2:05 p.m. EDT
Have a few things at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.
First, as the White House announced, President Biden will host the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in Washington, D.C. May 12th through the 13th for a U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit.
The special summit will showcase the strong and enduring U.S. commitment to ASEAN, recognizing its central role in delivering sustainable solutions to the region’s most pressing challenges, and commemorate 45 years of U.S.-ASEAN relations. The summit will build on President Biden’s participation in the October 2021 ASEAN-U.S. Summit, where the President announced $102 million in new initiatives to expand U.S. engagement with ASEAN and support a bright and prosperous future for our combined one billion people.
One of this administration’s top priorities is to serve as a strong, reliable partner and to strengthen an empowered and unified ASEAN to address the challenges of our time. Our shared interests for the region will continue to underpin our common commitment to advance an Indo-Pacific that is free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.
Next, as the White House also announced this morning, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell will lead a delegation of U.S. Government officials to Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands this week.
Building on Secretary Blinken’s February 2022 visit to the region, the delegation will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific as we work together to tackle the most significant global challenges of the 21st century, including combating the climate crisis and ending the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interagency delegation will also hold consultations with regional partners at the headquarters of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, or INDOPACOM, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
And finally, today, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is launching an online partnership with the Google Arts and Culture platform to showcase the Cultural Heritage Center’s work to protect and preserve cultural heritage around the world. The partnership launches today in celebration of World Heritage Day.
The Cultural Heritage Center’s first exhibition on the platform features the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation program. Visitors can virtually tour multiple AFCP sites such as Chankillo in Peru, the earliest known astronomical observatory in the Americas, or Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a 17th century Buddhist temple in Thailand.
The State Department works with international partners to preserve heritage and protect culturally important sites, objects, and practices. This community engagement spurs economic development, cultivates respect for cultural diversity, and further promotes U.S. foreign policy objectives. Since 2001, the U.S. Ambassadors Fund has worked with partners in over 130 countries to protect and preserve cultural heritage through more than 1,100 preservation projects.
So with all that at the top, happy to take your questions. Shaun, welcome back, again.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks. Perhaps start in Ukraine. The situation in Lviv – 77 people were killed. Russia is saying it was targeting arms there. Do you have any assessment about what the Russian aim was, about – and about what the effects were?
MR PRICE: Well, I would in large part refer you to our Ukrainian partners and our Department of Defense to speak to Russia’s military activity. I know that our Department of Defense has said as of this morning that many of the Russian strikes we’ve seen in recent days have targeted military installations, military-adjacent installations. But the fact is that Russia, more than just launching an invasion, more than just launching a war, has launched, is undertaking a campaign of terror, a campaign of brutality, a campaign of despicable aggression against the people of Ukraine. And so when it comes to what we’ve seen in recent hours in terms of the strikes against Lviv, in terms of the strikes in the outskirts of Kyiv, or what we’ve seen in towns like Mariupol, towns like Kharkiv, what we’ve witnessed in Bucha, this – these are clear indications, they are a clear testament to the campaign of brutality, the campaign of terror that the Russians are waging against the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: I wonder – just to follow up on that, does that – those attacks on Kyiv and Lviv, does that – do you see that as a kind of setback for these – it seemed like things had been improving in that part of the country, and a lot of Ukrainians were crossing the border the other way. Is that a setback to those people who – those Ukrainians who might be – might have been thinking it’s safe to go back if they were from the west of the country? And also, is that – how does that factor into your considerations on whether to re-establish a diplomatic presence in the country?
MR PRICE: Well, at a strategic level, we, of course, will re-establish a diplomatic presence just as soon as we are able. When it comes to our calculus, you know that we have a high priority on the safety, the security, the welfare, the well-being of American diplomats and our colleagues who are serving around the world. So we are continuing to assess the security situation, and when the security situation allows it and not a second later, I can assure you that we will have a re-established diplomatic presence on the ground in Ukraine.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to offer the misimpression that the lack of a formal diplomatic presence, the lack of a diplomatic team on the ground, has in any way encumbered our ability to coordinate, to consult with our Ukrainian partners. We do that as a matter of course. As you know, we have a team, a diplomatic team stationed across the border in Poland. They have been engaging regularly with their Ukrainian counterparts.
At the highest levels, we have been engaging regularly with our diplomatic counterparts over the phone and even in person. President Biden spoke to President Zelenskyy last week. Secretary Blinken spoke to Foreign Minister Kuleba last week. And, as you know, Secretary Blinken has had recent opportunities to meet with Foreign Minister Kuleba in person. We did so in Brussels on the margins of the NATO ministerial just the other week. We did so just before that in Warsaw, when Secretary Blinken accompanied the President and he and Secretary Austin did a 2+2 with their Ukrainian counterparts. We did so just before that when we met with Foreign Minister Kuleba just inside Ukrainian territory along the Polish-Ukrainian border.
So even as we don’t have a diplomatic presence on the ground at the moment, we are continuing to work closely with our Ukrainian counterparts to hear precisely what they need to determine how best we can continue to support them in terms of our security assistance, in terms of our humanitarian assistance, in terms of our economic support, and as we coordinate with 30 countries across four continents to hold the Russian Federation to account for this war of choice.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question on North Korea and China-Ukraine. North Korea test-fired a new tactical guided weapon yesterday. What is the U.S. main reactions on that? Second one: Ukraine President Zelenskyy is reported to have asked President Biden to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Will the U.S. accept this? (Inaudible.)
MR PRICE: Let me start with that question, just because it’s adjacent to Simon’s question. As I mentioned just a moment ago, we have worked with some 30 countries across four continents to impose unprecedented costs on the Russian Federation with our economic sanctions, other economic measures, including our export control measures. We are going to look at all potential options – options that are available to us under the law, options that would be effective in holding Russia to account – and if a tool is available and effective, we won’t hesitate to use it.
When it comes to the DPRK’s most recent provocations, I know that the Department of Defense issued a statement on this. They noted that the department was aware of the DPRK’s statement that they conducted a test of a long-range artillery system. As you know, we’re closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and we have warned of the possibility of additional potential provocations from the DPRK.
It just so happens that our special envoy for the DPRK is currently in Seoul. He did – he had a series of meetings in Seoul earlier today. He spoke publicly as well to make the point that his engagement with our ROK allies showcases the coordination and underscores our rock-solid commitment to the region. Sung Kim, Ambassador Sung Kim went on to say that we’re determined to protect the security of the United States and that of our allies, the ROK and Japan, and he noted that our goal continues to be the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Sung Kim, Deputy Secretary Sherman, Secretary Blinken have engaged regularly bilaterally with our ROK counterparts, bilaterally with our Japanese allies, trilaterally with our ROK and Japanese allies together. We have in all of those engagements sought to make very clear to the DPRK that the door to diplomacy is not closed, that it does remain open, but that the DPRK needs to cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose the path of engagement, something it has not yet done. We are willing to listen to the full range of the DPRK’s concerns, but this can only happen through dialogue, and the DPRK has not yet given any concrete indications that it is open to this dialogue.
They have done this notwithstanding the fact that we’ve made clear on many occasions, including right here, that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. And we’ve also made clear that we are willing to meet without preconditions to engage in this dialogue. Unfortunately, it is the DPRK that has failed to respond to our invitations, and instead they have engaged in this series of provocations, including the ICBM launches in recent weeks.
We have worked with our allies in the region. We’ve worked with our allies well beyond the region. And we’ve worked in the UN context to make clear our condemnation of these recent ballistic missile tests, each of which was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. These launches, these tests, have demonstrated that the DPRK continues to prioritize its WMD and ballistic missile programs at the expense of regional and international security.
And in response to these provocations, in whole and in part, we have taken a series of diplomatic, economic, and military measures. We’ve detailed them in some depth, both from here and throughout this administration. Our actions are intended to make clear to the DPRK that its escalatory behavior has consequences. Those consequences will continue as long as the DPRK continues with its provocations.
QUESTION: One last question. The last question. The last question is: China’s special representative for North Korea’s nuclear program opposes additional UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea, and retaliated that U.S. and North Korea should resume only dialogue. What is your comment that China always say that they need the dialogue, region dialogue, but they not help, they not (inaudible) the missiles?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to the latter element, that’s also been our point. We have made very clear that the door to diplomacy, the door to dialogue, remains open. We have signaled that publicly. We have signaled that privately. But as I just detailed, the DPRK has yet to engage on those suggestions.
We have engaged not only with our close allies, Japan and the ROK, but also with other stakeholders, including regional stakeholders. And of course, the PRC is an important regional stakeholder. We’ve recently had a meeting with the PRC’s special envoy for the DPRK. It’s important that we continue to engage partners like the PRC on this, given that the PRC does wield a good degree of leverage with the DPRK.
QUESTION: I have two question. One is regarding Pakistan attack, recent attack to Afghanistan. So many civilian has been killed although we experience like we are during the Ramadan month, Holy Month. I don’t know if State Department or United States still have influences to Pakistan, especially the new government. What can the United States do to bring pressure to Pakistan to change their policy toward Afghanistan?
And the second question about the SIV visa holders, the people who approved already but they said we don’t want our kids in Afghanistan to be with the Taliban and come to the United States. I need to –
MR PRICE: So on your first question, we are aware of the reports of Pakistani air strikes in Afghanistan, but we’d refer you to the Pakistani Government for comment. We view Pakistan as an important stakeholder, an important partner, with whom we are engaging and have engaged as we work together to bring about an Afghanistan that is more stable, is more secure, is more prosperous, and importantly an Afghanistan that respects the basic and fundamental rights of its people, all of its people, including its minorities, its women, its girls.
For almost 75 years our relationship with Pakistan has been a vital one. We look forward to continuing that work with the new government in Pakistan across regional and international issues. This is work that has the potential to promote peace and prosperity in Pakistan and throughout the region. We have already congratulated the new Pakistani prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, on his election, and we look – we work – excuse me – we look forward to working closely with his government.
When it comes to the SIV program, we’ve spoke to this – spoken to this in some length. But of course, in addition to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, we are prioritizing the relocation for those who have partnered with the United States over the course of the last 20 years. And SIV holders are certainly in that category.
The SIV program is actually not a program that we ourselves designed or we ourselves formulated. If we had, there would probably be some differences. And we’ve talked about the rather cumbersome process when it comes to the SIV program – more than a dozen steps involving different agencies within the U.S. Government that ladders up to the application and ultimately the selection of SIV applicants.
So under the law – and this was a program that was designed by Congress – there are certain dependents who are able to travel and to relocate with an SIV holder. And so we are required to follow the law, and that does not afford us flexibility in terms of family members that might be able to travel with the SIV holder. The law clearly stipulates that it’s a spouse and adult children under the age of – and children under the age of 21, as I recall.
Shaun. Let me move around a little bit, actually. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Azerbaijan (inaudible) I have two question. Russia and France – France removed their co-chairs from the OSCE Minsk Group. When will the U.S. do the same? And generally, what will be the fate of the Minsk Group?
Second question: How can the United States contribute to the signing of peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia?
MR PRICE: Well, we spoke about this a bit last week, and Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak respectively with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan a couple weeks ago now. But we remain committed to promoting a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for the South Caucasus region. We urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to continue to intensify their diplomatic engagement and to make use of existing mechanisms for direct engagement to find comprehensive solutions to all outstanding issues related to or resulting from the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict and to normalize their relations through the conclusion of a comprehensive peace agreement.
When it comes to our role, we do remain ready to assist Armenia and Azerbaijan with these efforts, including in our capacity as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. And so when we talk about existing mechanisms, of course, the OSCE’s Minsk Group is part of that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Andy Schofer is in the region right now and —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry? Who is?
QUESTION: So Andy Schofer is currently in the region and he met with Armenian foreign affairs minster. There was a confusion, I think, in terms of what badge is he wearing today. State Department put a tweet out there and said he is a senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, and we know him in the region as a Minsk Group co-chair. Could you clarify that? And also, is he going to go to Azerbaijan at all?
MR PRICE: I don’t have the details on this individual’s travel or in what capacity he was acting at the time, but we’ll get back to you if we have anything more to add there.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Bucha I want to follow up on. Putin today awarded the brigade that committed the mass murder in Bucha as a title of “Guards.” Is there any reaction from the State, and also what is the state of U.S. investigation on Bucha massacre? Thank you.
MR PRICE: What is the status of the U.S. investigation into —
QUESTION: Investigation on Bucha.
MR PRICE: So on your first question, the question was do we have a reaction to President Putin reportedly heralding one of the architects of the massacres, what has transpired in Bucha – we don’t have a specific reaction to that, but what I can tell you is that it is – it would not be surprising to see the Russian Federation herald, honor those who may have been involved in some of the worst atrocities of this conflict.
Because the point we have made is that the atrocities, to include war crimes, that Russia, Russia’s forces have committed, these are not the rogue acts of a single Russian service member or even a small group. These – this was a premeditated, preconceived campaign of brutality against not only – not targeting – not only the government of Ukraine, the territorial integrity of the state of Ukraine, but also the people of Ukraine. And that is why we are so focused on accountability, not only on those who are responsible with – through their own hands and their own work, through the deaths and the destruction in Ukraine’s towns and cities, but also all of those up the ladder who were part and sanctioned this effort of brutality against the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Last week, the CIA director called China a silent partner in Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Is the U.S. giving any consideration to increasing the nature of its diplomatic pressure on China, changing its tactics in order to bring the Chinese around to ending their tacit support for Russia?
MR PRICE: Well, the PRC is going to make its own decisions about how it supports Russia’s brutality against the people of Ukraine. The PRC is going to make its own decisions about whether everything that it has purported to stand for in the international system in recent decades, including an emphasis on state sovereignty and the – and the – and viability of borders or whether all of that was just a show, just bluster. And to the director’s point, not only have we not seen the PRC condemn, as every country around the world should, the brutality that Russia’s forces are carrying out on the Ukrainian – against the Ukrainian people, we’ve actually heard senior PRC officials parrot some of the worst, some of the most dangerous propaganda that is and has emanated from the Kremlin. So this is a choice for the PRC to make.
The point that United States and our European allies and our partners around the world have made to the PRC – a couple. Number one, we are going to continue to keep a careful eye, a careful watch on the level of support for – the PRC exhibits towards Russia. Of course, if the PRC were to provide weapons, supplies, were – seek to help Russia evade sanctions, there would be strong consequences for that, not only on our part but also on the part of our allies and partners.
But number two, this is a moment when every responsible country around the world has an obligation to its people and to the international community to make clear where it stands on questions that are fundamental and questions on which there should be no nuance, questions about whether these types of – this type of brutality, these wanton human rights abuses, the massacring of civilians, the ability of a state to pretend that international borders don’t exist, and the ability of leaders to declare, as President Putin seemingly has, that another country doesn’t have a right to exist. These are fundamental questions. We’ve heard from the PRC its desire over the course of many decades to be a responsible stakeholder. Well, now is the time to answer that question. And now is the time to show up.
QUESTION: To clarify, Ned because you mentioned some of the other ways that China could be providing material support, has the U.S. to date seen any evidence that that support has been anything but rhetorical? Have there been weapons support provided? Has there been sanctions support provided?
MR PRICE: We’re going to continue to watch very closely. We offered an assessment a couple weeks ago now that we had not seen the provision of weapons, of supplies, and that assessment has not changed.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just as you were walking in, the Israeli military said they intercepted a rocket from Gaza. I know you put out a statement on Jerusalem. I believe it was on Friday. What’s your – speaking of – what’s your – what’s your assessment of the situation? How worried is the United States that this could flare up the way it did last year?
MR PRICE: Well, I did see that report just before we walked in. To answer your question, in short, we are deeply concerned. We are deeply concerned by the recent violence in Jerusalem on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and across the West Bank. We, as we did on Friday, continue to call on all sides to exercise restraint, to avoid provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. We also continue to urge Israeli and Palestinian officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone.
This Department continues to closely follow the situation and continues to be in close contact with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to seek to de-escalate tensions. What I can tell you is that a number of senior officials across this government, and certainly a number of individuals across this building and our ambassadors in capitals across the Middle East, were engaged in a series of phone calls, including at very high levels, over the weekend, again with our Israeli partners, with our Palestinian counterparts, with other Arab representatives in the region, including our Jordanian partners, the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, in an effort to see to it that these tensions do not escalate.
QUESTION: Ned, just a follow up. You mentioned Jordan. The Jordanians summoned the Israeli ambassador and said that – or the chargé d’affaires – and said that it was going in heavy-handed the, the treatment that the Israelis have of the Palestinians at the – in Jerusalem. Do you share the assessment of the Jordanians that this – that things could have been handled differently?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to offer a detailed assessment of – operations on the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif. What I can say is that we have urged all sides to preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount both in word and in practice and to avoid steps that may be provocative and that may seek to or that may inflame tensions even further.
QUESTION: If nobody has a follow-up on that specific —
MR PRICE: Anything else on this specifically? Okay.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Your counterpart in Tehran said today that the United States is behind the holdup in coming to a revival of the JCPOA, a re-entry of the United States into the JCPOA. Do you have any response directly or indirectly to that? Do you agree with the assessment that it’s the U.S. that’s holding up restoring this?
MR PRICE: We have said this consistently since the beginning: We are prepared to return – we are prepared for a full return to – excuse me, we are prepared for a return to full JCPOA implementation. We are also prepared for broader diplomatic efforts to resolve issues outside of the JCPOA and this specific nuclear file. Deputy Secretary General Mora of the EU’s External Action Service continues to convey messages and is working to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.
We’re not going to negotiate in public, but what we can say is that if Iran wants sanctions-lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA. If they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues, then we are confident we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA and begin to reimplement the deal itself. It is Iran that needs to make this decision. Any party, everyone who has been directly engaged in these talks knows which side has put constructive proposals on the table, knows which side has negotiated and engaged in good faith, and knows which side has not.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up about the Revolutionary Guards issue? I know you said you’re not going to negotiate publicly, but is this something on which the United States has made a firm decision on the FTO status?
MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to negotiate in public. The Iranians know where we stand on the various issues at play. They also know that we are seeking a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. If they want to negotiate issues that fall outside the purview of the JCPOA, then we’ll do that, but they will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.
QUESTION: Following up on Shaun’s questions, your Iranian counterpart also said that the environment or atmosphere of the talks, quote/unquote, “is not negative.” Do you see that as a positive assessment? Do you share at least that assessment?
MR PRICE: I don’t think it’s helpful for us to characterize the environment of the talks. There is really only one element that matters, and that is whether or not we’re able to achieve a mutual return to compliance, whether we’re able to get across the finish line or not. At this point, it is unclear to us whether we will be able to get there. We’ve spoken to the significant progress that had been achieved in recent weeks. Obviously, we’ve been in a different position now for several weeks.
That is why we’re preparing equally for scenarios in which there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and scenarios in which there is not a mutual return to compliance for the JCPOA. We would greatly prefer the former: to have the JCPOA and the verifiable, the permanent limits that it would again impose on Iran’s nuclear program. Whether we are able to get there or not, that is a question for Iran.
QUESTION: One question on the Iranian president’s comment today. He threatened Israel and he said that if Israel makes a move against Iran that it would retaliate. Any comments on that?
MR PRICE: Well, Iran we know is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Its support for terrorism threatens international security and our partners throughout the region and elsewhere. Of course, that includes Israel. This administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct. We have demonstrated that in a number of ways and in cooperation with our allies and regional partners including Israel. We will use every appropriate tool to confront the IRGC’s destabilizing role in the region including working closely with our partners in Israel.
QUESTION: Two on Ukraine, if I may. The first is on James Hill, the U.S. citizen killed roughly a month ago in Kharkiv. His family says his remains are in Brussels and they have not been notified when they will be returned to the U.S. Is the State Department aware of this? Are they helping? What kind of assistance is being provided to them, including the return of his remains?
MR PRICE: So I’m not able to comment on specific cases, but I can tell you that our Bureau of Consular Affairs routinely and regularly interacts with Americans, with their families, including cases of illness or, unfortunately, in cases of death. But I just don’t have any additional details on this.
QUESTION: Secondly, can you please provide the latest on the State Department’s role in planning for a senior-level visit to Ukraine? And have the recent strikes in Lviv and Kyiv affected that planning process?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we don’t have any travel to confirm. We don’t have any travel to announce or even to preview at this point. But the fact remains that our coordination and our consultation with our Ukrainian partners and our European allies, as well as partners and allies around the world, remains ongoing. It is continuous. It is daily.
And what I can say is that tomorrow, in fact, you will see Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman travel to Brussels. She’ll be there from April 19th to April 22nd. She is going for the third high-level meeting of the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China that will take place on April 21st. She’ll also go for consultations with our European allies and partners on the Indo-Pacific on April 22nd, but she will also while there engage in Brussels with our NATO Allies and EU partners, discuss our continued close coordination on President Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine.
So Secretary Blinken has spent more time in Brussels than any other city on the face of the Earth, with the exception of Washington, D.C.; Deputy Secretary Sherman has spent a good deal of time there herself. She’ll be returning tomorrow, where she will remain for several days, including by being engaged with our European allies on the question of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary tomorrow going to make that visit? It’s been reported lately many times that the administration is considering sending high officials to Kyiv. Is it the move? And if not, why?
MR PRICE: Well, the Secretary will make an important visit tomorrow. He will lead a U.S. delegation to Panama City to lead a ministerial conference on migration and protection, co-hosted with the Government of Panama. We’ll depart tomorrow morning; we will return tomorrow evening. While in Panama, our delegation will join senior representatives from more than 20 other countries in the Western Hemisphere at the ministerial conference. Secretary Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security will be in attendance and helping to co-host this as well.
This is part of our effort with countries from across the region in recognition of our shared responsibility to address forced displacement and to manage irregular migration. As we’ve discussed since the beginning of this administration, our migration management strategy is a regional one, addressing the root causes, the drivers of migration, from within the region. This will be an important follow-on to the discussions we had in Colombia last October, an important follow-on to discussions we had in Costa Rica last year as well, as we develop and implement with our partners in the region this migration management strategy.
MR PRICE: As I’ve said a number of times already today, we don’t have any travel to announce. But we regularly engage with our Ukrainian partners on the – on our diplomacy, on their needs, on the ways we can continue to support the government and the people of Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Well, Turkey, of course, is an important NATO Ally. We have had many occasions in recent weeks to consult with our Turkish Allies, including with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. Secretary Blinken regular – regularly discusses a range of issues with him, including, of course, Turkey’s important role in holding Russia to account for its war against the people, the government, the state of Ukraine. I imagine this upcoming opportunity would be an important element as part of that. But together as NATO Allies and important bilateral partners, there are a range of shared interests that we have with our Turkish partners. So this is still a ways away, but I imagine there will be a very full agenda.
When it comes to the F-35 program, we’ve made our concerns with Turkey’s possession of the S-400 system very clear. We do not believe the S-400 system is consistent with the F-35 program.
QUESTION: To go back to Iran, as part of the indirect talks over the detainees, is the administration also seeking the release of U.S. legal permanent residents like Shahab Dalili, whose family has now gone public with his case?
MR PRICE: We have a number of concerns with the Iranian regime. At the top of that list, of course, is its nuclear program and the challenge that its nuclear program, which has been able to gallop forward since 2018, poses to regional and international peace and security.
But beyond that, of course, we are focused on the release of U.S. citizens, and there are four U.S. citizens who remain unjustly detained in Iran. We have – we are continuing to do everything we can to see to it that these individuals are returned to their families just as soon as is possible. There may be other cases that we are prioritizing as well. But in the first instance, we’re always going to prioritize the safety, the security, the welfare, the well-being of American citizens, of U.S. citizens.
MR PRICE: Across the world we advocate against the involuntary return of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups to the PRC. We know that if returned, these individuals are at risk of detention and potentially even torture. We will continue to urge partners to abide by their obligations under international law, and including non-refoulement, and not return individuals from vulnerable populations to the PRC where they face genocide and crimes against humanity.
MR PRICE: John, I don’t have a specific reaction to that report. But as you know, the special envoy has recently been in the region. He spent three weeks in the region. And over the past year, he has pressed for transparent, inclusive, Yemeni-led efforts to reform the Government of Yemen to ensure it meets the needs of all of its citizens, and to address their calls for justice, accountability, and redress for human rights violations on – and abuses.
On April 7th earlier this month, we welcomed Yemen’s establishment of a presidential leadership council. We urge that council to advance these goals in partnership with Yemeni civil society and members of marginalized communities. We also urge the leadership council to work closely with the prime minister to strengthen basic services and economic stability as soon as possible so that Yemenis across the country can receive tangible benefits from these recent reforms.
QUESTION: Is representation important when it comes to leadership in Yemen?
MR PRICE: Well, a representative government – a government that represents the people and serves it effectively – of course is important, both in Yemen and around the world.
QUESTION: A couple on John’s real quick?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One of the things that John also reported was that former President Hadi has had his communication shut off and he’s in a Riyadh hotel. Does the United States have any information or, for that matter, concerns about how he’s being treated?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to share on that. Would refer you to the former president or to the Saudi Government.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on something you mentioned at the top, the trip involving Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink to the Pacific. Is there anything sort of more concrete that you can – that that delegation is going to be trying to get out of those visits? And I wonder if you could sort of – I don’t think the announcement mentioned China, which is obviously the backdrop to these visits. How much does this trip, this visit, reflect a concern that China is growing in influence in that region?
MR PRICE: Well, these are three important Pacific partners of the United States – Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. It’s precisely why the Secretary met with the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year when we were in the region. And you’re right that the announcement doesn’t mention China, because at the end of the day our policy is not about China or any other country; it’s about the partnership that the United States can bring. And part of our engagement, including in this upcoming context, is to ensure that our partners in the Indo-Pacific and around the world understand what the United States brings to the table, understand what partnership can bring. And we’ll leave it to them to contrast what we offer from what other countries, including rather large countries in the region, might offer.
QUESTION: So both Russia and Ukraine have issued videos of prisoners apparently appealing for a prisoner swap. In Russia’s case, it’s two British nationals; in Ukraine’s case, it’s Viktor Medvedchuk. Is the U.S. at all facilitating or engaged in conversations regarding a potential swap?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any role there. The – our Ukrainian partners have spoken to their level of engagement with Russia. You heard from Foreign Minister Kuleba yesterday that these engagements have been rather low-level, they’ve been at the expert level. And we can all see very clearly that they have not demonstrated much promise just yet.
That is not because both parties are not prioritizing diplomacy, are not prioritizing dialogue. There is one party that has consistently gone to the table in good faith, one party that consistently has sought to bring an end to this conflict; and another that has engaged in those diplomatic endeavors as little more than a pretense; another party – this being, of course, Russia – that has continued to rain down missiles and bombs and artillery against civilian populations even as representatives of that government has continued to sit down with their Ukrainian partners.
So this is a question that we will leave to our Ukrainian partners to discuss with their Russian counterparts. Our goal is to see to it that we are doing everything we potentially can to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table, and we’re doing that in two principal ways. Number one, we’re continuing to provide massive amounts of security assistance – $3.2 billion over the course of this administration, more than $2.5 billion since Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine began – and at the same time, to hold Russia to account with this set of economic sanctions, export controls, other measures that we’ve imposed with dozens of countries around the world to put Ukraine in a position to succeed and to induce Russia to engage in a way they have not yet, at least, and that is in good faith in an effort to bring about this – an end to this conflict.
QUESTION: One quick follow-up. Is the U.S. aware of any U.S. citizens in Russian custody on Ukrainian soil currently?
MR PRICE: I am not at the moment.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the diplomacy? President Zelenskyy said over the weekend that if the remaining Ukrainian troops in Mariupol are destroyed, as Russia has threatened to do, that it could have – it could put an end to all negotiations. And you’ve obviously said that diplomacy is the only way ahead here. Would you support Ukraine if they withdrew from talks because of what the Russians do in Mariupol?
MR PRICE: At the end of the day, this is about Ukraine’s independence, it’s about Ukraine’s sovereignty, it’s about Ukraine’s territorial integrity. There is no other country in the world – not Russia, not the United States, not any of our European allies or partners – who can make these decisions for Ukraine. This is a question for the people of Ukraine, and their opinion will be expressed by the Government of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — Janne’s question earlier about the state sponsor of terrorism designation? You said the administration will look at all potential options available to us under the law. Do you consider this designation as available to you given the way that it’s written in statute, the requirements in it?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to offer an assessment of its applicability in this particular case, but there are certain authorities that are available to us under the law. We are going to evaluate the criteria that is defined by statute against the evidence and the facts, and if those evidence and the facts present an opportunity to use any particular authority and if that authority will prove effective, we won’t hesitate to do it.
QUESTION: Just one more on TPS.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s some reporting – a senior Ukrainian official saying that the date the TPS will be – I guess the cutoff point is being moved to April from March 1st. Can you confirm whether or not that’s the case?
MR PRICE: We don’t have any update. As you know, we recently did grant TPS to Ukrainians temporarily in the United States. That cutoff date was as of a particular date. If there is an extension or if that date changes, we will let you know together with DHS.
QUESTION: There’s a report today that Ukraine’s most likely used cluster munitions. Is this something that the State Department is looking at, can confirm or deny, and what’s the level of concern there?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to speak to them. I might refer you to the Department of Defense if they have any additional context to offer, and of course, our Ukrainian partners would be in the best position to speak to this.
What we can say is that this – Russia’s war against Ukraine has brought untold brutality, has brought untold despair to the people of Ukraine. Our Ukrainian partners, their service members have fought valiantly, have fought effectively. They have done so with grit and determination and they’ve also done so with an amount of support from the United States and the international community that is nearly unprecedented. Not in a generation has so much security assistance flowed from the United States to any other country, and that is because our support to our Ukrainian partners is ironclad, it is unwavering. We’ll continue to provide them with what they need to effectively take on the challenge from Russia, Russia’s service members, and Russia’s aggression, but I just don’t have anything for you on that particular report.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the Solomon Islands’ intent to sign a security pact with China a concern and is it going to be brought up on that trip? Is the U.S. delegation going to possibly ask the Solomon Islands not to sign that pact like Australia?
MR PRICE: Well, I understand that – we understand that the Solomon Islands and the PRC are discussing a broad security-related agreement building on recently signed police cooperation. Despite the Solomon Islands Government’s comments, the broad nature of the security agreement leaves open the door for the deployment of PRC military forces to the Solomon Islands. We believe that signing such an agreement could increase destabilization within the Solomon Islands and will set a concerning precedent for the wider Pacific Island region.
We note that Australia and New Zealand have had longstanding law enforcement and security ties with the Solomon Islands. At the request of Prime Minister Sogavare, an Australia-led multinational peacekeeping force from Fiji, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea effectively restored calm to Honiara following the outbreak of violence and rioting in November of last year. This multinational group quickly aided Solomon Islands and effectively supported a rapid return to peace.
We’ve communicated with our allies and partners in the region, including, of course, with Australia and New Zealand, which have expressed concerns about how this agreement may threaten the current regional security paradigm. Part of the task of the upcoming visit will be to share perspectives, to share interests, to share concerns, and I do expect the full range of all of those will be on the docket. And as you know, earlier this year we also did announce our intent to re-establish an embassy on – in Honiara on the Solomon Islands as part of that show of engagement, part of that show of U.S. support for the Solomon Islands. And so I do expect when our delegation travels there they will continue and bring that message with them.
Okay. Final question. Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, on sanctions, EU is planning to issue its next packet of sanctions this week. Should we expect the same from Washington this week as well? And also is there an idea or is right now under review any unturned stone that we are considering right now to turn and issue this week against Russia?
MR PRICE: I think you can expect that we will continue to escalate our financial sanctions and other economic measures against the Russian Federation until and unless Moscow relents in its campaign against Ukraine. We have not yet seen that, and we’ll continue to raise the costs. Thank you very —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any timing to add. Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)