2:15 p.m. EDT
You all heard this from the Secretary this morning, but I think it bears repeating, and that is that we strongly condemn the Burmese military’s executions of pro-democracy activists and elected leaders. These heinous acts of violence demonstrate the regime’s brutality in a new and horrible light, and we remain concerned it also reflects an ongoing disregard for the human rights and rule of law, as reports indicate the activists were denied legal representation and the ability to appeal. The United States urges all partners and allies to join us in condemning the regime’s actions and stepping up pressure on the regime and its supporters. We call on the regime to cease executions, release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I wasn’t going to start with that, but I will now. So what are you going to do about it?
MR PRICE: Well, obviously this is – has just transpired in recent hours. We have been in touch with our partners around the world, to include our partners in ASEAN. We are urging, as I said just a moment ago, all countries, all partners, all allies to add their voices when it comes to the condemnation of this heinous affront to the rule of law, this heinous affront to human rights, this heinous affront to the Burmese people, who have since February of last year expressed an ardent and sincere desire to put their country on the path back to democracy.
At the same time, we are urging all of our partners to step up that economic pressure, that political pressure on the regime in Burma. Not only is this an affront to the human rights of the Burmese people, not only is it a slap in the face to the millions of Burmese who wish to see their country back on the path to democracy, it’s also a direct rebuke of the appeal that the junta heard and the world heard from the ASEAN chair, Cambodia in this case, and other ASEAN leaders who warned the junta in no uncertain terms not to carry out these executions.
We underscore that with the escalating violence with these horrific atrocities that the junta has carried out, there can be no business as usual with this regime. We urge all countries to ban the sale of military equipment to Burma, to refrain from lending the regime any degree of international credibility, and we call on ASEAN to maintain its important precedent only allowing Burmese non-political representation at regional events.
QUESTION: Yeah. So what are you going to do about it, the United States?
MR PRICE: Well, so —
QUESTION: What is the Biden administration going to do?
MR PRICE: We all – we are already responding to this. I said we have been in close touch with our partners, including our ASEAN partners. I think you will see more from us and from our partners in terms of condemnation. And we have made clear all along – since February of last year – that the costs on the Burmese regime, the costs on the junta, will continue to escalate. We will continue to escalate those costs with the economic pressure that we have imposed and that we’re prepared to impose.
We of course don’t preview our own sanctions, but all options that serve to cut off the regime’s revenue, which it uses to perpetrate this violence – it’s on the table. We – when considering any such actions, we’re of course looking to any potential humanitarian implications for the people of Burma, who have already suffered far too much for far too long, since this junta came to power. But again, all options are on the table. We’re going to work with our partners to see to it that the steps we take going forward are coordinated so that they have maximum effect on the regime.
QUESTION: But do you think that condemnation, which you just called for again and which you’ve asked for all your partners and allies to join in, is – and – is enough by itself?
MR PRICE: It’s not enough. It is not enough, and it’s certainly not the totality of our response. Our response includes the statements that you’ve heard, the statements that you will hear from the United States and our partners, but the economic measures, the political measures, the diplomatic measures, and the very clear call that we have put out to partners around the world that it cannot be business as usual with the junta.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, do you – you’re urging partners to step up. I think a lot of activists, a lot of Myanmar people have been asking for you – for the U.S. Government to step up in terms of its response for a long time in that you’ve done a lot of sanctions, but you haven’t done any sanctions that target the gas exports that are the main source of foreign revenue for the junta. So why haven’t you taken any action on that, if you’re asking for – not to be business as usual for the junta? Why haven’t you taken any action on these gas revenues, and will you do that now?
MR PRICE: All means all. When I say that all options are on the table, I mean that all options are on the table. We are discussing additional response options that we could implement ourselves, that we could implement in coordination with our partners – our partners in ASEAN, our other likeminded partners with whom we’ve worked since February of last year to seek to put Burma back on the path to democracy.
Even as we consider all of those measures, we are also cognizant of what needs to be a central charge, and that is to do no harm, or to do no additional harm in this case. It’s clear that the coup has done tremendous harm to the people of Burma, hundreds of whom have been killed in this senseless violence, too many of whom find themselves political prisoner of a regime that isn’t tolerating any form of dissent or opposition.
So as we consider our next steps, as we consider all potential options, we are also taking a very close look at any potential humanitarian implications of steps that we might take.
QUESTION: You’re talking about enhancing support for the Burmese people, though obviously a lot of the Burmese people have taken up arms against the junta. Do you still draw the line on military support for the opposition to the junta, or is that something you’re going to consider?
MR PRICE: We are seeking to put Burma on the path back to democracy. Our goal in this is a political one. Our goal in this is to help advance the same objective and the same goal that we’ve heard the people of Burma, so many of whom have taken peacefully to the streets to demonstrate their support for a return to democracy. It’s our goal to support them, and we will continue to support them with appropriate means.
QUESTION: What if other countries – allies, partners – were to offer support for military opponents, would you be against that?
MR PRICE: Again, our goal is a return to democracy. A protracted conflict, a protracted civil war, would not be in anyone’s interests, not the least the people of Burma.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, when you’re saying all measures are on the table, you’re talking about economic, diplomatic means?
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: When you said that all countries need to condemn and take action, could you talk to the role of some of the major players there, including China in particular, India to a certain extent, that haven’t completely distanced themselves from the junta?
MR PRICE: Well, now is the time, because you were right, Shaun, in your question that there are countries around the world that haven’t done enough, certainly, when it comes to rhetorical condemnation, when it comes to imposing costs, when it comes to the core charge that it cannot be business as usual with the junta. We have discussed the goal of putting Burma back on the path to democracy with virtually all of our allies and partners in the region. There are some countries in the region – you named a couple of them – where we have had in-depth discussions.
When the Secretary met with Wong Yi not all that long ago, Burma was a topic of discussion. We have discussed it with other senior PRC officials. Arguably, no country has the potential to influence the trajectory of Burma’s next steps moreso than the PRC. And we’ve called on all countries to act responsibility, to use their influence in a way that is constructive, to use their influence in a way that works for the interests of the Burmese people, and that ultimately puts Burma back on the path to democracy.
The fact is that the regime has not faced the level of economic and in some cases diplomatic pressure that we would like to see. We are calling on countries around the world to do more. We will be doing more as well.
QUESTION: Could we go to a different topic (inaudible) – also more on Myanmar?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There – and Ukraine. There was a statement that the Secretary made on Saturday regarding the strike in Odessa. Just following up on that, does the United States believe this was a violation of the agreement reached in Turkey?
MR PRICE: So you saw the statement from the Secretary over the weekend. As he alluded to at the time, Russia’s brazen attack against the port city of Odessa only 24 hours after this agreement was signed, it certainly undermines the credibility of Russia’s commitments to the other parties to this deal – the United Nations, Turkey, and Ukraine – as well as its broader humanitarian commitment that it made in the July 21st agreement.
It also highlights, we believe, that Moscow continues to behave in ways that intentionally prevent desperately needed food from reaching many of the world’s most poor, those who are suffering the most acute effects of the food insecurity that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated. Despite these attacks, we do understand that the parties are continuing preparations to open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for food and fertilizer exports. We are clear-eyed going forward. But we also continue to expect that the Black Sea agreement will be implemented. We know that the world will be watching, as you heard from the Secretary. We will be working with our partners around the world to see to it that Moscow is held accountable for the agreement it reached. And that’s why we’ll continue to remain in close coordination with President Zelenskyy, the Government of Ukraine, the secretary general, our Turkish allies who were instrumental in bringing this agreement to conclusion.
QUESTION: Can I follow on this? So you think this agreement will endure? I mean, despite this attack and possibly similar attacks committed in the future? That’s how you see it? It’s enduring?
MR PRICE: It – this agreement needs to endure. The people throughout the world – whether it’s in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin American, parts of the Indo-Pacific who have suffered the worst consequences of food insecurity that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated – it needs to endure for their benefit. We have heard from the parties that they’re moving forward with preparations to see an initial tranche of food and fertilizer move out in the coming days.
It is certainly our hope that that happens, but again, we’re also clear eyed. We acknowledge that Moscow’s track record – when it comes to previous deals that it has struck – is not exactly a cause for optimism. It harkens back to what we heard and what we saw from Russia in the context of the humanitarian corridors that were to have been opened for evacuations of civilians and others from besieged cities. In some cases, those humanitarian corridors were opened for just a few days or, in some cases, just a few hours, before Moscow appeared to renege on its agreement.
In this case, it’s very clear that Moscow, as one of my colleagues put it last week, has felt the heat of global opprobrium because the world now knows – it is now clear that rising food prices, rising energy prices, food insecurity more broadly has been exacerbated by, in recent months, one cause more than any other, and that is Russia’s war against Ukraine. It’s very clear that Russia has felt the pressure. We – for those of you who were with us in Bali, Indonesia the other week for the G20 foreign ministers meeting, many of you saw this up close. The only walkout from the G20 was not by the United States, not by any one of our allies and partners, but by Foreign Minister Lavrov who, after sitting through a number of statements of strong condemnation, a number of statements of strong concern from countries around the world who have felt the acute pain of this growing food insecurity, determined that he had heard enough. And he left the session – before the session, in fact, on global food insecurity.
So it’s clear that the world has been able to speak with – largely with one voice on this. We will continue to do what we can to support the UN, to support our Turkish allies because we know the importance of this grain, of this fertilizer reaching global markets.
QUESTION: So you said last week that Russian grain is not in any way sanctioned or there are no sanctions imposed —
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: — but the Russians claim that there are secondary sanctions that impact their ability to export their grain and so on. Can you comment on this?
MR PRICE: The Russians have made a number of claims in recent days, but also over recent months in the context of Russia and Ukraine that amount to nothing more than misinformation or, in some cases, disinformation. The fact is that we have been very specific in designing this sanctions regime to see to it that food and fertilizer from Russia is entirely exempted, to see to it that companies around the world have the assurances that they need to export these products, knowing the vital role that Ukraine’s grain, Ukraine’s fertilizer – fertilizer and food from the region plays given that it is essentially a breadbasket for the world.
QUESTION: Ned, you keep saying this – making this comment about the Russians being isolated and Lavrov walking out of the G20. The guy just got off of a – has just finished up a five – or four or five country tour of Africa starting in Egypt, going to Ethiopia, then Uganda, the Congo. That’s not exactly a picture of isolation, is it?
MR PRICE: Matt, we – I think you were – you were there.
QUESTION: Yeah, I was.
MR PRICE: You saw and you heard some of the messages that emanated from the G20, the G20 being a fairly diverse cross-section of countries with diverse interests and perspectives. But there was a broad consensus among this collection of countries, some of the world’s leading economies, that Russia should be condemned for its actions, that its actions were exacerbating and perpetuating the global food crisis. The – it is becoming clear that Russia is recognizing that its own actions have caused it to become a pariah. I made an allusion —
QUESTION: So —
MR PRICE: — to this a moment ago, but —
QUESTION: So you’re saying that these trips that they’re – I mean, the defense minister was just in Turkey, right, signing this agreement. Now, what happened in Odessa happened in Odessa, but I mean he – he went there. President Putin was just in Iran. Okay, fine, it’s Iran, and you might say that, okay, that shows desperation, but you’re saying that all these foreign visits that they’re doing are signs of desperation, of Russia’s increasing isolation? Because it doesn’t really compute that way.
MR PRICE: It’s very clear that Foreign Minister Lavrov is seeking to engage with countries to try to stem the onslaught of outrage against Russia. We’ve made this point before. We are much less concerned with whom Russia is speaking than the messages that Russia is hearing from countries. The message that Foreign Minister Lavrov heard, the message that Russia heard from the G20, the message that Russia has heard from the UN, the message that Russia has heard from other countries – other blocs of countries – has been increasingly clear about the toll of Moscow’s invasion, the toll of Moscow’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: May I follow on grain?
MR PRICE: Sure, please.
QUESTION: Ambassador Power told CNN today that U.S. administration is preparing so-called Plan B, means alternative plan to transport grain from Ukraine. Could you provide more details? And does it mean that we need this plan in case if Istanbul agreement will not work, or it will be realized at the same time?
MR PRICE: So we are looking at all options when it comes to the disposition of Ukrainian grain, and we’re working with our Ukrainian partners, who are in the first instance responsible for seeing the export of their grain because it is, again, their grain. The – it is clear that opening Ukraine’s Black Sea ports would be the most effective means by which to increase exports of Ukrainian grain and other foodstuffs. We’ve made this point before, but there are some 20 tons of grain that are in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports ready to go, have been ready to go for in some cases months, and they have been stuck there owing principally to one element and one element alone. That is Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea.
But all along we’ve made the point that we are looking at and helping our Ukrainian partners with every option to increase Ukrainian grain exports. And in fact, prior to the signing of this deal, Ukraine’s grain exports have increased somewhat given the use of overland routes, given other tactics that our Ukrainian partners have put into play.
Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine was exporting some six tons of grain per month. Ukraine is nowhere near that at the presence – at the present, excuse me – but Ukraine’s exports have increased month over month from February to March to April to May and in subsequent months. So we have been able to work with them in – to increase those exports in some ways, but we all know that the most effective means and the largest-scale means by which to increase those exports will be through the Black Sea.
QUESTION: Could I just – this follows up on Said’s question a bit, but specifically, Lavrov was in Cairo addressing the Arab League. He said that – promising to supply grain from Russia to Egypt and to other countries, and also blaming the United States for the impediments. They are saying it disrupted the supply chain. Do you have any either reaction to his remarks or the fact that he’s speaking there to the Arab League?
MR PRICE: Well, let me just say broadly about his remarks, which I had a chance to see, it is a reflection of the fact that virtually every single day senior Russian officials are putting to the lie just about everything we heard from Moscow before the start of the invasion on February 24th.
We consistently heard – and I’m sure many of you remember this – emanate from the Kremlin that what was then a military buildup and ultimately the incursion was, as Moscow would tell you, the result of some perceived threat from some imagined enemy. We heard it was Ukraine, we heard it was NATO, we heard it was the United States, we heard it was the West. We of course called that a lie at the time because it was, but now, months into this brutal war of aggression, I think it’s fair to say that the Russians are doing as good a job of perhaps anyone in highlighting their own duplicity and putting to the lie, as I said before, just about everything we heard prior to the invasion.
Just yesterday – and you referenced this, Shaun – Foreign Minister Lavrov said Moscow’s overarching goal in Ukraine was to free the Ukrainian people from its quote/unquote “unacceptable” regime, expressing, as one news account put it, Russia’s war aims in some of the bluntest terms yet. He said that in front of the Arab League, in a region where, coincidentally, Russia has at least previously tried to spew disinformation and propagated misinformation to the contrary.
Last week, once again, Foreign Minister Lavrov, he did precisely the same thing. He said publicly what we have always known, saying that Russia’s quote/unquote “geographical goals” in Ukraine go well beyond the Donbas. They include Kherson, they include Zaporizhzhia, they include other sovereign regions of Ukraine.
But it hasn’t only been Foreign Minister Lavrov. Earlier this year – you’ve heard Secretary Blinken allude to this previously, but President Putin himself compared himself to Peter the Great and said that, as the Secretary reminded all of us, when Peter waged war with Sweden he was simply taking back what belonged to Russia. President Putin went on to say that now Russia is doing more than – doing nothing more than to seek to take back what is purportedly theirs.
In a strange way, I think again it’s fair to say that the Russians have become some of the best debunkers of their own lies, of their own propaganda. They are now telling the world what has been clear for some time, that this is nothing more than a war of territorial conquest.
So that’s why throughout this we have sought to seek to – we have sought to galvanize the international community to stand up, knowing that anytime the rules-based international order is undermined anywhere it’s eroded everywhere. And the Russians have been telling us in very clear terms that’s precisely what they’re seeking to do.
QUESTION: On the international order – I’m sorry, but did you hear what Putin said last week? He was at some sort of a conference akin to the Aspen Institute, and he said that basically the old world order has collapsed, there’s – the world is ready for a new world order. I mean, I assume he was referring to the one begun under President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990.
MR PRICE: The same rules-based international order that has enabled countries like Russia, like some of its current partners, to experience growth, to come into the international system, to enjoy economic integration, to enjoy political integration – all until President Putin decided to put an end to that and to undo 30 years of economic integration, to make Russia an outcast from the global community of countries.
So yes, this has been a system that has fueled over the course of not only 30 years but really going back to the end of the Second World War some eight decades of unprecedented levels of stability, of security, of prosperity, the spread of democracy as well. The fact is that this is an international system that has benefited countries around the world, including the countries that are seeking to challenge it. In many cases, it’s not an exaggeration to say the countries that are posing the most acute challenge to it.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question on Russia and North Korea. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced recently Western countries were opposed to peace talks with Ukraine. Is this true?
MR PRICE: That is absolutely not true. President Zelenskyy has said very clearly that this war will have to end diplomatically. We know this war will have to end through diplomacy, through dialogue. What is also true is that the Russians have shown no indication whatsoever that they are prepared to engage in constructive dialogue, in constructive diplomacy. You don’t have to take our word for it; just about every world leader that has spoken to President Putin has in some cases said publicly, in some cases conveyed to us privately, that there seems to be no room on the part of the Russian Federation for any sort of real negotiation, the kind of negotiation that the Ukrainians have been willing to take part in since the beginning of this Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I am reminded of another lie that we heard emanate from the Kremlin that peace talks were ongoing in March only to have what the Russians claimed was a Ukrainian withdrawal from them. The great irony, of course, is that it is Russia, not Ukraine, that is responsible for perpetrating this brutality against the Ukrainian people; that is responsible for the continued bombardment, the continued military operations on sovereign Ukrainian soil; and it’s Ukraine’s leadership, including President Zelenskyy, that has consistently said they are – they recognize this will have to end diplomatically and they are prepared to engage diplomatically. Russia could not say the same.
QUESTION: On North Korea, recently National Security Council also said that North Korea is exploiting funds through ransomware hacking. How is the United States responding to this cyber hacking, I mean cyber hacking criminal groups?
MR PRICE: We have spoken quite a bit in this briefing room, and you’ve heard from other senior officials our profound concerns, the international community’s profound concerns, with the DPRK WMD programs. But that is not the extent of the challenge that the DPRK poses to the international community, and its activities in cyberspace are another such challenge.
We have released information indicating some of these nefarious and malign activities that the DPRK regime is undertaking online – in some cases to raise funds that go towards its illicit WMD programs. We have used the suite of policy tools at our disposal, be it economic, be it political, be it law enforcement tools as well, to pursue those actors from the DPRK who are responsible for this, just as we have used some of those same suite of tools to go after those responsible for the proliferation of the DPRK’s WMD programs.
MR PRICE: Well, the voting is still ongoing as I understand it, so we’re awaiting the official referendum outcome based on the independent high authority for elections in Tunisia. As we’ve always affirmed, it is up to the Tunisian people to decide their political future, and we’ll continue to stand with them, with the Tunisian people, calling for a return to responsive, transparent, and accountable democratic governance that respects human rights and prioritizes the country’s economic future.
QUESTION: And on the Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer’s meetings in Cairo, UAE, and Ethiopia, do you have any readout?
MR PRICE: Well, he has just arrived in the region. I believe we put out a statement – a short statement yesterday announcing that he would travel to Egypt, the UAE, and to Ethiopia from July 24th, yesterday, through a week from today, August 1st. He’ll during that trip provide continuing U.S. support towards forging a diplomatic resolution to issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Resistance – Renaissance Dam, or GERD, that would achieve the interests of all the parties and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous region.
In Ethiopia, he will also consult with the AU under whose auspices GERD talks occur. He will also have an opportunity in Ethiopia to review the progress on delivery of humanitarian assistance, accountability for human rights violations and abuses, as well as efforts to advance peace talks between the Ethiopian Government and Tigrayan authorities. And as you know, he will affirm what we have consistently said, and that’s that we remain committed to advancing diplomatic efforts in support of an inclusive political process towards lasting peace, security, and prosperity for all the people of Ethiopia.
QUESTION: And do expect Special Envoy Amos Hochstein to go back to the region soon to resume talks between Lebanon and Israel?
MR PRICE: As you know, the special – the senior advisor in this capacity Amos Hochstein was in the region just a few weeks ago. He was in both Lebanon and Israel to continue efforts to seek to narrow the gaps and to advance some of the progress we’ve seen on the maritime border issues.
QUESTION: That means – is he going?
MR PRICE: I just don’t have any travel to – to speak to at the moment.
MR PRICE: Well, it’s difficult for me to say because the fact is that it is – the onus is on Iran to come forward to make clear that Tehran is ready to engage constructively, to put aside extraneous issues, and to talk in good faith about the deal that has been on the table for some time.
The Élysée put out a statement and made clear that President Macron of France conveyed precisely the same message we have conveyed indirectly to the Iranians, the same message we had issued publicly for some time: We are prepared to re-enter on a mutual basis the JCPOA. But of course, mutual means it’s a two-way street; the Iranians would need to do the same. We have not yet, at least to date, seen the Iranians indicate that they’re ready to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Thanks —
QUESTION: Ned, a follow-up?
MR PRICE: Let me take a follow-up.
QUESTION: On Iran? Yeah, go ahead.
MR PRICE: Let me take a follow-up, and then we’ll come back.
QUESTION: Thank you. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency today said that they’re not going to allow the IAEA cameras to operate until the deal is restored. Could that have any impact on the negotiations?
MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this in recent weeks, and we noted last month that Iran’s decision to turn off multiple JCPOA-related IAEA cameras responding to the very clear call that Iran heard from the international community for more transparency by offering only less transparency was extremely regrettable, to put it mildly. It was the latest in a series of such steps. We know, and the fact is that maintaining reduced JCPOA-related transparency with the IAEA only complicates the challenges associated with a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. It only deepens the nuclear crisis that Iran itself has created.
When it comes to potential implications, as part of any negotiated mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, Iran will have to provide whatever information and transparency the IAEA deems necessary to allow it to verify Iran’s JCPOA declarations.
As we’ve said, we’ll continuously reassess the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA. As I mentioned just a moment ago, we will continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as that assessment is – makes clear that a mutual return to compliance would be in our national security interest – that is to say, that a mutual return to compliance would put us in a stronger position vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program than we’re in today.
QUESTION: You say that you want them to drop their non-JCPOA demands. Iran keeps saying that it’s – that the U.S. administration has make a decision, has to make a decision, a political decision. What exactly is that, this agenda they’re expecting of you? Because the administration, the negotiators should know what Iran wants from them. They’re not saying exactly, so can you tell us?
MR PRICE: I will let the Iranians air publicly what it is they are referring to with that. The fact is that we have made a political decision. We made a political decision early on in this administration. In fact, it was a political decision that the then-candidate Biden articulated on the campaign trail; that is to say, that if Iran were to re-enter the JCPOA, we would do the same. After months of painstaking discussions, there is an agreement that has been on the table, an agreement that essentially hammers out the logistics and the details of doing so. The fact is we made that decision a long time ago. The Iranians, if they are serious about a mutual return to compliance – which they may not be – it is – the onus is now on them to take that deal.
QUESTION: So what is your assessment? When you keep saying they want to or they don’t want to, I am sure that you have an assessment whether Iran is pursuing this in good faith, they really want to, or not. Otherwise, why keep beating the dead horse, if you feel that they’re not doing it?
MR PRICE: The Iranians certainly haven’t done anything in recent weeks to suggest that they are eager to re-enter the deal. And in fact, every day that they drag their feet or every day that is filled with nothing but silence on their end, it’s an indication to us that they are not serious and that they are not ready to re-enter the JCPOA on a mutual basis.
For our part, we’re not dragging our feet; we’re doing a couple things. Number one, we are working with our allies and partners in the context of the P5+1, but also more broadly to determine if there is an opportunity to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. And we’re pursuing that for a reason that is extraordinarily simple, and that is because it’s still in our interest to do so.
In the background, as I mentioned just a moment ago, we’re always conducting those technical assessments to determine when we might reach the point – and we will reach the point – when the deal is no longer in our interest. But we are clear-eyed about the circumstances. We are clear-eyed about our Iranian interlocutors. And that’s why for some time we have been preparing equally for scenarios in which there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and a scenario in which there is not a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That was a focus of President Biden’s trip to Israel, and to Saudi Arabia, where he also had an opportunity to meet with leaders of the GCC+3. But these are discussions that we’ve been having for some time.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The Times of Israel reported that the administration, the Biden administration, is leaning on the – on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to join or laud or speak well of the Abraham Accords, and that it is to the benefit of the Palestinians. Could you clarify this point for us?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say – and you heard this very clearly from Secretary Blinken and from his counterparts in the Negev Summit, when we traveled to the Negev desert in March – and Secretary Blinken, for his part, said that we have to be essentially clear that regional peace agreements and the construction of bridges between Israel and its Arab neighbors is not a substitute for progress between Palestinians and Israelis. That is a message that we heard in the Negev. It is a message that we’ve heard since from other signatories to the Abraham Accords and to normalization agreements, acknowledging that the onus is on all of us to continue to strive for a world in which Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal levels of security, of prosperity, of freedom, of dignity.
So we unequivocally support the Abraham Accords. We unequivocally support normalization agreements. As you know, we’ve made no secret of the fact that we are looking to expand the circle of friendships and relationships between Israel and its neighbors, just as we continue to do everything we can, in many cases with our partners in the region beyond, to support the aspirations and support the needs of the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: I remember when you guys were a bit reluctant to even call it the Abraham Accords. But having said that, there has been some sort of mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel that goes back almost 30 years, 29 years. So how do you expect to be – what mechanism would, let’s say, the Palestinians joining the Abraham Accord take? How do you see it, that is different than what they have now?
MR PRICE: I don’t know that anyone is calling for that at the moment, Said. What we are doing is, just as we work to reinforce and to expand this set of normalization agreements broadly between Israel and its neighbors, we are working towards those objectives that I outlined just a moment ago for the Palestinian people, a Palestinian people that isn’t able – is able to enjoy, again, equal levels of prosperity, of security, of dignity, and freedom as their Israeli neighbors.
QUESTION: Do you have anything that you can preview for the U.S. economic 2+2 later this week? What will be the primary focus for the discussions? There have been some reports that human rights safeguards in supply chains will be an issue. I assume that refers to China’s role in supply chains in the Indo-Pacific. Could you comment on that specifically as well?
MR PRICE: Well, today is Monday. This is now slated to take place at the end of the week, so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. But we do look forward to welcoming our Japanese allies to the building later in the week. We’ll do so in tandem with our partners from the Department of Commerce to have a wide-ranging discussion on our economic relationship and our economic priorities. I can assure you that supply chains will feature into that conversation, but we’ll wait for later in the week to go further into that.
MR PRICE: So this is something that, as you’ve heard from us consistently, is an absolute priority for Secretary Blinken. It is an absolute priority with – for Ambassador Carstens, our Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, with whom Secretary Blinken meets regularly. We – just as we do with Paul Whelan, we are working around the clock, behind the scenes, quietly, to do everything we possibly can to see to it that Brittney Griner’s ordeal, just as Paul Whelan’s ordeal, is put to an end just as soon as can be possibly managed.
It is not something that we talk about, for obvious reasons. I’ve made the point before that in the weeks preceding the release of Trevor Reed, it is not something that we talked about in any detail. But that did not diminish the activity that was ongoing behind the scenes to see to it that Trevor Reed was brought home. And we are working constantly behind the scenes to see to it that Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, and Americans who are unjustly detained around the world can be brought home.
In terms of our embassy’s involvement, as you know, they have carefully monitored her trial. Our chargé was present at her last hearing. I have every expectation that the chargé will be there at the next hearing tomorrow as well. Our chargé and senior embassy officials have been able to speak to Brittney Griner in the context of those court appearances. In some cases Brittney Griner has passed on specific messages, in one case asking our chargé to pass on her request that all of those here in this country who are – whose attention is so trained on her case, to keep the faith. And that is the message that we did in pass – in fact pass on publicly.
QUESTION: On Rwanda. I know you don’t usually comment on the congressional correspondence, but I wonder if I could ask sort of broadly on the U.S. policy towards Rwanda in the light of the Senate Foreign Relations Chair Menendez’s letter, which highlights concerns about human rights and political repression in Rwanda. He’s talking – he basically says the U.S. can no longer look the other way as Rwanda foments rebellion and violence in other parts of the continent, referring to the DRC, and also highlights the case of Paul Rusesabagina, who – he’s a U.S. permanent resident who’s detained there. What’s your response to this kind of questioning of the U.S. support for the Rwandan Government? You’re a major – I think you’re the largest donor to that government. Do you agree with those concerns?
MR PRICE: Well, you’re right that we don’t comment publicly on congressional correspondence. In this case, I have seen that the senator’s office has spoken publicly to the letter with which I’m familiar. I have every expectation that Rwanda will be a topic of discussion between the United States – between the Department of State and our congressional partners. It is absolutely the prerogative of Congress in pursuing and conducting its oversight role to ask questions of our policy, our policy that is always responsive to events on the ground. And so of course we are taking a close eye to events on the ground, including tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We’ve said before that we’re concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We’ve urged both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue, to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. We’ve made clear the fact that we continue to support the Nairobi Process as an effort to de-escalate these tensions.
But when it comes to Paul Rusesabagina, this gets back to the last question, but we do have no higher priority to seeing the release of those Americans who were held unjustly anywhere around the world, and that includes Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda. This is a case that Roger Carsten – Ambassador Carstens – and his office are working on. We’ve renewed our call for the – for the Rwanda Government to address procedural shortcomings in its judicial process. We’re aware of the serious concerns about Paul’s health. We continue to urge the Government of Rwanda to ensure he receives all necessary medical care. We have concluded for some time now there were violations of his fair trail guarantees as well.
QUESTION: And in light of all that, you don’t think that the level of aid that the U.S. gives to Rwanda is inappropriate?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we always take a look at. It’s something that we consult closely with our congressional partners with as well. Yes.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask on House Speaker Pelosi’s potential trip to Taiwan. I’m just wondering if there’s anything you could tell us about the State Department’s analysis around the planning of the trip, anything on the messaging, or threats that we’ve heard from the Chinese foreign ministry about a potential response or the great impact it might have on U.S.-China relations, and anything else about the sort of diplomatic fallout we might see if such a trip was to go forth.
MR PRICE: Well, it’s impossible for me to speak to some of those elements for the very reason that the speaker’s office has not confirmed any travel or potential travel. We’ll of course refer to the office of the speaker for any travel she may undertake. When it comes to what we’ve heard publicly from the PRC, from the ministry of foreign affairs in this case, I’m not going to respond directly, but I will just restate our policy, and that is that we remain committed to maintaining cross-strait peace and stability and our “one China” policy, which is guided, as you know, by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. We of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan or support Taiwan independence, but we have a robust, unofficial relationship as well as abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, wait a minute, just before we move on from that – so you’re saying that the State Department has no opinion about this potential visit?
MR PRICE: We don’t have an opinion about a visit that hasn’t been announced. It is not for us to weigh in on potential – potential travel or hypotheticals. We’ll defer to the speaker’s office to speak to any plans she may have.
QUESTION: Well, all right, but I mean, she’s spoken about the possibility of it.
MR PRICE: I believe her office has made very clear that they don’t confirm or deny any potential travel. Yes.
QUESTION: Just two follow-ups, one on the grains and Plan B – since when has it been under discussion?
MR PRICE: Since when has —
QUESTION: The Plan B or any other route?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t call it a Plan B, again, because we need to – you’re – to put it – to put a finer point on it, the Ukrainians are seeking to utilize every viable route to export grain and other food stuffs. So the fact is that we’ve always, since the start of Russia’s aggression, been working with our Ukrainian partners, recognizing that Russia’s brutality would exacerbate global food insecurity. So even if – and we hope this is the case – if and when Russia’s – excuse me – Ukraine’s Black Sea ports are once again open and Ukrainian and other countries’ ships are able to transit in and out, there will still be a need for other routes and paths, including overland routes to maximize the level of export. So this is not an either/or. This is an and/both situation.
QUESTION: And also, you mentioned about the continuing exports that has increased over the months. Could you tell us how much of it is from Odessa or from the south or from the east? Do you have any —
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to maritime exports from Odessa, the fact is that Moscow has maintained an effective blockade of the Black Sea ports.
QUESTION: No, I mean land routes.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak precisely, would need to defer to our Ukrainian partners to speak to that.
QUESTION: And also another one on Iran. You said the ball is now with Iran, and also you added that it has been several weeks we haven’t heard back from Iranian a positive step toward a deal. Till when are you going to wait for Iran to respond?
MR PRICE: We will pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as it’s in our national security interest. That is not something that we can attach a calendar date to precisely because we are always – and when I say we, I mean the collective we, the United States Government – is always taking a close look at the underlying factors. In this case, it’s primarily the advancements that Iran is making with its nuclear program. One thing is very certain: we will reach a point where the deal that’s been on the tables for several months now will not be in our interest. And we’ll reach that point as soon as the advancements that Iran has made and is making overtake the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA would convey.
A final question? Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about Review Conference of NPT treaty on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, which will start next Monday. First, do you expect Secretary Blinken will attend the conference next week, and what do you think is the significance of Review Conference this time, especially in light of Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons? And what will the U.S. call for to make an international consensus during this Review Conference?
MR PRICE: Sure. So I’m not in a position to announce any travel at the moment, but let me just say broadly that the United States stands by the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We think it is extraordinarily important to underline the obligations that the NPT puts forward for nuclear weapon states and for non-nuclear weapon states alike.
In the face of challenges to the global nonproliferation regime, we think it’s important that the United States stands with the signatories of the NPT to make clear that even though it has been in effect for some time now, its relevance, its importance, has not diminished a single iota over the years and over the decades.
So without getting too far, I think you can expect Secretary Blinken to be personally involved in this effort, including in the coming days.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)