Department Press Briefing – February 16, 2022
You heard from the Secretary once again today that we are doing everything we possibly can to seek to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis Moscow has needlessly precipitated. But those efforts, as we’ve said, will be effective only if the Russian Federation is willing to de-escalate.
To be very, very clear, we have not seen that. In fact, we have seen the opposite in recent weeks and even in recent days: More Russian forces, not fewer, are at the border. And they are moving, concerningly, into fighting positions. This is cause for profound concern.
At the same time, and as we have warned previously, over the past several weeks we have also seen Russian officials and Russian media plant numerous stories in the press, any one of which could be elevated to serve as a pretext for an invasion. This could happen, we are concerned, at any time, and the world should be ready for it. It could involve claims about Ukrainian military activity in the Donbas, false claims of U.S. or NATO activities on land, at sea, or air, even claims of Ukrainian or NATO incursions into Russian territory.
We are particularly concerned about President Putin and other Russian officials, their ongoing mentions of, quote/unquote, “genocide” in the Donbas. There is no basis of truth to any of these allegations.
This, however, has not stopped the Russians from advancing these false claims to include reports of unmarked mass graves of civilians allegedly killed by Ukrainian Armed Forces, and statements that the United States or Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons – the latter for use in the Russian-controlled territories – or that the West is funneling so-called guerillas and terrorists in to kill locals. These allegations, again, are entirely, completely false. They are entirely untrue.
These are false narratives that Russia is developing for use as a pretext for military action against Ukraine.
In Russia – in December, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu accused NATO and the United States of planning to, quote/unquote “commit provocations” by delivering tanks of, quote, “unidentified chemical components” to the Donbas region for Ukraine’s use. These are straight out of Russia’s well-documented playbook, including from its previous military incursions into Ukraine and Georgia – and from disinformation operations in other parts of the world, including in Syria where Russia continues to conduct a disinformation campaign to defend Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
People must treat any and all of these claims with the appropriate and healthy skepticism, especially when they come from Russian state media sources, and aren’t backed up by independent media reporting. Russia relies on confusion, Russia relies on obfuscation, Russia relies on misinformation and disinformation to cover its tracks. We should all expect that, and we should all be ready for it.
With that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. All right, so – but you would expect for – the same thing for claims and allegations that you guys make, that they shouldn’t just be accepted on face value and – right?
MR PRICE: It is your job to ask questions.
MR PRICE: It is our job to offer the best information that we have available to us.
QUESTION: Okay. I have to run to go to the airport to meet you in Munich, so can you just – what do you expect from the Secretary’s trip there? We’re – small window that he’ll be there, but what do you expect?
MR PRICE: The trip will be of short duration, but it will be long on substance. This will be an opportunity for the Secretary to meet with a number of his counterparts. I expect he’ll engage in a number of bilateral engagements. I expect that there will be a number of important multilateral engagements. Of course, the crisis that Russia has needlessly precipitated will be top of mind, and I would assume top of discussion in many of these engagements, but it will also be an opportunity for the Secretary to see his counterparts from Europe and other parts of the world. And as we know, there are any number of other issues, including Vienna, including what’s going on in Vienna, including COVID, including broader global challenges, that I imagine will be discussed there.
QUESTION: And the last thing is that you still have not gotten any indication of when – or you still have not gotten the Russian response to your response of the (inaudible).
MR PRICE: It has been more than two weeks since —
MR PRICE: — we delivered what we call our non-paper, essentially our response to the Russians that outlined a number of areas that we think are ripe for dialogue and discussion, where together, if Moscow were to engage in good-faith diplomacy, we think we could make reciprocal progress on areas that matter to both of us: the placement of offensive missiles in Europe, broader arms control conventions, transparency measures, stability measures.
No, we have not received that response. It has been promised to us. When the Secretary and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, spoke again yesterday, Foreign Minister Lavrov indicated it would be coming in the next couple days. We are awaiting it. We will give it a very close read. We hope that there is constructive feedback in that. We hope that the Russians are true to their word that they remain willing to engage in dialogue, they remain willing to engage in diplomacy to resolve this peacefully, but we’ll have to see.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: Ned, a couple things on Ukraine. So, speaking of intelligence, U.S. officials and others have heavily pointed towards this week about the potential start of an invasion, specifically, today. There was, like, a lot of alarm across Twitter on – in Ukraine last night. It hasn’t happened yet. So, is that assessment – is that intelligence still valid? Are you pushing it a little bit towards next week? Can you explain why it hasn’t materialized?
MR PRICE: We’ve said for some time now that we are in a window where Putin could order an invasion or an attack on Ukraine at a moment’s notice. That has been the case for some time precisely because this buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders in Belarus, other tactics and moves that we’ve seen, have poised, have positioned Russia to be able to do this at any moment. That remains our assessment. It could take place tomorrow, it could take place next week, it could take place before the end of the Olympics, it could take place after the Olympics.
I want to be very clear: Our concern has not diminished an iota. And in fact, our concern continues to grow, given that we have yet to see de-escalation, and given that in the absence of de-escalation, we’ve actually seen escalation. We have seen more forces arrive at the border. We have seen Russian forces take positions that would allow them to be called into service for an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine at any moment. Our concern on this is very high.
QUESTION: Right. This morning Secretary Blinken also left the door open for next week, and now you’re saying it might be after the Olympics. Is that backed up with intelligence, new analysis, or you’re basically simply talking about the fact that it’s not happening today, and maybe it may not happen tomorrow, but it might happen next week?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to detail all of the intelligence that’s available to us, but I can tell you this: Our analysis is that the invasion and attack could start at any moment. We’ve been saying that for some time now. We’re not going to get into precise timeframes, but the fact remains – and we’ve communicated this very clearly to our partners, to our allies across Europe and beyond – that the Russian Federation has in place now what it would need to undertake an attack against Ukraine.
QUESTION: And since this is so likely from your point of view, it’s not hypothetical to ask this: If Russia – if and when Russia invades, if they do, what will the U.S. engagement with Moscow look like? Will – is diplomacy going to be dead, or will – Secretary Blinken will still be willing to come to the table and speak to his counterpart?
MR PRICE: Well, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical, but I will say broadly that it would look and sound very differently. Right now, we still believe, despite everything that we’re seeing, despite everything that all of you can see with your own eyes, that there remains a window if the Russians are serious about their commitment to engage in dialogue and diplomacy for this to be resolved peacefully. That window has not closed. That window will not close until and unless Putin makes the decision to go in.
Of course, we think that window still exists. The Secretary indicated to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we look forward to receiving the Russian response to our non-paper, and it is our hope that it forms the basis for continued dialogue and discussion. And we are certainly prepared to continue to engage in that dialogue and discussion. That is what we’re focused on now.
QUESTION: My final thing is: Will Secretary attend the G7 foreign ministers meeting during Munich?
QUESTION: Is there a chance if you get this response, written response by Moscow today or tomorrow, in the coming days, is there are a chance – is the Secretary ready to meet with Sergey Lavrov while in Europe?
MR PRICE: The Secretary is ready to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the appropriate time. The Secretary communicated that very clearly to the foreign minister. Look, the Russians have had our non-paper, have had our response for several weeks now. The Russians have been telling us their response is forthcoming for a couple weeks now. So, we look forward to receiving it.
It will – we will review it just as quickly as we can so that if, again, the Russians are serious about what they say when it comes to dialogue and diplomacy, there can be a further engagement. Whether that is in the first instance over the phone, whether it is somewhere back in Europe, all of that will be worked out. But we are certainly willing and ready to have those discussions with the Russian Federation and to continue down the path of diplomacy. But diplomacy takes two. And in fact, in this case, it takes far more than two, because even if the next meeting is in a bilateral forum, we will coordinate closely with our allies, with our partners, to make sure that they have full visibility into what we are doing, that we in turn have full visibility into what they’re doing, and all of our diplomatic efforts are mutually reinforcing.
QUESTION: When you say that you don’t see any sign, any withdrawal from the border, is it that you don’t see it, or is it that you think it’s not happening at all?
QUESTION: And can you elaborate a little bit when you say that these forces are going into a combat position? What does that mean, and – what does that mean that they’re ready to attack any time? What kind of forces? Can you elaborate?
MR PRICE: So, I can’t get into an order of battle, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so from here. But what gives us great concern is a couple things. One, these claims that we’re hearing of withdrawals – we certainly have not been able to verify them, and in fact, we have seen the opposite taking place. We are similarly concerned by the fact that the Russians, in the midst of all this – this is over the course of weeks and even recent days – have put additional forces on the border, the types of forces they would need to undertake an aggressive action, an attack, an invasion, an incursion against Ukraine at any moment. And that has been our concern.
It is not that there would need to be any sort of significant lag time between an order from President Putin and Russia moving forward. It’s a very dangerous moment.
QUESTION: But it is still your assessment that President Putin has not made yet a decision about an invasion?
MR PRICE: We still believe there is the possibility for a diplomatic resolution to this. As long as we think that window remains viable, we will be open and, in fact, eager to take part in diplomacy with the Russian Federation if they are willing to do so in good faith and to reciprocate on that same basis.
MR PRICE: Does the United States believe there are enough Russian troops situated along the Ukrainian border right now to fuel a full-scale invasion?
MR PRICE: So again, I can’t get into the various contingencies. What I can say, and what the President said yesterday, is that there are now more than 150,000 troops arrayed along Ukraine’s borders. That’s inside Russian territory close to the Ukrainian border, but also inside Belarus. That is by any means, by any estimate, a massive number of forces. We also know that the Russians have capabilities when it comes to electronic warfare, when it comes to aerial capabilities, any number of tactics they could employ, whether on their own or together as part of a broader onslaught.
So, we have considered all of these possibilities. What we know is that this could take place now at any moment, given what we have seen amass along Ukraine’s borders in recent days and recent weeks.
QUESTION: So, do you have an assessment of the number of troops that would be needed for a full-scale invasion, and you just don’t want to publicly share that, or where – I’m just trying to understand why you say that aggression is – could be carried out but you won’t say what form of that – what form or what scale that aggression could be.
MR PRICE: Well, because that decision doesn’t rest with us, of course. If that decision rested with us, we would find a diplomatic resolution to this. We would find a way not only to de-escalate the current crisis that Moscow has precipitated but also to make progress on the proposals we have put forward, at least the areas of discussion that we have put forward that we believe are right for dialogue and diplomacy that would redound to our benefit, to address the security concerns of the transatlantic community – and also the stated security concerns of the Russian Federation. When it comes to how the Russians would use the forces along the border that they claim are there for innocuous exercises, you’d have to ask them.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just on resistance, if there is an aggression, an invasion into Ukraine, does the State Department have a widespread plan in place for how you would support a Ukrainian resistance even if that resistance isn’t led by a centralized Ukrainian Government because, obviously, they may be toppled?
MR PRICE: So, let me make one broad point, and that is that, again, we are doing everything we can to forestall that possibility, to deter, to prevent Russian aggression. It is not our desire, certainly not our desire, to see that end state. It is our desire to see this result peacefully and optimally in a way where we can actually make progress on issues that have mattered to us, have mattered to us long before the buildup, issues that have mattered to Europe, that have mattered to Europe long before the buildup, and presumably issues that matter to Russia and have mattered to Russia for some time now.
What – without taking this hypothetical too far, what I can say is that in the event of a Russian incursion, our defensive security assistance to Ukraine will continue and it will be accelerated. As you know, we have delivered hundreds of millions of dollars, $650 millions of dollars – $650 million worth of defensive security assistance last year, the drawdown that the President authorized in December of some $200 million. Those deliveries have continued even in recent days to our Ukrainian partners. We also have authorized our NATO Allies to provide U.S.-origin equipment to our Ukrainian partners. All of that would not only continue, but it would be accelerated in the event of additional Russian aggression. And that is in addition to what we would do to further reinforce our NATO Allies on the eastern flank.
QUESTION: And just to be clear, you’ll figure out how to give Ukrainians that support even if their government is no longer?
MR PRICE: That defensive security assistance will continue.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just one last thing, sorry. Is there a task force out of this building, on Ukraine? We’ve kind of heard that discussed, and could you just give some details on what that looks like and how often you guys are meeting and that sort of thing?
MR PRICE: There is a task force. The task force was stood up in recent days. It is a task force that is operating with a large team that incorporates many of the elements in this building. It is – as you know, planning for a task force like this has been in the works for weeks now. We were able to stand it up on short notice given the planning that has – that had taken place.
QUESTION: Thank you. When Secretary Blinken met India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Melbourne a few days ago, did he come out with the impression that India is fully supporting United States on the issue of Russia?
MR PRICE: So, there was a discussion of Russia and Ukraine in the context of the Quad meeting that we had with our Indian counterparts, our Japanese and Australian allies. There was a strong consensus in that meeting that there needs to be a diplomatic – a peaceful resolution to this. One of the core tenets of the Quad is to reinforce the rules-based international order, and that is a rules-based order that applies equally in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe, as it does anywhere else.
We know that our Indian partners are committed to that rules-based international order. There are any number of tenets to that order. One of them is that borders cannot be redrawn by force, that large countries cannot bully small countries; that only the people of a particular country can be in a position to choose their foreign policy, their partnerships, their alliances, their associations. Those are principles that apply equally in the Indo-Pacific as they do in Europe.
QUESTION: And during the bilateral meeting, did Secretary Blinken raise the issue of CAATSA sanctions or India buying S-400 from Russia?
MR PRICE: There was a discussion of our broad defense relationship, but I wouldn’t want to characterize it beyond that.
QUESTION: One more question: India had asked number of students who are studying in Ukraine to leave the country, and many of these students have said there are not enough flights, and the flights are there, they’re quite expensive. Even as India had assured them that they would be taken care of if there’s invasion, but is there any coordinated international efforts, including by U.S., to evacuate foreign nationals from Ukraine in the case of an invasion?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re certainly sharing information that we have both about the threat and the posture that we are taking vis-à-vis our own citizens with our allies and partners around the world. But as you know, Lalit, we have a special responsibility to American citizens, and our message to American citizens for some time now has been that you should leave, and you should leave now, using commercial or private options that are still available.
Recently we have provided American citizens – at least reiterated guidance to American citizens – how they can travel overland, and we have given them specific crossing instructions for specific border crossings. We have worked with our Polish allies to facilitate border crossings of American citizens. We know that any number of countries are doing the same for their own citizens. We think this is a prudent step as we continue to do everything we possibly can to seek to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes, Missy.
QUESTION: Just a couple questions on Ukraine, Ned. So, did I miss you saying who was heading the Ukraine task force? And can you tell us?
MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can get you any more information on that.
QUESTION: Okay. And I know that you said Secretary Blinken will plan to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the appropriate moment, but in the —
MR PRICE: Is willing to.
QUESTION: Is willing to, okay. In the meantime, since you guys are now tracking moment by moment what they are or not doing around Ukraine, is the State Department communicating this skepticism about what is not occurring to the Russian Government in any private way other than through what you’re saying up here at the podium?
MR PRICE: As you know, the Secretary has had now several opportunities to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov in recent days and recent weeks. The President has now had several opportunities to speak to President Putin. Our embassy in Moscow is in touch with their counterparts on the ground. We have relayed in no uncertain terms that what we need to see, in order for this diplomacy to be effective, is de-escalation. The Russians have heard that from the very start of this process.
And if I recall, even at the outset of the first meeting of the Strategic Stability Dialogue – the dialogue that Deputy Secretary Sherman attended with Foreign Minister Ryabkov in Geneva in January – that was a key message that we imparted publicly but also privately, that in order for this process to work we need to see de-escalation. Until now, that is a message that the Russians have not heeded.
QUESTION: Okay. Just two more questions. And they’re saying, we’re moving back forces; you’re saying they’re not moving any meaningful amount of forces, and in fact they’re doing the opposite. Why do you think they are making these claims when not only is there the intelligence that you guys are observing and then talking about publicly, but there’s commercial satellite imagery, there’s people who are posting stuff on TikTok. Why – I’m just curious about what you think their thinking is there given the fact that it’s something that, in this day and age, with the access to imagery out there in the public, that they think that they could sort of get away with, if that’s what you’re – you guys are saying.
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right that there are Russian words and then there are Russian actions, and it should be clear to everyone – it is clear to everyone who takes the time to investigate – that their words do not match their actions, and in fact, their words stand in stark contrast to their actions. And you can see that on social media; you can see that on publicly available satellite imagery; you can see that through any number of means. That’s a question for the Russian Federation.
What I will say – and this is as much from an historical perspective as it is from what we’re seeing now – this is the Russian playbook. This is the playbook the Russians have used in the past, including in 2014, to paint a picture or at least to attempt to paint a picture publicly while they do the opposite in a way that they seek to obfuscate, in a way that they seek to obscure and to hide. This is not 2014, in the sense that social media is different. There are resources available to the public that were not available back then. But it’s also not 2014 in the sense that we are standing up here almost every day and offering the context of what we know in an effort to be as transparent as we can with the American people and the international public to do two things.
In the first instance and in the best-case scenario, to attempt to prevent, to deter the Russians from moving forward with what they are planning, what they have planned, or what they had planned all along. If we’re not able to do that – and ultimately, Putin will make the decision that Putin will make based on his own calculus – if we’re not able to do that, what we will have done is to have put a spotlight on the fact that this was all a charade, this was all a show, and that while the Russians were claiming de-escalation, while the Russians were claiming a commitment to dialogue, that the opposite was taking place. And so that’s why we’ve tried to be very clear about the disinformation, about the pretexts – the fact that the Russians did this precisely in 2014, and our growing alarm that the Russians may be planning a similar pretextual attempt in the coming hours, the coming days, knowing that it is very much part and parcel of their playbook.
QUESTION: Okay. And just last thing. You said that the troop number was now more than 150,000. Do you have a more specific number you can provide?
MR PRICE: I’m not able to provide a more specific number, but that number has grown in recent weeks and in recent days, and as you heard the President say yesterday, it currently stands at around 150,000.
QUESTION: I know you say that Putin could obviously order an attack at any moment, but I just wonder vis-à-vis the specific date that was put out for today and an attack didn’t materialize, does that mean that that specific piece of intelligence was wrong?
MR PRICE: No, it doesn’t. First of all, I don’t think you’ve heard us from any podium point to a specific day of an invasion. I think what you’ve heard from us for some time now is to make the point that what the Russian Federation has put in place are the capabilities it would need to order an attack at any time. But this goes back to what I was saying before and to a discussion that perhaps we had quite memorably here the other week, that if something doesn’t come to pass it doesn’t necessarily mean that what we’ve been warning of is wrong. In the best-case scenario, the Russians will have changed their calculus. I can’t say what has happened in this case.
What I can say is that the Russians, over several weeks and in recent days, have put in place the assets, the troops, the material that they would need to undertake an attack against Ukraine at any moment. We have been in that window for some time now. We will be in that window for some time until and unless we see de-escalation.
QUESTION: Secondly, quickly, I noticed that the Russian defense ministry has issued video showing trainloads of armored vehicles heading – at least purporting to be heading across a bridge away from Crimea. What do you need to see to be convinced that there is some form of withdrawal? I mean, presumably, you think that that video is not true. Or what is it that you would need to see? Would it need to be backed up by satellite imagery or —
MR PRICE: It would need to be verified, and there —
QUESTION: In what sense, though, I guess?
MR PRICE: There are any number of ways that we have to verify them, and I’m not able to speak to all of them from the podium. But look, this is not an assessment that is ours and ours alone. You heard from the NATO secretary general this morning, Jens Stoltenberg, that we have not seen de-escalation, and in fact, we’ve seen more troops head to the border. So, it’s difficult for us to speak with specificity when it comes to the sources and methods that we would use to verify such a claim, but we – I can tell you that we are pulling every lever at our disposal in an effort to make sure that we have as much visibility as we can in —
QUESTION: But that sort of video is propaganda, do you think?
MR PRICE: The Russians have engaged in a great deal of propaganda and disinformation on this very question.
QUESTION: And just lastly, are you concerned or convinced, by the sounds of it, that Moscow is pushing this genocide line to justify invasion? And just why are we seeing that now?
MR PRICE: Well, you would have to ask the Russian Federation why we’re seeing that now, but we can say a couple things.
QUESTION: How concerned are you?
MR PRICE: We’re very concerned. We’re very concerned because we know broadly that the Russians are wont to point to a fabricated pretext before undertaking aggression. It’s precisely what they did in 2014 in Ukraine. These claims of genocide have haunting echoes of what we heard in 2014, regarding the persecution of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. This is in some ways eerily similar to what we have experienced before.
And so now that we hear Vladimir Putin, we hear other Russian officials pointing to genocide, pointing to the – pointing to what we have heard in the past, it gives us great concern that this could be part of the same playbook that they are reprising in the context of 2022.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Today the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro met President Putin in Moscow. Bolsonaro did not mention the Ukrainian crisis, but he said that he has solidarity with Russia. How do you see his declarations, his trip and the proximation between Brazil and Russia at this moment, and if this could affect the relations between Brazil and the United States in the future?
MR PRICE: Well, we know that any number of countries, and in fact the international community, is broadly and deeply concerned about what we are all seeing taking place with Russia and Ukraine at this very moment. As democratic countries, as democratic leaders in our hemisphere, we and Brazil – we feel that we have a responsibility to stand up for the values that we share. And at the heart of those values are the principles of the rules-based international order. These are – this is the order that has, over the course of more than seven decades now, has fueled unprecedented levels of prosperity, security, and stability in Europe, in the Indo-Pacific, but also in our own hemisphere.
And so that’s why it is our hope that President Bolsonaro will have taken advantage of this opportunity, this meeting with President Putin, to reinforce the very messages that are enshrined in the values we share and that are part and parcel of the rules-based international order. Again, that applies to the Western Hemisphere as it does to the Indo-Pacific and Europe.
Yes. Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: But – and if he did not stand for these values, it can have some consequence for the relations between the U.S. and Brazil in the future?
MR PRICE: I would leave it to our Brazilian counterparts to share the content and context of that discussion.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I switch subjects?
MR PRICE: Sure. Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Honduras, yesterday, former President Juan Orlando Hernández was arrested following a request by the U.S. How – are you confident or how confident are you on his extradition moving forward? And why did the State Department not disclose that he was in its list of corrupt officials in Central America until he was out of office?
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll correct one element of that. We did disclose the corrupt officials list but let me get to that. As a longstanding matter of State Department policy, as you know, we don’t comment on matters of extradition. Those are within the purview of the Department of Justice, and I need to refer you to the Department of Justice to speak to the process behind any particular extradition.
But Secretary Blinken did state last week when we publicized the fact that former President Hernandez was included in the Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors List that no one is above the law. That includes heads of state, former heads of state. And we take all allegations of criminal wrongdoing extraordinarily seriously, whether it’s in Honduras, whether it’s in anywhere else in this hemisphere or around the world. Our priority remains seeing the rule of law respected, implemented, strengthened, and supported by our partners as they work to ensure judicial and security sectors protect all of their citizens. These are discussions that we’re having with our Honduran partners, but also partners throughout the region.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with his arrest?
MR PRICE: Again, as a matter of – when it comes to the extradition, I need to refer you to Department of Justice. Yes, Tracy.
QUESTION: To follow on my colleague here, actually Juan Orlando Hernandez was not included initially when the list was released last year and only recently put on the list, I think last month. But his question – are you confident that Hernandez will be extradited? As you know, as happens in many countries, the – he managed to stack the supreme court with his allies, and that is who – the Honduran supreme court, obviously – and that is who will have to rule whether they will allow the extradition or not. So, I’m wondering how confident you are that that extradition will take place.
MR PRICE: Again, as a matter of longstanding policy, we don’t get into, we don’t speak to the process of any particular extradition. So, I’d have to refer you to the Department of Justice. But what I will say is that the rule of law, following the rule of law, strengthening the rule of law, implementing the rule of law is a key priority of ours, including in Central America. We know that it is a priority of the new administration there, and I think I would have to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Following up on Iran, the Iranian foreign minister is expected to be in Munich at the security conference. Is the Secretary ready, willing to meet with him directly in person if that helps having a breakthrough in Vienna?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t expect, at least in Munich, a meeting between the Secretary and the foreign minister. But what I will say, and what we have long said, is that we believe that direct talks between the United States and Tehran – and Iran would be in our interest in the context of Vienna. As you know, Francesco, we have had to operate on an indirect basis with our – primarily our European partners relaying messages back and forth. And that is – has posed an obstacle in the context of negotiations that are technical, that are detailed, that are complex. And so, we have said for some time now that we would find direct negotiations in the context of Vienna to be to our advantage. It would be to the benefit of our attempts to seek to achieve or at least test the proposition of whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: The French foreign minister said today it’s now a matter of days and no more weeks to know whether – well, to have a deal to save the JCPOA or to go in a nuclear crisis. Is that your assessment too? Is it a matter of days —
MR PRICE: Well, our assessment is that we are in the midst of the very final stages of, as I said before, a complex negotiation with the key stakeholders here. This is really the decisive period during which we’ll be able to determine whether a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the offing or if it’s not. Again, we are sincere and steadfast in our efforts to test the proposition as to whether a return can be achieved. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the best way to, once again, place permanent, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program. But we’re in a decisive period because that window will very shortly have closed.
QUESTION: And so, have you seen political willingness from Tehran in these last days in Vienna and when we’ll be able to – when will you be able to make that assessment?
MR PRICE: I think we’ll have a much better sense of that in the coming days, and it will have to be in the coming days because, again, we’re in a decisive period where all sides will have to make the political commitments that will be necessary if we are to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Okay, thank you very much everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:54 p.m.)
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