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Department Press Briefing – June 22, 2022

2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, and thanks very much, everyone, for joining today as we do today’s briefing by phone. I have a couple things at the top and then we’ll turn to your questions.

First, today the First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and sports icon and equality champion Billie Jean King headline an event hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or ECA, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that afforded women equal opportunity in education and sports across the United States. ECA, in partnership with espnW, highlighted the dramatic impact of Title IX in increasing the participation of women and girls in sports.

Through sports diplomacy exchange programs, such as the Department of State espnW’s Global Sports Mentoring Program, or GSMP, the department is expanding the footprint of Title IX and its message of equality and opportunity for women in every corner of the globe. Now in its 10th year, the GSMP promotes key tenets of Title IX, such as inclusion, access, and opportunity, and applies them globally. The women of the GSMP have positively and directly impacted more than 350,000 people through their action plans as part of the exchange, from advocating for social welfare policy in Brazil to using boxing to teaching self-defense and leadership skills to Kenyan women and girls, they are making a difference every day to advance equality around the world.

And next and finally, the department is pleased to announce that Mr. Collin Walsh, a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Rewards for Justice, has been named by CAREERS and the disABLED magazine a 2022 employee of the year for his resilience, professional accomplishments, and commitment to advocacy for persons with disabilities. In 2016, on his third day of Foreign Service orientation as a Diplomatic Security service special agent candidate, Mr. Walsh became physically paralyzed and was told he would never walk again. After two years dedicated entirely to physical recovery, Mr. Walsh returned to DS, walking with elbow-supported mobility aids.

In his new role, Mr. Walsh serves as a Civil Service foreign affairs officer in the DS Rewards for Justice Office, which offers rewards for information regarding those who threaten U.S. national security. Among his many accomplishments are overseeing the RFJ’s – RFJ’s global tips program, serving on a cross-functional rotation in the Office of the Legal Adviser, and leading an accessibility overhaul of the DS headquarters building. So congratulations again to Collin Walsh on behalf of all of us here at the Department of State.

With that, we will turn now to questions. We can start with the line of Matt Lee, please.

OPERATOR: Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I got a couple. I’ll try to make them real quick. You can answer them in order. One is: The Secretary, as we know, is supposed to speak with the detainee families today. I realize that may not have happened yet, but can you tell us anything about what he’s planning to say?

And then secondly: The SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, has just sent a series of really blistering letters – one to Congress, one to Secretary Blinken, and one to Administrator Power, and one to the legal counsels of both State and USAID – accusing State and USAID of illegally withholding information related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and current assistance, any kind of assistance, to the country. And obviously, this takes on more relevance, given the earthquake that just happened this morning. But what’s your response to this? Are you guys cooperating with SIGAR as you have, or have you decided that you don’t need to do that anymore? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Matt. So on your first question, you are correct that Secretary Blinken will have an engagement this afternoon with the families of Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world. That engagement has not yet taken place. It will take place shortly this afternoon. I expect we’ll have an opportunity to provide you with a written readout in the aftermath of this engagement.

Secretary Blinken quite frequently engages on a one-on-one basis with family members of Americans who are held hostage or wrongfully detained. This will be an opportunity for him – another opportunity for him – to meet as a collective with the families of those Americans who are wrongfully detained or held hostage. There will be, we expect, several dozen participants in this call. Of course, a setting like this is not entirely conducive to discussing the specifics of particular cases, but the Secretary will use it as an opportunity to underscore for all of these families the paramount priority we attach to doing everything we can to see the safe return of their loved ones from wherever they are held hostage.

And of course, he will continue to follow up on this engagement with one-on-one engagement with individual families, where he has and will continue to have an opportunity to update families on, in more precise terms, what we are doing to see their loved ones released from captivity. So we’ll have more on the call – or on the engagement after it takes place today.

In terms of your question on SIGAR, Matt, what I can tell you is that, as you know, SIGAR published a report last month regarding the collapse of the ANDSF and the factors that led to its demise. Our view is that the report does not reflect the consensus view of the State Department or of the U.S. Government, for that matter. Many parts of the U.S. Government, including the State Department, have unique insights into developments in Afghanistan last year that were not captured in the report. And we don’t concur with many aspects of the report. We refer you to the many statements that the State Department has made over the past year on Afghanistan regarding our assessments.

But the fact is, Matt, that SIGAR did not request input from the State Department for – in the process of drafting this report, nor did they afford us an opportunity to review the draft before it was finalized, as had been a regular process for other reports. If we have any additional reaction to letters that were – and responses that were given today, we’ll be sure to pass those along.

We’ll go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please. Do we have – yes, we hear you now.

QUESTION: Sorry. Sorry if this has already been asked. Are you aware of any U.S. citizens who are victims of this earthquake in Afghanistan? I know there is some concern about particularly the American hostage Mark Frerichs and – given his – where his whereabouts might be. Do you have any update on his status?

And then separately, do you have any updates on Matthew Heath, the detained American in Venezuela? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much. So first, on the earthquake in Afghanistan, you probably just saw the statement that emanated from Secretary Blinken. Secretary Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, other senior officials, have put out statements today expressing our deep sorrow and our deep sympathy for those who perished in today’s devastating earthquake in Afghanistan as well as to the loved ones of the victims. The people of Afghanistan have undergone extraordinary hardship, and this tragedy only compounds that on top of an already dire humanitarian situation. Our humanitarian partners are responding already, including by sending medical teams to help people affected by the earthquake. As you heard from the Secretary and from the National Security Advisor, we’re assessing other potential response options as well.

We stand with the people of Afghanistan. We’re working with the international community to serve Afghans and to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis and suffering in Afghanistan, which has long predated the earthquake today, but of course which was compounded by the earthquake today.

In terms of potential American victims, there’s not anything I’m in a position to offer at the moment. Of course, the scale of the – of this tragedy is just enormous, so we will work very closely with posts around the world to determine if any Americans were implicated in today’s earthquake. But I’m not aware of any such reports just yet.

In terms of your second question, Matthew Heath, as we’ve said, was arrested in September 2020 on specious charges. His trial is still ongoing. We continue to press for the immediate and unconditional release of Matthew and all wrongfully detained U.S. nationals in Venezuela and everywhere around the world, as I’ve already said in the course of this briefing at every opportunity. Using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad. We do oppose this practice everywhere. I’m not in a position to provide an update on the health of this individual or any other American for privacy considerations, but we are monitoring Matthew’s health and welfare as closely as possible, and we’re in regular contact with his family on that.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi. Do we have Francesco?

QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes, yes. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi. Thank you. I wanted to follow up on Afghanistan. Has the U.S. Government been in touch with the Taliban to coordinate this humanitarian aid or assistance? Are you planning to coordinate with them or even to go through the Taliban power to bring this assistance to the Afghan people? I know this has been redlined for now, going through the Taliban. But is this something that you can do for this occurrence? Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Thank you. And Francesco, before I go there, let me just say, most importantly, thank you. I know this is likely your last briefing as the AFP’s State Department correspondent. I want to thank you for the tremendous time we’ve had working together collegially in your role with AFP and your role with the Correspondents’ Association. We’ll very much miss your presence in the briefing room, your presence in the bullpen, your presence on the S plane, your presence on our travel around the world. But I wish you all the best as you head to your next adventure in what probably are considered greener pastures in Paris. So bon voyage, and looking forward to staying in touch.

In terms of Afghanistan, I am not aware of any request for assistance that the United States Government has received from the Taliban. But we have been in touch with our humanitarian partners. As I mentioned before, our humanitarian partners are already in the process of responding. They’re sending medical teams to help those who are affected by the disaster. As you know, the United States has been a humanitarian leader for the people of Afghanistan. We’ve provided $720 million in humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and support to Afghan refugees in the region through multilateral organizations and NGOs since mid-August of last year.

Just earlier this week, Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West – he was in Geneva actually yesterday, where he met with humanitarian partners who are providing critical aid to the people of Afghanistan. We’ll continue to support their role in serving Afghans to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and suffering, and our commitment to the Afghan people is unwavering.

I imagine the humanitarian response to the earthquake will be a topic of conversation between U.S. officials and Taliban officials in the coming days, certainly going forward. But I am not aware that any such conversations have taken place just yet as we are focusing our efforts and our discussions on our humanitarian partners in the first instance.

We’ll go to the line of Iain Marlow.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question. I’m just wondering if you have any comment on statements from two companies, Viterra and Bunge, that say infrastructure at the Ukrainian port of Mykolaiv were damaged by Russian rockets. And this is obviously – these are food companies, and so this is sort of in line with other sort of attacks on grain and agricultural infrastructure, so I’m just wondering if there was any additional comment on these sort of – these reports coming out.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any specific reaction to those reports, but we have had a consistent reaction to what has been a consistent practice on the part of the Russian Federation to damage and to potentially even target what is infrastructure that provides food and foodstuffs, not only for the people of Ukraine but for countries around the world.

Since the start of President Putin’s war in Ukraine, Russia’s forces have knocked offline, have destroyed silos; they have destroyed what used to be arable fields; they have left farmers incapable and unable to tend to their fields; and they have not only attacked ships at sea, but perhaps worse, worse yet, they have mounted what amounts to a blockade against the port where tens – where more than 20 tons of grain sits on ships that should be departing for destinations around the world to provide much-needed food and much-needed assistance to people in the region and well beyond.

We’ve undertaken quite a bit of travel since the start of President Putin’s further invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, and in recent weeks, in recent months, the food insecurity crisis that this unprovoked war of aggression has caused has been top of mind for countries and for leaders around the world, including in Los Angeles earlier this month where the Western Hemisphere came together, including in our travels in Latin America and Europe as well.

And of course, we announced this morning that tomorrow Secretary Blinken will be departing for Berlin, where he will take part in a food security conference hosted by the German Government and German Foreign Minister Baerbock. So this will be a topic that will be high on the agenda later this week. It will be high on the agenda when President Biden travels to the G7 later this week as well. And you’ll be hearing more from us later today, from some of our senior officials, on this broad challenge, and you’ll be hearing more from the White House as well in short order.

We’ll got to the line of Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes, we can.

QUESTION: Yes. Hi, Ned. Thanks for (inaudible) me. I have a question about NATO meeting. Regarding South Korea’s participation in NATO summit next week, South Korea is not a NATO member country. What expectation does the U.S. have for South Korea’s role in attending the NATO summit next week? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Janne. You are right that South Korea, of course, is not a NATO Ally, but South Korea is an important partner of the NATO Alliance and of individual Allies. And this will be the second time in recent months that partners from the Indo-Pacific have been included in NATO consultations. The fact is that even though NATO is an Alliance, a defensive Alliance that protects and promotes the interests of its Allies in a different part of the world, there are a number of shared challenges that we face, whether it is the challenge from the PRC, whether it is the challenge of cyber and emerging technology that all of our countries face.

But at the end of the day, what we seek to uphold in the Indo-Pacific with our ROK allies and what NATO seeks to uphold in Europe is precisely the same thing, and that is the rules-based order that has promoted and led to what has been unprecedented levels of stability and prosperity around the world. Russia’s affront and assault – affront to and assault on that rules-based international order is a threat not only to Ukraine and to the people of Ukraine, but to that order everywhere around the world. And anytime that order comes under assault and it is not vigorously protected and defended, that order is undermined everywhere.

That’s precisely why we, together with our partners in the Indo-Pacific, have stood up to aggression in that arena as well. When countries in that region seek to challenge the rules-based international order, we have come together to make clear that it is an order that we will protect and promote in the face of challenge, whether that’s in Europe, the Indo-Pacific, or anywhere else.

So I know the Secretary is looking forward to consultations with our partners in the Indo-Pacific in the coming days, as is President Biden, who recently returned from both Japan and the ROK last month, not all that long ago.

Let’s go to Alex Raufoglu.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ned. Two questions here. Russia’s Lavrov apparently will travel to Indonesia to take part in the G20 ministerial on July the 7th. He even is thinking to have bilats with Chinese, Brazilian, South African, Mexican colleagues, according to his spox, Zakharova. Is it your position that there is no place for Russia’s participation in the G20 summit? And if so, any steps you’re planning to take to prevent this from happening?

And secondly, Lavrov is also planning to go to Azerbaijan tomorrow to discuss the Karabakh issue. President Aliyev says that the Minsk Group is, quote/unquote, “dead.” Is that your position as well? Is Minsk Group alive, in your opinion, because the U.S. is the – one of the co-chairs? Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Alex. So when it comes to the G20, it’s an important forum for world and global economic issues. Secretary Blinken will attend to ensure that our interests are represented. We’ll have more details on that travel in the coming days.

But we also have to be clear that Russia’s war on Ukraine has caused global economic instability, and the United States has no intention, as a result, of reducing pressure on the Kremlin until and unless Russia’s aggression against Ukraine comes to a halt. We have reiterated to the Indonesian presidency that the G20 must be relevant to helping Ukraine deal with and recover from the invasion, and I’m confident that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine will be high on the agenda when G20 partners come together in Bali next month. During that set of days we’ll also have an opportunity to engage with allies as well as partners, and I know that Russia’s aggression will be a primary conversation for us as well.

When it comes to the meetings that Foreign Minister Lavrov will have in Bali at the G20 ministerial, I would leave that to the Russians to describe. For us, we are much less concerned about whom he meets with and much more concerned with the messages that are imparted during those meetings. And what we have emphasized over the course of the weeks since February 24th is that every responsible country around the world has an obligation to make very clear to the Russian Federation that its aggression against Ukraine, its peaceful neighbor, cannot be tolerated and will be met – and has been met – with steep costs and consequences for Russia. That’s the message that we’ll continue to convey; that’s the message we expect every responsible country around the world to convey as well.

Let’s go to Luis Rojas.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ned. Thank you for having me. My question is Juan Guaidó’s wife Fabiana Rosales is visiting Washington, have met with senior officials. Do you have any update on the political prisoner of Venezuela, or the possible dialogue between the opposition and the Maduro government, or any question about Venezuela? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, thanks very much. Our contention continues to be that Venezuelan-led negotiations between the Maduro regime and the Unitary Platform represent the best path to restore to Venezuelans the democracy they deserve, and to alleviate their suffering.

We, for our part, remain steadfast in our commitment to the Venezuelan people, which includes supporting their democratic aspirations and providing assistance to address their humanitarian crisis. And we count ourselves among a broad coalition of nations that support these goals.

Look, we believe that, under the right circumstances and with the support of the international community, the parties are better positioned to negotiate steps toward the solution to the Venezuelan crisis. And we’ve urged the parties – the opposition and the Maduro regime – to return to dialogue, to return to Mexico City, and we’ve made clear that we would review our sanctions policies in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime and if the Venezuelan parties make meaningful progress in those Venezuelan-led negotiations in Mexico.

We have had an opportunity in recent days, including at the most senior levels, including when President Biden spoke to Juan Guaidó on his way to Los Angeles to attend the Summit of the Americas – our support for Juan Guaidó, our support for the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, and that will continue to be the case.

Let’s go to Christiane Jacke.

QUESTION: Hi, hello, thanks for taking my question. I’m very sorry I was only able to join the call a little late, so my apologies if you already touched on that topic. It’s about Russia complaining that the U.S. is not allowing flights to bring Russian diplomats home to Russia that are supposed to leave the country. Is that correct? Can you say anything about that complaint from Moscow? Is there threats with consequences if you are not allowing a Russian plane to enter the U.S.? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much. There’s not much I can say because this is the subject of ongoing diplomatic conversation, but what I can say is that the Russian statements do not accurately reflect the current state of play. Of course, we have an interest in an embassy, a U.S. embassy in Moscow, that is functioning. We have an interest, too, in preserving the ability of the Russian Federation to have a functioning embassy here in Washington. I say that – and we’ve made this point before – because we believe that lines of communication and we believe that dialogue is especially important during times of tension, but vitally important during times of conflict and even crisis like the one we’re in now.

So we have engaged with the Russian Federation consistently in recent months to try to get to a better place in terms of our embassy staffing in Moscow to seek to preserve that diplomatic channel that our embassies afford, but there’s just not anything I’m in a position to say now on this specific issue.

We will conclude with the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Ned, with these very high temperatures from the second day of summer. Thanks for taking my question. So Ned, mine has to do with U.S. relations with African countries right now on the back of the meeting that Secretary Blinken had with Foreign Minister Tall Sall. Could you maybe give me a sense of the mood of the meeting? How did that go in general? And then on Monday, President Zelenskyy had a closed-door address that he was addressing the African Union, but only four African presidents listened in. I wanted to find out if you could probably share any reaction to that on the back of the meetings that you have been having. Thanks very much, Ned. Anything that you can give us a sense of would be great. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Pearl. So let me start with the second element of your question first, and I alluded to the fact that everywhere we have traveled, and virtually with every foreign counterpart with whom we’ve interacted in recent weeks and recent months, the challenge of food insecurity has been very high on that agenda. And in many ways, nowhere is it higher than on the continent of Africa, and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Secretary has had an opportunity to speak to a number of his African counterparts. You mentioned Tall Sall. He’s had an opportunity to meet with AU Commission Chairperson Faki. He’s had an opportunity to speak with his South African counterpart. He’s had a number of engagements that have either centered on this challenge of food insecurity or featured it prominently.

And our message has been consistent that we recognize the challenge that President Putin’s war – unprovoked war against Ukraine is causing when it comes to food insecurity. We realize that President Putin’s aggression is compounding what had already been a challenge owing to COVID and the implications of the pandemic, but also to the longer-term implications of climate change. But now that we have a third C, this time in the form of conflict, the issue of food insecurity is even more significant and severe because of the implications that this war is having on those who are hungry or otherwise food insecure around the world.

We are doing a number of things to address that. We have put forward billions of dollars in financial assistance. We are working with international financial institutions, international lending institutions to try to address this challenge. We’re working with other countries to mitigate the global fertilizer challenge. We announced a $500 million investment to increase domestic fertilizer production as part of that. We have an initiative that we’ve spoken to our African counterparts about called Feed the Future. It’s an important initiative that looks at longer-term agricultural capacity and resilience and seeks to ensure that we are in a stronger position going forward.

And we are keeping the issue high on the agenda. And Pearl, you’ve probably heard me mention that the Secretary will be traveling to Berlin tomorrow, where on Friday he’ll take part in a food security ministerial hosted by his German counterpart. And then of course, the President will address this when he’s in Europe for the G7 and other functions in the coming days as well.

So that’s not to say that is the totality of our engagement with our African partners, but it is certainly an important one. It’s an important one because of the devastating implications that President Putin’s war are having on populations around the world, including in Africa and certainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

With that, I want to thank everyone for tuning in. We will be on travel for the next several days, but we’ll have an opportunity, I am sure, to be in touch from the road, and then we’ll see you back from the department next week. Thanks very much, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:04 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – June 21, 2022

2:13 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: It’s a little more hospitable in here today, temperature-wise at least. I have a few things at the top, and then we’ll —

QUESTION: Isn’t that because the building was empty for the last three days and the air-conditioning was probably not on?

MR PRICE: I think we also made a request to raise the temperature a little bit.

QUESTION: Oh, oh (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Yes, yes, yes. Looking out for your needs. Before we begin, a few things.

Yesterday marked World Refugee Day. I would like to underscore the messages shared by the Secretary and the department acknowledging the unprecedented humanitarian crises across the globe, resulting in the largest number of refugees in history.

For the first time in history, last month the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights abuses, and persecution reached more than 100 million. That means more than 1 percent of the world’s population has been forcibly displaced.

The United States reaffirms our unwavering commitment to alleviate the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people through our global leadership in humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.

We are the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance, providing more than $13 billion in humanitarian aid during Fiscal Year 2021.

We also recognize the generosity of communities that host refugees and the united global response of international humanitarian partners who work diligently to help them.

We will continue to represent the best of American values by saving lives and alleviating suffering, working with our partners at home and abroad to assist those forcibly displaced in their time of need no matter who they are or where – no matter who they are, where they are, on World Refugee Day and every day.

Next, the United States congratulates the Colombian people for holding a free and fair presidential election on June 19th. The United States welcomes the results of the second round of elections.

We look forward to working with President-Elect Gustavo Petro and his new administration and to continuing our strong collaboration and joint regional leadership.

The U.S.-Colombia relationship remains based on shared democratic values, and we remain committed to working with the next Colombian administration in support of our mutual goals. Those goals include supporting Colombia’s implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, reducing violence and narcotics trafficking, expanding rural development and security, promoting human rights, growing inclusive trade and investment, protecting the environment, and combating the climate crisis.

On June 19th, we also celebrated the 200th anniversary of the U.S-Colombia diplomatic relationship. Together with the people of Colombia, we built this enduring partnership that reflects the deep ties between our societies, our economies, our security, and our efforts to build a more democratic and equitable hemisphere.

And finally, earlier today, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack accompanied Attorney General Merrick Garland for a quick visit to Rzeszow, Poland, and the Ukrainian-Poland border.

At the border, they met with Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to further advance U.S.-Ukraine cooperation in support of efforts to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities during Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war on Ukraine.

They also held meeting with – meetings, excuse me, with U.S. Government partners working on accountability and justice issues in Ukraine. This included the leadership of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, ACA, our joint initiative with the EU and the UK to support Prosecutor General Venediktova’s work to document war crimes and prepare case files for prosecution.

They also met partners from the Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP, which provides assistance to Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service and National Police. ICITAP efforts in Ukraine are jointly funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, or INL, and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation’s, or ISN, and their Export Control and Related Border Security program.

Attorney General Garland upon the visit noted that, “The United States is sending an unmistakable message: There is no place to hide. We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to ensure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.”

Ambassador Van Schaack will accompany Attorney General Garland to Paris, where she will join the AG, the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and other U.S. officials for meetings of the U.S.-EU Ministerial Meeting on Justice and Home Affairs. And we’ll have additional information on that event in the coming days.

So with that, we’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a very brief one, but it’s going to be brief because I think you’re not going to have much of an answer. But since we haven’t had a briefing since Friday when this decision was made by the British Government on the extradition of Julian Assange, I just wanted to check to see if there had been any change in your policy that either journalism is not a crime or if there’s been any change to the – your belief that Julian Assange is not a journalist.

MR PRICE: Matt, there has been no change, and there’s been no change to the answer I delivered to you last time on this matter. We defer to the Department of Justice when it comes to all cases of extradition. I would refer you to the Department of Justice because this is an ongoing matter before the British courts and an extradition case.

QUESTION: But it still is your position, as it was on World Press Freedom Day not so long ago, that journalism was not – should not be a crime.

MR PRICE: That is absolutely our conviction, correct.

QUESTION: Thanks. Can you – did you have something on that? So I – this is – your colleague – actually colleagues, plural, at the White House kind of had a little State Department briefing earlier. It was quite interesting because a lot of I think of what you’re going to be asked today was – has already been asked and answered.

But your White House colleague – not Mr. Kirby, the press secretary, was asked about Brittney Griner and this phone call that was supposed to have happened the other day, and she said it was her understanding that it had been – has been rescheduled. So I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that, but also explaining what happened, what —

MR PRICE: Sure. As you heard earlier today, the phone call has been rescheduled. It’s not for us to provide specific timing, because there is not official U.S. Government involvement in this call. This is not a call between a U.S. official and a detained American; this is a call between two private Americans, one of whom is wrongfully detained by Russia, has been wrongfully detained for too long, and whose case we are working assiduously to see her release just as quickly as can possibly be achieved.

I think what you heard earlier today is absolutely the case. We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak to her wife over the weekend because of a logistical error. It was a mistake. It is a mistake that we have worked to rectify. As we said before, the call has been rescheduled and will take place in relatively short order.

It was a logistical issue that was compounded in part by the fact that our Embassy in Moscow is under significant restrictions in terms of its staffing, and so when we have issues with the telephone system there, for example, the technicians are not located onsite. In fact, they’re not even located in Russia. They have to be located in a third country because of the onerous restrictions that the Russian Federation has placed on our embassy and its operations.

So all of that compounded what was a mistake, what was a logistical error, and we look forward to the opportunity for Brittney Griner to speak to her wife in short order.

QUESTION: But whatever the specifics of that logistical error, you’re confident that when this call is rescheduled, whenever it’s supposed to happen, it’s going to happen, and the same thing isn’t going to happen again?

MR PRICE: We are confident of that. We have done everything we can to rectify this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Francesco.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the tensions around Kaliningrad. What do you make of the statements from Russia threatening of serious consequences and the train?

MR PRICE: Well, we aren’t going to speculate on how Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster – don’t even want to give it additional airtime. We have been very clear over the course of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and in fact well before Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, that our commitment to NATO and specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article 5, the premise that an attack on one would constitute at attack on all, that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad. Not only have we made that clear rhetorically, but together with NATO and with our own announcements of troop posture adjustments, we have reinforced our commitment to the NATO Alliance. We have reinforced NATO’s eastern flank, especially those countries who have been at the forefront of Russian threats over the course, in many cases, of many years.

We, of course, appreciate the unprecedented economic measures that many countries around the world, dozens of countries across continents that our allies and our partners, including in this case Lithuania, have joined us in taking against Russia for its unprovoked war in Ukraine. Of course, would refer you to Lithuania regarding its enforcement of EU sanctions.

QUESTION: So you fully support Lithuanian enforcement of the sanctions and against any threat from Russia?

MR PRICE: Lithuania is a member of the NATO Alliance. We stand by the commitments that we have made to the NATO Alliance. That includes, of course, a commitment to Article 5 that is the bedrock of the NATO Alliance. This is a campaign that includes dozens of countries around the world, including blocs of countries, in this case the EU but also individual countries using their national authorities.

Lithuania has been a stalwart partner in this. We stand by NATO. We stand by our NATO Allies, and we stand by Lithuania.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, on – New York Times also came out over the weekend with an investigation about the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Basically, they are also saying, just like all of the other media outlets who have done similar investigation, that the bullet was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy. So I’m just wondering in light of this, like, mounting new information, is the United States going to do anything more to press the Israelis to speed up their investigation, and are you going to do anything differently, maybe like consider conducting your our own investigation, since this is a U.S. citizen?

MR PRICE: Humeyra, we have been in close and constant touch with our Israeli and with our Palestinian partners as well. We have sought, in just about all of these conversations, to bridge cooperation between the parties. We want to see the parties cooperate. We believe that enhanced cooperation between Israeli and Palestinians on this investigation will facilitate what is and what should be a collective goal, and that is an investigation that culminates in accountability. That’s what we would like to see happen.

We’ve made clear our view, again, both to Israelis and Palestinians, that we seek a thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. We expect full accountability for those responsible. And we have urged to that end, as I alluded to a moment ago, that the two sides share their evidence with one another. We believe the sharing of evidence and the bridging of these investigations will help facilitate accountability, an investigation that culminates in that.

QUESTION: Right. Do you mean by that – do you mean by that that you guys are pushing for, like, a joint investigation? Because the Israelis are conducting their own – like, exactly what kind of bridging are we – to what end are we talking about?

MR PRICE: The two sides are conducting their own investigations. We’re not necessarily calling for a joint investigation, but we are calling on the two sides to share evidence with one another. We believe, again, that by sharing evidence, we will be able to – or the two sides, I should say, will be able to facilitate what is our goal, what should be a collective goal, and that is an investigation that is impartial, that’s transparent, that’s thorough, and that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: Are you considering conducting your own? And if you’re not, why not?

MR PRICE: We’re – that is not on the table at the moment. The two parties, the two sides – the Israelis, the Palestinians – are conducting their own investigations. We want to see those investigations be conducted in a way that’s thorough, that’s impartial, that’s transparent, and that culminates in accountability. We believe that can be accomplished most effectively if the two sides share evidence with one another, if they bridge their investigations in that way.

QUESTION: That’s not on the table. Could that be on the table in the coming weeks, months if the Israeli investigation or this cooperation that you’re pushing for doesn’t come through?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to weigh in on a hypothetical. We want to see the two parties work together constructively because we believe it should be a collective goal of all three of us, and of course, every other country that has a stake not only in this particular killing, but also in this broader issue of press freedom and ensuring that the press, independent media around the world are afforded adequate protections – that that interest is served.

QUESTION: Okay, just super quickly on the – on – final thing on Israel. Defense Minister Benny Gantz basically briefed lawmakers the other day about this Middle East air defense alliance, saying that this has been going on for some time, basically U.S.-sponsored regional air defense alliance. Can you talk a little bit about that? Which countries are in this? What is the exact U.S. role? Is this going to be something that President Biden will talk at length about when he’s there?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any specifics to offer at this time. We’ve talked and we’ve spoken at length previously about the cooperation. We have – vis-à-vis Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the region, of course, Iran is a country that exports its malign influence not only in the Middle East, but well beyond. We cooperate very closely with our Israeli partners. We cooperate very closely with our Arab partners and with a number of other countries around the world to counter Iran’s malign influence.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to follow up on Humeyra’s – on Shireen. Now, you believe that Israel’s track record proves that it can conduct a transparent and thorough investigation in this particular case?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve spoken to previous historical analogies. Israel does have the wherewithal to conduct an investigation that is transparent, that is impartial, and that – importantly – culminates in accountability. That’s what we would like to see happen.

QUESTION: I mean, how often does this specifically occur?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve —

QUESTION: I mean, we don’t want to compare notes and so on, but I can assure you there are not very many examples that show Israel can commit to a transparent and thorough investigation. I want to go back —

MR PRICE: We’ve spoken of previous examples. We have spoken of the example of Eyad al-Hallaq, for example, one such example. But again, I’m speaking for —

QUESTION: But that —

MR PRICE: I am speaking for what the United States is asking for, what we seek. We seek an investigation that is transparent, that’s impartial, that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you about what I asked you last week, which is the Secretary of State, asked by Abby Martin, responded by saying that he calls for an independent investigation. What does that mean? Have you reflected on what he said? There are mechanisms that you have in mind that an independent investigation could be pursued?

MR PRICE: The Secretary was not signaling a change in our approach. He was not signaling anything different than what I just said right now. What we are calling for, what we are seeking, what much of the international community is seeking is a set of investigations – there are two in this case, but investigations that are impartial, that are transparent, that culminate in accountability.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on Israel. Now, the collapse of the Israeli coalition, I wonder whether you’d comment on that. How would that likely impact whatever ongoing programs that you have with the Israelis, whether it’s the JCPOA or anything else or possible – the possible even normalization with Arab countries and so on. How do you see this impacting your policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

MR PRICE: I don’t expect political developments in Israel will have implications for what we are seeking to accomplish together with our Israeli partners or with our Palestinian partners, for that matter. And that’s because Israel is a strategic partner of the United States. It’s a fellow democracy. We respect its democratic processes.

One of the strengths of the bilateral U.S.-Israeli relationship, a strength that has come to be formed over the course of many decades, is the bipartisan support it has in this country, is the fact that the strength of our relationship does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office. It doesn’t depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair in Israel. This is a strategic partnership between our two countries. It will continue to be a strategic partnership between our two countries in the coming weeks, in the coming months as the process plays out.

QUESTION: Even as we stare into the fifth possible election in three years, and the specter of Mr. Netanyahu making a comeback.

MR PRICE: Again, Said, this is a strategic relationship. It does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office; it does not depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair.

QUESTION: And I promise my last – on the refugees because you mentioned refugees. My heart goes out to all refugees and especially Palestinian refugees that have been languishing for more than 70 years. There is a UN resolution, there is a General Assembly resolution that called for their return ever since it happened. Why cannot you – why can’t you support this call by the United Nations?

MR PRICE: Said, there are a number of so-called final status issues. The right of return is one of the so-called final status issues. What we seek to do is to create the conditions to advance the prospects over the longer term for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s what we are trying to set in place now, those conditions. In the case of the Palestinian people, we are trying to do that in part with our significant humanitarian support to provide to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip what they need to have more prosperity, have more stability, have at the end of the day the dignity that they deserve.

Again, our approach to this conflict is based on what should be a very simple and non-controversial premise that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of security, of prosperity, of dignity, and that is what we assess, as have previous administrations, would be best accomplished by a two-state solution.

QUESTION: One more on Israel?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the collapse of the Israeli Government isn’t going to have an impact on policy. Where does this – does this mean that President Biden’s promise of a consulate in Jerusalem is going to go unfulfilled? Just because there was a widely assumed belief that the reason that this wasn’t implemented is because the administration feared the collapse of the Israeli Government, so that’s why they weren’t fulfilling Biden’s promise to open a consulate. But it’s collapsed now, so what – where are we in this process? What – is that actually going to happen?

MR PRICE: We remain committed to reopening a consulate in Jerusalem. In the meantime, we have really re-energized the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, but also the Palestinian people. And I spoke to our humanitarian support, but of course, we’ve had a number of opportunities, I believe most recently when Barbara Leaf traveled to Ramallah, to meet at – including at senior levels with the Palestinian leadership. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in the past couple weeks to speak to President Abbas. President Biden, when he travels to Bethlehem in the coming weeks, will have an opportunity, I would expect, to meet with the leadership of the PA. This does nothing to our – what remains our objective of opening – excuse me, reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. As you know, we’ve recently taken some steps, including changes to the reporting structure, so that our diplomats in Jerusalem can report back directly to State Department headquarters. We are taking steps to see to it that we can continue to engage constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Has the concern now shifted from the collapse of the government to any steps, either on the consulate or maybe JCPOA, would bolster a potential Netanyahu return to power?

MR PRICE: As I said before, our relationship with Israel does not depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair. We certainly don’t take steps or avoid steps, for that matter, based on any potential political developments in Israel. We are confident in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel such that we can pursue U.S. national interests and we can pursue the many interests we share together with our Israeli partners as partners. That’s what we’ll continue to do in advance of the President’s travel and in the aftermath of it as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, on Ukraine, I know the State Department confirmed the death of U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski. I was wondering if the department could confirm some details that have been circulating in reporting that he was a Army veteran and that he was killed by a landmine. Can you provide any additional confirmation of those details?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to provide any additional details. We did, in fact, confirm his death, but in terms of any of the specifics of his death, that is just not something I can weigh in on, in part out of respect for the family during this difficult time.

QUESTION: And then on the captured Americans in Ukraine, I would like to follow up on a comment by my colleague, NBC’s Keir Simmons, with Dmitry Peskov saying that they are not subject to the Geneva Convention. I know that the Biden administration weighed in on this today, but what is your response to Peskov saying that those Americans are not subject to the Geneva Convention and it can’t be applied for, quote, “soldiers of fortune”?

MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the issue broadly and just note that we are working hard to learn more about reports of Americans who may be in Russian custody or in the custody of Russian proxy forces. We have been in touch with Russian authorities regarding U.S. citizens who may have been captured while fighting in Ukraine. As I mentioned, last week – late last week, we’ve also been in touch with our Ukrainian partners, with the ICRC, with other countries, as well as with the families of Americans who have been reported missing in Ukraine.

We have both publicly as well as privately called on the Russian Government and its proxies to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of all individuals, including those captured fighting in Ukraine. We expect – and in fact, international law and the law of war expects and requires – that all those who have been captured on the battlefield be treated humanely and with respect and consistent with the laws of war.

We once again should take this opportunity to reiterate to Americans the inherent dangers of traveling to Ukraine. For weeks now we have been urging Americans not to travel to Ukraine because of the attendant dangers that Russia’s aggression inside Ukraine poses to U.S. citizens who may be there. Our message to U.S. citizens who are in Ukraine is that they should depart immediately using any commercial or other privately available transportation means. We understand certainly that there are Americans across this country – millions of Americans across this country – who feel motivated to support the righteous and the noble cause of the Ukrainian people. There are ways to do that that work to the direct benefit of the Ukrainian people, ways that are safe, ways that are helpful and constructive. We have many of those ways on our website.

QUESTION: Just one follow-up —

QUESTION: A quick follow-up with that. Do we know – does the U.S. Government know where these Americans are, and has the Kremlin even confirmed that they have been captured or know where they are?

MR PRICE: We have no additional details beyond what’s been reported in the media, including by some of your own media organizations. As I said, we’ve been in direct contact with Russian authorities. We have not been provided, either by Russian authorities or by Russian proxy forces or any other entity, with additional details of the whereabouts of these Americans. We are pursuing every channel, every opportunity we have, to learn more and to support their families, especially in this difficult hour.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Ned —

QUESTION: Can you —

MR PRICE: Let me —

QUESTION: One follow-up?

QUESTION: Well, he’ll understand because this has to do with the death, and I just want to know one thing. I realize there are privacy concerns you can’t take. Can you at least say when you – when you learned of this man’s death? And – because it’s a bit odd that the local newspaper obituary from which this news came and which you have now confirmed was published on June 1st.

MR PRICE: Yes, my understanding is that we —

QUESTION: Is that right?

MR PRICE: — is that we learned of this individual’s death several weeks ago. It is not standard procedures to formally announce when an American has been killed.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, I get that.

MR PRICE: But —

QUESTION: But before the obit or after his death on May (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: My understanding is that we learned of it before June 1st.

QUESTION: Ned, on the same point —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on —

QUESTION: The Russians claim there are 450 Americans fighting with the Ukrainians. Do you have – can you confirm that figure or is that too inflated? Do you have any way of knowing how many Americans are fighting alongside the Ukrainians?

MR PRICE: We don’t have any means to corroborate that figure. I would just note that we often encourage Americans and all others to take anything the Kremlin says with a grain of salt. But in terms of that specific piece of information, it’s not something I can confirm or refute.

Alex.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you in a position to be a little bit more specific on who in the Russian Government you are in touch with? Because Medvedev said over the weekend that “We don’t have any [relationship] with the United States…They are at zero on the Kelvin scale.” Okay?

MR PRICE: Well, I think our embassy officials in Moscow would be surprised to hear that, because we do have an embassy in Moscow that continues to function. As I said before in a different context, it functions under severe constraints. But we have worked hard despite the onerous and unnecessary restrictions that the Russians have imposed on our embassy operations to maintain a fully functioning – or I should say a functioning embassy compound. Ambassador Sullivan is here in Washington attending the Chiefs of Mission Conference, but he will soon be returning to Moscow to lead the small but very capable team at Embassy Moscow. The embassy does regularly take part in exchanges and have discussions with their counterparts in the ministry of foreign affairs or elsewhere within the Russian Government.

One of the issues that the embassy does regularly discuss with their Russian counterparts is the status of Americans who are detained in Russia, the status of our embassy as well, to try to preserve what we believe is a critical outpost. We have done everything we can to preserve lines of communication between the Russian Government and the United States. We have done that at great effort not because we are at an especially rosy time in terms of our relationship, but we believe that during times of conflict, during times of crisis, that channels of communication, including the channel that our embassy affords, is especially vital and is especially important. And it’s been a valuable one for us to pass precisely these types of messages.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just while we’re on Russia-Ukraine, Project DYNAMO, an independent organization, just put out a press release saying that John Spor, who’s an American nuclear scientist who was stuck in Ukraine and was being hunted by Russian forces in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, is now being taken out of the country by Project DYNAMO. Is the State Department in touch with this organization about this, what they’re calling a rescue effort?

MR PRICE: I’m not familiar – immediately familiar with the particulars of this case. It sounds like the press release was just issued. If we have anything to add, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: And just generally speaking, due to the lack of U.S. military presence on the ground in Ukraine, do you guys support these independent organizations’ efforts to get Americans out if they need on-the-ground assistance that can be provided?

MR PRICE: Whether this is – whether it is the efforts of private Americans, private American organizations, our guidance remains: Americans should not travel to Ukraine. Traveling to Ukraine brings with it significant and profound dangers, including some of the dangers we’ve already talked about during the course of this briefing. So whether for individuals or organizations, that guidance is constant.

Will.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the captured Americans. Russia says that they’re – that they were captured by the forces of some of these breakaway statelets. So is the U.S. working with Russia about their release, and is that working out in working with Russia, or is there some need to negotiate with others about the status and what’s going to happen? In other words, is Russia acting as sort of the force behind these proxy forces? Is that working out?

MR PRICE: It’s difficult for us to say at this point. As I noted before, we have been in contact with Russian authorities regarding the reports of detained Americans. We have not received any formal or official response. The only response we’ve seen has been the response that Russian officials have made in public interviews. So we just don’t have anything from that private engagement.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran. After a long pause, one second you’re witnessing a new naval confrontation between Iran and U.S. in Persian Gulf. Any reactions to that?

MR PRICE: I would refer you to the Department of Defense. They may have more for you. But we have seen not only in recent days but over the course of many weeks and months that Iran has engaged in maritime activity that is unsafe, that is unprofessional, that puts sailors at risk. It is something that we have condemned. It is something that we have urged Iran not to engage in.

QUESTION: Also, we are seeing some efforts from U.S. allies in the region that you’re trying to persuade Biden to change the course, to come up with a new strategy toward Iran. I want to specifically ask about Biden’s trip to region. How much of this trip is about Iran? And can you give us more detail if any meetings are planned regarding Iran?

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that there will be a meeting specifically focused on Iran. This trip, I should also add – hasten to add, is a few weeks away still, and of course it’s a White House trip, so I’ll defer ultimately to the White House to speak to it.

But I will say it’s my strong suspicion, and I think you’ve heard this from the White House, that Iran will be a topic of conversation naturally during at least a couple of these stops. When the President is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli officials, when he is in Jeddah meeting with members of the GCC+3, as well as taking part in bilateral meetings with Saudi officials, that of course the threat that Iran poses in its many manifestations – not only its nuclear program but its ballistic missile program, its support for regional proxies, its support for terrorist groups – the full panoply of malign influence and threats that Iran poses I would imagine will be a topic of discussion.

QUESTION: Okay. And one – another one about the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog about Fordow and Iran starting to use more than 100 IR-6 centrifuges. Anything about that? Any updates about the nuclear talks?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen these reports. We remain concerned that Iran continues to deploy advanced centrifuges well beyond the limits of what’s prescribed in the JCPOA. We are seeking a full return to implementation of the JCPOA precisely because we believe that Iran’s nuclear activities, including the centrifuge component manufacturing that you referred to, should be strictly limited and strictly monitored by the IAEA.

And of course, the JCPOA carried with it the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated. The fact is – and we’ve made this point on a number of occasions – Iran’s program in different ways has now far exceeded the limits that the JCPOA imposed. It is spinning cascades of advanced centrifuges that are not allowed under the deal. Its fissile material breakout time has been dramatically reduced from about a year to what is now – what can now be measured in weeks or even less.

We are deeply concerned by the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. It’s precisely why we want to see those strict limits, that verification and monitoring regime reimposed on Iran.

QUESTION: But you still believe that returning to JCPOA is going to be within U.S. interest, even though you describe all of these concerns?

MR PRICE: Well, all of these concerns exist when the JCPOA is not being fully implemented. If we were to fully implement, if Iran were to fully implement the JCPOA, many of the concern that you just alluded to, that I just alluded to, would be taken off the table, because they would not be permitted. And the IAEA would have the wherewithal to be able to inspect, to have real-time monitoring, to alert the international community if Iran surpassed those limits. That is not the case now, and that’s what gives us such great concern.

QUESTION: But it is the case that’s still not permitted under the JCPOA. None of —

MR PRICE: And Iran is not fully compliant with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: I know.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: But I mean, it’s not the case that they are now allowed to do these kinds of things.

MR PRICE: Iran has distanced itself from the strict limits that the JCPOA imposed after the last administration decided to walk away from the JCPOA when Iran, by the way, was fully implementing and in strict compliance with the JCPOA, as confirmed by the IAEA.

Anything else on Iran or the Middle East? Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Price, two question. One question about Daesh/ISIS activity in Afghanistan. They killed so many people, including Hindus. It was very big tragedy.

And the other question about the Taliban leadership’s travel sanction. Are they allowed to travel to so many countries? People concerned, especially human rights organizations.

MR PRICE: Two questions. Let me take the first one first.

Of course, we all saw these horrifying reports over the weekend. We – as you heard from several of our senior officials, we’ve condemned the recent attacks that have killed and harmed civilians in Afghanistan. This includes the cowardly attack that we saw this weekend against the Sikh community in Kabul that claimed innocent lives, including the life of a Sikh worshipper.

This is part of a – what can only be described as a concerning trend against members of religious minority groups in Afghanistan. We know that, as is the case around the world, Afghanistan’s diversity is one of its greatest assets; it should be viewed as such. And a threat to any minority group in Afghanistan is a threat to the identity, the heterogenous identity of Afghanistan itself.

Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, Special Representative for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, our Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, they all put out statements yesterday expressing our condolences to the families of the victims in this cowardly attack.

But again, this was more than one attack. What we are seeing here appears to be a pattern on the part of terrorists, on the part of extremists, who are striking at the heart of Afghanistan’s pluralistic identity, who are striking against Hindus and Sikhs, and we must – those perpetrators must be held accountable, and members of all minority groups should be protected.

In terms of the travel of senior Taliban officials, this is something that’s been discussed at the UN in recent days. And in line with the Security Council’s ongoing consideration of the situation in Afghanistan and council actions in support of the Afghan people, the council, as you may know, removed from the 1988 travel ban exemption list two individuals who oversee education policy for the Taliban. With this step, this list now has 13 individuals on it. So in other words, these individuals who are responsible for the Taliban’s education policy are no longer exempted from the inability of senior Taliban officials to travel beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

We proposed that the Security Council take this step to signal to the Taliban in no uncertain terms that its decision to prohibit girls from obtaining secondary education has consequences, including very practical consequences like this. Through press statements, the council has expressed deep concerns regarding the erosion of the respect for human rights in Afghanistan, including for the rights of women, girls, other minority groups in Afghanistan.

So we will continue to coordinate very closely with our partners at the UN and other stakeholders to hold to account those who are responsible, not only for the violent attacks that we’ve seen inside Afghanistan but for all those who would seek to erode the rights and protections that are afforded to Afghanistan’s minorities.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Tunisia – any reaction to latest development lately, the demonstrations against the proposed constitution by the president?

MR PRICE: We – what we have sought to see is – we have stood with the Tunisian people in defending democracy and protecting human rights, including the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly. This is what is stipulated by Tunisia’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well. We continue to call for a swift return to constitutional governance, including the seating of a new parliament. We believe that doing so is necessary to restore widespread confidence in Tunisia’s democratic institutions.

Yes, Shannon.

QUESTION: Going back to the two Americans killed while fighting for Ukraine, can you say if the State Department is providing consular services to any others, despite these two – I mean, beyond those two particular cases?

MR PRICE: Any consular services in what regard?

QUESTION: For Americans killed while fighting in Ukraine.

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we are aware of confirmed reports of other Americans who have been – who have died while fighting in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And for your stance towards Russia, have you communicated that you will hold them accountable if anything befalls the two captured Americans in the hands of their proxies? Is that a stance the department has?

MR PRICE: We have made very clear to the Russian Federation that we have – and just as importantly, the international community has – the full expectation that anyone who is in their custody or the custody of proxy forces who fall under Russian control, their health, their safety, their well-being is the responsibility of the Russian Federation. We’ve made a very similar point when it comes to – this is a different context – but to Americans who are detained in Russia, and also to Russians who are detained in Russia as well. We recently made this point very clear, that anyone who is in Russian custody – but this would also apply to those individuals who are in the custody of groups that are under Russian control – that their safety, their well-being is the responsibility of the Russian Federation.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two short questions on Russia and Ukraine. Firstly, you mentioned atrocity crimes. It was reported in the topper. When you first announced that this group will cooperate with Ukraine from this podium, you told they will work outside of Ukraine. I heard a discussion that they might return to the country. Was the final decision approved already, and what about the terms?

And secondly, the Secretary Yellen told yesterday that United States is in talks with allies to further restrict Moscow energy revenue by imposing a price cap – or as she told, price exception – on oil, on Russian oil. Any comments on that? Are you in the State Department a part of these discussions, these talks? And which countries are import already?

MR PRICE: On your second question, I will just say briefly that we are looking for all appropriate ways to hold the Russian Government responsible for the war that it is waging in Ukraine, for the violence and brutality that it’s waging against the people of Ukraine. We are looking for ways to ensure that accountability, including with sanctions, and to limit the revenue that the Russian Government and key Russian decision makers are able to accrue, just as we work with the international community to see to it that we preserve the supply of global energy on energy markets.

When it comes to our support for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, you recall that last month we announced the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group. This is a group that constituted by the United States and as well as our EU and UK partners. It calls on the expertise and the experience of many of our nongovernmental partners as well. And while much of this work does take place outside of Ukraine, some of this work does take place inside of Ukraine as well. Part of the idea of the ACA is to see to it that the – that the experience of these groups and of these individuals is brought to bear for Ukraine’s prosecutors who are building cases, who are collecting evidence, who are preserving evidence as well.

And in fact, the ACA had its first formal meeting in Kyiv on June 16th with the lead implementing partners from the United States, from the EU, from the UK. And our – the ACA’s lead advisor, Ambassador Clint Williamson, who himself was a former ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, who’s now at Arizona State University, also participated in the AG and the ambassador’s meeting at the border with the prosecutor general that I mentioned at the top.

So there is activity that is taking place inside Ukraine, but there’s a lot of support that takes place virtually and in third countries as well.

Yes, Alex.

QUESTION:  Ned, thanks so much.  Ned, on Russian aggression, Putin last week hinted that neighboring countries might face Ukraine’s fate if they turned against him for the invasion.  Now, if you sit in Azerbaijan, Georgia, or Kazakhstan, you might scratch you head and think about whether or not the U.S. will help me in case Russia does more conflict?  Can you explicitly state that the U.S. will not leave those countries alone if Russia does what it says it does?

MR PRICE: Well, I think we’ve sent a very clear signal with the support that we have provided to Ukraine, support that totals more than $5 billion in security assistance since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24th, the way in which that the United States has rallied the international community, how dozens of countries across multiple continents have come together to provide not only the security assistance that Ukraine needs, but also the economic assistance and the humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people, just as we have imposed an unprecedented set of economic and financial measures, as well as the export controls that we’ve spoken to, on the Russian Federation.

So that is a clear signal of the resolve we have. It is a clear signal that Russian aggression against sovereign, independent countries will not be tolerated by the United States. It won’t be tolerated by our international partners as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, prospective for Georgia – as you know, this is the – sorry – recommendation of the European Commission, and now all three countries are waiting for June 24, when decision of the European Union will be announced. Do you think that Georgia also deserves to be supported on its way? I understand that this question does not concern you directly, however, your position on the Western perspective of Georgia and on this path is extremely important for us.

MR PRICE: Well, on the question broadly, we maintain our longstanding commitment to a Europe that is whole, that is free, and that is at peace, and we support the further integration of Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia as well with their European neighbors. When it comes to Ukraine and Moldova (inaudible) European Union.

For all of these countries, though, these are countries that over the course of now decades have expressed a desire for a closer relationship, closer proximity with the West. The United States has worked with all three of these countries to help them develop their democratic institutions, to help them develop their system of checks and balances; to help them develop their economies that are integrated with Europe and with the West; and we will continue to stand by them going forward.

The details of the accession processes and timelines, those, of course, are a decision for the EU and its member states, and so I would need to refer you to the EU for any specifics of that process.

Excuse me. Michel.

QUESTION: Ned, on the global food insecurity, what is the U.S. doing to help ease the situation globally and in the Middle East specifically?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve had an opportunity to speak about food security quite a bit recently, including when Secretary Blinken convened a number of his fellow ministers – about 40 ministers – in New York last month at the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. This was a challenge that in some ways predates the Russian aggression, but there – certainly it is a challenge that has been compounded by what we call the three Cs: by COVID, by climate change, and now by conflict. And the fact is —

QUESTION: That was four Cs.

MR PRICE: I was counting climate change as one, but yes, thank you, Matt, if you want to be literal about it.

The – and, unfortunately, it is that final C, conflict, that has had an outsized implication for not only the region but also for much of the world. The fact is that Russia’s forces have attacked, they have taken offline grain silos. They are attacking Ukraine’s farmers. They are leaving Ukraine’s wheat fields and its other plots of arable land unusable. There is – there has been an effort to pursue Ukrainian ships at sea that have been carrying grain. And, of course, there is an ongoing blockade with ships now stuck in port that have some 20, 25 million tons of grain that countries around the world, including in the region but also well beyond the region, including in Africa and, as we heard recently at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, is needed in the Western Hemisphere as well.

So we’ve produced a global action plan that focuses on five lines of effort. First, we provided billions of dollars – more than $2.5 billion – in food security and other humanitarian assistance. In addition, the President last month signed the emergency supplemental request that provides more than $5 billion – $5.5 billion – in additional aid for food security around the world.

Second, we’re working with other countries to mitigate the global fertilizer shortage. President Biden recently announced a $500 million investment to increase domestic fertilizer production. We’re working with countries around the world to increase their own domestic levels of fertilizer production as well.

Third, we’re boosting agricultural capacity and resilience through the Feed the Future initiative, and this is a program that has been longstanding but is aimed at achieving greater longer-term resilience to food security, knowing that even if we are able to address the acute near-term crisis, that this will be a long-term challenge that we’ll need to address together.

Fourth, we’re taking measures to cushion the macroeconomic shocks of this crisis on the most vulnerable populations. We’re working with international financial institutions, international lending institutions, with international partners on this.

And fifth, we’re keeping the issue high on our diplomatic agenda. As I already alluded to, Secretary Blinken during the U.S. presidency at the UN, he thought food security deserved to be the headliner, deserved to be high on the agenda or the highest agenda item, and it was for that reason. And I will – I would expect that in the coming couple days we’ll have more to say about travel that the Secretary will be undertaking to advance this goal to see to it that we can address the near-term acute crisis and also the longer-term implications not only of COVID and climate change, but of course, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its attendant implications for global food security.

QUESTION: Should we expect solutions from the (inaudible) meeting?

MR PRICE: I don’t think any single meeting will be able to produce a solution. Of course, there are a number of countries, the United States included, that are looking at near-term practical steps we can take vis-à-vis the grain that is stuck in Ukraine’s ports. That’s something that we’ve worked on with the UN and Secretary-General Guterres. It’s something that our Turkish allies have been very engaged in. We’re supporting their efforts to see to it that Ukraine’s grain is to be released. Of course, it could be released tomorrow if Vladimir Putin were to authorize it, if he were to authorize what would be a purely humanitarian gesture that could save untold lives around the world, but that is something that he has not yet done.

I think the goal at the session at the UN – and the Germans have already spoken publicly to a session that Foreign Minister Baerbock is convening later this week in Berlin – but the goal of sessions like these is to continue to put a spotlight on the acute challenge we face to bring together countries that have potential food supplies, fertilizer supplies with those who need it as well as countries who have resources, whether it is food, whether it is funding or other resources to offer to give them an opportunity to make those connections.

Let me move around. Yes.

QUESTION: Move to PRC, China. Give us your comments about China’s claim of successful anti-ballistic missile interceptor test on Sunday as well as recent launch of domestically designed aircraft carrier.

Secondly, does the United States see the Taiwan Strait as international water?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, I just don’t have anything to offer on these announcements that we’ve seen from – excuse me – that we’ve seen from the PRC.

On the second question, we made clear last week, I believe it was, that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway. That means that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation, overflight, are guaranteed under international law. The world has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and we consider this central to the security and the prosperity of the broader Indo-Pacific region. We’re concerned by China’s aggressive rhetoric, its increasing pressure and intimidation regarding Taiwan, and we’ll continue, as we have said before, to fly, to sail, and to operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait.

Yes.

QUESTION: Two follow-up, actually, Mr. Price. So one, we have – as the war in Ukraine, it rages on, we might be more and more Americans being stranded, killed, or captured in Ukraine. And is there a discussion within the department to take some steps to stop the flow of American foreign fighters to Ukraine other than just issuing an advisory – travel advisories?

MR PRICE: At this point, we continue our efforts to encourage, to urge, to recommend, to do whatever we can to impart to Americans, well-meaning Americans, that they should not travel to Ukraine. They should not travel there because of the attendant dangers, but also because of the challenge you alluded to. We only recently were able to resume limited operations at our embassy in Kyiv. We are not able to provide the same level of services for American citizens who may be in Ukraine. That is part of the reason why before the February 24th start of this phase of Russians – Russia’s invasion, we encouraged Americans to depart Ukraine, and we are now doing everything we can to urge Americans not to travel there.

QUESTION: Also a follow-up to the – reopening up the consulate in Jerusalem. Why does reopening take so long? Like, what is the obstacle there? It’s just reopening the building. Like, transferring the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem did not take that long. What is preventing you from reopening the embassy?

MR PRICE: Obviously, these are complex issues. These are issues that we need to coordinate with the Government of Israel as well, but it’s an issue that we are committed to and we’re continuing to discuss that with our Israeli partners, with our Palestinian partners.

QUESTION: Why should you coordinate with the Israelis while you are opening a consulate for Palestinians?

MR PRICE: Because this will be in Jerusalem.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that France, a major European —

QUESTION: So wait a minute, again, but you – Jerusalem, as far as your policy is concerned, is divided.

MR PRICE: Well, that’s why I said we’re consulting with Israel —

QUESTION: You would not acknowledge that Israel —

MR PRICE: We’re consulting with Israelis and Palestinians.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Yeah, I was asking, are you concerned that France, a major European ally, goes through a rare political crisis with President Macron maybe being incapacitated in taking actions for a long time in the middle of a war in Europe, in international crisis?

MR PRICE: President Macron was just re-elected. He has – well, I’ll leave it to French voters to assess the results of those elections. But no, we know, just as I’ve said in other contexts during these briefings, that France is an ally of the United States. We have every bit of confidence that we will continue to work very closely with the Macron government going forward on the challenge that Russia presents and the other shared challenges that we face as allies.

QUESTION: Colombia? Can I have a question on Colombia, where you began?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Gustavo Petro is a leftist, so that was – that is the first leftist in – I think in Colombian history. He’s a former rebel. Last year we had also leftist candidates win the presidency in Chile, Peru, Honduras. We’ll probably have Lula da Silva coming back and so on. In your view, is that a repudiation of U.S. policy toward the – South America?

MR PRICE: These are the sovereign decisions of voters within sovereign countries. I don’t think it is in any way a reflection of American policy. I think the point that we heard repeatedly during the Summit of the Americas and something that applies equally to all countries across the globe is the challenge that all of our countries face, and that is seeing to it that our fellow democracies can deliver for our people. And I think whether it’s Colombia, whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s Israel, whether it’s France, whether it’s anywhere around the road – around the world where we have free and fair democratic elections, people are expressing their viewpoints based on unique circumstances.

But again, what unites, I think, much of what we’ve seen is a desire on the part of people around the world, especially in the midst of COVID, especially in the midst of the implications of climate change, especially in the midst of the economic recovery that we are seeking to advance, that people are looking for representatives who are able to deliver on those democratic promises.

Secretary Blinken, as you know, spoke to President-elect Petro last night and they had a very good conversation. They spoke about a number of issues, some of those issues that do implicate very – that are very real issues for people in both of our countries: public health, COVID, climate change and the environmental degradation that we’ve seen, the shared democratic values that unite both of our countries.

So whether it is the new government – or the incoming government, I should say – in Colombia, whether it is a partner around the world, we’ll be able to pursue our shared values and our shared interests.

QUESTION: I have a quick clarification question. Sorry to kind of switch gears here. But back on the American citizen killed in Ukraine, I know you said you don’t want to provide specific details due to the family’s privacy, but can the State Department confirm that he was killed in combat specifically?

MR PRICE: We have confirmed his death, but we have not confirmed details – specific details.

QUESTION: Were you able to confirm that it was combat-related?

MR PRICE: I’m not able to confirm any specific details.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just, Ned, super-quickly on Finland, Sweden, and NATO since next week is NATO summit. So it looks like the – this agreement between – well, Turkey saying no to Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids, that whole disagreement is not being resolved quickly. The U.S. has been saying that they would like to see these two countries join NATO relatively quickly, and the Turks yesterday said the summit next week is not a deadline. So is it also U.S. understanding now that you’re not – that the summit is not going to be a deadline and this sort of, like, disagreement may well expand beyond that? Or are you still hoping that this would be resolved by then?

MR PRICE: I don’t believe we’ve ever put a firm deadline on it. Of course —

QUESTION: But I mean, would you like this to continue for months?

MR PRICE: We —

QUESTION: I mean, from the very beginning you guys said that —

MR PRICE: We —

QUESTION: — you would hope to wrap this up fairly quickly given the war in Ukraine.

MR PRICE: No, of course. Of course, we would like it to be concluded swiftly, but this is a process that requires consensus by all of the NATO Allies. Of course, the Finns and the Swedes and the Turks have been engaged in discussions, tripartite discussions, bilateral discussions. We’ve heard from them. We’ve heard them characterize these discussions publicly as constructive and ongoing. We are not a party to these talks, but we’re lending support to our partners Finland and Sweden. We’ve also had an opportunity to discuss the issue broadly with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and other Turkish officials.

I’ll do quick final questions.

QUESTION: And if you could, are there any other meeting – any other meeting between the Secretary and the foreign minister or president next week in Madrid?

MR PRICE: We haven’t announced anything yet. If there will be, we’ll announce it in due course.

Yes, final – I’ll go to you. I don’t believe you’ve had a chance today.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m Gabby. I’m with Jewish Insider.

MR PRICE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: So my question is about there was a ban on kosher and halal slaughter in Belgium that was recently defeated, and my understanding is that American diplomats played a pretty big role in working with legislators there to vote that bill down. I’m wondering if there’s anything you could share about America’s involvement in that process.

MR PRICE: I am not immediately familiar with the details, but we’ll see if we can get you any details after this.

All right, thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – June 16, 2022

2:16 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I come empty-handed, except to comment, once again, on just how frigid it is in this room, but hopefully we can all —

QUESTION: We’ve all been just saying, it’s a little bit warmer than yesterday. A little.

MR PRICE: That’s not saying much.

QUESTION: No, it’s not. Okay. Well, you came empty-handed, huh? All right. I just have one very brief one, and then —

MR PRICE: Sound like the voice of God in here.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. I should talk like this. Do you have any – have you managed to get any more information about these Americans who are allegedly – have allegedly been captured or detained in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: So this is something we’ve spoken to over the last day. We are limited in terms of what we can say on two fronts, first in terms of our privacy considerations and some unique considerations that we have as the Department of State, but also because we are limited in terms of what we know at the moment.

But I can tell you what we do know and what we can say. We are aware of unconfirmed reports of two U.S. citizens captured in Ukraine. We’re closely monitoring the situation. We are in contact with Ukrainian authorities, as well as with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the families of the two reported missing U.S. citizens. Of course, we’re not able to offer any more on that front because of privacy considerations.

But the broader message – and this is something you’ve heard from us previously, and it’s one we reiterate again today – is that we continue to urge in every way we can American citizens not to travel to Ukraine because of the attendant dangers that is posed by Russia’s ongoing aggression. There are many individuals in this country who are well-intentioned and who want to do everything they can to help the people of Ukraine. Of course, we all understand that. There are avenues and ways to channel that energy, to channel those efforts in ways that are constructive and ultimately helpful for the people of Ukraine, and you can find many of those on our website.

QUESTION: Can you just explain, if you can, who it is that you’re reaching out to for any information?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re reaching out to the Ukrainian Government to see if —

QUESTION: They don’t – it’s not them that has them if they are being held.

MR PRICE: No, of course. We are speaking to the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have discussed this issue broadly with other partners, including our British partners, for instance. If there are other avenues that we feel could shed light on the whereabouts of these two reported missing U.S. citizens, we will pursue that.

QUESTION: Well, okay. So you have not spoken to the Russians about this?

MR PRICE: As of today, we have not raised this yet with the Russian Federation. If we feel that such outreach through our embassy in Moscow or otherwise would be productive in terms of finding out more information on the whereabouts of these individuals, we won’t hesitate to do that.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you just – what would make it – what would make you think that it would be productive to reach out to the Russians? Some kind of proof of their captivity?

MR PRICE: Well, of course, we likewise haven’t seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody. If the Russians were to claim that they had such individuals, I assume we would pursue that. If we had reason to believe, credible reason to believe that these individuals were in Russian custody, we would pursue that as appropriate.

QUESTION: So just to put a very fine point on it, at this moment, you don’t have credible reason to believe that they are being held by Russia?

MR PRICE: At this moment, we have seen the open press reports, the same reports that you all have seen, but we don’t have independent confirmation of their whereabouts.

Shaun.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, I know you mentioned that you don’t have confirmation that the Russians have them, but in terms of what the message would be to the Russians – I mean the – supposedly, according to the reports from their families, they were volunteering with the Ukrainian military. What would be the expectations of treatment by the Russians? The Geneva Conventions, would that come into play?

MR PRICE: Well, the Russians have certain obligations, and members of the Ukrainian armed forces, including volunteers who may be third-country nationals incorporated into the armed forces, should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and afforded the treatment and protections commensurate with that status, including humane treatment and fundamental process and fair trial guarantees. Under the Geneva Convention, POWs are entitled to combatant immunity and cannot be prosecuted for participation in hostilities. Russia’s obligations here are very clear: As a party to the Geneva Convention and the First Additional Protocol, they apply to its detention and treatment of anyone in the armed conflict, regardless of the status that person merits or that Russia purports to recognize of any such individual.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, the – I’m sure you’re aware of the case of British nationals recently who were caught up in the fighting there. What’s the signal from that in terms of how the Russians are treating foreign fighters there? Is there any cause for concern about how they’ve treated people caught with the Ukrainian forces?

MR PRICE: Well, of course, and we continue, as do our British partners, and we’ve been in touch with our British partners on specific cases and on the issue more broadly. The Russians have an obligation to afford humane treatment to anyone in their custody as a result of this conflict – humane treatment and fundamental process and fair trial guarantees. Anyone who is captured on the battlefield, who are members of the Ukrainian armed forces, including, again, volunteers who need not be Ukrainian nationals, who could be third-country nationals, should be afforded the full protections of the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Armed Conflict.

QUESTION: Are they regular army, Ukrainian army soldiers?

MR PRICE: Again —

QUESTION: I mean, the Russians probably say, look, these guys are mercenaries.

MR PRICE: Again, I can’t —

QUESTION: We have – they have very severe and draconian kind of —

MR PRICE: Again, I can’t comment on specific cases.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: But individuals who are fighting in the effort as part of the Ukrainian armed forces are – they do have these protections. I’ll make this point, though. Even if not regarded officially by the Russian Federation as a prisoner of war, any person detained by Russia in connection with the conflict must be afforded fundamental guarantees, including humane treatment and fair trial rights, whether or not the Russians consider them POWs. Anyone who is fighting with Ukraine’s armed forces should be treated as a POW. Even if Russia refuses to do that, there are certain fundamental guarantees to which they should be afforded.

QUESTION: Would you warn or caution the Russians not to designate them as mercenaries?

MR PRICE: Of course. We – our message to them is that those members of the Ukrainian armed forces should be treated as POWs. Anyone captured on the battlefield should be afforded these same basic and fundamental guarantees.

Jenny.

QUESTION: Is this the first possible case of detained Americans by the Russians who were fighting in the war? Are there other cases that State is aware of?

MR PRICE: There are reports of one additional American whose whereabouts are unknown. I can’t speak to the specifics of that case. Unfortunately, we don’t know the full details of that case.

QUESTION: To your understanding, was this person fighting with the Ukrainians, this unknown —

MR PRICE: Similarly, our understanding was that this individual had traveled to Ukraine to take up arms.

QUESTION: Can you give a time on this of when this person was identified as missing?

MR PRICE: This has been in recent weeks.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you mind if I just do one more on —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — one more on Ukraine? The – several European leaders visited Kyiv today and they voiced support for European Union membership for Ukraine. Obviously, the U.S. isn’t part of the European Union, but does the – do you have any stance on this in terms of what this means and what this could mean also potentially for NATO aspirations in the future for them?

MR PRICE: We certainly support Ukraine’s European aspirations. Our support since Ukraine’s independence has been to help place Ukraine on the path to help support its European aspirations. We continue to, and to this day, continue to work with Ukraine to realize those aspirations. Obviously, this is a question for the EU, but it is also an aspiration that we fully support.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the – just – I just want to clarify something about – when you said about anyone who was taken off the – captured on the battlefield should be treated as a POW. Does that mean that anyone who – anyone at all or anyone who is in uniform? Because I’d like to – I don’t know if there’s a comparison to be made; I’m sure you will say there isn’t. But what about the battlefield in Afghanistan, where clearly the United States did not treat enemy combatants as POWs? Is there – are you making a distinction between what’s going on in Ukraine and what has happened in Iraq or Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: So, first, when it comes to Ukraine, again, our position is that members of the Ukrainian armed forces, whether they are Ukrainians or third-country nationals —

QUESTION: I’m talking – okay.

MR PRICE: — should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

When it comes to Afghanistan, all U.S. military detention operations conducted at Guantanamo Bay are carried out in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict – also known as the Law of War – or international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and all other applicable international and domestic laws. So our position on this has been consistent.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. So those Geneva Conventions allow waterboarding and things like that?

MR PRICE: Go on.

QUESTION: No. Well, you can smile and nod, but really?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have —

QUESTION: These people were not treated as – and I understand if you’re trying to make – if you’re going to make a distinction between those people who may be terrorists or, quote/unquote, “enemy combatants” and those who are uniformed members of a military, but are you making that distinction, or are you saying that the U.S. has always treated anyone it’s taken prisoner on a battlefield as a prisoner of war?

MR PRICE: That – the policy of the United States has been that all U.S. military detention operations conducted at Guantanamo Bay are carried out in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict, including the applicable portions of the Geneva Conventions.

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MR PRICE: Now, we have spoken —

QUESTION: Well, how about detentions in black sites in Europe?

MR PRICE: Now, we have spoken at length – we have spoken at length – not as much during this administration, but certainly during the last administration in which I served – about the ways in which America lost its way in some very notable instances in our pursuit, in our prosecution of the war on terrorism. I’m not here to relitigate that. I think we all have —

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not asking you, but I just want to know – I’m not asking you to relitigate it. I just want to know if you’re making – are you making a distinction between the two? Or are you just saying that, with some unfortunate exceptions, the U.S. has always hewed to the – to respecting the Laws of War?

MR PRICE: This has been our policy when it comes to detention operations at Guantanamo Bay.

QUESTION: Ned, do we know for sure whether they were wearing actual Ukrainian army uniforms with insignias and all that stuff, and a rank or anything like that?

MR PRICE: Said, as I said, I can’t speak to specific cases.

Yeah. Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Russia, China, and North Korea, in a recent phone call with President – Russian President Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the Russian war was justified and supported Russia. What is your comment on China’s support of the unjustified Russian war?

MR PRICE: The alignment and the partnership between China and Russia is something that we’ve spoken quite a bit about, including in recent weeks. Secretary Blinken noted it during his speech recently on our approach to the PRC. To put it bluntly, we are concerned about China’s alignment with Russia. We have noted statements from the PRC claiming that China is neutral, but its behavior, its rhetoric, its actions suggest that it is anything but. It is still investing in close ties with Russia.

We’ve seen this from the earliest days of this conflict, even before this conflict. As Russia amassed its forces along Ukraine’s borders, President Xi on February 4th, about three weeks before the invasion began, when it was quite clear what was likely to happen, chose to announce what the PRC and Russia called a, quote/unquote, “no limits” partnership. And in the joint statement from – that emanated, 5,000 words from the meeting between those two world leaders, they put forward a vision of the world order that is profoundly illiberal, that is profoundly different from the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific and beyond that the United States and our partners have not only espoused but have sought to promote and protect.

The vision that they put forward is a world in which might makes right, a world in which – contrary to decades of PRC statements regarding the inviolability of state sovereignty – where big states can bully small states, where countries are not able to exercise a discretion to choose their own partnerships, to adopt their own foreign policy, where in many ways coercion is the name of the game.

So in key respects, despite what we – what we hear from the PRC, a stance of stated and purported neutrality, the PRC has already made a choice. And more than three months now into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China – despite the atrocities that have been committed, despite the violence, despite the loss of life, despite the global implications including when it comes to food insecurity not only in the region but well beyond – China is still choosing to stand by Russia. It is still echoing Russian propaganda. Very disturbingly, it is echoing and propagating what are very clearly very dangerous Russian lies on many fronts. The PRC and Russia, of course, continue to shirk their obligations as members of the Permanent Five. The fact that the PRC is in many ways still denying the atrocities that have taken place inside Ukraine – the atrocities that we’ve seen with our own eyes thanks to the reporting from many of your organizations – I think speaks to the partnership and the choice that the PRC has made.

We’ve seen, of course, the recent phone call between the two leaders. Again, this position of stated neutrality on the part of the PRC is nothing more than a hollow statement. If the PRC actually believed in the principles that it has espoused over the course of many years, including in the UN Security Council over the course of many years, the approach that we would be seeing from the PRC would be markedly different from the approach that we’re seeing now.

QUESTION: Do you think China will be willing to support military aid to Russia, any movement or —

MR PRICE: Supporting humanitarian aid to Russia or to Ukraine?

QUESTION: I mean Russia, not Ukraine.

MR PRICE: Russia. I would have to defer to the PRC to speak to any humanitarian aid that they should be sending or that they are sending to Russia. We have been calling on the international community to send, of course, humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine. And just yesterday, you heard from us of an additional $250 million in humanitarian assistance that we are providing for the people of Ukraine. All told, this is about a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance that we’ve provided to the people of Ukraine since the start of this conflict on February 24th. This is funding for the basic and fundamental needs of the Ukrainian people: clean water, sanitation, housing, food, nutrition, the basic essentials of daily life that in many ways have been imperiled by what the Russians are – what Russia’s forces are doing against the country and the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: On North Korea, is there any response to the recent letter sent by the United States to North Korea?

MR PRICE: You heard from Secretary Blinken when he was standing next to his South Korean counterpart earlier this week that our approach is to make clear to the DPRK that we harbor no hostile intent. We seek diplomacy and dialogue in order to advance the prospects for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. You also heard him say we have not heard a response from the DPRK. That was just a few days ago. There has been no change to that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ned, just going back to what you said about the Chinese policy and the idea, this “might makes right” and that the Chinese seem to be going into this following this idea that big states can dominate small states. So there are a lot of historians who would say that the United States itself has had that same policy towards – particularly towards countries in Latin America.

But since we’re talking about Taiwan in this instance, let’s talk about small island – islands that are off the coast of each country. How exactly would you describe U.S. policy towards Cuba? Is that not the case of what – the same thing of what you’re accusing the Chinese of doing with Taiwan? And if not, why not?

MR PRICE: Matt, I think you can compare what Beijing is doing to Taiwan with clear acts of intimidation, flying sorties into what are – what is clearly —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Ned, you invaded.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Are you going back 60 years? Is that where you’re going to?

QUESTION: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: You have a long (inaudible) Cuba.

QUESTION: You can go back longer than – longer than that. I just want to know – I – again —

MR PRICE: Matt, we’ve had this – we’ve had this conversation before. I’m here to speak to the Biden administration, not to the Kennedy administration or the Eisenhower administration.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay. So let’s talk about the Biden administration and its policy towards Cuba, which still has the embargo, right? Is that not a case of a big state trying to dominate a smaller state?

MR PRICE: This —

QUESTION: Which is exactly the same thing that you’re complaining that China is doing?

MR PRICE: This is a case of the United States seeking to help advance the democratic aspirations of the people of Cuba. If you take a look at what we have done, including in recent weeks, we’ve taken steps that —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: — seek to fulfill those aspirations: family reunification, visa processing, providing support to Cuban entrepreneurs, taking measures of accountability on senior Cuban officials who have been responsible for the repression, including the renewed repression that has followed the July 11th protests. So our approach to Cuba, I think, is the comparison you’re trying to make.

QUESTION: I’m not trying to make the comparison. I’m asking you if you – if there is a comparison to make.

MR PRICE: Okay. So I guess the answer would be no. Yes. Great.

QUESTION: You clearly would say no. Okay. Fine.

MR PRICE: Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to switch topics, Ned. On the Palestinian issue, the Israeli police won’t release findings of the internal probe into conduct at the Abu Akleh funeral. Apparently they have the findings and they found that the police probably conducted themselves wrongly, but they will not release it. And in fact, it seems that Haaretz is saying that they have decided not to press any charges against anyone before even the investigation. Do you have any comment on this?

MR PRICE: Well, I am not aware that we’ve seen any sort of formal statement regarding the outcome of any investigation, but let me just say this: The footage from the funeral procession – and we said this shortly after the funeral procession – showed disturbing intrusions into what should have been a peaceful procession. We urged respect for the funeral procession, for the mourners, for the family at the time. We made the point at the time that every family deserves to be in a position to lay their loved ones to rest in a manner that is dignified, in a manner that is unimpeded, in a manner that is peaceful. And we’ve seen media reports that you allude to about the reported conclusion of the Israeli police’s investigation. We are seeking further information about the investigation and its outcomes if it has in fact been completed. We continue to believe that accountability is an important component of these disturbing events.

QUESTION: All right. Let me ask one more question on the Palestinian issue. Is there – yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry, do you mind if I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Please, yes. Please, by all means.

QUESTION: When you say you’re seeking further information, do you want the Israelis to release it publicly, the report on the – or to the United States?

MR PRICE: We are seeking further information from our Israeli partners. So certainly, to us, typically these investigations, the findings of them are released publicly, but that’s, of course, not our call.

QUESTION: But would you like them to release it publicly? I mean, is that —

MR PRICE: We – transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand in this case.

QUESTION: I remember you saying that the Israelis have the wherewithal to conduct a very solid and truthful investigation. Do you still believe that?

MR PRICE: Still believe that.

QUESTION: Do you still believe that they have that wherewithal to do it?

MR PRICE: Certainly have the capabilities to do it.

QUESTION: They have the capabilities?

MR PRICE: And we continue to call on the Israelis to do just that, both in the case of the funeral procession and in the underlying event – of course, the tragic, horrific killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about Gaza. It’s been 15 years since Gaza became under siege basically – by land, by sea, by air, all these things. And there are reports that some 800,000 children in Gaza have never known anything but the blockade – but the blockade. Isn’t it time to really lift this blockade and allow some humanitarian supplies to go in, allow Gazans to go to school, allow them to go to – to travel abroad and so on, allow them to go to the West Bank?

MR PRICE: Said, when we came into office, we made a point of revitalizing relationships that had completely atrophied or disintegrated over the prior four years. Two of those relationships were with the Palestinian Authority but also with the Palestinian people. It is important to us that we are in a position to be a humanitarian leader around the world, and that includes for the Palestinian people, and that includes for the Palestinian people in Gaza. We are providing assistance, to include shelter, food, relief items, health care, as well as mental health and psychological support, for those who have experienced trauma. As we do around the world, we’ll provide this assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground who distribute directly to people in need.

The point we’ve made consistently when it comes to this conflict and this dynamic is that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of security, of stability, of peace, of freedom, and critically, of dignity. And by providing this humanitarian aid, not only is it the right thing to do, but our goal is to help foster the conditions so that we can move towards the prospect of a two-state solution. And of course, no one believes that the time is ripe now for such substantial movement. No one is confident that now is the right time that we are going to see progress in the next day or the next couple weeks.

But our goal, our charge has been to try to create those conditions, and part of that has been through the significant humanitarian support that we’ve provided, including in Gaza. We announced over the course of the last year hundreds of millions of dollars in support, including through UNRWA, a funding source that we’ve been able to revitalize and a funding source that is a critical source of subsistence of survival for many in Gaza.

QUESTION: Well, I am certain that many Palestinians are grateful to the restoration of aid to UNRWA, because it’s really UNRWA has kept the Palestinians educated and with health care available to them and so on. But deserving something, because you said the Palestinians and the Israelis deserve to be – to have the same opportunities and so on – deserving it, deserving something and getting it are two different things. I’m not letting anyone off the hook. Your allies – Egypt, Israel, and even the PA, the Palestinian Authority – have taken part in imposing this blockade on Gaza. I am asking you, hasn’t the time come to lift this blockade?

MR PRICE: The time has come to do all we can to support the people, the Palestinian people, in Gaza. That’s what we are doing, including through our humanitarian assistance.

Yes.

QUESTION: On this, Ned —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Please, did the administration ask Israel not to take any steps regarding the settlements before the President’s trip to Israel and the West Bank?

MR PRICE: Michel, you have been in this room long enough to know that we have consistently delivered a message, both in public and in private, that encourages both sides, Israeli and Palestinians, to avoid steps that only serve to exacerbate tensions and potentially move us even further away from the prospect of a two-state solution. So that has been a message that we have conveyed nearly since day one of this administration.

QUESTION: Although isn’t it also true that that message has been universally ignored?

MR PRICE: Matt, I would not —

QUESTION: By both sides?

MR PRICE: Obviously, we have worked closely with both sides to de-escalate tensions. We’ve done that, including in recent months. We spoke of a period of heightened tensions as the three major religions celebrated their holy days nearly simultaneously. It was during that period – it was – it has been in the weeks since that we’ve continued to work very closely. The Secretary has a number of – has had a number of calls with the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Lapid. He’s had a number of calls with President Abbas. As you know, Barbara Leaf was just in Ramallah meeting with President Abbas. Barbara Leaf was just in Israel meeting with our Israeli counterparts as well. So we continue to send that very clear message.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: You said you are encouraging always – you’ve been saying encouraging both sides to refrain from doing those kind of thing. But what if encouraging has been proven years and years is not working?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I missed the last part of the question.

QUESTION: What if encouraging – I mean, the Israelis in this case about the settlement. What if encouragement policy is not working? There is any alternative?

MR PRICE: We continue to believe that a two-state solution is in the best interests of Israel and the Palestinian people. Again, only through a two-state solution can we – can Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state be guaranteed living next to a sovereign, independent state for the Palestinians. That continues to be our long-term goal.

Of course, as I said before, it is a long-term goal because the conditions are not right for it at the moment. To your point, we are doing what we can in the moment to de-escalate tensions and to support those underlying conditions, including through our humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, so that we can one day – and hopefully one day before too long – get to a point where the time is right to engage in direct talks to move much more directly towards that two-state solution.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have three questions on my favorite topic, on Iran.

So yesterday there was a hearing, a classified hearing, in Congress where Rob Malley attended and Brett McGurk. Senators were – when they came out after the hearing, they were pessimistic. And Marco Rubio said that it’s inevitable that Iran will have a nuclear bomb. Do you share this pessimism, and can you just update us on anything regarding potential talks or lack of them on the nuclear issue? That’s number one.

MR PRICE: So we do not believe it is inevitable that Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And in fact, President Biden has made a commitment that Iran will never be – never acquire a nuclear weapon. Senator Cardin, coming out of the briefing yesterday, he called it one of the more informative and significant classified briefings that he had experienced. He said as to the different options that are available, it was very informative.

There have been a number of senators, of course, who have voiced their opinions on the question of Iran’s nuclear program. The fact is that it’s a challenge and it’s a very – it’s an exceedingly difficult challenge where there are few, if any, good options. And we are where we are in large part because of decisions that were made before this administration came into office.

We still believe there is the potential to conclude a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, if Iran were to set aside issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA and to focus on the contours of the agreement that have been on the table for some time now. We are continuing to push for that and to work closely with our European partners towards that end, because we continue to believe, as do a number of lawmakers on the Hill – and you’ve heard from several of them yesterday – we continue to believe that it would be profoundly in America’s national interest if we were able to return to mutual compliance with the Iran deal, principally because it would require Iran to once again be limited by the strictest, the most intrusive inspections and monitoring regime ever negotiated and subject to the strict limits that the JCPOA places on Iran’s nuclear program.

Now, it’s an open question if we can get there. There’s a lot to suggest we won’t be able to. But we are and have been preparing equally for scenarios where there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and the scenario where there is not, and a scenario where we will continue to work closely with our partners and allies, but working with those same partners and allies we will pursue a different approach that will nonetheless ensure that we’re able to live up to the commitment President Biden has made that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not going to ask you about plan B because I know the answer. But we have seen widespread protests in Iran. I’m bringing you back to different administrations that Matt was alluding to. During the Obama administration there was a Green Movement. Do you think that this can be closer to anything that could be harnessed or be interpreted as a protest against the regime, or do you think it’s just basically it’s just people asking for basic demands, considering what’s happened in terms of prices, et cetera? And will the administration support these protests?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen this dynamic previously in Iran, that they usually start with a proximate cause, and then they expand to take on a broader cause. What we’re seeing now is brave Iranians demanding that their government address their legitimate concerns. Iran’s government’s mismanagement and neglect have left the Iranian people with their most basic needs largely unmet.

And we condemn the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We support the human rights of Iranians to peacefully assemble and express themselves without fear of violence or retribution. This is the very same message that we’ve delivered the world over.

The Secretary has made clear as well that we condemn the partial or complete government-imposed internet shutdowns, among other tactics that we’ve seen the Iranian Government attempt to resort to, to prevent the exercise of freedom of expression online and to restrict the ability of independent journalists to serve the public. As we do around the world, we support the right of peaceful protesters.

And since 2014, in this case, the Treasury Department has authorized the provision of a wide range of personal communications software and services to Iranians. This is something that we do around the world to see to it that efforts on the part of governments to stifle the ability of their citizens to communicate, to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly, cannot be trampled. And we’ll continue to work with the private sector and the Treasury Department to identify additional measures to support and facilitate the free flow of information inside of Iran.

QUESTION: One last question on Iran. We have seen lately an assassination of many Iranian scientists. That cannot be a coincidence. So do you think this is, like, part of a containment policy on one of your allies, in the face of the much talked about there is – that Iran talks are not going anywhere?

MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to comment one way or the other on that. But we have a commitment – it’s a commitment we share with many of our allies and partners around the world – that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about your choice of a senator that you wanted to quote after that hearing? Was Senator Cardin the only person who you could find who came out of that hearing having been impressed? And the reason I’m asking is because if you don’t remember, I’ll remind you how he voted on the JCPOA back in 2015. He voted against it.

MR PRICE: And Matt, the fact is that there are a number of – I don’t want to speak to lawmakers, but I will speak to —

QUESTION: Well, do you have anyone else there that you can cite?

MR PRICE: I will speak to —

QUESTION: Or is he the only one?

MR PRICE: I will —

QUESTION: And if he was the only one, I might – you might want to ask your people who gave you that —

MR PRICE: No, but Matt, I —

QUESTION: Why choose someone who voted against the deal?

MR PRICE: No, but I think that’s actually an important point.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: There are a number of countries, there are a number of world leaders, who in 2015 weren’t enthusiastic about the JCPOA, but given where we are now, given the awful choices that were made before this administration came into office, there are a number of world leaders – and I don’t want to speak for lawmakers but there may be lawmakers in this country – who find the JCPOA as the best alternative to what we have now.

QUESTION: So you think that his comments were indicative of him potentially changing his vote?

MR PRICE: I am, of course, not speaking to Senator Cardin or —

QUESTION: Or Senator Menendez or Senator Coons or essentially everyone on the committee except for Senators Van Hollen and Murphy?

MR PRICE: Part of the – a part of our engagement with Congress has been to make very clear, based on the intelligence, the scale of the challenge that we face with Iran’s nuclear program. Of course, none of us wishes that we were in this position. We wouldn’t be in this position if the last administration had not decided to scrap the JCPOA that was manifestly working – working according to this building, according to our Intelligence Community, according to the IAEA.

But we don’t have the option of going back in time. We do have the option of going back into the JCPOA. If we were to go back into the JCPOA, we would be in a better position vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program. The fact is – and yesterday the briefers went into more detail and they have in the past as well – the breakout time has diminished significantly. It can now be measured not in months, not in a year as it was upon the implementation of the JCPOA in January of 2016, but in weeks or potentially even less. So the options we have, there is no silver bullet. But we do have an option that may still be in the offing – it is still in the offing if Iran decides to come to the table in a way that, that sets aside issues that are extraneous – to put us in a much more advantageous position when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program.

Now, one final point on this. Iran’s nuclear program is the most proximate challenge and threat we face from Iran. But it, of course, is not the only one – its ballistic missile program, support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups, its exportation of instability throughout the region. All of these things are challenges, threats that we could address much more effectively were the challenge of a nuclear – unconstrained Iranian nuclear program no longer on the table. If we’re to set that aside, we would have much more – excuse me – bandwidth and ability to address challenges that are also urgent and important to us and our partners.

Yes, Shannon.

QUESTION: On sanctions levied against Russia, there are reports that some administration officials are increasingly questioning their efficacy, whether they’re hitting average citizens harder than the Kremlin, and whether they’re driving up – significantly driving up global inflation. Now, does the department still stand by its strategy, and what level of collateral damage is acceptable?

MR PRICE: We do still stand by our strategy, and it is a strategy that is not only targeted – it is targeted at the Kremlin; it is targeted at the cronies and support networks behind key decision makers in Russia – it is a strategy that entails not only financial sanctions but export controls that, both in the near term and even more so over the longer term, starve Russia of what it needs for its industrial base, for its technological base, for its defense base, and other critical and strategic sectors. I think you can look at a number of metrics that point to the effectiveness of this strategy. I saw a report today from the Russian central bank, the Russian central banker, in which he conceded the point that Russia’s economy would not be the same as it was prior to February 24th.

Prior to February 24th, we repeatedly made the point, together with our partners and allies, that we would enact measures that were significant and severe if Russia were to go forward with its invasion. Russia has made the choice that it did. We in turn followed through on the commitment that we made.

Now, there are important carveouts when it comes to our sanctions as well. We’ve spoken of the need to maintain a steady global supply of energy. So there are applicable carveouts there. We have spoken of the imperative of doing everything we can, contrary to what Vladimir Putin is doing, to combat this challenge, this growing challenge of food insecurity. It is President Putin whose forces are destroying grain silos, who have destroyed ships at sea carrying grain foodstuffs, who have destroyed agricultural fields and crops, and who are now continuing to enact a blockade that is preventing Ukrainian ships laden with 20 or more tons of grain from leaving port and going to destinations around the world. That is what Vladimir Putin is doing. What we have done is to ensure that all of our sanctions have applicable carveouts so that fertilizer and food is not subject to any of the measures that we have put in place. We’ll continue – this is an urgent challenge for us – to see to it that the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine are –that we do as much as we can to address them.

Our goal is to make these measures – the financial sanctions, the export controls, the other applicable measures – as painful for the Kremlin, for key decision makers, while we do everything we can to dilute the costs not only here at home but to other countries, to other people around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: On – a follow-up on Iran. You just said you believe that it’s hopeful that they return to the JCPOA if Iran come back to the table. The question: What are you doing to bring Iran back to table? We have seen that you just today imposed some sanction on Iranian petrochemical networks. What are you doing to bring Iran, and is there a deadline for that deal? Is there a deadline that if that deal has not been signed, then there is no meaning to go through?

MR PRICE: There is a deadline. The deadline is the day upon which the benefits of returning to the JCPOA are outweighed and outgained by the advancements that Iran continues to make in its nuclear program. The reason we are pursuing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is because it continues to be in the national security interest of the United States and in the collective interests of our international allies and partners as well. That won’t always be the case, and it won’t always be the case precisely because Iran is continuing to take steps that would be otherwise prohibited under the JCPOA – spinning advanced centrifuges, stockpiling levels of uranium, stockpiling heavy water, doing everything that were it to once again be subject to the strict limitations of the JCPOA would be off the table.

What we’re doing to entice Iran – this is – we have made very clear that we have a genuine intent to return to the JCPOA as long as Iran does so. We have worked together with our European allies and also with the original P5+1 partners, and that of course includes Russia and China, for 15 months now on these negotiations. The negotiations have, in many ways, culminated in the contours of an agreement that could be signed and could be implemented in short order if Iran made the decision to do so. It is up to Iran to decide if it wants to return to compliance or not. If Iran chooses not to do so, if it chooses to continue to raise issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA, we have other options that are available to us. These are other options that we’ve discussed with our allies and partners over the course of many months, and we’ll pursue them.

QUESTION: We are talking about weeks for breakout time. You have been from this podium saying that the Iranians are away just four weeks from acquiring it. When is that deadline actually? When is that deadline when the JCPOA is not going to work anymore? Iranians are just far away from the nuclear weapon four weeks.

MR PRICE: The deadline is when it’s no longer in our national security interest to pursue it. It continues to be the case that a mutual return to compliance would put us in a far preferable position to where we are now. But again, that won’t always be the case.

QUESTION: And also another topic?

QUESTION: Can I —

QUESTION: Yeah. Greece is increasingly arming the islands just miles away from Turkey that are limited under certain agreements. What is the U.S. position under – on this topic, and do you endorse this militarization of islands?

MR PRICE: Our position on this is the same one you heard a couple weeks ago, and the sovereignty and territory – territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected. We continue to encourage our NATO Allies – Greece and Turkey in this case – to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve their differences diplomatically. We urge our allies to avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions. Greece and Turkey, of course, are both strong partners. They’re key NATO Allies to the United States, and we will continue to urge both of them to de-escalate tensions.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. We have seen a rise in Islamophobia in India. A few weeks ago, members of Indian ruling party BJP made demeaning comments about Prophet Mohammed. On this, there are protests going on in India, while the houses of protesting Muslims are being bulldozed. Would you like to say something about these hate crimes committed by Indian Government against Muslims and other minorities?

MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we’ve condemned. We condemn the offensive comments made by two BJP officials, and we were glad to see that the party publicly condemned those comments. We regularly engage with the Indian Government at senior levels on human rights concerns, including freedom of religion or belief, and we encourage India to promote respect for human rights.

The Secretary said when he was last in New Delhi, last year, that the Indian people and the American people, we believe in the same values: human dignity, human respect, equality of opportunity, and the freedom of religion or belief. These are fundamental tenets, these are fundamental values within any democracy, and we speak up for them around the world.

QUESTION: Sir, India and other Asian nations are becoming an increasingly vital source of oil revenues for Moscow, despite strong pressure from the U.S. Are you still talking with the Indian authorities on that, offering something else then? You can sell more oil to them they don’t get from Moscow?

MR PRICE: We have had a number of discussions with our Indian partners, and the point that we have made is that every country is going to have a different relationship with Moscow. India’s relationship with Russia is one that developed over the course of decades, and it developed over the course of decades at a time when the United States wasn’t prepared or able to be a partner of choice for the Indian Government.

That has changed. This is a legacy of a bipartisan tradition now that has been the case for more than two decades. It goes back really to the Clinton administration, certainly to the George W. Bush administration, where the United States has sought a partnership with India, has sought to be a partner of choice for India, including when it comes to the security realm. Now, this is not a partnership that we were able to build in the course of days, weeks, or months. I mentioned before that India’s relationship with Russia was built up over the course of many decades. As countries reorient their relationship with Moscow, as we have seen many of them do, this will be a gradual process.

But throughout it all, we have made clear to our Indian partners that we are there for them, we are ready and able and willing to partner with them, and we’ve done just that. Of course, we had a 2+2 dialogue with our Indian partners not too long ago. We will see Prime Minister Modi once again in the context of the I2-U2, the arrangement we have with —

QUESTION: You need to come up with a better name.

MR PRICE: — with the UAE and Israel along with India, incorporating India into many of the partnerships we have, including, of course, the Quad. And that is a group that this administration has sought to revitalize and has done so at very high levels, including at the leader level on – four times and —

QUESTION: I have one last question. Has there been progress in U.S.-Pakistan relations under the very new Pakistani Government? Because we have seen the former prime minister Imran Khan still selling the conspiracy theories. So is there any progress or contact with the new Pakistani Government?

MR PRICE: Well, we have had a couple occasions now to meet with representatives of the new Pakistani Government. We – when we were in New York last month for the food security ministerial, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to sit down with his Pakistani counterpart to meet him face-to-face in his position for the first time. It was a very good, constructive discussion regarding the full range of issues, including the issue of food security. We were there in New York at the time to deal with it and to deal with the many aftereffects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That was also a topic of discussion.

But Pakistan is a partner of ours, and we will look to ways to advance that partnership in a manner that serves our interest and our mutual interests as well.

Jenny.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan? Has there been any contact between the U.S. and Russia since her pretrial detention was extended?

MR PRICE: So I mentioned this yesterday that we had not received any prior formal notification from the Russian Government before it was later announced that her pretrial detention had been extended by another couple weeks. Of course, what we heard yesterday was another injustice heaped upon what was already injustice: the fact that Brittney Griner has been in detention, wrongfully so, for months now; similarly with Paul Whelan, someone who has been in Russian detention for years.

We have called for the release of both of them beyond making these public calls. We are working assiduously behind the scenes, quietly, to do everything we can to see to it that they are released as soon as possible. And those are efforts that continue day in and day out.

QUESTION: So no conversation since the extension, then?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any to read out to you.

QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up on the third missing American in Ukraine? I know you’re limited by the Privacy Act, but does the State Department have an understanding of who this individual is, and are you in touch with their family?

MR PRICE: We are in touch with the family, yes.

Ian.

QUESTION: Can you give a sense of whether there’s any update on plans to free up the grain from Ukraine and what the assessment of the department is on the state of talks in terms of Russian security assurances or any – any talks?

MR PRICE: Sure. So as I mentioned before, this is something that we have been focused on because it is a very clear implication of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We’re working tirelessly to help the Ukrainian Government assess alternative routes, to increase the capacity at cross-border points, and to explore the use of mobile equipment among other tactics, as well as temporary storage solutions, to help move some of this grain out from Ukraine.

In May – of course, don’t want to paint a rosy picture here, but in May these efforts, combined with the collaboration with the EU and other international partners, assisted the Ukrainian Government export 1.7 million metric tons of grain. That was more grain than had been extorted – exported the month prior. Now, it is nowhere near it needs – where it needs to be in terms of Ukraine’s export capabilities, and so that’s why we continue to look at alternative solutions.

As you know, Secretary-General Guterres of the UN has been working very closely with our Turkish allies, with our Ukrainian partners, and with the Russians as well to explore potential solutions and maritime routes.

The fact is that there is one individual who could have an overwhelming effect on the availability of Russia’s – excuse me, Ukraine’s grain today, tomorrow, and that is Vladimir Putin. If the blockade against the ports were to be lifted, that would free up tons of Ukrainian grain that has been sitting in ships that have been blocked in port for months now. We continue to call on the Russian Government to do what it can – and it can do a lot – to alleviate this growing challenge of food insecurity. Until and unless we see a change in Russia’s posture, we’ll continue to work with our Ukrainian partners. We’ll continue to support the efforts of our Turkish allies, of the UN secretary-general, to devise alternative solutions.

QUESTION: Ned, a question on —

MR PRICE: A couple – I’m going to move around so we – yes, please.

QUESTION: On a different subject.

MR PRICE: Okay, yes.

QUESTION: On Indo-Pacific region, White House Coordinator Kurt Campbell said today the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and France will announce the new Pacific Islands Initiative next week. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to it, but it sounds like we’ll have more details before too long.

A couple final questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Going back to human right violation in Iran, yesterday United Nations High Commission for Human Rights published a letter signed by 11 human right experts warning about a violent civil society crackdown happening in Iran. In recent days, we are witnessing a very widespread crackdown against different communities – teachers, retired communities. Any reaction do you have about the OFCHR’s letter?

MR PRICE: This is related to what we were just saying about the fundamental rights of the protesters in Iran to peacefully express and to exercise their basic and fundamental rights. We applaud the work of the UN human rights experts. They expressed, quote, “serious concerns” about a violent crackdown against civil society in Iran, including members of workers unions and teachers arrested for protesting their low salaries and their poor working conditions.

The experts urged accountability for those responsible for using excessive force against the peaceful protesters. They said that they were alarmed at the recent escalation of alleged – allegedly arbitrary arrests of teachers, labor rights defenders, union leaders, lawyers, human rights defenders, other civil society actors.

They went on to make the point that in the absence of meaningful channels of participation in Iran, peaceful protesters are now the sole remaining means for individuals and groups to express themselves and to share their grievances with the authorities. And they were deeply concerned that first response, the first response by the authorities, is that of excessive use of force against the protesters. That is certainly a concern of ours. It’s why we condemned the use of violence against these peaceful protesters. We made the point that we support the right of these protesters to peacefully exercise their fundamental freedoms.

QUESTION: So your hope for returning to talks, does it prevent you to impose human right-related sanctions against Iran? Are they related?

MR PRICE: Of course not. Of course not. We will continue to hold Iran accountable for human rights abuses that take place inside of Iran. We will continue to hold Iran accountable for every strain of nefarious activity that it undertakes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PRICE: Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One, news stories that say that Senior Advisor Hochstein will be in Israel next week to discuss the border issue between Israel and Lebanon. Is that true?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce.

QUESTION: Second, the Special Tribunal of Lebanon has sentenced to life in prison two Hizballah members for their part in the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: We welcome the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s unanimous judgment that Hizballah operatives Hassan Merhi and Hussein Oneissi be sentenced to life in prison for their role in the 2005 terrorist attack. That attack killed 22 individuals, including the former prime minister. It injured a couple hundred more – 226 people. The judgment represents a significant overdue milestone in pursuit of justice for the people of Lebanon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Said. Last question.

QUESTION: A quick question on the President’s trip. Yesterday, John Kirby said that it includes – we got an agenda – the portion in Saudi Arabia, I think suggesting that there may be some sort of announcement on Yemen. Do you expect anything regarding the war in Yemen on this trip?

MR PRICE: Sorry, I didn’t catch the last —

QUESTION: I mean, is there anything that we can expect, something big to be announced, like maybe in the war, kind of a thing?

MR PRICE: Well, I can’t speak to what will be announced a month from now when the President travels to the region. But of course, there recently was a big announcement, two big announcements, in fact.

For the first time in more than seven years, there is a humanitarian truce that has not only persisted, it was extended, and we’re now in its ninth week. But it has led to lower levels of violence, and it has also importantly led to humanitarian assistance flowing into parts of Yemen that had been bereft of humanitarian assistance for far too long.

We’ll continue to work with the UN special envoy. We’ll continue to work with our partners in the region, including our Saudi partners, who were indispensable in achieving this humanitarian truce, in achieving the extension to consolidate it, and to see to it that we can work together to bring greater levels of stability, security, ultimately peace and prosperity, to Yemen.

QUESTION: Can you comment on naming the street on which the Saudi embassy sits after Jamal Khashoggi?

MR PRICE: I cannot. I cannot.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – June 14, 2022

2:24 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Just a couple things at the top. First, we are very pleased to welcome today five journalists visiting us from Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. These journalists are here part of the Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship, a unique joint initiative between RFE/RL and the Czech Republic for aspiring journalists in support of pluralism, press freedom, and media independence everywhere. Welcome to you all. Welcome to the State Department.

And before we begin, allow me just a moment of personal privilege. And I need to stop making a habit out of this, but we have another very sad departure from my team. JT Ice, who has served as our deputy spox for the past two-plus years, just over two years, having started in June of 2020, will be moving on today. Today is his final day, I am very sad to say. JT, as you all know, is a career member of the Foreign Service. He has had a storied career overseas, here as well, and his tenure on the spokesperson’s team across these two administrations has been a fine example of that.

I met JT on January 20th around 8:30 in the morning or so, and he’s been by my side ever since. I could not have done the job without him, without his expertise, without his experience, without his wise counsel at every step of the way. So JT will be sorely missed, not only by me but everyone in the bureau, everyone on my team, and many, many people in this department. Of course, he’s not going far. He is going to the very pleasant confines of the Naval War College for a tour there before he continues with his next adventure in the Foreign Service.

So JT, thank you. And with that, turn to your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Welcome back. And JT, have fun in Rhode Island. I hope they’re ready for you there.

Can I just very briefly – is something wrong with the —

MR PRICE: I think the floor is yours.

QUESTION: There was – there was an echo. Before we – I just want to ask very briefly if you’re aware of Brittney Griner’s detention being extended by the Russians.

MR PRICE: So I’ve seen those reports. I’ve seen the reports emanate from Russia that her detention has been extended. Our position for some time on this has been very clear: Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer. We have characterized her, we have characterized Paul Whelan, who has also spent far too long in Russian detention, as wrongful detainees. The team here, individuals around the world, are working around the clock to secure and to effect their safe and prompt release and also the safe and prompt release of wrongful American detainees around the world.

QUESTION: But were you aware – was the embassy aware that there was a hearing or that this was a possibility today? Was there an actual hearing that anyone was able to go to?

MR PRICE: My understanding is that we became aware through TASS.

QUESTION: So nothing?

MR PRICE: I was —

QUESTION: And subsequent to the TASS report, have you been able to confirm with Russian authorities that this is, in fact, the case?

MR PRICE: To confirm that her detention has been extended?

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: Look, we are in constant contact regarding her case. We are in constant contact with her team and her network back here at home. I think you all have seen that yesterday representatives of the department, representatives of the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, and a senior representative from our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs met with the Phoenix Mercury, as they are here, so we are regularly keeping them apprised of her case.

We were last able to have consular access to Brittney Griner last month. We continue to press for regular, continued access to all American detainees who are in pretrial detention, whether they are unjustly detained, as is Brittney Griner, or whether they are facing criminal charges. This is a case that we are working assiduously behind the scenes. We’ve been in regular contact with Russian authorities regarding it.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, is it problematic for you? Are you going to complain to the Russians that you were given no —

MR PRICE: Well, of course it’s problematic. Her detention —

QUESTION: No, no. Well, I get —

MR PRICE: Her —

QUESTION: I get the entire detention is —

MR PRICE: Let’s leave aside – let’s leave aside —

QUESTION: Okay. But what happened today – right, I get that the entire thing is problematic for you. I understand that. But I’m talking about specifically what happened today, the fact that you learned about it from a state news agency and there was no apparent – no notification to the embassy or the consular officials there. Is that in particular a problem for you?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to speak for the embassy and whether they had any contact prior to this. I can tell you that everyone I’ve spoken to learned of it today from the news reports. But to your question, absolutely this is problematic. This case is problematic from top to bottom. It is precisely why we have characterized Brittney Griner as a wrongful detainee. It’s precisely why we are doing everything we can to see and to effect her prompt release from Russian detention.

Yes, Francesco.

QUESTION: Yes, also on Russian detainees, do you have any comment on Navalny being transferred to a more strict colony and his lawyers saying they don’t know where exactly he is?

MR PRICE: Well, similarly, we’ve seen these reports that Aleksey Navalny has been transferred from the penal colony where he has been in prison and that his current whereabouts are unknown. We call on Russian authorities to allow Mr. Navalny access to his lawyers, to his legal representation, as well as to receive medical care. We have communicated to the Russian Government repeatedly that they are responsible for what happens to Mr. Navalny as he is in their custody. They will be held accountable by the international community were anything to befall Mr. Navalny while he is in their custody.

His exposure over many years of this government’s corruption and his pro-democracy activism prompted this politically motivated arrest. We have urged authorities to take all necessary action to ensure his safety and good health, and we reiterate our call for his immediate release, as well as an end to the persecution of his many supporters.

QUESTION: You have communicated that to the Russian Government even after February 24th?

MR PRICE: We have communicated this to the Russian Government previously, and I am confident that we will be in a position to reiterate that message soon.

Yes, Jenny.

QUESTION: On U.S. detainees, how many are in pretrial detention right now in Russia?

MR PRICE: So this is a figure, especially in a country as large as Russia, that is constantly changing. It doesn’t do us any good to release a particular figure on any given day. There are cases where Americans are detained and subsequently released in short order; there are cases where Americans are detained and are held for far too long, as is the case with Brittney Griner, as is the case with Paul Whelan, as was the case with Trevor Reed. So we are working and making the point relentlessly to our Russian counterparts that, consistent with their obligations under the Vienna Convention, consistent with their obligations under our bilateral arrangements, we expect to have regular access to Americans who are held in pretrial detention.

QUESTION: And when was the last time the embassy had access to Paul Whelan?

MR PRICE: We’ll get you the updated date there, but it was – we’ll get you the updated date.

Yes, over here.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister has said that they put forward a new proposal to revive the JCPOA. Is that true, and if so, when did they make this proposal?

MR PRICE: As we and our European partners have made clear, we are prepared to immediately conclude and implement the deal we negotiated in Vienna, the deal that has been on the table for a number of months now for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA. But for that to happen, Tehran needs to decide to drop demands that go beyond the scope of the JCPOA, needs to decide to drop issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA.

We have made very clear where we are. We believe that if Iran makes this political decision, we’ll be in a position to conclude and to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA very swiftly. If Iran does not do that, it will further imperil the odds that we will ever be able to reach a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But has Iran put a new proposal forward?

MR PRICE: We have been in regular indirect contact via the European Union, so we’re not going to speak to the specifics – specific dynamics of this diplomacy other than to say that Enrique Mora has been – has served as an important go-between role, and we await a constructive response from the Iranians, a response that leaves behind issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA.

QUESTION: So, Ned, you’re saying “extraneous.” What are the extraneous things that they are asking? Can you explain, please?

MR PRICE: Extraneous in this case means something that is not a part – should not be a part of the JCPOA.

QUESTION: I know perfectly well what it means. I’m just saying, what are these things?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to get into the diplomacy. I’m not going to speak to proposals that the —

QUESTION: Okay. Is it something akin to the Iranians maybe demanding some sort of a guarantee that you will not have a new administration nullifying whatever deal you arrive at? Is that it?

MR PRICE: On that, Said – yeah, fancy, huh. On that, Said, we have made very clear to the Iranians – we did this in October of last year when the President met with our European – with his European counterparts in Rome on the sidelines of the G20. And if you take a close look at the readout that emanated from that meeting, we made very clear that our intention is and was – was and is – to effect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and that we intend to remain there, in so long as Iran would live up to its end of the deal. It would serve us no purpose to achieve a mutual return to compliance only to scrap it down the line.

Now, beyond that, I’m not going to speak to proposals that have been sent back and forth, other than to say we are prepared to re-enter the JCPOA on a mutual basis. That is to say, if Iran decides that it is willing to reimpose the nuclear restrictions that the JCPOA calls for, we are willing to do what is necessary in terms of sanctions lifting on our end to once again be in compliance with the JCPOA. That choice is now Iran’s. It has been Iran’s for some time. There has been a deal that has been on the table in Vienna for a number of months now. It is a deal that is still in our national security interest, because it is a deal that conveys nonproliferation advantages that are – that go beyond what we have now.

And what we have now – the urgency that we have now and the challenge that we face – is that, given the advancements Iran has been able to make to its nuclear program since May of 2018, when the last administration abandoned the nuclear deal, a nuclear deal that – with which Iran was in full compliance, by the way – Iran has advanced its nuclear programs in ways that are profoundly dangerous and that are profoundly corrosive to the global nonproliferation regime. We went from a breakout time that upon implementation of the JCPOA that was out at about 12 months, it is a breakout time that is now measured in weeks or less. To us, that is unacceptable. That is why we continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We will do that for as long as the deal that’s on the table conveys benefits that the present moment, in terms of Iran’s nuclear program, does not.

Michel.

QUESTION: Ned, until when will you keep talking to the Iranians? And second, on the deterrence front, is the U.S. trying to form a coalition in the region that includes Israel and Arab countries to counter the Iranian influence?

MR PRICE: So on the first part of your question, as you know, we’re not talking directly to the Iranians. As we’ve said before, we would prefer that. It would make the business of diplomacy much simpler. It would allow us to address complex and multifaceted issues in a more effective way. But of course, the Iranians have not been willing to do that, and so, as I mentioned a moment ago, we have been going through the – our European partners and allies to convey these messages.

In terms of the timeframe – and what I just said is the core point – we will continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as doing so is in our national interest. And right now, a mutual return to the JCPOA would convey nonproliferation benefits that we don’t have at the present moment. Again, the fact is that Iran’s breakout time is dangerously low at the present. It has dwindled by months and months since Iran began distancing itself from the stringent requirements of the JCPOA in mid-2018.

We are constantly looking at the nonproliferation benefits that a mutual return to compliance would convey versus what we have now. Every week, every day that this goes on, those benefits are eroded. So we will reach a point where a mutual return to compliance is no longer in our interest. Even if we wanted to, that’s not – almost certainly not a date that I could give you right now because it is based on an assessment of where Iran’s program is. It is based on an assessment of what a mutual return to compliance would convey in terms of a resulting breakout time, and that’s an assessment that experts here, experts in our Intelligence Community and elsewhere, are constantly refining to determine what’s in our national interest.

QUESTION: On the second question?

QUESTION: And you expect – and you would expect Rob Malley and Brett McGurk, when they go up to the Hill for this closed hearing before SFRC tomorrow, to make the same case that it is still – that the administration still assesses that it is in the U.S. national interest to return to compliance?

MR PRICE: It is the —

QUESTION: Because if that’s going to be their message, it’s going to be a long meeting and not a very pleasant one for them.

MR PRICE: I can’t speak to the reaction that we’ll hear from the Hill, other than to say that we regularly engage with our counterparts on Capitol Hill. As you know, Matt, it was just last month that Rob Malley spent several hours in an open hearing before lawmakers.

QUESTION: Yes, but this one is closed, which means that it might – well —

MR PRICE: Well, and —

QUESTION: — I suppose maybe there might – that there might be less, like, public performance, but —

MR PRICE: Well, the message you heard from Rob when he was before lawmakers last month is consistent with where we are now, and Rob made the case —

QUESTION: Okay. So then what’s the point of going up there to do this classified briefing if your position is still the same?

MR PRICE: The point of going up there is that we want to ensure that we keep lawmakers fully and presently informed of what it is that we’re doing.

QUESTION: Since the appearance last month, there has been this IAEA report; there has been the Board of Governors resolution. So things have changed.

MR PRICE: Of course. And I am confident that every time we speak to lawmakers that they will pose those questions and that we will offer those answers.

QUESTION: So realistically, if the President goes to Israel, let’s say around the 15th of July and so on, as planned or scheduled, before arriving at a – or returning back to this deal, is it likely that it’s dead in the water and then would you – would it be dead by then?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to put a timeframe on it, largely because we can’t. It is a —

QUESTION: If the trip is made before a deal is —

MR PRICE: It is an assessment. It is an assessment that is evolving as Iran’s nuclear program advances. And if Iran continues to make these advances, if it continues to spin advanced centrifuges, if it continues to blow beyond limits to its stockpile, this is a deal that, before too long, will not convey the nonproliferation benefits that we would need it to convey if we were to pursue it.

QUESTION: Ned, you didn’t answer my second question.

MR PRICE: Oh. On the – look, the – we are – and you’ve heard from – this from us before, consistently, and again today with the announcement of the President’s travel to Israel, but our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. And we, in cooperation with our allies and regional partners, including Israel, we will use every appropriate tool at our disposal to confront the IRGC’s destabilizing influence in the region. You’ve seen evidence of that with the financial sanctions that we’ve imposed. We continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on this, with our Gulf partners, with our – with other partners throughout the Middle East. And I have no doubt that the challenge that Iran poses to the region and beyond will be high on the agenda when President Biden is in Israel next month and when he is in Saudi Arabia next month meeting with the GCC and meeting with his Saudi partners as well.

QUESTION: So on the trip —

MR PRICE: Let me move around —

QUESTION: But since you are on the trip, what has changed, meaning – I mean, the President when he was running for office, he called Saudi Arabia a pariah and so on. What has changed since then that Saudi Arabia is recognized, as it is has always been, as a major partner of the United States?

MR PRICE: Said, this is a President as – who, of course, will not hesitate when we have an opportunity to engage in a way that advances America’s interests and in a way that is consistent with our values. I can tell you what hasn’t changed, and President Biden actually said this just the other week. He said, “I’m not going to change my view on human rights.” So in every relationship, of course, we bring our values with us, and human rights is always on the agenda. Human rights is always on the table. So, too, are the interests of the American people. And these two things can be – and I would say must be – complementary.

When it comes to Saudi Arabia, this is a relationship where a multiplicity of interests are at play. Of course, there is the issue of extremism, of terrorism. We have worked side-by-side with our Saudi partners for years on this scourge, combatting it. There’s the issue of Yemen, and just the other week there was an extension of the truce in Yemen, a truce that is now in its ninth week, a truce that has allowed humanitarian access to parts of Yemen that have been bereft of aid and humanitarian assistance for far too long.

One of the first appointments from this administration was when President Biden came here early on. It was maybe the second week of the administration, and we made public our appointment of Tim Lenderking as a special envoy for Yemen. Over the course of these past 15 or so months, Special Envoy Lenderking and his team have worked assiduously with partners around the world, including the UN, now UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, but also with partners in the Gulf and principally with our Saudi partners. Saudi Arabia was pivotal to getting to that humanitarian ceasefire and indispensable to extending it just the other week.

This is not only about a civil war in Yemen, which of course is a cause of great concern for the United States, both the violence, the instability, and the humanitarian implications, but this is also about our direct interests, our core interests, the number – hundreds – of cross-border attacks have emanated from Yemen in recent years. Of course, that is of concern to us for the threat that it poses to Saudi Arabia, but it’s also of concern to us because there are 70,000 Americans in the kingdom.

Beyond Yemen, there is the question of regional stability. There is the question of healing regional rifts, regional divides within the Gulf, within Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has been a partner on that as well. We’ve talked about the challenge that Iran poses. Not only are we working with Israel, we are working closely with our Gulf partners, including the Saudis, and the broader GCC, by the way, the GCC+3, which will be in Saudi Arabia when President Biden visits there.

There are also other interests, including energy, and we’ve spoken of our desire to see a steady global supply of energy. This has been a topic of discussion on a bilateral basis with members of OPEC. It will be on the agenda when President Biden meets with the GCC and meets with Saudi counterparts in Saudi Arabia next month as well.

So I think you can see the line through all of this is doing whatever we can to pursue America’s interests while not leaving by the wayside our values. And one of the first things that we did, one of the first marquee events – I believe it might have been his second visit down to this very room – Secretary Blinken came down, released the Khashoggi report, a report that was compiled under the previous administration, released it with the full imprimatur of the U.S. Government; in a powerful signal, and a signal of our commitment to human rights, our prioritization of human rights, announced the Khashoggi Ban.

We’ve implemented the Khashoggi Ban dozens of times. We’ve sanctioned the quick reaction force. We’ve taken measures to hold accountable those who have committed grave human rights abuses, and we’ll continue to do that. But we can have human rights at the center of our foreign policy, as they have been, as we continue to pursue the interests of the American people across all of these interests and the many other interests that we have and that we share with our Saudi partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: Following up on Michel’s question about the military defense system probably in the Middle East, I think he spoke generally, including the Arab countries of the region. You addressed Israel, but does the same policy apply towards the Arab countries of the region? And don’t you think – and last week, late last week, there was a bipartisan legislation both in the House and the Senate to arm – to bolster the military or defense capabilities of these countries vis-à-vis Iran. Wouldn’t that just aggravate things in the region and probably cause Iran to react in a more even – more disturbing way?

MR PRICE: Well, the shared interests that I mentioned a moment ago that we have with our Saudi partners, we have with the full array of our Gulf partners, and that is why we see this as an important moment to have high-level engagement with the GCC, with the GCC+3 in this case, because Iran does pose a challenge to the broader region. It’s also why Rob Malley and his team, not only have they regularly updated our Israeli partners on the progress, or in some cases – in most cases – lack thereof with regard to a potential mutual return to compliance, but Rob has briefed the GCC. And late last year, there was a statement put out by the GCC indicating their support for the prospect of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, because these countries know the challenge that Iran poses. They know the nonproliferation benefits that a potential return to compliance with the JCPOA would convey not only for us, but also an arrangement that would have – that would redound positively to their national security interest.

So the answer to your question is yes, we work cooperatively not only with Israel, but our other partners in the Gulf on the challenge that Iran poses.

To the second part of your question, everything we’re doing is defensive in nature. Iran – it is Iran that is funding proxies. It is Iran that is fueling instability. It is Iran that is providing support to bad actors in places like Yemen and Syria and elsewhere. And it’s Iran that is supporting terrorist groups. So everything we are doing is with an eye to counteract the malign influence that Iran is in many cases exporting. Of course, we don’t seek conflict. We don’t seek to exacerbate regional tensions, and in fact, we have welcomed steps to de-escalate tensions in the region. We want to see tensions de-escalated. What we are doing is taking prudent steps together with our partners to help defend ourselves against the escalatory steps that Iran unfortunately has taken.

QUESTION: And you mentioned communicating with Iran via the Europeans, the EU, the Europeans. How about the Russians right now, given the situation with the war and the tension here? Because for example, just today the Russian ambassador in Vienna met with his Iranian counterpart on the JCPOA, on the talks. Is the U.S. still communicating, consulting, talking to the Russian counterpart in Vienna on continuing or finalizing the talks one way or another?

MR PRICE: Rob’s engagements have primarily been with our European partners and allies. He does occasionally speak with other partners and allies around the globe. I believe recently he spoke to his South Korean counterpart. There are a number of global partners who are in some way part of this, whether or not they’re part of the P5+1 or have a stake in the outcome of this. But right now, our primary partners are our European allies.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Today the Iranian foreign minister said, quote, “The American side had told Iran the IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution would be void of any content.” A few days before this, another source close to the Islamic Republic of Iran said – claimed, quote, “Forty-eight hours before IAEA’s Board of Governors’ resolution, Biden sent a secret message to Iran that said, ‘The resolution’s text is toned down. Don’t retaliate as my administration’s hands are tied by Congress.’” Can you confirm sending this message to Iran?

MR PRICE: I can deny sending that message to Iran.

QUESTION: Okay. And this just came in —

QUESTION: You personally or the entire government?

MR PRICE: I am not aware that any such message has been sent, neither is anyone in this building.

QUESTION: But you can admit that you – your tone in the statement from Ms. Holgate, your representative at IAEA, the tone was very mild. Also, we can detect that in Mr. Sullivan’s words, Mr. Malley’s tweets, Mr. Blinken’s statement. You wanted to de-escalate. Is that true?

MR PRICE: We wanted to register our serious concern with the status of Iran’s nuclear program. That is precisely what this Board of Governors’ resolution did. It made clear our serious concerns that Iran has failed to credibly respond to the IAEA’s questions regarding potential undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. This is a step that the Board of Governors had not taken in some time. We thought it was important that the United States work closely with our European allies and our other partners on the Board of Governors to achieve this resolution precisely to send a message.

If Iran seeks de-escalation, there are certain steps that Iran could take in a number of different areas. One of those areas is its nuclear program. Rather than put the brakes on its nuclear program, Iran has continued to take steps that are only escalatory and further provocative. And in response to this very Board of Governors’ resolution, a resolution that calls for more transparency, Iran has come back and countered with less transparency and has actually committed to taking offline some of the important inspections and monitoring capabilities that the IAEA has long maintained.

QUESTION: Okay. Ned, this just came in. Mr. Grossi just said to Al Arabiya that in his belief you have reached a dead end in the negotiation. This is just few minutes ago. Considering how apolitical Mr. Grossi was always and IAEA, they never took any political stance, what do you think about this statement from Mr. Grossi? Where are we going from here? Is there a Plan B?

MR PRICE: What I would say is that the steps that Iran has taken, the steps that Iran has threatened, would vastly complicate a return to the deal, a potential return to the deal that was already vastly complicated by a number of issues, including Iran’s insistence on bringing in issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA.

Ultimately, however, we are going to judge the utility and the wisdom of a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA on the basis of our national security interest. And if the deal that has been on the table for some time conveys advantages to us in terms of our national security – advantages that, by the way, would work to the benefit of our partners and allies throughout the region. We will continue to pursue it. If and when we conclude that the deal that is on the table does not convey these advantages, we won’t, and we will pursue an alternative course.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Russian officials claim that Ukrainian forces struck within its borders, hitting near a military base. There seems to be some credible information backing up those claims. Is this something the department is looking into? And if it is confirmed, is there a concern for escalation?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we don’t typically comment on purported strikes or specific operations from here. I would leave it to others to update and to offer assessments on tactical developments on the battlefield. What we can say is that we are doing everything we can, and it is quite a lot, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. Since the start of the invasion, since February 24th, we’ve provided some 4.6 billion in security assistance to our Ukrainian partners, $5.3 billion since the beginning of the administration. You see the delta between those two numbers – $600 million, indicating that – sorry, $700 million – I’m bad at math – indicating that we provided Ukraine with significant assistance well before Russia began its invasion on February 24th.

With the assistance of Congress, the passage of the emergency supplemental, we do have additional resources. We’ve had a first presidential drawdown the other week of nearly a billion dollars in additional security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. We will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the security assistance and with the forms of security assistance that they need contoured to the battle that they’re facing, and the battle that they’re facing right now principally in the Donbas, where Russia is continuing to inflict violence and to cause widespread death and destruction.

QUESTION: And that’s regardless of whether they’re striking into Russia, as these reports say?

MR PRICE: We will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves.

Yes.

QUESTION: If it’s okay, I’ll move on to Democratic Republic of Congo.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: M23 rebels in the DRC have seized an eastern border town. Congo has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the M23. What is the State Department’s assessment of Rwandan support for the M23?

MR PRICE: Well, we spoke to this the other week, but we are alarmed by reports of cross-border violence between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, and the increasing tensions between those two countries. We’re deeply concerned by reports of Rwandan military personnel participating in this fighting. We urge both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue to de-escalate tensions and end hostilities. We – as we’ve said before, we support the continuation of the Nairobi Process and mediation efforts by the African Union. And we encourage countries in the region to exercise responsible, constructive leadership and work together to advance peace and security in the eastern DRC.

We call on both sides to meet soon to reach a lasting resolution to this regionally destabilizing situation and to avoid rhetoric that could inflame ethnic tensions and hate speech and/or put UN peacekeepers at risk. And we’re saddened by reports of injuries and deaths caused by this cross-border artillery strikes in both directions, both this month and last month as well. We appreciate MONUSCO’s efforts in support of the armed forces of the DRC to protect civilians. We’re saddened to learn of injuries to UN peacekeepers in recent fighting.

M23 must terminate their offensive and immediately cease these attacks, which cause suffering, especially to vulnerable populations. And we continue to urge M23 and all non-state armed groups operating in this region, in the eastern DRC, to cease violence against civilians, to disband, and to lay down their arms. We know that the people of eastern Congo have suffered violence and displacement for far too long, and we’ll continue to do what we can, together with our partners, including those at the UN, to bring a halt to this escalation.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned, isn’t that pretty much exactly what you said after the Secretary met with the – Congo foreign minister?

MR PRICE: Well, I would say that the underlying dynamics of this conflict have not changed, but —

QUESTION: Has your – has anything changed in your —

MR PRICE: Yes, there —

QUESTION: It has?

MR PRICE: It has, it has.

QUESTION: What has changed? What’s different about what you just said than what you said 10 days ago?

MR PRICE: The artillery strikes have continued, and I made reference to what we’ve seen this month as well. But as you said, Matt, the – as I said, actually, the underlying dynamics of this conflict have not changed.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, we saw that Special Envoy Carstens was in Mali and met with leaders there. Can you just share any readout or what he was there for?

MR PRICE: What I can say – and I will defer to my colleagues in his office if they have any more to say, but the special envoy routinely travels around the world. Sometimes we make that travel public, as we did in his recent travel to Lebanon. Sometimes we don’t. So I will defer to them if they have anything more to say on that potential travel.

QUESTION: On this, Ned —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — did the Senior Advisor Hochstein make any progress in his talks in Beirut? And what is the next step? Will he be going to Israel (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Well, we announced last week that Senior Advisor Amos Hochstein was in Lebanon to meet with leaders and to facilitate and accelerate negotiations. We’ve called on all sides to seek a negotiated resolution to the maritime boundary dispute. We’re not going to get into the details of that diplomacy, but it is very much an effort that is ongoing and that Senior Advisor Hochstein will continue to be engaged on.

QUESTION: Is he going to Israel?

MR PRICE: Don’t have any travel to announce at the moment. As I understand it, he’s on his way back to the United States right now.

Jenny.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you.

QUESTION: Turning quickly back to Iran, the satellite company Maxar has images from today that it says are probable launch activities. Do you have any comment on the specific probable launch and how the U.S. would respond?

MR PRICE: I don’t beyond what I said previously, that it is Iran that has consistently chosen to escalate tensions. It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions. We urge Iran to de-escalate, to cease with its provocative activities, but not going to entertain a hypothetical like that.

Yes, and then I’ll go to you, Said. Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, any update about reopening the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem? Should we expect any announcement during President Biden’s trip to the West Bank?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any update for you beyond what we’ve said previously, and namely that we are committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. In the meantime, we have a team on the ground that manages our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on this —

MR PRICE: Said, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Today there was a meeting between Barbara Leaf with the Palestinian prime minister, and he in fact demanded that the consulate be open. So is there a timeframe? I know I asked you this question, and forgive me because I asked it so many times. But are we likely – are we getting closer to sort of a timeframe for reopening the consulate?

MR PRICE: There’s not a timeframe I can provide you other than to reiterate what I just said, that we remain committed to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. It is part and parcel of our effort to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people. You have to remember that when we took office in January of last year, there had been almost a complete rupture, a complete severance between the United States Government and the Palestinian Authority, and in some ways the Palestinian people.

So over the past 15 months, we have invested in recreating, re-establishing that relationship – that relationship between the U.S. Government and the PA. But importantly, that relationship between the U.S. Government and the Palestinian people, a relationship that has allowed us to provide significant funds of humanitarian assistance directly to the Palestinian people in a way that will tangibly improve their lives.

QUESTION: Now also, the PLO office in Washington, any prospects for reopening that office?

MR PRICE: I don’t have an update for you there. This is a complex issue, as you know. It’s one we continue to discuss with our Palestinian counterparts but also with Congress as well.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple more on the Palestinian issue. On – the other day, Secretary Blinken said that he would support an independent investigation of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Could you explain to us what is that? What form would that independent investigation take?

MR PRICE: There has been no change in our approach, and we’ve been consistent on this since the earliest hours after learning of the tragic and reprehensible death of Shireen Abu Akleh. We continue to call for a thorough, credible investigation that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: Okay. But he said the word “independent,” so is that independent as perhaps a third party – not Israel, not the Palestinians, someone else?

MR PRICE: Our approach remains the same. We continue to call for a thorough, credible investigation that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: There was a thorough report in The Washington Post that was published on Sunday, and basically it shows that it was an Israeli soldier who shot the shot that killed Shireen Abu Akleh. I mean, all the evidence is there, but the Israelis are saying there was no criminal intent, that – they closed the book – almost they’ve closed the book on that. Would that cause you to be outraged if they closed the book on investigating —

MR PRICE: Would it – sorry, would it cause —

QUESTION: The Israelis are – they’re saying – in fact, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Kochavi, he said there was no – there will not be any sort of criminal pursuit of whoever did that. If it happened, it may have happened accidentally, or so is the suggestion. Would that be satisfactory to you?

MR PRICE: We – look, Said, we want to see an investigation that is thorough, credible, that culminates in accountability, and that does so on a swift basis. We’ve been in close contact with our Israeli, with our Palestinian counterparts as well to urge authorities to fully cooperate in investigating the circumstances of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing, and that includes to share forensic evidence. We have – we’ve made clear our view to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that we expect, as I’ve said before, this thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into the circumstances of her killing and in a manner that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Okay. Thank you very —

QUESTION: I have one more about the trip.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: The President’s trip, that is.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: In this call that was done last night by a White House official, it talked about this meeting between India, Israel, the U.S. and —

MR PRICE: The I2-U2.

QUESTION: Yeah. Who the hell comes up with these names?

MR PRICE: (Laughter.) I think that one’s – I actually like that one a lot.

QUESTION: You do? Really?

MR PRICE: Yeah. It’s good.

QUESTION: Is it like a – it’s like faux Star Wars thing?

MR PRICE: Matt, you know some of our acronyms. They’re – many are as good as that one.

QUESTION: Well, I know. But this one seems too – I2-U2. Really?

MR PRICE: That’s what’s —

QUESTION: Anyway, that’s not my question.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: But what is the intent? What’s the reason behind this?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Not the acronym, but the actual formation of it.

MR PRICE: Yeah. So part of our approach is – from the start, not only to revitalize and to re-energize our system of alliances and partnerships around the world – and I think we’ve done that to a good degree – but also to stitch together partnerships and alliances that didn’t exist previously or that previously weren’t utilized to their full extent. The Quad is a good example of an alliance that previously may not have lived up to its full potential, and of course, we’ve invested heavily in the Quad with virtual meetings at the leader level, in-person meetings at the leader level, and with Secretary Blinken convening his Quad ministerial counterparts on a number of occasions as well.

AUKUS, another good example, taking a key ally in the Indo-Pacific —

QUESTION: Another ridiculous acronym.

MR PRICE: — taking a key ally in Europe, stitching those together in a way that will work to our benefit but will also help our allies help each other in a number of realms, not only in the —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what – specifically what does India bring to the table in this group? What do the Emirates bring to the table in this group? What does Israel, other than being the host of this —

MR PRICE: Well, on their own, each of these countries bring to the table a number of interests —

QUESTION: Okay. But – all right. So if you wanted a second U, you could have invited Uzbekistan. So why not Uzbekistan instead of the Emirates? What specifically do they —

MR PRICE: I’ll make a couple points. Each of these countries are technological hubs. Biotechnology, of course, is prominent in each of these countries as well. Deepening trade and economic ties between these countries is in our interest when it comes to the relationship between Israel and the UAE. That’s something we have sought to deepen. These two countries have, of course, deepened their relationship in recent years, including in the economic realm.

India, of course, is a massive market. It is a massive consumer market. It’s a massive producer of high-tech and highly sought-after goods as well. So there are a number of areas where these countries can work together, whether it’s technology, whether it’s trade, whether it is climate, whether it’s COVID, and potentially even security as well, so —

QUESTION: Okay. I should just note that the second U could have been Uruguay too, so I don’t want to leave anyone out.

MR PRICE: Well, don’t want to rule out any potential future groupings. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

Department Press Briefing – June 6, 2022

2:18 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: Happy Monday. A few things at the top and then we will turn to your questions.

I’m sure you all have seen the reports of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs summoning your colleagues to, quote, “explain to them the consequences of their government’s hostile line in the media sphere.” Let’s be clear: The Kremlin is engaged in a full assault on media freedom, access to information, and the truth.

I think everyone here in this room knows the censorship and difficulties your colleagues who work in Russia have experienced, so I don’t need to lay it out in exacting detail. Suffice it to say the Russians continue to make a false equivalency.

The Russian Government fundamentally and willfully disregards what it means to have a free press, as evidenced by them blocking or banning nearly every independent Russian outlet seeking to report inside their country.

Threatening professional journalists for simply trying to do their jobs and seeking to seal off Russia’s population from any foreign information illustrates the flimsiness and the fragility of the Russian Government’s narrative.

I also want to be clear about this: The United States continues to issue visas to qualified Russian journalists, and we have not revoked the Foreign Press Center credentials of any Russian journalists working in the United States.

As noted in the statement from the Secretary last month, the Treasury Department designated Russia-1, Channel One, and NTV, all of which are directly or indirectly state-owned and state-controlled media within Russia, and the revenues from which support President Putin’s war. Many other both independent and state-linked entities remained unsanctioned.

The U.S. Government continues to engage with Russian media outlets because we believe it is vital for the people of Russia to have access to information. For example, our Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Sullivan, his interview with the TASS state news agency was just published this morning. We also support access to the internet and media by all people, including people in Russia, even as we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Moscow’s efforts to mislead the people of Russia and the world and to suppress the truth about what they are doing in Ukraine continues, including by making it illegal to use the word “war” in connection with Putin’s full-scale invasion or war on Ukraine.

There is no other word except for censorship.

Next I’d like to briefly preview the upcoming 9th Summit of the Americas, which the United States is excited to host this week in Los Angeles, California. From June 6th through the 10th, under the theme “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” heads of state and government officials from throughout the Western Hemisphere will come together to discuss and advance solutions to our most pressing challenges, such as areas – spanning areas such as health and resilience, climate change, democracy, digital transformation, and equitable economic recovery.

Hosting this event again 28 years after we hosted the inaugural summit in Miami in 1994 makes clear our deep and historical – historic commitment to the people of the Western Hemisphere and the commitment of the United States Government to implement President Biden’s values-driven global infrastructure initiative announced at the Carbis Bay G7 Summit in 2021.

In addition to the summit’s formal, leader-level proceedings, the United States is striving to make this 9th Summit of the Americas the most inclusive and accessible to date. Three stakeholder forums – for civil society, youth, and CEOs – will foster dialogue between national leaders and people, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses of the Americas. We will also engage in direct dialogues with these stakeholders on the margins of the summit, including with citizens from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, as we work to realize a more equitable, democratic, and prosperous hemisphere. The United States is excited to invite and amplify diverse voices into the hemispheric dialogue, including the voices of the Los Angeles diasporic communities, during our time in a city with some of the deepest cultural, economic, and historic ties to the region.

And finally, before I turn to your questions, I just want to note the personnel transition in our office, in my office. On Friday, we had the task of saying goodbye to Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter, a longtime colleague of mine, someone whose contributions across the department I greatly value and appreciate. And today we have the happy task of welcoming Vedant Patel. Many of you will know Vedant or at least know him by reputation. Vedant comes to us having been an assistant press secretary at the White House. We served together on the transition prior to that. Prior – previously, Vedant has also worked on the Hill as well. I know I’m confident all of you will enjoy working with Vedant, and we’ll be sure to arrange introductions as appropriate in the coming days.

So with that, happy to turn your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned, and welcome. Really briefly —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — on the Summit of the Americas, and in terms of the Secretary’s schedule there.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Is he going to be meeting some of these, I guess, civil society members from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela?

MR PRICE: He has a full schedule. We released a statement this morning indicating some of the elements that he will take part in, in addition to the fact that he will be accompanying President Biden to many of his bilateral engagements and engagements with government leaders. The Secretary will indeed be taking part in engagements with civil society. Tomorrow evening, for example, he’ll be taking part in an event predicated on media freedom. This falls within the bucket of democratic governance and civil society with the region. There will be other opportunities for him to meet not only with civil society stakeholders, but stakeholders from the private sector in addition to his engagement with government counterparts.

QUESTION: And then related to this, how disappointing is it or how much of a blow is it to the summit itself, to the administration’s hemispheric diplomatic efforts, that the Mexican president is not going to be there? I mean, Mexico is arguably – well, not arguably, it is the only country that borders the U.S. directly other than Canada. So how disappointed are you that he won’t be there? And what does that meant for the chances of success or failure of any kind of initiative coming out of – hemispheric initiative coming out?

MR PRICE: Well, as we’ve said, this is a summit that will bring together thousands of individuals, both government individuals and private citizens as well as representatives of the private sector, from across the hemisphere. Of course, Mexico is an important hemispheric player. We are very gratified that the Secretary’s counterpart, Foreign Secretary Ebrard, will be in attendance. We will have a number of opportunities to engage with our Mexican counterparts in the context of the summit this week and we look forward to those engagements.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s a summit, and Ebrard, as wonderful as he is as foreign secretary, I’m sure – at least I guess he is – is not the head of state. So isn’t that a – is it a disappointment that you’re not having your – that the leader of Mexico is not going to be there?

MR PRICE: We have certainly heard from President López Obrador today. We understand his position on this. As I said before, we look forward to engaging with Foreign Secretary Ebrard. The fact is that Mexico is an important partner across a range of issues. You mentioned one of them, migration. There are a number of other issues, from COVID to a sustainable, equitable, inclusive economic recovery, to the climate crisis we’re confronting, in addition to the issue of regional and hemispheric migration.

We will have an opportunity to meet with Foreign Secretary Ebrard and to speak with him in the context of the summit, but Mexico – we are gratified to have a relationship with Mexico that is broad and deep, meaning that we have had and we will continue to have a number of occasions to engage with our Mexican neighbors, not only at this summit but in future engagements in the days and weeks ahead.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, just to – not to beat a dead horse on that, but AMLO basically said, quote, “There can’t be a Summit of…Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part.” So what is your response to that?

MR PRICE: Well, as the host of the summit, we do have wide discretion in terms of invitations. We greatly value the diversity of opinions that we’ve heard from our neighbors in the hemisphere about participation in the summit, what that should look like, what that should not look like. In recent weeks, senior officials, including Secretary Blinken, have been in constant contact or near-constant contact, I should say, with our counterparts through the hemisphere – throughout the hemisphere. Secretary Blinken has spoken on a number of occasions to Foreign Secretary Ebrard to hear Mexico’s perspective on this question. We have also heard the perspectives of other neighbors in the hemisphere.

We, again, recognize and respect the position of our allies in supporting – in support of inclusive dialogue. We also note, as I have, that non-governmental representatives will be in attendance from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from Nicaragua. Participants from those three countries have registered to take part in stakeholder events.

QUESTION: Just – I mean, where do you think this incident leaves U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations? Can you say that it’s completely unscathed?

MR PRICE: We have a broad and deep relationship with Mexico. We will be able to explore and to delve into elements of that relationship with our Mexican neighbors this week in Los Angeles. We will have engagements with our Mexican neighbors in the coming days and weeks beyond that. So certainly there are diversity of opinions when it comes to who should be invited to the Summit of the Americas. The United States, as I mentioned before, as the convener of this particular summit has broad discretion. We have done our best to incorporate the viewpoints of the hemisphere. When it comes to our Mexican partners, we look forward to engaging with the foreign secretary.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Yeah, media at the White House just confirmed today that those three countries weren’t invited. Does that mean that until the end, possible, potential invitation of one of them or three of them was on the table? And what made the balance go on the side of not inviting them?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you that we were in discussions with our hemispheric neighbors until very recent hours. And, in fact, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak most recently with Foreign Secretary Ebrard last night. We have been in regular contact with other neighbors throughout the hemisphere; we’ve been in contact with civil society stakeholders; we’ve been in regular contact with Congress as well.

When it comes to the participation and the issues that have been at the fore, I think it is unfortunately notable that one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance. And these three countries are not exemplars, to put it mildly, of democratic governance. In recent days alone, the Cuban regime has tried two artists on charges that actually criminalize the freedom of speech and artistic expression in Cuba. Diplomats and the press were barred entry to their trials. We’re anxiously awaiting the verdicts.

But again, these most recent – this most recent suppression of freedom of expression is a hallmark of what we have seen from this Cuban regime over the course of years, but especially since the protest of July 11th last year. Since those protests, this is a regime that has not countenanced peaceful opposition. Of course, we’ve seen these two ongoing trials. We’re awaiting the verdict in these cases.

But these are not isolated incidents. We have seen this regime arrest, detain, hold without charge, hold incommunicado, individuals who were doing nothing but expressing the universal right that they have to assemble peacefully, to express their views, and views that did not happen to correspond with the views of the Cuban regime for that supposed offense. They have been detained. They have been deprived of their liberty. They have been deprived of rights that should be universal.

The same, of course, could be said of what has happened in Nicaragua, where we’ve seen an increasingly constricted space for civil society, and of course, Venezuela under the Maduro regime, a regime that we don’t recognize and we continue, of course, to recognize the leadership of interim President Juan Guaidó.

QUESTION: Do you mean that absent these most recent steps by Cuba, an invitation at some level could have been possible? Or were you sharing some more precise demands on something to do on democracy, et cetera?

MR PRICE: I’m not saying that. I am saying that the challenges that these three regimes pose to some of the central tenets of the Summit of the Americas that is to be held this week, those challenges were just insurmountable when you talk about bringing together a summit where democratic governance, democratic values, is on the agenda.

Now, of course we have worked closely, we have listened carefully, to other countries, to important stakeholders in the region. Many of our neighbors have voiced their opinions, their good faith opinions about what a Summit of the Americas should look like in terms of representation. We will continue to have an opportunity to discuss the issues that are at the heart of this summit with those partners, and we’ll have an opportunity to discuss the issues that are at the heart of the summit with civil society representatives, including the civil society representatives that will be in attendance, or at least that have registered, from these three countries – Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. A very quick question. Will Guaidó be represented? Will he attend? Will he be represented in the summit?

MR PRICE: We expect that representatives of the interim government of Juan Guidó will participate in the summit.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just one final point.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, you certainly cannot wish these countries away. I mean, are you – you’ve had some sort of animosity with Cuba for 60 years and so on. You cannot just wish them away. Why not include them in these discussions? I mean, I asked you this on (inaudible) the other day. I mean, you don’t want just the countries that you agree with. You want countries that you disagree with in the summit.

MR PRICE: Well, Said, our policy towards each of these countries – Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba – is predicated on one thing, and that is furthering or advancing the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people, the Venezuelan people, and the Nicaraguan people. Of course we can’t just wish the challenges, the profound challenges to democratic governance, away in any of these three countries. That is not what we have done. But as I said before, in recent weeks in at least one of these cases, in all three in one way or another, the challenge to democratic governance has only been underlined by the actions of these regimes.

When it comes to our approach to all three countries, we have taken steps, including steps in recent weeks with at least a couple of these countries, that at least in our estimation seek to advance the democratic aspirations, the aspirations of these three peoples to live in a more freer, more open society. We have taken concrete steps. We will continue to do what we can to advance the cause of liberty, to advance the cause of democracy, that these three peoples so desire.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can we go to Russia unless —

MR PRICE: Anything else on the summit? Sure, I’ll take two quick summit questions. Sure.

QUESTION: My question is foreign policy advisor – Foreign Policy advisor to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev —

MR PRICE: We’ll come to other regions in a moment. Anything else on the Summit of the Americas? All right. Let’s go – sorry, Kylie. We’ll – and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just back to your opener, then. I’m just wondering if you can explain to us if there will be any costs for Russia if they do, in fact, kick out these Western journalists that they are now threatening, and if the – if you guys at the State Department found out about these retaliatory steps that they are considering directly, or if you found out about them in the same way that the journalists did from the Kremlin?

MR PRICE: My understanding is that we found out the same way all of you did when your colleagues were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and essentially read a riot act that was a litany of false equivalence.

Look, Russia has already suffered devastating reputational costs, and of course, any effort to further suppress or constrict the ability of independent journalists to operate freely inside Russia will incur further reputational costs for Moscow, as if those costs needed to be underlined any further.

But I think what we’ve seen is that regardless of the steps that Russia attempts to take, their efforts to fully suppress, to fully clamp down on truthful information is going to be – those efforts are going to be futile. And we have already seen that. We have seen even senior Russian Government officials express and air their grievances, their profound disagreements, with the policy choices of the Kremlin, most notably the choice that the Kremlin has taken to wage a brutal war against Ukraine, to air those disagreements publicly. In the earliest days of this war of choice, this unjustified war, we saw thousands, tens of thousands of individuals across dozens of Russian cities peacefully take to the streets. Many of them were detained, many of them were arrested, for doing nothing more than, again, exercising what should be the universal right to freedom of assembly.

And so the point is that even as Russia tries to put forward these false arguments, these lies to justify their – what is a clear and apparent effort to intimidate independent journalists, Russia will not be able to fully suppress the dissent even within their own system to this brutal war against Ukraine. There could be no means of doing that because we know that opposition to this conflict is so widespread even inside of Russia, where, unfortunately, the Russian people are fed a steady diet of lies and propaganda and disinformation. But even the Kremlin’s efforts to clamp down on the organs of information and even their efforts to intimate reporters have failed, and information continues to make its way through what is undoubtedly a very constricted information environment.

QUESTION: And just a quick question. Do you know what prompted this? I mean, obviously we’ve seen them increasingly clamp down on news outlets and good information, but was there a specific incident? Do you think it’s the sanctions from May that you guys put on to three Russian-controlled news agencies? Do you have any idea?

MR PRICE: It’s difficult to say and I wouldn’t want to venture a guess. I believe the Russian Federation has publicly attributed it to the designations that we enacted against Russian-backed or Russian Government entities. These are entities that had been primary sources of foreign revenue for the Kremlin to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, a key driver in terms of foreign funding for the Kremlin, or at least a significant source of foreign investment.

Of course, in justifying what is unjustifiable – because it is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate independent journalists – we have seen this false equivalence, putting on the same plane your colleagues, your colleagues whom you know to be independent-minded, impartial, doing what they can under a very difficult operating environment, to uncover and to report the truth, to what are propaganda arms of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. How many senior Russian Government officials are you aware of who have voiced their opposition and disagreement to their policy?

MR PRICE: I believe I said that some senior Russian Government officials have.

QUESTION: Yeah. How many?

MR PRICE: We have seen certainly former —

QUESTION: One?

MR PRICE: Former Russian Government officials go —

QUESTION: That was one.

MR PRICE: — go on state TV even. We’ve seen a senior official in Geneva also —

QUESTION: Well, I mean senior official. He was like the number three or four guy. I’m not saying there aren’t any. I’m just wondering – you seem to say that, like, there’s some big groundswell of opposition within —

MR PRICE: No, I pointed to you —

QUESTION: — senior government officials —

MR PRICE: — pointed to examples.

QUESTION: But okay. Well, a former official going on television, this guy who’s the analysist who was widely pointed to, and then the one guy in Geneva?

MR PRICE: And Matt, I think what you have seen from thousands of people, tens of thousands of people take to the streets —

QUESTION: But I get —

MR PRICE: It is not confined to two people, of course.

QUESTION: Well, fine, but you said senior Russian Government officials. So I just want to make sure I understand who.

QUESTION: Right, right. Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: A follow-up before you shut this on how they treat their own reporters. We have the latest example of Andrei Soldatov. He is known for his coverage of Russian security service, a very well-known journalist. He got – basically, he learned that he is on the wanted list, and also his bank accounts got frozen this morning. How do you read that news? First of all, them being able to freeze a bank account of their own reporter and at the same time put him on a wanted list? Secondly, can I get a reaction to the mere fact that this is basically another example of their litany of, let’s say, attacks over their own journalists?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with the specific case your raised. If we have a specific comment, we’ll offer it, but what you describe certainly sounds in the vein of what appears to be a concerted campaign on the part of the Kremlin to intimidate independent journalists. The Russian Government, the Kremlin has a long track record of pursuing those who have attempted to put a spotlight on it, including its security services. And of course, history is unfortunately riddled with examples of independent journalists and truth-tellers whose reporting has been suppressed, or in some cases, much worse has befallen them. And there are even recent examples of what appears to be very clear examples of the Russian Government pursuing and subjecting even to intimidation and to violence those who would attempt to expose corruption, malfeasance, wrongdoing on the part of the Russian Government.

Anything – yes.

QUESTION: On Russia still.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: So how does the U.S. view Russia’s renewed bombing of Kyiv? Is this President Putin sending a message to the West about the arms that it’s sending to Ukraine to now, or the return to a broader military objective than the Donbas? And does the renewed bombing campaign of Kyiv change operations at Embassy Kyiv at all?

MR PRICE: Well, there have been a number of examples of Russia’s brutality where we have had to question whether there was any military objective undergirding it, or whether it was just an attempt to terrorize the population of Ukraine, including the civilian population of Ukraine, and targeting sites on the outskirts of Ukraine could clearly fall into that category.

The attacks that we’ve seen in recent days, however, of course, are not limited to the capital. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv noted that Russia’s bombardment hit a historic Orthodox monument in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a sacred site in Ukraine that had served as a refuge, a place of refuge for fleeing civilians since the brutal war in Ukraine began. These attacks have been senseless, what appear to be senseless affronts to Ukraine’s people, to Ukraine’s government as well.

The ongoing violence continues to take the form of attacks that have injured or killed civilians, destroyed civilian infrastructure, and that follows previous strikes that have hit civilian hospitals, schools, religious sites, the infamous strike on a theater in Mariupol, a busy railway station of civilians attempting to flee for their lives. There have been clear examples of Russia’s brutality that amount to war crimes, and we have made public our assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in the context of this campaign.

Not only do we continue to stand with our Ukrainian partners to provide them the security assistance that they have put to extraordinary effect to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy, to defend their country, but we have also provided our Ukrainian partners with economic support, with humanitarian support, and we’ve continued at the same time to impose those significant costs – the costs that we promised well before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24th that you’ve seen in the form of financial sanctions and export controls.

QUESTION: Do the attacks on Kyiv specifically – do they alter plans for operations at Embassy Kyiv, or none – there’s —

MR PRICE: There’s been no change in our posture. As you know, we resumed embassy operations at Embassy Kyiv last month. Since then, our team at the embassy has continued to engage with Ukrainian officials, to engage with the Ukrainian people, including representatives of civil society as well.

QUESTION: Russia and Serbia?

MR PRICE: Sure, Russia and Serbia.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov decision to cancel a planned visit to Serbia after three countries – Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria – decided to close their air space to Lavrov’s airplane? Moscow has made a condemnation and also a senior Russian official even threatened to – these three countries with a missile strike.

MR PRICE: Well, these were sovereign decisions regarding the airspace of these three sovereign countries. It reflects Europe’s commitment to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked, for its unjustified aggression in Ukraine. We urge Serbia to focus on its stated goal of EU membership, including aligning its foreign and security policies with the rest of Europe.

Kylie.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can you comment – I’m sorry – can you comment on Serbia president’s decision to host Lavrov and also Serbia’s refusal to implement EU sanctions against Russia?

MR PRICE: Well, to your question, we have consistently urged Serbia to take steps that advance its European path, including diversifying its energy sources, to reduce energy dependence on the Russian Federation, and aligning its foreign and security policies with the EU. We have sought and we continue to seek to be a partner to Serbia to assist in its efforts to enhance its energy security for the long term.

QUESTION: How —

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Kylie?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: How —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: How will – I’m sorry – how will U.S. and NATO ensure, like, these three countries are protected from the threats from Russia? Thank you.

MR PRICE: These three countries that closed their airspace? Well – is that what you mean? Well, all three countries are NATO members, and the commitment to Article Five on the part of all three is ironclad. Of course, we marked Montenegro’s fifth anniversary of NATO membership just yesterday, and North Macedonia’s second anniversary in March.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just on the food crisis, can you just bring us up to date on efforts to get grain out of Ukraine? It’s been a few weeks now since Blinken made his plea to the UN for countries to get on board, so where are you guys at? Are there routes out of the country that have been identified and are up and running at this time?

MR PRICE: We have continued to be in very close dialogue and communication with key partners in this effort – with our European allies, with Turkey in terms of its efforts, and with the UN. And just last week, a UN delegation briefed the United States, including senior members of our team here, on efforts to coordinate maritime security on the Black Sea. Of course, we don’t comment on the details of these private discussions, but this has been a priority topic of discussion with our counterparts at the UN. We’ll continue that close coordination with the UN delegation and with the Government of Ukraine on ways to mitigate impacts of global food insecurity from President Putin’s war in Ukraine.

This is a war that not only has brutalized, and in many ways terrorized, the people of Ukraine, but it has put at risk food security around the world. There are approximately 84 merchant ships, some laden with wheat and corn, and about 450 seafarers are trapped at Ukrainian ports. Not only is there grain aboard these vessels, but there are about 22 million tons of grain sitting in silos near the ports that also needs to move out to make room for the newly harvested grain. In addition, Russia has actually taken aim at ships at sea. They have taken aim at grain silos. They are continuing to effectively implement what amounts to a blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

So we are having conversations, of course, with Ukraine in the first instance, but also with important allies and partners coming out of the Secretary’s engagements in New York last month, where he led the session at the UN Security Council, and also in the General Assembly. That was billed as a call to action. We feel that we were successful in bringing together much of the world to focus on this problem. The challenge is now clearly in sight, and we are working closely with countries in the region to help to facilitate the export of Ukraine’s grain and other foodstuffs. But we’re also working with countries who have been impacted by Russia’s blockading of the ports, Russia’s targeting of vessels containing wheat and other foodstuffs. We’ll continue to keep the focus on this.

Janne.

QUESTION: Do you have estimation for when that dialogue will lead to movement of the grain?

MR PRICE: This is something that we are working on every single day, so I can’t put a date on it, but it is among our highest priorities here. As you know, the Secretary later today will actually convene a group of stakeholders from the NGO community and also from the private sector together with Secretary Vilsack. When it comes to the challenge of Russia’s war against Ukraine, this has been a – among our highest priorities, because the impacts of Russia’s action are not only confined to what they’re doing inside Ukraine, but countries around the world, including countries in Africa – both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa – have really borne the brunt of this. Ukraine, until Russia’s invasion, was a breadbasket for the world – exports of wheat, exports of fertilizer.

Russia too has the potential to export its wheat, its fertilizer, its other foodstuffs. We have been very deliberate and careful in designing our sanctions policy. Contrary to what the Russian Federation is putting forward, there are very clear and delineated carveouts in our sanctions policy to ensure that we are doing absolutely – to ensure that we aren’t doing anything that would limit or otherwise constrict Russia’s ability to export food and fertilizer.

QUESTION: Ned, just super quickly on Kylie’s question. Lavrov’s going to Turkey on Wednesday. Is that, like, a big meeting that you guys are also following, and would you expect maybe, like, a breakthrough after that on the grain issue?

MR PRICE: I don’t know if we should expect breakthroughs. Of course we’ll be watching closely. We’ll be talking with our Turkish allies in the aftermath of that visit. Again, we are supporting all diplomatic efforts that are carefully and closely coordinated with Ukraine – nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine – that have the potential to increase Ukrainian exports of food and fertilizer to the global marketplace.

QUESTION: And just so – when you say we shouldn’t expect breakthroughs, so you don’t necessarily see this, like, meeting over there as, like, unlocking anything or, like, leading to results. You mean to say that this is still going to be a long haul; it’s going to take more than that.

MR PRICE: This is a challenge that has built up since February 24th when Russia began its war on Ukraine. You have referred to a meeting between two countries, Russia and Turkey, neither of which, of course, is Ukraine. So I am confident that one meeting alone won’t be able to solve this challenge. This will be a challenge that will, of course, need to involve Ukraine at the center of anything that we collectively do to facilitate the export of Ukrainian food and fertilizer.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on —

QUESTION: Can we ask one more on Russia, please? On – one more, please.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: The new sanctions —

QUESTION: These locations, you know, not —

MR PRICE: We’ll do two more on Russia/Ukraine, and then I promise we’ll move on. I’ll come right back to you, Janne; sorry. Alex, you’ve already had one, so let me just, for equity, go back. Michele.

QUESTION: Yeah, the new sanctions that Russia impose today on U.S. personalities and secretaries.

MR PRICE: I don’t have a reaction other than the fact that I think it highlights the asymmetry between our countries. Of course, the United States is a banking center; it’s a financial center. It is a country where citizens from the world seek to travel to, where citizens from the world seek to educate themselves and their families. So of course there’s always going to be an inherent asymmetry between the steps that the Russian Federation puts forward and what we, together with our allies and partners, do in response to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on North Korea and China. North Korea fired eight ballistic missiles yesterday. What actions did United States take immediately in response to North Korea’s missile launch?

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, and they can share details of the live-fire exercises that they conducted in the aftermath of the most recent provocations. But as you’ve likely heard, we did condemn the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches. These launches are in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. They pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and to the international community more broadly. As you’ve heard from us before, we do remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK. We call on them to engage in dialogue. At the same time, we have an ironclad commitment to our allies in the ROK in Japan. And not only is our deputy secretary of state in Seoul at this very moment, where she will have an opportunity to engage bilaterally with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts, but also trilaterally, underscoring the importance of trilateral engagement and coordination.

It also happens that our Special Envoy for the DPRK Sung Kim is also in South Korea, and he too has been in touch with his trilateral counterparts – his South Korean, his Japanese counterparts. He was in immediate or near-immediate contact with them in the aftermath of the most recent provocations. That coordination will continue, but just as importantly, that shared resolve to confront this challenge and to find ways to advance what is our overarching objective, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that will remain front and center in our trilateral agenda.

QUESTION: But China said – China noted that North Korea fires missiles because the United States did not engage in dialogue within North Korea. What is the U.S. position on China’s claims of responsibility to the United States for North Korea’s missile provocations?

MR PRICE: Well, I won’t comment on the PRC’s characterization of our policy, but I’ll make very clear what our policy is. Our policy is to seek dialogue, to seek engagement with the DPRK. Any country that puts the responsibility on us for the lack of dialogue, the lack of engagement, is either ill-informed or is propagating falsehoods. And the fact is that we have made clear for months now, since the earliest days of this administration, that we believe that diplomacy and dialogue provides the most effective means by which to promote our shared objective, a shared objective that emanated from a comprehensive policy review that we conducted last year, where we determined that our goal, a goal we now share with our trilateral allies, is the complete denuclearization of the DPRK.

We believe we can achieve that most effectively through diplomacy and dialogue, which we have consistently offered. We have made clear both publicly and privately to the DPRK that we harbor no hostile intent towards the regime. Much to the contrary, it would be far preferable if we were able to engage in that diplomacy and dialogue.

QUESTION: But this issue goes to UN Security Council resolutions. But if China and Russia will veto, so how are you going to be responsible for this again, repeated these issues all the time, China and Russia’s vetoes. How are you going to respond to this?

MR PRICE: Well, we have called on members of the international community, certainly members of the UN Security Council’s permanent five, to be responsible stakeholders in the UN Security Council as a preeminent forum for addressing threats to international peace and security.

When it comes to security in North Asia, in this particular region, there is no greater threat to international peace and security. So it is incumbent on all members of the international community to enact and to continue to abide by international sanctions. It is profoundly disappointing, as you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield late last month, that certain members of the P5 have not fulfilled the obligations that they have as members of the P5 – again, an organization that is charged with being the preeminent forum to discuss threats to international peace and security. But all the while, we will continue to promote accountability. There are other means by which we can promote that accountability. We have our own authorities. Our partners and allies have authorities that we can coordinate just as we work on defense and deterrence together with our partners in the region.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Could we follow-up upon North Korea?

MR PRICE: One more on North Korea and then we’ll move on.

QUESTION: Then Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Just following up on Janne’s point on China and Russia, how can the U.S. respond if the DPRK were to conduct a nuclear test? Would you be – would unilateral actions be the only option left to the U.S., given China and Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council?

MR PRICE: Unilateral actions are never going to be the most attractive or even the most effective response, and that is especially the case because we are gratified that we have close allies in the form of Japan and the ROK bilaterally, trilaterally. There are a number of allies and partners of ours, not only in the Indo-Pacific but around the world, who understand and appreciate the threat that’s posed by the DPRK’s WMD programs – that is to say, its nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missiles program.

So we remain concerned that the DPRK could seek a seventh nuclear test in the coming days. It’s a concern we’ve warned about for some time. I can assure you that it is a contingency we have planned for, and it has been a concerted topic of discussion with allies and partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: And then just quickly, after last month’s vote, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that the U.S. would continue to seek unity and compromise at the UN with regard to the DPRK. Given that China, Russia were the only two who vetoed, has the ambassador engaged directly with China and Russia how to move forward —

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to her team for that. We do engage regularly our partners in New York on this. But for any particular conversations, I need to refer you to her.

Afghanistan? Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. As you know, Taliban establishing a good relationship with India. Indian officials visited the Taliban in Kabul, and they agreed to train some personal security people, maybe army, police or something else. Do you have any comment on that? Although Pakistan and Indian relationship is worse. They don’t have any good relation. Taliban, they get two part. One go to India and the other one maybe there. (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Well, there are a number of countries around the world that have a discrete set of interests in Afghanistan and who predicate their engagement with the Taliban on those interests. We too have interests when it comes to Afghanistan. We’ve spoken to many of them. It is human rights, respecting the basic and fundamental human rights of all of Afghanistan’s citizens, including its women and girls, its minorities; ensuring safe passage for those who wish to depart the country – of course, that includes for U.S. citizens, for LPRs, for those who have worked on behalf of the United States Government over the years as well.

It is inclusive governance and doing what we can to support the formation of a government that represents the Afghan people, including their aspirations; the counter-terrorism commitments that the Taliban has committed itself to, both publicly and privately, including vis-à-vis al-Qaida, but also ISIS-K; and of course the idea that no legitimate entity should hold hostages, and in the case of Afghanistan, Mark Frerichs continues to be on our mind. We’ve made very clear that for our relationship to improve whatsoever with the Taliban, we’ll be looking very carefully at their actions towards Mark Frerichs, who has been in custody for far too long.

India similarly has a set of interests when it comes to the Taliban. Different countries will engage with the Taliban in different ways. We have a team on the ground in Doha that is responsible for, as appropriate, engaging with the Taliban on our set of interests just as other countries do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move around. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev scheduled to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried at the State Department. What issues will be discussed?

MR PRICE: Well, as you alluded to, Assistant Secretary Donfried will meet with the Foreign Policy Advisor Hajiyev in Washington today. The advisor is also having meetings with several other administration officials, including our National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Assistant Secretary Donfried will convey to Mr. Hajiyev the U.S. interest in facilitating direct engagement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, including our role as a Minsk Group co-chair and our support for recent EU efforts to bring both countries together. This is something that Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to engage with the leaders of these two countries on in recent days and recent weeks. It continues to be something we wish to promote.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I follow up —

MR PRICE: Let me move around, Alex. Just let me try and – yes.

QUESTION: Appreciate it, Ned. Thank you. Is there a change in your position on the sale of F-16s to Turkey?

MR PRICE: We have – we continue to discuss with our NATO Ally how we can work together as Allies. Of course, we don’t speak to any transactions that have not been notified to Congress. Turkey has made no secret of its desire to invest more heavily in the F-16 program. That’s not something that we’re in a position to speak to publicly.

QUESTION: And then the SDF commander in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, he says that in the event of Turkish invasion into northeast Syria, they will allow Assad regime’s air defense to protect the region’s skies. Do you have a position on that?

MR PRICE: Well, our position is one that you’ve heard for some time now, ever since this hypothetical, ever since this potential operation was first raised. We have emphasized that we remain deeply concerned about discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria, and in particular, its potential impact on the civilian population there. We have continued to call for the maintenance of existing ceasefire lines. We would condemn any escalation beyond those lines. It’s crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect those ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and to work towards a political solution to the conflict.

I’ve previously made the point that we expect Turkey to live up to the commitments that it made in October of 2019, including the commitment to halt offensive operations in northeast Syria. Any new escalation beyond those existing ceasefire lines could prove to be especially costly setbacks – costly setbacks to our collective efforts to counter Daesh, the efforts of the counter-ISIS coalition, but also to our efforts to promote political stability within Syria.

QUESTION: If I may, Ned, in the previous administration, before the last Turkish invasion into northeast Syria, the administration was calling on Turkey the same things that you’re calling Turkey, and that didn’t work, obviously. Are you optimistic that this time there will be anything different?

MR PRICE: Look, I want to be optimistic about it. I don’t want to be pessimistic about it. What we can do is to make very clear where the United States of America stands on this. This is something that we have had an opportunity to discuss, including at senior levels, with our Turkish allies. We’ve made very clear to them our concerns with any renewed offensive in northern Syria.

Said.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you. On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, Ned, yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the ’67 war. That’s 55 years of occupation for the Palestinians that they had to endure and still endure. I think over a period of 24 hours, four Palestinians were killed. They held a three-year-old child and they made him take off his t-shirt at a checkpoint. The whole world saw that.

So my question to you – I mean, I know you don’t want to express any optimism or pessimism – how long this should – this thing should go on? I mean, hasn’t – is it time for this occupation to end? I mean, morally speaking, how much should this military occupation go on, generation after generation?

MR PRICE: Said, our goal from the first day of this administration has been to do everything that we can to promote and to advance a two-state solution precisely because a two-state solution, we believe and successive American administrations have believed, is the most effective means by which to secure Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, but also to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in dignity and security and peace in a country of their own. This has been at the heart of our policy. We have spoken out against steps that have the potential to be setbacks towards the prospect of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So can you tell us at least one thing that you have done to bring this solution, this two-state solution, a bit closer in the last six months?

MR PRICE: Said, we have also been clear that we are not on the cusp, unfortunately, of a two-state solution. We’re likely not even on the cusp of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to discuss the contours of a two-state solution. Our goal since the very start has been to set the stage to create an environment in which diplomacy, including diplomacy toward – between Israelis and Palestinians is more likely to be effective. And I can point to a number of steps that we have taken, including the resumption of humanitarian funding for the Palestinian people, including the resumption of contact between the United States and the Palestinian leadership. That is something that unfortunately had taken a hit in the last administration. We think it was profoundly counterproductive to the prospects of stability in the region, to the prospect ultimately of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: And the last administration, they closed the consulate that was open for so many – for a long, long time. And you have not taken any steps to reopening that.

But I know you don’t like me to cite figures and numbers, but I’m going to tell you a couple of figures. Since the beginning of the year, 14 Palestinian kids – children – have been killed by the Israelis. Over the past 55 years, 1.5 million Palestinians have been imprisoned, most of them unfairly – most of them unfairly. Including administrative detentions. Can you at least tell your allies, the Israelis, that they should end this practice of administrative detention?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been very clear where we stand. We believe Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of stability, of security, of freedom, and importantly of dignity. That is really at the heart of our efforts to set the stage for a two-state solution. It’s been at the heart of everything we have attempted to do in the region.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi. There was a Washington Post story saying that the PRC is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia for the exclusive use of its military. That’s supposed to be a ground station for the BeiDou navigation technology. Do you have any comment about that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on the specific story you reference, but it is consistent with credible reporting we’ve seen from the PRC – that the PRC is engaged in a significant ongoing construction project at Ream Naval Base. As we’ve said, an exclusive PRC military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security as well. We and countries in the region have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency on the intent, the nature, the scope of this project, as well as the role that the PRC military is playing in its construction and in its post-construction use of the facility.

The Cambodian people, neighboring countries, ASEAN, and the region more broadly would benefit from more transparency. We’ve made a very similar point in terms of the Pacific and the Pacific Island nations. We have seen the PRC attempt to put forward a series of shadowy, opaque deals that they would like to see signed in the dead of night with no input or transparency, and even limited visibility on the part of the governments in question. So this has been a pattern on the part of the PRC.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. What’s the date on that guidance you just read?

MR PRICE: Sixth of June, 2022.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Does it give any metadata? (Laughter.) When did you first start raising your concerns about the Chinese construction at Ream?

MR PRICE: It was last year, I can tell you.

QUESTION: Was it more like two years ago? Maybe it was before – before your time.

MR PRICE: I wasn’t here two years ago, but I can tell you this administration has been consistent in that.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, is there something that has happened new other than this just one report that has increased your concern?

MR PRICE: I will tell you, Matt, we – I am happy to take any and all questions that people throw my way. Your colleague asked me a question about —

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. I’m just wondering —

MR PRICE: — concern of Ream Naval Base, so —

QUESTION: No, I just want to know if there’s any – why – is the concern greater than it was, like, a year ago?

MR PRICE: I don’t – I can’t tell you why The Washington Post wrote that report.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that. I’m asking you about your response to the question, which is that – like, has the concern increased for some reason?

MR PRICE: Our concern certainly has not abated.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just one thing on the Summit of Americas. You said representatives of Guaidó will participate. So you guys don’t expect him to show up?

MR PRICE: We will have more details on the mechanics and the specifics of participation, I am sure, in the coming days.

QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, is he coming or not?

MR PRICE: We will have more details on all of that as the week unfolds.

QUESTION: Are these representatives participating in person or virtually?

MR PRICE: It’s a different way of asking the same question, and I will give you the same answer. We will —

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, are the participants coming in person, or are they going to be in a laptop screen?

MR PRICE: I can understand the interest you have in this, and we will have —

QUESTION: Yes, it’s tomorrow. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: We will have answers for you throughout the course of the week. Yes.

QUESTION: Ahead of the Security Council vote on cross-border operations for Syria next month, how concerned is the U.S. that Russia will dismantle what remains of that cross-border mechanism? And is there any dialogue with the Russians at the UN right now on this?

MR PRICE: So I would need to refer you to my colleagues at the UN to speak to their engagement on this. But as you know, Linda Thomas-Greenfield was just in the region late last week. She went there to put a spotlight on the indispensability of this remaining border crossing. It is a border crossing that facilitates much needed, desperately needed humanitarian support for the Syrian people.

We – the United States believes, and many of our allies and partners around the world believe, that we should not allow the profound differences we have with Russia or any other country to stand in the way of humanitarian assistance to make it to the people of Syria. This is not something that should be treated as a bargaining chip. This is not something that should be used for political favor or advantage. This is about lives. This is about livelihoods. This is about the ability of millions of Syrians who are at grave risk of food insecurity to continue to subsist and to live.

QUESTION: But just to follow up, how would you describe contingency planning for if they succeed in shutting it down?

MR PRICE: Our focus right now is on a reauthorization of the border crossing. I wouldn’t want to get into contingency planning.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just a more general question on nuclear threats, because the IAEA chief pointed to evidence that both North Korea and Iran are making great strides in this arena. Now, you’ve outlined the administration’s strategy for diplomacy, but taken as a whole is any of this a wakeup call that it’s time maybe for a recalibration?

MR PRICE: For a recalibration of?

QUESTION: Of your strategy.

MR PRICE: Of our strategy towards the DPRK and Iran?

QUESTION: On nonproliferation.

MR PRICE: Look, we have a strategy towards both countries. Obviously, they’re very different countries entailing very different strategies.

When it comes to the DPRK – we have already talked about this to some extent during the briefing – our objective is to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe we can achieve that most effectively through dialogue and diplomacy. We are doing what we can to signal very clearly to the DPRK regime that we are ready, willing, and able to engage in that dialogue and diplomacy.

Now, it is no secret as we’ve already talked about in the course of this briefing that the DPRK appears to be in a period of provocation. This has tended to be cyclical. We’ve seen periods of provocation; we’ve seen periods of engagement. It is very clear at the moment that we are in the former. We are doing what we can to give way to a period that is marked more by the latter.

When it comes to Iran, look, the unfortunate reality is that Iran’s nuclear program was in a box. It was in a confined box until May of 2018, when the decision was made on the part of the previous administration to essentially give Iran a get out of nuclear jail free card. And since then Iran has been in a position to advance its nuclear program in ways that would have been prohibited under the JCPOA and to do so in the context – in a context where we have not had the stringent verification and monitoring regime that the JCPOA affords us.

So in one sense we know a very credible solution to the challenge we face with Iran’s nuclear program, and that’s the JCPOA. Now, it remains a very big question mark as to whether we will get there. Regardless of whether there is a JCPOA or not, President Biden has committed that Iran will never be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon. If we are in a position to mutually return to compliance with the JCPOA, that will be the vehicle by which we fulfil that commitment, but we are equally determined and we are engaging with allies and partners around the world in the absence of a JCPOA to ensure that even in the case that we are unable to get there that Iran will not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Rich, there.

QUESTION: One more on the summit.

MR PRICE: Let me please go to Iran. We’ve covered Summit of America pretty extensively, I think.

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, there appears to be two major delegations coming to visit the United States, the commerce minister in the middle of this month and the investment minister at the end. Are those precursors to a meeting with MBS, or is there any more detail you can provide on a potential meeting there?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to provide any more detail on potential presidential travel. As you know, the White House has said that they are working on a visit to the Middle East. He has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Bennett of Israel to travel to Israel in the coming weeks, and we may have more to say, or I should say the White House I expect will have more to say on that front at the appropriate time.

What we are doing with Saudi Arabia is precisely what we are doing with countries around the world, and that is forging a relationship that first and foremost advances U.S. interest. Just as the President was recently in Japan and South Korea engaging with the leaders of ASEAN, he’ll be at the Summit of the Americas this week. Our engagements with countries around the world are predicated on the idea that these relationships need to serve American interests and to be consistent with American values.

I think over the course of the past 16 months we have been in a position to forge a relationship with Saudi Arabia that does that. And you saw another piece of evidence just last week when it was announced by the UN another extension, or I should say an extension, a two-month extension, to the humanitarian truce in Yemen. This, of course, would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Special Envoy Lenderking under the direction of Secretary Blinken and President Biden, but of course the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, but also the support of our Saudi partners. We have also worked and Saudi Arabia has done quite a bit to mend regional divides – the exchange of ambassadors with Lebanon, healing rifts within the Gulf as well.

And of course, we have common interests in terms of the threats that Saudi Arabia faces, has faced, from Yemen. There are – these are not only threats to the kingdom and to Saudi Arabia’s citizenry, but there are 70,000 Americans who live in the kingdom who have been put at risk by the spate of hundreds of cross-border attacks that we have seen in recent months.

So we are working with our Saudi partners on all of these common interests. We can do all of that while keeping human rights at the center of our foreign policy.

QUESTION: Just one quick question on U.S.-Saudi relations?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I think it was last year that Blinken continued to say that the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia needs to be recalibrated, and you reiterate that as well. Has that process of recalibration concluded, or are you guys still in the process of recalibrating the relationship?

MR PRICE: Well, in some ways our relationships with countries around the world is like our efforts here at home; we’re always striving for a more perfect union. We’re always striving for a more perfect relationship. The same could be true of countries around the world. I think what we’ve seen over the course of the past 16 months with our Saudi partners, compared to where we were in January of last year to where we are now just a few days after the humanitarian truce was extended in Yemen, speaks to the progress that we’ve seen. It’s a relationship that is now on steady footing. It’s a relationship that allows us to advance, to protect, to promote our interests, just as we have continued to put values – values we share with countries around the world – front and center in that.

QUESTION: So it’s on more steady footing now than it was last year at this time?

MR PRICE: I think that is safe to say.

Yes. Let me – yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Taiwan’s opposition party leader, Eric Chu, is in Washington right now. Is there any plan that a State Department official will meet him here in the State Department?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any planned meetings, but we will let you know if we have anything to read out.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, going back to Iran, now that the first day of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting has opened, I guess you can talk more about the report on Iran. The director general said that Iran has a considerable amount of enriched uranium and it could be only weeks before it could have enough fissile material for a bomb. Is that the same timeline you’re looking at, the Biden administration is looking at, for calling it quits with the negotiations should Iran not do anything to revive the talks?

MR PRICE: We share a great deal of information with the IAEA. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. The assessment that you heard from the director general today is largely consistent with our own assessments. The fact is that when the JCPOA was implemented, when it was fully in effect, the breakout time was about 12 months. It was about a year. In the course of the past two years, that breakout time – or I should say since May of 2018; I suppose that’s three years now, four years now – that breakout time has dwindled significantly. We are now no longer talking about months, unfortunately, but we are talking about weeks or less.

The time frame for potentially resuming – mutually resuming compliance with the JCPOA, again, isn’t based on a date on the wall. It is not based on a – whether it’s a week or a month from now. It is based on assessments that are ever evolving. These assessments are updated based on every piece of relevant information. And as long as a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA conveys nonproliferation benefits that the status quo does not, we will pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

As I said, the breakout time that we have now is quite short. The prospect of a mutual return to compliance would still prolong that breakout time fairly significantly if we were successful in negotiating a mutual return to that. That remains a big question mark. We’ll have to see what the coming period – where that leads us.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you’re actually going to wait until Iran is at the threshold of becoming a nuclear state.

MR PRICE: We are not waiting for anything. We are every day engaging with our allies and partners in this effort. And again, as long as it is in the national security interests of the United States, we will continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance. But either way, as I said before, President Biden has a commitment. He has made a solemn commitment that Iran will never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about your —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Let —

QUESTION: Your phrase you said – because I haven’t heard it before. Maybe I have and I’ve just forgotten about it, but this idea that you said – in response to a question a few questions ago, you said the last administration essentially gave Iran a “get out of nuclear jail free card.” Is that new? I don’t remember hearing that before.

MR PRICE: I don’t recall having said that before, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So is it – so can I just drill down into that a little bit? Is it your – is the administration’s position that the JCPOA was, in fact, a nuclear jail?

MR PRICE: It put Iran’s nuclear program —

QUESTION: So it wasn’t a nuclear jail?

MR PRICE: It confined it. It put it in a box.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s an interesting way to try and get the Iranians – describe it – to describe it, to get the Iranians back into it. You’re saying come on into the cell, guys.

MR PRICE: My job here is to —

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR PRICE: — explain what we’re trying to do for U.S. national security interests.

QUESTION: Fair enough, I just wanted – I just – okay. And then the “free” part of it, is it also this administration’s position that the Iranians paid no price at all?

MR PRICE: I think you may be reading a bit too much into a comment that was maybe a bit too flip, but —

QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. Well, I just wanted to – because sometimes – remember we had “sanctions hygiene” that was – and I just want to make sure that I understand where you’re coming —

MR PRICE: Yeah. All right. We have gone on for quite a while. I’ll take a quick —

QUESTION: I have one on Iran and one on Lebanon. What was the purpose of Special Envoy Malley’s visit last week to the Central Command in Florida?

MR PRICE: The special envoy routinely engages with members of the interagency. He works closely with leadership across the government. He in fact leads an interagency team. That team actually includes a senior military advisor. And so he went to CENTCOM to meet with the CENTCOM commander as part of that regular work.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon, do you have any comment on the increased tension between Israel and Lebanon over the off-shore drilling in a disputed area? And are you planning to send Mr. Amos Hochstein to Beirut and Israel on this question?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce or to preview at this time, but as you’ve heard from us before, the Israel-Lebanon maritime border, that’s a decision for both Israel and Lebanon to make. We believe that a deal is possible if both sides negotiate in good faith and realize the benefit to both countries. To that end, we do strongly support efforts to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Alex, last question.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you so much. Two questions on Russia-Ukraine. You also owe me an Azerbaijan follow-up.

MR PRICE: I owe you a what? Sorry.

QUESTION: An Azerbaijan follow-up.

MR PRICE: Ah. Sounds like three questions. Okay.

QUESTION: So Sunday’s strikes on Kyiv. Ukraine demands new sanctions in response to Sunday’s strikes. It’s the first time in weeks. And also characterizes missile attack on Kyiv as an act of terrorism. Do you share that characterization? Was it an act of terrorism?

And secondly, you mentioned Ambassador Sullivan’s interview. He was quoted today as saying Russia should not close its embassy in the U.S. I get the sentiment that when ambassador talked about that, this is two-way road. But I wonder how comfortable you are in terms of seeing Russian diplomats wandering around, feeling they are part of international community just as normal after everything they have done on Ukraine, just pick up from where they left off.

MR PRICE: Well, I would dispute somewhat that characterization. Not only is Moscow’s economy in shambles, we’ve seen sky-high inflation; we have seen estimates that the Kremlin – that the Russian economy will contract by between 11 and 15 percent this year; more than a thousand multinational companies have fled the Russian marketplace. But Russia is diplomatically isolated in a way that it never has been before. You should ask Moscow how it plans to vote in terms of the next Human Rights Council meeting, just to give you one example. This is a country that is now, in many ways, a pariah on the international stage. We have seen countries distance themselves from Moscow. This is not only confined to private sector companies.

So that said, the ambassador’s point is a completely valid one and one we believe in. We believe that lines of communication, lines of dialogue, are always important, but they are especially important at – during times of increased tension or, in this case, even conflict or war. We want to see those lines preserved. It’s why we have been very vocal in speaking out against the unjustified steps that the Russian Government had taken vis-à-vis our diplomatic presence in Moscow. Our goal is to see those lines of communication maintained.

QUESTION: And on Sunday’s strike, isn’t it – was it an act of terrorism, as Ukraine wants ?

MR PRICE: You can attach any number of labels to it. What we are doing is working with our Ukrainian partners to provide them with the support they need – security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance – just as we impose costs on the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: And lastly, you mentioned direct engagement on Azerbaijan/Armenia. The Secretary, in fact, offered his help with border efforts. Other than just bringing both sides together, what does that mean in practice? Do you have different maps, or what are you offering that – if Brussels does not —

MR PRICE: During a recent engagement, the Secretary did allude to support for those efforts. It includes border demarcation efforts, ways that we can help Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to make progress in terms of this conflict.

Thank you all very much.

Department Press Briefing – June 2, 2022

 

2:17 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Quite a crowd today. You have picked a good day to turn up at the State Department, and I say that because we have a special guest, as you can see. It is my pleasure to introduce Rashad Hussain. Ambassador-at-Large Hussain is our ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He’s here today to offer some additional remarks on the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report, and then he will look forward to taking your questions.

So without further ado, Ambassador Hussain.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Thanks so much, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. Today we released the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. This comprehensive resource is an indispensable part of our efforts to advance human rights globally. The stories of so many people and the persecution that they face is brought to life in the pages documenting the state of international religious freedom in the report.

The report clearly shows that governments and civil society must collaborate to address deteriorating conditions around the world. During the past year, we have seen increased repression by authoritarian governments and the politicized use of blasphemy, apostasy, and conversion laws, including against Christian communities. We’re also witnessing rising societal violence against communities around the world. We’re seeing increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attacks from Europe to South Asia.

As the Secretary highlighted in his remarks, we remain concerned about members of religious minority groups in countries around the world, including in Afghanistan, Burma, the People’s Republic of China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam. The concerning trend lines in these countries underscore that much work remains to be done.

Yet there is also reason for optimism. We are seeing the progress that is possible when civil society, a coalition of activists, and multilateral bodies work with government, and many – in many cases when they push and when they challenge governments to live up to their obligations. And the Secretary earlier today highlighted just a few positive examples in Morocco, Iraq, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste.

I look forward to the honest, frank conversations with my foreign counterparts and civil society interlocutors that will stem from the release of today’s report. We need those conversations to generate and sustain continued progress.

I’d like to thank those of you who are joining us in person and those that are joining virtually for covering the release of this report, and for your interest to these important issues. Your advocacy is critical to continued progress.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE: Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve got a kind of a semi – there you go. I can see him now. That’s important.

This report covers obviously last year, not this year. But since you brought it up upstairs, you talked a little bit about Ukraine.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I had something that I’m not even sure is within your remit, but I’m wondering that if we look at this year, particularly since February but also since January, basically, if you have – your office has any concerns about the role that the Russian Orthodox Church has been playing not just in Russia as it relates to the war in Ukraine but also in Ukraine itself.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Following their unprovoked and unjustified invasion, Russia has targeted religious minorities in Ukraine. The Kremlin seeks to create division, as you alluded to, within the Orthodox Church and has targeted religious minorities and even damaged religious sites within Ukraine.

We’ve been in communication with the top religious authorities in the Ukraine. I recently actually just met with the Ecumenical Patriarch when I was in Riyadh. And the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world with their courage. They’ve used, actually, some places of worship to host refugees. They have been doing phenomenal work – the faith-based communities have – at the border.

And so we will continue as a part of our economic and security and humanitarian assistance to do everything that we can to support the courageous people of Ukraine, and that includes the religious communities that are there.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I was less focused on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church than I was on the Russian Orthodox Church, and particularly – in particular, the patriarch, who you may have seen the reports today that the EU had him on their sanctions list – this is Patriarch Kirill, I believe his name is – and then removed him because of objections from Hungary. But I’m wondering if the United States has similar concerns about the role that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church – not the Ukrainian Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox Church – has.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Of course, yeah. And as I mentioned, the malign influence efforts that they continue to engage in in Ukraine and elsewhere continue to be of deep concern, and we will continue to be in touch with our counterparts in the Ukraine and other parts of the world regarding the concerns that you mentioned.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to belabor this, but you’re talking about the church itself, not the Kremlin per se? I guess one of the —

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: — that you’re talking about. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Shaun.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions that are somewhat unrelated, if you don’t mind.

In China and Tibet, the reincarnation issue – that’s been something that’s gotten a lot of attention recently. What are the – what’s the trajectory that you see there? I mean, do you see any – do you find that there is more adamance on the part of Beijing perhaps to try to force a reincarnation process for the next Dalai Lama? How is the U.S. reacting to that? Do you find – is there a stance that the U.S. has ahead of whenever the reincarnation issue comes to (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama remain unknown since his 1995 abduction by PRC authorities, and actually, May 17th will mark the 27th anniversary of his disappearance. And we are concerned that the PRC continues to deny members of the Tibetan community access to the Dalai Lama – the Dalai Lama-designated Panchen Lama, the second most revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism – and instead continues to promote a state-selected proxy.

So we would urge the PRC authorities to account for the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and well-being immediately and to allow him to fully exercise his human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with the PRC’s international commitment.

I actually had a chance to attend an event here in Washington a couple of months ago commemorating the disappearance of the Panchen Lama and at that time as well worked with some of our civil society partners to urge China to end their interference in the succession.

QUESTION: Could I just ask – if you don’t mind, just something related – unrelated to that? You mentioned and the Secretary as well briefly mentioned India in the remarks. Obviously, India can be quite sensitive about criticism. I know you’re not designating CPCs at this point, but the recommendations from the Commission on International Religious Freedom – how is that decision coming to bear with India? And does the United States actually raise these issues with India despite – in addition to comments (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely, and you heard the Secretary’s remarks today. The remarks spoke for themselves. We continue to raise these issues regularly with our Indian counterparts. USCIRF is an important partner, and as we collect our data for our report we take their recommendations into account as well. We are concerned with targeting of a number of religious communities in India, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu dalits, and indigenous communities as well. I welcome the opportunity myself to even visit there and continue our discussions, and we continue to encourage the government to condemn violence that we’re seeing and hold those who engage in violence against minorities communities accountable.

MR PRICE: Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Should freedom of religion also cover freedom from religion? And the reason I ask this is because atheists in some Islamic countries and societies could be stoned to death and ostracized. Do you have any comment on that?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, when we look at the legal obligations that countries around the world have adopted as part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it’s for freedom of religion or belief. It’s for freedom of thought and conscience and religion, if you look at the ICCPR Article 18, for example. And we speak regularly with our counterparts, including in the countries that you mentioned, to urge them to uphold this freedom. A constant principle that we hear or a constant refrain that you may be familiar with in Arabic is La ikraha fid-deen, that there is no compulsion in religion, and so that is a principle that we share and that we continue to raise with our counterparts around the world.

MR PRICE: Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. There is many religious peoples in prison in China and North Korea right now. How is the United States getting involved in North Korea and China, where there is no religion and the oppression of religious peoples?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, China continues to be one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world. They have engaged in genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs. They also continue their repression, as I spoke about, of Tibetan Buddhists, but also Protestants, Catholics, the Falun Gong, Hui Muslims.

We’ve taken a number of steps. China has been designated as a CPC since 1999. I alluded to the genocide determination. Congress passed and the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Act. As you recall, we decided not to send any diplomatic representation to the Olympics. We’ve implemented a series of financial sanctions, a number of visa restrictions as well.

And with regard to North Korea, we note there that the government continues to execute, torture, arrest, and abuse individuals that are engaged in religious activity, and there’s tens of thousands of political prisoners that are being held because of their religious beliefs, which are highlighted in our report. I’d urge you take a look at that. And we’re continuing to work with the international community to respond to what North Korea is doing as well.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Ambassador Hussain, let me ask about the tools that you have or you might want to see in your toolkit to move the needles. When I look at the report on Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, I see a continuation of same problems. What I also see is some quiet diplomacy going behind the scene – ambassadors meetings with officials. Are there other tools that you would like to see when you try to move the needle in those countries? One of them also used to be the Secretary’s Special Watch List. When should we expect them coming? Thank you so much.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. So just like we do every year, we’re releasing the report today, and then consistent with our obligation under the International Religious Freedom Act, we’ll release the CPC and Special Watch List determinations before the end of the year. But for now, we’re – clearly laid out the latest state of religious freedom, including for the countries that you mentioned in our report.

With regard to tools, we are doing our best to use all the tools at our disposal to address these restrictions. We raise individual cases. I do that routinely with ambassadors here in the United States, in our travels overseas. We raise cases of individuals that are being held in prison and being persecuted because of their religious beliefs. We oppose policies and laws that are on the books, such as apostasy laws and blasphemy laws that are used often to restrict religious freedom.

Our report in and of itself is a unique document. It’s over 2,500 pages this year. It meticulously goes through the condition with regard to religious freedom in countries around the world. And we believe that highlighting the status of religious freedom country by country, something that is not done anywhere else in the world, raises the profile of the issues and the cases.

We’re also working within multilateral institutions, including at the UN, at the Human Rights Council. We formed a very powerful International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance that now has 35 countries, and it enables us to come together on a weekly basis to discuss some of the difficult trendlines that we’re seeing around the world. And then of course, there’s sanctions and visa restrictions and other tools.

So you mentioned the toolbox. There’s a number of toolkits. We try to apply them in the most appropriate way in each situation to make progress on these issues.

MR PRICE: Let’s take a couple final questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. So we heard Secretary Blinken’s speech this morning when he talks about religious freedom in many parts of the world. Countries like Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and others are in CPC countries. But even after witnessing worst-ever situation of religious freedom in India, this country is still out of red list. So what is preventing State Department to include world largest democracy in CPC countries?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Well, I think the Secretary’s statement today speaks for itself. In India, we’re concerned that some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people in places of worship. And as I mentioned earlier in the briefing, there’s a number of religious communities that are being targeted.

With regard to the criteria that we assess when we’re making these determinations, we’re looking at countries that either engage in or tolerate or allow severe restrictions on religious freedom, and for the CPC designation, both of those factors are present. And so today we’ve issued our meticulous assessment of the current situation, and over the next six months, we’ll be making our determinations for all countries as to which of them should be included on the lists that we did.

QUESTION: The Secretary – excuse me – also spoke about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: So have you ever talked about this in – whenever you engage with the Pakistani authorities?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: I remember you recently met with Pakistani Ambassador (inaudible) in Washington (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. In fact, for a number of years at the UN, there was a resolution passed with regard to so-called defamation of religion, and Pakistan was one of the leading advocates. And our concern with that resolution is that it is an instrument that gives support or sanction to blasphemy laws, and we work with a number of countries around the world, including OIC countries, including Pakistan – Pakistan was a close partner on this – to eliminate the use of that resolution and move towards the Istanbul process, which we continue to seek to energize today.

Now, there is a number of troubling blasphemy cases that continue today and those are cases that we continue to raise, and I raise them regularly with the ambassador here. And we’re – of course, we urge the Pakistani Government, as we have seen in some cases when there’s been mob violence, the government condemning them and actually offering support for investigations in those cases. Those are positive steps, but much work remains, and we continue to be in dialogue with our Pakistani partners about that.

MR PRICE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you. My question is about Georgia. What are the main challenges the country is facing today in regards of religious freedom? And I wonder if you find any attempts of Russian church to increase its influence. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, I’d refer you to the report and – but the short answer is yes, we are concerned about the influence of the Russian church, as I mentioned, and we urge the government to not only cease engaging in any actions which may restrict religious freedom, but to also take actions when there is societal violence and threats to religious communities, as we’ve seen in a number of places around the world. We’ll continue to use the whole range of tools that I mentioned to address this concern.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Hong Kong, there was the arrest of the cardinal in Hong Kong in mid-May. Are there concerns that forms of Chinese religious intolerance are going to be exported to Hong Kong in the future? Do you foresee, for example, greater control over Hong Kong religious institutions in the near future?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: We did express in a statement our concerns about the arrest, and we condemn it. And we are concerned, I would say more broadly, about transnational repression, so the efforts to which China is going to to oppress religious minorities not just in their country, but minority groups that are elsewhere. We’ve seen that with the Uyghurs; we’ve seen that with other communities as well. So yes, it continues to be a concern and something that our office is watching very closely.

MR PRICE: Sir.

QUESTION: On Syria, your report points out that after the Turkish incursion into northwest Syria, members of minority groups have faced execution, extortion, kidnapping, and destruction of religious shrines. As far as – you guys looked at the issues there. As far as you know, is that because – do these things happen because Turkey allows the armed groups to carry out these acts, or is it because Turkey does not have control over the armed groups there? And is it safe to assume that if Turkey attacks other areas of northern Syria, the same fate will await the other minorities there?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, we would encourage the government to not only ensure that they’re refraining from taking any actions that would result in increased hostilities, but they are also taking steps to ensure that groups that might do so are held accountable and they’re taking steps to present – to prevent any of the types of atrocities that you mentioned.

MR PRICE: Thank you. We’ll do a final – Michel, final question in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Secretary Blinken in his statement mentioned Saudi Arabia. Can you elaborate on that? And we didn’t hear anything about Iran from you or from the Secretary.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. With regard to Saudi Arabia, we are concerned about the religious freedom situation there. Saudi Arabia has been designated as a CPC country since 2004. They continue to criminalize blasphemy and apostacy and discriminate against the Shia population within the justice system, the educational system, in employment. I just recently came back from Riyadh. The Secretary mentioned that we are seeing some signs of progress. At the conference that I attended, there was representation, which I think was unprecedented, from a number of major religious communities and from some of their top leaders, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, and there was other Christian leadership there, Jewish leadership, Hindu and Sikh community leaders as well. So we are seeing some positive developments, but Saudi Arabia remains a CPC, as does Iran.

Iran has been a CPC for the past 20 years. They are one – they have one of the worst records on religious freedom. I’d urge you to take a look at the detailed reporting on Iran in our report. Iran continues to target minority groups, Bahá’ís, Christians, non-Shia Muslims. And we have implemented a series of sanctions and support actions at the UN to condemn Iran and their human rights record, and we strongly support the mandate of the UN special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses there.

MR PRICE: Ambassador Hussain, thank you very much. Thank you to your team as well. We hope you’ll come back next year.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ned.

QUESTION: Or come back before then.

MR PRICE: Any day in between.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: All right.

MR PRICE: Any day you’re here is a good day for me.

QUESTION: Maybe ahead of the ministerial.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely.

MR PRICE: We’ll find opportunities.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Good. Great to see you all. Thank you so much.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: I know we’ve had an extended topper, but if you will indulge me, I have just a couple additional items at the top, before we get to your questions.

First, President Kais Saied’s June 1st decrees dismissing 57 judges and amending the rules governing the provincial – Provisional Supreme Judicial Council – they follow an alarming pattern of steps that have undermined Tunisia’s independent democratic institutions. We have consistently communicated to Tunisian officials the importance of checks and balances in a democratic system. We continue to urge the Tunisian Government to pursue an inclusive and transparent reform process with input from civil society and diverse political voices to strengthen the legitimacy of reform efforts.

Next, today we welcome the announcement by the UN special envoy extending the truce in Yemen by an additional two months to August 2nd. This extension brings further relief and hope to millions of Yemenis. This is a pivotal moment for Yemen. Yemen has the opportunity to continue this progress and choose peace instead of war, suffering, and destruction. And we also very much appreciate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to ending the conflict in Yemen and we thank the Governments of Oman, Jordan, and Egypt for their support in helping secure the truce extension.

We hope the parties to the conflict will seize the opportunity to take further steps to ease the suffering of Yemenis, including urgently opening roads to Taiz city. Most importantly, we hope the parties use this opportunity to begin an inclusive, comprehensive, UN-led peace process. We know that only a durable political agreement and permanent end to the fighting can bring true relief to Yemenis.

As the President said today, ending the war in Yemen has been a priority of this administration from the very start. The United States will remain engaged in this process over the coming weeks and months. The Secretary reiterated that the United States remains committed to an inclusive, durable resolution to the conflict that alleviates the suffering of the Yemeni people, empowers them to determine their future without foreign interference, and addresses their calls for justice and accountability.

Next, as you saw from the Secretary’s statement, yesterday marked the beginning of Pride Month. This is a moment to celebrate the progress we have made and reflect on what more needs to be done to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the globe and here at home.

The Department of State is working tirelessly to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to understand and address the issues impacting their lives.

We’re implementing the President’s February 4th Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons around the world through American diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance.

This is also a moment to acknowledge the enormous challenges facing the LGBTQI+ community globally. In many such communities, LGBTQI+ persons face discrimination, violence, and persecution for being who they are and for loving whomever they choose to love. We will continue to stand with likeminded governments, the private sector, and LGBTQI+ activists and organizations and their allies that are working hard to build just and equitable societies globally.

Here at the Department of State, we are committed to ensuring all LGBTQI+ persons are affirmed and celebrated, and that the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are respected today, this month, and throughout the year.

We know that countries are stronger when people – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics – are fully recognized as free and equal members of their society.

With that, Happy Pride Month, and I look forward to taking your questions.

QUESTION: Happy Pride Month. I have a Russia sanctions question, but it really isn’t quite worthy of being the lead-off question, so I’ll defer, unless – as long as before we leave the topic of Russia and Ukraine I can get back to it.

MR PRICE: Promise to come back to you. Daphne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russia regularly fires missiles from its territory at cities in eastern Ukraine. Does the U.S. believe that international law gives Ukraine the right to respond in self-defense? And if so, why is the U.S. denying Ukraine the right to respond with U.S. weapons?

MR PRICE: Everything we have provided to our Ukrainian partners, everything our allies and partners around the globe have provided to our collective Ukrainian partners, has a singular goal in mind, and that is self-defense. That is to say, this is security assistance that will permit and in fact has enabled our Ukrainian partners to defend their democracy, defend their freedom, their sovereignty, their independence, to defend their country. This is what it has always been about, and we’ve seen that our Ukrainian partners, as I alluded to a moment ago, have been in a position to put this equipment to extraordinary – extraordinarily good use.

We are now nearly 100 days into Russia’s war against Ukraine. There were those in the Kremlin who thought this war would be over within 100 hours, who thought that Moscow would essentially be in charge, in control of Ukraine, at least on a de facto basis, within several days. That, of course, is not the case. Our Ukrainian partners have won the battle of Kyiv; they have forced Russia to narrow its objectives and its war aims. Of course, the battle is now ranging in the south and the east. There is tremendous violence that the Russian Federation is inflicting on the Ukrainian people, including Ukrainian forces but also Ukrainian civilians, in the Donbas at this moment.

But we will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. You’ve heard about the package we put forward yesterday, an additional $700 million in presidential drawdown authority, bringing our total security assistance to $4.6 billion since February 24th alone, to $5.3 billion since the start of the administration. And that is just what the United States has done. There are dozens of countries around the world, including the some 40 countries that Secretary Austin and the Pentagon regularly convene, that have provided their own forms of security assistance to Ukraine as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you even remember what her question was? Because you didn’t answer it at all. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: Daphne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, to follow up and clarify, Ambassador Brink held her first press conference in Kyiv and was asked about whether Ukraine had promised not to use the newly announced rocket systems on targets in Russia. She said the range itself is going to be up to the Ukrainian forces. So just to clarify, is the U.S. position or expectation that the systems not be used on targets in Russia? And why is that the expectation of the U.S.? Does Ukraine not have the right to respond to Russia’s —

MR PRICE: Ukraine absolutely has the right to respond to Russia’s aggression. The fact is that there are Russian forces inside sovereign Ukrainian territory. They have been there in some ways since 2014, but certainly on an expanded basis since February 24th of this year. Ukraine has every right, just as every country does, to defend its territory. That’s precisely why we are providing this security assistance.

Now, it is true that we have received assurances from our Ukrainian partners that they won’t use this weaponry to fire on targets inside of Russia. The fact is, the reality is – and it’s a sad reality – that Russia’s forces are on the ground inside Ukraine at locations that in some places are quite distant from the Russian border. So at every step of the way, when it was for the battle of Kyiv, when it has now shifted to the south and the east, we have provided our Ukrainian partners precisely with what they have requested and when they have requested it to take on the dynamics of the battlefield that they are encountering at this very moment.

QUESTION: So the question initially was: Does Ukraine have the right to respond to Russian attacks on Ukrainian soil that are launched from Russian territory?

MR PRICE: Russia – excuse me. Ukraine has the right to defend itself.

QUESTION: But not with – but not with your missiles?

MR PRICE: We have received assurances that the systems that we announced yesterday won’t be used against Russian targets on Russian territory, but they can be used to —

QUESTION: Even if those targets are where attacks into Ukraine are being launched from?

MR PRICE: As I said before, unfortunately – the unfortunate case is that Russia’s forces are in many places located inside sovereign Ukrainian territory at quite a distance from the Russian border.

QUESTION: In some cases they’re not. So the – and so I think it was a pretty specific question: Does Ukraine have the right to retaliate, to defend itself, against Russian attacks that are launched from inside Russian territory?

MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. We are providing Ukraine with precisely what it needs to fulfill that self-defense mission.

Alex.

QUESTION: Continuing what Matt said to you, could they strike Russian territory? I mean, that – to be the devil’s advocate, if the Russians are striking Ukraine, isn’t it fair that the Ukrainians can strike Russian territory with the same weapons?

MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. I’ll make one additional point. Our goal in all of this is to do everything we can to bring this war to an end, to diminish the violence and to put an end to a conflict that was needless to begin with. So we want to do everything we can to strengthen the hand of our Ukrainian partners both on the battlefield but also at the negotiating table. That’s why we are providing them this security assistance. That’s why we are, including with the tranche of additional sanctions we announced today, continuing to hold the Russian Federation to account.

But we also want to be careful to ensure that we are not doing anything or the international community is not doing anything that would needlessly prolong this conflict. Right now there is only one country that is prolonging this conflict, and of course that’s Russia. If Ukraine stopped fighting today, there would be no sovereign, independent country of Ukraine tomorrow. If Russia stopped fighting today, there would be no war today. That is what it boils down to.

What we are trying to do is to strengthen the ability of our Ukrainian partners to defend themselves, to defend their freedom, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their country on the battlefield as we strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. One is on the M270 launchers that the UK needed U.S.’s permission before providing it to the – to Ukraine. The announcement came last night, but it was not fully clear whether or not they have your green light. I know that the Secretary had a phone call with his British counterpart this morning. Do they have your green light?

And separately, you mentioned 100 days that’s approaching. Is it fair for us to expect Russia’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the time we reach 100 days?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, Alex, I will leave it to our allies and partners to speak to their specific contributions to Ukraine’s defensive security needs. What I can say is that dozens of countries around the world have provided needed security assistance. In cases where the commitment is U.S. origin, the Secretary of State has himself signed off on an expedited basis on authorization to transfer U.S. origin equipment to Ukraine when those requests have come in, but I’m not going to speak for other countries in terms of their contributions.

In terms of the state sponsor of terrorism list, the point we have made is that – and you saw this again today – we are going to pull every appropriate lever to see to it that we are holding Russia to account, just as we continue to provide significant assistance to our Ukrainian partners: security assistance, economic assistance, and humanitarian assistance as well.

The state sponsor of terrorism statute is a statute. It is defined by Congress; it is written into law. What we are doing with all of the authorities that are available to us, many of which are written into law by Congress, is taking a close look at that law, taking a close look at the facts on the ground, determining whether the facts are, in fact, correspondent with the law. And if we think any such measure would be effective, we would enact it.

But I will make one additional point: With the financial sanctions that we have imposed on Russia, with the export controls that we have imposed on Russia, we have had an enormous effect on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system. We have isolated Russia diplomatically and politically in a way that no single designation could do. The cumulative toll of every measure we have put in place has been extraordinarily biting on the Russian economy, and if you take a look at the latest facts and figures, the World Bank projects that Russian GDP will contract by about 11 percent in 2022. Inflation has been soaring, with analysts estimating that inflation above 20 percent for Russia in 2022. Our export controls have been biting. We are choking off Russia’s ability to access needed inputs for key strategic sectors – technology, energy, aerospace, defense – the types of sectors that Russia will need to continue to prosecute this war in Ukraine and to continue, for that matter, to potentially even threaten other neighbors. So the cumulative effect of what we’ve done has really been quite tremendous.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Oh, before we go on elsewhere, I —

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, no, this kind of ties into that.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: It’s a sanctions question. Does – I’m just starting to wonder a little bit about these – among the people who were sanctioned today by you guys is your Russian foreign ministry counterpart, who had not been sanctioned before. Was this something that you, like, wanted to do since they sanctioned you, so you wanted to get back at her? I’m just – the reason why I ask this is because when you go after spokespeople, like the Russians have gone – went after Jen, they went after Kirby, they went after you, you guys went after Peskov, and now you’ve gone after Maria Zakharova, right?

Well, as you said at the time that you were sanctioned, this has zero impact on you. It’s not like you were going to go to Sochi on vacation or to somewhere – Moscow. And I’m sure that your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, she – I don’t know, but maybe she’s – she might be more upset about the fact that you revealed her age in the notice, the Treasury notice, than any possible sanctions implication. What is the point of going after spokespeople like this?

MR PRICE: Let me make a couple points. One, I can assure you this was not personal. What I will say is that this individual was sanctioned not because of her specific role, but because she is a senior figure in the Russian Government. We have gone after, as you know, a number of senior figures in the Russian Government, and the spokeperson was included in this latest round.

Two, I would dispute the premise of your question when you talk about symmetry. Yes, I was, shall we say, unfazed when I was sanctioned by the Russians, when I was more recently banned from traveling to Russia, for a couple reasons. I have no particular desire to go there, certainly don’t have assets within the Russian economy. I think that is true of my other counterparts and colleagues that have been sanctioned. But —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Well, I would not say that. There is not exactly symmetry between the United States and Russia when it comes to the allure of this country, when it comes to the strength of our financial system and the centrality of our financial system. I think it is far more likely – hopefully this is a noncontroversial statement – that a financial transaction would touch a United States entity or touch the United States before it would touch a Russian entity or the Russian Federation.

So the fact of the United States designating someone in Russia is in many ways far more biting than what the Russians would do to us. We are the United States of America. Russia, of course, is a country that is far —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, you can wave the flag all you want, which is fine, but they’re going to wave their flag, too. And I just – I just – I don’t – I’m not quite understanding the point of sanctioning spokespeople.

MR PRICE: We are sanctioning senior members of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: But you know what, Russia has —

QUESTION: Did she have assets in (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to speak to her particular assets. Yes.

QUESTION: Russia has been coveted by the West. It was attacked by the West. When you say that —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, repeat that one more time?

QUESTION: No, I said that Russia has been coveted by the West, has been attacked by the West, more than – I mean, if we go back to France, by Europe, let’s put it that way. So it must have some sort of certain sense of allure, to use your word.

MR PRICE: Russia – explain what you mean by “Russia has been attacked by the West.”

QUESTION: You were saying that we have a different country, it’s got a lot more attractive things, and so on. That’s how I understood what you said to me. But Russia has – is a great country, and it has been attacked by the West, the West has tried to conquer, to —

MR PRICE: Said, are you referring to the measures we have imposed to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked war in Ukraine as the United States or the international community attacking Russia? If so, I – we would, of course, dispute the premise of that.

QUESTION: Okay, fine, I take that back. Let me just ask you on the sanctions. Now, the sanctions that you impose on officials, they are on officials. Most of these officials have no, let’s say, bank accounts in the West. They have no bank accounts in America. They have – so the sanctions you impose really hurt businessmen, the people that you tried to sort of nurture over the past 30 years and establish relations with and so on, and have some sort of a business exchange environment, not these officials. I don’t think Zakharova has any bank accounts in – anywhere. I mean, I assume she doesn’t.

MR PRICE: Said, if you look at the most recent tranche of sanctions, what we announced today, I think you will get a flavor for those individuals we are holding accountable for the Russian Government’s actions in Ukraine. The Treasury Department targeted prominent Russian Government officials and business leaders, the luxury properties of oligarchs and cronies and elites, luxury asset management and service companies key to the Russian attempts to evade sanctions. The Department of State went after additional Russian oligarchs and elites close to President Putin. The Department of Commerce imposed additional export controls.

So I am not – again, I think I would dispute the premise of your question that we are pursuing those that we need to be reaching out to. We are pursuing those who are in many ways either directly or indirectly complicit in or culpable for the Russian Government’s aggression inside Ukraine.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll close out —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Actually, I just wanted to ask, the question that Matt asked to the ambassador about Patriarch Kirill. Does the United States have any concerns about that, that the EU not sanction him at the behest apparently of Orbán? I know the United States, as far as I am aware, doesn’t have sanctions on the patriarch. Is there a reason why he hasn’t been targeted by the United States yet?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to our European allies to speak to their specific sanctions packages. We certainly applaud the advancement of the most recent sanctions package. Just as we did today, our European allies – in this case, the EU – has been working on their next tranche of sanctions. We have always said that our sanctions need not be identical. And oftentimes, they are not identical, but what they are is complementary. And we have taken actions that complement actions that our European allies have taken and vice versa with, again, the cumulative goal of having a significant bite, not only on senior Russian Government officials but oligarchs, cronies, elites who are in the inner circle of the Kremlin.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Really appreciate. I have a question on China and North Korea. I have still jetlag. I’m sorry, so I feel like I wake up right now. And China said that – Chinese Government has said that opposed sanction – new sanctions even if North Korea conduct a nuclear test. How do you comment on what China has said and – but done about North Korea protect?

MR PRICE: That we – I’m sorry. Repeat the last part of that question.

QUESTION: Yeah. How would you comment on what China has said and done about North Korea protect.

MR PRICE: We think it is important, especially in the aftermath of the most recent ballistic missile launches, that the international community, including the UN system, make very clear a statement of accountability and hold the DPRK to account for its nuclear weapons program, for its ballistic missile programs, both of which are profoundly destabilizing, represent a threat to international peace and security. Of course, the UN Security Council is the world’s preeminent forum to uphold international peace and security, and I think what Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, when she addressed this late last month on May 26th, was that we are beyond disappointed that the council has not been able to unify in opposition to the unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs that the DPRK has demonstrated all too frequently in recent weeks and recent months.

We encourage all member-states to fully implement existing resolutions and we’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to uphold the sanctions on the DPRK. This is very much in line with what the Secretary laid out in his remarks on our approach to the PRC last week. The same stakes are at play. What we seek to do is to reinforce and preserve and protect the rules-based international order – the rules-based international order, including the idea that no country can engage in, should be able to engage in, provocation or pose a potential threat to its neighbors.

The DPRK’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, is a clear threat to our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan. It is a clear threat to American citizens and American servicemembers in the region. And we’ll continue to work with our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK, along with allies and partners around the world, including those within the UN system, to hold the DPRK to account.

QUESTION: Special – excuse me, Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim’s visit to South Korea, as you know that. He will be discussing this further North Korea’s nuclear test. Is – what is there – his – purpose of his visit this week?

MR PRICE: Well, our Special Representative for the DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim is currently in Seoul. He’ll be there for the next couple days. While there, he will meet with Japanese Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Takehiro. And he’ll also participate in a trilateral meeting hosted by the – hosted by his ROK counterpart.

This is really part and parcel of our bilateral efforts, again, with Japan and the ROK, but also in furtherance of our trilateral efforts. As we have emphasized, the importance of working trilaterally with our treaty allies to hold the DPRK to account, and more broadly, to seek to bring about and to push forward what is our collective goal, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s a goal we share with Japan; it’s a goal we share with the ROK. And together, in a trilateral format, we’ll continue to discuss ways that we can push forward with that overarching objective.

QUESTION: Ned, on North Korea, did you guys have any thoughts on North Korea taking over the chairmanship of the Conference on Disarmament today?

MR PRICE: It is – certainly, North Korea has been far from a responsible actor when it comes to matters of nonproliferation. In fact, North Korea has been profoundly destabilizing vis-à-vis the global nonproliferation norm.

QUESTION: Well, so does that at all raise any questions about the utility of this organization?

MR PRICE: It certainly calls into question – it certainly calls that into question when you have a regime like the DPRK in a senior leadership post, a regime that has done as much as any other government around the world to erode the nonproliferation norm.

QUESTION: So does that mean that the administration is reconsidering its membership in the —

MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcement —

QUESTION: — ahead of the COD —

MR PRICE: Don’t have any announcement to make at the moment.

Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know whether you saw the story about the Chinese jets buzzing Canadian aircraft that were enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK. Has the U.S. also seen an increase in these types of Chinese provocative actions directed at U.S. aircraft or ships that were contributing to this mission of enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK? And does the U.S. believe that the increase in these provocations, if they have been detected, is timed to overlap with any particular actions that have been taken by the U.S. or the UN in the past?

MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any particular trendlines when it comes to any potential PRC provocations against our forces, our ships, our vessels. We have spoken of PRC’s provocative military activity in the region, of course most recently in – its military activity near Taiwan. We’ve called this activity destabilizing. We’re concerned because it risks miscalculation; it undermines regional peace and stability as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, (inaudible) media reports suggest that al-Qaida and ISIS are getting stronger in Afghanistan and even providing advice and support to the Taliban groups. Sir, is it a concern for U.S.?

MR PRICE: Excuse me, the media report said that ISIS and —

QUESTION: Al-Qaida are getting stronger in Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: And the last part of your question was – are providing support to?

QUESTION: Advice and support to Taliban.

MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on that particular report. I would note, of course, that the Taliban and ISIS-K are, in many ways, sworn enemies. The Taliban has made public and private commitments to keep groups like ISIS-K at bay. Certainly, we have a commitment as well when it comes to threats to the American people, threat to – threats to the homeland. Even though we no longer have a military presence inside of Afghanistan, we’re remaining vigilant to potential threats that may emerge from Afghanistan, and we again call on the Taliban to live up to the commitments it has made, the counterterrorism commitments it has made, not to allow such groups to operate with impunity on Afghan soil.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Patricia from SPC. Summit of Americas. Next week, the Brazilian delegation is arriving in Los Angeles for the summit and also for the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Bolsonaro. For United States, what are the main topics to be discussed in a diplomatic level? Is there – are there other meetings being discussed between Secretary Blinken and the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs? And if yes, what are the topics to be discussed, and how do you describe the diplomatic relations between two countries nowadays? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. So we’ll have more details on Secretary Blinken’s schedule. I assume the White House will have more details on President Biden’s schedule as the summit approaches next week. What I can say is that this summit will focus on the opportunities and challenges that are front and center for the Americas. It includes economic prosperity, climate change, the migration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. So of course, in our bilateral engagements, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss each of those with our counterparts, in this case Brazil. We have plenty to discuss in the realm of our economic ties, regional migration, health, climate as well. Food security is another issue that I’m sure will be a topic of discussion at the Summit of the Americas, and, of course, democratic governance and human rights will be the backdrop of this summit as well. So as the summit approaches, we’ll have more on individual engagements.

Nick.

QUESTION: Thanks. On the summit, there are reports the administration is considering inviting (inaudible) representative from Cuba to the summit. I was wondering if you could expand on that. And more broadly, what’s the State Department doing to prevent countries like Mexico from boycotting the summit?

MR PRICE: I am confident that we will have robust representation from throughout the Americas at the summit. I am also confident that the voices of people throughout the Americas will be reflected at the summit. Not only does the summit – not only will the summit include official government, representatives from government; it will include representatives from civil society and the private sector as well.

We have been in close contact with many of our partners throughout the region. Again, without reading out those discussions, we are confident that the summit will represent – the countries will be representative of the opportunities and the challenges that we face together as partners in the Americas.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Bangladesh, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Momen provided a list of questions to the Bangladeshi-controlled media reporters to ask the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh. In an open statement, he said nearly 100,000 U.S. citizens go missing, extrajudicial killing going on in the U.S. as U.S. security forces have killed over a thousand citizen – mostly African American and Hispanic – each year, America do not have the faith in their election process, and he also criticized the blocking Russian media, RT TV, here in the U.S.

Foreign minister circulated this message a day after the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas spoke on the U.S. priorities of human rights, democracy, and media freedom, and he said that they want free and fair elections in Bangladesh. What you would say about this authoritarian regime foreign minister remarks? And one more on Bangladesh.

MR PRICE: Well, we have a robust partnership with Bangladesh. As part of that partnership, we’re in a position to raise a number of issues, a number of shared interests, but also concerns. And we do regularly raise human rights issues with the Government of Bangladesh. We do that publicly, as I’ve done before, but we also do it privately. We urge for the strengthening of democratic processes and political institutions, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, workers’ rights and safety, and the protection of refugees as well.

We have worked with the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen these rights and protections. We have provided more than $8 billion in assistance to Bangladesh since its independence. In 2021 alone, USAID provided over $300 million to improve the lives of people in Bangladesh through programs that expand food security, economic opportunity; improve health and education; but also promote democracy and good governance, as well as protection for the environment and increased resilience to climate change.

So we’ll continue to have those conversations with our Bangladeshi partners.

QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Countrywide protest going on against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her recent remarks on dropping opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the microcredit pioneer – Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus into the river from Padma Bridge. She claimed that Muhammad Yunus uses U.S. influence to stop the World Bank funding for the bridge construction, so they should punish – get punishment like this. She wants to drop them from the Padma Bridge to the river – into the river. See, she openly remarks, and countrywide protest going on. And ruling party (inaudible) alongside of the law enforcers agency the attacking of the peaceful demonstration. So what is your comment on this?

MR PRICE: As we do around the world, our comment is that the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right of individuals everywhere to protest peacefully – that is a universal right. It applies equally to the people of Bangladesh as it does to those anywhere around the world. We call on governments around the world, we call on security services, security forces, civil forces as well to respect that right, to allow for individuals to assemble peacefully to make their voices heard.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have one on Yemen and then follow – or not a follow-up, separate on Horn of Africa. On Yemen, we’ve seen the ceasefire was extended for, I guess, 60 days. In Secretary Blinken’s statement welcoming the extension, he mentioned the need to reopen roads to Taiz. He did not mention, but you guys have repeatedly spoken about the need to access the Safer tank. What – and there was a statement, I guess a joint statement, a couple days ago between you – the U.S. and the Dutch on the need for more funds in the event that there’s an emergency offloading operation. What leverage does the U.S. have now to push for those two things as the ceasefire hopefully continues?

MR PRICE: Well, we are at a point now, months into the ceasefire, with the prospect of two more months with the extension that was announced today, where Yemenis have now had an opportunity to see the benefits that greater levels of stability, greater levels of security, the greater benefits that peace can provide. This is the first time in seven years since the conflict started in 2015 where Yemenis have been able to enjoy greater mobility – mobility in terms of within Yemen but also the flights that have now taken place to Amman, to Cairo as well, but the humanitarian relief that has also been able to flow into Yemen given the ceasefire that has now been in place.

The UN has been working, we have been working assiduously with the UN to, in the first instance, extend the truce which was announced today, but also to take advantage of that truce to flow in humanitarian assistance that has been missing from large parts of Yemen for far too long. So rather than describe it as leverage, I think we can make the point that the benefits of peace, the benefits of stability, the benefits of security, and ultimately the benefits of a ceasefire are becoming clear to the people of Yemen, but they’re, we hope, also becoming clear to the Houthis as well.

We continue to support the work of Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy, who’s worked very closely with the parties; very much appreciate the efforts of our partners in the region, including the Saudis, for the role they have played in extending the ceasefire that was announced today as well.

QUESTION: And also, on the Horn of Africa, in yesterday’s statement announcing the appointment of Ambassador Hammer as the new special envoy, the statement – the latter part of the statement mentioned Ethiopia but failed to mention Sudan or Somalia. And after so much time and diplomacy has been exerted from the State Department on Sudan, and then I guess a couple weeks ago the decision to redeploy troops to Somalia to fight back or combat terrorism – is there a reason Sudan and/or Somalia were omitted and it was strictly limited to Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: We are absolutely committed to continued robust diplomatic engagement with the Horn of Africa. That includes with Somalia; that includes with Sudan. What we know is that there has been tremendous challenge presented by the violence – the conflict in Ethiopia, a conflict that, with the help of U.S. engagement, including the efforts of outgoing Special Envoy David Satterfield, we have been able to diminish, to certainly bring down in terms of the levels of intensity and, just as we have in Yemen, to restore humanitarian access with additional food convoys, truck convoys that have been able to reach populations in Tigray who have not been able to benefit from humanitarian access for far too long.

So this will remain a priority for us. It’s going to be a priority for Special Envoy Satterfield in the remaining time he has in the post, and when Ambassador Hammer takes on the job in the near term, he’ll be focused on that as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) How come Sudan and – more so Sudan and even Somalia weren’t mentioned? It was strictly Ethiopia.

MR PRICE: We are very much engaged on the challenge that’s been presented by the setbacks we’ve seen in Sudan. Molly Phee, other senior officials have traveled there recently. We’re engaging with senior Sudanese officials, military and civilian, civil society as well to try to set Sudan back on the path to democracy.

Yes.

QUESTION: Iain Marlow from Bloomberg. I’m just wondering if I could get a quick question on Turkey. What signs do you see, if any, that Turkey’s president is willing to dial back opposition to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications?

MR PRICE: I will let the Turkish Government speak to their position on this. As you know, the NATO secretary general was here yesterday. He and Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to a range of issues as it pertains to the NATO Alliance. One of those issues was the upcoming summit and the candidacies of Sweden and Finland to join the NATO Alliance, something we remain confident that can be completed swiftly. We are in discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re also in discussions with our Swedish and Finnish partners. Of course, yesterday there were extended discussions with the NATO secretary general on this topic as well. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey or between the United States and Sweden and Finland, for that matter. But as a member of the Alliance, as an Ally and partner to the countries in question, we are engaging as appropriate to see to it that the consensus, the widespread consensus within the Alliance for a swift accession of both Sweden and Finland, is something that we can realize in short order.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, at press conference yesterday here in the State Department, NATO secretary general has said that he will be hosting a meeting in a few days with senior officials from Turkey, Sweden, and Finland. I wonder if Washington is planning a similar meeting, any official from Washington is going to meet with officials from these countries.

MR PRICE: Again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and any of these countries. This is an issue between these countries, Turkey, and of course, NATO being at the center of it. I am not aware that we will have any official representation at that meeting, but we’ll continue to support our Allies and our partners through this process.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iran, (inaudible) the U.S. will seek a formal resolution rebuking the country at the Board of Governors meeting next week. And I think we all know how that’s going to go over with Tehran. What do you anticipate will be the repercussions, the impact on those already admittedly dim negotiations to return to the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: Well, just more broadly, we’ve made clear – and we’ve spoken to this in recent days – but our very serious concerns that Iran has failed to credibly respond to the IAEA’s questions regarding potential undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. And we’re continuing to work closely with the IAEA, with the director general, as well as with allies and partners on the Board of Governors as the agency pursues its investigations into the safeguard issues in Iran.

As you alluded to, we are currently consulting closely on the reports recently issued by the director general in advance of the Board of Governors meeting next week, and we can confirm that we plan to join the UK, France, and Germany in seeking a resolution focused on the need for Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA. It is essential that Iran does fully comply with its legally binding obligations under the NPT and separately with its comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA without further delay. The IAEA, its director general has our full support in carrying out its critical verification and monitoring responsibilities in Iran. As far as any anticipated reaction from Iran, look, far be it from me to try and predict what they might do. Our message is what Iran needs to do. Iran needs to comply with the IAEA in answering these outstanding questions regarding its obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguard agreement.

Yes.

QUESTION: Back to Turkey. You expressed concern over a possible operation in northeast Syria and said that you expect Turkey to live up to its October 2019 commitments in the joint statement. But it’s increasingly looking like Turkey won’t. Will the U.S. impose any consequences should Turkey invade?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Obviously, no such operation has started. We’ve voiced our concerns. Setting aside potential consequences from the United States, we know there would be consequences to the broader strategic environment. One of the reasons we are urging Turkey not to move forward with any such operation that jeopardizes existing ceasefire lines is the risk that it could undermine the significant gains that the counter-ISIS coalition, the Coalition against Daesh, has accomplished in recent months and recent years.

At the same time, we know that a renewed violence beyond the existing ceasefire lines has the potential to set back what UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for in terms of a political resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria. So we’re concerned on those two fronts. We’re continuing to have discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re doing that in Turkey. We’re also doing that from Washington as well.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I – yes, thank you. Very quick couple questions on the Palestinian issue. First, Axios report that the Pentagon is – had planned to lower the rank of the security coordinator from a lieutenant general to a colonel, and that the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Secretary of State counseled against that, that he spoke with Secretary Austin. Can you share any information on this with us? Is that true? Do you oppose it a —

MR PRICE: The Department of Defense is in the midst of a global posture review, so I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any proposed moves in that regard. Look, leaving aside any particular position, as an administration we believe in the need to re-establish and to continue ties with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority as well, across multiple realms.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you – yesterday the Israelis shot another female journalist, 31 years old, Ghufran Warasneh. She was leaving her camp of Arroub in the – in the – north of Hebron, Al-Khalil, and she was shot. The Israeli army claimed that she had a knife. There was nothing shown, it was not proven, and so on. Then they attacked her funeral procession and so on.

I mean, it’s – this is becoming so redundant in a very sad way, week after week after week. And obviously, the Israelis have no value for Palestinian life, journalist or otherwise. What is your comment on this?

MR PRICE: We have urged all parties to work to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance what needs to be the goal, and that’s a negotiated two-state solution. We are deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem that has led to the loss of life. We condemn all violence. We call for calm. We urge all to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions.

As you know, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in recent days to speak to Abu Mazen, to speak to President Abbas, to speak to Foreign Minister Lapid as well. That message calling for calm, calling for de-escalation, is one that we and he have reiterated in those conversations.

QUESTION: Yet 62 Palestinians have been killed, executed – extrajudicial execution – since the beginning of the year. That’s like 13 a month, Ned. I mean, should – shouldn’t you call on the Israelis not to practice that kind of practice, just to kill people because they can kill them?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to confirm what you just said, but again, we have called —

QUESTION: The figure does not matter. I mean, they have killed a lot people since the beginning of the year.

MR PRICE: — and urged all parties to exercise restraint, to maintain calm, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that undercut the prospects of advancing a negotiated two-state solution.

Yes – sure.

QUESTION: Okay, one last Israeli question, I’m sorry, about the exercise, the military exercises that were just concluded in Cyprus between the Israelis on Cyprus soil. And it is supposed to emulate – or that’s what the Israelis are saying – mimic a situation where the Israelis could conceivably attack southern Lebanon. I mean, that’s what they said, that’s what they told their people, and so on.

Do – how do you view these exercises?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I think the Department of Defense may be in a position to offer comment.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Taiwan, about the one-on-one economic framework between U.S. and Taiwan, there is backlash from China. What is your comment? Why Chinese (inaudible) – isn’t happy with this framework, economic framework?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the fact that yesterday we did announce the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. This initiative is held under the auspices of AIT here in – AIT in Taipei and TECRO here in Washington. And we intend to explore ways we can deepen our economic and trade relationship and deliver concrete outcomes for our workers and businesses. In the days and weeks ahead, we will and we do intend to move quickly to develop a roadmap for possible negotiations, followed by in-person meetings in Washington, D.C.

This is a broad framework. The areas of the initiative include trade facilitation, regulatory practices, agricultural trade through science and risk-based decision making, anti-corruption, supporting and enhancing our small and medium-sized enterprises, outcomes on digital trade, labor rights, the environment, standards, state-owned enterprises, and non-market policies and practices.

I can’t speak to the PRC’s reaction. What I can say is that everything we do in the context of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan is done pursuant to our longstanding “one China” policy, which of course is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China joint communiques, and the Six Assurances as well.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Going back to Africa. The Secretary met yesterday with the DRC foreign minister. In their brief comments, the Secretary praised the African efforts to defuse the situation with the DRC and Rwanda, I presume it’s – what he was alluding to in the eastern – or the eastern DRC. Could you elaborate a little bit of what the U.S. is looking for? And is there any diplomacy on the part of the United States in terms of trying to calm down the situation there?

MR PRICE: Well, there is, and you saw an element of it yesterday. We are concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We urge both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. We support the continuation of the Nairobi Process and we encourage countries in the region to work together to advance peace and security in the eastern DRC. M23, for its part, must terminate their offensive and immediately cease attacks on vulnerable populations. We continue to urge the group and all non-state armed groups operating in the region, in eastern DRC, to cease violence against civilians, to disband, to lay down their arms. The people of eastern Congo have suffered violence and displacement for far too long. We appreciate MONUSCO’s efforts in support of the armed forces of the DRC to protect civilians. Just as the Secretary was yesterday, we’re going to remain engaged on this challenge to try to de-escalate tensions.

A couple final questions. Daphne.

QUESTION: Let’s stay on Africa. Eritrean forces shelled a town in north Ethiopia over the weekend, according to UN documents and regional forces, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring at least 18 people. Does the U.S. have a reaction to that, and is Washington looking at imposing further sanctions on Eritrea over its role in the conflict?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the President signed an executive order last year that gives us some degree of latitude to hold accountable those who pose a threat to peace and stability in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. We have already exercised a degree of that authority against actors in Eritrea. They have played a profoundly destabilizing role. I don’t have a comment on that particular operation. If we do, I’ll follow up.

But we have managed to achieve, in close coordination with our partners in the region and the Ethiopian Government and authorities in Tigray, what has been a humanitarian truce. Our goal is to see that truce extended not only in furtherance of peace and stability, but also in furtherance of expanded humanitarian access for people in Tigray that have been denied it for far too long. We would condemn anyone who seeks to undo that progress, and we’ll be working together with our partners on the ground to try to preserve that.

Yes, Joseph.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Back on Iran. For the JCPOA talks, Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israeli officials have offered or presented a new idea which – for – now the talks are seemingly frozen, for Iran to get economic sanctions, or to have economic sanctions lifted under a new deal but removing the sunset clauses. Can you speak to that at all? Apparently Israel’s national security advisor raised this during his meetings – was it this week or last week – in Washington.

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to any specific proposals, but what I can speak to is the level of coordination we’ve had with our Israeli partners on a range of issues, including the threat that Iran poses, including the threat that its nuclear program poses to the region and potentially beyond. It was just this week, I believe, just yesterday that the National Security Advisor led a delegation that entailed individuals from the State Department, from the Intelligence Community, and from the White House, to meet with his counterpart, Israeli National Security Advisor Hulata, to discuss a range of issues, including the challenges that Iran poses.

When it comes to Israel, we see eye to eye on the big picture, and the big picture, of course, is that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. If there are additional developments in the context of Vienna, we’ll continue to keep our Israeli partners fully informed of any such developments. If there continues to be no progress, we’ll continue to consult closely with them on the appropriate next steps to see to it that we can fulfill President Biden’s solemn commitment that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Is the administration looking to strictly go back to the 2015 deal, or are you – or is the administration now looking at maybe alternatives to reaching the deal but in a different version?

MR PRICE: Right now, we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in our national security interest, precisely because it would be a far preferable alternative to the present. The challenge that everyone in this room is familiar with is that Iran in recent years, since 2018, has been in a position to gallop forward with its nuclear program in ways that are deeply concerning, even alarming, reaching a point where its breakout time – that is the time it would take Iran to acquire enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, should it choose to pursue the path of weaponization – is now far too short. And we want to see that breakout time extended. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is the best way to do that.

QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, on the —

QUESTION: Including the – the same deal, including the same sunset clause?

MR PRICE: We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in our national security interest. There will come a day when that will no longer be the case, and that will be a technical calculation based on the advancements that Iran is making and the assurances that the 2015 nuclear deal affords, in terms of the requirements that it imposes on Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Perhaps let’s save the sunset clause issue for another time – some of those sunset clauses have already sunsetted.

MR PRICE: Well, it’s —

QUESTION: So – all right. So anyway – but in terms of the IAEA resolution, what changed since when you were opposed to bringing this to the Board of Governors before, almost the very same allegations? Are your concerns now so severe that you think that it’s worth the risk of Iran blowing up whatever is left of the JCPOA talks?

MR PRICE: Matt, even in recent days here in this briefing room, you’ve and others have asked me about recent IAEA reports, reports that, while not yet public, seem to contain additional fodder for concern, for deep concern about the unanswered questions regarding the – Iran’s commitments under its comprehensive safeguard agreement and also pursuant to the NPT.

So right now, over the course of the past year or so, we’ve worked very closely with the IAEA. The IAEA has been in a position to visit Iran, to have inspectors there in an effort to get answers. Of course, they have not been able to acquire all of those answers. We know that Iran has been deceitful in the past. Iran certainly has not been fully transparent. That continues to be the case. So as the IAEA has been in a position to acquire additional information, we have worked very closely with our partners on the Board of Governors, and right now we feel, given the concerns we have, given the information that the IAEA has put forward, that an appropriate recourse would be the one we have talked about, that – our joint resolution that we plan to file with the UK, France, and Germany.

QUESTION: Well, if you’re so concerned or if you believe that Iran has been deceitful in the past, at least as it relates to its NPT obligations, why on Earth would you trust them with a nuclear negotiation, to get back into a nuclear deal with them?

MR PRICE: Precisely because the JCPOA has the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. This is about a couple things. It’s about putting Iran’s nuclear program back into a box, putting back those strict limits in terms of what Iran could be able to do with its nuclear program. But on top of that, layering this verification and monitoring program so that the IAEA can be in a position that they haven’t been in a position in for some time – to determine precisely what Iran is doing, to ensure that Iran is living up to the commitment that it previously made under the JCPOA that was implemented in 2016. And if we get there again, which of course is a big “if”, to see to it that just as Iran was abiding by the JCPOA prior to the last administration’s decision to abandon it, that Iran would be abiding by it once again.

QUESTION: Concerns about the NPT go back well before that. So I don’t understand why you’re okay – you don’t trust them and you accuse them of being deceitful on one, and yet you’re perfectly willing to trust them and get into a deal with them on the other.

MR PRICE: Our position is firm that whether or not there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, the IAEA’s outstanding questions need to be answered.

QUESTION: Right. Well, they weren’t before, remember? The PMDs were never – basically you told Amano the case is closed, so close the case and that’s what happened.

MR PRICE: Matt, if only we had such a relationship with any international organization, certainly not with the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I change – I just want to get – I want to give you the opportunity to respond on the record now to this allegation that was made in the New York Times story about Haiti, that – the allegation was that the United States conspired with France to topple President Aristide back in 2004, in part because President Aristide wanted to – was demanding reparations from France.

MR PRICE: This is an allegation that I now understand has been floating around for some time. It is also an allegation that is incorrect. There was no such collaboration in 2004 to sideline or to oust President Aristide. Ambassador James Foley, who was then our ambassador to Haiti, published an op-ed not all that long ago in response to these allegations. Ambassador Foley wrote, quote, “In particular, the assertion the United States collaborated with France to mount a coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a claim made by French – by former French officials, is not true.” We have consistently said that President Aristide was not removed because of his call for reparations.

Thank you all very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – May 31, 2022

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: The freezing room.

MR PRICE: It is very cold here in today. Hot outside and cold in here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes, yes. Well, I hope everyone was able to have some time this weekend to perhaps disconnect and focus on what’s important. Before I turn to your questions, just one element at the top today.

As we approach the hundredth day of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we remain concerned about steps Russia is taking to attempt to institutionalize control over sovereign Ukrainian territory, particularly in Ukraine’s Kherson region.

The Kremlin is probably weighing a few approaches: from recognizing a so-called “people’s republic” as Russia forcibly did in Donetsk and Luhansk, to an attempted annexation just as Russia did in Crimea. It’s a predictable part of the Russian playbook, which is why we are continuing to sound the alarm now, particularly following Russian President Putin’s unilateral decree that would fast-track the issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens. Russia used similar tactics in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2019.

In Kherson specifically, multiple reports indicate Russian forces have forcibly removed legitimate Ukrainian Government officials and installed illegitimate pro-Russian proxies. One such proxy, quote/unquote, “governor” was installed in April. In May, another pro-Russia proxy, quote/unquote, “official” publicly stated an intent to appeal to Russia to incorporate the Kherson region by the end of the year. Russia has also forced Kherson residents to adopt the Russian ruble over the legitimate Ukrainian currency, according to multiple accounts.

As of late April, Russia likely controlled at least 25 broadcasting towers in Ukrainian areas under Russian military control, including in the Kherson region, and was airing pro‑Russia media channels probably to weaken anti-Russian sentiment and public resistance.

This month, Russian officials have increased visits to Kherson, including a visit by Russia’s deputy prime minister in mid-May during which he publicly stated that Moscow believed Kherson has, quote, “a decent place in our Russian family.” This followed a trip by the head of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, who said Russia would remain in Kherson “forever.”

The Kremlin has also indicated it could attempt a sham referendum to create a Kherson, quote/unquote, “people’s republic” – even though it lacks any popular or legal legitimacy to do so. Before Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, only about 20 percent of Kherson residents said they viewed Russia warmly, but that support has probably deteriorated since the invasion. Russia is almost certainly failing to gain legitimacy for proxy governments in newly seized territories in Ukraine, as protests persist, and residents refuse to cooperate.

Russia’s initial objectives of controlling large swaths of Ukraine has been nothing short of a complete failure. The Kremlin probably views that forcibly holding Kherson would provide Russia a land bridge to Crimea as well as gaining some kind of so-called victory in an attempt to justify Russia – to Russia’s domestic audiences the thousands of lives Putin’s war of choice has destroyed.

We will continue to spotlight Russia’s territorial designs in Ukraine as well as its ongoing aggression just as we hold to account those who facilitate it, including with additional punitive economic measures. We must also continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the face of the Kremlin’s brutality. And we will have more on all of that in the coming days.

Matt.

QUESTION: Would you like to preview that —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — more in the coming days?

MR PRICE: You know I’m not in the habit of —

QUESTION: Well —

MR PRICE: — previewing from the podium, but I appreciate the invitation.

QUESTION: When you say – when you say “in the comings days,” like this week obviously, yes?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Or coming days meaning like the next —

QUESTION: Or today?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s – so as not to get drawn into a – into a game of definitions, I will leave it at what I said, but add the context that’s – on a couple fronts. Number one, you know that due to the commitment of the United States Congress – the bipartisan commitment of the United States Congress – we now have over $40 billion; and a good portion of that is earmarked for security assistance for our Ukrainian partners.

To date, since the invasion began on February 24th, we have provided our Ukrainian partners with some $3.8 billion in security assistance, well over $4 billion since the course of – during the course of this administration. And now that we have significant additional financial resources for security assistance, I imagine you’ll be hearing from us before too long about additional security assistance as those conversations with senior levels of the Ukrainian Government have been ongoing.

As you know, Secretary Blinken recently had an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Kuleba. It is often during those phone calls that among the various topics they discuss is an assessment of Ukraine’s security needs. Kuleba – Foreign Minister Kuleba often passes along the latest requirements and the needs of our Ukrainian partners. We, in turn, then determine what we have in our stocks, what our allies and partners around the world might have in their stocks, and how together we can work to facilitate the provision of weapons systems that are needed and appropriate on the Ukrainian battlefield. And as you know, Secretary Austin is involved in an effort, the contact group that the Pentagon has initiated with many of our partners to help with that.

QUESTION: Well, so the strategy that you believe the Russians are following in terms of territory, is there anything – is there – does that make – change at all your calculus of what kind of weapons to give to the Ukrainians or —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — is that more just of a tactical and strategic thing?

MR PRICE: Well, what has changed our assessment of the Ukrainian needs are a couple things. First, it is the course of this conflict. And in the early days, we and our Ukrainian partners in the first instance, of course, were focused on the battle for Kyiv – the battle for Kyiv that our Ukrainian partners of course ultimately won. During the course of that phase of the war, there was a heavy emphasis, as you might expect, on anti-armor, on anti‑air systems that ultimately helped enable our Ukrainian partners to emerge victorious from the battle of Kyiv.

QUESTION: Sorry, I don’t want to interrupt, but I don’t want you to – the entire history of it is not something I’m —

MR PRICE: No, no.

QUESTION: I’m looking for —

MR PRICE: It’s one data point.

QUESTION: — have you changed – has – have you changed your calculus about what would be most effective and useful for the Ukrainians like, say, in the last week or two?

MR PRICE: So that was admittedly a very long sentence. The next sentence was going to make the point that as the conflict has shifted to the east and to the south, we of course have changed our assessment; and the needs that our Ukrainian partners have put forward have shifted as well. And so, their top priority in more recent weeks was surging artillery systems and munitions to the front lines. Over the course of the last two presidential drawdown authorities, there have been 108 Howitzer artillery systems. During the course of this phase of the conflict, those systems are already being used on the ground.

So, all that to say as Russia’s tactics on the battlefield have shifted, the needs of our Ukrainian partners have shifted, and in turn we and our partners have adapted to the realities of the ground and provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to be effective.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Yes, so not only has the conflict shifted in the east and the south, but in the very last days and weeks Russia seems to be advancing more and more in Donbas. What is your view on that, and do you believe that whatever you will be announcing before too long is capable to help Ukrainians reverse that dynamics on the battlefield?

MR PRICE: Well, it is of course no secret that the Russians have significant firepower. We have been very clear all along that even as our Ukrainian partners have demonstrated remarkable effectiveness that has been in many ways enabled by their commitment and grit, and bravery and tenacity, and of course the security assistance that the United States and our partners around the world have provided, that they would be met with an aggressive force that the Russians continue to field on sovereign Ukrainian territory, that the Russian forces continue to inflict from the ground, from the air, from the skies, and even from the seas.

And so, no one has been under any illusions that the war, the course of the war, the trajectory of Ukrainian success would be perfectly linear. But what we are confident in is the fact that our Ukrainian partners will continue to have what they need to mount an effective defense against Russia’s aggression. And we remain confident in the most important point, and that is that when this is over, what will continue to be the case is that Ukraine will be democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous. And the United States will continue to partner with our Ukrainian partners during each and every phase of this conflict. The nature of that partnership will shift as we provide our Ukrainian partners precisely what they need to be effective. We’ve already shifted given the tactical realities on the battlefield. I have a feeling that we will continue and am confident we will continue to be nimble as the battle moves forward.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, so in terms of providing what they need, they’ve been asking for long-range weapons, and the President over the weekend said Washington was not willing to send them systems that can hit Russia, hit inside Russia. But then they actually do have some systems that have the capability of hitting inside Russia. So, could you clarify, like, what exactly the U.S. policy is there? Where do you guys draw the line?

MR PRICE: Well, we continue to consider a range of systems that have the potential to be effective on the battlefield for our Ukrainian partners, but the point the President made is that we won’t be sending long-range rockets for use beyond the battlefield in Ukraine.

The core point is this: It is Russia that is and has attacked Ukraine. It is Russia that is starting – that has started this war. It is Russian forces that are inside sovereign Ukrainian territory. And these are the forces that our Ukrainian partners are fighting back against. This is not a battle of aggression for our Ukrainian partners. This is about self-defense for them. This is about preserving their country, their freedom, their democracy, their prosperity and independence. And so every element of our security assistance has been geared towards that goal, and that is the goal of self-defense; it’s the goal of, in many ways, self-preservation for our Ukrainian partners.

So it is no secret – and I just made the case – that as the battle has shifted its dynamics, we have also shifted the type of assistance, the security assistance that our Ukrainian partners – that we are providing to them, in large part because they have asked us for the various systems that are going to be more effective in places like the Donbas, where the battle and the fight is quite different from what they encountered around the battle of Kyiv.

QUESTION: But, I mean, the whole idea of self-defense can also be pretty subjective, and so do you guys have, like, a clear criteria or benchmark for Ukrainians where and at what stages, like, these systems that you send them can be used or should be used, shouldn’t be used?

MR PRICE: There is nothing —

QUESTION: You guys are stepping into, like, gray area here.

MR PRICE: There is nothing subjective or even gray about the notion that Russian forces are inside sovereign Ukrainian territory, taking aim, killing Ukrainian defenders, but also civilians – men, women, and children. There is nothing subjective about that whatsoever. What we are providing our Ukrainian partners, what we have provided them and what we’ll continue to provide them, is designed to enable their efforts to defend their country, to defend their freedom, their independence, and their democracy.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to assume that you’re not going to answer this. So, I’ll move on to just one – (laughter) – yeah – one other thing —

QUESTION: Good assumption.

QUESTION: — yeah, one other thing on Ukraine. So there seems to be some growing divergence between some Western European nations like France and Germany and Washington and UK on the long-term goals of the war. The first group seems to suggest that arming Ukraine with such heavy weapons could prolong the war and perhaps, like, Russia shouldn’t be fully antagonized. I mean, what is U.S. response to that kind of thinking? And after three months and the week, do you fully believe that Ukraine is 100 percent able to win this war and you’re going to support them for as long as you want? This is related to the whole territorial – potentially territorial concessions debate that started last week.

MR PRICE: So, I will just make the point that there have been many eulogies written prematurely when it comes to the unity of the international community in support of Ukraine. We heard this prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th; we have heard this at a regular cadence ever since. At every step, the alliance and the system of partnerships that the United States has been indispensable in forging in the months that preceded Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also since the earliest days of this administration – they have defied those expectations. And I’m not surprised that we continue to hear those eulogies once again, but I am confident and I know that they are premature.

We are united with our allies and partners – in this case, with our NATO Allies, with the some 30 additional allies and partners across four continents that have come together to provide security assistance for our Ukrainian partners, but also to hold Russia to account. And we’re united in that goal. We want to see – and we are confident we will see – a Ukraine that continues to be, when this is all said and done, democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous. That is our goal. We will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to wage that campaign of self-defense effectively.

I have a hard time understanding the argument that this is about – or this could potentially possibly antagonize Russia, when again, it is Russia that started this war. It is Russia that is on sovereign Ukrainian territory. It is Russia that is raining down missiles and shells and shrapnel and bullets on Ukrainian defenders, but also innocent civilians. So, the argument that Russia could somehow be antagonized doesn’t seem to have much credibility.

There is one country, similarly, that has within its hands the possibility of seeing an end to this war tomorrow, and that, too, is Russia. How and when this war comes to a close, that of course will be a matter for the Ukrainian Government to ultimately decide. The Ukrainian Government has been clear, just as we have, that this will need to be ended diplomatically through dialogue, through engagement. We are under the assessment that Russia is not yet at the point where it is ready to engage in good faith, to engage constructively towards what has to be the objective. That is, in the first instance, diminution of the violence, and ultimately an end to this war.

So, in the meantime, we are going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners, including with the security assistance so that they continue to prosecute the mission of defending their country, their freedom, their democracy, just as we continue to hold Russia to account, including with financial sanctions and export controls and other measures.

Said.

QUESTION: You said that —

QUESTION: Hold on a second. You actually said – I’ve been meaning to ask you this for – this is very brief – when you keep talking about these – all these countries across four continents, you’re counting Australia as a continent and not part of Asia, right?

MR PRICE: I believe that’s the case, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So when you talk about, then, Asia – presumably this is North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. What Asian countries are actually contributing weapons? Or are you talking about, like, they’ve – some, like Japan and South Korea, have imposed sanctions?

MR PRICE: There are – there’s a broad coalition of countries that have come together to provide security assistance and to hold Russia to account.

QUESTION: So both. And Australia as a continent, not a country?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to these individual countries to discuss their contributions.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PRICE: But certainly, several of our Asian allies have been stalwart members of this campaign.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Ned, you said that only one country can bring this war to an end. You also said when all this is said and done, and so on. I want to ask you about – what is in it for Russia? I mean diplomatically. I mean, of course everybody wants to see the war end and the conflict (inaudible) and so on. But what are you willing to give the Russians in exchange – you and those in coalition? Would you, let’s say, give a commitment that Ukraine could never become a member of NATO, that you will look at the Russian points of concern, the security demands or whatever, that were made back in December, and all these things?

MR PRICE: Said, I think that is a question that may rest on a faulty premise. I don’t believe it is for us to have to answer what a country that is waging a war of choice, a war of aggression, an unnecessary – a needless war should get in return for waging that war.

QUESTION: So just so I understand you properly, you’re saying that Russia should end the war and then we can talk about other issues, if they are there. Is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: That wasn’t my point. My point was that this needs to come to a close. It can only come to a close through dialogue and diplomacy. So, there needs to be that diplomatic process. It is currently our assessment that Russia, at the present moment, is not inclined to engage in dialogue and diplomacy that could, in the near term, lead to a diminution of violence and an end to this war.

That is why we are using the tools at our disposal – including our security assistance, including our broader support for the Ukrainian Government and for the Ukrainian people, and the measures that we have on the other side of the ledger to hold Russia to account – to change those dynamics, to change Moscow’s calculus, to induce it to the negotiating table so that together with our Ukrainian partners they can determine how best to chart that path leading to a diminishment of the violence and ultimately to an end to this war.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I follow up on a question that Humeyra had moved on. In terms of why administration says what it says, when it comes to the long-range weapons, Medvedev said all weekend that if any of our cities like get under attack Russian army forces will strike back, not only to Kyiv but also to quote/unquote “criminal decision-making centers.” Do you – first, do you consider Moscow a criminal decision-making center, given the fact that Russia has been striking on Ukrainian cities for 100 days? And secondly, why don’t you recognize Ukraine’s right to strike back? Because so many analysts, military experts believe that Ukraine possessing those weapons actually will help them to combat Russia, not being defensive.

MR PRICE: So, I’m not aware that we’ve used the term criminal – sorry what was the term? “Criminal decision-making center”?

QUESTION: “Decision-making center.”

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we’ve used that specific term. But we have put forward our assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes – in other words, they have committed criminal acts on the battlefield, so there is at least some element there that we will continue to pursue justice and accountability for what not only Russia’s forces have done but all those in the decision-making apparatus, those who are responsible for these crimes against humanity, the atrocities, the war crimes that have taken place.

Second, what has always been at stake here is Ukraine’s right to exist. We heard a number of arguments that were entirely specious, leading up to Moscow’s February 24th invasion. We heard about purported security concerns; we heard about concerns over what they stated to be NATO’s aggressive nature, claiming a defensive alliance was anything but. In the end, what this came down to was we think President Putin’s belief that Ukraine has no right to exist as a sovereign, independent, democratic, and free country. And so that is what our support, that is what the support of many of the world’s countries, dozens of the world’s countries, has been all about, is making sure that Ukraine will continue to be and to exist and to be precisely what President Putin has sought to deny it, and that is its independence, its sovereignty, its democratic identity, and its prosperity.

So, our assistance to Ukraine has been focused in the area of self-defense. This has been a war of aggression on the part of one country, and that’s Russia. This has been a war of self-defense on the part of our Ukrainian partners.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Then how do you view Foreign Minister Lavrov visit to Saudi Arabia and Turkey? And what do you expect them to hear from your allies in the region?

MR PRICE: When it comes to his visit with our GCC partners, we have held extensive discussions with our GCC partners about the importance of international support for Ukraine, as it defends its sovereignty, as it defends its independence. We have conveyed to our partners – we’ve had many opportunities to discuss the need for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and the cessation of Putin’s war of choice in conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

We understand that the GCC plans to push for an end to the conflict and the restoration of the flow of agricultural goods out of Ukraine to ease food prices and shortages and our Gulf partners understand the very acute, the very real implications, and far-reaching implications of President Putin’s war against Ukraine. In many ways, some of our partners in the Gulf, some of our partners in North Africa, and far beyond have been on the frontlines or a frontline of this conflict, because they have been affected by the acute rise in food and commodity prices that is affecting their people and their governments as well.

Similarly, when it comes to foreign minister Lavrov’s travel to Turkey, we understand and we certainly support the diplomatic efforts that our Turkish allies are forging in an effort to bring this war to a close, in the first instance diminish the violence, and also to find ways to facilitate the export of Ukrainian foodstuffs, including Ukrainian wheat. That is also something we support. I understand this visit is not going to be for several days, and we’ll defer to our Turkish counterparts to comment on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Turkey, over the weekend Erdoğan said the military operation in Syria could happen suddenly. Does the U.S. have any indications that a Turkish operation is imminent? And what sort of assurances I guess are you offering Kurdish partners, if any?

MR PRICE: What kind of assurances are we offering —

QUESTION: Kurdish – our Kurdish partners in Syria.

MR PRICE: Well, we said this last week when this proposal was first raised, but we remain deeply concerned about discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria, and in particular, its impact on the civilian population there. We continue, as we’ve said before, to support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines. We would condemn any escalation that has the potential to jeopardize that. We believe it is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones, principally to enhance stability in Syria and to work towards a political solution to the conflict. We believe that any effort to do otherwise could be counterproductive to our goals to bring about an end to the broader conflict in Syria, but also the tremendous progress that we’ve made together, including with our Kurdish partners, in the effort against ISIS that has achieved such important steps in recent years.

We do expect Turkey to live up to the October 2019 joint statement, including to halt offensive operations in northeastern Syria. And we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on its border. But again, we are concerned that any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and would put at risk those hard-won gains in the campaign against ISIS.

Yes.

QUESTION: So Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was unable to eke an omnibus deal with the Pacific Island countries during his recent visit. The subsequent statement that was released by China’s embassy to the U.S. was absent a discussion of security cooperation between China and the Pacific Island countries he visited, including cooperation on data networks and cybersecurity that was reportedly part of China’s original communique leaked before Foreign Minister Wang’s trip. Do you have any reaction to these developments, both the lack of a deal and the Chinese embassy’s subsequent statement?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ll leave it to the parties involved to offer their assessment of what happened. We, of course, have all seen the reports that have emanated from the region and with Pacific Island nations expressing concern about signing on to the PRC’s proposal. We’ve made this point before, and the Secretary even made it in his speech on our approach to the People’s Republic of China last week, and that is this: Each nation will make its own sovereign decisions. We together with our allies and partners, including those in the region, have made our concerns clear about the PRC’s shadowy, unspecified deals with little regional consultations. We are committed to continue deepening our relationship with our Pacific Island partners and in the Indo-Pacific, including working together to deliver for our people.

I’d make one final point – and as this has been reported out, we’ve seen reports of regional and international media being blocked or encountering significant obstacles when attempting to cover the foreign minister visit to the region and the PRC so-called cooperation proposals. In Samoa, for example, the media were not allowed to question either the Samoan prime minister or Foreign Minister Wang during the visit. In Fiji, Fujian and Australian reporters covering the visit highlighted on social media a kerfuffle ahead of the meeting with the PIF secretary general, as PRC officials attempted unsuccessfully to block their entrance. In the Solomon Islands, there were calls to boycott the press conference due to the restrictions that the PRC imposed.

When we talk about these opaque, shadowy deals, I think you need only look at what many of your counterparts and colleagues around the world have reported about the PRC’s efforts to obscure these very deals themselves, to – to even go so far as to prevent officials in the region from facing reporters in their own country, and of course, preventing the PRC foreign minister from having to answer to independent media who would ask the sorts of tough questions that he would surely get.

MR PRICE: Is kerfuffle – that’s a technical diplomatic term, right?

MR PRICE: This was a term that was taken from a tweet.

Yes. Let me move around. Yes, Gitte.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. The IAEA’s latest report on Iran is out and it’s been leaked, and it doesn’t look good for Iran. Talks about the – more violations and of course not clarifying things from the past for the IAEA. Last week at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rob Malley was asked if the U.S. was going to support a censure of Iran at next week’s Board of Governors meeting. Has a decision – well, Rob said that the U.S. was consulting with the European allies. Has a decision been made yet?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a decision to announce today, but what I can say is this: we fully support the IAEA director general, the efforts of the IAEA as a whole to engage Iran on the need to provide the necessary cooperation in order to resolve the open safeguards issues in Iran. Just as the IAEA is concerned, we share those concerns. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. And as we previously said, Iran must fully cooperate with the IAEA without further delay.

Because this report is not public, we’re not in a position to comment more fully. But we will continue to work closely with allies and partners and the Board of Governors of the IAEA to ensure that the board takes appropriate action in response to the director general’s reporting. These unresolved safeguard issues, I think it is worth noting, relate to legal obligations under the MPT-required safeguards agreements with the IAEA. That of course is separate from Iran’s JCPOA nuclear-related commitments. It remains our goal to see to it that Iran is once again bound by those JCPOA related nuclear commitments. And that is why we are proceeding with determining whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: Ned, have you —

MR PRICE: Let met – let me let Gitte ask a follow-up.

QUESTION: And a question about inside of Iran. Since last week when a tall building collapsed – and, so far, about 40 corpses have been pulled out – demonstrations – people have been demonstrating and by now there are dozens of cities following suit with the people of Abadan. There’s a number of slogans and chants that keep being repeated in different demonstrations every now and then, but one stands out that is being repeated again and was repeated yesterday, the translation of which is: our enemy is right here; they lie that it is America. Do you have any comments, any messages to the Iranian people who are chanting this slogan, that are saying their own establishment is lying to them and that America is not the Iranian people’s enemy?

MR PRICE: We have spoken very clearly about the ongoing protests in Iran. We have also in the past spoken directly to the people of Iran. Last year when we first addressed what were then – what started as protests over water shortages and of course evolved from there, we sent a very clear message to the Iranian people that remains true today. It was a message of the fact that we stand with you, we stand with the Iranian people who are trying to make their voices heard, and that we call on the Iranian Government to respect the right of the Iranian people to peaceful protest, and not to repress what are their fundamental demands.

This is a message that of course applies not only to the people of Iran – the right to peaceful assembly, the right to peaceful protest, the right to freedom of expression. These are universal rights that apply equally to the Iranian people as they do to any other people around the world. We will continue to stand for those rights with those people, voicing those rights who are doing so peacefully consistent with their rights.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, the safeguard concerns that you mentioned just now, the – these are longstanding concerns. They’re not new in this new report. If you support the BOG, as I like to call it, the Board of Governors taking responsible action to do this, why have you opposed it and even blocked it – action from the —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: — Board of Governors in the past when these – when these shortcomings – these concerns have been raised?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have been very clear that we believe that the concerns of the IAEA have to be resolved and they have to be resolved swiftly. Again, we have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. We support the important mission that it is doing inside of Iran. The decisions of the Board of Governors, those are the decisions of the Board of Governors. We consult closely with our fellow members of the board, but again, we fully – we fully support the need to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: But Ned, last November there was a push to get the board to take up this question – these questions and concerns about safeguards, and you guys stopped it.

MR PRICE: Matt, I’m —

QUESTION: Why all of a sudden are you saying now it’s time for the board to take action?

MR PRICE: We have always said —

QUESTION: Or are you going to oppose it again?

MR PRICE: We have always said that outstanding safeguards issue, including the ones that we’ve referenced today, need to be resolved. We are not under any illusions about the Iranian Government and what they have —

QUESTION: Okay. But why have you – why have you opposed them – the board dealing with it in the past?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have – we have found ways to —

QUESTION: Are you saying you haven’t opposed it in the past?

MR PRICE: We – I am not speaking to behind – to closed-door conversations. We have done what we believe together with our IAEA partners to be most effective in confronting Iran’s nuclear activities, including what is very clearly its past nuclear deception, just as we work with the IAEA to determine whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But if it would – if it had been effective, presumably it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.

MR PRICE: Matt, as you said yourself —

QUESTION: So, it hasn’t been – it hasn’t been —

MR PRICE: As you said yourself, these are issues that date back years.

QUESTION: No, I’m just talking about since last year. I mean, yes, they do go back years, but when you had a chance to take it up, when the board had a chance to take it up, you guys were opposed to it.

MR PRICE: And as you know, the board meets regularly, and we find ways to —

QUESTION: And so why – why did you oppose it in November and you’re not opposing it now?

MR PRICE: I am not speaking to our posture or our stance towards any previous board of governors’ resolutions or attempts. We work very closely as a partner with the IAEA to support its activities and ultimately to see to it that its concerns regarding Iran’s past nuclear activities are fully addressed.

I’ll move around. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR PRICE: Staying on Iran for one moment? Sure, Michel.

QUESTION: Iran foreign ministry spokesman has said today on Vienna talks that the reason for the current pause in the talks is because the U.S. has not responded to Iran and Europe’s initiatives. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR PRICE: I saw that comment. I think anyone who speaks either to our European allies or to representatives of this government will of course hear otherwise. We and our European allies have made very clear we are prepared to immediately conclude and to implement the deal negotiated in Vienna for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, but it is ultimately up to Iran to decide to drop demands that go beyond the JCPOA, and to engage in good faith. That is a choice that only Tehran will be able to make.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, several weeks back you said, or you suggested, that the deal was within reach.

MR PRICE: The deal is absolutely still within reach. Of course.

QUESTION: So is it still the same? Is it far?

MR PRICE: It unfortunately, Said, has not changed. It is still within reach if Iran makes that political decision to engage in good faith and to focus on the JCPOA itself.

Yes.

QUESTION: Same topic, but asking about – specifically about that IAEA report that now indicates that there – Iran has enough enriched material for a nuclear weapon. Now, if that’s the case, when is it time to either pull the plug on those negotiations or at the very least shake up the strategy? And we did hear from Special Envoy Malley last week that being at the table doesn’t mean that the administration is waiting, but given these indicators of progress, can the administration say it has a successful strategy or measure of curbing Iran’s progress?

MR PRICE: The pursuit of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA will continue to be our policy goal, as long as it is in our national interest to do so. And that statement is a direct response to the first part of your question. Because yes, Iran’s breakout time has been reduced to a point with which we are uncomfortable. Our allies and partners around the world are also uncomfortable with it. When the JCPOA was negotiated and ultimately implemented in January of 2016, that breakout time was 12 months. Since Iran has been in a position to distance itself from the strict limitations that the JCPOA imposed, that breakout time has dwindled to a matter of months, and more recently to a matter of weeks or potentially even less.

So, it is of course a concern for us. Going back to Said’s question, a deal is within reach. A deal would be within reach, if Iran committed to negotiating in good faith and to focusing squarely on what should be the focus of discussions in Vienna, and that is the nuclear agreement itself. Were that to be the case, the breakout time that is now, to us at least, unacceptably short would be significantly lengthened. And that is our – that is our goal: to see to it that we put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box; to see to it that some of the advancements that Iran has been able to make in recent years are reversed; and to ultimately, most importantly, ensure that Iran is once again verifiably and permanently prohibited from and unable to acquire or produce a nuclear weapon.

As long as we assess – as we do now, that the deal that is essentially on the table, the technical agreement that is essentially on the table, the – as long as we assess that its nonproliferation benefits outweigh the gains that Iran has been able to make in recent years in its nuclear program, we will continue to pursue that deal because pursuing it is ultimately in our national interest.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR PRICE: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue, Ned, The Times of Israel reported that you guys have shelved, once and for all, the reopening of the consulate in East Jerusalem and instead you’re looking at maybe appointing Mr. Hady Amr as a special envoy with an office here and frequent trips. Can you comment on that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any personnel announcements to preview. What I can say is that at least part of your question or part of the premise you put forward is not accurate. We remain committed to opening a consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it can be an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people. We’re continuing to discuss this with our Israeli and our Palestinian partners, and we’ll continue to consult with members of Congress as well. Meanwhile, at this very moment, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem, in our Palestinian Affairs Office, focused on engagement with and outreach to the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: So, what is the holdup? Why can’t you reopen the consulate? What is holding you back?

MR PRICE: There are a number of steps that have to go into the reopening of any diplomatic facility. As you know, there are some, shall we say, unique sensitivities to this particular facility, but as I said before, we are —

QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt, but that facility was open for like 160 years, Ned.

MR PRICE: Understood.

QUESTION: It was there for a very, very long time.

MR PRICE: And we are working through the issue with our Palestinian and Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Ned, can I just make sure I understand one thing? At the very beginning, when you said you – we remain committed to opening or reopening a —

MR PRICE: Reopening.

QUESTION: Okay. So, it is still – what you’re looking at is reopening. It’s not opening a new consulate; it is reopening the former one?

MR PRICE: To Said’s point – to Said’s point, we previously had a facility there, yes.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions. Over the weekend there was a lot of violence inflicted against the Palestinians, but – however you term it. Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, suggested that they should outlaw far-right groups that rioted in Jerusalem. Do you support that premise?

MR PRICE: That’s a decision for the Israeli Government to make. Just as we have a system of designations within our own countries when it – in our own country when it comes to foreign terrorist organizations and SDGTs and other authorities, that is for the Israeli Government to decide. What I will say is that we condemn incitement to violence and racism, in all of its forms. We remain concerned by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of its rhetoric among violent right-wing extremists. We —

QUESTION: But you – sorry. You took them off the terror list.

MR PRICE: They remain designated as an SGDT. That does not prevent us from continuing to hold accountable and to do what is necessary when it comes to members of that group. We urge all parties to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions that – and rhetoric that escalate tensions, including in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: And on the investigation of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, also The Times of Israel reporting that you guys will not conduct anything on your own, you urge the Israelis to do so. I know that my colleague, Ali Samoudi, sent you a letter today explaining what happened – he was hit along with Shireen Abu Akleh – and basically explaining – because he copied me – on what happened and why they don’t trust the Israelis. I mean, this journalist has been hit something like – this particular journalist, Ali Samoudi, was hit like four or five or maybe six times. So, they don’t really trust any investigation by the Israelis. What should happen, in your view, to really see the transparent investigations that you talk about so much is conducted properly and that those – the perpetrators will be brought to justice?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you what we have urged of our Israeli partners, and Secretary Blinken even over the weekend had another opportunity to reinforce this message with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lapid. As he told Foreign Minister Lapid, we urge the Israeli Government to swiftly conclude their investigation into the killing of the Shireen Abu Akleh. We expect full accountability for those responsible for her killing, and to your question, Said, we have urged that the sides share their evidence with each other to facilitate that investigation. And we continue to call on all sides to maintain calm and to prevent further escalation.

QUESTION: What would you say to my colleague, Ali Samoudi, who sent you a letter today explaining what happened? What would you say to assure him that he can continue to conduct his job as a journalist? I mean, he’s been doing this for a very long time.

MR PRICE: Certainly appreciate his perspective and the time he took to offer his recollection and his thoughts on the incident that tragically took the life of Shireen Abu Akleh. We, whether it is —

QUESTION: And it injured him big time.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry? And, of course, injured him as well. We, as you’ve heard from us not only in recent days but going back to World Press Freedom Day earlier this month and throughout the course of this administration – we stand with journalists around the world who are doing their jobs in situations that sometimes are unfortunately dangerous, where they are often in a position of putting themselves in dangerous situations to do a job, to fulfill a task that is indispensable. And the role of journalists, like him, the role of journalists around the world, is in fact an indispensable role.

We will continue with our engagement with other governments, whether they are close friends, whether they are counterparts across the spectrum, to reinforce what should be the inviolable principle of media freedom and the idea that journalists and their ability to do their jobs must not be impeded in any way or in any form.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, do you still – does the United States still believe that the issues between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey will be resolved swiftly after the talks between the three of them last week didn’t particularly yield to a lot of progress?

MR PRICE: We have had a number of discussions, including last week, when the Secretary had an opportunity to meet his Finnish counterpart. As you know, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg will be here tomorrow. Presumably, this will also be a topic of that bilateral engagement.

Nothing has changed our assessment that – or nothing has shifted our confidence in the idea that NATO accession for Swinland* – excuse me – Finland and Sweden has broad support within the NATO Alliance and that it can be fulfilled swiftly.

QUESTION: And by swiftly, do you mean – is it U.S. preference that this would be resolved before the NATO summit in end June?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to put a timeframe on it. Of course, swiftly means swiftly. We want to see these two applicants in the NATO Alliance just as soon as that process can be managed.

QUESTION: And you have made a point of saying – you and others in the administration have made a point of saying this is not a bilateral issue with – between the United States and Turkey, but if this keeps dragging on for many months and beyond the summit, would the U.S. be more willing to get more involved? And that is not a hypothetical, because it is very likely to happen.

MR PRICE: Well, so this is not a bilateral issue. This is an issue, at this moment, between Turkey and Finland and Sweden and, of course, senior NATO officials, including the Secretary General also have a role to play in it. Our point is that we will continue to have consultations with our Turkish partners, of course with our Swedish and Finnish partners as well —

QUESTION: But I guess what I’m trying to say – yeah, you guys have said and Jake Sullivan also said like we’re willing to – we’re ready to do whatever is necessary to facilitate this. So what is that?

MR PRICE: We will continue to have consultations with our NATO counterparts, with our allies, with our ally Turkey, with our partners, Finland and Sweden, who will, we think, soon be considered allies as well. So we will continue to engage in that dialogue, but ultimately this is not an issue between the United States and Turkey; this is an issue between those three countries.

QUESTION: If you would indulge me with one more question, going back on the Palestine issue, last Thursday 62 congressman and 19 senators sent a letter to Secretary Blinken demanding or asking that he intervene on behalf of the demolition of Masafer Yatta. You have any reaction to that?

MR PRICE: Our reaction to that is what our message has consistently been. We continue to urge all sides to avoid steps that have the potential to inflame tensions, that have the potential to set back the cause of a two-state solution.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, can I get your reaction to EU’s partial oil ban? Was it enough, in your opinion, less than enough, more than enough? And separately, Gazprom has decided to halt gas deliveries to two more countries this week, Denmark and Netherlands, which I think will hit the number five, so we’re at Poland, Bulgaria, and Finland that were cut off previously. Your reaction to that as well? And I have another —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — question on energy afterwards.

MR PRICE: Well, the two parts of your question are actually very related. It is incumbent upon countries around the world to lessen their dependent on Russian energy, precisely so that Moscow can no longer be in a position to attempt to weaponize energy flows the way it has sought to do not only with Ukraine but with a number of other European countries as well. To the announcement from the EU within recent hours, that is part and parcel of that, and for that reason we welcome the EU’s proposed ban on Russian oil, and of course the EU would need to speak to any details.

As you know, we have already taken strong action in that regard. President Biden put forward an executive order to ban the import of Russian oil, gas, LNG, and coal. That will further and has further deprived President Putin of the economic resources he would otherwise need to prosecute this war in Ukraine. On May 8th, earlier this month, the entire G7 committed to phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil. And we know that there is broad support, as we saw again today from the EU, among our allies and partners for cutting off the strength of Russia’s war machine, and that is Russia’s energy market. We are united in our purpose to keep the pressure on President Putin and all of those who are responsible for waging this war. And we applaud the steps by our European allies and partners to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and natural gas by diversifying their sources of energy and reducing consumption, in line with our shared climate goals.

As you know, there is a near-term component to this, and the EU took an important step on that near-term path, but then there’s also a longer-term path that has more to do – less to do with the day-to-day and more to do with trends over time and the broader need to lessen our reliance on Russian energy and fossil fuels more broadly, and that’s something that a joint US-EU task force is outlining in terms of specific steps.

Yes.

QUESTION: Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova are now at the crossroads on the path toward a Western choice. You know that all three countries are awaiting the EU decision on the official candidate status. Your position as our key strategic partner is extremely important here. How likely do you believe these three countries are to reach this major milestone at this juncture?

MR PRICE: Well, these are questions for those three countries and for the EU, but I think you know in the case of all three of those countries, the United States – as a partner, as a strategic partner as it were, strongly supports the European aspirations, the European ambitions of these three countries. We have stood with them as they have gone down that path from independence to where they are now; and we will continue to stand by them as they continue down that path.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Yesterday, five to six rockets landed on – they were targeted at Ayn al-Asad base in Iraq, and they landed near U.S. troops where they are stationed. Do you have a reaction to that, or do you know who is behind it? And I have two more questions if that’s okay.

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer you to the Government of Iraq and to the Department of Defense for details, but I can confirm that an attack took place last night against an Iraqi base that houses international coalition advisors. We understand that there was no damage, nor were there any casualties. But I’d need to refer you to the Government of Iraq for more details.

QUESTION: And then on the – Iraq’s political impasse, there is a new initiative by the IKR president to get the parties to some sort of agreement on the candidacy for the – Iraq’s presidency. Is that something that the U.S. supports, and how can the U.S. help the process there?

MR PRICE: We will – I will let you know if we have anything to say on that specific proposal. But we do believe it’s important to move forward with the process so that the needs and the aspirations of the Iraqi people can be fulfilled just as quickly and effectively as possible.

QUESTION: And then last one on Baghdad and Erbil relations. What’s the department’s view on Baghdad’s attempts to limit Kurdistan Region’s oil sales and limiting Kurdistan Region’s authorities in managing its own energy sector?

MR PRICE: We have urged Baghdad and Erbil, the Iraqi Government, and our Kurdish partners to work together constructively to resolve any differences, and that remains the case here.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, Ned, do you have any comment on the re-election of the speaker of the house for the seventh time?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a specific comment beyond what we said last week, and that is the process of government formation needs to continue so that there is a durable, effective government in place that can enact the necessary reforms to unlock what the Lebanese people have been missing for far too long. In some ways, that is about resources with the IMF loan guarantees that have been discussed, but this is also about providing the Lebanese people with a durable, representative government that can fulfill their humanitarian needs that have gone unmet for far too long. So, that is a process we continue to support. It is a process that needs to move swiftly so that we can make progress, so that Lebanon can make progress on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to go back to what you said at the very top about the absorption – possible absorption of Kherson. I think early May, Ambassador Carpenter was here warning about that and – but then he said that this sham referendum, or the attempt to annex Donbas into Russia, would happen in mid-May. Do you have any indications why that hasn’t happened yet?

And also, separately, I wanted to ask about – there was – it has been reported in the Polish press that there is an agreement to make U.S. forces’ presence there permanent ahead of the NATO summit. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I missed – U.S. forces where?

QUESTION: In Poland.

MR PRICE: In Poland.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: So, when it comes to Kherson, you’re right; we have been concerned for some time about the possibility of a sham referendum conducted in Kherson. The message we reiterated today is the fact that this is a well-worn part of the Russian Government’s playbook. We are not saying that it definitively will hold a referendum there. There are other options that could be under consideration, including, as I said before, to create a so-called Kherson people’s republic despite lacking any legitimacy or popular mandate to do so.

I can’t speak to why the Russians have or have not taken certain steps beyond making the point that we have noted that we have – when we have made public parts of our understanding of Russia’s playbook previously, they have been forced to adapt, and in some cases they have changed their plans as a result of the United States and our partners and allies around the world shining a spotlight on our concerns. Whether that happened here, I couldn’t say, but what I can say is we do remain concerned that the Russian Government will take certain steps – whether it’s a referendum, whether it’s the declaration of a so-called people’s republic, whether it is another means by which to impose the Kremlin’s will on the people of the Kherson region. That continues to be a concern of ours.

Final question?

QUESTION: I have one more.

QUESTION: The second question?

MR PRICE: Oh, the —

QUESTION: Sorry, unrelated.

MR PRICE: Final – yes, second question?

QUESTION: I asked about the reports that —

MR PRICE: Oh, on Poland, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcements. Those are decisions that we make on a national level and when it comes to the basing of NATO forces together as a NATO Alliance.

Yes.

QUESTION: So, about ten days – or maybe it was a little longer than that ago – The New York Times ran a very, very lengthy story about Haiti, and basically the misery they’ve been going through. Anyway, I’m not going to ask you to get into the historical background going back to the 1700s about this, but in – part of that story made – there were allegations that the United States had essentially conspired with France to oust Aristide, in part because he was demanding reparations for the French. This was under the Bush administration, obviously, in 2004.

What do you make of those allegations?

MR PRICE: I would need to go back on that. Obviously, this is quite dated. But what I can say now is that —

QUESTION: Which is quite dated, the story or 2004?

MR PRICE: No, the 2004 element of a —

QUESTION: It’s not that long ago.

MR PRICE: Well, I –

QUESTION: I mean, you might have been in grade school, but some of us were actually – (laughter) – working.

MR PRICE: I – we will get back to you if we have anything to say on that particular. historical allegation. But what I can say more recently is that since President Moïse’s assassination, we’ve continuously called on all Haitian stakeholders to reach agreement on a unified way forward towards free and fair elections when those conditions permit. And we continue to work with all current Haitian officials, including Prime Minister Henry, to address Haiti’s most critical needs, including security, post-disaster reconstruction and recovery, and COVID-19 vaccinations.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I would appreciate it if there could be – if someone could get an answer about whether or not you agree or disagree with the assertion, the allegation – including from a former French ambassador to Haiti – that this is, in fact, was the case – that you guys, that the Bush administration worked with the French to get rid of Aristide in part because he was demanding those reparations. Thank you.

MR PRICE: We will let you – we will let you know.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:22 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – May 25, 2022

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PRICE: Before I get to your questions, I would like to take just a moment to highlight an initiative that illustrates the U.S. commitment to pursuing accountability for war crimes and other atrocities committed by members of Russia’s forces in Ukraine, using every tool we have available.

Earlier today, with our European and UK partners, we announced the launch of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group for Ukraine, or the ACA.

This multilateral initiative directly supports ongoing efforts by the war crimes units of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, the OPG, to document, preserve, analyze evidence of war crimes and other atrocities committed in Ukraine, with a view to criminal prosecutions.

As the Secretary said in a statement earlier today, evidence continues to mount of war crimes and other atrocities committed by members of Russia’s forces in Ukraine. In addition to continued bombardments and missile strikes hitting densely populated areas, causing thousands of civilian deaths, we continue to see credible reports of violence of a different order: unarmed civilians shot in the back; individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture; and horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls.

The establishment of this multilateral accountability effort, therefore, comes at a critical time. The ACA will provide strategic advice and operational assistance to the war crimes unit of the OPG, the legally constituted authority responsible for prosecuting war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. The ACA will reinforce and help coordinate existing U.S., EU, and UK efforts to support justice and accountability for atrocity crimes. It will demonstrate our international solidarity with Ukraine as it seeks to hold Russia accountable.

Although the United States and our partners are supporting a range of international efforts to pursue accountability for atrocities, the OPG will play a crucial role in ensuring that those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities are held accountable at the domestic level. The ACA is an essential element of the United States commitment to seeing that those responsible for such crimes are held to account.

With that, happy to take your questions. Shaun.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The – Ukraine has voiced unease. Russia has said it’s going to make it easier for people in parts of Ukraine that are under Russian control to obtain Russian citizenship. Does the United States have a view on that?

MR PRICE: We certainly have a view on some of the horrific tactics that the Russian Federation has employed in parts of Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, where its forces are present. We have seen Russian forces forcibly remove individuals from occupied territory. We have seen Russia’s forces transport Ukrainians to the so-called filtration camps. We have seen Russia’s forces attempt through other ways to subjugate, otherwise subdue the Ukrainian people in these areas.

So to the extent that this is an effort that is only loosely disguised as an element of Russia’s attempt to subjugate the people of Ukraine, to impose their will by force, that is something that we would forcefully reject. It is not entirely unlike Russia’s attempts to manufacture these fake referenda, referenda that are designed to offer the veneer of legitimacy to Russian rule over parts of what is sovereign Ukrainian territory; referenda where Russian-backed officials tend to somehow accrue 90-plus, 99 percent of the vote. It is a tactic that Russia’s forces, the Russian Federation have used in different contexts before – in Crimea in 2014, in Chechnya, more recently our concerns that we voiced with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in this phase, including in places like Kherson.

QUESTION: Ned, a follow-up. Shooting people in the back and things like this, tied behind – their hands – is that a new thing, or is that the Bucha massacre? Are you looking into old stuff, or all lumped together?

MR PRICE: The reference that the Secretary made in his statement today and the reference I made at the top of course includes Bucha. But we have seen reports of these types of summary executions in places well beyond Bucha. As the Secretary speaks to this, as he has talked about it, he has described a receding tide, a receding tide of brutality. And when Russia’s forces leave a city, a town, a place like Bucha, in the coming days a place like Mariupol, what we have found in its wake are additional reports of these types of atrocities.

QUESTION: Okay. And the ACA, is it going to be something akin or parallel to the ICC, for instance? How will it conduct its work?

MR PRICE: So what the ACA does is bring together multinational experts to provide strategic advice, operational assistance, and capacity building, including technical capacity building in areas such as crime scene and forensic investigations; the drafting of indictments; the collection, preservation of evidence; operational analysis; the investigation of conflict-related violence, including sexual violence; and cooperation with international and national accountability mechanisms.

It specifically includes two key elements. The first is an advisory group to the OPG, the Office of the Prosecutor General, made up of experienced war crimes prosecutors, investigators, and other specialists, based in the region to provide expertise, mentoring, advice, and operational support to the OPG. And the second component is something known as MJTs, or Mobile Justice Teams, composed of both international and Ukrainian experts. These experts will be deployed at the request of the OPG to increase the capacity of the war crimes unit and regional prosecutors to assist the investigation on the ground.

We’ve said this before, but the reason we are focusing at least in the first instance our efforts on the Office of the Prosecutor General and her war crimes unit is precisely because they have the capacity, they have the determination, and importantly they have the jurisdiction to bring these cases to trial, including criminal prosecutions, one of which we have already seen result in a guilty plea.

Simon.

QUESTION: It is U.S. Government officials who will be working in those Mobile Justice Teams?

MR PRICE: Right now these are non-official American experts, individual who bring expertise, knowledge, and know-how, as well as experience in all of these areas.

QUESTION: So they – so those are civilians, but they will travel into Ukraine sort of despite the current warnings of —

MR PRICE: As part of the Mobile Justice Teams, there will be international experts who will be on the ground at the disposal of the Ukrainian prosecutor general and her team whose expertise then can be deployed as appropriate.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hold on —

QUESTION: Will the ACA – will the ACA be able to advise to investigate Putin?

MR PRICE: The ACA is focused on war crimes and potential war crimes in Ukraine, so they will be looking at reports, reports that may well entail much more than reports and could constitute evidence of war crimes. Now, of course, in the first instance they are going to look to criminally prosecute those who are in Ukraine, as is the case now with the Russian soldier who has recently undergone trial. But we have made the point clear that under international humanitarian law it’s not only the individual that pulls the trigger or conducts the war crime on the ground, but it is anyone in the chain of command who was witting and part of a war crime. And so that’s something that more broadly we will look to as well.

QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, I missed the top. I’m beginning to think there might be something of a conspiracy with no two-minute warning, or at least I didn’t hear if there was one, so anyway, I apologize.

MR PRICE: I will just – I will make the point, Matt, that everyone else was here on time.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I apologize for missing the very top, and I hope that you’re prepared to answer this question. And I want to preface it by saying I am not suggesting that it is a waste of time or money to investigate war crimes allegations at all, wherever they take place, whether it’s in Burma, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in the West Bank, whether it is in Ukraine or Syria. I – that’s fine.

But since the President – President Biden – first said that he believed war crimes were being committed by Russia in Ukraine, there have been, by my counting – correct me if I’m wrong – at least three different initiatives that the United States has either begun, launched, or taken part of to investigate war crimes in – allegations in Ukraine. This latest one says in the joint statement – it says it seeks to streamline coordination and communications efforts to ensure best practices, and most critically, avoid duplication of efforts.

Now, less or just a week ago – like eight days ago – you guys announced that there was this – the creation with $6 million of this new conflict observatory, which is basically going to do the same thing as what this ACA thing is, unless you can tell me that I’m wrong and that it doesn’t.

MR PRICE: I can —

QUESTION: But you had already, when – but you – even before then, after the President’s comments, when the Secretary made his announcement that he had concluded that war crimes were being committed, you guys had also pledged additional funds to NGO investigators who were going to be in the region – maybe not necessarily in Ukraine, but traveling in and collecting evidence and sharing it with the ICC and others.

So this latest thing, which – I’m sure that there’s – it’s being done with good intentions, but how is it not duplicating efforts that you guys have – are already spending millions of dollars on?

MR PRICE: If your point, Matt, is that we are heavily —

QUESTION: I don’t have a point, I just want to know how this is not duplicative of the other three – two – at least two, and maybe three, initiatives that you guys are already doing.

MR PRICE: Well, the premise of your point or perhaps your question seems to be that we’re heavily invested in this. We absolutely are. We are committed to working with the Ukrainian prosecutor general and her team to see to it that we can do everything we can to be helpful in the effort to bring to justice those who are responsible for war crimes. You raised a few different mechanisms; let me see if I can offer some clarity on that.

You are correct that we did launch something called the Observatory in recent weeks. That is —

QUESTION: It was last week.

MR PRICE: That is separate and distinct from this new mechanism. The Observatory is a consortium working with, by the way, some of the same partners who are involved in this, but for a very different purpose. It is not to provide the sort of technical expertise, technical analysis, the writing of indictments, the forensics, the investigation on the ground of potential war crimes. The Observatory is a hub to collect open-source potential evidence pointing to war crimes, not only for authorities in various jurisdictions but for the public, including to continue to shine a spotlight on what are clearly atrocities and apparent war crimes that are ongoing in Ukraine.

This, as I alluded to a moment ago, is quite separate. There is, as I said, two elements to this. There is an advisory group that is made up of war crimes prosecutors, investigators, other specialists to provide expertise, mentoring, advice, operational support, the kind of tactical operational support that you’re not going to see from the Observatory – the writing of an indictment, for example, the forensics investigation. And then, of course, the Observatory does a service by publishing open-source information; but what the ACA does is it helps our Ukrainian partners actually collect that evidence actually on the ground, with Mobile Justice Teams composed of international and Ukrainian experts to be deployed to augment the capacity of the Ukrainian prosecutor general.

You are also right that we have funded various operational partners, again, some of whom are – have been recipients of that funding that we talked about and who are involved in both the Observatory and the ACA. So when we talk about deconfliction and the avoidance of duplication, that is absolutely a goal of the ACA.

QUESTION: Yeah, but it involves the —

MR PRICE: That’s part of the reason why we’re working with the UK and the EU, bringing to bear this technical expertise, this technical know-how, and this technical capacity, so that together with some of our closest partners we can help direct it precisely where the Ukrainian prosecutor general and her team need it.

QUESTION: All right. Well, maybe we can get someone in here to explain to me exactly how these aren’t duplicative, because I don’t get it in what you – I don’t think your response has cleared it up. Maybe it has for others, but not for me. So perhaps we could have a conversation with someone who’s actually directly involved.

So anyway, how much is this ACA going to cost?

MR PRICE: This is something that we’ve just launched today. We don’t have specific figures to release, but we’re working with Congress to allocate additional assistance funds that will continue to support the important work that’s being undertaken.

QUESTION: And then the last one on this is that you have a pretty senior – I don’t know if this was at the top that I missed, but you have some senior officials who are in The Hague today or finishing their trip today. Did you get into that?

MR PRICE: We have not.

QUESTION: Oh. Is that not part of this?

MR PRICE: It is separate.

QUESTION: Well, they seemed to talk about the —

MR PRICE: Well, of course —

QUESTION: I mean, the statement about their visit says that they were talking about the European Democratic Resilience Initiative, EDRI, which is the same thing that –

MR PRICE: But the visit —

QUESTION: — you guys are drawing on for this ACA.

MR PRICE: The visit is not linked to the launch precisely of the ACA.

QUESTION: Okay, all right. So does it have anything to do with more cooperation or increasing cooperation with the ICC and the – the visit I mean.

MR PRICE: The visit has to do, again, with our support for the announcement, the fact that we welcomed the announcement by the ICC prosecutor general looking into the situation in Ukraine. Again, we have said that we are willing to assist the efforts of all of those mechanisms that have the potential to bring to justice, to hold accountable, those who are responsible for war crimes in Ukraine.

In the first instance, as I just said at some length, we are focused on the Ukrainian prosecutor general and her team, precisely because they have the determination, the know-how, and importantly, the jurisdiction to do just that, which they’ve already proven in at least one case. But there’s the Moscow mechanism, there’s a commission of inquiry through the Human Rights Council that we helped to establish, and there’s the ICC, whose announcement we did welcome when it came about.

QUESTION: So just to put a fine point on it, they didn’t go there to say we’re going to do more to help you, we’re just going to continue what we’ve already been doing; is that correct?

MR PRICE: I don’t have conversations to read out. Of course, the visit is ongoing. But we have said that we are prepared to work with the appropriate mechanisms in the pursuit of justice in Ukraine.

Nazira.

QUESTION: To follow on the ACA a little more.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the ACA be involved in investigating of war crimes elsewhere, or is it only distinctly about Ukraine?

MR PRICE: This is focused on Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Nazira?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. As you know, the Taliban recent decision ordered all woman during the programming in TV to use mask. It’s too difficult. I don’t know United States has some reaction to them and what their expectation, what they want from the United States or international community because it’s really tough decision. Every day they create a new regulation for the woman.

Number two, can you update me about refugee number, how many came since August 15, and how many expected to come to the United States, plesae? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you for that. You raise the most recent set of restrictions, and it’s important that we dwell on the fact that it’s only the most recent because these restrictions do come in the context of a number of restrictions that the Taliban has imposed on women and girls inside of Afghanistan, including the continuing ban on girls’ secondary access to – access to secondary education and work, restrictions on freedom of movement, and the targeting of peaceful protestors.

We have said – I think I’ve said this to you – that the Taliban’s policies towards women and girls, they are an affront to human rights; they will continue to negatively impact the relationship that the Taliban has and potentially hopes to have not only with the United States but with the rest of the world. We are discussing this with our – with other countries, with our allies and partners. You may have seen the joint statements that came out of the G7, also the joint press statement out of the UN Security Council. The legitimacy, the support the Taliban seeks from the international community, it depends on their conduct, including – and centrally – their respect for the rights of women.

When it comes to the public and private commitments that the Taliban have made. They have made a number of them, including their counterterrorism commitments, including their pledge to respect and to uphold the human rights of women, girls, Afghanistan’s minorities, including access – the freedom of access, freedom of travel for those who wish to leave Afghanistan, and when it comes to ISIS-K and al-Qaida.

Of course, the Taliban has not been living up to the commitment it has made in the realm of human rights, in the realm of what it has pledged to the women and girls of Afghanistan. It is not just the United States that has taken note, but it is a number of countries around the world, including multilateral organizations, including the UN, that have also taken note. And of course that will have implications for the world’s relationship with the Taliban going forward.

QUESTION: A number, too? How many refugee expected to come to the United —

MR PRICE: I don’t have an updated refugee figure to offer, but we can get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea and the PRC, so could you give us your reaction to the ballistic missile test yesterday? Is there any indication of another nuclear test? And on the PRC, could you help us understand what would be the main focus of the Secretary’s policy speech tomorrow?

MR PRICE: So on the missile launches that we’ve seen overnight, we condemn the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches that took place last night Eastern Time. These launches are a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and they are a threat to the region, a threat to its peace and stability. We call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocation and to engage in sustained dialogue.

Our commitment to the defense of the ROK and to Japan is ironclad. That was a message that Secretary Blinken delivered to his Japanese and South Korean counterparts shortly after the most recent launches last night. Secretary Austin also spoke to his counterparts. This of course came on the heels of President Biden’s meeting with his Japanese and ROK counterparts in Tokyo and South Korea. It is a testament, we think, to the strength of our alliances with the ROK and Japan that we had this close coordination at multiple levels and multiple principals in the immediate aftermath of the launches of these ballistic missiles. In the Secretary’s call last night – calls last night, all three officials strongly condemned the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches as a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The Secretary noted our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies and affirmed the importance of continued close trilateral cooperation on the threat that is posed by the DPRK and towards the objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We know that the DPRK’s ongoing provocations pose a threat to the region, pose a threat to all of us. And it’s incumbent on the international community to join us in condemning the DPRK’s flagrant and repeated violations of these multiple UN Security Council resolutions and to uphold their obligations under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

When it comes to the Secretary’s speech tomorrow, I of course want to allow the Secretary to deliver that speech before we go too far into detail, but he will deliver remarks at the Asia – or at the George Washington University in a speech that is being hosted by the Asia Society. He will outline our approach to the People’s Republic of China. I think you will hear from the Secretary the fact that this relationship is one that will and has the potential to contour the international landscape. The next 10 years will in many ways be the decisive decade in the competition between the United States and China. That’s why even as we’re focused together with our allies and partners on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, we’ve continued our focus on the long-term challenge of the PRC. And that’s what the Secretary will detail tomorrow, how we’re going to and how we have pursued that.

Will.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Rudenko said today that he would support helping Ukrainian grain and other grain get out of the Black Sea today in exchange for the lifting of sanctions on Russian exports and financial industry. So I’m wondering if the U.S. supports that given that, as many of us thought, the negotiations that the UN was leading were looking for some sort of sanctions carveout or sanctions exemption on fertilizers and food.

MR PRICE: Well, first and foremost, we continue our close cooperation with our Ukrainian partners. What we said in the lead-up to the invasion is true now: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

You have heard from Russian officials a series of lies, a series of disinformation, regarding the issue of food security and the global food supply. Despite those claims, U.S. sanctions are not causing disruptions to Russia’s agricultural exports. The fact is that U.S. sanctions were specifically designed to allow for the export of agricultural commodities and fertilizer from Russia.

So we certainly won’t lift our sanctions in response to empty promises, and we’ve heard empty promises before from the Russian Federation. I think we have – all have good reason to be skeptical when we hear various pledges and offers from Russia. This was the same country, of course, that for months maintained that it had no intention of invading its neighbor and taking on this brutal war.

So we’ll continue to coordinate closely with our allies and partners on this matter, just as we have since Russia initiated its unjustified and appalling further invasion of Ukraine. It is Russia that continues to destabilize global food markets through its war, through its self-imposed export restrictions, which have raised the cost of food around the globe.

You heard from the Secretary this message last week, but we find it appalling that Russia would seek to weaponize food and energy to try to bring the world to heel. We have never sanctioned food. We have never sanctioned agricultural goods from Russia. Unlike Russia, we have no interest in weaponizing food against the needy. Our nonfood sanctions will remain in place until Putin stops this brutal war against Ukraine’s sovereignty. And we know that the quickest solution to the rising commodity prices, the rising food prices that have had implications around the world, is for the Russians to cease this brutal war, for Russia to stop blockading Ukraine’s ports, for Russia to stop targeting grain silos, to stop targeting grain ships, and to bring this violence to a close.

So we are working along multiple lines of effort together with our allies and partners. You heard about a number of those from the Secretary last week in his remarks at the ministerial in the UN Security Council. But the bottom line is that there is one country that is fully capable of putting an end to this crisis, and that’s Russia.

Yes.

QUESTION: The New York Times today said the Biden administration has accelerated its efforts to reshape Taiwan’s defense systems and that U.S. officials are taking lessons learned from arming Ukraine. Could you describe what some of those lessons are and how they relate to arming Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Well, you’ve heard us talk about the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Taiwan Relations Act stipulates that we have an obligation to make available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. Within recent years, the United States has notified Congress of over $18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

We have encouraged the – our partners on Taiwan to push forward with an asymmetric strategy, knowing that an asymmetric strategy, an asymmetric model has – will be the most effective for them should it be necessary. We are in regular, routine conversations with them about the best systems, the best capabilities to pursue that strategy, and we will continue to consult with Congress as we move forward with other potential sales.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Palestinian issue?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Not only major American news organizations such as AP and CNN have basically laid out almost a clear – clear evidence that the Israelis were behind the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, but also major Europeans like France 24, DPI, many others, and so on. My question to you – I know you want transparent and thorough investigation and so on, and I’m sure you guys probably have the best investigative assets anywhere in the world. Will the United States pursue its own investigative to determine whether these reports by respectable news agencies and companies and so on are authentic or right on target?

MR PRICE: Said, we have made clear to both Israeli and Palestinian authorities that we expect the investigations to be transparent and impartial – a full, thorough accounting into the circumstances of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. We do expect full accountability for those responsible for her killing. Again, we are not going to prejudge that investigation. Both investigations are ongoing. We have conveyed to our partners that we do expect to be updated on the status of their investigations, but in the end, we want to see accountability.

QUESTION: Should there be a time limit on the investigation? Because, I mean, Israel’s record is abysmal in this regard. They can drag on and on and on. Should there be, like, a time limit – say, we expect that you guys will be done with what you are doing by such and such date?

MR PRICE: We’re not going to impose a specific deadline, but these investigations need to be conducted, need to be concluded as rapidly as is possible.

QUESTION: Because the —

QUESTION: Sorry, sorry, just – yesterday I asked you if you were aware of an offer, at least, from the Israelis to – for the U.S. to participate in or to be an observer in their investigation, and you said you weren’t aware of that. Is that still the case?

MR PRICE: That’s still accurate, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then —

MR PRICE: Said, did you have another question?

QUESTION: Well, I have another one on this too, and that is the fact that you left out the word “immediate” in what you talked about, what you —

MR PRICE: Well, the investigations are ongoing.

QUESTION: You said – yeah, but yesterday you said you want an immediate – oh, so “immediate” meant the start of the investigation?

MR PRICE: It means —

QUESTION: Like immediately after the incident happened?

MR PRICE: It means the —

QUESTION: It doesn’t mean immediate like you want it done as – what —

MR PRICE: Well, of course, as I just said to Said, we want to see the investigations concluded as quickly as is possible.

QUESTION: Well, why did it drop out? Why did “immediate” drop out of the talking point today? Or did you just skip over it by —

MR PRICE: There has been no change in our policy.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, just a couple more on Gaza. Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the blockade on Gaza, and there is a very tight or actually potentially disastrous situation in terms of grain and so on, all factories have stopped and so on. Isn’t it time to really lift the blockade on Gaza? It’s layer after layer of blockades – the Israelis, the Egyptians, you. I mean, everybody is blockading Gaza. Don’t you think that the time has come to lift these blockades?

MR PRICE: Said, we have made clear that obviously we have concern for the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza. It’s precisely why we have taken a series of steps to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Something you don’t usually address from the podium, but the situation in your home state, the tragedy in Texas with the shooting. As it relates to foreign affairs, your counterpart in Beijing today mentioned it and said that it’s unacceptable that the U.S. hasn’t addressed gun violence, said it’s hypocritical for the U.S. to be raising human rights with China when this goes on. Do you have any response to that? Do you think it’s fair game for Beijing to raise this?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a direct response to it. Perhaps I can get to it in a roundabout way. The toll of watching this, even for those of us who are enmeshed day to day in foreign policy, has been a real punch to the gut, and it’s been a punch that has landed on what is in many ways a bruise that hasn’t healed from just the other day, what we saw in Buffalo. It is a toll that – it’s a devastating human toll, but of course, it has implications for our work here at the department as well.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve – couldn’t help but focus on President Biden’s conception of American leadership. He’s made the point that it is not the example of our power, it’s the power of example that at our best we use to lead. We do so when we are at our best. The fact is that what happens in this country is magnified on the world stage, and countries around the world, people around the world are going to fixate on what transpires here, oftentimes out of envy, but again, that’s when we’re at our best. And that’s what we want. We’ve been a city on a hill, the last best hope, a shining beacon to the world, and again, when we’re at our best, that example is one that countries around the world would seek to emulate.

But the opposite is also true, can also be true. We have the potential to set an example for the world that no country would wish to emulate, and rather than be an object of envy, we have the potential to be a source of confusion, a source of disbelief for our closest friends and allies; worse yet, an object of pity, or in the case of competitors and adversaries, a source of – a source of schadenfreude, a source of in some cases glee.

So the power of our example has the potential to be our greatest asset. On days like today, however, it’s that example, an example that the world is clearly watching, that will have implications for our standing. And we’re very mindful of that.

QUESTION: What does that mean? On this point, I mean, it really is heartbreaking. And I just want to remind everybody, since Columbine in 1999, upward of 300,000 Americans have been hit by gun violence. I mean, this year alone, this is the 27th mass shooting. Last year, 42 mass shootings. We all have kids, and grandkids in my case. I mean, you talk about genocide. Isn’t this considered a genocide if you look at it in this kind of perspective, in this context for which, perhaps, the gun lobby ought to be at least partially held responsible?

MR PRICE: Said, genocide has a very specific definition, so of course I’m not going to weigh in on that. But you —

QUESTION: Massacre after massacre after massacre.

MR PRICE: You don’t have to tell me – and I will just say on a personal level, I was the age of the kids at Columbine in 1999 when they were targeted in Littleton. And now that we’re nearly 25 years beyond that and there are kids in elementary schools much younger than me who have been targeted on a mass scale twice in the past 10 years, it’s not lost on me; I don’t think it’s lost on anyone.

QUESTION: Are you aware – other than what Shaun mentioned about the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, are you aware of instances in which rivals or adversaries have taken – you said the word “glee,” or used derision, made comments, derisive comments? And has this come up at embassies?

MR PRICE: In the aftermath of events like this, we often do receive formal notes of condolence from other governments.

QUESTION: That’s understandable.

MR PRICE: I am not aware of other instances of that, but I have every expectation that my colleagues around the world who are posted in embassies and posts around the world are hearing directly from their counterparts. Again, I think it’s probably a mixture of condolence, confusion, of disbelief how something like this could continue to happen. But also importantly, an air of regret. Our friends and allies around the world want us to be that beacon, they want us to be that object of envy. And when we give the world reason to pity or to change that assessment of us, it is not only not in our interests, it not only has a cost for us, but it has a cost for them, too.

QUESTION: Well, are you aware of anything that U.S. officials or the administration has found to be particularly offensive in comments from foreign governments or foreign officials?

MR PRICE: I’m not. I’ve heard limited public comments.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, on Iran, I asked you this question yesterday, but it looks like Israel and members of Congress today have welcomed the administration commitment not to de-list the IRGC. Is there any official or public commitment that you can announce today in this regard other than the reports from yesterday?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to the details of our negotiations. You’ve heard us say before that we’re not going to negotiate these issues in public. But what I will say – and Special Envoy Malley mentioned this in his opening statement earlier today – if Iran maintains demands that go beyond the scope of the JCPOA, we’ll continue to reject them and there will be no deal. The discussions in Vienna are focused on the nuclear element, the JCPOA itself. That is what we have spent more than a year now negotiating indirectly with the Iranians. The two sides of this – one, the sanctions relief that we are prepared to take should there be a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA; and on the other hand, the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take if there were a mutual return to compliance, the nuclear steps that would see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prohibited from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: And on other topic, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs has met with General Abbas on Monday, Abbas Ibrahim, and discussed U.S. citizens who are missing or detained in Syria, as a State Department spokesperson has said. What role did the U.S. ask General Ibrahim to play in this regard?

MR PRICE: Well, as you alluded to, I can confirm that Roger Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, did meet with General Abbas Ibrahim on May 23rd to discuss U.S. citizens who are missing or detained in Syria. You won’t be surprised, Michel, to know that we are not going to comment on the specifics of those discussions beyond restating the fact that we have no higher priority than seeing the safe release of Americans who are wrongfully detained or held hostage anywhere around the world. Of course, we talked about the case of Austin Tice yesterday, an American who has been – who has been separated from his family for nearly 10 years, who has spent a quarter of his life separated from his family. He is always top of mind. The other Americans who are detained in places like Iran and Russia and Afghanistan and Venezuela and elsewhere are always top of mind for us too.

QUESTION: Do you have any information that he is still alive, and what do you expect from General Ibrahim to do after this visit?

MR PRICE: It is our goal to see Austin safely returned to his family so that he can once again give them a hug, he can be with them for the first time in 10 years. That is what we’re working towards.

Yes, Shannon.

QUESTION: From that hearing this morning, we did hear a commitment from the State Department that should a deal be reached with Iran that it would be submitted to Congress for approval. Now, that’s something of a departure from what Secretary Blinken said just last month. Can you explain the change?

MR PRICE: There has been no change. What we have always said is that we would follow the law, we would follow INARA. And what Special Envoy Malley clarified today is that we would submit, pursuant to INARA, for congressional approval a deal if we were to reach it.

QUESTION: But the Secretary did say that he would submit it to the lawyers. Did the lawyers make that determination?

MR PRICE: Of course, we’re going to consult closely with lawyers to determine what the law – what the INARA, what the law actually stipulates in this case, and pursuant to INARA, it is our intention to submit it for congressional review if – and it’s a big if – there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. So you’re – so then it’s the lawyers first? So if – if, and it’s a big if – you get a deal —

MR PRICE: No, I just said we will submit it to Congress for review pursuant to INARA.

QUESTION: Well, you said it would go to the lawyers to see what INARA requires. Is it your – is it the administration’s belief that simply rejoining the 2015 deal does not constitute a new deal and that therefore it doesn’t need to be submitted to review? It can be given to the Congress so they can take a look at, but it isn’t subject to the delays that INARA – there’s a time period here that will need to be overcome to get it done quickly if you are to get back into one. So are you saying that it will go through the whole thing, the whole INARA thing regardless?

MR PRICE: You heard from Special Envoy Malley this morning that it is our intention to submit the deal to Congress for review if we are able to get there.

QUESTION: Okay, so that means that the administration believes that even if the deal that might – you – that you might get is simply a rejoining of the 20 – of the JCPOA as it existed in 2015, that means that you will still submit – the administration still believes that it should and will submit —

MR PRICE: It is our intention to submit it to Congress for review.

Yes.

QUESTION: A couple things on Russia. Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov will be – I believe he’s already at the State Department. He’s got a meeting with Deputy Secretary Donfried. Increasingly, Russian journalists back at home and abroad are under pressure. Most recently we had two reporters that got charged for, I believe, disseminating, quote/unquote, “fake news.” And separately but not unrelated, Duma recently passed another legislation going after English-speaking-language media, to ease up prosecutions against them without any court order. But – meeting with Muratov is one way to express your support, but can you be more specific how you’re going to support those Russian journalists and foreign media at home and abroad who are trying to be truth-tellers in this crucial time?

MR PRICE: Yes. So, importantly, one of the elements of that is to stand in solidarity with those Russian journalists, many of whom are inside Russia operating under what even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could have been described as incredibly difficult. Now, of course, President Putin’s efforts to manipulate even further the information environment to suppress the truth, to keep from his people the true motivations, the true costs, the true consequences of this war have made the operating environment for journalists in Russia even more difficult. And of course, the Duma has done its part: the sentencing, the potential for jail terms for anyone who would dare call this war anything other than the benign-sounding special military operation.

We have seen Russian media outlets have to shutter their operations. We have seen journalists forced to flee Russia. We have also seen – and you referenced a couple cases – journalists who have been thrown behind bars for their persistence in doing nothing but peacefully continuing to perform their indispensable function, a function that is indispensable inside Russia and a function that is indispensable for those of us living and viewing this from afar.

It is our goal to do everything we can responsibly to see to it that the information environment in Russia is not further constrained. That’s precisely why we have urged stakeholders around the world not to enact so-called internet blackouts on Russia, to keep information flowing to Russia, to keep the internet free and open and interoperable within Russia itself.

Now, of course, this is very challenging for any country to do given the fact that the Kremlin really does have a tight grip on the information flow, but we will continue to do what we can to support Russian journalists, to support Russian media organizations that are attempting to do their work, whether they are now located outside of Russia or to those who are remaining inside Russia.

QUESTION: Another Russia-related question, if I may?

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia?

MR PRICE: One more question?

QUESTION: Yeah. On cyber security, you expressed previously your concerns about Russia’s cyber activities. There are signals, most recently coming from Moscow – National Security Council Deputy Secretary (inaudible) sent out a message saying that they are planning to put together agreements between Russia and a number of countries such as Serbia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan. I’m just wondering what kind of reaction would that invite from the West if they move forward with that.

MR PRICE: Well, to put it mildly, the Russian Federation has not proved itself to be a responsible actor in cyberspace. So we would certainly caution countries against entering into such agreements.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, Axios reported that two advisors for President Biden, Brett McGurk and Hochstein, are actually on a secret mission or secret trip to Saudi Arabia for a possible increase in oil production for – to discuss the islands and for possible normalization. Are you aware of that or can you comment on this?

MR PRICE: I’ve seen the report. I don’t have any travel to speak to at this time. We have spoken at length, including at senior levels, about the critical importance of the strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, how strengthening those ties, putting those ties on stable footing, can work to the benefit of both countries. I think we’ve seen that across different realms in recent weeks, in recent months.

We’ve talked about Yemen here. Now that we have a truce, something that our Saudi partners were quite helpful in helping working with the UN special envoy, working with our special envoy, working with other stakeholders in the region to achieve, it has enabled humanitarian access to parts of the country that have been denied critical humanitarian supplies for far too long, and it has quelled the violence that has plagued Yemen for far too long dating back to 2014.

We have, of course, seen welcome steps with regards to the kingdom’s relationship with Lebanon, the kingdom’s relationship with its other Gulf neighbors, but the fact is that many of these steps also work to our benefit. Of course, there are 70,000 Americans who live in Saudi Arabia. They – these Americans, like our Saudi partners, are encountering legitimate security threats. So we’ll continue to work closely with our Saudi partners to counter the threats to both of our interests as we continue to support a relationship that works to the benefit of both of our countries.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: China is also said to be pursuing a new regional agreement with Pacific Island nations that would expand Beijing’s role in policing maritime cooperation and cyber security. They’re also planning to offer scholarships for more than 2,000 workers and young diplomats from the region. Do you see this as a reaction to President Biden’s trip to Japan and meeting with allies? And what concerns do you have about this expanded regional agreement, if any?

MR PRICE: I think it would be a stretch to call this a reaction to President Biden’s engagement. I think this may be a reflection – the PRC’s response to our sustained engagement with the region since we came into office. Of course, President Biden’s visit to Japan, to South Korea, was only the latest element of that, but we have had senior officials from the White House, senior officials from the State Department, travel to the region, including to the Pacific Islands region, to speak of our vision for an affirmative partnership with the countries of the region.

This is precisely what Secretary Blinken laid out when – from Indonesia. He spoke of our Indo-Pacific strategy, our strategy for the region that depicts the United States as a partner of choice, not a partner of compulsion, and since we have repeatedly and consistently spoken of what we can bring to the relationships with countries in the Pacific Islands.

When it comes to what we have seen of the PRC’s foreign minister’s intention to travel, we’re aware of media reports of his travel. We are also aware that China seeks to negotiate a range of arrangements during the foreign minister’s visit to the region. We are concerned that these reported agreements may be negotiated in a rushed, non-transparent process. At the same time, we respect the ability of countries of the region to make sovereign decisions in the best interests of their people.

It’s worth noting that the PRC has a pattern of offering shadowy, vague deals with little transparency or regional consultation in areas related to fishing, related to resource management, development assistance, and more recently, even security practices. And these recent security agreements have been conducted with little regional consultation, provoking public concern not only in the United States but across the Indo-Pacific region. And we don’t believe that importing security forces from the PRC and their methods will help any Pacific Island country; on the other hand, doing so could only seek to fuel regional and international tensions and increase concerns over Beijing’s expansion of internal – of its internal security apparatus to the Pacific.

So we have had recent engagements with our Pacific Island counterparts; this, of course, was a discussion in the context of the Quad at the leader level with President Biden and the newly sworn-in Australian prime minister and our other Quad partners. This, of course, was a topic of discussion when Secretary Blinken traveled to the Pacific Island region in February and spoke in very concrete terms regarding what the United States is able to offer in our affirmative partnerships.

Yes?

QUESTION: Ned, there is an Iraqi delegation in town. Did any official from this building meet with them?

MR PRICE: I do not know offhand. If there was a meeting, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Sorry, just back on the Pacific – on the islands. I mean, China is also an Indo-Pacific country, correct?

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: And so you – as long as it’s benign, you wouldn’t have any issue with them signing deals, right?

MR PRICE: Of course. These are sovereign decisions of individual countries.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay. So the importation of non – of security forces from countries other than China into the Pacific Island region wouldn’t cause an issue with you?

MR PRICE: The importation of – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Non-Chinese security forces. I don’t know, say Australians or Americans or non-Chinese.

MR PRICE: What we have seen – these are —

QUESTION: These are sovereign decisions for the Pacific Islands to make.

MR PRICE: These are sovereign decisions. Our concern is that when the PRC has grown increasingly involved in the region in these – with various countries, we’ve seen a range of behavior that can only be described as increasingly problematic: assertion of unlawful maritime claims, ongoing militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea, predatory economic activities including illegal unregulated fishing, and then the investments that are extractive rather than beneficial to the countries that are subject to them, that often undermine good governance, often fuel corruption, and often undermine protections for human rights.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: – one more time on that? The – I know you said that – the concerns that they’re not transparent. Is there diplomacy on the part of the United States with the South Pacific nations specifically on this asking them either to reject it or to look at it more carefully?

MR PRICE: We look at this not through the China lens, but through the lens of how we can partner with these countries. So our pitch to them is not the negative; it is very much the affirmative. It is what the United States can bring to the table, how we bring it to the table, the high standards that we bring in terms of our partnerships, in terms of our investments, and how, when we work together, when we work together cooperatively, we can benefit both of our peoples.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yes. Ned, I have two questions on Turkey and Greece. The first question is that there have been – is it true that the United States are mediating between Greece and Turkey to end the crisis caused by President Erdoğan? If you don’t have an answer, can you take that question?

MR PRICE: Mediating between —

QUESTION: Mediating between Athens and Ankara.

MR PRICE: We talked about this yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: We encourage our NATO Allies, including, of course, Greece and Turkey, to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve their differences diplomatically. We also encourage them to avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions.

QUESTION: But when you say you encourage, you talk to them? You mediate?

MR PRICE: We – these are – these have been – this has been a topic of discussions with our Greece and Turkish allies.

QUESTION: I have another question I asked you yesterday but you didn’t give me an answer. What are you going to do if Turkey attacks Greece? Because there are a lot of reports that Erdogan is planning to invade the Greek islands. The situation is very serious.

MR PRICE: That is a hypothetical that I’m just not going to entertain. Again, our message remains to both our allies – in this case, Turkey and Greece – that they should work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve any differences diplomatically.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is there a contingency at NATO, what happens if one Ally attacks another? Do all the other ones gang up and come to the —

MR PRICE: That would be a question best directed at NATO.

Yes.

QUESTION: But there are (inaudible), I mean, Greece and Turkey went at it, right?

MR PRICE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I had a question about something that you mentioned yesterday. You said you’re deeply concerned about the potential escalation of the military situation in Syria. Have you communicated that to your Turkish counterparts? And are there or will there be any diplomatic efforts to convince Turkey not to escalate the situation there?

MR PRICE: We have engaged with our Turkish allies on this question, in the first instance, to learn more about the proposal that President Erdogan first voiced within recent days. We’ve done so from our embassy, from the department here as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yemen?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: So the truce deadline is approaching. Can you tell us about – anything about the effort to extend the truce?

MR PRICE: We’ll have more to say as the time gets closer, but this has been a priority of ours, in the first instance not only to lay the groundwork for the humanitarian truce, groundwork that took – that was set in place over the course of many months of our Special Envoy Tim Lenderking working very closely with the UN’s special envoy – Hans Grundberg in this case – working closely with our Saudi partners, working closely with other Gulf partners, working closely with other stakeholders in the region. We have sought to consolidate and to reinforce the truce not only because it brings additional stability and security to the people of Yemen, but because it has very practical effects. It has allowed humanitarian aid to reach individuals in parts of Yemen that have not been able to receive adequate aid for far too long.

We have also seen concrete steps in terms of the first flights that have departed Yemen en route to Amman. We have seen encouraging signs that the parties are looking to consolidate and to perpetuate the current conditions and the steps that have given way to this.

QUESTION: Ned, on —

QUESTION: So you’re optimistic?

MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to be optimistic, I’m not going to be pessimistic, but we are going to do everything we can diplomatically to reinforce the humanitarian truce and the increased stability and security that we’ve seen in recent weeks.

QUESTION: On Yemen, are you aware of reports that – of the death of former USAID employee Abdul Hamid Al-Ajmi, who was one of the people who was taken hostage, prisoner by the Houthis?

MR PRICE: As you know, Matt, we’ve been unceasing in our diplomatic efforts to seek the release of our Yemeni staff in Sana’a. We’ve demanded that the Houthis release our detained current and former U.S. locally employed Yemeni staff in Sana’a. We’re committed to ensuring the safety of those who have served with us. When it comes to this case, we were deeply saddened by the news of the death of one of our retired employees. This individual passed away in Houthi detention with no contact with his family during the last six months of his life. We express our most sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, but we’re not in a position to provide further detail.

QUESTION: Well, okay, maybe not, but is it your understanding that the only reason that he was taken prisoner is because of his affiliation or former affiliation with the embassy, with the U.S. Government?

MR PRICE: We have seen a number of former LE staff, individuals who previously worked with and for our embassy in Sana’a, held in detention. I couldn’t speak to the motivations, but of course, the former affiliation is a commonality that many of these detainees share.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, Ned, the situation at all levels is deteriorating rapidly there. Is there any U.S. plan to intervene, to help, to pressure the officials to move forward with reforms there?

MR PRICE: Well, we spoke of this in the immediate aftermath of the May 15th parliamentary elections, but we were pleased to see that the elections took place on time in Lebanon and without major security incidents. The most difficult tasks now await. We encourage Lebanon’s political leaders to recommit themselves to the hard work that lies ahead to implement the needed reforms, including the reforms that are necessary to rescue the economy.

We also urge the swift formation of a government capable of and committed to undertaking the hard work required to restore the confidence of the Lebanese people and the international community. The economy, of course, is in quite dire straits. These reforms are necessary for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are required to bring the IMF agreement to fruition to help rescue Lebanon’s economy and put it back on the path towards sustainability and success.

QUESTION: On this topic too, Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf has met with other U.S. officials with the Lebanese foreign minister in Washington. Can you elaborate on that meeting? What did they discuss?

MR PRICE: I suspect our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs will have a readout for you for that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Back to Iran quickly. There is some reporting that the U.S. has seized a cargo of Iranian crude oil from a Russian-flagged tanker in Greece or in Greek waters. I wondered – I think that this ship had been seized last month, but I wonder if you could confirm the U.S. action to seize that.

And separately, the State Department announced today some new sanctions on an oil-smuggling, money-laundering network linked to the Qods Force. I wonder with these kind of – these kind of actions happening while you insist that you’re still trying to get back into the JCPOA, don’t they signal to Iran – or don’t they send sort of an opposite message to Iran in terms of trying to get back into the deal that you are taking these specific actions against the Iranians?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to the signal that Iran is receiving. The signal that we are sending is that we are not going to tolerate the illicit activities of the Qods Force, of other Iranian proxies, terrorist groups, that receive Iranian support. We have been clear all along that we absolutely seek a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA that would, in the first instance, put Iran’s nuclear program back into a box, to once again permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; but at the same time, we are going to use every appropriate authority that we have to take on the broader set of challenges that Iran poses. That includes its support for proxies. That includes its support for terrorist groups. That includes its other destabilizing activities in the region. That includes its ballistic missile program.

The fact is that every single challenge, including those I just listed and more, is made all the more difficult to address as long as Iran’s nuclear program is in a position to gallop forward without the strict limits that the JCPOA previously imposed.

So we are continuing down this dual path to attempt to put these strict limits back on Iran’s nuclear program just as we push back and hold Iran accountable for its other illicit activities, but also knowing that if and when we permanently and verifiably have Iran’s nuclear program once again contained and confined, we are going to be able to take on these other challenges together with our allies and partners – and in some cases, potentially diplomatically as well – much more effectively knowing that an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program would be the most significant threat that we can and do face.

QUESTION: And on the tanker?

MR PRICE: On the tanker, I don’t have anything to offer.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Iran and Russia, can you fill us in on the statement that you guys put out there this morning in terms of designating a network that involves Russian – high-level Russian officials and IRGC? Are there other countries involved? Is there an ongoing investigation behind this action?

MR PRICE: So the Department of the Treasury can provide you the full set of details on this. It essentially boils down to the fact that one of the designated individuals has raised funds for the Qods Force in coordination with senior levels of the Russian Government and intelligence apparatus. But I understand my colleagues at the Department of the Treasury can provide you fuller details.

QUESTION: Do you have the name?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Is the person a Kremlin —

MR PRICE: They can get you the full details.

QUESTION: Okay. And my last question —

QUESTION: No, hold on. Just back to the ACA just for one second? I don’t know if you – I don’t know if you know the answer to this, or maybe you could get it, or if it’s just a stupid question. But do you know, for the funding of the ACA and for the Observatory and any other efforts to bring accountability to war crimes, alleged war crimes that are being committed in Ukraine, is there any money in the 40 billion that Congress just passed and that the President signed over the weekend that could be used for this, or is it all for weapons?

MR PRICE: It is certainly not all for weapons. About, as I recall —

QUESTION: Is it all military assistance?

MR PRICE: It is certainly not all military assistance. There is a good chunk of humanitarian assistance. There’s a good chunk of economic assistance.

QUESTION: So from that – from the humanitarian or the other, the non-military component of it, will any of that money go to pay for these investigations?

MR PRICE: We’ve funded some of these organizations and programs prior to the recent passage of this supplemental spending bill, but if there’s anything in the additional 40 billion we’ll let you know.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

# # #

Department Press Briefing – May 24, 2022

2:13 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. I am at your disposal.

QUESTION: Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Taiwan.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. policy still ambiguous? Is it your – the President, of course, said there was no change today, but there was – in light of his remarks over the weekend, can you say what the U.S. policy is? Is there – will the U.S. militarily defend Taiwan in case of an invasion?

MR PRICE: As you heard from the President today, as you heard from the President the other day in Tokyo when President Biden said, and I quote, “Our policy towards Taiwan has not changed at all. We remain committed to supporting the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and ensuring there is no unilateral change to the status quo.” That is where we were then. That is where we are today, as you heard the President say again today.

What the President said is that our policy is not changed. He reiterated that our “one China” policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, of course, remains. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself. In short, there has been no change.

QUESTION: But the fact that he’s saying that there is a – the U.S. would defend Taiwan, I mean, do you think that the Taiwanese should feel more reassured than they were before about the possibility of a U.S. military defense?

MR PRICE: The Taiwanese should feel reassured that we will continue to comply with and to fully satisfy our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Acts – Taiwan Relations Act, that we will do so consistent with our “one China” policy and the other documents, including the three Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: Let me follow up on one more point there. You tweeted just a couple days prior to this that Beijing is misrepresenting the U.S. position on “one China,” on the “one China” principle. The President himself said that we agree with – on “one China.” Could you state what that means?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Is mean, is there any inconsistency there? Does the United States agree with the Chinese interpretation of it?

MR PRICE: Well, the Chinese – the PRC has frequently attempted to misrepresent our policy in their briefings and statements from senior PRC officials. Let me just give you one example of that. The English version of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs readout of the call between our National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Wang Jiechi[1] on May 18th incorrectly stated that, quote, “The U.S. pursues the ‘one China’ principle.” Beijing’s – and this is important – “one China” principle is not the same as our “one China” policy. In a May 12th press briefing, the PRC spokesperson stated that we had made a quote/unquote “commitment to uphold the ‘one China’ principle.” That is also not correct.

We are committed to upholding our “one China” policy, which, again, is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S. Joint China Communiques, and the Six Assurances. The PRC statements attempt to mischaracterize our position and our policy. Our longstanding – longstanding, bipartisan “one China” policy has not changed. These are policy issues of enormous sensitivity, and we are, I think, appropriately careful and precise with our language, and we urge the PRC to cease its mischaracterization of U.S. policy and statements from senior U.S. officials.

Yes.

QUESTION: Well, the problem with that is that – you’re quibbling with the word “principle” instead of “policy?”

MR PRICE: It is – it has a different meaning.

QUESTION: Well —

MR PRICE: We stand by our “one China” policy.

QUESTION: So what’s your understanding of the difference between “one China” principle and “one China” policy?

MR PRICE: We have a “one China” policy, as we said.

QUESTION: But what is the difference between that and “one China” principle?

MR PRICE: We have heard from the PRC that there are so-called commitments under the – under what they call the “one China” principle that are distinct from our “one China” policy. And again —

QUESTION: So it’s broader?

MR PRICE: We are having this conversation now because for us it is important to underscore that we comply with, we abide by, our “one China” policy. It is a policy that, as we have said, is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: Well, maybe you could just like change the name of “policy” to “principle” without changing what’s in it, and then you can all be happy.

MR PRICE: I’ll take that suggestion onboard. Yes.

QUESTION: Just on Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Ned, so I mean, I understand that you guys in the aftermath, President’s aide and he himself said the policy isn’t changed, but he also did say yes to a question which was asked whether United States would be willing to get involved militarily. I’m sure you guys have internal talks about this and he – since he did say yes, does that mean Washington would be willing to commit troops to battle in defense of Taiwan?

MR PRICE: The President was not announcing any change in our policy. The President actually —

QUESTION: But the question was like very, very clear, and he did say yes.

MR PRICE: Well, but —

QUESTION: And this is not the first time that he —

MR PRICE: But you are also – you are also omitting what he said when he started the question. I don’t want to embarrass you; I know you walked in a couple minutes late, but I did start by saying —

QUESTION: There was no 2-minute warning.

MR PRICE: I did start by saying that the President, when he was asked, very clearly stated, and I quote, “Our policy towards Taiwan has not – has not changed at all. We remain committed to supporting the peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and ensuring that there is no unilateral change to the status quo.” He went on to say we’ve made a commitment. We support the “one China” policy. We support all that we’ve done in the past to ensure that Taiwan has what it needs to defend itself. That is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m going to join the group of people who can’t see how the two things are compatible together. But just on this China-Russia exercise, I’m just wondering if this is the kind of action for United States that requires a response from you and allies, perhaps beyond rhetoric. And if that’s the case, what kind of response would that be?

MR PRICE: So to your question, Humeyra, the PRC and Russia did conduct a joint military patrol involving their strategic bombers on May 24th. The patrol, as we understand it, traversed the Sea of Japan and continued through the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea. This exercise was likely planned well in advance by both countries, and Beijing’s decision to cooperate with Moscow in this way amid Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s dangerous nuclear rhetoric demonstrates the quote/unquote “no limits” partnerships that they talked about in their joint communique is quite alive and well.

And the President’s – on the other hand, the President’s successful visit to the ROK and Japan, where he met with our treaty allies on a bilateral basis, where he also convened the Quad for the fourth time during this administration, coupled with the launch of discussions on IPEF, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – that demonstrates a stark contrast to what we’ve seen from Russia and China. It demonstrates our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. That was at the heart of the President’s visit to Japan, to the Republic of Korea, and you also heard from the President and senior officials while there more about our longstanding commitment to the defense of those allies, including Japan and the ROK. We’ve consistently made the point that attempts to intimidate U.S. allies and partners will only strengthen our collective resolve. Of course, we have discussed and worked very closely with Japan, with the ROK, on matters of defense and deterrence.

Barbara.

QUESTION: Staying on China, the BBC has a report out today on Xinjiang which is based on data from police computers in the region, and they – it lays out in meticulous detail the way police have been targeting any expression of Uyghur identity or culture and also evidence that the chain of command runs all the way up to Xi Jinping. So I wanted to ask, first of all, does the State Department have any reaction to the information in the report?

MR PRICE: So I did happen to see that report. We are appalled by the reports and the jarring images of the PRC’s internment camps in Xinjiang from 2018, those reports that are – and those images that are being shared online. Unfortunately, the PRC’s genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and Muslims of other ethnic and religious minority groups remains ongoing in Xinjiang, and this new reporting further adds to an already damning body of evidence of the PRC’s atrocities in Xinjiang, including evidence previously disclosed in earlier publicly [sic]­­ reporting, seen in satellite imagery, and gathered via witness testimony from survivors and escapees of the internment and forced labor camps.

Despite increasing public awareness and strong calls for accountability, the PRC Government continues to deny any wrongdoing. We are deeply concerned by the PRC’s failure to acknowledge and to stop these atrocities and to transparently address the chorus of concerns raised by the international community. And we’ll continue to work with our partners and our allies to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities. We have and we continue to call on the PRC to immediately release all those arbitrarily detained people; to abolish the internment camps; to end mass detention, torture, forced sterilization, and the use of forced labor.

QUESTION: And does the State Department assess that the chain of command on Uyghur repression runs directly up to the president?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to offer a tactical assessment of that, but I will just say in a system like the PRC’s, it would be very difficult to imagine that a systemic effort to suppress, to detain, to conduct a campaign of genocide and crimes against humanity, would not have the blessing, would not have the approval, of the highest levels of the PRC Government.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: This, of course, happens as the UN high commissioner for human rights is in China. Do you think this adds any complications to her visit? Do you think that she should be looking specifically at this? Are you at all optimistic that she will get more answers?

MR PRICE: We discussed this on Friday, and I then voiced our deep concerns about the upcoming visit of the High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to the People’s Republic of China. Based on our understanding of the planned restrictions that she will be subjected to during the visit, we have no expectation that the PRC will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang. We think it was a mistake to agree to a visit under these circumstances where the high commissioner will not be granted the type of unhindered access – free and full access – that would be required to do a complete assessment, and to come back with a full picture of the atrocities, the crimes against humanity, and the genocide ongoing in Xinjiang.

QUESTION: Sorry, did I just – you went – in your response to Barbara’s second question about whether the chain of command went all the way up to the president of China, in your response, are you suggesting that it’s hard for the U.S. to believe that President Xi, or his inner circle, his top aides, didn’t – did not specifically order war crimes – well, crimes against humanity —

MR PRICE: I don’t believe I said “war crimes.”

QUESTION: Well, you said “crimes against humanity.”

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: Crimes against humanity. Are you saying that you —

MR PRICE: I believe the question was: Are they aware of it?

QUESTION: Yeah, but you said it would be difficult —

QUESTION: No, I said that the chain of command runs up to the president.

MR PRICE: Right. So —

QUESTION: So is it the – so is it the administration’s position that President Xi, or his inner circle, have, like, specifically directed local authorities on the ground to commit crimes against humanity?

MR PRICE: I believe what I said is that it would be hard for us to imagine that the type of systemic atrocities, crimes against humanity, and ongoing campaign of genocide would not – that the senior-most levels of the PRC Government would be unaware of it.

QUESTION: No, no, not unaware, but that they ordered it.

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to speak to specific potential crimes against humanity, specific acts, but what we’re seeing is not a one-off occurrence. What we’re seeing is a systemic campaign of repression, of crimes against humanity, of genocide.

Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you made any statement regarding the Turkish plan to control more territories in north Syria or if you have any comment on that.

MR PRICE: Yes, I do. So we are deeply concerned about reports and discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria, and in particular its impact on the civilian population there. We condemn any escalation. We support maintenance of the current ceasefire lines. We believe it’s crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect the ceasefire zones, to – that serve to enhance stability in Syria, and to work towards a political solution to this conflict. We expect Turkey to live up to the October 2019 joint statement, including to halt offensive operations in northeast Syria, and we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on Turkey’s southern border. But any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and put at risk U.S. forces in the coalition’s campaign against ISIS.

Yes.

QUESTION: A couple questions on Russia-Ukraine. Today marks three months of the war. Let me start with the Secretary’s call with Ukrainian foreign minister. One of the topics was about unblocking food export. The question is: What are you going to do about it? Will there be U.S. warships involved to ease up the situation, or —

MR PRICE: Sorry, I —

QUESTION: A U.S. warship. Are you considering sending a U.S. warship to the Black Sea to help Ukraine on this?

MR PRICE: So we are deeply concerned with the attendant consequences and implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine. And one of the most concerning trend lines has been the rise in food prices, the rise in commodity prices that Russia’s war has precipitated. This is, of course, a result of the fact that much of Ukraine has been subjected to Russian aggression, to Russian violence. There has been death and destruction wrought by Russian forces. But also because Russia’s forces have seemingly targeted silos; they have targeted ships containing foodstuffs. They have, of course, made impossible the task of completing the cycle of planting and harvesting for the country of Ukraine, a country that is a major supplier of both wheat and fertilizer to the region and well beyond.

And so this is precisely why we have sought to do several things. First and foremost, the most effective means by which to put an end to the spike in food prices is, of course, the – it would, of course, be – to be to put an end to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. That’s what we have sought to support, including by strengthening Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table as we hold Moscow to account with the sanctions and other measures, including the export controls that we have placed.

We have also – and you saw this last week, when Secretary Blinken was in New York City – we have focused on the task of shining a spotlight on this, but also engaging in concerted diplomacy. And the ministerial last week brought together dozens of countries, including countries that are in need of additional food supplies, that are suffering from President Putin’s war and the attendant rise in food and commodity prices, and those countries who are in a position to potentially do something about it, whether that is to donate funds, whether that is to make in-kind donations, in-kind contributions to those countries who are in need of additional food.

Of course, the UN secretary-general has been deeply engaged in this as well. He has been working very closely with our Ukrainian partners, with our Turkish allies, and others to determine if there are ways to help facilitate the export of Ukrainian food supplies. That is something that we stand ready to assist, knowing that it is in the – not only our national interest, but of course in the interest of those countries that have been deeply affected by the rise in food prices.

QUESTION: One more question on Ukraine. There are rumors about the U.S. considering sending special operations forces to Kyiv to protect the embassy. Is that on the table?

MR PRICE: We are – as we always are, we’re in close discussions with our colleagues at the Department of Defense about security requirements for our resumed operations at our embassy in Kyiv. We haven’t made any decisions about the potential return of U.S. military members to Ukraine for that purpose, and that purpose being an effort to guard our embassy compound. We have said all along that U.S. forces are not engaged with conflict with Russia, and we have worked to put in place mechanisms to avoid the potential for escalation. But as you know, we don’t make a habit of commenting on our security mechanisms or requirements, and so we’ll leave that there.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Senate passed 40 billion Ukraine aid bill last week and the State Department provided additional 100 million. In this situation, we’re just witnessing some suggestions that Ukraine must make some concessions to Russia to end this war, and one of the statements was in Davos, Switzerland by the former secretary of state. I wonder if you could give me your commentary on that, please?

MR PRICE: Our commentary on that is that it’s not for the United States to decide how and when this war should end. It is for the Ukrainian Government, representation of the Ukrainian people, to determine how and when this war should end. It is our task to support our Ukrainian partners, to see to it – as I’ve said before – that their hand at the negotiating table is as strong as it could possibly be. And so that’s why, to your question about the $40.1 billion in additional assistance that’s now been signed into law, we are in a position to provide more security assistance, we are in a position to provided more economic assistance, we are in a position to provide more humanitarian assistance, just as we will continue to impose increasing costs on Russia, should it not end its war against the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government.

QUESTION: And quickly, the second question, there will be NATO summit in Madrid next month. We understand in today’s (inaudible) agenda is Sweden, Finland membership. However, there are some countries who are trying to get membership action plan, I mean, Ukraine and Georgia. What is administration’s position on further expanding NATO?

MR PRICE: Our position is that NATO’s door should and must remain open. It should and must remain open for all aspirant countries. Right now, we have two applicant countries whose accession is pending before the Alliance. These are countries that have worked closely with NATO over the course of decades. We have worked closely together militarily. We – these are developed democracies. They are fully integrated in terms of, with NATO militarily. They’re close partners of the United States; they’re close partners of many members of the Alliance. That, in large part, is what undergirds our assessment that their accession process will be swift. It is something that we are confident will continue to have support from the Alliance and its membership.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: As Russia appears to be making some gains in Ukraine, Ukraine has ramped up calls for multiple launch rocket systems, and they’ve even said that it’s a potential that they could clear sea routes for trade in that case, and other allies have been ramping up the kind of supplies they’re giving to Ukraine. What’s the administration’s temperature on that?

MR PRICE: Well, in terms of what we’ve been doing, no country has provided more security assistance to Ukraine than the United States – $3.8 billion since the start of this invasion alone, since February 24th; more than approximately $4.5 billion since the start of this administration. What we have done is our – is to provide our Ukrainian partners with weapons and systems that are appropriate with the contours of the battle in which they find themselves. The systems that we provided early on in this conflict, the types of systems that they would need to defend urban centers like Kyiv, of course, are going to be different systems than we have provided more recently, in more recent weeks, as the battle has shifted to the east and to the south, as the Russians have narrowed – been forced to narrow their war aims given the effective resistance and the effective defense that our Ukrainian partners have managed to muster with the enabling support of the United States and the security assistance that both we and dozens of countries around the world across four continents have provided.

So these are discussions that we constantly have with our Ukrainian partners, as has been alluded to already. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Kuleba earlier today. Oftentimes in those conversations, Foreign Minister Kuleba does relay needs and the assessment of needs from Ukraine to the United States. In response to those calls, the Secretary, in turn, often does get on the phone, get in contact with countries that may have systems or capabilities or models of systems that the United States doesn’t have in our inventory. So this is a constant dialogue, a constant conversation to ensure that our Ukrainian partners have precisely what they need when they need it and where they need it.

Yes.

QUESTION: So yesterday, the Ukrainian prosecutor general mentioned that they are investigating more than 13,000 war crimes now. She also said that because Ukraine is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that certain crimes in Ukraine cannot be prosecuted by the ICC. And at the same time, the chance of establishing an international criminal tribunal similar to the ones for Yugoslavia and Rwanda seems low since those were established by UN Security Council resolutions. China and Russia, of course, would almost certainly veto such a resolution for Ukraine.

Is the U.S. still considering supporting an international criminal tribunal for Ukraine? And what mechanisms exist for establishing a viable tribunal without the support of the UN Security Council?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re supporting all appropriate mechanisms, and right now, we are providing extensive support to the Ukrainian prosecutor general and to her team, as we’ve discussed. The prosecutor general and her team have appropriate jurisdiction, they have the capabilities, they have the wherewithal that, with our support, can be effective at holding to account those who are responsible for war crimes. We’ve already seen one Russian soldier not only go on trial but plead guilty for the crime that he has committed.

Now, of course, the war crimes have been committed seemingly at scale, and so this will be a large-scale effort. It will have deep requirements. We are prepared to continue our support for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, providing expertise, providing funding, providing information – part of that effort to collect, to analyze, to document, and to share the evidence of war crimes with the Ukrainian prosecutor general and her team.

Now, of course, this is not the only venue that we’ve talked about. The Moscow Mechanism emanating from the OSCE is another important tool. We worked with the Human Rights Council at the UN to help establish a commission of inquiry on potential war crimes in Ukraine. There are other mechanisms, including the ICC, and we did welcome the announcement by the prosecutor general of the effort to investigate potential war crimes in Ukraine that we are prepared to support as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, the President of Turkey Erdoğan said yesterday that Greek prime minister no longer existed for him after he visited the United States and met with President Biden. Also, Erdoğan is threatening Greece with war. Please, I wondered if you have any comment on this very serious escalation. And what are you going to do if Turkey attacks Greece? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, we continue to encourage our NATO Allies, of course, including Greece and Turkey, to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve differences diplomatically. We urge our allies to avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions. As you know, the Greek prime minister was in Washington last week. The administration had a very good, important set of meetings with our Greek counterparts. We know that Greece is an indispensable partner and a key NATO Ally to the United States. Similarly, Turkey is an important partner of the United States, an important NATO Ally. We want to see our partners work together to maintain peace and security in the region.

Yes.

QUESTION: On North Korea, South Korean officials today said North Korea has finished preparations for a seventh nuclear test. Does the United States share that assessment?

MR PRICE: We share the concern that North Korea may be on the verge of another provocation. This is a concern that we have spoken of for some time now. We have said for the past couple weeks – we have spoken of our expectation that the DPRK may undertake an additional provocation either during the course of the President’s visit to the region, which has now essentially concluded, or in the days that followed. Our concern for another potential provocation, be it an ICBM launch, be it a potential seventh nuclear weapons test, our concern has not abated in any way.

Yes.

QUESTION: What would a U.S. response look like or a coordinated response look like? It’s unlikely there’s going to be any additional UN Security Council sanctions given current relations with China and Russia.

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, but we believe it is important for the international community to weigh in on the side of accountability for these provocations, to impose costs on the DPRK for its continued provocations. This is something that we are discussing with our allies and partners in New York. It is something that the President had an opportunity to discuss in Japan and the ROK as well. He made clear that our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies Japan and South Korea is ironclad. We will continue to work closely with them to ensure that we are postured appropriately in terms of our defense and deterrence, and to continue to impose appropriate costs on the DPRK should its provocations continue, as we are concerned they might.

Said.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Sorry about missing the beginning, but —

MR PRICE: Oh, no problem.

QUESTION: — I – we did not hear the call. Can I switch to the Palestinians —

QUESTION: It wasn’t that you didn’t hear it.

QUESTION: There wasn’t one.

QUESTION: There wasn’t one.

QUESTION: There wasn’t one, okay. All right. Apologies. I don’t know if you talked about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in the beginning, Ned. Maybe not. But it’s been two weeks, and I wonder if you saw the review today by AP that basically puts it squarely and – that put the blame squarely almost on the Israelis, so – and Israel. I mean, a lot has happened in the last couple weeks. Israel said that it will not pursue a criminal investigation, and – now, you demanded an investigation. So where do you stand? Tell us where – how to navigate this issue.

MR PRICE: Said, it’s my understanding that your depiction is not quite right. And in fact, the army chief prosecutor in a speech on Monday noted that the decision of a pending criminal prosecution would have to wait until the initial probe is completed. That initial probe has not yet been completed, so I’m not aware that there has been any final determination about the suitability of a criminal investigation or not.

Regardless, we have publicly condemned the killing of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. We continue to do so. Not only was she a close partner of ours; she was an inspiration to millions around the world. She was a dear friend to many in the U.S. Government. Her death is a great loss. It is a great tragedy for those who knew her, including my colleagues, my counterparts, but also for individuals around the world who counted on her coverage, who counted on her ability to report from the region.

We have reiterated to both Israel and to Palestinian officials our call for an investigation that is immediate, is thorough, transparent, and impartial into her killing. We do expect full accountability for those responsible for her killing. And importantly, we do expect both Israelis and Palestinians to keep us apprised of developments in their investigation and to share with us their findings. We deserve – but much more importantly, Ms. Abu Akleh’s family deserves – to understand the circumstances surrounding her death.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, that’s all fine, but the Palestinians are saying we don’t trust the Israelis investigating themselves, almost – the Israelis are saying they want to conduct their own investigation. They insist on retrieving the bullet, which the Palestinians have, and so on. You are at a stalemate. Now the Palestinians are saying they are willing to share whatever information they have with anyone, any international body, presumably including the Americans. Would you sort of endeavor to do something like this, to work with the Palestinians on this issue on your own without the Israelis?

MR PRICE: We have urged our Palestinian and Israeli counterparts to cooperate as appropriate. Our interest is that there is a thorough, complete, immediate, transparent investigation that entails accountability. We want to see that carried out.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve used the word “immediate” twice now in two different responses, so what’s your definition of “immediate” —

MR PRICE: Well, an investigation is ongoing, and so these investigations we know we can’t prejudge.

QUESTION: Okay. So right now you’re okay with the status of whatever the investigation is? Obviously, it’s still in progress, but the —

MR PRICE: The investigation —

QUESTION: But it has not yet gone beyond “immediate” —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: — where you would complain that it’s not taking – it’s taking too long?

MR PRICE: Again, we can’t prejudge the conclusion of the investigations, nor can we unduly rush any investigation. Our desire is to see the investigations be completed in a comprehensive and transparent way, in a way that culminates in accountability.

QUESTION: It’s my understanding that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have actually requested U.S. assistance in this – or whatever investigation or plural investigations are going on. Is that correct?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any request for assistance.

QUESTION: But the Israelis have said that the U.S. could participate as an “observer,” quote/unquote as an “observer.” Has the U.S. taken them up on this offer?

MR PRICE: I am not aware that we have. But as you said, I am not aware of any request for assistance.

QUESTION: All right. Then I just want to ask you about another investigation. It’s one that I’ve raised sporadically over the course of the last year or so. And that is the discovery of the swastika in the elevator. It’s been 300 days now since the Secretary promised an investigation into this incident.

MR PRICE: And it’s been almost 300 days since we’ve had an investigation. This has been an incident that has been investigated thoroughly by our Bureau of Diplomatic Security. We don’t have anything to share in terms of the individual or individuals who may be responsible for this.

But the investigation was focused on attempting to determine if we could identify a culprit, a person responsible or persons responsible, but also steps we could take to see to it that any such incidents would either be deterred or, in the event that something as horrific as this were to happen again, we would be able to identify the individual or individuals responsible in due course.

QUESTION: So was an individual or individuals identified as being responsible for this?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything further to share on —

QUESTION: Is the investigation over?

MR PRICE: The investigation is not over in the sense that if we learn information that is germane to, again, the identity of the individual or individuals behind this, of course, we will take appropriate action.

QUESTION: So, okay, but it’s been 300 days, literally 301 days now. I mean, we’re coming up on a full year next month – or July. Are you telling me there has been no determination of who did this at all?

MR PRICE: Matt, there is no one who would like to see —

QUESTION: I’m not asking – I’m sure you – everyone wants to know – everyone wants to get to the bottom of it. But the investigation that’s been now going on for 300 days has not yet uncovered a culprit or culprits; is that correct? Is that correct?

MR PRICE: And there is no one who would like to see the perpetrator of this horrific act, this horrific graffiti, identified as much as Secretary Blinken and other members of the State Department leadership team. That is why he immediately ordered an investigation, why this investigation was launched, but importantly, why this investigation has also focused on steps we could potentially take to see to it that an incident like this does not happen again.

QUESTION: Well, but it seems to me that when you undertake an investigation like the investigation you were just talking about with Said, you want accountability for it, right? And so what you’re saying is that no one has been – no one – no one person or people have been identified as doing this, so there has been no accountability for it.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: Regardless of what you might – what steps you might take to prevent something like this from happening in the future, there hasn’t been any accountability for what did happen. Is that correct?

MR PRICE: I will make the point that in order to have accountability, you have to have credible facts pointing at a specific perpetrator. In this case —

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So there isn’t —

MR PRICE: In this case, I will say, as I have before, that this is a large building with many people coming through this building – some people employees, some are guests. We are focused on trying to determine if we can identify the perpetrator of this, and in some ways just as importantly, to see to it that we put measures in place so that something like this cannot happen again.

QUESTION: If I may, I have a couple more issues —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: — to raise, if I may. Now, the Palestinians are saying they have turned whatever investigation they have, the results or the story they have, narrative they have, to the ICC. Would that be agreeable to you?

MR PRICE: As we said, we want to see a thorough investigation.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MR PRICE: We do not believe the ICC is an appropriate venue.

QUESTION: Okay. Now there are also a lot of other things that have happened in the last two weeks or in the last 10 days, including —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, can I just interrupt there? Why is the ICC an appropriate venue for the Ukraine —

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: — the Ukraine, but not for – for the – the situation in Ukraine, but not an appropriate situation here?

MR PRICE: We believe —

QUESTION: Because it’s an individual and not a collective —

MR PRICE: We believe that the ICC should maintain its focus on its core mission, and that core mission is to serve as a court of last resort —

QUESTION: For a war crime, okay. All right.

MR PRICE: — in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes.

QUESTION: So there are orders for home demolition, there are expansion of settlement, there are killing of other Palestinians, something like maybe four or five people, including maybe two or three teenagers, and so on. I don’t want to go on and on lamenting, but I mean, tell us – I mean, and tell us where you stand. There is an article in the – in Foreign Affairs by a former U.S. official and so on, on the settlement and say – and it said that you – nobody listens to you in Israel on the expansion of settlements when you express your dissatisfaction or your disagreement, and so on.

So when will the United States take a stand – I mean a real stand – and say, “If you do this, we are going to do this?” A tit for tat. Are we likely to ever see something like this?

MR PRICE: Said, we have spoken publicly, we also have conveyed very strong messages in private, when it comes to settlement activity. And you know better than most that we have spoken out very forcefully, including in recent days, making clear our deep concern about steps that exacerbate tensions, that have the potential to move us further away towards a two-state solution. We remain committed, as successive American administrations have, to that two-state solution. We believe it’s important in its own right, but also because, importantly, it would convey what is really at the heart of our policy. That is to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians alike have equal measures of security, of peace, of prosperity, of dignity. That is not something we can see until and unless there is a two-state solution to this conflict.

QUESTION: Yet we have not seen the Israelis roll back any expansion of settlements as a result of your statements, have we?

MR PRICE: Shaun.

QUESTION: If you’ll allow me, switch to Latin America?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: One more on the peace process?

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Wait, can I just do one more on Shireen before we —

MR PRICE: Sure, we’ll take these two and then we’ll go to Latin America. Kylie.

QUESTION: Sure. Just – so CNN came out with a new investigation just today that has evidence that Shireen was killed in a targeted attack by Israeli forces. I’m just wondering if you have a response to it and what your response is to the fact that a news outlet has been able to definitively come up with what happened here more quickly than the Israelis themselves.

MR PRICE: So on the second part of your question, Kylie, at least the coverage I have read has not portrayed this as absolutely definitive. And of course, any investigation that is conducted from afar I think would have a hard time claiming that it would be absolutely definitive. We want to see an investigation that is thorough, that is comprehensive, that ends in accountability. I don’t have any comment on the allegation you just made, but it is precisely why we want to see these investigations conducted. If that is in fact the case, we would expect to see those responsible held accountable.

QUESTION: And do you view investigations like this by news outlets as something that the Israelis should take into account when they are conducting their own investigation?

MR PRICE: Just as when we conduct our reviews, when we monitor any given situation, we take into account all the various inputs. It is information that is available to us as the U.S. Government, but also, importantly, inputs, including from open-source press reporting. Those can be quite valuable, quite insightful, quite useful. So it would be – it is our belief that they should be incorporated. That is the way we tend to operate in terms of our own reviews.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: On the peace process, Ned, is the U.S. talking to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel and bringing Saudi Arabia to Abraham Accords? And will there be a regional summit in the region next month when the President visits the region?

MR PRICE: The White House has not announced any POTUS travel for next month. I think as you probably noticed in a recent readout between President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett, President Biden did offer that he would seek to travel to Israel in the coming months. But we haven’t announced any travel formally, of course.

QUESTION: Well, it was a bit more than that. He accepted an invitation. He didn’t offer to travel.

MR PRICE: He – he —

QUESTION: The prime minister invited him, and he said sure, I’ll come.

MR PRICE: He indicated that he looked forward to traveling to the region in the coming months.

To your – to the broader question of normalization agreements and the Abraham Accords, we’ve made the point repeatedly that we welcome, we support the Abraham Accords. We welcome the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority countries. We don’t have anything to announce regarding additional countries joining the accords or normalization agreements, but this has been a topic of discussion with countries around the world. And we’ll continue to engage with Israel and with countries in the region – and in some cases, beyond – as we seek to expand these normalization agreements and look for additional opportunities to enhance cooperation between Israel and its neighbors – and in some cases, countries that are farther afield.

At the same time, we do not believe that normalization agreements and the Abraham Accords are a substitute for progress when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peace. This was a point that you heard from Secretary Blinken. You also heard from several of the ministers that took part in the Negev Summit in the Negev desert a couple of months ago in Israel. So it will be important for us to continue to seek to make progress towards a two-state solution, just as it is important for us to see if we can continue to build bridges between Israel and its neighbors and other Arab and Muslim-majority countries.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can I go to Latin America?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Colombia has an election coming up shortly. Gustavo Petro, who is considered the frontrunner by many polls, has expressed concern about the conduct of the election, about the counting process, and also about his physical security, saying that from the right wing there may be threats. Do you share – you being the United States – does the United States share any concern about the elections? Are you confident that the elections will be held on time and peacefully?

MR PRICE: We are confident in Colombia’s democratic institutions. Ultimately, we’re not going to weigh in, of course, on the election beyond that, other than to note this will be a decision for the Colombian people.

QUESTION: Could I actually just jump completely to a different region, to Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: There was – there has been a round-up, according to various reporting, in Amhara of particularly people in the media but also of others. Just last weekend, the Secretary was discussing – saying that there had been some progress in Ethiopia. How concerned are you about this and what it means for the –

MR PRICE: Well, there has been progress. There’s been important progress in terms of the humanitarian truce that has allowed additional provision of humanitarian aid into the Afar Region. Some – it is still not at a point where the humanitarian aid that is flowing in is able to meet the requirement, but we have seen an influx and we hope to build on that by sustaining the ceasefire and continuing to work with our partners on the ground to see to it that that humanitarian aid continues to flow into the region.

You are correct, though, at the same time we are concerned, deeply concerned about the narrowing space for freedom of expression and independent media in Ethiopia, including a troubling increase in reports of harassment, detention, arrests of journalists, media professionals, and activists. We strongly urge the Government of Ethiopia and regional authorities to uphold the rule of law and provide all applicable procedural safeguards for any individual arrested. We also urge the protection of press freedom online and offline, and for the safety of all persons advocating for their rights.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just one thing on Quad and India. So there was no mention of Russia or Russian, both of – neither of those words in the joint Quad statement. Do you know why it was left out? Was that a concession to India?

MR PRICE: Obviously, we don’t speak to the diplomacy that goes into joint statements, but we have heard from countries around the world, including from the Quad, the importance of key concepts like territorial integrity, sovereignty, the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific in which the rules of the road are adhered to and respected. Those rules of the road that apply in the Indo-Pacific of course apply equally in other regions as well, including in Europe. And so you’ve heard our fellow Quad counterparts speak to the importance of upholding and respecting those principles around the world.

QUESTION: Does it bother you guys that whenever India is in these groupings, that you guys seem to fail to put out a strong statement when it comes to Russia? And in other venues, other groupings, you guys do make an effort to call out Russia as the invader. Do you have any worries that that might weaken Quad?

MR PRICE: We talked about this quite a bit in the context of the 2+2 that we had with our Indian counterparts a number of weeks ago now here at the department with Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken and their Indian counterparts. We made the point then that India has a relationship with Russia that has developed over the course of decades. What we have seen Russia perpetrate in Ukraine is something that has now transpired over the course of three months. And of course, our focus and our concern for potential Russian aggression against Ukraine only extends to the past six or so months.

So we have never thought it realistic or possible to attempt to refashion or recontour a historic relationship that India has had with Russia that has developed over the course of decades in days, weeks, or even months. But the United States is now in a position owing to a bipartisan legacy that goes back to the administration of George W. Bush to be a partner for India that we were not able to be when Russia’s – excuse me, when India’s relationship with Russia first developed during the Cold War. The United States is now a partner of choice for India when it comes to – when it comes to economics, when it comes to trade, and yes, when it comes to security.

We were not able to be that partner of choice before, but we have been gratified by our ability to deepen those links between our economies, between our peoples, between our militaries, and we are confident that those ties will strengthen going forward as well.

QUESTION: Anything on Turkey?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Very quickly. Apparently, Turkey announced the plans or it’s been reported that Turkey plans to establish a security zone in Syria, and that –

MR PRICE: We’ve talked about that.

QUESTION: Oh, you did?

MR PRICE: We did. Let me – someone I haven’t called on. Yes.

QUESTION: Lebanon?

MR PRICE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Have any State Department officials met with Lebanon’s security chief Abbas Ibrahim during his visit this week? And if so, was there a discussion of Americans missing in Syria?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any department engagement with him, but we will let you know if there has been a meeting.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Secretary Blinken met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in New York. And after that meeting, Bilawal Bhutto talked about Pakistan economy, which is in crisis right now.

Sir, does U.S. plan to do something to stabilize it? I mean, is U.S. helping Pakistan in forthcoming talks with IMF that might help strengthen the Pakistani economy?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, repeat that once more?

QUESTION: So is U.S. helping Pakistan in the forthcoming talks with IMF?

MR PRICE: There was a discussion of Pakistan’s economic standing. Again, I wouldn’t want to go into the details of that. But of course, our relationship with Pakistan is multifaceted. We have important ties across a number of arenas, including our economic ties. We want to see Pakistan on stable and advantageous economic footing, and we’ll continue to work with our Pakistani partners to help achieve that.

QUESTION: Sir, new ambassador to Pakistan, Donald Blome, reach Islamabad, and he talk about building strong relationship with Pakistan. Sir, is he open to meet any political party, like Imran Khan’s PTI, who is spreading anti-American sentiments in Pakistan?

MR PRICE: Our ambassadors around the world not only engage with their government counterparts, but tend to meet with and listen to a range of stakeholders, including stakeholders from the opposition, including stakeholders from the business community and stakeholders from civil society. So I wouldn’t want to speak to any potential meetings, but we do make it a point around the world to meet with and hear from a diversity of voices and perspectives.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. On Iran. What’s behind the profound silence in Washington regarding the talks with Iran and the nuclear agreement? And if you have any comment on the assassination of the IRGC officer in Tehran last weekend?

MR PRICE: I don’t know that I would characterize it as a profound silence, because I am frequently asked —

QUESTION: Not profound, just silent. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: I am frequently asked most days I’m up here for —

QUESTION: But there’s no statement; there’s no update on the talks.

MR PRICE: Well, as soon as we have something to update, if and when we have an update that we’re able to share, we will. The update that I relayed last week is precisely where we are now. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is profoundly in our national security interest. That is why we remain open to testing the proposition that we can potentially get back to the JCPOA.

That remains our position. We know it remains the position of our European allies, our other partners, that the JCPOA provides the most appropriate solution to what has become a very serious nonproliferation challenge. As Iran has been unshackled from its nuclear commitments, as it has – as its nuclear program has galloped forward in ways that are deeply concerning to us, it is not only the United States, it’s our European allies, it’s our other partners that continue to wish to see those nuclear constraints reimposed on Iran so that it is, once again, permanently and verifiably prohibited from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is the potential return to compliance. It is something we continue to see if it might be possible.

Yes.

QUESTION: And on the assassination of the IRGC officer in Tehran?

MR PRICE: We’ve seen the reports. The only thing I’ll say is that we had no involvement in the killing, of course.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Sweden and Finland are sending their delegations to Turkey tomorrow. Now that Turkey has published its demands, do you think we have better understanding of both sides’ differences? And what do you expect from tomorrow’s talks? And I have second question on Armenia.

MR PRICE: Well, as you said, our Swedish and Finnish partners are going to – and have been – discussing this with our Turkish allies. I am hesitant to weigh in here, precisely because this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey. This is currently an issue between Turkey and our Swedish and Finnish partners. I will only add that in following our engagements with our Swedish and Finnish partners and engagements with our Turkish allies as well, we do remain confident that we’ll be able to maintain and preserve the strong consensus within the NATO Alliance for a swift accession of Sweden and Finland.

QUESTION: Thank you. A second question —

QUESTION: Could I go back to your last answer on the IRGC?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: You said – I think you said we had no involvement in this killing, comma, of course. Where does this “of course” come from? It’s not like the United States hasn’t assassinated IRGC officials in the past. I recall the previous administration actually boasted about how they took out an IRGC – the IRGC commander. So why is this “of course”? And why are you denying it? No one even asked you if you were responsible for it.

MR PRICE: Well, we were asked for a comment, so I provided a comment.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But you don’t – so that’s your only comment, is that we had nothing to do with it?

MR PRICE: That’s our only comment, correct.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Armenia, heard that there was a phone call between the Secretary and Armenian prime minister today. I haven’t seen the State Department’s readout yet. But did the Secretary have a chance to discuss last weekend’s dialogue and what is his take out of the results?

MR PRICE: So I expect we will have a readout to offer later today, but the Secretary did have an opportunity to speak with the Armenian prime minister. They discussed the positive momentum that we’ve seen in recent days, in recent weeks in the South Caucasus. The Secretary spoke of the fact that we stand ready to assist with border delimitation and demarcation efforts. He encouraged continued progress to develop regional transportation and communication links. The Secretary went on to highlight the importance of continued bilateral dialogue to solve the challenges in this region. He reaffirmed our support for, as you alluded to, the EU-brokered conversations between President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan. He also reaffirmed, as you’ve heard from me and from others, our readiness to engage through – bilaterally and through our role as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group to help Armenia and Azerbaijan find a long-term and comprehensive peace.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, the current Government of Pakistan has started arresting and administering cases against some journalists who are critical – a few of my colleagues, Sabir Shakir, Arshad Sharif, who are also been booked. Sir, Secretary Blinken spoke about the freedom of speech in Pakistan like a few weeks ago in Foreign Press Center. So would you like to share your concerns on that?

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken did share our perspective of freedom of the press, media freedom around the world. He was specifically asked about media freedom in Pakistan. He made the point that journalists, those in the media industry, should never have their voices suppressed, they should never be subject to suppression or repression solely because of the important work they are doing to shine a light on events around the world. So it’s important to us that countries around the world respect the right of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, whether that is in Pakistan, whether that is in any other country.

QUESTION: Sir, after the meeting of President Biden with Indian Prime Minister Modi, Indian media claimed that U.S. President Joe Biden and PM Modi reached substantive outcomes regarding situation in Ukraine. Can you please tell me something about – more about that? What kind of substantive outcomes about Ukraine?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the White House for that question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Wait, Ned. Since Friday —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: This has to do with American citizens detained in Russia.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: I just want to know if there’s any – if there are any updates since Friday’s update on consular access or anything else with Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan.

MR PRICE: There is nothing that we’re in a position to share since Friday. We did note that a consular official from our embassy in Moscow was able to visit with Brittney Griner on the margins of her court hearing in Moscow that day. We have made the point that one-off consular visits are in our view not sufficient, but it’s not only in our view. It is in the requirements that are put forward by the Vienna Convention and other bilateral agreements that stipulate that we should have regular, sustained access to Americans who are held in detention around the world, including to those in pretrial detention.

QUESTION: So —

QUESTION: Okay, and did —

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Austin Tice, anything new. Are you —

QUESTION: Well, that kind of already kind of came up with the (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Quick – no, I wanted to ask – sorry – I wanted to ask about Austin Tice. Are you guys involved in any kind of direct or indirect negotiation to pursue his release if he is still alive and held captive?

MR PRICE: Austin Tice is someone who is constantly on our minds. He is someone who has spent about a quarter of his life in prison. I believe within the next couple of months he will mark a grim milestone, having spent 10 years separated from his family. He recently, as I recall, celebrated his 40th birthday. We are and we will continue to do everything we can to see his release, his safe release, his return to his family, as soon as we can. Of course, whether it’s the case of Austin Tice, whether it is the case of Americans who have been reunited with their families, you know that we tend not to speak of these – speak of our efforts in public before Americans come home so as not to jeopardize our efforts precisely to bring them home.

But our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Secretary Blinken, they are deeply engaged on this case. They are deeply engaged on all cases of Americans who are wrongfully detained, Americans who are held hostage overseas. They have no higher priority than to see the safe return of these Americans to their families.

QUESTION: Did you have any comment on Tedros being re-elected to the head of WHO? And given the fact that they still have not invited Taiwan to attend the WHA, I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that and his leadership of this group.

MR PRICE: I do. So we – of course, we congratulate Dr. Tedros on his re-election as the WHO director general. We look forward to working with him to make real progress on reform at the WHO, to improve the organization’s agility, its transparency, its accountability. We strongly support ongoing efforts to strengthen the WHO and to make it more agile, transparent, and efficient as an essential centerpiece and convener in the global health architecture. And we appreciate the steps the director general has taken, such as his transformation agenda, to help the organization reach its potential, to promote universal health coverage and healthier populations, and to respond to health emergencies, especially in conflict areas, as we have seen most recently in Ukraine, where Russia’s brutal invasion has created a real health emergency.

We acknowledge, of course, that there still remains much work to do, and we remain committed to working with the director general and the organization to reform and modernize the World Health Organization so it is more transparent, more effective, more sustainably financed, and more agile.

QUESTION: So you don’t have concerns that he might be too influenced by China?

MR PRICE: We are committed to continuing to pursue the reform agenda at the WHO to see to it that it can meet the growing needs of the global population.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: One final thing, Ned. Politico has reported that President Biden has decided to keep Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organization, and a senior Western official saying that the decision is absolutely final and the window for Iranian concessions has closed. Do you have any comment on this?

MR PRICE: We’ve been asked this question repeatedly over the course of recent weeks. We have not weighed in, and I’ll continue to toe that line. Of course, we want to see a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as I said before, because it would be manifestly in the national security interest of the United States.

Now, the precise dynamics of potential sanctions lifting that would go along with it, that has been a subject of discussions with our Iranian counterparts by way of our European allies and other partners in Vienna, just as the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take if it were to decide to resume full compliance with the JCPOA have also been a topic of discussion. The discussions in Vienna, the negotiations in Vienna have been solely focused on the nuclear issue. If Iran were to seek to discuss issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA, to the nuclear agreement itself, that is an – that is a discussion we are prepared to have, but, of course, Iran would have to make concessions of its own.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:17 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Politburo Member Yang Jiechi

Department Press Briefing – May 20, 2022

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Beyond preemptively apologizing for the limited time I’ll have with you today, I don’t have anything at the top beyond wishing everyone a Happy Friday, and we’ll turn to your questions.

Operator, do you mind repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR: Yes, and once more, as a reminder, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Tracy Wilkinson.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. My question is about the Summit of the Americas. Ned, you a week or so ago said that once the invitations went out, you would have more to say. And now that the invitations have gone out as of Wednesday, could you talk a little bit about this – what appears to be a widening threat to boycott, what it says about the U.S. role and influence in this hemisphere that it can’t get everybody to a summit, and then the wider criticism that we’re hearing about the organization being chaotic and that it’s taken this long to get the list together – the invitation list together, this long – the agenda is still vague. Some people are saying the U.S. is sort of missing an opportunity here to really make a splash on its – on the U.S. – Biden administration’s policy towards Latin America. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Tracy. Lots of assertions there, not many of which I would agree with, but let me start with this: The first tranche of invitations for the summit did go out yesterday. As is standard in the case of summits, we’re still considering additional invites and we’ll share the final list of invites once all invitations have gone out. We certainly understand the speculation you alluded to about who will receive an invite or who will attend – that’s understandable. It’s understandable in part because this would be the first since – summit of this sort since its inauguration in 1994 that we’ve been able to serve as host, and the first time since 2015 that a U.S. president will participate.

We’ll plan to work through a variety of questions by engaging directly with the countries of the region. The President has engaged with his counterparts; the Secretary has had a number of calls with his counterparts as well. He’s also engaged with special advisor for the summit, former Senator Chris Dodd. He has been traveling throughout the hemisphere, and also speaking with leaders from the region.

For the summit itself, our agenda is to focus on working together when it comes to the core challenges that face our hemisphere, that face our neighbors. We’re a region that’s still recovering from COVID-19. We’re a region that has endured economic shocks that are generating unprecedented levels of migration – not just to the United States, but also to Mexico and Central America. We’ll talk about shared challenges like climate change as well.

So, there’s a lot to talk about. We are confident that there will be robust participation. We’re confident that the summit will bring together thousands of people to focus on some of the most important and, again, shared challenges and opportunity – opportunities that face our hemisphere. In addition to heads of state and representatives of government, we also look forward to welcoming civil society stakeholders, young leaders, CEOs, business leaders from across the hemisphere, making this summit the most inclusive to date.

With that, why don’t we go to Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) doing this. If you don’t mind, I’ll try to be brief on a couple of different unrelated things. North Korea – the administration has been saying for a number of days now that there’s a risk of a nuclear test. Do you have anything new on that? Is there anything new in the messaging you might have to North Korea about repercussions, if any, if they go ahead with this?

On China, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is – has confirmed a trip next week to China. Civil rights groups are critical of this, saying she could be seeing a Potemkin village. What – does the United States have an assessment of whether the trip is appropriate at this point, whether be useful, whether the Chinese will be giving access?

And just finally, briefly, Brittney Griner – I was wondering if there’s any update. I know the Secretary spoke to her wife recently. Do you have any more updates on the case there? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Sure, let me start with that last question first. I do have an update to offer. I can confirm that a consular officer visited Brittney Griner in detention yesterday, on Thursday, May 19th. The consular officer found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances. But again, our message is a clear and simple one. We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.

When it comes to China and the visit of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to the PRC, what I’ll say is that we are deeply concerned about the upcoming visit. Our understanding of the planned restrictions that she will be subjected to during the visit – based on that, we have no expectation that the PRC will grant the necessary access required to conduct a complete, unmanipulated assessment of the human rights environment in Xinjiang. The high commissioner, we believe, must act, and be allowed to act, independently; and the high commissioner must report objectively and factually on the human rights situation.

A credible visit to the region would feature unhindered, transparent, and unsupervised access to affected communities of the high commissioner’s choosing, as well as timely, candid, and complete reporting of the visit’s full findings. We have repeatedly made our concerns known to the PRC and to the high commissioner, and for months we and others in the international community have called upon the high commissioner to release a report drafted by her staff detailing the situation in Xinjiang. Despite frequent assurances by her office that the report would be released in short order, it remains unavailable to us, and we call on the high commissioner to release the report without delay and not to wait for the visit to do so.

The high commissioner’s continued silence in the face of indisputable evidence of atrocities in Xinjiang and other human rights violations and abuses throughout the PRC, it is deeply concerning, particularly as she is and should be the leading UN voice on human rights. The United States remains gravely concerned by the genocide and crimes against humanity that PRC authorities are perpetrating against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. And we call on the PRC to immediately cease committing these atrocities, release those unjustly detained, and allow independent investigators full and unhindered access to the region. We’ll continue to work closely with our likeminded partners and the international community to urge an end to these atrocities and provide justice to the many victims.

When it comes to the DPRK, we’ve spoken for several weeks now about our concerns for additional provocations. We’ve seen multiple tests of ICBM systems. We’ve seen additional tests of ballistic missile technology. We remain concerned that the DPRK may attempt to undertake another provocation during the course of the President’s visit to Northeast Asia or in the days following. That could include an – another ICBM test. That could include a test of a nuclear weapon. Of course, the President is in the region. He is in the region to send a message of solidarity with our partners, to send a message that the United States is there and will be there for our allies and partners to provide deterrence, to provide defense for our treaty allies in the region – of course, the ROK and Japan, both of which the President will have an opportunity to visit in the coming days – and to make very clear that we’ll respond decisively to any threats and any aggression. And, of course, our cooperation bilaterally – and in the case of the ROK and Japan, trilateral – is an essential ingredient to the way in which we will approach – what are shared security concerns in the region and beyond.

With that, let’s go to Missy Ryan, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Not sure if you guys can hear me or if you have to unmute to be unmuted, but just wondering, Ned, if you could give us an update on the discussions in NATO about the ongoing troop presence in Eastern Europe. There was a record today from CNN that’s saying that there would be a ongoing presence of 100,000 troops in Europe. And that is something that – that seems like it would be something as – sort of a forerunner to the decisions that are going to be locked in or out in Madrid. Any comment on that would be helpful. Thanks.

MR PRICE: Missy, I’m confident these discussions will continue, especially as we look forward to the NATO Summit in Madrid next month. These are conversations that we’ve been having within Alliance both since and before President Putin’s decision to further invade Ukraine on February 24th.

Before that invasion, we were clear that we would do a few things if President Putin’s aggression went ahead. We made clear that we would provide unprecedented levels of security assistance to support our Ukrainian partners so that they could effectively defend their freedom, defend their democracy, defend their country from what was then the potential of Russian aggression. We made clear that we would impose severe consequences on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system. But to your question, we also said that we would reinforce and take steps to reassure the Alliance, the member states of the Alliance, and particularly those on the eastern flank of the NATO Alliance, and that’s what we’ve done.

We have – there are now some 100,000 U.S. service members on the European continent. That number has risen in recent weeks precisely because we are fulfilling the pledge that we made prior to Russian – prior to Russia’s invasion. But we will continue to speak to questions of force posture, both in terms of NATO forces and in terms of U.S. deployment as an alliance and bilaterally and multilaterally with our Allies and partners in Europe, in the weeks ahead – especially as we look towards the summit in June.

Let’s go to Alex Raufoglu of Turan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Happy Friday. I have two questions, one on Russia. Russia’s supply of natural gas to Finland will be cut tomorrow morning, both Finnish and Russian energy companies confirmed today. Can I get your reaction to this latest attempt of Kremlin’s wielding natural gas flows as a weapon and its implications, if possible, for the region?

And secondly on Armenia and Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Pashinyan and President Aliyev will be in Brussels this weekend and they’re going to meet for the third time since last December. What is your expectation of the current ongoing negotiations process? Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. I think you put it well in your first question. You said Russia’s latest attempt to weaponize energy, and the fact is that this is not the first time Russia has attempted to weaponize energy. What we are doing is to work with our allies and partners to see to it that, going forward, Russia won’t be able to do this in a way that holds hostage countries in the region and around the world who have a reliance on Russian energy sources. So, in many ways, what we’re seeing from Russia is not surprising precisely because they have done this before. They have done this before, in the context of Ukraine in 2014; they have done this before in the context of Ukraine, more recently; and of course, we’ve seen them make these threats and follow through with actions in the aftermath of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine on February 24th.

Since Russia’s invasion, actually well before Russia’s invasion, we began working very closely – as I mentioned before, with our allies and partners around the world, including those partners in Europe that are reliant on Russian energy. And we’ve done this with two timeframes in mind. In the short term, we have sought to ensure that there is adequate energy supply available to our allies and partners, in part by tapping various strategic petroleum reserves – our own, a million barrels a day over the course of six months is what President Biden has committed to; other allies and partners around the world are doing the same. We’re working with those same partners to see to it that energy is shipped and available to countries that may find themselves vulnerable to Russia’s manipulation in the near term.

Of course, this is not only a near-term challenge. There is a longer-term dimension to this as well, and our goal is to see to it that countries in Europe and countries well beyond, including countries that have been reliant on Russian energy for decades, are and will be in a position to lessen that reliance over time. In the case of Europe, in the aftermath of President Biden’s visit to Brussels last summer, we established with our European Union counterpart, the U.S.-EU Energy Council, to discuss these very issues, how we can work together to see to it that in the years to come Russia is not able to use energy as a weapon in the same way.

Let’s go to Humeyra Pamuk, please.

Oh, I’m sorry, I – you asked a second question about Armenia and Azerbaijan. Before we go to Humeyra, let me just spend a moment on that.

We very much welcome the dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We remain committed to promoting a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region as part of that. We do urge this dialogue to continue and for the parties to intensify their diplomatic engagements to make use of existing mechanisms for direct engagement, and in an effort to find comprehensive solutions to all outstanding issues related to and resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and – to normalize their relations through the conclusion – excuse me – conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement. We are there to support this process. We remain ready to assist Armenia and Azerbaijan with these efforts, including in our capacity as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group.

We’ll go to Humeyra Pamuk, please.

QUESTION: A question on the NATO issue. While the dispute is officially between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland, American officials have said if there is anything they can do to be supportive, they’ll do it. And it’s no secret that Turkey has a number of asks from Washington. I’m wondering if the U.S. is willing to entertain any of these to solve this issue. Some of those would be expediting the F-16 sale or expediting the smaller F-16 package, or lifting any of the S-400-related sanctions. Basically, if there is anything you’re prepared to do beyond expressing your support and having consultations with Turkey.

Second question is: Israel said they’re holding an operational inquiry into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but they’re not launching a criminal probe for now. Is the United States satisfied with that? Can you say if the Biden administration is committed to making sure that there will be accountability for her killing? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Humeyra. On your first question, you raised a series of bilateral topics of conversation and potential topics of conversation between the United States and Turkey. The question of Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden, that is not a bilateral question between the United States and Turkey; that is a question before Turkey as a member of the NATO Alliance, and between and among Turkey and other members of the NATO Alliance.

For our part, you heard President Biden say this yesterday when he greeted his Swedish and Finnish counterparts at the White House. You heard Secretary Blinken make this same point in Berlin last week when he attended the NATO ministerial. But we strongly support NATO’s “Open Door” policy, the right of each country to decide its own future, its foreign policy, its security arrangements. And when it comes to Sweden and Finland, two countries that have now made that decision for themselves, we are proud to offer the strong support of the United States for their applications.

The President yesterday called them two great democracies, two close, highly capable partners to join the strongest, most powerful, defensive Alliance in the history of the world. These are countries that have been longstanding partners of the United States in terms of security, in terms of our economic integration, in terms of the important ties that bind us to the region as well.

As you know, we did have an opportunity to meet with – Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet with his Turkish counterpart yesterday in New York City. Turkey is a longstanding, valued NATO Ally. We understand Turkey’s longstanding concerns, and will continue to work together in our efforts to end the scourge of terrorism. For their part, Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey. But we’re also talking to Turkey about this issue. Yesterday the Secretary had a good, constructive conversation with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. I’m not going to go into the full details of that engagement, beyond saying that we remain confident that Turkey’s concerns will be addressed and that we’ll be able to reach consensus as an Alliance on the accession process for Finland and Sweden. We’ve heard strong allied support for their applications, and we look forward to quickly bringing them into the strongest defensive Alliance in history.

Finally, on your question into – regarding the investigation on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, we reiterate the administration’s call for a thorough and transparent investigation to determine the circumstances of her killing. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance. We urge countries around the world to pursue accountability for attacks on journalists anywhere. And we’ll continue to promote media freedom and to protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. So again, we’ve been clear that there must be a transparent and credible investigation of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, and that any such investigation must include accountability.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly, please.

QUESTION: How concerned is the U.S. over Turkish military flights over Greek islands, and how do those actions impact NATO’s stability?

And if I could ask a second question, the Anti-Corruption Foundation headed by Aleksey Navalny has compiled a list of 6,000 Russians that it wants the U.S. and allies to sanction in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Are you aware of this list they have compiled, and is it likely to be considered for another round of sanctions against Russia?

Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much. So, on your second question, Mr. Navalny’s organization has consistently put forward proposals. We take a look at – we take a look at what we receive and information available to us, but also information that is available in the public realm. We very much appreciate the efforts on the part of organizations, like Mr. Navalny’s, to shine a spotlight on corruption, to shine a spotlight on injustice, to shine a spotlight on repression in Russia and around the world. And so, of course, we will take a very close look at what they have put forward as we continue to hold to account the Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine, for its human rights abuses, for corruption, and other offenses when it comes to Russia’s conduct.

On your first question on Turkish overflights, we encourage all countries to respect the sovereign airspace of other countries and to operate state aircraft with due regard for the safety of navigation of civil aircraft. Where disagreements exist over the limits of a country’s territorial airspace, we urge coordination and discussion, not provocative actions that could lead to deadly accidents. As a matter of principle, we encourage all states to resolve maritime delimitation issues peacefully and in accordance with international law.

Let’s go to Cindy Saine.

OPERATOR: I don’t show Cindy on any longer. Please, go ahead.

MR PRICE: Okay. Let’s go to Joseph Haboush, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to ask, over the last week we’ve seen the Secretary of Defense speak to his Russian counterpart, and then I believe yesterday we saw General Milley also speak with his Russian counterpart. Are there any plans or is there any will to have a conversation between Secretary Blinken and his counterpart Lavrov? Is there – or are there any updates on the U.S. trying to open a line of communication there? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Joseph. So, we discussed this earlier this week in the last briefing, so let me briefly recap. As you know, prior to the February 24th Russian invasion of Ukraine, Secretary Blinken was at the forefront of the effort to attempt to forestall what may well have been an inevitability the whole time. But Secretary Blinken traveled around the world, met with his Russian counterpart. Deputy Secretary Sherman met with her Russian counterpart. Both of them took part in phone calls in an effort to prevent what has since taken place.

We have demonstrated time and again that we believe in the power of dialogue and the effectiveness and the usefulness of open lines of communication. But we also believe that there needs to be the potential for any such engagement to have a constructive outcome and to advance the ultimate and overriding objective. And of course, in this case the ultimate and overriding objective is a diminution of violence in Ukraine leading an end to this brutal war of aggression – a brutal war of choice, against the people, the government, and the state of Ukraine.

It is, in our assessment, not the time at the moment for a high-level call between Secretary Blinken or other seniors at the department precisely because we have seen no indication just yet that the Russians are serious about engaging in a constructive dialogue that could help to advance the prospects for a diminution of the violence or ultimately putting this conflict to an end. If we feel that a conversation has the potential to do that, has the potential to save lives, of course we won’t hesitate to do that.

In the meantime, I don’t have to tell you because you’ve seen the readouts. You’ve seen our travel around the world, including to be with our allies and partners in Europe that the Secretary has been leading the diplomatic effort to provide support to our Ukrainian partners, to provide security assistance to them, to provide economic assistance to them, and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people. He’s been leading the effort to hold Russia to account for its actions in Ukraine and its actions against its own people, and he will continue to engage with our allies and partners, including as we look to the Madrid summit next month to convene the NATO Allies.

We’ll go to Kylie Atwood, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Quick question on a report yesterday from The Wall Street Journal about the Biden administration weighing the possibility of waiving Belarus potash sanctions to get Lukashenko to allow a corridor from Ukraine to Lithuania to get that grain out of Ukraine. I know you guys don’t preview sanctions, or sanctions relief for that matter. But would the administration consider any form of sanctions relief if Russia, or Belarus for that matter, were to come to some sort of agreement to essentially entice them to get this grain out of the country?

And then my second question is just a bit of a throwback here, something we haven’t talked about in a while, but the State Department concluded their Afghanistan withdrawal review, as I understand it, back in March or April. And I’m just wondering when the State Department plans to present those findings, at least the unclassified portion of it, speaking to kind of transparency and the fact that you guys said you would reflect upon the lessons that could be learned. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Kylie. So on your first question, of course, we had an opportunity over the past couple days in New York City to discuss the issue of food security and food insecurity owing to longer-term challenges like climate change, but also owing to in many cases what is the proximate cause of food scarcity and the rise in commodity prices, and that is Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

It is very simply that the Government of Russia, using food as a weapon in this case by blocking the exports – the export of foodstuffs from Ukraine’s ports, the Kremlin has sought to deflect responsibility for its actions by blaming sanctions for disruptions to the global food system. This is patently false. Our sanctions on Russia specifically exclude food and fertilizer.

On the other hand, it is very clear that it is President Putin’s unjustified, his unprovoked, his brutal war against Ukraine that has put millions around the globe at risk of food insecurity and whose effects are felt thousands of miles away by many of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. And so when we think about what would be the most effective means by which to alleviate the challenge of food insecurity, of course, that would be for the Kremlin to end this senseless war; to see them let farmers safely plant, harvest, tend to their fields; to let ships loaded with essential food commodities and related goods to sail freely; and essentially, to stop weaponizing the flow of food and foodstuffs from Ukraine and from Ukraine’s ports.

In terms of the broader issue, no country has done more than the United States to seek to address that, and Secretary Blinken was able to convene dozens of high-level officials, including many of his counterparts, on Wednesday and Thursday of this week in the UN General Assembly but also in the Security Council to discuss this very issue. This is something that the UN secretary-general has focused on as well. We support his efforts to persuade Russia to end its unprovoked, unjustified war, and his efforts to see to it that Ukraine is able to export its agricultural products unhindered to once again help feed the world.

When it comes to Belarus, we sanctioned Belarusian state-owned potash producer Belaruskali and its primary exporting arm in coordination with our transatlantic allies in 2020. This was to impose costs on the Lukashenka regime following the fraudulent 2020 elections and the regime’s ensuing crackdown on peaceful protests and human rights – peaceful protests and human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is the Lukashenka regime that uses these state-owned enterprises to enrich and to sustain its repressive regime. And until the regime ends its support for Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, we’ll continue to take all appropriate actions to disrupt its military’s – its military and financial capabilities through targeted sanctions, including the actions taken against Russia.

So as you alluded to at the top, we don’t preview potential upcoming actions, but sanctions will remain a key tool in our efforts to address global security concerns as well as human rights abuses in Belarus and other areas of concern for the United States.

On Afghanistan, you are right that we did launch a review, an after-action review, covering the couple years before the military withdrawal from Afghanistan late last year. We are reviewing the findings of that review, and we’ll let you know when we’re at a point to potentially say more on that front.

We have time for one final question. Let’s go to Ali Harb.

OPERATOR: At this time, I don’t show Ali Harb in queue.

MR PRICE: Okay, let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Just a quick question about the family of Paul Whelan. They’ve put out a statement saying that State Department representatives have told them they need to make more noise or be a squeakier wheel to get the attention of the administration, or perhaps to prove that Paul’s case deserves action. Can you comment on this?

MR PRICE: Thank you for the question. We know that each of these cases deserve action, and we are taking action in each and every one of these cases. It is accurate, it is true, that we don’t often speak publicly to what we’re doing behind the scenes, but Secretary Blinken is committed to seeing to it that this department, including the office of our special envoy – special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, is doing everything we potentially can to see the safe and effective release of Americans who are unjustly or wrongfully detained or held hostage around the world.

We remain in regular contact with the families of those held hostage or wrongfully detained. We are absolutely grateful for their partnership and feedback, and we continue to work to ensure that we’re communicating and sharing information in a way that is useful to families. One of the most vital sources of information to us is that communication with the families. There is no one that knows the context, that knows the background, that knows the history of any particular case better than the families and the loved ones of those who are held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world. It’s why it’s so vitally important to us that we continue that coordination and that communication, even as we are often taking steps that we don’t speak to publicly to ensure that we are doing everything we can to effect the safe release of Americans who are wrongfully detained or held hostage.

Thank you very much, everyone. We will see you back at the department next week. In the meantime, have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

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