimidate and to suppress information that is reaching the rest of the world, we’ve been able to see these reports.  We’ve been able to see video.  We’ve been able to hear firsthand accounts.  I think it will become clear to the world what is or what is not happening if that information continues to emanate from Iran.  We’ll continue to watch very closely and we’ll continue to call for what’s appropriate and effective.

QUESTION:  But you haven’t – based on what’s come out so far, you have not been able to assign motive.

MR PRICE:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  What makes you think that – I mean, this has been going on for some time now.

MR PRICE:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  So you’re confident that without an international investigation or an international fact-finding mission or something like that that could get inside Iran and look to see what a motive might be or was, is, you can determine that anyway?

MR PRICE:  We’ve been able to see with our own eyes through news reports, through reports that are emanating from Iran, video footage of this as well.  I suspect we’ll continue to learn more about this if these, unfortunately, continue.  We want to do what is most effective, what we think will help to address, that will come to the aid of women and girls who’s been subjected to this.  Most importantly, these reported poisonings need to come to an end.

QUESTION:  There’s also reports about —


QUESTION:  — this matter of secret jails in Iran where they torture those girls they arrested.  Do you have any comments on that?

MR PRICE:  We’ve seen these reports of attempted suppression on the part of those who are reporting on this.  We’ve seen reports as well that those who may have been subjected to what is afflicting these girls in Iran may also have been intimidated and the subject of repression themselves.  Of course, all of this is greatly concerning for us.


QUESTION:  Yeah, the foreign ministry in Iran spokesman today said his country’s still exchanging message with Washington, and he express commitment to diplomacy, as he said, to resolve the differences in the nuclear negotiation issue.  Can you confirm that about the message?  And what’s your comment?  Why did he – why – how do you read it?

MR PRICE:  I haven’t seen the full context of these remarks, but what I can tell you is that we have heard plenty of misleading and outright – misleading statements and outright lies from Iranian officials over the course of weeks now.  The JCPOA is not on the agenda; it has not been on the agenda for some time.  What has been on the agenda are three primary topics: the violence and the repression, the efforts on the part of the Iranian regime to suppress its own people; Iran’s provision of UAV technology to Russia; and then of course Iran’s continued practice of wrongfully detaining Americans in Iran.  We have means by which to make our positions and to make clear our – the priority we attach to each of those issues.  But we’re just not going to speak to the particular channels.


QUESTION:  So you’re denying that you’re exchanging messages with Iran with respect to the nuclear negotiation?

MR PRICE:  The JCPOA is not on the agenda.


QUESTION:  I also want to follow up on South Korea-Japan agreement about the wartime labor issues.  In the wake of this agreement, Japanese Government said it would start a process to lift restriction on semiconductor material export to ROK.  So do you support this movement as you seek a stronger supply chain among U.S. allies?

MR PRICE:  These are questions for the governments of the ROK and Japan themselves.  We support any effort that seeks to improve and to advance the relationship between our allies, the ROK and Japan, because that in turn supports the trilateral relationship that we have cultivated and we have focused on to such a great detail over the course of this administration.  I should say, for Secretary Blinken himself, this is something that has been a focus of his for even longer than that.  When he was deputy secretary of state in the final two years of the Obama-Biden administration, this was a priority of his to cultivate and seek to support better relations between these two treaty allies.

We have come a ways from where we were 10 years ago.  Today’s step is a very positive development, one we heartily commend, and we hope to see our treaty allies continue to build on this going forward.


QUESTION:  Question on Russia.  Thank you.  The United States refused to issue visas to Russian diplomats who were heading to New York this week for an event at the United Nations.  Do you have any comment here?

MR PRICE:  I don’t.  If we if we have anything to offer on that, we will.

QUESTION:  Okay, and one more question.  The New START Treaty, as you know, expires in less than three years.  Should Washington and Moscow fail to agree on extension in February 2026, are there any contingency planning you’re doing now for this scenario?  Or are you planning anything for this case?

MR PRICE:  I think your question gets far ahead of where we are, and I say that because Moscow has announced its purported suspension of implementation of the New START agreement.  Even before that happened, we found that Moscow was in technical noncompliance with the New START Treaty.  So before we start talking about what happens in 2026 and a potential renewal of the New START Treaty, we want to focus on bringing Moscow back into compliance with the treaty.  It is in the interests of the American people; it is in the interests of the people of Russia.  It’s in the interests of people around the world to see to it that the two countries that possess the largest number of nuclear weapons engage in responsible behavior.

And part of being a responsible nuclear power is engaging in arms control.  It’s engaging in talks about strategic stability, just as the United States and Soviet Union did over the course of the Cold War.  Over the course of the Cold War, we had mechanisms in place to mitigate against the possibility that there would be a nuclear exchange.  Ultimately, these efforts were successful in that there was not a nuclear exchange between nuclear powers during the Cold War.  Now the responsibility we have as nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, is just as great.  It’s incumbent upon countries that seek to be responsible stakeholders in the international community to act responsibly.

We have consistently acted responsibly.  Late last year, we thought we would soon be meeting with our Russian counterparts in Cairo for a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission to discuss issues of New START implementation and compliance.  Russia unfortunately pulled out of that engagement.  Earlier this year, we thought there would be a meeting of the BCC; Russia unfortunately pulled out of that.  And that is what ultimately led us to render Russia not in technical compliance with the New START agreement.

But there is a very uncomplicated way for Russia to come back into compliance:  It needs to take part in inspections.  That’s something that can happen fairly quickly and it’s something that we hope Moscow does for the sake of its citizens, for the sake of our citizens, for the sake of people around the world.

QUESTION:  Last question on Syria, on General Milley’s travel to Syria.  Did the U.S. notify Russia in any way about the travel?

MR PRICE:  This is a question for DOD; I couldn’t say.


MR PRICE:  Okay.  Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – March 2, 2023

2:07 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I’ll have two announcements at the top, and then happy to take your questions.

First, the United States has sent a robust interagency delegation to the Our Ocean Conference currently taking place in Panama. The delegation, headed by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, is announcing nearly $6 billion in voluntary commitments at Our Oceans Panama this year, more than double our commitments in 2022.

Focused on enabling climate resilience, these voluntary commitments include actions on green shipping and offshore renewable energy; support for coastal communities; support for maritime protected areas; improving the management of fisheries; increasing efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; combating marine pollution, including plastic pollution; support for sustainable and inclusive blue economic activities like ocean ecotourism; and improving maritime security.

There will be a special media call tomorrow, Friday, March 3rd, at 10:30 a.m. Eastern, featuring Special Envoy Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica Medina, and I would encourage you to join the call to learn more about our commitment at the Our Ocean Conference.

Next, and finally, we congratulate Ambassador Cindy McCain on her important – on her appointment by the UN secretary-general and the FAO director-general to serve as the next executive director of the World Food Program. We are grateful for Ambassador McCain’s service as permanent representative to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, and we are confident she will continue to be a powerful voice in the global fight against hunger.

The World Food Program plays a crucial role in the international community’s efforts to respond to the worsening global food security crisis. The United States, as its largest contributor, is deeply invested in continuing that success.

We also want to express our appreciation and gratitude to outgoing WFP Executive Director David Beasley for his dedication to the millions around the world in need of life-sustaining support.

So with that, happy to take your questions. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ned, what are you learning about the ongoing protest in Georgia over a draft law on so-called foreign agents that the ruling party – Georgian Dream – initiated and adopted, actually, a few hours ago at the first hearing in the Parliament of Georgia? So the initiator of this law, they are arguing that this is similar to U.S. law FARA. So what do you think this leaves the 30-plus years of building democracy in Georgia by the U.S.?

MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we’ve spoken to over the past couple days. We have expressed our consistent concern about this. The law is still going through the process within the Georgian system. But nevertheless, we remain deeply troubled by the introduced foreign agents law, precisely because it would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who are dedicated to building a better country for their fellow citizens, for their communities. We are deeply concerned about the potential implications of this law for freedom of speech and democracy in Georgia.

Our point has been a simple one, and we’ve made this point in public but we’ve also conveyed it in private. Anyone voting for this draft legislation would be responsible for potentially jeopardizing Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic future. A law like this is not consistent with the aspirations that the Georgian people have expressed over the course of decades now, the future they have set out for themselves, and the future that we, as the United States, are determined to continue to be a partner to help them achieve.

It’s not just the United States expressing these reservations. Several other partner countries, the EU, the UN, and Georgian civil society groups have also issued strong statements of concern about this draft legislation.

Now, there has been a lot of propaganda about this law. You mentioned one of these untruths: the idea that this law was based on our Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Our Foreign Agents Registration Act requires people who are agents of foreign governments to register as such. Our law does not affect NGO operations or funding sources. We can provide you with additional details on FARA if that would be of use. But FARA is very narrow; it is tailored to apply only to those agents of foreign government. This is something very different, and that’s why we’re quite concerned about it.

QUESTION: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Russia expert, Fiona Hill, the other day, at a Brookings Institute event, mentioned that U.S. attention to human rights record of Georgia and freedom of speech, et cetera, was not sufficient. How would you respond to that? Because for many years, especially in the past few years, Georgian civil society organizations, opposition leaders, and Western-oriented Georgians collectively, we are calling and urging the U.S. to impose sanctions against the oligarch Ivanishvili and his puppets in the government. And there is a growing concern that the state capture and the growing authoritarianism and oligarchies is just booming in Georgia.

So would you agree with Condoleezza Rice and Fiona Hill on that?

MR PRICE: What I would say – and this has been a project of successive administrations, and that’s why I think you are right to point to what Fiona Hill said, what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said as well. This has been a project of the people of Georgia, but also a partnership with the United States of America since Georgia’s independence, going on decades now.

From the beginning we have stood in solidarity with our Georgian partners and, again, their own aspirations to be a free and sovereign country within its internationally recognized borders. We, of course – and you’re alluding to this – have heard damaging rhetoric from some who may be opposed to those Euro-Atlantic aspirations that the Georgian people have put forward. We’ve spoken to this law as well. When we have seen that, when we have heard that, we have used our voice publicly; we’ve also used our voice privately. Ambassador Degnan and the team in Tbilisi have been deeply engaged doing the work of this partnership with their Georgian counterparts, not only over the course of recent weeks, but over the course of some 30 years now, because over the course of some 30 years we have turned this partnership into a strategic one. It’s an important one for us. We wish to continue to work together towards that shared vision of Georgia fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations and part of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

Now obviously, there are many challenges to that, some within Georgia, some on the periphery of Georgia’s border. But this is a vision that we know will take political will, it will take hard work, it will take resources to help realize. The United States is ready to continue to be a partner, and we hope to continue to find partners in the Georgian Government.

QUESTION: If we can stay in the region, if you don’t mind. I’ll just – you mentioned those who are going to vote for this resolution, that they’re responsible. Can you be a little bit more precise, particularly when it comes to talking about the elephant in the room – my colleague mentioned Mr. Ivanishvili. Will the United States Government be willing to actually go after Ivanishvili and his party if they succeed in, let’s say, sucking the oxygen from Georgia’s democracy?

MR PRICE: Alex, our focus right now is making very clear where the United States stands. We want there to be no doubt about the concerns that we’ve expressed, the concerns that the EU has expressed, the UN has expressed, a number of countries around the world have expressed – and probably most importantly of all, the concerns that the Georgian Government should be hearing from civil society within their own country, from their own citizens. That’s our focus.

Of course, this passage of this law, implementation of this law would be a great concern for us. We’re not going to cross that bridge at this stage. It remains draft legislation that’s under discussion by Georgian lawmakers. That’s why we think at this stage the most important thing we can do is to leave no doubt about where we and the international community stands on this.

QUESTION: Staying in the region, I know I’ve asked this before, but yesterday was the first month of new Caucasus negotiator, who was just appointed to the region. Is it fair for us to expect his first trip anytime soon to the region?

MR PRICE: You can expect that, in fact. The Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Louis Bono is traveling to the region next week on his first trip in this role. This is the first of what we will – what we expect will be regular travel to all three countries of the South Caucasus. Mr. Bono plans to meet with senior leaders to support the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process and our sustained commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As I mentioned before, he will visit all three South Caucasus countries as part of his visit. He’ll travel to Baku, to Yerevan, Tbilisi as well, in that order.

This, we believe, will be an opportunity for Mr. Bono to build on the meeting between Secretary Blinken, Armenia’s prime minister, and Azerbaijan’s president at the Munich Security Conference a couple of weeks ago now, in mid-February. We – as we said at the conclusion of that trilateral engagement, we are encouraged by recent efforts by Armenia and Azerbaijan to engage productively on the peace process. And Mr. Bono helps to – hopes to be in a position to build on that effort, and to see that progress continue. In all three of these cities, Mr. Bono will emphasize the United States is committed to promoting a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region.


QUESTION: I had a couple of questions on the Secretary’s meeting with Lavrov this morning, Ned.


QUESTION: What caused the Secretary to want to reach out to Lavrov at this point in time? Was there some development that led him to believe this would be a productive conversation? And this serious proposal he raised on Paul Whelan, how long has that been on the table? What can you tell us about it, and have the Russians engaged at all on it?

MR PRICE: Sure. A couple things, Jenny, and you heard the Secretary speak to this. First, what this was not, as opposed to what it was – you heard from the Secretary this was a rather brief encounter with Foreign Minister Lavrov. This was not a bilateral meeting; this was not a protracted discussion between the two. This was a rather brief encounter that the Secretary took advantage of to convey clearly and directly messages that are important to the United States and, in many cases, to the rest of the world.

The Secretary outlined those three messages. His first was on New START, and again, we’ve spoken extensively to this since the Russian Federation suspended its implementation of the New START Treaty, because it’s not only a concern for the United States as a responsible nuclear power, but it should be – and, in fact, is – a concern for the rest of the world, as the rest of the world expects Russia and the United States – just as we did with the Soviet Union during the course of the Cold War – to cooperate and to engage in talks on strategic stability and arms control.

Second, you mentioned this but the Secretary did raise, as he consistently has, the continued wrongful detention of U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. He noted that we had put a proposal on the table. He again encouraged Russia to accept it.

And third, he underscored our continued commitment to Ukraine, including the proposals that we’ve heard from President Zelenskyy and his government for a just and durable peace, a peace that respects the UN Charter as well as the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. He stressed that Ukraine and the United States want this war to end. We want this war to end on that basis. No one wants this war to end more than Ukraine. We are standing right by Ukraine in our desire to see this war come to a close, and we are continuing to be ready to support that effort, but what continues to be missing is a similar determination from Moscow.

The Secretary is not going to hesitate to convey clearly and directly messages that are important to us and that are important to the rest of the world. Of course, the continued detention of Paul Whelan is a concern to us. He’s an American citizen. The practice of wrongful detention is a concern to the rest of the world. It is a concern to the rest of the world that Russia has purportedly suspended its implementation of the New START Treaty. It’s a concern to the rest of the world that Russia is waging a brutal, illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, and as we’ve heard from most of the G20 – in fact all except Russia and China – the G20 wants to see this war come to an end on a basis that’s consistent with the UN Charter and on a basis that is both just and durable. So the Secretary had an opportunity to convey these messages directly to Lavrov, and we thought it was important to do so.

On the proposal for Paul Whelan, this is something that in all of our key engagements with Russian interlocuters we raise, and we impress upon them the need to see the release of Paul Whelan. He has been held for far too long, wrongfully detained. He should never have been held in the first place. We have, as we’ve said before, been relentless in our efforts to secure his release, just as we were relentless in our efforts to secure the release of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner over the course of the past year. The proposal that the Secretary alluded to – this was not a proposal that the Russians heard for the first time today. This was a proposal that we have conveyed to them consistently in the past. What he did here today was once again a strong statement from the Secretary of State that Russia should accept this proposal, and in turn it should release Paul Whelan.

QUESTION: Can you say – have the Russians engaged meaningfully with that proposal at all? Have they acknowledged it?

MR PRICE: We have two overriding imperatives: number one is to see the release of Paul Whelan and to see more broadly the release of Americans who are wrongfully detained anywhere around the world. In the conduct of seeking that first imperative, we’re not going to do or say anything that could jeopardize those efforts. So you can understand why we’re going to continue to be circumspect in what we say publicly about this, but we have conveyed in some detail – in all of the necessary detail to the Russian Federation the proposal that we have put on the table. We have gone about this relentlessly. We have gone about this creatively, seeking to do everything we can to see the release of Paul Whelan, and beyond Paul, Americans who are wrongfully anywhere around the world.

QUESTION: Ned, can I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: The Secretary has said that he – the day before he did not have any plans to meet the – to meet Lavrov. I was just wondering, did the meeting happen at the request of the United States or at the request of the Russians?

MR PRICE: I know our Russian colleagues are attempting to make some hay out of this. What is important for us to convey is that this was a brief encounter. This was not a protracted bilateral meeting or a protracted sit down between the two of them.

But more broadly, we make no apologies for clearly conveying what is in our interest. It is in our interest to see Russia resume implementation – full implementation of the New START Treaty. It’s in the interests of the rest of the world to see that as well. It’s in our interests to see Paul Whelan return home just as soon as can be accomplished. And it’s certainly in the interest of Ukraine, of the United States, of all of the countries around the world who believe in the UN Charter to see the war in Ukraine – Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine – come to an end on a basis that is both just and durable.

The Russians may be trying to make some hay and to delve into some inside baseball or inside diplomacy. We are just not going to engage in that. What we want to make clear is precisely what the Secretary said, why he said it, and we make no apologies for that. Rather, we will continue to be relentless in raising these issues at every appropriate opportunity.

QUESTION: Was this —

MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, go ahead, Julia.

QUESTION: Thank you. Senator Peter Welch, who just got back from a CODEL to Israel, delivered a letter to President Biden today urging him to take action to help improve relations amid the violence in the West Bank. In the letter, he said, “as far as the Netanyahu government is concerned, the two-state solution is dead” and is calling on the U.S. to acknowledge that and is calling Biden to take a more active role in the region, saying, “We have a choice: stand by passively as a withered two-state approach recedes into oblivion or do our best to reenergize it with more assertive efforts to persuade the Netanyahu government.” What is your response to this letter? Do you think that the posture should change amid the tension in the West Bank? Do you think that Biden should be taking a more proactive approach?

MR PRICE: A couple things on this. Number one, we continue to believe deeply – as do Israelis and Palestinians and people around the world – in a vision of a two-state solution, a negotiated two-state solution, a vision of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. That is the vision that the United States has maintained over successive administrations. It is the vision that is consistent with Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. It is a vision that is consistent with the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in freedom in a state of their own, in a state that is governed by their elected officials. There’s no other formulation that we could envision accomplishing all of those goals, and all of those goals are important to us, but more importantly, they’re important to Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, on the question of engagement, I would note that we’re hearing this within some 72 hours or so of senior American officials being on the ground with Israelis, with Palestinians, with Jordanians, with Egyptians. We’re hearing this a couple weeks after the Secretary of State was in Israel, was in the West Bank, was in Cairo. We’re hearing this a few weeks, a month or so, after the National Security Advisor was in Israel and the West Bank. We are deeply engaged in the region. We are deeply engaged with the parties.

We have consistently made the point that the steps that the parties need to take to de-escalate tensions and to ensure that calm prevails – these are not steps that the United States can take; these are not steps that countries in the region can take, but these are steps that the parties themselves will have to take. But, at the same time, these are steps themselves that we will continue to partner with the parties, with Israelis, with Palestinians as we hope – as we expect – they continue to take them, as they committed to one another in Aqaba, in the meeting in Jordan I alluded to just a moment ago.

QUESTION: So would your response to this call to take a more proactive role in the region be that you believe the Biden administration is being proactive enough? Is there anything else that you could be or plan to be doing?

MR PRICE: We are engaged in the region broadly. We are engaged in this issue in particular. Throughout the course of this administration, we have taken an approach that may not always be showy; it may not always be flashy; it may not always publicly put the United States at the forefront of efforts. But it is consistently proven to be effective. It’s the approach we took to help Israelis and Palestinians bring an end to the conflict in the spring and summer of 2021. It’s an approach that we took last year, as tensions soared in the West Bank between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s the approach that we’re taking now, with American officials sitting down, actively engaging as participants in this five-way meeting in Aqaba, Jordan that involved Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, and yes, Americans. It’s the approach we’ve taken in the Negev Forum, meeting with our Israeli partners, meeting with those countries that have normalized relations with Israel, as we encourage the parties to bring the Palestinians into the fold and to encourage progress, just as we encourage progress and normalization with Israel’s neighbors near and far, to encourage progress on the Palestinian question as well.

So I think however you look at our approach, you see an America that is engaged, you see an America that is a partner to the parties, and you see an approach that has proven to be effective.



MR PRICE: Sure, Israel. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can you give us anything today about the trip of the Israeli delegation coming to Washington next week?

MR PRICE: We would refer you, as we always would, to our Israeli partners for any comment on travel plans. As for us, we’ve spoken to the concern we have about ongoing violence in the region. We’ve urged Israel and the Palestinian authority to protect against the further loss of life. We’ve made our views very clear on this. I don’t have any travel to announce, nor would we announce travel for a foreign partner.

QUESTION: Well, Axios is reporting that the main reason for their trip is Iran and that they’re even intending to meet with Secretary Blinken. And also that Israel’s domestic issues, as well as its performance in the West Bank is a precondition to how they – Biden administration may work with the Netanyahu government on Iran.

MR PRICE: A couple things on that. First, we engage regularly with our Israeli partners. I ran through some of the high-level visits that you’ve been witness to, Guita, from the National Security Advisor to the Secretary of State to our assistant secretary of State, to the White House coordinator for the region. There have been many other visits and engagements on top of that. We have traveled to the region; our Israeli partners have traveled here. I expect that will continue in the coming days, weeks, and months, but we just don’t have any travel to preview at the moment.


QUESTION: Not sure if this is the same – actually, two questions. First one, not sure if this is the same trip my colleague is referring to, but the finance minister, Smotrich, is reportedly planning to be in the U.S. I think next week for an investment conference of some sort. Would the U.S., based on his sort of recent comments, consider revoking his visa, which is something that some groups here have been urging?

And then sort of on a related question to something that was discussed earlier, there was a bill introduced earlier this week on the Hill to create an ambassador-level special envoy position for the Abraham Accords. Is that something the State Department is supportive of, thinks should be necessary, helpful?

MR PRICE: So a couple things. First, on potential travel here, we don’t speak to individual visa records, nor as a general matter to a particular individual’s eligibility for a U.S. visa. Nevertheless, we’ll continue to make clear that we reject the comments from the minister, just as we did yesterday, and we appreciate the condemnations that we’ve heard from our Israeli partners.

On the legislation you refer to, this is a project – building bridges between Israel’s Arab and Muslim-majority neighbors, both near and far – that this administration has been a stalwart supporter of. We celebrated a notable anniversary of the Abraham Accords and the normalization agreements here in this building last year. In our engagements with Arab and Muslim-majority countries around the world, we consistently raise the possibility of improving relationships with Israel and improving relations with Israel, and in some cases encouraging countries to pursue that path of normalization – something that we unambiguously support.

This has high-level attention in this building; it has high-level attention in the White House. We’re going to continue to do what we can as a partner to Israel, as a partner to these Arab and Muslim-majority countries, and we’re going to take a close look at all proposals. And if something makes sense, if something would allow us to be even more effective in that project, we wouldn’t hesitate to pursue it.

Yes, Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question on Tunisia.


QUESTION: We don’t talk about it so much. The situation is deteriorating there. I would like to have your assessment on that situation right now in Tunisia. I understand there was a call also by the – Brett McGurk this morning, but there’s no reference to the arrests or demonstrations that are happening there in Tunisia. And then also there’s apparently been contacts between U.S. embassy and opposition activists there and the Tunisian foreign ministry gave a pretty strong rebuke, saying not to interfere in internal affairs. Can you confirm those contacts, and can you comment on that statement?

MR PRICE: So first to your broader question, Leon, we’ve spoken of our concerns to what has been happening in Tunisia in recent months. We spoke to it last month, I believe. We expressed our concern by the reported arrests of multiple political figures, business leaders, and journalists. We’ve expressed that concern precisely because we, and the world, have seen over the course of years now the aspirations of the Tunisian people for greater levels of democracy, for an independent and transparent judiciary, and one that is able to protect fundamental freedoms for all the people of Tunisia. We’ve engaged with the Tunisian Government at all levels in support of human rights and freedom of expression. These are not values that we support only in a place like Tunisia, but these are universal rights that we seek to defend and to promote anywhere and everywhere around the world.

Now, there have been allegations in recent days that you alluded to, and I can say that we are alarmed by reports of criminal charges against individuals in Tunisia resulting from meetings or conversations with U.S. embassy staff on the ground. This is part, as I said before, of an escalating pattern of arrests against perceived critics of the government.

This is what our embassies and our diplomats do around the world. A primary role for any U.S. embassy or any diplomat anywhere in the world is to meet with a wide array of individuals to inform our understanding of the different views and perspectives in that country. This is their primary task, to help inform policymakers back in the United States so that we can best support our partners in government and support our partners in the people of any given country, including the aspirations they have.

Tunisian and other foreign diplomats posted to the United States regularly engage in similar meetings. This is the work of diplomacy. It is the bread and butter of our diplomats, it is the bread and butter of diplomats from countries around the world, and it is a practice that should not be subject to persecution of any sort.


QUESTION: So you confirm those contacts, but can you confirm with whom, in what context they were done?

MR PRICE: We’ve seen reports of criminal charges against individuals in Tunisia, purportedly stemming from their contacts with U.S. diplomats. But again, the fact that our diplomats are meeting with Tunisians, we are doing that so that this government can best support the Tunisian Government but can also best support the Tunisian people and their aspirations. This is not any different from the kind of work that we do anywhere around the world. It is the kind of work that our Tunisian counterparts do right here in Washington, as the Tunisian Government also wants to understand what is happening in this country. It is what every – just about every foreign embassy does in the United States. It is what every single one of our embassies do around the world.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two questions. Going back to India, as far as Secretary’s stay there, visit and meeting many foreign ministers, and including the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar. My question is that now, in the next coming weeks and months, India chairing the G20 will be the global stage for many global leaders, or especially for the G20. Question is here that – and does the Secretary believe that India still has the – not power, but to break the ice as far as to stop the – or end the war between Russia and Ukraine, or Russia’s war against Ukraine? And while in India, meeting the Indian officials, do you think they discussed this that India still can play a role?

MR PRICE: So a couple things, Goyal. First, and you heard this from the Secretary, we’re deeply grateful to our Indian partners for the way they have led the G20 to date. And as you alluded to, there is a lot more work to be done over the course of this year, but India is off to a very promising start with its stewardship of the G20.

Our partnership – and this is – was a subject of discussion between Secretary Blinken and his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, earlier today – our partnership with India is one of the most consequential relationships we have, and that’s because we work closely with India on just about everything that is a priority to us and everything that is a priority to India – increasing our mutual prosperity, supporting democracy, addressing the climate crisis, upholding a rules-based order grounded in international law. And it is that point, the rules-based order, that is so important to us around the world, but particularly important to the United States and to India in the context of the Indo-Pacific. It is helping to build and to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region, a vision that we share with our Indian counterparts.

The Secretary and his counterpart had an opportunity to talk about the tremendous work India has done so far in hosting the G20 foreign ministers and hosting the finance ministers as well, and creating an agenda, really, that allows us to tackle the key issues that are so important in our Global Strategic Partnership with India in all of its breadth and in all of its depth.

The G20 is an important instrument for us, it’s an important instrument for India. We’ve seen how the G20 can bring together countries for collective action. We think what we’ve seen in India over the past couple days was no exception. And the United States, for our part, participated in this foreign ministers meeting with two imperatives in mind. First, to see to it that the G20 – again, with India at the helm – was a success, which clearly it was. And second, to demonstrate how the United States together with our partners is working collaboratively to build a world that is more prosperous, is more sustainable, it is more inclusive in terms of the global economy, and that delivers for the needs of people around the world, whether that’s food, whether that’s energy, whether that is health, whether that is helping people around the world confront the challenges and threats that they face from fentanyl and narcotics, to a changing climate, to COVID, and to everything in between.

Now on the question of India, there are countries around the world that have a relationship with Russia that is distinct from the one we have. India certainly falls within that category. India has longstanding historical ties to Russia. It is connected in Russia to ways that the United States is not and, for that matter, has not been. India also has tremendous leverage in different areas, whether it’s economic leverage, diplomatic leverage, political leverage, but also moral leverage. And India has the ability, as we’ve seen from Prime Minister Modi, to speak with tremendous moral clarity. When Prime Minister Modi said last year that this is not an era of war, the world listened, as they should, because when Prime Minister Modi and his country says something to that effect, it is meaningful to the United States, it’s meaningful to Russia, it is meaningful to countries near and far.

So we will continue to work with our Indian partners. They of course have a unique role to play in this as the G20 hosts, but also as a country with whom we have a Global Strategic Partnership, a country that has a relationship with Russia that we don’t. And just as India has consistently expressed that this is not, should not be an era of war, we hope that we can work closely with India to bring about an end to this war, an end to this Russian aggression that is, at its core, just and durable and very much in line with the principles of the UN Charter.

I think you see that reflected in the Chair’s Summary that emanated from the G20 meeting earlier today. Of course, this was the Chair’s Summary that was subscribed to by all 20 members of the G20, except for two key paragraphs. And we all know those two countries in question: Russia and China. We all know the issue in question: Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.

But when it comes to the broader set of issues that neither Russia nor China could agree to accept, I think it was pretty notable that the key paragraph referenced the essential need to uphold international law and the multilateral system that safeguards peace and stability. It is a paragraph that speaks to defending, protecting the principles of the UN Charter, ensuring that countries around the world adhere to international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and infrastructure in armed conflict, and that makes clear where countries stand in strongly condemning the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in any conflict.

The fact that neither Russia nor China could sign on to a paragraph that should be as anodyne and common-sense and basic as that, it tells you a lot about two countries that purport to believe in the UN Charter, have been permanent members of the UN Security Council, consistently raise international law and the principles of the UN Charter, only to ignore them in contexts like this.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: Another question – and thank you, sir – because of growing relations between India and U.S., and also India’s rise, neighboring countries, including China and Pakistan, of course, are not very happy, and they are trying their best to curtail back or whatever they can do. Now, as far as Pakistan is concerned, there are some elements of – Khalistani elements in Pakistan, and they are attacking the Hindu temples there, and also in Australia now, according to reports, press report – Australia, UK, Canada. Now, as far as Canada is concerned, this Khalistani movement or elements, they are the same group which – in 1985 they brought down the Air India air flight, killing 389 people from Canada to – going back to India over Canadian (inaudible).

My question is now here – those elements have threatened the Indian temples here in the U.S., and they are now having the cells here in the U.S., with the support of those same elements. Is the U.S. Government aware of that? And – because Indian community or Hindu community here are very much now meeting so many – the officials here because they are threatened or their temples are threatened here by the terrorist or Khalistani movements.

MR PRICE: Goyal, without weighing in on the specifics, I can tell you that we condemn any form of violence. We condemn the threat of violence, any form of violent extremism. This is a country that has always had at its core key values. One of those is religious pluralism, tolerance for people of all faiths or no faith. That is a principle that we uphold, we respect, and we condemn any individual or movement that seeks to carry out and enact a different vision.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. So I have different topic, but just one question came into my mind as you talked about Secretary Blinken meeting with his Russian counterpart. You told me, like couple of days ago, that whenever American diplomats meet with Russian diplomats, they just discuss bilateral issues, don’t discuss Ukraine. Same thing was confirmed by the Russian diplomats and ambassador. I met them a few days ago. So this is the first meeting of Secretary Blinken with the Russian foreign minister after the war began. So is U.S. trying to negotiate, mediate, or just asking a simple question to stop the war, and further negotiation or further talks can be followed?

MR PRICE: The Secretary’s meeting was – he conveyed a very simple message on that. It is the vision that President Zelenskyy has put forward for a just and durable peace. We’ve been very clear from the outset that we are never going to discuss anything about Ukraine without Ukraine. This was not that, and not that at all. In fact, the Secretary referenced the very plan that President Zelenskyy and his administration have put forward, a plan that would be just, that would be durable, that would be lasting in its outlook, and that would respect and adhere to the core principles of the UN Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Secretary and we thought it was important that the Russians hear directly from us at that level that we are continuing to stand by Ukraine, continuing to, in turn, stand by the UN Charter. But, of course, Ukraine wants this war to end. They have put forward a proposal. We are ready, working with Ukraine and countries around the world that want to see the UN Charter upheld, to support the – to support bringing this brutal war of aggression to a conclusion on a basis that is both just and durable.

QUESTION: Today the internet advocacy watchdog Access Now, they’re saying in their latest report that India topped the list of fifth successive year for highest number of internet shutdowns in the world in 2022. More than 85 internet shutdowns were recorded in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Your thoughts on that? You always talk about the freedom of speech.

MR PRICE: You’re right, we always do talk about it. We talk about freedom of expression, freedom of people around the world to access information, and we continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression, including via access to the internet as a human right that contributes to strengthening democracies and to strengthening countries around the world. This is something we advocate for with our partners and allies in countries around the world.

QUESTION: Sir, there is a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Afghans, including women and children, are being arrested for their illegal presence. They crossed the border after Taliban took the power in Afghanistan. Sir, is there any discussion with the Pakistani authorities to give them, like, temporary shelter till the situation is better in Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: This is a matter we’re discussing with our Pakistani counterparts. We’re in regular discussion with our Pakistani counterparts about this. We encourage all states to uphold their respective obligations with regard to Afghan refugees or asylum seekers, and to refrain from returning them to anywhere where they could face persecution or torture.

QUESTION: One last question, please. Sir, Pakistani court issued arrest warrants for former prime minister Imran Khan for selling state gifts and concealing his assets. His party workers termed it a political victimization. Sir, what are your thoughts on, like, rising political unrest and chaos in Pakistan?

MR PRICE: These are questions for the Pakistani people. These are not questions for the United States. As I’ve said before, we support the peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles around the world, including in Pakistan.


QUESTION: Ned, two questions, one on the meeting between Secretary Blinken and Saudi foreign minister in New Delhi. This is the first meeting after a while between U.S. and Saudi officials. How was the meeting? And did you open a new page with Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: This was a discussion with – between Secretary Blinken and his Saudi counterpart. It was important for us to welcome, as we have over the course of several days now, the important contributions that our Saudi partners have offered to our shared partners in Ukraine. Of course, the Saudi Government announced $400 million in humanitarian support. There was an important visit by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Ukraine. That is something that we’ve welcomed. It was an opportunity for Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan to discuss these issues and to discuss our partnership, the partnership between our two countries.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. satisfied with the distribution of aid in Syria?

MR PRICE: There, of course, is a tremendous amount of work to be done. There are going to be needs going forward for months and years to come. It is incumbent, we think, on countries around the world to contribute to this effort. The United States has attempted to lead by example. When Secretary Blinken was in Türkiye a couple of weeks ago now, he announced the contribution of $100 million additional U.S. in funding to the people of Syria, to our Turkish allies as well. The United States has to date contributed $185 million. This is funding that has translated into support for tens of thousands of people across both Türkiye and into Syria – shelter, food, water, help with recovery, rebuilding.

This is going to be a long-term project. The United States is going to remain committed to this, and we continue to call on countries around the world to show that they too are committed both in word and in deed, including by announcing generous funding for the people of both Türkiye and Syria.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on the Lavrov encounter. Are there any plans for further follow-up from that conversation? Did that set anything in motion for any sort of more formal dialogue on any of the specific topics or – that were raised, or just in general?

MR PRICE: We’re not expecting any more formal senior-level dialogue in the near term. Of course, we’re always going to remain open to dialogue. We believe in dialogue, we believe in diplomacy, especially – even when times are tense, especially when the state of our relationship is as it is now, and as the Russians are perpetrating what they’re doing against Ukraine. There are issues that are of profound importance to the United States, but also issues that have profound importance to the rest of the world. But there was no agreement or consensus coming out of that brief encounter for any sort of follow-up discussion, but we’re always going to take advantage of opportunities to convey our interests in manners that are clear and direct whenever we can.

QUESTION: One more along the line on G20. You said that Blinken would not hesitate to convey the interests. Why not have a similar type of conversation with his Chinese counterpart, given there are a lot of issues of concern there? To our knowledge, there was no meeting or discussion between those two leaders, so why not have a similar conversation with his Chinese counterpart?

MR PRICE: Principally because the Secretary sat down with the PRC’s top foreign policy official just a couple weeks ago in Munich. They had a more extended discussion on the current state of the bilateral relationship, covering a broad range of topics, as we’ve discussed. I expect there will be additional calls and engagements in the coming weeks, but we had just taken advantage of one opportunity a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A few follow-ups on Lavrov-Blinken engagement, and my apologies for beating this dead horse, but a few questions need to be cleared up, starting from the last question. Who reached out to whom during the past 24 hours? Did the Secretary reach out to Russian side, or did Russians reach out to you? Can you just clarify that question?

MR PRICE: Alex, we’re just not going to go into the inside baseball dynamics of this. What’s important is that the Secretary conveyed clearly, directly, in a brief encounter what is of tremendous interest to us, but also what’s of interest to the rest of the world.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary have a chance to reach out to his Ukrainian counterpart, either before or after this engagement?

MR PRICE: We’ve – we consulted with partners and allies, as we always do ahead of conversations like this. I wouldn’t want to characterize those conversations, but we believe in diplomacy. We believe in diplomacy with countries where we have a relationship that is quite strained, even adversarial with Russia, but we’re in constant dialogue with our allies and partners in Europe and around the world on these issues.

QUESTION: If I may, this is a clear departure from your strategy from last year at this time at this very forum. Not only Secretary did not want to engage with him; he didn’t even want to be in the same photo op as him, no handshake. What changed?

MR PRICE: Alex, if I recall, the foreign ministers’ meeting was in July of last year. Secretary Blinken picked up the phone to Foreign Minister Lavrov around that time last year as well. Nothing has changed in the sense that we’re always going to convey very clearly so there can be no misconception, no misperception, no confusion about our interests, about things that are of great importance to us, and things that are of great importance to the rest of the world. That’s what we’ve consistently done. We’ve done that at lower levels, and we’ve done that at the level of Secretary Blinken when it’s been appropriate.

QUESTION: So he’s talking to Lavrov, meeting with him – a new normal. So what is the Secretary’s level of trust in him, given everything he has done? He lied about the war to the Secretary, at his face. He has spent his entire year to talk about his so-called operation. So is it new normal?

MR PRICE: Alex, this was an eight-minute, rather brief encounter. I don’t think anything was said or conveyed in eight minutes that could change the perception that has developed over the course of the past 16 months.


QUESTION: My last question on this, Ned. The Secretary said that he told Lavrov to engage in in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace in Ukraine. So clearly he was talking about Ukraine without Ukraine in room.

MR PRICE: You’re taking that quite literally. They were talking about the proposal that President Zelenskyy himself has put forward, a 10-point proposal that calls for precisely what countries around the world have called for, what we have called for: a just and durable peace. It is, we think, incumbent on the United States, on us to do everything we can to help bring about the vision that President Zelenskyy himself has set out.

And look, we’re under no illusions that a very brief encounter like the one Secretary Blinken had with Foreign Minister Lavrov will, in the near term or immediately, change Russia’s attitude change its behavior. But we think it’s important for the Russian Federation to hear from us at all levels that we believe in the vision that President Zelenskyy has set out, we believe in the principles of the UN Charter, and together with our partners around the world, including Ukraine, of course, we are going to do everything that we can to support that outcome.


QUESTION: Yeah, talking about G20 encounters, as you were coming into the briefing room, I saw a tweet from the Secretary’s account showing that he met Foreign Secretary Ebrard, Mexican foreign secretary. Do you have any readout of that conversation, how long it went, and what topics exactly were discussed beyond what the tweet says?

MR PRICE: Beyond the tweet, I don’t know that we’re in a position to issue a more formal readout. But the Secretary and Foreign Secretary Ebrard were both in the G20 together. Of course, we have a very important, broad, deep relationship with Mexico. It is a relationship that – on which we engage regularly, including at the seniormost levels. But beyond that —

QUESTION: The tweet stresses that Secretary Blinken presented the topic of strengthening democracy as relevant in the discussion between both countries. Can you expand on that?

MR PRICE: Again, wouldn’t want to go beyond what the what the brief readout we issued says. If we have any more details to convey —

QUESTION: How was it – how long was the encounter?

MR PRICE: If we have any more details to convey, we’ll let you know.


MR PRICE: Thanks very much, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)

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U.S. Department of State

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