2:04 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Looks like we may have a few stragglers today. I know it’s shocking; we’re actually starting on time, so probably took some of you by surprise.
But we are starting on time, because we are very pleased to have some special guests with us today. We will be highlighting the department’s newly published To Walk the Earth in Safety report, which you have in front of you and which we’ll also display behind us here. You can also access it on our website, www.state.gov. As you all know, this is the annual report that highlights our enduring commitment to making post-conflict communities safer and setting the stage for their recovery and their development.
To do that, I am very pleased to introduce today, Dr. Bonnie Jenkins. She is our under secretary for arms control and international security. Dr. Jenkins will make some remarks at the top. We also have with us today acting Assistant Secretary Karen Chandler, who is prepared to take your questions. After that we’ll then go to our regularly scheduled program.
So, with that, Under Secretary Jenkins.
UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS: Great, thank you. I hope everyone can hear me. Great, thank you, and good afternoon. I just want to thank Ned for your great introduction. And today I have the pleasure to release the 21st edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, or as we call it, “TWEIS,” the annual report of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program. And I’m going to show it to you to make sure everyone gets a chance to see it.
This 2021 edition of TWEIS highlights many of the ways communities and individuals around the world have overcome the adversity of post-conflict challenges thanks to the generous support of the American people and the hard work of our implementing partners. Our partners tirelessly find and destroy landmines, improvised explosive devices, and unexploded ordnances or UXO, as what they’re often called. They also destroy or secure small arms, light weapons, and ammunition that could be at risk of proliferation. It is a hard job with an amazingly big payoff.
As an example, when Sok Rothea and Tin Navin, a married couple of 10 years, lost their urban-based jobs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, they moved back to their family land in Chamkar Chek village of Cambodia. They hesitated to make this decision prior to the pandemic, because they feared the explosive hazards on their land. Cambodia’s agricultural production is sharply limited due to the impact of UXO and landmines. Not long after returning to their land, The HALO Trust, with U.S. funding, began clearing the area of explosive remnants of war and landmines, returning formerly contaminated land to local populations. Sok and Tin are now planting cashew trees and thriving economically. This is just one of many examples of how the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program is fostering human security and economic prosperity across the globe.
So, as you go through this 21st Edition, we call your attention to the human-interest stories in each of the six regional chapters. These stories about people who have been positively affected by our programs provide tangible evidence of the success of the United States’ efforts to improve security, including food and economic security, in a way that no dry statistics can.
The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction or CWD. We have invested more than $4.2 million in more than 100 countries and territories since 1993 to promote international peace and security by addressing humanitarian hazards from landmines and unexploded ordnances in post-conflict countries. We have also partnered with nations to reduce the possibility that non-state actors, such as criminals and terrorists, could acquire small arms, light weapons, and ammunition by securing or destroying excess munitions.
In 2021 alone, the United States funded conventional weapons destruction in 62 countries with more than $265 million. With this funding, our CWD programs have accomplished a great deal. For example, they provided thousands of life-saving explosive ordnance risk education sessions, globally; returned more than 140 million square meters of land – equivalent to more than 26,000 football fields – for sale and productive use; destroyed over 2,500 metric tons of munitions and 267,781 pieces of small arms ammunition; and destroyed more than 25,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
The Department of State, Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development work together with foreign governments, private companies, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations to reduce excess small arms and light weapons stockpiles, implement best practices for properly security and storing conventional weapons, and carry out humanitarian mine programs.
My remarks would not be complete without addressing the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine and what we are doing to help the people in Ukraine. Unfortunately, Putin’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified further invasion starting on February 24th of this year has already undone our earlier progress while exposing exponentially more Ukrainian civilians to the threat of explosive remnants of war. The Russian Federation’s bombing and shelling of civilian apartment blocks, grocery stores, hospitals, schools, and even a nuclear powerplant is making this situation catastrophic.
Since 2014, the U.S.-funded community outreach through our Explosive Ordnance Risk Education programs has prevented countless injuries in Ukraine. Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, U.S.-funded programs provided outreach to populations along the line of control, conducting over 670 explosive ordnance risk education sessions to prevent injuries and deaths in 2021 alone. Since February, U.S.-funded partners have delivered life-saving digital risk education to more than 18 million Ukrainians. This information, disseminated via social media platforms and sometimes even in person at air raid shelters, is helping to prevent further injuries to Ukrainians as Russia litters Ukraine with UXO and landmines as part of its unprovoked and seamless attacks.
The cleanup from Russia’s indiscriminate attacks will take many years and a well-coordinated international response. The United States is dedicated to supporting efforts to help the people of Ukraine rebuild their lives safe from the threat of Russian bombs.
In conclusion, when we recount our progress in 2021, we need to remember that our successes are not just about things such as landmines, UXO, and small arms. The top priority for the U.S. conventional weapons destruction program is people. This is reflected in To Walk the Earth in Safety, this year’s annual report. The American taxpayer can be proud to assist in this accomplishment.
Finally, the United States’ commitment to conventional weapons destruction is grounded in over 25 years of bipartisan congressional support, combined with the experience and determination of our implementing partners. Together, we have worked with host governments, as well as communities at the local level, to create a resilient program that has evolved and adapted along with the threat from explosive remnants of war.
I hope you enjoy reading the stories in this report. Now, I will ask Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Karen Chandler, who is also the director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, who will take any questions you may have, concerning the report, while my colleague Ned moderates the conversation. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Great. Thank you very much, Under Secretary Jenkins.
Turn to questions. Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks, hi. Two things. One, on Ukraine, which the under secretary just addressed, I look at the totals here, and after Bosnia, it’s – Ukraine has been number two in terms of the amount of (inaudible). And you said that what’s happened in the last two months has undone your earlier progress. I realize that it’s not over yet and you don’t know, but, I mean, has all of the progress been undone? Is there any kind of – can you put any kind of – is there a metric that you can use – that you have right now that you can use? Then I have a second one which is much broader.
MS CHANDLER: Okay. So, it’s really hard to say right now because we don’t have the access to the area to do the technical and nontechnical survey. But it’s very fair to say that the majority of the contamination that we were facing earlier was in the East, and that is, of course, where the heaviest contamination is right now again. So, the areas that we had cleared in the East are now re-contaminated, and then now we’re adding – Russia has been adding to that with contamination in other areas around the entire country.
QUESTION: Okay. So, I mean, do you – your estimate, I think, is going to be that it’s going to take substantial —
MS CHANDLER: It will take —
QUESTION: — substantially more resources to clean up after this is finished?
MS CHANDLER: Yes. It will take very substantial resources.
QUESTION: And then my much broader one – it’s just on landmine policy, particularly —
MS CHANDLER: Yes.
QUESTION: — anti-personnel landmine policy in general. This administration came in saying it was going to review the previous administration’s reversal of the previous administration’s reversal.
MS CHANDLER: Yes.
QUESTION: So where do things stand like that – with that? And can we expect some kind of a broader policy announcement regarding the Ottawa Treaty or even less than that anytime soon?
MS CHANDLER: Right, right. So, on April 8th of last year, then-Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, who is the ambassador to the UN, said that President Biden intends to curtail the use of landmines. That statement kicked off a wide review that has been happening for the past year. It’s a very comprehensive policy review to look at exactly what the new policy should be. So that review is still ongoing, but I think the key thing to drive home from that is that the President has said he intends to curtail the use of landmines, and so our policy is seeking to effectuate how we would – how we would effectuate that guidance.
MR PRICE: Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have you ever discussed the reduction or destruction of conventional weapons with North Korea? Because North Korea used many of these conventional weapons.
UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS: We do not have any type of active dialogue on conventional weapons destruction with North Korea. In order for us to have a conventional weapons destruction program in a country, we need to have a request from the host government and a host government that is willing and able to help us implement that program. There is no such program for Korea at this point.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: May I ask, Under Secretary Jenkins, last September – maybe this is a little bit too obvious, but in a speech last September you said the U.S. is determined to use the time provided by the extension of New START to pursue new dialogue with Russia on what nuclear arms control measures should follow. Obviously, things have changed dramatically, but is it now fair to say U.S. determination or U.S. effort is completely halted and completely off the table since you guys are not engaging with the Russians on this?
UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS: Thanks for the question. I think what you could say is that right now, we’re not able to have a dialogue with Russia because of the situation that we’re facing where they went into Ukraine and in the unprovoked way in which they did. So, you could say that we’re not having that conversation. However, there remains work going on in the U.S. to – when that time comes that we can start engaging them again. The interest has not gone away. We still have important things to address, including another START Treaty. But right now, we’re just not in a position where we can have those kind of discussions.
MR PRICE: Any other questions for our guest speakers? Okay. Thank you both very much. Congratulations.
UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: I do have a couple additional elements at the top and then, I promise, we will take your questions.
First, as Russia’s forces have retreated over the past few days, the world has been shocked by the horrifying images of the Kremlin’s brutality in Bucha and other cities near Kyiv. Civilians, many with their hands tied, apparently executed in the streets. Others in mass graves. We are seeing credible reports of torture, rape, and civilians executed alongside their families. There are reports and images of a nightmare litany of atrocities, including reports of landmines and booby traps left behind by Putin’s forces to injure even more civilians, and slow the stabilization and recovery of devastated communities after they failed in their objective and withdrew.
In keeping with its long track record of accusing others of its own heinous acts, the Kremlin issued a baseless and shameless denial of what we can all clearly see in Bucha, and throughout the liberated towns of Kyiv oblast – towns like Irpin and Hostomel.
The United States has long warned that Putin’s forces were likely to commit atrocities as part of their aggression. We have seen the catastrophic images of devastation from Mariupol, reports of tens of thousands abducted or deported by Russia’s forces, and shocking descriptions of rape, assault, and murders perpetrated by Russia’s forces in the towns and cities the Kremlin cynically claimed they were liberating.
As Secretary Blinken reiterated yesterday, we have – we have previously assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. The images we have seen and reports we have heard suggest these atrocities are not the act of a rogue soldier. They are part of a broader, troubling campaign.
We also see more names added to the list of journalists killed while working to ensure we all know the truth of this brutal war.
Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable, as must – as must those who ordered them. They cannot, and will not, act with impunity. We are tracking and documenting atrocities, and sharing information with institutions working to hold responsible those accountable. We are pursuing accountability, supporting international accountability mechanisms and NGOs documenting human rights abuses. Right now, at the request of the prosecutor general of Ukraine, the United States is supporting a multi-national team of international prosecutors to the region to directly support the efforts of the prosecutor general’s war crimes unit to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability.
We must not become numb, as you heard from the Secretary yesterday, to the realities of Putin’s brutality – the terrible death and destruction wrought by the Kremlin’s forces is going to continue, as long as Putin continues this senseless, unprovoked war.
We know already this war is a strategic failure for Russia. Putin has failed to achieve his objectives and shown his weakness, the Russian Federation’s military has dramatically underperformed, and Putin continues to devastate his country’s economy, its financial system, and its global reputation.
In spite of their failure, the Kremlin is doubling down in its brutal and indiscriminate war that it cannot and will not win. We condemn the Kremlin’s long history of forcibly conscripting residents of Russia-occupied Crimea and those living in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine. This conscription may involve even more Ukrainians, including those fleeing, who will be forced to wear the uniform of the enemy in their own country, as part of the 134,000 conscripts the Kremlin intends to enlist as fodder for Putin’s war machine. We have already heard credible reports, including from within Russia, of some soldiers and units in Russia’s forces refusing to follow orders or intentionally making mistakes to avoid the needless killing.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced the United States, in close coordination with Ukraine and other member states and partners at the UN, intends to seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council. Her words rang clear. She said, “We cannot let a member state that is subverting every principle we hold dear to continue to participate in the [HRC].”
It’s urgent to do all we can to support Ukraine. We want Ukraine to prevail, and we know it will, and for Putin’s brutal and cynical war effort to utterly fail. We’re continuously tightening sanctions and preparing for additional sanctions jointly with our allies and partners. We’re strengthening NATO’s defense, including on its eastern flank. We are moving quickly and resolutely to get Ukraine’s defenders more of the defensive systems they are so effectively using in the defense of their own country and their freedom. We’re doing everything we can in coordination and unity with our allies and partners to increase pressure on Putin, to strengthen Ukraine’s position on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, so that the horrors of this war will end, and a free, democratic Ukraine can rebuild stronger than ever before.
Next, I’m pleased to announce that earlier today Secretary Blinken formally launched, as you know, the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, the department’s newest bureau and a major step in realizing the Secretary’s vision for the modernization of American diplomacy and the Department of State. At an event this morning, the Secretary introduced Jennifer Bachus, a senior Foreign Service officer, as the principal deputy assistant secretary for the new bureau. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bachus will lead the bureau as senior bureau official until an ambassador at large is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.
The CDP Bureau includes policy units focused on international cyberspace security, international communications and information policy, and digital freedom as well. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretaries Michele Markoff and Stephen Anderson and Acting Digital Freedom Coordinator Blake Peterson are leading those three units – those three policy units respectively. The CDP Bureau will report directly to Deputy Secretary Sherman for at least the first year.
As we said when the Secretary announced his intent to establish this bureau late last year, the CDP Bureau is a key piece of a broader effort to orient the State Department for a fundamentally new era in global affairs, a world in which the climate crisis, global health, and emerging technologies are increasingly at the core of our common endeavors with allies and partners and our competition with rivals and adversaries. Secretary Blinken is working to build a State Department ready to meet the tests of the 21st century. Within this department, the CDP Bureau will lead and coordinate U.S. cyber and digital diplomacy to encourage responsible state behavior in cyberspace, protect the integrity and security of the internet, promote a competitive digital economy, and uphold democratic values.
As we launch the bureau, we remain focused on continuing to make progress to establish the Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology. We are very grateful for the pioneering work of the cyber and technology diplomats, who have worked for years at the department to advance U.S. foreign policy interests. And we are especially grateful for the strong bipartisan support of Congress in contributing to this legacy and in helping us shape the next chapter in U.S. cyber and digital policy diplomacy.
Finally, the United States is home to more than 3.5 million Arab Americans, and the Department of State is proud to recognize April as National Arab American Heritage Month. Americans of Arab heritage, like their fellow citizens, represent a diverse array of cultures and traditions and are very much a part of the strong diversity of this nation. Many serve throughout the government, including here at the Department of State. Arab Americans have contributed in every field and profession, and their careers are as diverse as are their backgrounds. We mark National Arab American Heritage Month noting these contributions and celebrate a community as old as America itself.
With that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Ned. Two things logistically that’ll be really brief.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One, on your Cyberspace and Digital Policy Bureau announcement – excuse me.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you – is there anything that you can think of, either off the top of your head or maybe – perhaps written down there, that is different about this than what the previous administration had proposed, and this administration had then rejected?
MR PRICE: This is fundamentally different from what was proposed in the last administration, a proposal that was met with opposition, including from Congress. As you heard me say just a moment ago —
QUESTION: Well, from some Democrats in Congress, but yes.
MR PRICE: Well, from important elements of Congress, absolutely. The CDP Bureau includes three policy units focused on, as I said before, international cyberspace security policy, international communications and information policy, and digital freedom. We’re also, as you know, establishing the special envoy position as well. Both of those entities will report to the deputy secretary for the first year.
As you know, Matt, and I believe we’ve discussed this previously, the last administration proposed the creation of a bureau that would have been responsible for really only the national security aspects of cyberspace security and security-related aspects of emerging technology. Their proposed CSET, the Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technology Bureau, would have been placed under the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security – under Dr. Jenkins, in this case – and focused primarily on the security-related aspects of cyberspace.
This is, as I just detailed, quite different. This merges the security, the economics, the values aspects of cyberspace into a single bureau to ensure that we have an approach across these three realms that is integrated and coordinated and represents the values and the interests of our blended security, economic, and human rights interests. Meanwhile, the special envoy’s team will provide expertise to develop and coordinate international policy on priority emerging technologies and drive forward the technology partnerships towards those crosscutting objectives.
QUESTION: Okay. So, you would say that this is broader and – than what had been previously proposed and is not just adding another layer of bureaucracy under —
MR PRICE: It is broader. It incorporates fundamental aspects that were not contemplated in CSET. It is given an increased priority with this building, reporting directly to the deputy secretary for at least the first year.
QUESTION: Secondly, you said – you mentioned that you’re supporting multinational something or other – I can’t read my notes here – in terms of war crimes prosecutions at the request of the Ukrainian prosecutor general. Can you be a little bit more explicit about what that support is?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Is it money? Is it people? And is – if it’s – is this not part of what had been previously announced or is this something new? Because over the course of the last couple weeks there have been additional tranches of assistance, some of which have included things somewhat like this, so —
MR PRICE: Right. That’s right. So to take a step back, since we have been discussing the atrocities and now the assessed war crimes that Russia’s forces have committed in Ukraine, we have focused on shining a spotlight on what is transpiring before our very eyes but then also on our efforts, together with our allies and partners, to promote and to ensure accountability for all those responsible for perpetrating these horrific crimes or atrocities, in the first instance, but also anyone who may have ordered them.
And there are a number of accountability mechanisms that are ongoing right now. As we mentioned, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, this individual has a war crimes unit that has been established. He is putting together criminal cases, and we’re supporting that, but that is not the only venue. We are supporting NGOs, U.S. grantees in this case. They’re documenting evidence for use in court of law – in a court of law in an appropriate jurisdiction, whether that’s in Ukraine or elsewhere. As you know, at the Human Rights Council we helped create this Commission of Inquiry that is also undertaking an important effort to document, analyze, memorialize, with an eye towards accountability. The OSCE has established the Moscow Mechanism with the very same intent, and we’ve been part of that as well.
When it comes to the prosecutor general of Ukraine, your question, right now we are supporting a multinational team of international experts and other war crimes experts deployed to the region. This interdisciplinary team includes American experts and is directly supporting efforts of Ukraine’s prosecutor general war crimes unit, the – an effort that entails collecting, preserving, analyzing evidence of atrocities with a view towards pursuing criminal accountability.
QUESTION: So, it’s both money and people?
MR PRICE: That’s correct. So, there are American experts – in some cases they’re prosecutors, in some cases they’re interdisciplinary experts – who are in their personal capacity working with this team that the Ukrainian prosecutor general has put together. I don’t have a precise number to offer you, but they are in the region – not in Ukraine, but they are in the region supporting this important work. And as you alluded to, we have also offered funding through our partners, NGOs and others who are part of this effort.
QUESTION: Can you give us a rough idea of how much?
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can get you an estimate of how much.
QUESTION: And then lastly from me, the Secretary’s heading to Brussels tomorrow, as you’re well aware, and I am just curious as to – this is the annual spring NATO foreign ministers’ NAC meeting, and – but obviously it’s taking place amidst a crisis for the Alliance but also for Ukraine. And I’m just wondering if there’s anything you can preview for – about what might come out of this meeting, or if it is kind of Ukraine plus setting up the summit in Spain for later this year.
MR PRICE: Well, of course, there will be an eye towards what is to happen in Spain, later this year, when NATO leaders will convene and bless a new Strategic Concept. But much of this will be, as you might expect, focused on two things.
One is ensuring that we are doing everything we can as member states but also as an Alliance to continue to support our Ukrainian partners, including their security needs, which, of course, is the purview of NATO. Every single NATO Ally has provided assistance to our Ukrainian partners. Many of them have provided security assistance. The United States, for our part, has provided $2.3 billion over the course of this administration, $1.6 billion over the course of the past month alone, and many of our fellow NATO Allies have provided their own share of significant security assistance to our NATO partners.
So, this will be an opportunity for ministers to discuss, to convene, what it is that our Ukrainians need. Of course, in – we’re in close dialogue with them. As you know, Secretary Blinken has an opportunity to speak to his foreign minister counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, quite regularly. The Secretary of Defense, I believe today, just spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart. Many of our NATO Allies are just as actively engaged with their foreign minister and defense minister counterpart in Ukraine. So, we’ll have an opportunity to compare notes – what more we might be able to do – marry that with the needs we recognize that the Ukrainians have.
The second element of this – and much of this is coordinated not through NATO but through individual member states and through other groupings, multilateral groupings – is to discuss what more we can do to not only hold to account and to continue to put pressure on the Kremlin, on the Russian Federation, on the cronies and oligarchs who are continuing to support this war effort, but when it comes to NATO there will also be a discussion as to any additional measures that may be needed to reassure, to reinforce the eastern flank. And as you know, there have been a number of moves announced before the Russian invasion began in late February, a number of moves announced after, and it will be an opportunity again for the ministers to convene to discuss the important issue of NATO reassurance.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Ned, will be Secretary be discussing any punitive action specifically linked to Bucha?
MR PRICE: I am certain that the apparent atrocities that we are seeing in Bucha will be a topic of discussion with the Secretary and his NATO foreign minister counterparts. These images that we’ve seen over the past 24 hours, they are searing. They are painful. They are equally a reminder of why we must continue to support our Ukrainian partners and why we must continue to hold to account those who are ultimately responsible for these apparent atrocities, these war crimes, these heinous acts.
You’ve heard from our European partners that they are looking at measures to apply additional pressure in response to what we’ve seen over the past 24 hours. You’ve heard from the President today that there will be a response from the United States as well. One of the many elements that will be on the table at NATO is a discussion of ensuring that we are working together as individual allies, as individual member states, to harmonize, to coordinate those actions that we have taken, and those that we are contemplating and we soon will take, to see to it that we are deriving as much utility from this coordinating approach.
QUESTION: And my last one on Russia is: Can you give us an update on Trevor Reed? Because today Russian news agencies reported that he has ended his hunger strike and is being treated in the prison’s medical facility. What is the independent information —
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen the statements from Russia today. We are concerned by reports that Trevor Reed’s health is deteriorating. We continue to call on Russian officials to provide adequate medical care immediately, or otherwise to release him to the United States to receive the care that he needs. As you know, there is no higher priority within this building, within this administration than the safety, the security, the well-being, the welfare of Americans around the world; and that certainly includes Americans who are detained around the world, including those Americans who are wrongfully detained, which is the case with Trevor Reed.
The President had an opportunity to speak to the – to meet with the Reed family last week. Ambassador Carstens, Secretary Blinken have also had opportunities to meet and to speak with the families of detained Americans, including Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed in the case of Russia. We will continue doing everything we can to see to it that Trevor Reed and all of those unjustly held around the world are reunited with their families.
QUESTION: You mentioned European partners looking at more sanctions. There’s a renewed debate in Europe about an embargo on at least oil and coal imports from Russia. Do you support that? Do you call on them to do more on energy sanctions against Russia, even gas?
MR PRICE: So, these are decisions for our European allies to make themselves. When President Biden signed last month the executive order that essentially banned the import or Russian energy to the United States, we were quite candid that this was not something that we were calling on our European allies to do, principally because we – there is a context in this country that is unique to this country and that is not shared by many of our European allies. We have – we are an energy producer. We have energy infrastructure, well-developed energy infrastructure, in this country. And so, we are able to take steps and to do things that other countries around the world are not able to do.
In the place of that, what we did do and what came in the wake of the President’s visit to Europe was the establishment of a joint U.S.-EU energy task force to look at both the near-term needs of our European allies, the ability to surge energy supplies, including supplies of liquefied natural gas, and to ensure stability in global energy markets and to ensure a steady supply of global energy, while over the long term – longer term discussing what we will need to do collectively, individually as allies, to further build resilience and, in some cases, to decrease reliance on Russian energy.
Part and parcel of that will be the longer-term transition to renewables away from fossil fuels, away from the energy sources that Moscow has in recent years, in the case of Ukraine and elsewhere, sought to weaponize to enact their malign agenda. Over time it is our goal to see to it that Moscow is no longer in a position to do that. We have been able to take steps to do that. A number of our allies and partners around the world have been able to take steps to do that. And we’re working with our allies and partners to build that resilience and that capacity.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on the prosecutor’s team, you said there were American people in the region but not in Ukraine. Is there any plan to send a team in Ukraine, in Bucha or elsewhere, to document and to find evidence of war crimes?
MR PRICE: Right now, the team of Americans are working closely with NGOs and other partners, American grantees in this case, who are doing that work along with the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office of documenting, of memorializing that. This is work that the team of American experts and prosecutors is able to do from outside of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Ned, do you have any update on expelling Russia from the Human Rights Council? And any updates, too, on transferring tanks, S-300 systems, and MiG-29 to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, as we spoke about at the top, announced today that the United States, in close coordination with other member states, including, of course, Ukraine, intends to seek the suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. In her comments, the ambassador called on those member states who have already acted now twice, in this case, to condemn the Russian Federation to act with us on this. There have now been two recent votes – 141 countries and 140 countries have come together to condemn the aggression, to condemn this senseless war that we continue to see Russia wage against its neighbor. And her words were clear today. She said that, “We cannot let a member state that is subverting every principle we hold dear to continue to” participate in the HRC, nor should it hold a position of authority and use its seat on the council as a tool for propaganda to suggest that Moscow has any concern about human rights. She called it a farce; that is precisely what it is. They have turned it into a farce.
President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, they have all said that according to information that is currently available to us, we believe Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. And the action of voting to suspend a state’s membership on the council is rare. It’s extraordinary. We recognize that. But we also recognize that the international community must stand in clear defiance and condemnation of Russia’s horrific conduct. And we believe it will do so once again in the General Assembly.
QUESTION: Do you have the votes necessary to expel them out, do you think?
MR PRICE: It is something we are discussing with Ukraine, with other member states in the UN system. Twice now in recent weeks we’ve seen the vast majority of the UN’s member states stand up in clear contravention of what Russia is doing. It is something that we’ll continue to discuss. But as we’ve heard, there has been widespread strong condemnation of this conduct, and this would be the next natural step.
QUESTION: And do you have anything on the tanks, the S-300, and the MiG-29?
MR PRICE: What we’ve said is that we are providing our Ukrainian partners, together with our allies and partners, many of whom are doing the same, with precisely what they need to take on the threat they are facing from Russia. So, you have heard us speak to any number of systems: surface-to-air systems, anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank systems, broader anti-armor systems, unmanned aerial systems including drones, including the Switchblade drones that the Department of Defense has spoken to. We have provided a litany of those systems and assets that we are providing to Ukraine in addition to the lump sum of $2.3 billion that has been allocated over the course of this administration, including 1.6 billion in the last month alone. There are some systems and capabilities that we’re speaking to publicly, but we can – what we’re doing is ensuring that our Ukrainian partners have precisely those systems that they need and, in many cases, those on which they’re already trained.
QUESTION: Off-topic cyber-related question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Last week the Bradley International Airport in Connecticut was hit with a cyberattack. A Russian group was ID’d as likely to have carried that out. Has State or the interagency seen any other attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure since then? Is that something you can —
MR PRICE: Since then to – sorry, what was the last part?
QUESTION: Since that – since that attack at Bradley, has State or the interagency seen any similar attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure?
MR PRICE: So, I do not believe – and I would refer you to law enforcement – that there has been any attribution for the specific incident that you’re referring to. But the President last month did warn – and you heard from Anne Neuberger as well, the White House National Security Council senior cyber official – of our concern that Russia may seek to use its significant cyber capabilities to go after American interests, including interests here in this country.
I’m not in a position to speak to or provide any additional details today, but we’re working very closely with industry, knowing that cyber security is not something that the federal government can do on its own. It absolutely has to entail a partnership, a partnership between the federal government and the private sector. There have been briefings with the private sector. The President has very publicly encouraged the private sector to ensure that its cyber defenses are up to date and that they are moving full speed ahead. So, we’ll continue to do that, and if we have any additional information to share, we will.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On the North Korean human rights issues, how do you evaluate current South Korean Government absence from the recent UN Security Council resolutions on human rights in North Korea?
MR PRICE: Well, we will let the South Korean Government speak to its votes. We have spoken very clearly about our deep concern for the human rights situation in the DPRK. We have noted that in the past. When it comes to the new – the incoming South Korean government, I should say – I would note that there is a team here in Washington today. ROK President-elect Yoon – U.S.-ROK policy consultation delegation is being led by the national assembly representative Park Geun, who will have several meetings at the department today, including with our deputy secretary, including with Ambassador Sung Kim, our special envoy for the DPRK.
We know that the U.S.-ROK alliance is the linchpin of peace, of security, of prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. And we look forward to continuing to work with our partners, our allies in the ROK, including the incoming government, on the challenge that’s posed by the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, but also to seek to address the humanitarian needs and the concerns of the DPRK people.
QUESTION: Will the Secretary Blinken meet this team or not?
MR PRICE: I do not believe there’s any plans for the Secretary to meet with the team from the incoming government, but the deputy secretary will, and Sung Kim will as well.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Last question. There is information that North Korea has hacked huge amount of money using virtual currency. Do you have any information on this?
MR PRICE: I do not. This is something that the Treasury Department may be able to assist you with.
QUESTION: So is the treaty alliance with Japan no longer the linchpin of Indo-Pacific security, as it was – or are —
MR PRICE: There’s —
QUESTION: Are they both – are they – they’re two – two —
MR PRICE: There’s the cornerstone and there’s the linchpin, and there’s been no change in our in our policy.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Two questions, one on North Korea and one on Hong Kong. First, you mentioned Ambassador Sung Kim. He’s supposed to have a meeting with his Chinese counterpart. Could you just say: Is the U.S. satisfied with China as a partner in denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula recently? China was not part of the joint statement out of the UN after the March 24 ICBM launch. Can you preview at all what Ambassador Kim will be discussing with his Chinese counterpart? Will they – will he be seeking Chinese support for a new UN Security Council resolution against DPRK?
And then on Hong Kong, do you have any comment on Carrie Lam’s announcement that she won’t seek a second term?
MR PRICE: So, I can confirm that Ambassador Sung Kim will be meeting with his PRC counterpart today in Washington. As you know, we coordinate closely in the first instance with our allies the ROK and Japan on a coordinated approach to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. But it’s also important that we consult with those countries that are in a position to wield leverage over the DPRK, including in some cases in ways that we are not, and the PRC is certainly one of those countries. We believe that all countries – again, especially those countries that may have ties with the DPRK that the United States, Japan, the ROK do not – to use that relationship in a way that is constructive and in a way that moves us towards our collective goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
So, this will be a topic of discussion when Ambassador Sung Kim meets with his PRC counterpart. It is something that we do from time to time to ensure that we are coordinated as can be, and to see to it that the measures of accountability that we have put forward at the UN, in the international system more broadly, are enacted and that all countries around the world are doing what they need to do to ensure those measures have the appropriate effectiveness.
QUESTION: Then on Carrie Lam?
MR PRICE: On Carrie Lam, so we have seen the reports today. In general, we – and you – as you’ve heard from us before, we condemn the PRC’s continuing assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, its protected rights and freedoms, and the way of life. The PRC’s degradation of Hong Kong’s electoral system is eliminating, as you’ve heard us say, what remains of Hong Kong’s political pluralism. U.S. policy towards Hong Kong has been consistent and will not waver. We support a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Hong Kong that enjoys its promised high degree of autonomy, promised by the PRC.
The United States has an enormous stake in Hong Kong’s future, from the enduring personal, cultural, and educational ties between the people in the United States and Hong Kong to our significant business presence there as well. I would note, when it comes to Carrie Lam, that the Department of the Treasury sanctioned her in August of 2020 for being involved in developing, adopting, or implementing the national security law.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Questions about Georgia, of course. A few hours ago, this morning, the main intelligence directorate of Ministry of Defense of Ukraine released an intelligence report, saying that the Russians are establishing a channel for smuggling sanctioned goods, including the military weaponry, through the territory of Georgia with the consent of the political leadership of the country. In addition to that, the statement mentioned that the representative of the Georgian Intelligence Services received a directive from the political leadership not to hinder the activities of smugglers.
So, two questions: Does the State Department also track the same report? Do you have anything to support Ukrainian intelligence on that? And secondly, can you explain more broadly what would be the consequences for those countries who will – who try to help Belarus or Russia to bypass those Western sanctions? Thank you.
MR PRICE: So, I’m not in a position to substantiate or to speak to the allegation you mentioned. We’ve talked about this last week. But the people of Georgia have relatively fresh memories of what it means to be on the receiving end of Russian aggression, including Russian attempts to wrest away sovereign territory. We have seen the people of Georgia, the Government of Georgia, stand with the international community, including in important votes in the UN, in opposition to what we are seeing the Kremlin undertake in Ukraine. We’ve been in close contact with our colleagues in Georgia on the ongoing situation and will continue to be in close contact with them.
Without speaking to any particular country, we have made the point that those countries who seek to circumvent the sanctions that the United States and our allies and partners around the world have enacted or those countries who otherwise seek to support the war effort – the Kremlin war effort by providing Russia with financial backing, with supplies, with weapons, they will face consequences. They will face consequences for attempting to skirt sanctions or for undertaking any actions that would otherwise aid Moscow’s war effort.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on the coordination on the prosecutorial level that you mentioned in the beginning, if I understood correctly, regional countries are also participating in that effort, right?
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Do you have any information as of now if Georgia also participates in that effort?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to the Georgian Government to discuss how they might be supporting the effort towards accountability, to hold accountable those in Russia and those Russian forces in Ukraine who are responsible for these atrocities and war crimes.
QUESTION: I have a question about the nuclear negotiations with Iran. For weeks now and since the pause in the Vienna talks, you’ve been saying that a deal is within reach, is close, but there are issues still outstanding, and there’s been progress made but the ball is in Iran’s court, that they have to make this a political decision. Well, today, your Iranian counterpart said exactly the same thing, that the ball is in the U.S. court.
MR PRICE: I noticed that.
QUESTION: How much longer are these weeks going to go on, and how much longer are you going to be kicking the ball back and forth?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t know that this is what you might consider a genuine kicking of the ball back and forth, and I say that because anyone involved in the talks knows precisely who has made constructive proposals, who has introduced demands that are unrelated to the JCPOA, and how we reached this current moment. That said, it has been our consistent position: we won’t negotiate these issues in public. We still believe there is an opportunity to overcome our remaining differences.
On the question of timeframe, this is something we’ve discussed at length before. We continue to believe – as of April 4th, today, 2022 – that a mutual return to compliance would be in our nonproliferation interests, in our broader national security interests. That is because today, and for as long as this remains the case, a mutual return to compliance would again place verifiable, permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program – in the vernacular, to put Iran’s program back in the box – in a way that would be to our benefit and to the benefit of not only our European allies who are also members of the P5+1, but to the broader international community.
Now, Iran, since 2018 when the last administration walked away from the Iran deal, has made significant advancements in its nuclear program. And the continued pace of those advancements is slowly chipping away at the nonproliferation benefits that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would convey to us and to our allies and partners around the world. As soon as it is no longer in our interests – that is to say, as soon as Iran’s advancements in its nuclear program go beyond the nonproliferation benefits that we would otherwise accrue from a mutual return to compliance – that is when the deal would no longer be in our interest, and we would pursue other means of seeing to it that Iran cannot ever obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Well, you have been saying this about Iran’s progress in its nuclear activities, about its enrichment, but it seems like either the weeks are getting longer or being extended, or have they slowed down their progress maybe to give time? I don’t know.
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to offer an assessment of Iran’s nuclear advancements from here beyond saying that when the deal was fully in effect at the outset of the deal, Iran’s breakout time was close to a year. It went from a handful, small handful of months before the deal to about 12 months when the deal was fully in effect. And we know from our experts in this building, we know from our experts in the Intelligence Community, we know from our experts within – we know from experts, I should say, within the IAEA, that Iran was abiding by its commitments under the JCPOA and the protocols that were in place to prevent Iran verifiably and permanently from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon were working.
Now, since 2018, Iran has been in a position to accelerate its nuclear program in ways that would have been barred, would have been prevented by the JCPOA when it was in full effect. And with that, Iran has been able to shrink that breakout time from where it started to a point where we can measure it weeks rather than months. To us, that is unacceptable as a long-term proposition. The only long-term proposition that is acceptable to us is the fact that Iran must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. As I said before, we continue to believe that the best means to achieve that right now is through a mutual return to compliance with the Iran deal. Eventually that will no longer be the case when the Iranian nuclear program goes beyond the point at which the JCPOA would still work to our advantage.
QUESTION: One last one. Is the PMD, the possible military dimension, clarification of that issue a precondition to moving onto the deal? Or could that be something that can happen afterwards if JCPOA is revived?
MR PRICE: We, as you know, defer to the IAEA on these questions. The IAEA must be satisfied, in terms of what it needs from Iran.
QUESTION: Is there a diplomatic path forward to resolve the – Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports so that the food supplies could be released?
MR PRICE: Well, we know that there has to be one. We know that the implications of President Putin’s war on Ukraine have been dire in terms of food security. He has launched a war between two of the world’s largest producers of food supplies and fertilizer, for that matter, while disrupting the supply chain, while targeting ships that in some cases have been carrying agricultural products.
We were just in North Africa last week, and there are countries in that region who import more than half of certain commodities, including food supplies, from Russia – and in some cases Ukraine. And so, the fact that President Putin has launched this war has not only devastated the people of Ukraine, it has not only had a devastating effect on the Russian people, those who are fighting and dying in Ukraine, but those who are suffering the consequences of the measures that the international community has put forward. But this is in many ways a conflict that is being felt around the world because of the rise in commodity prices, including the rise in food prices as well.
What we are doing, we have put forward significant humanitarian assistance for the region that we have spoken to, including the up to $1 billion for the – for Ukraine and for those in the region who have been affected by this. But we also have a program called Feed the Future, and together with Congress we are working to ensure that that program, which seeks to ensure greater resilience over time to price shocks – especially when it comes to food prices – is funded, is able to help both the current situation and with the situation over the longer term. There has been about $11 billion that we are working with Congress to fund in that program.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. One more talking about the South Koreans’ U.S. policy consultation delegations, is said – they said to be discussing a comprehensive strategic alliance with the United States. What is the core of a comprehensive strategic alliance meanings? I mean, they said that – comprehensive strategic alliance.
MR PRICE: I see. Well, I can’t speak to what – to that particular reference. But obviously I can say that the ROK is an important treaty ally of ours, and we work together as allies to take on both the threats and the opportunities that are presented in the Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to the former category, there is no greater threat, as we’ve said, to international peace and security – and especially acute in the region – than the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. We work very closely with the ROK on that. We do so bilaterally, in terms of our alliance relationship.
We also have emphasized the trilateral role, working together with our Japanese and South Korean allies on this urgent challenge. I think we discussed last week that Secretary Blinken last had an opportunity to meet with his ROK and Japanese counterparts in Hawaii late last year in the trilateral format. Deputy Secretary Sherman often engages with our allies in the trilateral format as well, and Sung Kim does as well.
Today, in addition to her meeting with the team from the incoming ROK governments, Deputy Secretary Sherman will also have an opportunity to speak to the deputy foreign minister of Japan, Deputy Foreign Minister Mori, which I think just underlines the emphasis we have both bilaterally and trilaterally on coordination with the ROK and Japan.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay, final question?
QUESTION: I’ve got a couple. Well, they’ll be extremely brief. But just first, just in the interest of consistency in our sports metaphors, when – the ball and court, it generally does not involve kicking, right, at basketball, volleyball —
MR PRICE: Volley – sure.
QUESTION: — tennis, right?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: It’s hitting or throwing, not kicking. So just along the lines of the linchpin/cornerstone —
MR PRICE: Appreciate it, yeah.
QUESTION: — debate.
Two completely unrelated things, political situations in foreign countries. One, in Hungary, Viktor Orban has won. Are congratulations in order for him?
MR PRICE: Well, we concur with what we have heard from the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, the preliminary findings that they have put forward that Hungary’s parliamentary elections offered voters distinct alternatives and were well run. We also note ODIHR’s findings that while competitive and well administered, the elections were marred by the pervasive overlapping of government and ruling coalitions’ messaging that blurred the lines between state and party, as well as by media bias and opaque campaign funding, resulting in the lack of a level playing field. On more questions regarding the content of the interim report, we would refer you to the OSCE, but we urge Hungary to work closely with the OSCE to address these concerns.
QUESTION: Okay, and then secondly, in Pakistan, the situation seems to be a bit in flux right now. I know that you guys have denied the allegations that you were somehow behind an effort to oust Prime Minister Khan, but I’m wondering if you have anything more.
MR PRICE: There is absolutely no truth to the allegations. As you heard from me last week, we support the peaceful upholding of constitutional democratic principles. That is the case in Pakistan; it is the case around the world. We do not support one political party over another. We support the broader principles, the principles of rule of law, of equal justice under the law.
Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:08 p.m.)
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