Department Press Briefing – February 22, 2023
- RUSSIA / UKRAINE / CRIMINAL JUSTICE
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN AUTHORITIES / CRIMINAL JUSTICE
- NORTH KOREA / CRIMINAL JUSTICE
- RUSSIA / UKRAINE / CRIMINAL JUSTICE
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA TÜRKIYE / SYRIA
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- NORTH KOREA / KOREAN PENNINSULA
- CHINA / RUSSIA
- RUSSIA /UKRAINE
- RUSSIA / CHINA
- RUSSIA / NORDSTREAM
- CHINA / RUSSIA
- RUSSIA / CHINA / UKRAINE
- ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN
2:13 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. We are very lucky to have with us today a special guest. We have our ambassador at large for Global Criminal Justice, Ambassador Beth Van Schaak. She is going to spend a few minutes talking to you today about the determination that the Vice President and the Secretary of State released last week regarding our determination that Russia’s forces and other officials committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Beth will have some opening remarks and then she will take your questions.
So, without further ado, Ambassador Van Schaak.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAAK: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone. As you’ve heard, Vice President Kamala Harris announced – at the Munich Security Conference – Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s determination that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity.
This determination follows extensive analysis by the department, including my office, which is the office of Global Criminal Justice, of information indicating that members of Russia’s forces: committed execution-style killings of Ukrainian men, women and children; tortured civilians in detention, including through beatings, electrocutions, and mock executions; raped women and girls; and, alongside other Russian officials, deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including children.
As Secretary Blinken explained in his statement, quote, “These acts are not random or spontaneous; they are part of the Kremlin’s widespread and systematic attack against Ukraine’s civilian population.” When it comes to the abduction and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children, President Joe Biden announced this weekend in remarks in Poland that Russia has “stolen Ukrainian children in an attempt to steal Ukraine’s future.”
Now, just by way of background, crimes against humanity are a constellation of acts that are made criminal under international law when they’re committed as part of a widespread or a systematic attack directed against a civilian population, with knowledge of that attack. The key element is this widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, and this is what generally distinguishes crimes against humanity from other international crimes. In the case of Ukraine, the Secretary determined that the attack against the Ukrainian civilian population was both widespread and systematic. And he also noted that “We reserve crimes against humanity determinations for the most egregious crimes.”
Although crimes against humanity are as old as humanity, the legal concept traces its origin to the World War II period and the charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Some crimes that were committed by the Nazis – such as the mass deportation of civilians or the mass imprisonment and forced labor of civilians – were committed against allies, or its own civilian citizens in the war. These could not be prosecuted as ordinary war crimes, as the way in which war crimes were formulated at the time. And the Genocide Convention was not drafted until 1948. So, to capture the full scope of the horrors suffered by civilians, the concept of crimes against humanity was included within the Nuremberg Charter. Senior Nazi military and other government officials were prosecuted for this crime, including those who helped to forcibly deport thousands of civilians.
Now, this weekend’s determination that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials committed crimes against humanity is part of the United States’ multifaceted policy to hold Russia to account for atrocities being committed in Ukraine. As President Biden said yesterday, “No one should turn away their eyes from the atrocities Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people.” The United States, together with the international community, is committed to holding those responsible – both the direct perpetrators and the architects of violence – to account, no matter how long this might take. This includes supporting existing pathways to accountability in Ukrainian courts, in the International Criminal Court, in the International Court of Justice – and in courts around the world, once they establish jurisdiction over individuals accused of committing international crimes in Ukraine. This is a new Nuremberg moment, and the world must remain united in support of justice.
With that, I’m very pleased to take any questions.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. So, I think – I think – I have to go back and look, but I think you explained my first question, which was the difference between this designation announced over the weekend and the prior one that —
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes.
QUESTION: — the Secretary made about war crimes. So, I think I get that distinction there. But what I – my second question is, does this at all – this new determination – change the approach that the administration has had and does have, and will have, going forward in terms of collection of evidence and supporting prosecutions?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yeah, thank you. Just to maybe elaborate on your first question, indeed, one of the distinctions is this widespread of systematic attack against a civilian population. War crimes can only be committed in an armed conflict situation. Many of the types of conduct do overlap, and so you could cumulatively charge, if you were a prosecutor. But there are some war crimes that can be committed against combatants, so for example prisoners of war in custody. And we’ve seen that in Ukraine, that Ukrainian prisoners of war had been mistreated, and there have been efforts to cover up that mistreatment by Russia’s forces. Here we have a widespread and systematic attack that’s been directed against the civilian population. So that’s the key distinction between those two crimes.
For your second question, it really doesn’t change much about our approach. The Biden-Harris administration has been fully committed to hold Russia to account for its brutal war in Ukraine, and it has been doing that since the beginning – since a year ago almost this week. And so, in terms of support for accountability, exercises, et cetera, that all remains very strong. But this is the result of an investigation that we’ve done, and now we can say publicly that that determination is consistent with what we’re seeing.
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. I notice in some of these cases where you did a determination, there’s also – genocide is something that you can determine. Can you talk about whether the – whether you have sort of ran these facts up against the test for genocide? Have you decided that this doesn’t represent genocide, or is that still something that could happen? And, specifically, you mentioned the deportation of children, which the Yale researchers mentioned could be used as evidence in a genocide case. So, given that that report is in hand, does that – does that add to your response to the first question?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yeah, thank you. So, nothing about this determination would preclude a subsequent finding that genocide is being committed by some parties involved with the Russian invasion. That’s still the subject of further determination. The difference between genocide and crimes against humanity is one of intent. It must be shown that the perpetrators are acting with the intent to destroy a protected group, in whole or in part. So, that really involves getting into the head of particular perpetrators which can be difficult to do with open-source investigations.
Now, your point about the recent Conflict Observatory report is a very good one. This is a State Department-funded initiative, although the Conflict Observatory is entirely independent, based at Yale University. Their most recent report focused on the deportation of children, and the determination that they could corroborate at least 6,000 children in a number of different sites across Russia-controlled territory that had been deported now or had been trapped within Russia and maybe subjected to sham and forcible adoptions. Their investigation is based entirely on open-source research in this regard, but the abduction of children is one of the indicia of genocide. It’s one of the ways in which genocide can be committed. We often think about genocide as being the equivalent of mass killing, but the treaty itself actually defines other forms of genocide. So, we will be – we will continue to be alive to other indicia that genocide may be happening going forward.
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I’m wondering if you’ve already shared all of this evidence that you guys collected to make this determination with international bodies, and if you haven’t done so yet, when you plan to. And how quickly you think prosecutions could come. I know that’s probably a hard estimate to make, but is it possible that we see prosecutions while this conflict is ongoing?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: So, there generally are three now active pathways to justice; one is the off to the prosecutor general in Ukraine, which is actively pursuing cases. Their courts are open and operative, and they’ve brought a number of cases already. The State Department is supporting the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, which is deploying experts drawn from the world’s war crimes tribunals to Kyiv to support their counterparts in that effort.
The second pathway to justice is of course the International Criminal Court, seized of jurisdiction by virtue of Ukraine’s consent to jurisdiction. And then, finally, you have a number of European law enforcement offices joining together to form a joint investigative team. They’re sharing information about potential cases with an eye towards bringing cases in European courts. And there are a number of investigations that are happening around the world as well. Our own Department of Justice has produced – has created the War Crimes Accountability Team, the so-called WARCAT. They’re focused on this new legislation that Congress has given us.
So, there are a number of different pathways whereby information can be shared in order to support accountability.
QUESTION: And have you already shared the evidence that you guys collected for this determination with all three of those?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: We don’t tend to discuss exactly what information gets shared, but know that we are trying to support accountability wherever it is being pursued.
QUESTION: And then, just to clarify, so prosecutions – additional prosecutions could come, obviously, before the conflict is over, given what you’ve just described there as (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: This is the assumption. I mean, besides the case that’s happening in Ukrainian courts, we know that the ICC is fully seized of this; and then this joint investigative team as well. The challenge will be, of course, getting custody of accused. And while individuals remain within Russia, they will probably enjoy impunity because there is no international police force who can go and make those arrests.
MR PRICE: Camilla. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Ambassador. Just going back to your answer to Simon, you mentioned that with a genocide determination there needs to – you need to prove intent. But that – obviously, that’s difficult for open-sourcing without getting into the heads of the perpetrators. Is there a way or a method in which you can start to gather that evidence in terms of getting into someone’s head? Is that by looking – getting hands on Russian documentation, or other ways in which – in which to do that?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Indeed. Courts in the past have been able to infer intent even without a sort of admission by a particular perpetrator. And there’s a number of different factors that have been looked at, including, for example, the gratuitousness of violence – so some of the sexual violence that we’ve seen that serves absolutely no potential military objective whatsoever. Attacking civilians, while they’re in flight serves no military purpose that can possibly be conceptualized. So, that’s one set of facts that could lead towards a finding.
Second, of course, is the de-Ukrainization rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin – the idea that Ukraine doesn’t exist as a sovereign entity or as – even as a concept, that the Ukrainian people don’t exist. So, those are the types of things that one would be looking at, I think, in order to determine whether or not –
QUESTION: And in the context of children being taken?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: And then the children being taken as well as a sort of third indicia.
QUESTION: Would that be looking at Russian documentation of activities, taking children —
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes. So, there’s a whole range of sources, including insiders who can reveal the thought processes of those in positions of power; seized documents, documents that might be leaked. We know there have been a number of leaks that the Ukrainians have received. And so, these could all be potential sources.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador. Thanks for coming down here and making us a little bit more smarter on this topic. I’ve never heard of any country being a – designated as determined as committing crimes against humanity before. Correct me if I’m wrong, if you have a list of countries or entities have been determined.
And my second question: You mentioned three avenues in your response to my colleague’s question. When it comes to holding Russian leaders – Putin, in particular – accountable, is there any particular avenue, one of these three, that you are focused on mostly? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: I’ll take your second question first. No, not particularly. I think any court that’s open and able to do so would be, I think, welcome. So, it remains to be seen whether custody can be achieved over Putin. But there’s a whole range of other individuals below Putin who are responsible for not only planning but also ultimately executing this campaign of violence against the Ukrainian civilian population. And so many prosecutors will take a pyramidal approach, where they’ll start with more low-level individuals, glean what information they can from them in order to build cases up the chain of command. And so, I imagine that’s what prosecutors around the world are thinking about right now.
To your first question, we have done such determinations in the past. So, for example, when it comes to violence against Yezidis, that was determined to be crimes against humanity and genocide. And many other ethnic and religious minorities were also subject to attack by ISIL in Syria and Iraq. We’ve also looked at the Rohingya matter and described that as both genocide and crimes against humanity, as well, almost a year ago today. The – Secretary Blinken went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum and announced that particular determination with respect to the Rohingya genocide.
So, we have done it in the past. It’s essentially a policy tool that we use in order to call attention to the egregiousness of particular violations happening within either a conflict or a persecution situation.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Just to clarify, neither Ukraine nor the U.S. are signatories to the Rome protocols, for instance. So where would they take it to? That’s one. And second, I have a question on the Palestinian territories. I mean, much of what you have described occurs day-in and day-out in the Palestinian occupied territories. The Israelis do this day-in and day-out, including today. They killed 10 people and injured a hundred others. Many of them, lots of them are civilians. So, there’s home demolitions and so on. But you discouraged the Palestinians from pursuing a course that you are recommending for Ukraine. And my question to you is: Why not? Since we see events like summary executions, home demolitions, forced defections, and so on.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, but not the Palestinian Authority. We’re talking about an occupied territory. There is a military occupation force that really controls these territories.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: But only states can invoke the ICC jurisdiction, and I think that’s the open question that would have to ultimately be litigated by the court itself. When it comes to Ukraine, states can voluntarily submit themselves to jurisdiction, and that’s what Ukraine has done – although it has not ratified the statute, as you note; nor has the United States. And we’ve always said that it’s a sovereign decision of any state to decide whether or not to ratify a treaty and to join the ICC. And we have no objection to states doing that, or to exercising their right to consent on an ad hoc basis to jurisdiction, which is what Ukraine has done.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: A final question. Janne.
QUESTION: Yes. Something different. Do you think North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should be reported to the ICC?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Well, there was an effort, if I’m remembering correctly, back in 2014 to consider whether or not the Security Council would refer the matter of North Korea to the ICC; and as I recall, that effort was blocked by some permanent members of the Security Council. So absent North Korea referring itself, which of course would not happen, the only way to assert jurisdiction would really be through the Security Council.
MR PRICE: If you could indulge one final question.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: You have said that – you mentioned Russian forces and Russian officials. Are their names compiled to be prosecuted, or are we talking about the entire chain of command?
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Yes, thank you. A number of names have been identified, including through the Conflict Observatory, which was mentioned. Many of these individuals are already subject to a sanctions determination, including Maria Lvova-Belova, the so-called “child’s rights” commissioner, which really has to be in air quotes. These individuals are already subject to sanction. But they are also potentially subject to criminal prosecution.
MR PRICE: I’m really going to press my luck, but Iain, final, final question.
QUESTION: I was just wondering if there’s – if you could give any thoughts on how the pursuit of criminal justice in this might play into the eventual diplomatic negotiations that people hope will bring an end to the conflict in Ukraine. Obviously, in some cases in the past with the ICC, there’s been some thought that and debate about the fact that if you pursue certain people who are still in power, they may not step down or there – it may encourage them to keep going. So, I’m just wondering if any of that – if you have any thoughts on that debate in this particular situation.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Indeed, it is a – it’s a perennial debate, and we’ve seen in previous situations where individuals who have been subjected to accountability processes have been able to be excluded from peace arrangements such that peace can prevail with respect to more moderate leaders. And so, I think that would be the thinking here, is that there would have to be individuals who would be willing to commit to a pathway of negotiations and diplomacy in order to instantiate any kind of realistic or just peace.
There have been plenty of openings now for President Putin to do that, and he has always rebuffed those openings. We’re now having a special session at the General Assembly this week, with the goal of bringing the world together to encourage the instantiation of a real and genuine peace, one that is fair to the sovereignty of Ukraine. And so, it remains to be seen whether Russia will take that opening.
MR PRICE: Ambassador, thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR VAN SCHAACK: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Always value having Ambassador Van Schaack here. I offered her the opportunity to stay and do the whole briefing, but she declined, so – (laughter).
Before we turn to your questions, let me go through a couple items at the top. First, the United States is extremely concerned by the levels of violence in Israel and the West Bank.
Today in Nablus at least 10 Palestinians, including both militants and civilian bystanders, were killed and over 100 injured during an Israel Defense Forces counterterrorism operation. We wish a speedy recovery to those injured and our hearts go out to the families of the innocent bystanders who were killed today.
We recognize the very real security concerns facing Israel. At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the large number of injuries and the loss of civilian lives.
We had productive conversations in recent days with the parties and U.S. regional partners in support of efforts to prevent further violence. We are deeply concerned that the impact of today’s raid could set back efforts aimed at restoring calm for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Today’s events further underscore the urgent need for both sides to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.
We also call on all parties to desist from actions that inflame tensions, such as incitement to violence; evictions of families from their homes; demolitions; settlement advancements; and the legalization of outposts.
Israelis and Palestinians, as we have consistently said, equally deserve to live in safety and security.
Next and finally, as you know, Secretary Blinken returned last night from his trip to Germany, Türkiye, and Greece, where he continued our close coordination with Allies and partners on the critical security issues facing Europe and the rest of the world. The United States, our Allies, and partners remain united with Ukraine, and we are resolved to hold Russia accountable for its crimes against humanity and other atrocities and abuses. While visiting areas affected by the earthquakes, the Secretary expressed the United States’ full support for the people of Türkiye and Syria as they recover from these devastating earthquakes.
At the Munich Security Conference, Secretary Blinken met with leaders from around the world, including those from Armenia, Azerbaijan, France, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Moldova, the Palestinian Authority, the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Yemen. During all of these meetings, the Secretary reaffirmed our commitment to uphold the principles of the UN Charter such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, which undergird the rules-based international order.
The Secretary then visited Türkiye immediately following the Munich Security Conference to express profound condolences from the American people for the loss of life following the recent devastating earthquakes. While visiting the areas hit by earthquakes in the Hatay region with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, he witnessed firsthand the tragic devastation and announced an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria to $185 million in lifesaving aid.
While on the ground in Adana, the Secretary met with first responders, including the USAID search and rescue teams and the Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets. While the devastation from these natural disasters is heartbreakingly profound, he was inspired by the dedication of first responders, brave extraordinary citizens, humanitarian workers, and so many others in the international community who are helping the people of Türkiye and Syria in their time of great need. Together, as friends and allies, we will overcome this tragedy. And the Secretary reiterated that message.
Secretary Blinken also met with President Erdogan to affirm the United States’ ongoing commitment to providing necessary assistance for our NATO Ally Türkiye to recover and to rebuild. The meeting underscored Türkiye’s vital contributions as an Ally and strategic partner in support of Euro-Atlantic security.
During the Secretary’s visit to Greece, he highlighted how the United States and Greece are advancing our shared goals for peace and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Balkans, the Black Sea region, and beyond. He also thanked Greece for its support of Ukraine. He met with Prime Minister Mitsotakis to affirm the United States’ strong partnership with Greece, and to reaffirm U.S. support for Greece’s essential contributions to the Alliance and its continued leadership in the region.
During the opening of the Fourth U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue, Secretary Blinken highlighted our shared values and noted the depth and breadth of U.S.-Greek cooperation. He underscored the importance of the updated U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement as the bedrock of bilateral defense cooperation in the Port of Alexondropoli, as a strategic hub in reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank in response to Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. The Secretary also highlighted Greece’s role in strengthening regional energy security and the growth in people-to-people ties between our countries. He emphasized the positive impact the increased U.S.-Greek cultural and educational cooperation will have on our relationship for generations to come. He also met with the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Dendias, to discuss their recent trips to Türkiye and the urgent assistance required to rebuild from the devastating earthquakes.
So, it was quite a busy trip. It was a very full itinerary, and now we are looking forward to going to New York tomorrow. So, no rest for the weary. So, with that. Matt.
QUESTION: Right. Thank you, Ned. Let’s start with your opening, and on Nablus and Israel. So, by my count you have, like, one “extremely concerned” and two “deeply concerned,” at least, in your rhetoric. Now, when the settlement expansion was announced 10 days ago or so, you were “deeply troubled.” So, is there any difference between “deeply concerned” and “deeply troubled” or “extremely concerned”?
MR PRICE: Matt, we’re not —
QUESTION: Does it mean anything in terms of what you’re actually going to do in response, which doesn’t seem to be a whole lot?
MR PRICE: It means precisely what I just said. We are deeply concerned. We are deeply troubled by events in recent days. I wouldn’t try and parse these words too closely, but I think our – the level of our concern, the level of our dismay should be clear in precisely what we’ve said. We have consistently – not just during this phase of heightened tensions, but consistently over the course of this administration – urged both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid steps that only inflame, that only exacerbate underlying tensions.
It’s especially critical that now, in the midst of a period that has seen far too many lives lost to violence on both sides – Palestinian lives, Israeli lives – it is especially important during this period that both sides – Israelis, Palestinians – not take steps that only serve to inflame tensions and that actually take steps to de-escalate tensions. We were encouraged to see the arrangement that Israelis and Palestinians had come to over the weekend. We think that type of coordination, that type of arrangement does indeed – could indeed – serve to help de-escalate tensions.
We are ready as a partner to Israel, as a partner to Palestinians, as a partner to the other countries in the region who – with whom we’ve also been working closely, to do everything we can to support the parties in the steps that they themselves must take to de-escalate tensions. Now is especially important for them to do so.
QUESTION: So, the arrangement that you just mentioned that you said hoped could lead to the de-escalation – well, I mean, are you – it clearly didn’t work, at least in the short term two days ago. Hasn’t worked, so far. Are you ready to say that that was a failure?
MR PRICE: Well, first of all, this is an arrangement between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: I didn’t say it wasn’t. I’m just saying —
MR PRICE: Well, no, but my —
QUESTION: You said it was a – it was a —
MR PRICE: My – my point —
QUESTION: You’re encouraged by it, and you can’t be encouraged now because it didn’t seem to do anything.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, you also alluded to the fact that we’re – you’re talking the time – over the time horizon of a couple days. We are not ready to render a verdict. It is certainly our hope that the type of arrangement that Israelis and Palestinians had worked out in recent days does indeed, in the coming days, serve to de-escalate tensions. That is what we think is most important. We were a partner to both Israelis and Palestinians in their efforts in recent days to find an arrangement such as this. Other countries in the region played a very constructive and useful role as well. We are prepared to continue to be a partner to both to support the steps, but ultimately to support the steps that the – that Israelis and Palestinians themselves must undertake. These are not steps that the United States can take; these are not steps that other countries in the region can take. But we are prepared to be a partner as Israel and the Palestinian Authority, we hope, take steps that do in fact de-escalate tensions.
QUESTION: Okay, last one. Part of that arrangement was that neither side was going to take – or at least the Israeli – on the Israeli side of the arrangement was they weren’t going to announce any new settlement expansion or outpost legalization for the next – I think they said, several or few months; but other people’s understanding was that it was for six months. But anyway, it very much looks like they’re going to go ahead and announce new settlement activity and outpost legalization, if they haven’t done so already, tomorrow; but apparently, according to people who were there in the room, where it was approved today. Is that a violation of this agreement and your efforts to try and prevent the Palestinian-proposed resolution from coming to a vote and replacing it with a presidential statement, a weaker document, seem to have not produced the result that you wanted, at least as in – at least in terms of how it relates to the situation on the ground. It might have prevented a big debate during this week – Ukraine week at the UN, but it doesn’t seem to have helped the situation on the ground. Is that an accurate assessment?
MR PRICE: A couple things, Matt. First, on the arrangement between Israelis and Palestinians, again, this is not something that we are a party to. We’re going to leave it to the parties themselves to speak to the details of the arrangement that they had reached.
Now, you may be alluding to reports that are out today of potential settlement expansion. Our understanding – and again, this is our understanding; we would ultimately have to refer you to the parties in question to speak to the underlying facts – but our understanding is that this is not a new settlement announcement or expansion.
More broadly, we have made our view clear. We have made it clear in national statements, including the one from Secretary Blinken over a week ago; in multilateral statements, including the statement from our Quint partners, our allies and partners in Europe; and in the statement that emanated from the UN Security Council a couple days ago. We view the expansion of settlements as an obstacle to peace that undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution. The expansion of settlements, legalization of outposts, demolitions, incitement to violence – these are all among the steps that would be unilateral in nature and that would only serve to exacerbate tensions and that we have urged both parties not to take.
Anything else on this?
MR PRICE: Sure, Said.
QUESTION: If I may, just to follow where you started at the top – now, this has been probably one of the bloodiest weeks and months in the last 20 years, at least since 2002. And it seems that every time there is some sort of political crisis in Israeli governance, that is like a pattern or a roadmap that they follow. And so, we see it time and time again – they’re exporting the – whatever political crisis they might have and take it out on the Palestinians. And I’m afraid that, sure, I mean, you express these things – and it was a very clear statement that you made, but it seems, unfortunately, that the Israelis just – they don’t care. They just go on. They dismiss any other effort that might take place at the UN or even the statement that was issued that was really watered down, but in fact this thing that is going on continue to go on. I mean, can you put some muscle behind your statement that you are concerned? But what will you do if the Israelis continue with this iron fist against an unarmed population?
MR PRICE: So, Said, to the first part of your question: we wouldn’t, nor could we, speak to specific motivations. We are speaking to the facts as they are communicated to us and as they are communicated to the rest of the world. We are speaking to the implications of the facts on the ground, and unilateral acts – including expansion of settlements, legalization of outposts – those are obstacles to peace. Those are the obstacles to a negotiated two-state solution that over the course of decades now successive American administrations have endorsed, Israelis and Palestinians themselves have endorsed.
We are having conversations with all of the parties. We are having conversations privately with our Israeli partners, we’re having private conversations with our Palestinian partners, we’re having conversations with our regional partners as well. This is obviously a conversation that is taking place among and between a wider swath of countries, and you saw the UN Security Council issue a statement over the weekend that was entirely consistent with what you have heard from the United States.
Our overarching priority is to preserve the viability of a negotiated two-state solution to the party – to the conflict. Only with a negotiated two-state solution will the Palestinians be able to achieve their legitimate aspirations for sovereignty, independence, and freedom in a state of their own, living side by side next to a vibrant democracy and a Jewish state. That is critical. The viability of a two-state solution is critical to both parties. It is critical to our approach to this conflict, to our broader approach to this region.
QUESTION: In the meantime, just – one follow-up. In the meantime, we see this – this Israeli policy of going in and killing innocent Palestinians go unabated. They are – they just – they feel that they have total impunity in conducting these operations. Today’s operation was in broad daylight. It was like 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, so they know full well that there was going to be no opposition for them whatsoever. So, they target people who are unarmed. So, what should happen? What should happen to at least stem or stop this Israeli violence?
MR PRICE: Said, two points. First is the point that Israel faces real threats to its security. We have seen horrific reminders of that even in recent days. Israel has every right to defend itself against acts of terrorism and violence. In doing so – and this is the second point – we have encouraged Israel, repeatedly – as we do countries around the world, to do so in a way that minimizes any potential civilian casualties, any potential civilian harm. The death of a single innocent civilian is a tragedy. This is not a sentiment that is unique to the United States. This is a sentiment that we have heard from countries around the world, including from our Israeli partners. It is imperative that steps be taken to minimize civilian harm, to minimize civilian casualties. The IDF, and Israel more broadly, have spoken to some of those steps. But again, we urge Israel to exercise caution and to do what it can, while it responds to very real threats to its security, to minimize the possibility of civilian harm.
QUESTION: Specifically, with whom has the U.S. Government engaged? Have they spoken to the prime minister? Have they spoken to the foreign minister? Have they spoken to their own security coordinator on the ground? Have they spoken to Palestinian officials, who would be in charge of security? How deep are these conversations?
And the follow-up: It’s one thing to express concern. It’s one thing to say that both parties have a right to guarantee their security. It’s one thing to express sympathy for those who were caught in the crossfire. But what leverage is this administration exerting on both sides to actually preserve the two-state solution, to not engage in provocative actions, and to not be seen in some quarters as trying to disrupt what the U.S. would like to see, which is the eventual creation of two states, side by side, living in peace and security?
MR PRICE: A couple things, Rosiland. To your first question, the short and nonspecific answer is yes, we have engaged through multiple channels to our Israeli partners; to the Palestinians as well. We’ve done so through diplomatic channels, including via our embassy in Jerusalem, through the Palestinian Affairs Unit in Jerusalem as well; we’ve done so from this building, including at high levels; we’ve done so through security channels; we have done so through all appropriate avenues.
As you know, Secretary Blinken himself was on the phone over the weekend with the prime minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu; with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. That, of course, was – predated today’s violence, but even in the wake of today’s violence, we have been in direct contact with the parties themselves via multiple channels to stress upon them the need to – for the parties themselves, for Israelis and Palestinians themselves, to take steps to de-escalate tensions.
This gets to your second question. The United States is a partner. We are a partner to Israel; we are a partner to the Palestinians. Ultimately, our message and the message that both parties are hearing from countries in the region is that it is incumbent on them to take steps – not only to avoid steps that only exacerbate tensions or inflame tensions, but to actually take steps to de-escalate tensions.
We are, in our capacity as a partner, coordinating between and among them. We are providing ideas. We are putting ideas and proposals on the table in coordination with the parties themselves and countries in the region. We think that is the most constructive role for us to play, knowing that, again, ultimately the parties themselves are going to need to be responsible for taking steps that ultimately de-escalate these underlying (inaudible).
QUESTION: But there’s nothing that the U.S. can say to either Israel or the PA in terms of, “If you don’t do this, we’re going to do that; and that may not turn out well for you”? There’s no pressure that this administration can bring on either party to de-escalate?
MR PRICE: Rosiland, we’re going to do what we think is going to be effective. And whether it is in this context, whether it is in other contexts in regions around the world, typically it is less than effective for the United States to make very specific, let alone public – I don’t want to call them threats, because that’s not what we would engage in, but the type of thing that you’re asking about. We are having conversations, private conversations with both parties. Publicly, we are making very clear where the United States stands. We don’t want there to be any ambiguity whatsoever about what we would like to see the parties themselves do, what we would like to see the parties themselves avoid. That is what we can do most effectively from a place like this, from the podium. We can have private conversations to encourage the parties, to share ideas, to share proposals, to put ideas on the table.
We think that is a constructive role for the United States to play. It’s precisely the role the United States has played over the course of the past two years. You may recall in the springtime, early summer of 2021, when there was rocket fire and ultimately violence between Israel and Gaza. The United States played a very active role – behind the scenes, largely, but a very active role – going from Israelis to Palestinians, vice versa, working with parties in the region. We did that once again last year, where there were heightened tensions and violence. That’s precisely what we’re doing now.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Anything else on this?
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, please. Let me go a little bit to history. Several U.S. president – American president – played heavy-handed when – the heavy hand when Israel stand on the way and challenge their policy in the Middle East. I name President Carter in Camp David and President Ford during the disengagement talk after the 1973 war. In both time, when the United States threaten to review the relation, Israel followed through.
My question is since it has been happening day and time – and time again, and I can – and I think everybody get bored with, including you. Are you considering doing the same thing or trying to say, “Hey, guy, we got to put our relation in – review our relation if you don’t follow through?” Are you considering such a step?
MR PRICE: This is really another way of asking the question I just answered of Rosiland, and it goes back to what I just told her. We are a partner to Israel; we have a longstanding relationship with Israel. We are a partner to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people. You call it our policy. It is certainly United States policy that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to address and to resolve this conflict over the longer term. But it is not a policy that is ours alone. This is an end state that Israelis and Palestinians themselves – countries in the region as well – have long embraced and endorsed as the only viable solution to what has been a longstanding conflict.
We are going to do what we think is effective to help – again, because we are not – it is incumbent on the parties themselves to actually take these steps – but to help support the parties as, in the first instance, we encourage them not to take steps that exacerbate tensions, and from there to take steps that seek to lower tensions, to de-escalate tensions in what is a period that has seen tensions only become more heightened. We’re having discussions with both parties. We’re having discussions with countries in the region to – to attempt to devise and share ways we can do that. That is the model. It’s an approach that has proved effective over the course of this administration. We are working day in and day out to do what we can – recognizing, again, that the parties themselves are going to have to take these steps – but doing what we can to support the parties in taking these steps.
I need to move around. Anything else on this before we move on? Okay, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two question. Thank you, Ned. First question is North Korea. North Korea fired a Hwasong-15 ballistic missile and a super-large multiple rocket launcher a few days ago, and also UN Security Council failed to adopt condemnation statement due to opposition from China and Russia. Also, China and Russia opposed additional sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council. What is the U.S. position on repeatedly in China and Russia vetoes?
MR PRICE: Well, let me make very clear what our position is on the most recent provocations, the most recent dangerous provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK. We condemn the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches and its preparing for – and we are preparing for all contingencies with our allies and partners in the aftermath of the latest ICBM launch. These launches, alongside the DPRK’s February 18th ICBM test, are in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. And they pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and to the international community as well.
We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and we call on the DPRK, as we consistently have, to engage in constructive dialogue. Our commitment, at the same time, to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan – that remains ironclad, and we continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue with the DPRK without preconditions, but as you know, the DPRK refuses to engage.
We are taking an approach that ultimately is responsible. We are standing by our ironclad security commitments, standing by our allies, making clear that we are ready to engage in dialogue and diplomacy towards that ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. There are other countries who are not acting responsibly. Of course, the DPRK would be at the top of that list, and you see the provocations that they’ve undertaken in recent days. But we’ve made no secret of the fact that permanent members of the UN Security Council – all member-states, of course, but especially permanent members of the UN Security Council – have a special obligation to fully implement the resolutions that have emanated from the UN Security Council itself. These are countries that – that have themselves raised their hands, voted for each resolution that has passed from the Security Council chamber, and it’s therefore incumbent on these countries to uphold these resolutions and in turn to hold the DPRK accountable for its flagrant violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
In our engagement with the PRC, for example, this is a regular point of discussion. The DPRK’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear program, it is not only a threat to the United States and our people; it’s not only a threat to our treaty allies – Japan and the ROK in this case; but it is a threat to peace and security across the region, and that is not something that the PRC likes to see. It is not something that the PRC should seek to encourage, and we would like to see all countries, including the permanent five – Russia and China in this case – again, not ignore but uphold the resolutions that they themselves have passed.
QUESTION: On Russia, on – Russian President Putin recently mentioned about that it would stop participating in the nuclear disarmament treaty with the United States. What is your reaction on this?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve spoken to this over the past couple days. This announcement is unfortunate, but even more so, it is irresponsible. And I say that because as nuclear powers – the United States and Russia – we have a responsibility to our own people but also to people around the world to engage in the very practices that have since the dawn of the nuclear age prevented an exchange between nuclear powers: arms control talks, strategic stability talks. These are the bedrock of the global nonproliferation regime, and New START has been a vital, important tool over the course of many years now. We’ll be watching very carefully to see what Russia actually does, in the aftermath of this announcement. We’ll of course make sure that in any event we are postured appropriately for the security of our own people, of our own country, for our allies around the world should Russia take any steps that would warrant a change in our own posture.
When this administration started, it was one of the first big announcements, policy rollouts we made. We extended this very treaty – the New START Treaty – because it was clearly in the national security interests of our country. It was in the national security interests of Russia as evidenced by Russia’s willingness to extend the treaty by five years. It was in the national security interests of our allies and partners, as well. And I think that only underscores what an irresponsible action this was.
We, of course, remain ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia – irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship. It is an understatement to say that we are now in a period of heightened tensions between the United States and Russia, but these are issues that matter to the United States, these are issues that matter to Russia, these are issues that matter to people around the world – it is what the rest of the world expects of us as responsible powers, responsible nuclear powers in this case. But as – again, this decision, it was unfortunate, it was irresponsible, and we’ll continue to monitor and see what Russia actually does.
QUESTION: On China and Russia. Secretary Blinken spoke to our network and others over the weekend of concern based on information the U.S. now has that the PRC is considering lethal support to Russia. Can you give an idea of the timing at which the U.S. believes the PRC started considering giving lethal aid to Russia and also the nature of the weapons the PRC may be considering supplying to Russia?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start by saying – we want to be very clear about this – we have not yet seen the PRC provide Russia with lethal aid, but we don’t believe they’ve taken it off the table either. We are concerned, as you heard from the Secretary over the weekend, that China is considering providing lethal aid to support Russia in its aggression – its blatant aggression against Ukraine. We’ve made very clear to the PRC consistently, including in recent days when the Secretary met with Wang Yi in Munich, but also at the very earliest phase of this conflict when President Biden spoke with President Xi that providing lethal weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine – or systematic assistance with sanctions evasion, would cause real consequence in our bilateral relationship.
The PRC understands we think what’s at risk were it to proceed with providing material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine. We’ve been clear. We’ll not hesitate to target Chinese companies or individuals that violate our sanctions. And we’re monitoring very vigilantly for potential violations. China, we think – we are concerned – seriously risk miscalculating by continuing its support for Russia, which is directly impacting how the rest of the world is seeing the PRC. The reputational costs that the PRC is enduring is already very real because the rest of the world sees the PRC, despite its veneer of neutrality – its self-professed neutrality – provide important forms of support to Russia already. It is providing diplomatic support. It’s providing economic support. It’s providing propaganda – spewing propaganda that serve to amplify the lies, the distortions, the mistruths, the half-truths in some cases that are emanating from Moscow. So, the rest of the world is watching this. We are watching very closely to determine if the PRC does actually decide to take that step to provide lethal aid.
To your question about the timeframe, look, this has been a concern of ours since even before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine started. The burgeoning relationship between the PRC and Russia is one that has deepened in – not in recent weeks, months, but really in recent years. And of course, the idea occurred to us – even before the start of Russia’s aggression that given the massive costs and consequences, that we knew and we warned we were prepared to impose against Russia should its invasion go forward, that Russia could reach out to its partners around the world to help step in, to help account for some of the consequences that ultimately were imposed on it as a result of its aggression. We have seen Russia do this with Iran. We’ve seen Russia do this with the DPRK. We’ve seen Russia resort to other means to resupply and to perpetrate its war against Ukraine. So, this remains a very real concern of ours, and we’re monitoring very closely.
Anything else on this?
MR PRICE: Kylie.
QUESTION: Just staying on Russia, we’re nearing the one-year anniversary of the invasion on Friday. And so, I’m just wondering, given President Putin’s speech earlier this week, if the State Department feels like they’re any closer to a diplomatic solution now than there was months ago.
MR PRICE: So, Kylie, I think what is much less important is how we feel, and what is much more important is what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing. You saw – you heard President Putin’s speech yesterday. I know this has been portrayed as a head-to-head with President Biden. Of course, that was not at all the case. Anyone who watched both speeches came away, I think, with the impression that they were seeing two vintage presentations.
What we saw yesterday was vintage Putin. It was a dark, it was a sinister message. It was a message that offered little sign of hope or optimism for his own people – probably precisely because there is nothing he could say that would fundamentally change the reality that Russia is enduring right now, the reality that Russia’s forces are enduring inside Ukraine, the reality that Russia itself is enduring as a result of the isolation – as a result of the export controls, as a result of the financial sanctions that the rest of the world has imposed on this.
President Biden, on the other hand, it was vintage Joe Biden. It was a speech that was uplifting. It was a speech that was affirmative. It was a speech that was a stark reminder to the rest of the world about the stakes that are at play as we see a country attempt to do what the rules‑based order that was established in the aftermath of the last world war has always sought to prevent. It was an affirmation of the strategy that America’s led, that the rest of the world has worked with us to implement over the past 12 months.
Now, to your question more precisely, look, what we have heard from President Putin has not altered our impression that Russia is not in a mood for diplomacy – quite the opposite. We heard nothing in President Putin’s speech yesterday that changed the pretty stark reminder that Russia gave us earlier this year that Russia would only negotiate if its, quote/unquote, “new territorial realities” were respected. These are not the demands of a country that is interested, at the moment, in constructive negotiations, in constructive diplomacy. These are not the statements of a country that – at the moment, is looking for an offramp.
So in the interim our approach will continue to be to recognize the nexus between the battlefield in Ukraine and the negotiating table that will ultimately emerge. We wholeheartedly agree with President Zelenskyy that the only way this conflict will end is through dialogue and diplomacy and at the negotiating table. Our goal is to continue to provide Ukraine with the assistance it needs – yes, security assistance, but also economic assistance and humanitarian assistance – so that when that negotiating table emerges, Ukraine will be in the strongest possible position; and so that in the interim, Ukraine will be in the position to exert maximum pressure on Russia to advance, to accelerate the emergence of that negotiating table.
And on the other side of the ledger, we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done since February 24th of last year, that is to mount costs and consequences on the Russian Federation. By any metric, you look at what Russia is enduring because of Mr. Putin’s aggression, and you see very clearly those costs and consequences.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up question. The former president of Russia, Medvedev, said today that if Russia stops the special military operation without achieving victory, Russia will disappear; it will be torn to pieces. Is it the U.S. assessment, the Biden administration assessment that if Russia loses, it’s still viable for them to remain a country?
MR PRICE: Of course. Of course. Russia has already endured a strategic failure in Ukraine. Nothing is going to change that. This has never been about Russia as a country, the Russian people as a people. This has always been about President Putin’s determination to project force against another country in a completely unjustified way. It’s interesting that former President Medvedev called it a special military operation. I think were he to live in a country that respected alternative viewpoints, that allowed for civil discourse, that allowed for political space, that actually told the truth to his people unlike what we’re hearing from Mr. Medvedev himself, he would have called it a war – because it is a war. But again, this gets back to the point that Russia is a closed society; it is feeding its people a steady diet of lies, of disinformation, of misinformation – and this is clearly one of them.
QUESTION: But if the war ends, would the U.S. roll back sanctions to allow the country to come back a little bit more quickly?
MR PRICE: Sanctions are a means to an end. Sanctions bring about a policy goal. In the first instance, the policy goal was to deter Russia from going – the threat of sanctions was to deter Russia from crossing the border and to invading its sovereign, independent neighbor. Now the point of these sanctions is to impose costs and consequences on Russia for its brutal war. We would like to see this war end. We would like to see Ukraine resume its status as a country at peace – as a country that is whole, sovereign, independent, free – just as we would like to be in a position to eventually resume a relationship with the Russian people that in some ways resembled what it was prior to this aggression. This is not about the Russian people. This is not about any underlying animus towards the Russian state. This is about President Putin, his behavior, and the actions that those around him have enabled and encouraged.
QUESTION: On this question?
MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: China-Russia —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — relations. This week we saw the meeting with top diplomat, Wang Yi. Putin told Wang Yi that he looks forward to seeing Chinese Leader Xi. He might be visiting soon. So, what’s your reaction to that? And also, during these meetings, both Russia and China pledged to strengthen their ties despite growing international pressure. Is the State Department concerned about the two nuclear powers coming – drawing closer together? And is there a strategy in place to stop them?
MR PRICE: Broadly, we’ve consistently voiced concern about the nexus and the deepening partnership we’re seeing between the PRC and Russia. And we are concerned not, again, because of any underlying animus towards either country – we are concerned because these two countries share a vision. They share an intent. It is not a vision of a rules-based order, of a liberal order, of democracies living peacefully side by side. It is a vision that harkens back to a previous era, an era in which big countries could bully small countries, borders could be redrawn by force – an era in which might could make right.
This goes back to the rules-based order that was produced in the aftermath of the Second World War, in order to prevent a third; a rules-based order that governed relations between states, set a series of principles and norms that, because countries have by and large respected them, we’ve seen unprecedented levels of security, of stability, of prosperity, of opportunity for people around the world. This was not an order that the United States authored. This was an order that countries came together – including at the UN, in the UN Charter, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in international law – came together and ultimately put together.
We see China and Russia in different ways challenge that order; and that’s what concerns us about this burgeoning relationship between these two countries. Look, I’m not going to weigh in too much on the visit from the – Wang Yi’s visit to Russia. I will just say that his travel there on the eve of one year of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, is further evidence that the PRC continues to align itself with Moscow, even as Moscow wages this brutal war. I’ve said this before, but China is trying to have it both ways. China is trying to broadcast and disguise itself in this veneer of neutrality, even as it deepens its engagement with Russia in key ways – politically, diplomatically, economically, and potentially in the security realm as well.
Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Good to see you, Ned, back on the podium. Actually, I have a question about the Seymour Hersh story of the explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines. Just as we speak, recent public remarks – the Pulitzer-winning journalist continues to reveal reasons for or information that he possesses that points to a U.S. role in that attack. Also, in media reports, media interviews, some well-known figures here in the United States believe the Hersh allegations are credible. I’m talking to people – I’m talking – I’m referring to people like Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist and a former special adviser to UN secretary-general. So given those voices, I’m wondering if there’s anything additionally that you want to share as a comment.
MR PRICE: The only comment I would share is: if only people weren’t naïve, if only people weren’t so gullible when it comes to some of these claims. We couldn’t be clearer about this. We categorically – categorically – reject these false accusations. The United States was not involved in this in any way. The fact that Russia is bringing this to the Security Council is just another indication of the fact that Russia desperately wants to change the subject.
It does not want the world to be focusing on what our Ukrainian partners have achieved over the course of the past year, what the rest of the world has come together to help our Ukrainian partners to achieve, the ways in which the transatlantic community and the community of nations more broadly has never been more united – the ways in which NATO has never been stronger and more purposeful; again, not as a threat to Russia but as an Alliance that stands to defend our countries against potential aggression. It is a sad, sorry state that Russia is doing this, and it’s likewise sad that Russia is finding those willing to parrot its propaganda.
QUESTION: So right – right after the explosion happened, the U.S. Government is very vocal in calling for a thorough investigation to find out the culprit. But right now, it appears that apart from repeated and simple denials, you didn’t seem to have given some substantiate – substance – you didn’t substantiate your counterargument to the claims from Mr. Hersh. And I’m saying this because the international community is calling for some explanation, including some members of the parliament of the European Union. So, I’m wondering if you have anything to elaborate further.
MR PRICE: I would be happy to hear from you or Mr. Hersh or anyone how it is the United States can go about proving a negative. If anyone can explain that to me, I would be happy to listen.
The broader – the broader point here is that there is an independent investigation that you alluded to. The United States is not a party to this investigation because there are countries on whose sovereign territory this attack occurred, and we’re deferring it to them to conduct this investigation.
QUESTION: Can I just – back to China-Russia for just one sec. I mean, the U.S. has been talking to China and warning for months now about not providing any of this aid to Russia. I’m just wondering if it says anything about the U.S. ability to influence China or to have open lines of communication with China that China’s sort of gone ahead and done this anyway.
QUESTION: Is moving towards it, anyway.
MR PRICE: Well, it hasn’t taken it off the table. Our concern remains that China may still be considering this. Look, I actually see it the other way. We have had now a number of occasions – I can’t even quantify them – to sit down face to face with the PRC to make this – to lodge this in person, face to face, to be very clear with them in this face-to-face engagement that there would be costs and consequences if the PRC were to provide lethal assistance, or if the PRC were to provide assistance to Russia in a manner that helps them systematically evade our sanctions. We’ve done that over the phone. President Biden and President Xi had a video teleconference. All that to say: there have been a number of engagements in which we have made this, and actually I think that speaks to something we’ve been vigilant about, and that’s maintaining open lines of communication.
Now, just because we have open lines of communication doesn’t mean that our urgings and requests of a country like the PRC are always going to be adhered to or heeded. But it is not fair to say that we haven’t had plenty of opportunities to make this clear.
Look, the PRC is going to make its own decisions. We want to be clear with them so that they can make informed decisions. And if the PRC is willing to risk the severe consequences that we’ve talked about it – we’ve talked about, obviously that’s a sovereign decision on their part. But again, we want that decision to be an informed one.
QUESTION: May I follow-up on that?
MR PRICE: I need to move around. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two quick questions on Russia. In light of President Putin’s announcement yesterday, do you know of any contacts between U.S. and Russian diplomats following the announcement?
MR PRICE: I am aware that there was a pre-arranged meeting between our ambassador in Moscow, Lynne Tracy, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov, in Russia. I am not – it is my understanding that President Putin’s pronouncements regarding New START were not a topic of conversation.
QUESTION: Okay. And I have another question on what you just said. You said – are you implying that Seymour Hersh has anything to do with Russia? Is he somehow linked to Russia in broadcasting his thoughts?
MR PRICE: I am not implying that at all. I am implying that Russia has sought to breathe life into this narrative, to propagate it in different ways. And without speaking to anyone’s motives, it is unfortunate that we have seen these blatant lies receive more oxygen from people around the world.
QUESTION: Okay, and last question. Former Israeli prime minister, on February 6th, said that he knows about some 17, 18 drafts of a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and they all were blocked by the West and the United States included. Do you have any comments here?
MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with his comments, but what I can tell you is that no country worked harder than the United States to, in the first instance, prevent this war from going forward. We did more than any country around the world to warn the world, to attempt to deter Russia, to make clear that Russia would face costs and consequences. And ultimately we were unsuccessful, because President Putin – again, knowing there would be costs and consequences – ultimately made his own decisions that were – carried grave implications for not only Ukraine but also for his own people. No country, except for one, would like to see this war come to an end quickly. Only Ukraine, I think, probably outranks the United States in our determination to support a diplomatic end to this war in any way that we possibly can.
Ultimately, diplomacy in this case will require the Russians to sit down in good faith, in a constructive way. And everything we have heard from President Putin, from those around him, suggest that they’re just not there yet, unfortunately.
Let me move around. Yes, Guita.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. A couple of questions – at least a couple – on Iran. Just this past Monday in Greece, the Secretary said that the nuclear negotiations with Iran are on the backburner. Now, according to a member of Iran’s parliament, the sultan of Oman is supposed to travel to Tehran to talk about the nuclear negotiations, and he’s said to be carrying a message. Now, we also know that Special Envoy Rob Malley was in Oman exactly a week ago today. So, is the nuclear negotiations on the backburner, or are messages still being exchanged and a subject pursued?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can tell you is that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, has not been on the agenda for some time. And I say that even as we continue to stress that ultimately the only durable permanent way to address Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy. So even as the Iranians have proven themselves unwilling or unable, in previous instances, to carry forward diplomacy in a constructive way, that doesn’t mean we’re backing away from the need for diplomacy, the imperative of diplomacy in order to address this in a durable, sustainable, and permanent way.
As for countries around the world, there are a number of countries, including in the Middle East, who have played an important role helping to bridge divides, helping the United States in our indirect engagement with Iran to stress the key messages that we’ve been stressing: release our citizens; stop providing arms to Russia; stop providing UAV technology to Russia; and stop killing your own people.
Oman is included. Oman’s played a constructive role across the Middle East in helping to solve challenges and to bridge divides between countries that don’t see eye to eye, and that’s putting it mildly. We’re consulting closely with Iran on challenges near and far. Rob’s engagement with his Omani counterparts and the Omani leadership was part and parcel of that, but I would need to refer you to Oman to speak to the reason for that senior-level travel to Iran.
QUESTION: Okay, so given that you say diplomacy is the way and, well, this is diplomacy. You – it’s always been indirect, so it’s through other countries. So, is it about the talks? Are you still pursuing it even though what’s going on in Iran is – because the situation, the political situation —
MR PRICE: Our – our focus has been on three things. Our focus has been on Iran’s brutality, its repression against its own people; it has been on Iran’s provision of UAV technology to Russia; it’s been on our ceaseless efforts to see our wrongful detainees freed. That doesn’t mean that we have taken our eye off the nuclear program. We’re continuing to stay laser-like focused on it. But again, Iran has time and again proven itself unable or unwilling to engage in a good-faith, constructive way. And in the absence of that, our focus has been on those other areas.
QUESTION: One more, Ned. The Telegraph has an article saying that the Biden administration has been trying to dissuade the UK from designating the IRGC as a terrorist group. Any comments?
MR PRICE: We are determined to work with our allies and partners around the world – including certainly our European allies, to do everything we can to hold the IRGC accountable, to counter its malign activities, its malign influence throughout the region. Obviously, questions of legal authorities in individual countries or in blocs of countries are not precisely questions for us, but we’re determined to do everything we can to work with every ally and every partner we can to counter the IRGC and its malign activities.
QUESTION: So, you’re refuting this report?
MR PRICE: I haven’t seen the report, so I’d hesitate to do that. But I’ll let my statement stand.
QUESTION: So, you deny the pressure, that U.S. is putting pressure on UK to not list IRGC as a terror group? Because it’s —
MR PRICE: We list the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
QUESTION: You did.
MR PRICE: So, the idea that we would be encouraging – actively encouraging other countries not to take an approach that we’ve taken, that doesn’t ring true to me. But again, I’m not familiar with this report. What I am familiar with is our determination to work with countries around the world, including our European allies, to do everything we possibly can to counter the IRGC malign activities.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a question —
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: — on Iran International and freedom of press. On Friday, due to very credible security threats, London Metropolitan Police advised Iran International’s director to stop broadcasting from London, so they moved the entire operation, the 24/7 operation, to here in D.C. Our – we have smaller bureau here; we opened two years ago. Do you have any comments on that? Because we’ve received a lot of security threats, not in the last five years, but five months. But I can say in the last maybe two years, but now it’s very – it’s intensified to a degree that the London police is saying that they cannot guarantee my colleagues’ security and safety. Do you have any comments on that, and what are you going to do about us, about our staff here, the security of Iran International’s office here in D.C.?
MR PRICE: So of course, I am aware of the announcement that Iran International put out. We strongly condemn threats to media. And we continue to support freedom of press around the world. Regrettably, Iran’s pattern of media repression at home and threats to media abroad is a longstanding and well-documented concern of ours. And of course, now it is impacting your own operations. Iran knows, the American people should know, people around the world should also know that we take seriously the safety and security of the American people, to everyone here in this country. We are vigilant. We are determined to act and to act with conviction if there are threats from Iran or any other state or non-state actor to journalists on our soil, as you – I think you’ve seen us use a full range of tools to respond to that. We’re going to continue to remain vigilant. We’re going to continue to do everything we can to support free media operating here in this country and operating around the world.
I’ll take a final question or so. Yeah. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my question. It seems like yesterday Taiwanese official and Deputy Secretary Sherman had a meeting. And may I confirm the meeting was happen yesterday? And if so, what’s the topic they discuss?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any meetings to speak to particularly, but what I can say is that we have, as you know, a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and we continue to engage with Taiwan under the auspices of AIT and TECRO and in line with our longstanding policy.
Let me go – yes, here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So, on Putin’s announcement of suspending Russia’s participation in New START, what does that mean for the region? Does that mean a nuclear escalation is ahead of us? If not – if this agreement is not resumed or new arrangement come up with?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ll have to see what steps the Russian Federation actually takes. President Putin made this pronouncement. The MFA put out a statement essentially saying what they would not do and the practices that would continue in line with New START. Nevertheless, this was an unfortunate decision. It was an irresponsible decision. We hope Russia reverses course. We’ve made very clear that – a couple things. Number one, Russia has been in technical noncompliance with the treaty for some time because – precisely because the Russians weren’t willing to meet with us at an opportunity that we had arranged late last year, earlier this year. Overcoming that technical noncompliance would not be a difficult feat. We hope Russia reverses course. It is not only in our interests. It’s in Russia’s interests. It’s in the interests of countries around the world.
Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one question about China and Russia. Ukrainian president said to the German media that if China sides with Russia, there’s a World War III. First of all, do you share that sentiment? It’s not like – I’m sure you must have seen the reporting and the remarks that were made, Die Welt newspaper.
And also, you’re talking about severe consequences. What’s the best that the United States has got to offer, at the moment, as a deterrent and what could it lead to? If they do provide lethal assistance to Russia, what’s the best that you can offer?
MR PRICE: On the second part of your question, we think there is an advantage to some degree of ambiguity. We have been clear with the PRC about the fact that consequences would befall them if they were to provide lethal assistance, but we think it’s most effective, again, if we leave that ambiguous and we continue to warn consistently of those consequences.
Look, when it comes to a broader conflict, President Biden has been determined that we are going to do everything we can to support our Ukrainian partners. We are going to rally the world to support our Ukrainian partners. We’re going to provide them with security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, diplomatic assistance, political assistance, and every other form of support that we responsibly can. But we are also going to do everything we can to manage escalation and to see to it this does not turn into a broader conflict. That is of profound interest to us.
QUESTION: Just quickly on Peru. Peru said the State Department has agreed to the extradition of former President Alejandro Toledo. Just wondering if you might be able to say when the U.S. expects to send Toledo to —
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to comment on that report. I’ve seen the report. When it comes to extraditions, we defer to the Department of Justice. If there is anything to add on that front, I would suspect that they would be the first to speak to it.
QUESTION: You know what, that’s – no, because the Secretary of State has to sign off on if someone is going to be extradited from here to someplace else.
MR PRICE: No, I understand. I understand. I’m not denying —
QUESTION: As exactly what happened with Noriega when he was extradited. So —
MR PRICE: I’m not denying the internal process. What I am affirming is when it comes to public statements and who speaks to extraditions, who speaks about extraditions, that’s the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: But in that case, when Secretary Clinton signed off on the extradition of Noriega, it was this building that announced it, not the Justice Department.
MR PRICE: Got it.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask – there was a I2U2 vice-ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi today and yesterday. Do you have a readout of that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a readout to offer, at the moment, but if we do, we’ll get back to you.
QUESTION: And when the Secretary travels to India next month for the G20, will he be meeting his Chinese and Russian counterparts?
MR PRICE: We haven’t announced the particulars of his travel to the G20. I think it’s safe to assume, of course, that Secretary Blinken will be traveling to the G20 next month. We’ll have more to say on that, I would expect, later this week.
QUESTION: Afghanistan question. Afghanistan.
QUESTION: On Armenia-Azerbaijan, the Secretary convened a summit in Munich. You said in your statement, readout, that he took note of significant progress the two sides have made over the last several months. This is a little bit inconsistent with what we have seen – have been seeing the past couple of months. Did the Secretary intentionally want to sound over-optimistic?
MR PRICE: He was reflecting what we’ve seen over the last couple months. This has been the result of engagement between the parties. This has been the result of bilateral engagement with the United States, trilateral engagement with the United States, the work that the EU has done in their diplomacy as well, and what we hope to see when the parties come together in Brussels in the coming days in the talks hosted by President Michel of the EU. So, we hope to see a continuation of that progress. We are not being Pollyannaish, but we are continuing to support this dialogue, this diplomacy, towards a comprehensive solution in every way we possibly can.
QUESTION: Was it the Secretary’s conclusion that the sides have progress since Washington meeting that he hosted here?
MR PRICE: Well, as we said in the readout, there has been significant progress that we’ve taken note of. We are going to do everything we can to see that progress continue.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:37 p.m.)
 EU President Charles Michel has extended an offer to host the parties in Brussels but there is no meeting scheduled at this time. [back to 1]