MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: So I have just a few thoughts at the top, and then I’ll take your questions, and it’s really about what we have seen over the past 48 or so hours. And because over the past 48 hours, you’ve heard a series of announcements emanate both from Washington and Moscow. And it’s worth, I think, spending just a moment contrasting what we’ve said and what we have heard emanate from the Kremlin.
First you heard from President Biden this morning of the additional and very significant steps that we are taking for our Ukrainian partners to support their security, their political, their economic, their financial, and their humanitarian needs. And we can offer a bit of detail on each of those.
First, as you all know, the President announced another $800 million in arms, munitions, and equipment from DOD inventories to support Ukraine’s forces, bringing our total security assistance since the start of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine to approximately $3.4 billion. That total is about $4 billion since the start of the administration. We also announced today an additional $500 million in direct budgetary support for the Government of Ukraine, bringing that total in the past few weeks to $1 billion.
To provide opportunities for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression, the newly unveiled Uniting for Ukraine program will provide a new streamlined process for Ukrainians coming to the United States, and to impose further costs on Russia, which is an important pillar of our strategy, the President announced a ban on – for Russia-affiliated ships coming to U.S. ports. That means no Russia-flagged ship and no ships owned or operated by Russian interests will be allowed to dock in the United States.
All of this, of course, follows yesterday’s announcement of Department of the Treasury efforts to crack down on those attempting to evade our unprecedented sanctions and the Department of State actions to impose visa restrictions on more than 650 – 655 – Russian and Belarusian officials and proxy so-called authorities in response to reports of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.
So that’s what we’ve said over the past several hours. Meanwhile, what have we heard from Moscow? We’ve heard the Kremlin literally brag of plans to starve, to seal off, the brave Ukrainians who have sought to do nothing more but defend their country and the besieged city of Mariupol. And the Kremlin have even honored those, fêted those, responsible for what has to be one of the most horrifying and despicable acts and operations on European soil since the end of the Second World War, and that is the brutal assault on Mariupol’s civilian population, the full toll of which remains obscured.
Today, we also heard the Russians enact their latest sanctions. In addition to the Vice President, today’s tranche included journalists and spokespeople for this administration, myself included. I have to say, it is nothing less than an accolade to have earned the ire of a government that lies to its own people, brutalizes its neighbors, and seeks to create a world where freedom and liberty are put on the run and, if they had their way, extinguished. Similarly it is a great honor to share that enmity with other truth-tellers, my colleagues John Kirby, Jen Psaki, as well as a number of journalists who have done incredible work sharing the jarring, bloody truth of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. It is the clearest signal we could ask for that the Russian Government sees truth as an enemy in this battle, literally pursuing those who are doing nothing more than trying to spread that truth, and they see that as an enemy in that battle that they are very clearly losing.
So with that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Welcome back. I trust your Panama experience was truly palindromic and —
MR PRICE: We missed you.
QUESTION: You get that, right?
MR PRICE: I do. I do. And we missed you very much.
QUESTION: And I guess congratulations on your – the honor that you’ve so happily accepted from the Russian Government. Just on the actions that were taken yesterday, and then I got two extremely brief non-Ukraine questions. On the visa bans that the Secretary imposed, do you have any idea how many of those people – and I know you’re not naming them, and I know that in some cases you can’t name them – but how many actually had visas? So in other words, how many were actually notified that an existing visa in their passport book has been revoked? Do you know how many that is? And at the same time, do you know how many do not have valid – do not currently have valid visas?
MR PRICE: Well, so we announced really two things yesterday, Matt. There were two elements of this. The Department of the Treasury designated entities and individuals involved in attempting to evade the sanctions that have been posed by the United States and our international partners on Russia, and then similarly, Secretary Blinken – and this is what you were referring to – announced steps to impose visa restrictions on a total, as I said before, of 655 Russians and Belarusian officials and so-called proxy authorities in response to war crimes committed by Russia’s forces in Ukraine.
Those restrictions – these restrictions include those implicated in domestic repression against the Russian people and the Lukashenka’s regime continued violent crackdown on the people of Belarus and their democratic aspirations and misconduct by Russia’s proxies in the Donbas. Treasury also designated entities, but you’re asking about the visa restrictions. As you know, visa records are confidential. We, of course, do have a record of everyone who has been granted a U.S. visa. But for these 655 individuals, Russians and Belarusians who were designated yesterday, they will not be getting a visa, should they apply.
QUESTION: I know. That’s not my question. My question – and I don’t – frankly don’t know if you have the answer, but how many of these 655 actually had valid – current, valid visas that have been revoked? And how many of them are – are not notified at all but would be notified should they show up someplace to apply for one that sorry, you’re on the list?
MR PRICE: Well, they would be notified were they to apply for a U.S. visa, and, of course, that follows yesterday’s action. But visa records are confidential, so we’re just not in a position to provide numbers of this list of 655 of those who may have had visas already in their possession.
QUESTION: Okay, so – but so then it’s really impossible for anyone to know what the impact of this is, because none of these people —
MR PRICE: Not if they try to travel to the United States. They’ll see that impact very clearly.
QUESTION: Yeah, but how do you know that they want to? But you don’t know that they want to. I mean, yes, it’s an avenue that – it has been cut off for them, but they don’t necessarily know it.
MR PRICE: Have we spoken to each of these 655 individuals to determine their aspirations or not to travel to the United States?
QUESTION: The only one that —
MR PRICE: I don’t suspect we’ve done that, but —
QUESTION: No, but people do have current visas are – you have to notify them that it’s being revoked and that it’s no longer valid. And so that’s – I just want to know if you know the number of how many of these 655 actually had visas that are —
MR PRICE: We know which of them had active visas in their possession. I’m just not in a position to offer you a number.
QUESTION: Is it more than one? I mean, is it more than a handful, or is it zero?
MR PRICE: Matt, I’m not in a position to offer you a number. As we’ve said, visa records are confidential.
QUESTION: On two – on the two other ones, and this is going to be very brief, I’m just wondering if you can tell us anything about the migration talks with the Cubans today, and then secondly if there’s any update on this delegation visiting the Solomon Islands.
MR PRICE: Sure. So first on the migration talks that we’ve announced with the Cubans, these provide an opportunity for discussion of migration issues between Cuba and the United States. They represent a continuation of our nearly 30-year engagement with Cuba on migration matters as neighboring countries, as neighbor states. We do maintain, as you know, diplomatic relations and discussions on safe, orderly, and legal migration. That remains a primary U.S. interest. It’s the precise reason why we are having these discussions with the Cubans as well as with other partners in the hemisphere.
And based on U.S. interests and our support for family reunification for the Cuban people, we did resume these migration talks between the United States and Cuba. They started this morning. They’re occurring over the course of the day today. We have seen – and this, I think, underscores the imperative of undertaking these talks – we’ve seen a significant increase in irregular migration on the part of Cuban migrants coming to the United States. That includes both via overland routes and maritime routes.
These talks have been longstanding. They’ve evolved since they were first taken on in 1984. They have since become a biannual occurrence, following the signing of an accord in 1994 and 1995. The talks, of course, have been paused in recent years. They had not occurred since 2018, but they had occurred consistently across administrations since 1995. They do provide an opportunity for important discussions on mutual compliance with migration accords and the commitment of the United States and Cuba to safe, legal, and orderly migration, and that’s the interest of ours, is ensuring safe, legal, orderly migration between Cuba and the United States is consistent with our interest in fostering family reunification and the promotion of greater respect for freedom and human rights in Cuba.
Topics for the talks have included well-established mechanisms to address irregular migration and compliance with U.S. immigration law, migration via both land and sea, migration trends, returns and repatriations of citizens, embassy functions, and other related issues. I understand that we’ll have a little bit more to offer upon conclusion of the talks today.
QUESTION: Is it safe to say that you would like to see a reduction in the significant increase in irregular migration that you’ve seen coming from the Cubans? Is that part of what’s being discussed?
MR PRICE: It is safe to say that we would like to see a process that is safe, orderly, and legal, and not one that is dominated by irregular migrants seeking to make a dangerous either overland journey or maritime journey to the United States.
QUESTION: Right. And then just Solomon Islands real quick?
MR PRICE: In terms of the Solomon Islands, the delegation is going to arrive to the Solomon Islands later today, Eastern Time. This is – these are discussions that will take place over the day on April 22nd in the Solomon Islands. This visit – and it’s being led by our Assistant Secretary Dan Kritenbrink and the White House’s Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell – will follow up on Secretary Blinken’s visit to the region earlier this year. It was during that visit where he announced plans to reopen an embassy in the Solomon Islands. And this visit is about demonstrating how partnership with the United States can deliver prosperity, peace, security, and highlighting the strength and strengthening bonds between America and the Solomon Islands.
To your question – you didn’t raise this explicitly but it will be on the agenda – we are closely following the status of the security agreement between the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China. The signing of the agreement does not change our concerns and that of our regional partners and allies. And it does not change our commitment to a strong relationship with the region and to strengthening our ties with the Solomon Islands and its Pacific Island neighbors.
The Solomon Islands response to Secretary Blinken’s announcement earlier this year of our plans to reopen an embassy on Honiara, it was overwhelmingly positive. And we have engaged and will continue to engage with senior officials in the Solomon Islands Government as we work towards formally establishing that embassy. We have had a series of very positive, forward-looking interactions, and the delegation will discuss common interests and activities that, again, will be predicated on partnership and that will benefit both the American people and the people of the Solomon Islands.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Is there any discussion about doing anything for the people who are in this facility being cut off in Mariupol, any kind of an airlift, a way to get them supplies, food, medicine, which I’m sure they’re going to run out of shortly? Basically, is there anything anybody’s trying to do for them?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we’re watching very closely. It is – clearly has been a focus of the Russian Federation to undertake this brutal assault on the people of Mariupol, both fighters and civilians. And we’ve seen President Putin and the Kremlin make pronouncements along the lines of those we’ve heard in recent hours to distract from what can only be considered the underperformance of Russia’s military forces and its failure to achieve its original objectives in Ukraine.
We understand that Ukraine’s forces continue to hold their ground, and there is every reason to believe that President Putin and his defense minister’s show for the media, what we saw in recent hours, is even yet more disinformation from their well-worn playbook. What we’ve seen from the people of Mariupol, including those who remain in this facility, is nothing short of bravery, it is nothing short of inspiring. And their ferocious stand stands in stark contrast to the plummeting morale that we’ve seen among Russia’s forces. It stands in stark contrast to the tactics that we have seen Russia impose against those in Mariupol.
What Russia has done to the city of Mariupol over the course of weeks now is heartbreaking, and some of the most chilling images that we’ve seen emanate from this war, some of the accounts that are likely to constitute war crimes, have emanated from Mariupol. And these tactics, these acts, they really underscore the utter indifference to human life that we’ve seen Russia’s forces demonstrate in their conduct in Ukraine.
When it comes to Mariupol, our position and that of our partners and allies has been clear. We have called for humanitarian access; in other words, allowing much-needed humanitarian assistance to get in and for those in the besieged city to come out. Now, of course, we’ve heard from the Kremlin in recent hours that the plan is to attempt to starve out, to seal off that facility. We know that partners around the world are using the leverage they have with the Russian Federation. We’re discussing this with our Ukrainian partners. We want to see those who seek to leave the city be afforded the opportunity to leave. And this is something that we will continue to call for, and this is something that we’ll continue to be focused on.
QUESTION: But if Russia doesn’t allow that, as they seem not to intend to, is there a Plan B to get some sort of supplies or food or anything to these people who are stuck there?
MR PRICE: There are many organizations and entities that are working on the ground. These are nongovernmental organizations, humanitarian organizations, that are doing everything they can and will do – will continue to do everything they can to get humanitarian assistance in. Ultimately, there has been an impediment to doing that, and it has taken the form of the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin and his pronouncements.
Every time we have seen a humanitarian corridor and the promise of a humanitarian corridor arise, it has been promptly put to an end by the actions of the Russian Government. What we need to see is humanitarian access. There are organizations, including humanitarian organizations that the international community is supporting on the ground, in the region, prepared to help move in some of this aid, prepared to provide assistance to those fleeing this assault. And it’s something that we’ll remain very focused on.
QUESTION: On this, on the people in the factory, now the Russians claim that there are some 2,000 people live there. They also claim, or insinuate, that they are not regular army, they are an S op, or S op, whatever, brigade and so on. Do you have any information on the people that are fighting, remaining there to fight, why they are – are they part of the regular army, or are they as the Russians claim?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to provide that sort of tactical battlefield update from here. We’ve seen reports that there are Ukrainian fighters holed up in this facility, but we’ve also seen reports that there are civilians in this facility. So again, the imperative needs to be humanitarian access for those who wish to leave, who wish to leave the city of Mariupol, who wish to leave any besieged facilities in and around the city.
QUESTION: And where you began with the 4 – the $3.4 billion worth of arms, that’s a lot of arms. Do you guys track these weapons, or are you concerned that it may actually – you may lose track of it eventually or in the future and so on? How do you account for it?
MR PRICE: Well, these are weapons that are being delivered from the United States. In the case of this $3.4 billion that is being sent over into Ukraine, of course, our goal is for this security assistance to be put to extraordinary use and effect by our Ukrainian partners, and that’s precisely what they’ve done.
The fact that Russia essentially had to concede defeat in its initial plans to take the capital city of Kyiv within 48 or 72 hours, a timeframe that the Kremlin initially envisioned; the fact that Russia has been forced to focus on a narrower part of the country, to focus on the south, to focus on the east, is a testament to the effectiveness that – with which the Ukrainians have defended their own country, but also the effectiveness with which they have used the security assistance from the United States and the 30-odd countries around the world who are providing assistance from their own stocks.
QUESTION: But the Russians never really stated they want to take over Kyiv in 48 hours, did they?
MR PRICE: Said, if you looked at their operations —
QUESTION: No, no, I mean, it’s more than likely that was the intent, but they never stated that this is the goal, we want to go in and occupy it in 48 hours.
MR PRICE: If you looked at their operations in the earliest parts of, in the earliest hours of the campaign, that certainly appeared to be the intent.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a couple of questions on North Korea. Special Representative of North Koreans Ambassador Sung Kim, he said at Seoul yesterday he would mobilize all means for the denuclearization of North Korea. Does “all” – I mean, “all means” included the military actions?
MR PRICE: Our goal is to achieve that ultimate objective, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, through diplomacy and dialogue. That is what we have consistently put forward.
We have consistently made clear that we are ready, we’re prepared to engage with the DPRK in good faith without any hostile intent to make progress towards that ultimate goal. Of course, the DPRK has not responded positively to that message, and in the meantime we have been coordinating very closely with our allies in the Republic of Korea, in South Korea, as well as in Japan. And that’s precisely why Special Envoy Sung Kim is in Seoul to continue to that coordination with our allies in Seoul.
QUESTION: So will the UN Security Council include the military sanctions in the additional sanctions against North Korea or only economic sanctions as well, or you can add it to military sanctions to North Korea?
MR PRICE: Of course, we don’t preview any sanctions before they are announced, but what we have made clear is that there will continue to be costs. We will continue to seek to hold the DPRK accountable for its provocations. We’ve done so using our own authorities. We’ve done so in concert with the United Nations, including at the Security Council.
The fact is that the recent provocations, including the two ICBM launches, violated multiple UN Security Council resolutions. These programs – North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its ballistic missile program – these are a threat to international peace and security. It is the preservation of international peace and security that is the mission of the UN Security Council, and we’ll continue to work with our allies and partners at the UN to impose additional costs as necessary.
QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to the resettlement program you mentioned at the beginning for Ukrainians? So that’s a humanitarian parole program that will allow people to stay for up to two years, but it doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. So it’s separate from the Refugee Resettlement Program. Is that —
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: What proportion of the 100,000 people that the President has spoken about taking in will come under this new program as opposed to resettled refugees? And if you could give us an update on the – when do you expect the Refugee Resettlement Program to ramp up? I think in March only 12 Ukrainian refugees came to the U.S., and you’ve spoken about – the administration has spoken about working with the Europeans to identify people who could be resettled. So when do you see that happening? When does that – when does the priority shift towards that?
MR PRICE: Well, we do expect most of those who will be coming to the United States will arrive in the United States under the auspices of the Uniting for Ukraine program. This is a program that will be online, it will be effective early next week. It’s also a program to provide streamlined access to those seeking refuge in the United States, those who have a sponsor and those who meet the eligibility requirements for entry into the United States under humanitarian parole.
But there were other elements that the President spoke to and that we’ve spoken to in terms of affording additional access to Ukrainians and to others fleeing the violence in Ukraine. First is our goal of broadening access to visa processing, and we have expanded flexibilities that have been authorized by USCIS. And because of that, our consular sections overseas now are in a position to accept immigrant visa petitions filed locally for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens when the U.S. citizen is present in the consular district. It used to be that a petition for an immigrant visa would then have to be sent back to the United States, the processing time would be extended, and the process would be quite a bit longer.
Now, our embassies are able to process those on site. Posts with large numbers of Ukrainian citizens in the country are also making available to the extent possible a meaningful number of non-immigrant visa appointments and – in order to assure – ensure that there is an expedited visa appointment program allowing individuals with humanitarian, medical, or other extraordinary circumstances priority access to these appointments.
When it comes to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, as you know, most Ukrainians who have been resettled in the United States in recent years have been resettled under the auspices of the Lautenberg Program. This allows members of certain religious minority groups from former Soviet Union countries to reunite with family members in the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
We have, as you know, temporarily suspended resettlement operations in Kyiv, but we do continue to process Lautenberg applicants who are located throughout the region with support from our Resettlement Support Center, a sub-office we have in Chișinău, Moldova. And we’re exploring opportunities to increase access to case processing by expanding U.S. resettlement operations in Europe.
Now, with both immigrant visa and non-immigrant visa processing and U.S. Refugee Admissions Program processing, these can be lengthy processes. And so that is why we see the Uniting for Ukraine program, the sponsorship program, as a streamlined process by which we expect most of those of the 100,000 will be able to enter the United States.
QUESTION: Are you saying to Ukrainians that this is the program to come on, there’s not going to be like a full resettlement program, as has been offered in other conflicts?
MR PRICE: Well, again, our goal is to see to it that this conflict is put to an end as quickly as possible, and that Ukrainians and others who have been forced to flee Ukraine are able to return to a secure, stable, peaceful, democratic Ukraine just as soon as possible. We also know that many Ukrainians have left behind brothers, sons, fathers, individuals who are there defending their country. And so for many Ukrainians, they are looking for a temporary safe haven, and the United States for some individuals may be appropriate. We also know that other countries in Europe, including many of our NATO Allies, have generously opened their doors, opened their borders to now more than five million Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to flee their country.
So again, our goal is to see to it that the Ukrainians are able to return to a peaceful Ukraine as soon as that can possibly be achieved.
QUESTION: Ned, the American citizen sponsor has to be present in the consular district where the relative applies, or can be?
MR PRICE: No, the – you’re – that – these are two separate programs. These are two separate programs. So for visa processing, if the American citizen sponsor is present in that consular district overseas, that’s what we’re talking about. The American citizen sponsor for the Uniting for Ukraine program, typically that person will be here in the United States.
QUESTION: Okay, but when you say “present,” does that mean that they can be just visiting? They can fly over to do it? Or do they have to actually, like, live there?
MR PRICE: We’ll see if there are any sort of residency requirements that are associated with it.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Cuba?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the talks this week, or the talks today are focused on migration narrowly. But as these are the highest-level talks under this administration, do you plan to raise any other issues, if it’s human rights, et cetera, things that have – you’ve voiced concern about before? And could these lead potentially to anything else, to any broader dialogue or developments with Cuba?
MR PRICE: Well, these talks are focused squarely on migration. And again, the topic of these talks are migration trends, irregular migration, returns and repatriations of citizens, embassy functions and related issues. The goal of the talks is to promote safe, orderly, and legal migration between our two countries.
Now, of course, our broader policy is predicated on support for the Cuban people, support for their democratic aspirations. There is a migration element of that. There is a family reunification element of that. But these talks are migration talks.
QUESTION: From Azerbaijan (inaudible). Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has appealed to international organizations to help Azerbaijan to clear mines in the liberated territories of Karabakh, more than 200 Azerbaijanis who has – have been killed or injured in the mine explosions since the end of Karabakh war. My question is: How could the United State help Azerbaijan to clear mines?
MR PRICE: Well, we have an active demining program around the world. In fact, we recently released our annual report called To Walk the Earth in Safety. We had a key official here from our Bureau of Political-Military Affairs as well as our Under Secretary for International Security Affairs Bonnie Jenkins here to speak to that. So we do have such programs around the world, and the report that we recently concluded is available online and it will detail where those activities are taking place.
QUESTION: Ned, on Iran, any update on the talks in Vienna?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an update beyond what we discussed the last time you asked, I think a day or two ago. We, as you know, have made significant progress in recent months, but an agreement is uncertain. There are differences that remain. We continue to actively seek to resolve the remaining issues because we continue to believe that a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA would afford us nonproliferation benefits that are very much in our national security interest. At the highest level, a re-implementation of the JCPOA, of the restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program, would reimpose the verifiable, permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program. It would be a means by which to see to it that President Biden’s commitment that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon is guaranteed.
That said, along with our allies, we are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA because this remains a very uncertain proposition. And ultimately, we’ll make a judgment call. We will only enter into an agreement that the President determines is in the best interests of the security of the United States.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics, Palestinian-Israeli? Ned, very quick, can you update us on the visit of deputy – Acting Deputy Secretary Lempert and Hady Amr? I think they met in Jordan and now they are in Israel. What is – what are they doing?
MR PRICE: That’s right. So, as we announced yesterday, Acting Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert and DAS Hady Amr will travel and they have traveled to Jordan, to Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt from April 19th through the 26th. While there, they will engage with senior officials to discuss reducing tensions and ending the cycle of violence in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. Acting Assistant Secretary Lempert will be accompanied for the entire trip by DAS Hady Amr.
You’ve probably seen that our posts in the region have issued short readouts of their meetings. Yesterday they had an opportunity to see Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi. They had a conversation with the foreign minister, again, about reducing tensions in Jerusalem and of exercising restraint, avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric, and upholding the historic status quo of Jerusalem’s holy places, including the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, of which Jordan plays an important role.
More recently – and you saw this from our embassy in Jerusalem – they had an opportunity to meet with Yair Lapid, with Alon Ushpiz to discuss the same issues. They will continue to engage with senior officials – senior Israeli officials, Palestinian officials, and later Egyptian officials – over the course of this trip.
QUESTION: I also want to ask a question about the consulate. Any update on the status of the opening of the East Jerusalem consulate, the American consulate in East Jerusalem?
MR PRICE: Yes. So 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 for the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem in our Palestinian Affairs unit focused on engagement with and outreach to the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to ask a few questions about Georgia. In light of the fact that the threats of military aggression from Russia have significantly increased for Georgia since the war broke out, were there a scenario when Russia invades militarily to Georgia or it annexes Georgian territory, does the U.S. consider military or financial assistance to Georgia specifically to tackle the growing security threats?
And secondly, very briefly, could you speak more broadly about discussions that the State Department is having within the agency and with the partners about Georgia, particularly in the context of the current war in Ukraine? Thank you.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, conversations that who is having?
QUESTION: State Department, within the agency and with partners in the context of the war about Georgia. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, Georgia is an important partner of ours. We have demonstrated that support, that partnership with Georgia in different ways, including in recent months. Not going to entertain hypotheticals about what we might see from Moscow, but as we’ve demonstrated with Ukraine, we are committed to our partners throughout the region. Georgia is a country that knows well the specter and appreciates the specter of Russian aggression. It is a country that with the support of the international community endured aggression of its own just 15 or so years ago in 2008. We’ve continued to stand by Georgia, its sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity ever since.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for this. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News Pakistan. As you are well aware that Prime Minister Imran Khan is still blaming U.S. for his ouster from PM’s office while he’s also asking his supporters to keep protesting outside the White House. But yesterday Congresswoman Ilhan Omar met with Mr. Khan in Islamabad. It was kind of an hour-long meeting. Close associates of Mr. Khan claim that United States trying to clear the air with Mr. Khan. Is it true that Ilhan Omar is representing Biden government there in Islamabad?
MR PRICE: Well, as I understand it, Representative Omar is not visiting Pakistan on U.S. Government-sponsored travel, so I’d need to refer you to her office for questions on her travel.
QUESTION: So there was a bomb blast in Afghanistan yesterday killing 17 people; dozens were injured. And the attack was on Shia mosque; that suggests that ISIS/Daesh is getting stronger in Afghanistan. The other terrorist organization also recruiting more fighters; they’re forming safe havens there. What are your concerns and what is the strategy to deal with this growing threat?
MR PRICE: Well, there have been attacks in recent days. And earlier this week, the United States joined the international community in expressing our outrage at – in response to the heinous attacks on the Mumtaz Education Center and the Abdul Rahim Shaheed School in Kabul. Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, and our chargé for the embassy in Kabul, concurrent – currently operating out of Doha, Ian McCary, also denounced these cowardly attacks.
We’ve also heard in more recent hours about more attacks that occurred today in four provinces in Afghanistan, including at a Shia Hazara mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif and three other explosions that killed even more and left others wounded. We’ve offered our sincere condolences to the families and other loved ones of those killed in these cowardly acts, and we condemn these attacks and what appear to be the targeting of minority groups in the strongest terms. We are committed to supporting the ability of all Afghans, including Afghan’s minority populations, including its religious minorities, to practice their religion freely without fear of violence against them.
And we’re extremely concerned about the recent rise of violence in Afghanistan and call for an end to these cowardly attacks and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. All Afghan children, all Afghan worshipers, all of Afghan’s monitories, religious or otherwise, deserve to pursue and to live their lives safely and without fear of violence. And the Afghan people deserve to live and worship free from terror.
QUESTION: But there are no foreign troops there. What is the strategy to deal with the situation? I mean, I don’t know if you can send American troops there once again, but what is the strategy?
MR PRICE: So that is not a tool that is in our toolkit when it comes to addressing this, but our strategy for Afghanistan principally entails supporting the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. And we have made tremendous commitments to the people of Afghanistan in recent months. We’ve continued to be the world’s humanitarian leader in our support for the people of Afghanistan.
In every engagement we have with the Taliban, we address with the Taliban our core interests. And among those interests is to see to it that the rights of the Afghan people are respected – that includes by the Taliban – but doing everything that ruling authorities in Afghanistan can do to provide security for all of Afghan – all of Afghanistan’s people that include its women, its girls, its religious minorities, and others who face persecution. This is a point that we always, always raise with the Taliban, and the Taliban know that in order for us to achieve progress, in order for us to have improved relations with them, in order for them to have improved relations with countries around the world, they will need to demonstrate progress on these interests that are core to us, that are important to us, but also important to countries around the world.
QUESTION: On China, President Xi Jinping today spoke about his proposal for a global security initiative. And he’s talking about this invoking the principle of indivisible security, obviously a Kremlin-favorite phrase. I wonder if you had any response to that, and in particular are you concerned that this is something that China could use in relation to Taiwan or the South China Sea to push back on actions by the U.S. and those – or support from the U.S. for countries in China’s neighborhood and potentially act in a similar way to how Russia has acted in Europe?
MR PRICE: Well, we did take note of the remarks, also took note of the reference to indivisible security, which is interesting in that we have continued to see the PRC parrot some of what we have heard coming from the Kremlin. This apparently applies to the concept of indivisible security. The Kremlin continues to maintain that attacking another country in an unjustified, unprovoked way, in a brutal manner somehow bolsters security in the region. It is unclear to us how what the Kremlin is doing in Ukraine is at all related to any concept of security, including that of indivisible security.
But there are broader principles at play, and we’ve always said that this is about Russia’s war against Ukraine, but at the same time it is about the principles and the rules that, over the course of now seven decades, have governed the international system. This is about the rules-based international order that has ushered in the most peaceful and prosperous period in modern history. And along with likeminded partners around the world, this is a system that we helped build. It’s a system that countries around the world, the United States included, continues to help shape. And it’s a system built on shared values, including respect for human rights, sovereignty, self-determination, those principles that are meant to undergird and to fuel our ability to address our biggest global challenges.
So especially as we face threats from Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, COVID-19, and climate change, we are committed to upholding the very system that certain countries around the world – and Russia and the PRC are among them – seek to challenge and in certain instances seek to tear down and even destroy.
This is at the heart of why the international community has stood with the Government of Ukraine, with the people of Ukraine, supporting their own aspirations for freedom, independence, democracy, and a country of their own, but also recognizing that what Russia is seeking to do, to challenge the international system and to undermine it, is precisely what other countries have sought to do around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific. Our – we understand that when this international system is undermined anywhere and done so with impunity, without challenge, that it is degraded everywhere. And so that is why not only have we stood up for these principles in Ukraine, in the context of Ukraine, but also in the Indo-Pacific as well.
QUESTION: Ukraine, please?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: So Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in Brussels talking to her – talking to U.S. counterpart in Europe. She also expressed concern over China’s amplifying some of the Russian disinformation. Could you give us update? In the in the U.S. assessment, is China providing financial and material assistance to Russia in Russia’s war in – on Ukraine, or is just rhetorical support?
MR PRICE: So first, on the deputy’s trip, as you alluded to, she is in Brussels, and she led the US delegation for the third high-level meeting of the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China, and tomorrow she’ll meet with – she’ll lead U.S.-EU consultations on the Indo-Pacific. She also participated today in a moderated discussion at an event hosted by the Friends of Europe think tank about U.S.-European collaboration on a wide range of shared challenges, including our shared approach to the PRC, our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, our assistance to Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia as well.
She will have an opportunity to speak publicly tomorrow during a press availability with European External Action Service secretary general after the U.S.-EU consultations on the Indo-Pacific. She will also meet with NATO Allies and EU partners to discuss our continued close coordination on President Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine and other global issues.
In addition to her engagements today and tomorrow, she, over the course of yesterday and today, held meetings with the NATO deputy secretary general, the NATO permanent representatives, European External Action Service Secretary General Sannino and head of cabinet of the European Commission, President Seibert.
To your question about the PRC’s approach to Russia, this is one that we have spoken to before. Ultimately, the PRC is going to have to decide, to make its own decisions. It is our task to speak of the consequences for those decisions, and we made clear that if the PRC or any other country were to seek to offset Russia’s losses or were to seek to provide weapons, supplies, needed material for its war effort in Ukraine, there would be serious consequences for any such country. We’ve been watching very closely. We offered an assessment a couple of weeks ago that we had not seen any such support on the part of the PRC. That remains the case today, but we continue to watch very closely.
QUESTION: Speaking of consequences, could PRC face secondary sanctions if they support material and financial?
MR PRICE: Again, we’ve made clear that any country that seeks to undermine our sanctions regime or seeks to provide support to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine would face consequences.
QUESTION: I have two quick questions. Regarding the security agreement between PRC and Solomon Islands, do you think this is a first step for PRC to militarize the Pacific Islands regions? And secondly, regarding the historical relations between Japan and Republic of Korea, South Korea’s incoming foreign minister Park acknowledged yesterday bilateral agreements signed with Japan in 2015 over comfort women, it’s official. What is your reaction?
MR PRICE: So on the Solomon Islands, as we’ve said before, we are concerned that the agreement which was concluded in a non-transparent process follows a pattern we’ve seen before. It’s a pattern of the PRC offering shadowy, vague deals with little regional consultation in fishing, resource management, development assistance, and now security and security practices. The prime minister of the Solomon Islands has said he would like to release more details but if and only if the PRC agrees, so it’s really up to the People’s Republic of China to show if it can be transparent on security matters that have raised concerns throughout the region from many Pacific island countries. There are many countries in the region that would like to know more about this arrangement as well, and it’s incumbent on the PRC to follow through with that.
In terms of your question on South Korea, we’re aware of the comments from the foreign minister nominee. We’ve long encouraged Japan and the ROK to work together on history-related issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation. Even while they are addressing sensitive historical issues, we are moving forward to embrace opportunities to advance our common regional and international priorities.
QUESTION: The UN secretary-general asks Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to meet him for the peace talks. I wonder if you welcome this step, and do you believe that any negotiation with Putin over Ukraine even possible?
MR PRICE: Do we believe that any negotiation —
QUESTION: Yes, with Vladimir Putin even possible over Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So again, we are supportive of a diplomatic process that achieves a diminishment of violence and ultimately an end to these hostilities through dialogue and diplomacy. That is what we would want to see happen. That is also what our Ukrainian partners have said they would like to see happen. Our Ukrainian partners at every step have been willing to meet, to engage virtually with Russian officials, but at every step we have seen that process bear essentially no fruit – not because of the lack of effort or lack of intent on the part of our Ukrainian partners, but because the – Moscow, the Kremlin does not appear to be serious in its diplomatic initiatives.
So it is our charge to do two things to change that, to try to change that calculus. One is to continue to provide security assistance to our Ukrainian partners so that they can continue to take on quite effectively, in an extraordinary way, the Russian forces that are inside their country; and two, to impose additional pressure and additional costs on the Kremlin, doing precisely the kinds of things that we did most recently yesterday: imposing costs on those who are responsible for this war effort, imposing additional costs and closing loopholes for those who have attempted to evade our sanctions, closing off strategic opportunities for the Russian Federation through our export controls, and ultimately seeing to it that Moscow’s economy, Moscow’s financial system, those in the Kremlin, those around the Kremlin are feeling the pain of what President Putin has done to the people of Ukraine but also inflicted upon his own people.
So that will continue to be our strategy. There was another part to your question.
QUESTION: No, I’m done.
MR PRICE: Okay, in the back, yes.
QUESTION: Yes. Going back to the Cuba talks, we understand that – and we spoke earlier in the week with Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz. He mentioned that Cubans represent currently the third-largest group of migrants being apprehended at the border. I was going to ask you if someone – a representative from the Department of Homeland Security has participated in these talks today.
MR PRICE: So the U.S. delegation is being led by our deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. That’s Emily Mendrala. The State Department will have representatives from our Consular Affairs Bureau, our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and the chargé d’affaires from our embassy in Havana. And representatives from DHS will also join.
MR PRICE: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: You don’t have any idea when it will end or when your —
MR PRICE: My understanding is shortly, this afternoon.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Let me move around to the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, and congratulations on being sanctioned. I hope you didn’t have to cancel your vacation in Kamchatka.
MR PRICE: Fortunately, I had no rubles, and even if I did, they would be worthless by now anyway.
QUESTION: Okay, well, more seriously, President Biden said today that we can’t advertise all that’s being provided to Ukraine. He said that we need to speak softly and carry a big Javelin. But does this refer to the stuff that other countries are providing, or the U.S. still – in other words, is the list that you published of the equipment that you sent, is it exhaustive?
MR PRICE: We have provided extensive information on precisely the type of weaponry and security assistance that we’re providing to our Ukrainian partners. Just today the Department of Defense issued a new statement listing what was in this package. We have also listed thematically much of what we have provided to our Ukrainian partners. It is in all cases not for us to say what each and every partner is supplying, but it is for us to work with our European allies, other partners to see to it that elements that they may have in their inventories that are responsive to the needs that we’re hearing from our Ukrainian partners are made available to Ukraine.
And oftentimes we can help support that process. One example we’ve talked about was Slovakia’s provision of the S-300 long-range anti-aircraft system. Slovakia was able to do that precisely because we were in a position to backfill Slovakia with the provision of a Patriot missile battery. So there have been arrangements like that where we have provided something to a partner and a partner has in turn provided it to the Ukrainians.
QUESTION: And was that a topic of conversation today with the Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa? Because there was – there were reports that they were ready to send tanks to Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Our support for the people of Ukraine was absolutely a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: Could I ask a quick question on Iran, Ned?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I know last – I think last Monday, you suggested from this podium that if Iran wanted to have the Revolutionary Guard lifted off the terror list, there had to be some kind of reciprocity.
MR PRICE: I did not use those words. That’s —
QUESTION: All right, okay. Maybe I misunderstood what you said. But if – if it’s tit-for-tat or something like this, you would require them to do something in return – what would it be? Do you have anything in mind that the Iranians must do to sort of have in return the designation, the terror designation of the Revolutionary Guard, lifted?
MR PRICE: We’re not going to negotiate in public. What we will say is that the Iranians know that there is an opportunity to reach a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA in a quick manner if they are willing to do so. So we are – that has been on the table for some time. We’ve worked very closely through our European allies and partners on this.
And again, it remains our – in our best interest to see a resumption of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action precisely because it would afford us nonproliferation benefits that would be to our advantage. And in the first instance, the advantage it would bring would be an elongation of the breakout time, breakout time that was close to a year when the JCPOA was originally in full effect.
It is a breakout time – that is to say the time it would take Iran to amass enough fissile material to produce a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so – that time has shrunk considerably, especially since 2018 after the last administration abandoned the Iran deal and Iran itself walked away from some of the nuclear constraints it was previously under. Our goal is to see those nuclear constraints re-imposed on Iran, to see Iran once again permanently, verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So you said we have demining programs. For example, what is needed for the United States —
MR PRICE: Sorry, what programs?
MR PRICE: Demining.
QUESTION: Yes, demining program, sorry. For example, what is needed for the United States to start demining in Azerbaijan Karabakh?
MR PRICE: We can get you more information on this, but again, I would refer you to the report we recently put out regarding our activities.
QUESTION: I’m just – I’m curious if you know or if you can find out how much, if any, of the non-security – in other words, the financial and humanitarian economic support aid to Ukraine – has been kind of earmarked for the treatment or the transport of wounded Ukrainians out of Ukraine and to other countries for medical treatment, if any, if you know. And even if you don’t know, is there a concern that there are people, Ukrainians who have been wounded, civilians and soldiers who’ve been wounded and may die because they can’t get the proper medical treatment in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: We’ll see if there’s anything we can provide you on a specific earmarking like that. But the other point I would make is that we have also provided as of today a billion dollars in direct budgetary assistance. And so we’ve provided the Ukrainian Government with resources it can use as it best sees fit. But if there’s anything we can add on a specific earmark —
QUESTION: Right. That would presumably be for care that they would provide inside Ukraine, and there may be instances in which people are not able to be adequately treated inside Ukraine.
MR PRICE: We’ll see if there’s anything we can add there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: One last one in the back?
QUESTION: Oh, a couple follow-ups on Iran. You mentioned the breakout time. Do you have an estimate of what that’s down to?
And then there was a report in Israeli media that a senior Israeli official said the U.S. had notified European counterparts that the administration doesn’t plan on delisting the IRGC. Is there any truth to that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any comment on that second question beyond the fact that, again, we’re not going to negotiate in public. But we’re coordinating closely with our European allies on this as well as with the broader P5+1.
On your first question on the breakout time, what I can say is that when the JCPOA was in full effect, the breakout time was measured at about 12 months. It was always measured in months. Now, the more appropriate and accurate measurement is weeks, but I’m just not able to give additional detail.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)