2:14 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Thursday. I have one very brief item at the top, and then we’ll turn to your questions.
Secretary Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin will co-host the 2023 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada on January 11th here at the Department of State.
The U.S.-Japan alliance remains the cornerstone of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The United States and Japan will discuss our shared vision of a modernized alliance that will tackle 21st century challenges in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.
With that —
QUESTION: Well, that was brief.
MR PRICE: I told you it was brief.
QUESTION: Very brief. So they won’t talk about North – I don’t want to get in – I have other questions. I mean, they’ll talk about North Korea, right?
MR PRICE: Yes, Matt, I can assure you that North Korea will be a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a logistical question before I want to ask about Ukraine. The logistical question relates to something that we all learned this morning about the Türkiye name – spelling change, I suppose – not name change. And I just wanted to know if the maps have been changed yet, because I noticed that neither the FAM, the Foreign Affairs Manual, nor the website have been changed to reflect this new directive, which I understand was just made this morning. Is that correct?
MR PRICE: It was finalized this morning; it was put into practice this morning. Yes, so I can confirm that the Turkish embassy did request that we use this spelling in our communications. This is a change that was, as is always the case, approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. It did approve the change of the spelling. This is a process. Obviously we are a large institution. There are lots of components, whether it’s our website, whether it’s our communications, whether it is products that are derivative of the Department of State.
What I can tell you, though, is that the Board on Geographic Names retained both “Turkey” and “Republic of Turkey”, the previous spelling, as conventional names, as these are more widely understood by the American public. The department will use the spelling that you saw today in most of our formal diplomatic and bilateral contexts, including in public communications, but the conventional name can also be used if it is in furtherance of broader public understanding.
QUESTION: Well, does that mean the maps are going to be changed, that the website will be changed, that the FAM will be changed?
MR PRICE: This is – this is —
QUESTION: What about passports? What if you’re an American citizen born in Türkiye?
MR PRICE: This is – this is something that we will do on a case-by-case basis. But what I can tell you is that we will use the revised spelling in most formal diplomatic and bilateral contexts.
QUESTION: So there isn’t any, like, system-wide scrubbing of every document that has been created since the end of the Ottoman Empire, since the creation of modern Türkiye to change the —
MR PRICE: This is – this is a process. The process started in earnest today.
QUESTION: Well, I know —
MR PRICE: But again, we’re a large institution.
QUESTION: But is that —
MR PRICE: There’s not a – there’s not a Control-F function for the entire Department of State. But we are –we will work on that going forward.
QUESTION: So that is something that you intend to do, to gradually change or revise all of the historical —
MR PRICE: Where appropriate. Where appropriate. Again, because the Board on Geographic Names did retain the option for the previous spelling, the “Republic of Turkey” and “Turkey,” to be applicable when it is in furtherance of broader public understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. I was going to —
QUESTION: Can I just follow up, just briefly?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
QUESTION: I’ll resist saying you went cold turkey, but I guess you —
MR PRICE: We’re talking turkey, though.
QUESTION: We’re talking turkey.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Exactly. Or Türkiye. Just is it throughout the U.S. Government?
QUESTION: Keep your day job.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Is it throughout the U.S. Government or just the State Department?
MR PRICE: Today’s change pertained to the Department of State. As I think many of you have noticed, other departments and agencies have already adopted this new spelling.
QUESTION: Well, I was going to ask about Ukraine, but I’ll let – I thought the Türkiye thing went on a bit too long, so I’ll defer to others.
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: The President already spoke to this, I realize, but maybe you have a more formal response on the ceasefire that was announced by President Putin. Does the United States have a reaction to this? Could it be a good thing in some ways? Are you skeptical about the intentions?
MR PRICE: This is really a better question for President Zelenskyy, and that’s because, of course, it was Russia that invaded his country, that invaded Ukraine. But I can offer our perspective on this. From our perspective, there is one word that best describes that, and it’s “cynical.” It’s “cynical” in large part because it comes just days after Moscow perpetrated these New Year’s Day attacks on Ukraine civilian infrastructure, its civilian centers, following repeated days of attacks against similar targets. And I hesitate to even call them targets because, again, these are civilian centers in many cases.
So as you can tell, we have little faith in the intentions behind this announcement. Our concern – it’s a concern that you heard from Secretary Blinken in his end-of-year press conference a couple weeks ago – is that the Russians would seek to use any temporary pause in fighting to rest, to refit, to regroup, and ultimately to reattack. And so in that sense, it can’t be considered a ceasefire if the intent is to train their fire with even more vengeance, with even more ferocity, with even more lethality against the people of Ukraine.
If Russia were truly serious about peace, about ending this war, it would withdraw its forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. That is what constitutes an end to this war. It is what we have called on Russia to do. It is what the Ukrainians have called on Russia to do. It is what much of the world has called on Russia to do.
QUESTION: A follow-up —
QUESTION: Ned, but couldn’t this be taken at face value, that they are actually celebrating Christmas? I mean, I remember – I’m the Vietnam War generation. We used to have a Christmas truce.
MR PRICE: Said, I think we know better than to take anything we see or hear from Russia at face value. Unfortunately, they have given us no reason to take anything that they offer at face value. You’ll recall the process we went through in the days and weeks leading up to February 24th, when the decision seems to have been preordained that President Putin would go in to Ukraine with the brutality that we have since seen over the course of the past 11 months. At every juncture in this war, they have given us no reason to give them even a single shred of doubt. Were they to change that, of course we would welcome that. It’s just not something we’ve seen.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns that this is going to be a propaganda benefit to Vladimir Putin?
MR PRICE: It is, of course, possible that in addition to the practical impact of this – the ability of its forces to refit, to regroup, to rest, and ultimately to reattack – that President Putin seeks to fool the world, to fool the world in a new and different way, that he seeks to divide public opinion, to perhaps induce the rest of the world into thinking that perhaps there’s a reason to give them a shred of doubt. But there is not. When we’ve seen previous announced ceasefires in the past, of course, especially in the early days of this war, we heard these announcements. They were heralded by the Kremlin. They were followed by brutal strikes in places like Mariupol against fleeing civilians.
Whether this so-called ceasefire over the Orthodox Christmas will hold, that of course is a question that only Russia knows the answer to at this point. But to us, this is not – this does not appear to be a change in the tide of the war. It does not appear to be a strategic change in Russia’s plan or its approach. It appears to be a bid to continue to do what it has inflicted upon the Ukrainian people for nearly a year now, as it seeks to rest, refit, regroup, and ultimately reattack.
QUESTION: And have you seen any sign of willingness by Russia, back channel or otherwise, to negotiate, to sit down diplomatically?
MR PRICE: We have not.
QUESTION: May I follow up on this one? I mean, the President said he thinks that Putin was trying to find some oxygen. Can you please help us unpack that? Did the President mean some kind of offramp or rest area for Putin? Do you think Putin is trying to manipulate the West, assuming that we have been playing into his games when we announced, telegraphed, what we were not going to do until now?
MR PRICE: Repeat the last part of the question.
QUESTION: The West now has been trying to basically announce its – telegraphing what it’s not going to do, like what – sending sort of certain weapons. Do you think Putin is – Putin believes that he still can manipulate the West by sending out these mixed messages?
MR PRICE: Well, if we believes that, he would be mistaken. And Alex, I would disagree with the premise of your question. In fact, we have told President Putin exactly what we would do at every step of the way. Prior to February 24th, we made no secret of the fact that we would do three primary things. We would provide a massive amount of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. We have made good on that, more than $20 billion to date in security assistance alone, in addition to more than $10 billion in economic assistance, humanitarian assistance as well.
We made very clear that we would hold Moscow to account with biting sanctions, export controls, other financial and economic measures. We have made good on that. And we’ve also said that we would shore up the NATO Alliance, and that we would ensure that the NATO Alliance is prepared to defend itself, including on its eastern flank. And we have made good on that. The Alliance is now stronger, it is more purposeful, it is more prepared than it has been since the end of the Cold War.
So we have essentially telegraphed exactly what we would do for President Putin. If he’s under the misimpression that we are not a coalition, that we’re not an alliance, that we’re not an international community of our word, we are going to disabuse him of that.
QUESTION: And how do you want us to read the President’s statement that he thinks Putin is trying to find some oxygen? What does that mean?
MR PRICE: It means precisely what I said, that we believe this is a cynical ploy so that the Russians can use a bit of time – whether it is a couple days, or however long it ends up being – to rest, to refit, to regroup, and ultimately to reattack, to reattack with potentially even more vengeance, even more brutality, even more lethality if they had their way.
QUESTION: Staying on same topic, what do you make of the media reports when you saw Wagner leader, which is the leader of a private group, releasing prisoners and – who fought in Ukraine as mercenaries? If you look at the additional facts what the terrorist state looks like, if this enough – well, it is – then how would you put that into context, what we are seeing today in Russia?
MR PRICE: We would see it as just a barbaric tactic. Seeking out convicts – in many cases individuals who had been convicted of violent crimes – promising them freedom if they were to fight and in many cases likely die on the front lines as well – there may be anecdotal examples, as you’re alluding to, of individuals purportedly completing their service and receiving the pardons that they were promised. But this is a tactic that the world has condemned; it’s a tactic that is extralegal. Human rights groups have been vocally critical of it for that reason as well.
But it’s also a tactic that will be ineffective. Even if there are tens of thousands of forces who may fall under Wagner’s control, under the control of Mr. Prigozhin, these are not forces that will be in a position to change the tide of the war. These are not forces that are trained; these are not forces that are generally well enmeshed in the broader Russian combat operations. And we’re seeing the results of that. Despite the infusion of personnel, essentially what the Kremlin is using as cannon fodder, the Ukrainians continue to wrest back territory, to continue to take back territory that was taken from them since 2014 in some cases, more recently, since February 24th.
QUESTION: A different topic.
MR PRICE: Anything else on this?
QUESTION: What are – there was something the Ukrainians said about Mr. Putin’s health. They claimed that he has cancer, advanced stage of cancer. Do you have any —
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to —
QUESTION: Have you heard of this news?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to offer on that, no.
QUESTION: But you did hear the news, correct?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen that report. I just don’t have anything to offer on it. Nick.
QUESTION: Do you mind if I just ask one more thing on Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The – and I realize this is – might be more of a DOD question, but the announcement just with President Biden and Chancellor Scholz on the armed infantry fighting vehicles. Are you in a position to explain why this was necessary now and what the utility is of expanding to these supplies for the Ukrainians?
MR PRICE: Sure. Shaun, every decision we make when it comes to security assistance that we’re providing to Ukraine is predicated on discussions we’re having with our – directly with our Ukrainian partners regarding their needs, what they need to defend themselves, based in large part on where the battle is now. And so when the battle was urban, nearly hand-to-hand combat in the earliest days, earliest hours of this, for the Battle of Kyiv, we provided a certain type of assistance. As the battle was moving to the east, to the south, to the north, we have, in the months since, provided different types of assistance.
Now that we are seeing fronts emerge and intensify in various parts, including in the Donbas, where fighting has been intense, where fighting may well continue to be intense, there are certain systems, including these fighting vehicles that the Ukrainians have requested and that we deem are appropriate to provide. I expect you’ll hear more details from us over the course of the next 24 hours or so about a broader package of security assistance. We have, as you know, the ability to continue providing Ukraine with security assistance through Presidential Drawdown Authority, through other programs, including the USAI, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative that DOD administers, in large part because of the generosity of the American people and the emergency funding that Congress passed at the end of last year.
QUESTION: From a State Department perspective, are there any national security or foreign policy concerns over not having a House speaker?
MR PRICE: This is obviously something that we’re watching, as are many Americans. It is something that I know members of – or I should say members-elect of the House have spoken to. But I would really leave it to them to speak to the implications when it comes to the lack of an elected speaker.
The U.S. Congress has indispensable functions when it comes to America’s foreign policy. There’s an important oversight role. There’s an important authorization role. There’s an important appropriations role. There’s an important voice to be had when it comes to the direction of American foreign policy.
Since his earliest hours on the job, Secretary Blinken has prioritized deep and iterative engagement with Congress. I think you all heard that at least by our accounting we set a record last year in terms of the number of engagements we had with Congress – briefings, hearings, calls, letters, responses – and we certainly hope to have as robust a relationship with the 118th Congress as we did with the 117th.
QUESTION: On that, the other day a meeting in the SCIF with the Joint Chiefs chairman had to be canceled with several House members from key committees, and the reason is that they do not have security clearances because their clearances do not ride over from one Congress to the next; they have to be sworn in and be members of relevant committees to have those clearances, unlike members of the Executive Branch, for instance, or others. So there can’t be any briefings on Ukraine or anything else. This was a briefing on the Indo-Pacific. But does that raise concerns that there can’t be any briefings of House members?
MR PRICE: Well, of course over time those concerns – concerns on the part of the members themselves, or the members-elect themselves – will be compounded. The first few days of any congressional term usually is spent on procedural elements like this, but of course, if this continues on, there will be additional concerns. I’m sure we will hear additional concerns from the Hill as well. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Hill has indispensable function – an oversight role, an appropriations role, an authorization role. We want to hear their voice in our foreign policy. We want to ensure that our foreign policy has bipartisan support wherever we can. We want to ensure that in the formulation of our policy we’re taking into account the prerogatives and the perspectives of members of both chambers of commerce – Congress, excuse me.
It is much more – much difficult – much more difficult to do that when there is not a seated House of Representatives, but this is the process. The process is playing out, and I expect – we can all expect – at some point before too long the process will conclude.
QUESTION: Do you have any other concerns about budgeting, about appropriating or authorizing for Ukraine, given comments that have been made already by members of this caucus, leading members of this caucus, and now budget commitments that are being negotiated as part of this process, including budget cuts?
MR PRICE: Well, as a very practical matter, the 117th Congress, as one of its final acts, did put forward this more than $40 billion in emergency supplemental funding for Ukraine. The funding will enable us to continue to provide Ukraine with the level of security assistance, the level of economic assistance, the level of humanitarian assistance, but even broader to continue to provide appropriate funding to the region, including to countries who are helping to absorb Ukrainians who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
So we do have this in hand. We are grateful to Congress, to both houses of Congress, but ultimately to the American people for the generosity that they have demonstrated towards the people and government of Ukraine. But as I was saying to your colleague just a moment ago, the longer this goes on, of course concerns, the likes of which you’ve mentioned, will only be compounded.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So you said it’s up to President Zelenskyy to – what to do with the announcement that Russia made, and then you also put your perspective that this is not actually something – the intention is not something sincere. So my question is do you – have you recommended Ukraine not to stop fighting or have you recommended against any type of pause in their fight or the counteroffensive, or not?
MR PRICE: These are decisions that Ukraine will have to make. I can tell you we’ve been in close contact with our Ukrainian partners over the course of today. You’ve heard senior Ukrainian officials already offer their opinion. Unsurprisingly, the options that they have offered publicly are complementary to what I have just said here. I don’t think there is any daylight in between how we deem, the way in which we deem, the intent behind Russia’s announced ceasefire.
I expect you’ll hear more from senior Ukrainian officials, including in the coming hours, about how they interpret this, how they intend to respond to this. But at the end of the day, I think we see this in precisely the same way.
QUESTION: And just another – and what are you expecting to see in order to call it a serious announcement or intention to cease the fire or to stop the fighting?
MR PRICE: Well, there would be one way to demonstrate that Russia was serious about ending this war: that would be to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Short of that, there are other ways to demonstrate that Russia is perhaps serious about peace or as part of the process serious about dialogue and diplomacy in getting towards that ultimate peace.
We haven’t seen anything yet to indicate that Russia is serious. In fact, at every juncture we’ve seen quite the opposite. The most jarring example – and I’ve gone back to this a few times already – is the split screen we saw between President Zelenskyy when he was offering his vision for a just peace to the assembled leaders of the G20 last November in Bali, while within Ukraine on the other side of the screen we saw images of missiles and bombs and carnage raining down on the people of Ukraine.
If Russia wanted to signal even subtly that it was serious about changing its strategic approach, there are ways it could do that.
QUESTION: How do you see the role of the Turkish president in all of this? He made calls today with Russian counterpart and also with President Zelenskyy. How do you see the mediation efforts by Türkiye?
MR PRICE: Well, we greatly appreciate the constructive role that Türkiye has played in trying to bring about an end to this barbaric war. We appreciate Türkiye’s steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its efforts to foster dialogue between Ukraine and Russia. Of course, it is President Putin that will need to heed calls from President Erdogan and numerous other counterparts around the world to end the senseless war. We’ve said time and again – and this gets back to your colleague’s question – that actions ultimately will speak louder than words. We are going to judge what Russia does based on its action.
No one wants this war to end more than the Ukrainians, and the fact is that Russia remains the sole obstacle to peace in Ukraine, and President Putin time and again has demonstrated that he has absolutely no meaningful intent in genuine diplomacy.
QUESTION: Just to – what side do you think is Türkiye really on?
MR PRICE: Türkiye is – has been a constructive player in this. It has been a constructive player in attempting to foster dialogue, meaningful diplomacy. Separate and apart from President Erdogan’s recent calls, discussions with President Putin and President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, of course we can go back to over the summer when Türkiye was a driving force along with the UN secretary general for the renewal – first of all, the creation and ultimately the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Without the role that Türkiye played that mechanism may not have been renewed, and as a result it’s a mechanism that has provided tons of grain to, in many cases, the world’s neediest.
Throughout this conflict, Türkiye has attempted to use its relations with Ukraine and with Russia in addition to its positioning as a member of NATO and its good relations with the international community to further the prospects for peace. Ultimately, it is not a failure on the part of Ankara; it is the unwillingness on the part of Moscow to heed Türkiye’s calls, to heed the calls of the broader international community.
QUESTION: On Mexico, do you have a comment on Mexico’s arrest of the drug cartel leader Ovidio Guzmán, son of El Chapo Guzmán, since he had a U.S. bounty on his head, and it seems timely since President Biden announced new security – border security measures today? And also the fentanyl crisis in the U.S., was there any U.S. role in that arrest to speak of?
MR PRICE: So I can’t speak to it. I have seen the reports, but I would need to refer you to Mexican authorities to speak to those specific reports. We of course have been closely following the violence in parts of Mexico, namely in Sinaloa over the past few days. There has been reports of gunfire, roadblocks, and fires throughout the cities of Culiacán, Los Mochis, Guasave in Sinaloa, Mexico.
Our embassy in Mexico City published an alert to U.S. citizens today advising that the Sinaloan governor has called for the public to shelter in place. We have advised U.S. citizens in Sinaloa to remain alert for potential violence throughout the state, and again we reiterate our Travel Warning. Sinaloa – travel to Sinaloa – remains at travel 4. We advise – Level 4. We advise Americans not to travel to Sinaloa as a result.
For those Americans who are in Sinaloa, we strongly encourage them to monitor local news, to follow emergency instructions provided by local authorities, and to enroll in our STEP program, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, on our website.
QUESTION: On Asia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: South China Sea defense subject. Do you have anything on Bongbong Marco’s visit to Beijing and the joint statement between China and the Philippines? How does the United States asses the term and contents of this joint statement?
MR PRICE: Well, we’d refer you to our allies in the Philippines to speak to the joint statement. Of course we have – we are aware of it. What I can say generally is that much of what we’ve heard from President Marcos and his administration in the aftermath of the visit to the PRC is consistent with our approach to the PRC. We’ve heard from President Marcos an emphasis on maintaining dialogue with the PRC and ensuring there are channels for communication between his country and the PRC. That of course is something we have sought to do in our bilateral relationship as well.
We’ve heard an emphasis from President Marcos on finding and deepening potential areas of collaboration between the Philippines and the PRC. That is something that we have sought to do as well, knowing that the rest of the world expects the United States and the PRC to manage the relationship responsibly, to work together constructively where we can, knowing that this is a relationship between our two countries that is predicated at core by competition. But when it comes to the relationship between the Philippines and the PRC, we would have to refer you to the Philippines.
QUESTION: On Tuesday you expressed U.S. concern over the ongoing artificial island buildups in the South China Sea. Is this something among the agenda when Secretary Blinken goes to China this year? And are there other worrying trends that – in the South China Sea that the United States is monitoring?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to speak to the Secretary’s agenda. Obviously, the – his travel remains several weeks away. I imagine we’ll have more to say on that as the time approaches, but in all of our engagements with senior PRC officials, we discuss those broad buckets, the areas that are predicated by competition, areas where relations between our two countries have the potential to be even adversarial and ways we can ensure responsible management of those areas, but also areas in which we can seek and even deepen collaboration. So all of that will be on the agenda.
The PRC’s activities in the South China Sea are a regular topic of discussion, including with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, but also with PRC authorities themselves. The point we’ve consistently made is that the PRC’s efforts to reclaim and to militarize disputed outposts in the South China Sea, its willingness to use coercion and intimidation along with other provocative actions undertaken to enforce its expansive and unlawful South China Sea maritime claims, undermine the peace and security of the region. Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea.
In the name of enforcing its expansive and unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, the PRC, we’ve noted, is interfering in the navigational rights and freedoms that have accrued to all states. We unequivocally reject the PRC’s unlawful maritime claims and any such interference, and we again call on the PRC to conform its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, to comply with the July 12th, 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling in the South China Sea arbitration, and to cease its unlawful and provocative actions in the South China Sea.
This is not an effort that we are undertaking ourselves. This is something that we coordinate very closely on with our allies and partners, including with ASEAN, with institutions like – in the context of the East Asia Summit, and on a bilateral basis with our allies and partners to preserve the rule-based – rules-based maritime order.
QUESTION: Has there been any direct conversations between United States and China since the late December instance of a Chinese J-11 was trying to intercept the U.S. aircraft RC-133 in international airspace over the South China Sea? Has there been direct conversation, and what is the U.S. message to open lines of communication?
MR PRICE: I understand the Department of Defense has spoken to this, so I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense. They, of course, have their own channels with the PRC, including channels that are geared towards deconfliction, so I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, according to Axios, the Israeli security cabinet discussed today possible sanctions against the Palestinian Authority over its push at the UN for referring the issue of the Israeli occupation to the International Court of Justice. Do you have a position on this? I mean, would you support their sanctions? I know you oppose Palestinian efforts at the International Court of Justice, so how would you stand on this issue?
MR PRICE: The underlying issue, Said, is one that we have spoken to – our deep disappointment with the Palestinian-led initiative to request the ICJ advisory opinion against Israel. We have said this before on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, we’ve had repeated occasion to say this, that these efforts are unproductive, will only take the parties further away from the objective of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continue to believe that international efforts are best focused today on de-escalating tensions and pressing all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that threaten stability and undermine conditions for direct future negotiations between the parties.
QUESTION: And related, in about 10 to 15 minutes, a UN Security Council session should begin or is set to begin. The Palestinians will talk about what happened with the, I guess, provocative visit of Ben-Gvir. I know you said yesterday that your position is you don’t want any change in the status quo and so on, but what will you say at the session itself, if you have any idea?
MR PRICE: Well, we will be represented, as we typically are, at this session by our ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She’ll have an opportunity to speak to the underlying issue, and as I said yesterday, I expect what you hear from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will be consistent with what you’ve heard from me and others over the past couple days, and that is the fact that we stand firmly for the preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and we oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo – unilateral actions that, in our view, are unacceptable.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Could you share what the U.S. is hoping to achieve during those meetings? And will the Secretary be discussing his upcoming trip to China with the foreign minister?
MR PRICE: We’ll have more on this when – as the timing for the 2+2 approaches. But this is an annual opportunity for the – our counterparts from our treaty ally to convene to speak to the broad set of interests that we have – diplomatic, political, economic, security, defense – and the broader set of regional interests as well. Of course, our bilateral relationship with Japan is the cornerstone of a free and open Indo-Pacific, so we’ll have an opportunity to go beyond that bilateral relationship and to speak to some of the challenges and opportunities to that shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. I would expect that there will be discussion of the challenges that are presented by the PRC.
As we’ve had occasion to say even in recent days, our approach to the PRC is in many ways – in many ways rests on alignment with allies and partners around the world, and of course that includes our allies in the Indo-Pacific. We face a threat and a series of challenges from the DPRK that will of course be on the agenda as well, including especially as the DPRK has accelerated its provocations, may have plans for additional provocations in the days and weeks ahead.
So it will be a full agenda; it will be a very full day. But we’ll have more to say as the ministerial approaches.
QUESTION: And then just quickly following up, last month Japan announced their new security strategy. They also announced increase in their defense budget. So do you anticipate those will have any effect as far as will the U.S. be seeking to discuss any new roles that Japan might play in the alliance?
MR PRICE: Well, the announcement of the new doctrine was something that we heartily welcomed, we commended from Washington. You heard that from the senior-most levels of the government. Secretary Blinken put out a statement in his name as well. You saw and you see in the new Japanese documents really a doctrine and a strategy that is entirely complementary to ours, and I think what many of us called out was the emphasis that the Japanese security strategy places on partners and alliances, and the recognition of the fact that everything we seek to do to promote our vision – our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region – is better advanced when we have partners by our side.
That is true of when the U.S. and Japan work together – when we work together bilaterally; when we work together trilaterally in the context of the DPRK; when we work together through various blocs and groupings, whether that’s through the Quad, whether that’s through IPEF, whether that is through any other formulation that we’ve exercised in over the past couple years.
So we’ll have more to say to all of this as the 2+2 approaches.
QUESTION: Thank you. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said today that he may meet the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of a new peace process. That statement came after high-level meetings between Syrian and Turkish officials last week in Moscow. Do you have any position about the possibility of a meeting, one-to-one meeting, between Erdoğan and al-Assad in the future?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen reports of potential meetings, whether it’s a bilateral meeting, whether it is a trilateral discussion involving Russia as well. Our policy has not changed. We will not normalize and we do not support other countries normalizing relations with the Assad regime. We have not seen that this regime in Damascus has done anything that would merit normalization or improved relations with partners and other countries around the world. As the Syrian people continue to suffer through nearly 12 years of war, our support for a Syrian-led political solution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 remains firm, and anyone engaging with the regime should ask how that engagement is benefiting the Syrian people and contributing to the fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
We’ll continue to work with allies, with partners in the UN to ensure a durable political solution to do everything we can to help bring it about.
QUESTION: Yeah, a question related to China and COVID-19. Earlier this week there were more internal communications from Twitter released. They showed that an office in the State Department – the Global Engagement Center – was flagging accounts and posts on social media as foreign disinformation, asking them – for them to be removed that speculated about China and the origins of COVID, and it coming from Wuhan, and the Chinese Government covering up what happened. Do you still consider that to be disinformation, and is that office or any other office in the State Department still working with social media companies to flag and remove information?
MR PRICE: So, Dylan, I can’t speak to the authenticity of the documents that were published as part of this Twitter thread. But I will say that I just want to correct the mischaracterization. The purported Twitter email you cite clearly states that the GEC provided a list of Twitter accounts with link to Russian sources of propaganda for Twitter’s situational awareness, and there was no action request that the GEC purportedly made of Twitter in that email. You can find online the GEC’s reports and fact sheets that are being referenced in this case. But the broader point is that the GEC does not attempt to moderate content on social media platforms. Its role is to identify foreign disinformation narratives, trends, and techniques that are aimed at undercutting U.S. national interests. The GEC coordinates with other U.S. federal agencies and our international allies on global efforts to address such information – disinformation, excuse me. And ultimately it publishes its findings, and in this case, you can read for yourself those findings on its website.
QUESTION: What reason did the GEC have to be contacting Twitter repeatedly flagging certain posts, certain accounts, if not to be encouraging them? I mean, they weren’t just contacting them just to let them know for no reason. I mean, what reason would it be, other than to have content moderation?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to the GEC’s role, and its very role is to identify those disinformation narratives. Sometimes those disinformation narratives live and potentially even thrive on social media platforms, including U.S. social media platforms. Social media platforms have their own terms of service. Social media companies want to be in a position to enforce their own terms of service. It’s not up for us to decide what a company must or should do. But when we see something that may have a foreign disinformation nexus aimed at undermining U.S. national interests, it would be negligent not to flag that for a social media platform and to allow them to then determine whether, pursuant to their own terms of service, any action should or should not be taken.
QUESTION: Is that foreign disinformation, though, to speculate about China and the origin of COVID? Because the GEC said it was at the time.
MR PRICE: So you can take a look at the report. The – what the report notes is the notion that these narratives were being pushed by elements of the Kremlin, of the Russian Federation. Disinformation that has a foreign government or foreign nexus is of concern to the GEC, but more broadly it’s of concern to the United States when the intent is to undermine U.S. national interests.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on Ukraine, please?
MR PRICE: Okay.
MR PRICE: So we are absolutely behind the IAEA. The ZNPP and its energy belong to Ukraine. Russia’s seizure of the plant and abuse of its Ukrainian civilian operators are causing tremendous instability and dangerous conditions at this nuclear power plant. Russia should withdraw from the plant, return it to Ukrainian control. We support any effort that improves stability and decreases threats to the plant’s integrity, returns full control back to Ukrainian authorities, and avoids catastrophic nuclear incident. The IAEA has been engaged on this. It has spoken to its efforts to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA in their efforts to do that. Those are efforts that we support.
QUESTION: When you say “in their efforts” you also mean – that includes peacekeeping missions? And is the United States willing to take a part if the IAEA decides to send —
MR PRICE: Again, the IAEA has put forward a plan to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP. That is something that we support. Ultimately, we have called on Russia to vacate its positions at the ZNPP. This is a plant that belongs to Ukraine, because it is soil that belongs to Ukraine. Not only the plant but everything around it is Ukrainian territory.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more quickly?
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: The President today, of course, had some remarks on migration. Haiti is impacted; Haitians are impacted by this. Are we any closer to having a protection force, some sort of force for Haiti?
MR PRICE: So this is something that we’re continuing to discuss with partners around the world. Secretary Blinken, as I was coming down, was on the phone with his Canadian counterpart, Foreign Minister Joly, to discuss Haiti among other issues. This is an issue that we have discussed within our hemisphere, with our European allies and partners as well. Our efforts are pursuant to the request from senior Haitian authorities, both political and security officials within the Haitian Government. They are pursuant to a request from the OAS. They’re pursuant to a request from the highest levels of the UN as well.
So we are continuing to consult with partners to determine how best we can fulfill the requests on the part of Haitian authorities, also on the part of other international stakeholders. But these are conversations that are ongoing. In the meantime, we’ve provided much needed security assistance to the Haitian National Police. Our partners have done that as well. I expect you’ll hear about additional provision of support to Haitian authorities in the coming days.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)