Department Press Briefing – February 23, 2023
2:22 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: If I seem especially nervous today, it’s because we have a celebrity guest sighting in the back of the room, Assistant Secretary Robinson and some colleagues. Welcome. Good to see you.
We will start today with a couple items at the top. Today the U.S. Department of State announced that its Ukraine Cultural Heritage Response Initiative will invest $7 million to support efforts to protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
This week marks one year since Russia’s brutal, full‑scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s war aims not only to take Ukraine’s territory and deprive it of its sovereignty but also to eradicate its national identity and its culture. This initiative supports Ukraine’s efforts to protect and repair damage to Ukrainian cultural heritage sites and collections, following Russia’s unrelenting attacks throughout Ukraine.
The initiative is led by the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy Kyiv, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, Ukrainian NGOs, and international partners. The initiative will give priority to cultural heritage sites and collections directly impacted by Russia’s war. The initiative complements broader global efforts to preserve and protect cultural heritage, coordinated by the Bureau’s Cultural Heritage Center.
And next and finally, we condemn the Burma military regime’s arrest and detention of prominent ethnic Kachin Christian leader, Reverend Dr. Hkalam Samson. We are extremely concerned for his well-being and safety, and urge our partners and allies to join us in calling on the regime to drop all charges and immediately and unconditionally release Reverend Samson.
Reverend Samson’s incredible work advocating for religious freedom, justice, peace, and accountability should be celebrated and replicated, not condemned.
We additionally urge the regime to cease its unconscionable repression against religious actors and communities in Burma and end the violence.
With that, I’ll turn to your questions. Matt.
QUESTION: Right. I actually have nothing worthy of starting with, so —
MR PRICE: I find it hard to believe that’s the case, but I will take your word for it.
QUESTION: Well, let’s see.
MR PRICE: Okay. Said.
QUESTION: Let’s see what the first question is.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Oh, right.
QUESTION: Standard – we’ll start with the Palestinian issue, okay? We are looking at a situation where one of the extremist – most extremist of officials has taken over basically the security of the West Bank. Are you concerned about that? They agreed the deal that allows Smotrich to basically decide the fate of the West Bank, the occupied West Bank?
MR PRICE: Said, you’re referring to announcement – an announcement that only recently emanated from Israel. We’re aware of it. We’re working to better understand this announcements – this announcement and any potential implications.
As we’ve said before, we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from any unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or have the potential to undercut efforts to advance the prospects for a negotiated two‑state solution. Those steps are many. We’ve given illustrative examples, but they certainly include annexation of territory.
QUESTION: Thank you. In the meantime, in the meantime, the Israelis seem to be intent on going in into the Palestinian community – the largest Palestinian city, in this case Nablus, other large Palestinian cities, Hebron, other places, and so on – and basically doing the same thing over and over again under the pretext that they are in pursuit of certain militants. In this case, yesterday they said – they claimed they were after three militants and so on, and in the end result we had dozens of deaths and injuries, many of whom were civilians.
What measures should be taken until we get to the point where you’re saying? What measures ought to be taken to provide protections to the Palestinian people? It seems that the Palestinians lack protection. I know yesterday in my question to the ambassador, she talked that the authority is not – the Palestinian Authority is not a state, they cannot go there, in there. So what measures ought to be taken to ensure that Palestinian civilians are protected at the present time, not so far in the future?
MR PRICE: Said, this goes back to the conversation we had yesterday and we’ve had previously as well. Two things are true at once. In this case, we recognize, as I noted yesterday, the very real security concerns that Israel faces. We’ve seen far too many just crushing examples of those very real security threats to Israel and to the Israeli people. At the same time, we’ve been deeply concerned, we’ve been alarmed, at the loss of civilian life. And of course yesterday we saw another tragic example of the loss of civilian life in an Israeli counterterrorism raid in Nablus, as you mentioned.
We believe it’s incumbent on both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, to take steps that in the first instance don’t further escalate tensions. Tensions are already far too high. They are far too high for anyone’s liking – certainly ours. But from there, to take steps to actually de-escalate tensions, to take steps that bring down the temperature, that will allow the parties to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank – to your question, we think that’s imperative – and to address the tensions that have been inflamed of late.
We are ready, willing, and able to support the parties in any way that we usefully can. Our officials have been engaged on this, as have other regional officials with both Israelis, with Palestinians as well, to, again, support them in the steps that ultimately they themselves must take. These are not steps that the United States can take. These are not steps that other countries in the region can take. Only the Israelis and Palestinians themselves can undertake these steps. We are ready to continue to be a partner as they seek to undertake these steps, and we encourage them to do so.
QUESTION: In the meantime, the Palestinian people are really left with a very hopeless situation. I mean, on the one hand they see that the Israelis are advancing their plans for 4,600 units and so on in Area C, in many other areas. I mean, I don’t – I can go on and on and on, but you are fully aware. So if they – if they feel so frustrated and so hopeless, we’re going to see incidents like the one we saw on the 27th of January. I don’t think it can be avoided. But whether it’s planned or not planned or whatever, aren’t you concerned that violence begets violence, and this horrible unbridled Israeli violence will ultimately create counterviolence?
MR PRICE: Said, I want to be very clear that we condemn all form of violence, all forms of violence. We condemn terrorism in all its forms. There is never a justification for any act of terrorism – never.
Our goal in this is not to set the parties directly in a room, to encourage them to go directly to a room to negotiate a two-state solution. We are under no illusion that that is possible today, tomorrow, perhaps in the near term. Our goal is to support the parties as they themselves in the first instance have to take these steps to de-escalate tensions, and from there take steps, we hope, that help to preserve the viability of a two-state solution.
Now, that doesn’t mean the United States is standing idly by. As I said before, we’re engaging with the parties, we’re engaging with the region. More than that, Said, I think your question noted the sense of hopelessness and sense of despair among many Palestinians. That’s something we recognize. It’s something we realize. And it’s something we’ve sought to counteract, and we have done so in very real and practical ways. In the first instance, we re‑established a relationship with the Palestinian Authority but with the Palestinian people.
And to the point of real and practical steps, the United States has led the international community in providing humanitarian relief to the Palestinian people. Over the two years of this administration, we’ve provided more than $900 million, almost a billion dollars, of humanitarian support, of humanitarian relief, to the Palestinian people in Gaza, to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
That is for the immediate humanitarian relief, but there is also a compounding effect, we think and we hope, to preserve that horizon of opportunity, to preserve that horizon of hope that I agree is critical. We cannot afford to let either side, either Israelis or Palestinians, lose that horizon of opportunity, that horizon of hope. It is part and parcel of our efforts to keep the viability of a negotiated two-state solution to this longstanding conflict alive.
And second, there is European diplomats who are participating in this meeting. They express some kind of pessimism that actually the election can be held on time, although they were calling for some kind of mechanism to hold the election. Do you share this? Do you think that it’s very difficult currently considering all the elements, whether it’s the Wagner Group, the Syrians, whatever in Libya, that it’s very difficult to hold any kind of political process?
MR PRICE: A couple points on this, Nadia. First there’s only so much I can offer at this moment because I understand these engagements are still ongoing. We’ll – we will have more to say towards the end of the day when we provide a readout of the consultations that have taken place.
But I will say that from the Department of State our Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was meeting with these officials earlier today. They discussed a whole range of issues, including perhaps most prominently the steps the United States and the international community along with the special representative of the UN secretary general are taking to support the aspirations of the Libyan people for free and fair elections this year. We think it’s important that the Libyan people have an opportunity to express their voices, to act on their aspirations at the ballot box. And we are working intently withy Libyan authorities, with the special representative of the secretary general, with our international allies and partners, to support that in every way we can.
Now, ultimately the precise timing is going to be – is going to have to be up to the Libyan people. But we think it is important that the Libyan people have a near-term opportunity this year to express their voice peacefully at the ballot box.
QUESTION: How do you asses the strength of the Wagner Group to the degree that it will cause a difficulty of holding the election?
MR PRICE: Well, the Wagner Group, wherever it is, whether it’s on the African continent, whether it’s in Ukraine, anywhere else where its tentacles have been able to take root, we’ve noticed that these countries often find themselves weaker, poorer, more insecure, less independent.
These are all influences that the United States in our engagement with these countries seeks – seek to counteract. We are taking action using authorities available to us to pursue the Wagner Group, to pursue its founder. Both the group and its founder are now subject to a number of sanctions and other authorities that we have imposed in an effort to counter the influence of the Wagner Group on the African continent, but everywhere else where it exists.
We are working closely with our African partners, with European countries, to address these very destabilizing and these rent-seeking activities that the Wagner Group undertakes. We’ll continue to engage bilaterally with countries where the Wagner Group is present, but also multilaterally, knowing that this is a challenge that would benefit from international cooperation.
Yes, go ahead.
MR PRICE: Well, if you’re talking about two camps, I think the two camps you might see are those countries that are standing on the side of the UN Charter, those countries that are standing on the side of international law, those countries that are standing on the side of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those countries that are siding with Russia.
And this vote has not taken place yet, so of course I wouldn’t want to get ahead of it. But if past is any prologue, I would suspect you are going to see the vast majority – even the overwhelming majority – of countries standing with the UN Charter, standing with international law, standing with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a number of countries that are standing with Russia to be a small handful, to be the typical standard rogues’ gallery of countries that have sided with Russia in the recent UN General Assembly vote.
So not going to get ahead of it. We’ll have numbers before too long. But we are confident that, once again, the world will stand with the UN Charter, and it’s only appropriate that they do so as this vote is taking place in the UN General Assembly.
QUESTION: A year into this war, you do think the UN has served its purpose, which was created out of World War II, to stop and prevent wars to happen? You have – the UN has not been able to stop the war. There’s only debates going on there (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Well, the UN was created in the wake of the last world war not to be omnipotent, not to always be in a position to prevent conflict, but to be a forum where, if countries acted according to international law, acted according to UN Charter, conflict could be prevented. The simple fact, however, is that in this case, Russia has consistently flouted the UN Charter. It’s flouted international law. It’s flouted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s flouted the will of the international community, as expressed now through multiple overwhelming votes in the UN General Assembly.
So the UN has served an important purpose in providing countries around the world with a forum in which to express – in many, most cases – their abject condemnation of what Russia is doing, an opportunity for countries of the world to stand up for the UN Charter, an opportunity, on the other hand, for the world to see just how empty and vacuous what we’re hearing from the Russian Federation and its very small rogues’ gallery of partners – just to see how empty their messages actually are.
Tomorrow, in addition to what’s taking place today, the UN will again serve an important – as an important forum. The Secretary, Secretary Blinken, will travel to New York City tonight so that he can be in place tomorrow morning to address the UN Security Council. He’ll have an opportunity while there to tell the story of the last year and really to crystallize the stakes of this important if not defining moment, to crystallize the stakes of what we’ve seen over the course of the last year, and to crystallize the stakes of what we’ll see in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
He’ll, in some ways, tell the story of the last year, and in some ways that story begins in the very same place. Because it was in the UN Security Council chamber just about a year ago – a little over a year ago now – when the Secretary laid out almost to a tee what we expected to see of Russia as it amassed its forces on Ukraine’s borders, as it told the world in no uncertain terms that it would not invade Ukraine, only to follow the script that the Secretary laid out in the UN Security Council chamber days later, despite the protests at the time from Russia to the contrary.
He’ll recount what we’ve seen from the Russian Federation over the course of the last year: the brutality; the abject, naked aggression against its neighbor; the fact that Russia has, in waging this aggression, shredded just about every principle that is at the heart of the UN Charter.
He’ll, on the other hand, speak to the remarkable resilience, determination, grit, effectiveness of the Ukrainian people, what we have seen from Ukraine over the past year despite what might have seemed insurmountable odds, and also, speak to the resilience on the part of the international community, the international community that has withstood President Putin’s consistent efforts to hold us hostage, to soaring food prices, to commodity prices, to rising energy prices, using every lever at his cruel disposal.
And he’ll also, I suspect, will speak to the imperative of supporting Ukraine and in support of a just and durable peace, a peace that’s consistent with the principles of the UN Charter, and one that will equip Ukraine to, over the longer term, continue to be a sovereign country, a democratic country, an independent country, a country that is whole and prosperous, with the means to defend itself going forward.
QUESTION: One last question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Russia and China have come closer than ever during the past week after the Ukraine war. What impact this is having on the challenge that U.S. is facing solving the major global problems like climate change, food supply, inflation?
MR PRICE: Well, we should not have these wedges when it comes to challenges that are universal in nature. We’re in an era that is defined by two underlying factors. One is strategic competition, and we are seeing strategic competition unfortunately play out in dangerous ways with what Russia and China are trying to do, by advancing the vision of the world that they have that is fundamentally at odds with the vision that’s set forth in the UN Charter, fundamentally at odds with the vision that the United States and so many of our allies and partners and countries around the world also share. That’s one factor.
But the re-emergence of strategic competition hasn’t done away with the transnational challenges that we face, that challenge of a changing climate, the challenge of infectious disease and public health concerns more broadly, the challenge of narcotics and the need on the part of countries around the world to work to address the scourge of fentanyl and other drugs that are ravaging communities in this country but also communities around the world. These are challenges that the United States has tremendous capacity to help address, but these are not challenges we can solve alone.
We’re always going to be more effective against every single one of these challenges when we work with partners and allies, but also countries with whom we share otherwise very little in common, and China may well fall into that category. It’s – we think it is the responsible thing to do to work with the PRC where our interests align. And our interests clearly align on these transnational challenges that are a threat to the American people, that are a threat to the Chinese people, that are a threat to people around the world.
It is also what the rest of the world expects of us. This isn’t just an expectation that we have on the part of the PRC. Countries around the world want to see the United States and China working together to address these challenges. Now, the fact that we seek to work together doesn’t mean that we see eye to eye; quite the contrary. But where our interests align – and these are areas where our interests align – we think it is responsible, we think it is the right thing to do, we think it’s the necessary thing to do for us to work together.
QUESTION: Let me follow up on that. I have two more other topics. Will the Secretary use the UN platform tomorrow to share what you guys already know about China-Russia cooperation?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t expect him to go into any detail on this front. He has had an opportunity in recent days to speak to our concerns about what we’ve seen already between the PRC and Russia, the concern we have that the PRC could take additional steps that they’ve heretofore declined to take. He spoke to that from Munich; he’s spoken to that when he’s been asked about it in recent days, including earlier today.
Our message to the PRC has been consistent. They would decide to provide lethal assistance or to provide systematic assistance to Russia in its sanctions evasion at their own peril. It would come with costs and consequences from the United States, from the international community. We’re watching this very closely. We’ve had these conversations directly, candidly, frankly with the PRC, including when the Secretary met with Wang Yi in Munich just last weekend.
QUESTION: Do you have a new or updated assessment on why China is doing what it is doing? I mean, quite honestly, they have been staying away from this for a year. Any – it seems —
MR PRICE: I would actually disagree with that, Alex. I don’t think China has been staying away from this for the past year. In fact, the PRC has been providing important support to Russia over the course of this last year. They attempt to maintain this veneer of neutrality, professing to the world that they’re not taking a side, but they’ve clearly chosen a side.
In the weeks leading up to this invasion, when it was crystal clear – at least should have been crystal clear to the PRC – what Russia intended, they signed this communique, 5,000-word communique, that spoke of a partnership without limits. Over the course of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the PRC has provided diplomatic support; they’ve provided political support; they’ve provided economic support. They have echoed and parroted Russia’s propaganda, its lies, its distortions, its mistruths in an effort to shield Russia and to propagate what it is trying to feed the world, a steady diet of disinformation and lies.
QUESTION: Let me move to Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine as well. You probably have seen the reports about Russia’s false flag claims, which resembles what they have been doing last year this time towards Ukraine. What is your assessment on that? Why are they trying to bring Moldova into this picture?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s a better question for Moscow, and I think we’ve seen a pattern of behavior on the part of Moscow to subvert – attempt to subvert I should say – the independence, in some cases the territorial integrity and the sovereignty, of its neighbors and countries in the region.
So in some ways this is nothing new. It is also not new that the United States stands firmly committed to assisting Moldova as it pursues the economic, political, and anti-corruption reforms needed to build what it has chosen as its European future, what the people of Moldova have clearly chosen as their path. We’ve been in close contact with our Moldovan partners during this critical time. Secretary Blinken met with President Sandu not all that long ago. We strongly support her leadership and the Moldovan Government. We also look forward to working with the new prime minister, Prime Minister Recean, and his cabinet as they continue to pursue political, economic, and anti-corruption reforms.
We’ve been deeply concerned by some of what you’ve heard from our Moldovan partners. There are consistent reports of a plot by Russia to destabilize Moldova’s democratically elected government. As I said before, Russia has a long history of malign influence, both in Moldova and in the broader region. And we’ve worked closely with our Moldovan partners over the course of decades now to build its political resilience and to counter longer-term efforts by Russia to undermine those very democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Just to come back to the UN quickly, the Chinese representative has made a statement basically saying – they’re saying sending weapons to Ukraine will not bring peace; adding fuel to the fire will only exacerbate tensions. I guess given what you’ve been asking the Chinese or warning the Chinese about, they seem to be kind of turning that back on the U.S. and saying: Your provision of weapons for Ukraine is not helping. Do you have a response to that?
MR PRICE: Without responding directly to that, let me make a couple points.
Number one, there is no such thing as neutrality in this war. It is not a question of two belligerents in a conflict without any value statements attached to this. It is a question of an aggressor waging fierce brutality against its neighbor without any justification whatsoever, without any basis in international law. No responsible country can be neutral in a conflict like this, certainly not any country that purports to adhere and to believe in the principles of the UN Charter. Because what Moscow is doing is a blatant violation of the UN Charter, a blatant violation of international law, the seminal documents that have formed the basis of the rules-based order since the end of the Second World War.
I think the other key point here, Simon, is that while Russia is undermining the UN Charter, undermining international law, not only chipping away at it, but in its action seeking to in some ways dismantle it entirely, what we are doing through various tactics is buttressing – trying to preserve the UN Charter, trying to preserve the global order that countries around the world signed up to – including, by the way, Russia, and including, by the way, China – at the founding of the UN and in the decades since.
So one can claim that the United States is just adding fuel to the fire by providing security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. What we’re actually doing is standing up for international law. What we’re actually doing is standing up for the UN Charter, attempting to preserve and protect what has been at the core of the rules-based order over the course of some eight decades. Every country, certainly, that supports Russia is doing precisely the opposite. Those countries that are attempting to maintain this veneer of neutrality – that itself is not a defense of the UN Charter.
QUESTION: And just back to – you mentioned PRC is providing important support to Russia over the course of last year. So the understanding is that’s still not lethal aid, but could you – is there any details you can give on – what is it you’re referring to as that support?
MR PRICE: What we’re referring to is what we have seen on the part of Chinese companies – and of course our concern is predicated on the fact that, in a state-run economy like the PRC’s, there is not the clear delineation between the public sector and the private sector that you have in a country like the United States. But we’ve seen companies in the PRC provide non-lethal assistance to Russia.
Our concern, of course, would be, were the PRC to take that one step further and to provide lethal assistance to Russia. This is not something we’ve seen yet, but at the same time we don’t believe that the PRC has taken it off the table. We prepare – we remain prepared to sanction any entity, any company, and any country around the world that violates U.S. or international sanctions.
QUESTION: And just – had been kind of previewed by the Secretary that at some point you would give more detail about this intelligence suggesting that the Chinese are considering going a step further, that they’re going that step further that you’re warning about. We – since Saturday we haven’t heard anything more on that. Is there any more details that you’re going to be able to give?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to offer any additional details at the moment. I know there is intense interest in this. But our concern is predicated, and the very fact that we have been able to express this concern has been predicated, on information that was known to us that we have since released to the public. I know it’s not in much detail; I know there is intense interest in garnering additional detail. If we’re able to provide that, we will. But what is paramount to us always is protection of sources and methods and to preserve our ability to obtain this kind of information going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you. We have a U.S. official telling CBS on background that the U.S. expects Russia to mark the one-year anniversary tomorrow with a barrage of missiles and drones against Ukrainian cities. Can you comment at all on that?
MR PRICE: I can’t confirm that. Of course, we all hope it’s not true. We all hope that tomorrow is a day in Ukraine that is free from the types of attacks, drones, missiles, bombs, shells that have come to define the past year. I think we all know there may be reason to expect otherwise or at least reason to suspect otherwise, but I’m just not in a position to forecast what Russia might do other than to acknowledge Russia’s track record of immense, inordinate brutality over the past year and Russia’s consistent desire to score what it might consider propaganda victories even as it destroys lives, livelihoods, and in this case targets an entire country.
MR PRICE: So Guita, this waiver has been renewed by successive American administrations without any interruption since 2014. The waiver has been issued close to 20 times – some 18 or so times – in recent years. We periodically review this waiver to allow the provision of satellite broadcast service to the IRIB under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or ITSO.
We are and remain seriously concerned by the IRIB’s role in censoring the Iranian people’s access to information and its involvement in human rights abuses. While this narrow waiver allows for the provision of satellite broadcast services to IRIB, IRIB and its senior leadership remain subject to U.S. sanctions under various authorities, including for their involvement in censorship and human rights abuses.
As you may recall, we sanctioned senior IRIB officials as recently as November when we designated its director, Peyman Jebelli, and other senior IRIB leaders involved in censorship on behalf of the Iranian Government. We continue to use every single tool that’s available to us to hold Iranian authorities accountable for their human rights abuses and for their censorship.
QUESTION: Well, just because the past administrations have waived it doesn’t necessarily mean that you – that this administration would have to, especially now where you’ve seen it airs forced confessions; disseminates misinformation, disinformation; doesn’t reflect the reality of the protests on the streets; airs the officials’ anti-Semitic comments. So isn’t – aren’t these enough grounds not to waive these sanctions, I mean, to waive – not to waive it?
MR PRICE: These are underlying conditions that we look at every time this waiver comes up for renewal. We ultimately are going to do what is in our interest but ultimately what we deem to be most effective to promote the aspirations of the Iranian people. And our judgment has been by targeting precisely senior officials consistently, including in recent months, including as recently as last year, holding senior officials in the IRIB hierarchy responsible for what they have done, we are able to, on the one hand, hold them to account, and on the other to pursue our interests and to help promote the aspirations of the Iranian people.
QUESTION: Okay, those sanctions aside, how does it serve the U.S. interest?
MR PRICE: Guita, these are complex issues involving our membership in the ITSO, involving a number of factors, but we look at this very carefully through every single lens. And we have made the judgment call, as have previous administrations multiple times over every 180 days, that waiving these sanctions are in our interest. We also believe it’s in the interest of our ability to protect, to promote the aspirations of the Iranian people.
QUESTION: Thanks. Going back to the claims that China may provide lethal aid to Russia, Beijing is calling that slander. Of course, I know you can’t publicly share some of the information behind that assessment. But at least your communications with China – have diplomats communicated why the U.S. does have that heightened concern now?
MR PRICE: We’ve communicated very clearly our concern. I think you might understand why we would hesitate in nearly all cases I can think of to share especially sensitive information with a country like the PRC, but they are under no illusions about the nature of our concern. Oftentimes we have found that their propaganda doesn’t always match what they are saying to one another, what they may be thinking to themselves. This may be one of those cases.
But if ultimately by making this public we’re able to help deter the PRC from going forward with a decision like this, if it raises the potential reputational costs on the PRC were it to do something like this, in our judgment that would be a suitable outcome.
QUESTION: Can I just —
QUESTION: I just want to —
MR PRICE: Let me move around and I’ll come back.
QUESTION: — follow up on China quickly. We heard from Under Secretary Nuland earlier today saying that the U.S. expects that China is going to put forward some semblance of a peace proposal that was alluded to by Chinese officials last weekend, and it’s expected tomorrow. So do you expect that they’re going to do that at the UN, and what is your kind of – how will the U.S. respond? We expect there to be back and forth between Blinken and the Chinese official tomorrow. Just how do you see this playing out?
MR PRICE: First, I would have to refer you to the PRC to speak to any plans they may have for tomorrow and the coming days regarding these reports of a peace proposal.
QUESTION: But it was Nuland said this, not Chinese officials.
MR PRICE: No, I understand. I understand. Toria has a way of making news that not all of us have. But I think when it comes to their – these reports of a peace proposal, look, there are reasons to be skeptical. And this goes back to the conversation we were having just a moment ago, the PRC seeks to have it both ways, seeks to present this air of neutrality, purport to not take a side in Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, while at the same time lending important forms of support to Russia’s war. Again, it’s economic assistance to Russia; it’s diplomatic assistance, political assistance. It’s provision of messaging support as well. So all of that gives us a great a deal of pause when we hear reports that the PRC is planning to present I’m sure what they will advertise as an impartial peace proposal.
Of course, Wang Yi was in Russia this week. Unless I’ve missed it, I’m not aware that Wang Yi made a symmetrical visit to Kyiv to discuss their ideas for a peace proposal. We would like to see nothing more than a just and durable peace. We very much agree with President Zelenskyy that this brutal war will have to end at the negotiating table, but we are skeptical that reports of a proposal like this will be a constructive path forward.
Now, we’re going to reserve judgment until we see it. And the broader point is that we certainly do hope that all countries that have a relationship with Russia unlike the one that we have will use that leverage, will use that influence to push Russia meaningfully and usefully to end this brutal war of aggression. The PRC is in a position to do that in ways that we just aren’t. Other countries around the world are in a position to do that in ways that we just aren’t. So we encourage those countries to use that influence in a constructive way, but we’ll have to see what this actually is.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on the peace plan kind of concept, obviously Ukraine has put forth this 10-point peace plan that the United States supports, other European allies support as well. But we’ve had conversations about U.S. officials working with Ukrainians to sort of narrow in and fully flesh out that peace plan. Is there any update on those efforts that you can offer to us?
MR PRICE: This is a peace plan – peace plan that President Zelenskyy and his government have put forward. This is a Ukrainian plan for a just and durable peace. It’s a plan that, as you said, has 10 elements. These are elements that we think would help culminate in the very just and durable peace that the United States seeks, but most importantly that Ukraine seeks. We’re a partner to Ukraine in every way. Of course, there’s been no shortage of attention on our provision of security assistance, less so but still important on our provision of economic assistance, humanitarian assistance. But our embassy in Kyiv, officials here in Washington are working on a daily basis with our Ukrainian counterparts to assist them across the board. And we always provide our feedback, our counsel when they request it, but ultimately these are decisions, these are documents that the Ukrainian Government is responsible for, and these ideas are theirs.
QUESTION: Just to clarify this, Secretary – Assistant Secretary Nuland also said that the United States is willing to look at a peace plan as – as what you just said. But it would have to be a serious one, not a frivolous one – in essence that’s what she said – for just and durable peace. Is anything short of going back to the lines of, let’s say, February 23rd, 2022, that will be considered frivolous or non – a nonstarter?
MR PRICE: That’s just a question I can’t answer, Said. It’s not a question for the U.S. Government; it’s a question for our Ukrainian partners. To what I was saying to Kylie, these are decisions for them to make. The United States will support them in those decisions, but ultimately these are their decisions.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. A trade delegation from Pakistan is in the town to talk about trade investments. I’ve seen the media report that there is a massive increase of American investments in Pakistan, like 50 percent of it. Can you share some details about these ongoing talks and how U.S. can help Pakistan to take them out from the current economic crisis?
MR PRICE: Sure. I think you’re referring to the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council ministerial meeting. This is a meeting that is hosted by the U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Tai. We think it exemplifies our commitment to deepening our economic and commercial ties with Pakistan. We believe that a robust trade relationship between the United States and Pakistan is more important than ever to bolster Pakistan’s economic stability as it recovers from devastating floods, while at the same time also providing opportunity to Americans and to American businesses in this country, exposing them to new markets – Pakistani markets in this case.
Our trade relationship with Pakistan has helped both Pakistani industries and consumers. We have long been Pakistan’s largest export market, with potential for even further growth, hence the meeting today. And we believe there is great potential to expand bilateral trade with Pakistan further, particularly in energy, agricultural equipment and products, franchising, retail trade, information and communications technology products and services.
We have been a leading investor in Pakistan for the past two decades, and in the past year our investments have increased by some 50 percent. U.S. investment in Pakistan is the highest it’s been in over a decade, and U.S. corporations have announced more than $1.5 billion in investment plans in Pakistan since 2019. U.S. companies and their local affiliates, moreover, are among Pakistan’s largest employers, with roughly 80 U.S. companies directly employing more than 120,000 Pakistanis.
The Office of the Trade Representative may have additional details following this ministerial, so you may reach out to them as well.
QUESTION: Sir, we have seen a series of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Hundreds of people were killed, and people are saying that there will be a or might be a deadly summer in Pakistan as not TTP but Daesh, ISIS, also planning to kill innocent civilians. Sir, there were like some high-level engagement in recent days, and I believe there’s a counterterrorism dialogue coming up very soon. So what kind of help or support Pakistan is asking from U.S. to crush these terror networks in Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Well, our engagement on this subject is rooted in the fact that terrorism is a threat that has taken many Pakistani, Afghan, other innocent lives over the course of far too many years now. The United States and Pakistan have a shared interest in ensuring the Taliban live up to the commitments that they have made, and that terrorist groups that may be active in Afghanistan – like ISIS-K, TTP, al-Qaida, as you mentioned – are no longer able to threaten regional stability. I refer you to Pakistani authorities for questions about their counterterrorism policy as it relates to Afghanistan, but at the end of the day, we do have shared interests.
QUESTION: Yeah, back on Ukraine for a second. You said yesterday as we’re going up to the one-year mark of the war that there’s no indication, really, that you’re aware of that Russia is ready to negotiate in any way – seriously, at least. But you also said essentially that the plan is to continue forward as you have as far as providing significant aid to Ukraine, sanctioning Russia, otherwise diplomatically pressuring them. As we’re at the one-year mark of the war and you’re seeing no indication that Russia wants to negotiate still, is there any thought to altering the approach, perhaps trying to take a more proactive role in peace negotiations or ratcheting up pressure on Russia in a way that you haven’t thus far? Or are you just going to continue with what you’ve been doing, largely?
MR PRICE: So I would start, Dylan, by saying that our approach has been working. Our approach is the approach that has helped to enable our Ukrainian partners to stand up to this naked aggression. Ultimately what is at the crux of their success and their effectiveness is their own grit, their own determination, their own resilience, and their own resolve, but we have been in a position, as have some 50 countries from around the world, to enable them with significant amounts of security assistance. That’s on one side of the ledger.
On the other side of the ledger, we’ve announced sanctions, other financial measures, export controls on entities and individuals in and around the Kremlin and those who are enabling President Putin in his brutal war. And I think by almost any metric you can see the effectiveness of those.
What we are seeing now – and really the crux of what we seek to do in the coming months – is to recognize the nexus between what is happening on the battlefield in Ukraine and ultimately what we hope to see happen if and, we think, when a negotiating table emerges where Ukrainians and Russians can bring an end to this war. The simple fact of the matter is Russia has expressed no appetite to engage in that kind of constructive dialogue at the moment – and quite the contrary, in fact.
There was a statement that emanated from the Kremlin that said the Russians would be willing to negotiate if and only if Russia’s new territorial – quote/unquote “territorial realities” in Ukraine were recognized. That is not the statement of a country that is willing to engage in good-faith dialogue and diplomacy. But we think we can help to incentivize Russia to come closer to a negotiating table by continuing to hold Russia to account, by continuing to support Ukraine’s defenders, Ukraine’s ability to protect and actually seize back the territory that has been taken from it.
Yes, in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Earlier this month, reports suggested that United States and France are working together to try to end Azerbaijan’s continuing blockade of Nagorno‑Karabakh. I was wondering if this communication that happened between the Secretary of State and his French counterpart was more like a one-time effort or maybe having more efforts, joint work together, or should we expect it in the future between United States and French authorities?
And my second question is more about the humanitarian aspect. Azerbaijan, unfortunately, continues to disregard international calls, whether it’s coming from this administration or the European partners, and the situation on ground continues to deteriorate. The hospitals, the schools cease to function normally in Nagorno-Karabakh. I was wondering if the administration considers stepping in and maybe delivering humanitarian aid to Nagorno-Karabakh using USAID or other – capacity of USAID or other channels. Thank you.
MR PRICE: So on your first question, we have made clear through our word and our deed that we are ready and able to help the parties – Armenia and Azerbaijan – advance progress on these very difficult questions in any way that we can. We have done so bilaterally, we have done so trilaterally with the parties, including when Secretary Blinken sat down with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Munich. We are and have been working with and through our partners. We’re very supportive of the EU process, and I should note that there is an offer from President Michel of the EU to host the parties in Brussels. It’s an opportunity, should they accept it, to sit down to continue the progress that we’ve seen in recent weeks.
When it comes to the Lachin corridor, the Secretary raised this in his engagement with the prime minister and with the president in Munich last weekend. He underscored the need for free and open commercial and private transit through the Lachin corridor. He also called on the parties to open other transportation routes. We think it in the first instance is incumbent on the parties themselves to resolve these impediments to the free flow of goods, including humanitarian assistance to the people who need it most in this corridor, and we’re going to focus our diplomacy on attempting to bring – to help bring that about.
All right, yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Quickly follow up on your question on China-Russia’s relationship. There was a media report that U.S. considers release of intelligence on China’s potential arms transfer to Russia. Can I ask your comment on that?
MR PRICE: It’s the same dynamic that I explained to your colleague earlier. We have spoken publicly of the concern we have that is predicated on information that, again, we have in our possession and that we’ve made public regarding the fact that the PRC has continued to consider this, has not taken the possibility of providing lethal assistance off the table. That’s of concern to us; it should be of concern to countries around the world. We are – attempt always to be as transparent as we can. If we are in a position to share additional details, we will, but that is the concern as we have stated it.
QUESTION: Yeah. I wondered if you had anything to say on this shooting in Northern Ireland that’s been seemingly carried out by the New IRA. Do you have a response to that? And is that raising concerns here over the Good Friday Agreement? And as you’ve said before, the U.S. has an interest in keeping that agreement, so where do we stand on that given this kind of latest incident?
MR PRICE: Well, we strongly condemn the attempted murder of a police officer in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The victim’s service both in uniform and off-duty stands in what we believe to be a stark contrast to the perpetrators who offer nothing to the communities they so falsely claim to represent. The cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s continued progress is unequivocal and universal rejection of violence. We stand in solidarity with the police service of Northern Ireland, as well as local elected officials and community leaders, for their efforts to ensure that there will never be a return to the darkest days of the past. Our thoughts are with the family, friends, and colleagues of the officer at this time. We’ll continue to be in touch with our colleagues and our counterparts on this.
QUESTION: Just off the back of that, can we expect Ambassador Kennedy to be making a trip at any point soon to Northern Ireland, or —
MR PRICE: If we have travel of Joe Kennedy to speak to, we will. He has been on the job for a number of weeks now, as you know. His role is focused on economic development in Northern Ireland; it’s a slightly different role than what we’ve been talking about in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and our efforts to preserve the gains of recent decades. But Joe Kennedy’s assignment is an incredibly important one. It’s important to the economic opportunity, the economic promise that’s in Northern Ireland. And if we have travel to speak to, we’ll let you know.
Quick final question, Alex?
QUESTION: Two final, if you don’t mind. Conventional arms transfer policy that you guys have updated today, it’s – my understanding is that you guys have mostly focused on the risks of use of U.S. weapons in committing human rights violations. Can you walk us through the risk assessment process, how the department is going to determine that? And also, will you be able to backtrack a little bit? There are some controversial agreements that you guys have made with countries such as Egypt and others. Will you be able to reverse those agreements?
MR PRICE: So first, this is a forward-looking policy. It is a forward-looking policy that isn’t retroactive; it will look at the potential transfer of conventional arms to U.S. allies, partners, countries around the world based on the criteria that is spelled out, based on the merits of any potential transaction that will be weighed against a series of criteria.
It’s probably best if we email you the criteria, because I could go through a number of points right now, but it would take far too long. Let me just say it is a rigorous set of criteria that looks at everything from the degree to which the transfer supports U.S. strategic and foreign policy interests, the risk that the recipient may use the arms transfer to contribute to a violation of human rights or international humanitarian law, the overall stability of the potential recipients’ political system, and many more where that came from. So we can provide that to you in some detail.
QUESTION: That would be very helpful.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And last, on Karabakh. You mentioned Brussels process. It’s the third time you have been referring to the upcoming meeting. Do you have any date or venue in your mind? I mean, Brussels – I mean, Brussels, but when?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that the invitation and the opportunity has been extended to the parties. Ultimately, it’s going to have to be up to the parties themselves – our Armenian partners, our Azerbaijani partners – to speak to their potential participation in any such meeting.
QUESTION: Russia has been particularly slamming the process during the past couple of weeks, saying that they are derailing a negotiation process. Do you have any comment to that?
MR PRICE: My only comment is that we hope to see the progress that we’ve seen in recent weeks continue, and we are ready to support the parties as they pursue talks towards a comprehensive solution to this challenge.
MR PRICE: These are decisions that involve officials across the Executive Branch. We were delighted to see this nomination today, precisely because Mr. Banga is, we believe, uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at a critical moment in history. He’s a truly exceptional candidate, and his leadership and management skills, his experience living and working in emerging markets, his financial expertise – all of that will help him achieve the bank’s objectives of eliminating extreme poverty and expanding prosperity around the world, while also evolving the bank to meet the transnational challenges we’ve talked about, including – and perhaps most notably – climate change.
A renowned executive, Mr. Banga has led a large organization with some 20,000 employees. He’s advocated for diversity and inclusion; he’s delivered results at every turn. His efforts have helped bring 500 million unbanked people into the digital economy, deploy private capital into climate solutions, and expand economic opportunity through the Partnership for Central America. We are excited to see his nomination, and ultimately it will be up to the World Bank’s board to make the final decision.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)
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