2:06 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Ned.
MR PRICE: Let’s start with one element at the top, and that is today we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA – the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for persons with disabilities. The ADA inspires the world to see disability through a lens of equity and expands opportunities for persons with disabilities to fully and proudly contribute to global progress.
Disability rights are human rights, and ensuring that persons with disabilities can participate in all aspects of society is a priority of this administration. We recognize how disability adds strength through diversity in the fabric of our communities around the globe.
As a landmark U.S. law, the ADA sparked an international shift from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity to individuals with rights who are valuable members of society. This perspective serves as a beacon to the more than 1 billion persons with disabilities worldwide – that’s one in every seven of us.
Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Sara Minkara is at the forefront of our efforts to protect the rights of persons, and she travels around the world to disrupt the narrative of disability from a charity-based model to one that is value-based.
At the State Department, we strive to be a model for a workplace of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, where all employees are treated with respect. This administration has emphasized this commitment through Executive Order 14035, in which accessibility has been embedded as a core pillar in reflecting, respecting, and advancing our diversity.
As the Secretary’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley has affirmed, we don’t limit our recognition of disability pride or commitment to disability inclusion to one day or to one month – we strive to recognize these important issues every single day.
This ADA anniversary, we recommit to shaping a future in which persons with disabilities enjoy all of their human rights and their fundamental freedoms fully. Every day, we remain committed to promoting disability rights at home and abroad.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR PRICE: That is it.
QUESTION: Okay, can I ask you about the cases of two American citizens? One, Shireen Abu Akleh. Can you bring us up to date on the Secretary’s meeting with her family members, which may still be going on, I guess, so (inaudible). And then the second one is Brittney Griner, who was back in court again today.
MR PRICE: Sure. So let me start with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh. I can confirm that Secretary Blinken is meeting today – at this very moment, in fact – with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh. As you know, the Secretary has spoken to her family on a number of occasions now, and during the most recent call he invited her family to meet with him here at the State Department in Washington.
I suspect you’ll see something from the Secretary following the meeting, but I can tell you that the Secretary is deeply appreciative of the opportunity to meet with Shireen’s family. Not only was she an American citizen, she was a reporter whose fearless pursuit of the truth earned her the profound respect of audiences around the world.
He’ll use the opportunity to underscore for Shireen’s family our deepest condolences on her tragic death and to reiterate the priority we attach to accountability – something we continue to discuss with our Israeli and Palestinian partners as well.
Anything else on that before we go on to the case of Brittney Griner?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, just – I mean, did he – does he have anything to say to them that is more than what was said, what has been said previously?
MR PRICE: Well, we have said an awful lot on this case, and as you know —
QUESTION: I know. And I’m asking if there’s anything new in what he’s able to tell them today than what you might have been able to say yesterday or —
MR PRICE: Well, part of this meeting is, yes, the Secretary – providing the Secretary an opportunity to convey messages to them. It will be a message of condolence. There will be a message of the priority we attach to accountability going forward. But this is also equally an opportunity for the Secretary to hear from the family, to hear their important perspective, to have a dialogue back and forth, something we have sought to have.
QUESTION: I get that, and that’s – that’s fine. But he has spoken with them before.
MR PRICE: He has.
QUESTION: Maybe not face to face.
MR PRICE: This is the first time in person, and obviously —
QUESTION: I know. So, but does he have anything new to share with them today that he didn’t have the last time he spoke to them?
MR PRICE: It’s hard for me to get into the details of a meeting that probably has not concluded just yet, but what I can say is that he will reiterate the messages that he has conveyed publicly. He will reiterate them directly and in person to them. He, I suspect, will also update them on our engagements with our Israeli and Palestinian partners on this case.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, does that mean that once the meeting is over, you can update us on your engagements with the – in particular with the Israelis, but also with the Palestinians?
MR PRICE: I suspect you will see something from us on this later today, and we’ll have more details to share after the meeting.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, one of the things that the family’s been asking for – and they said explicitly that they’re going to ask this of the Secretary – is for the United States to launch its own probe or for there to be an independent probe into her killing. Is that something that the Secretary is going to back?
MR PRICE: What we have done is something that is in some ways unusual given – but it is not unusual given the priority we have attached to this case, again, as an American citizen and as a reporter whose life was taken under tragic circumstances. And that is the fact that the U.S. security coordinator worked closely with Israeli investigators, with Palestinian investigators, and in this case did his own summary of those investigations, reaching a series of conclusions. Not only did the team do a forensics examination of the bullet whose passage from Palestinian authorities to independent examiners in this case we facilitated, but concluded based on the two investigations that are being conducted that the bullet that tragically took the life Shireen Abu Akleh most likely emanated from an IDF position. And the U.S. security coordinator also found no indication that there was any intentionality behind the tragic death of Shireen.
So that is something that we have done. We have published the findings in this case. We believe that by publishing the findings it speaks to our commitment to pursuing an investigation that is credible, an investigation that is thorough, and, importantly, an investigation that culminates in accountability. And it is that question of accountability that we have continued to discuss with our Palestinian partners and, of course, with our Israeli partners as well.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, I mean, one of the things is the family says that they actually want some new – some fresh probe by the United States. So is – basically that’s the answer that the Secretary is going to give, that they don’t think there’s any need for anything new?
MR PRICE: Well, our focus has been on bridging these two investigations and doing all that we can to see to it that the investigations that are being carried out are thorough, they’re done exhaustively, they are done transparently, and again, that they end in accountability.
We made the point shortly after we released the statement on July 4th that we do continue to expect to see accountability. In the case of the IDF, again, the U.S. security coordinator concluded that the bullet most likely emanated from an IDF position. The IDF, of course, is a professional military organization, and given that, it has the ability to implement processes and procedures to avoid noncombatant casualties. We think that type of accountability is important. It’s our collective goal to do everything we possibly can, working with our partners, to see to it that something like this cannot happen again.
QUESTION: Okay, so I just counted. You used the word “accountability” four times – four times separately – in the last minute. So what’s new on the accountability front? And what’s new in terms of how you expect to get accountability?
MR PRICE: Well, I didn’t come out here with a new message. I came out here to reiterate the message that we have clearly and consistently conveyed both in public and in private to our partners on this.
QUESTION: Right. Okay, I get that, and I’ll stop and you can go on to someone else. But just calling for accountability without actually doing anything to get it or seeing it is —
MR PRICE: You are right that we are calling for it. What is also true is that we are having private conversations with our partners – in this case our Palestinian partners and our Israeli partners – in this instance to promote what we think is important. And it is a word that, as you rightly point out, I have used several times already even in the past minute because it is a priority for us. It is a priority for us that we see appropriate accountability.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that again?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: On the accountability, you say that there needs to be accountability. Is there any sort of time frame for this? I mean, if Israel accepts – saying that the IDF – keeps saying that it’s probing this and they’re trying to get to the bottom of this. If that probe goes on forever, is that – I mean, is there some sort of time frame in which there needs to be some more concrete accountability?
MR PRICE: Well, we do want to see an investigation that is thorough, that’s credible, that’s transparent. And part of that – an investigation that is credible – there has to be an element of timeliness to this. We do understand that sometimes these elements are – run at cross purposes, timeliness and thoroughness, but we want to see an investigation that is both timely but is also thorough and that, importantly, concludes in accountability.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. With Brittney Griner’s hearing today, obviously the administration has been very clear that they’re working to get her home. But would you say that there are active discussions with the Russians to come to some sort of deal to get her home right now?
MR PRICE: I would say that we have made the case of Brittney Griner, we have made the case of Paul Whelan, an absolute priority, and we are working actively, quietly behind the scenes to do everything we can to see that their wrongful detentions come to an end as quickly as possible.
Of course, not going to detail exactly what it is that we are doing, but of course, there has to be and there is engagement with Russian authorities on both of these cases, just as we are discussing with relevant authorities around the world the cases of Americans who are wrongfully detained and who have been separated from their families for far too long.
As we do that, we are working closely with the families. We are meeting with them. We are having conversations with them. Our consular officers around the world are providing all possible support to Americans who are wrongfully detained.
In the case of Brittney Griner, as you know, she had another court appearance today. Our chargé, the senior-most embassy official currently in Moscow, was present in the courtroom, as was another senior official from our embassy. They had an opportunity to see Brittney Griner, to speak to her, to check in on her welfare. She confirmed that she is doing okay, under the circumstances, and we have routinely conveyed those discussions back to the family, to Brittney Griner’s wife in this case. We’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: And would you say that you guys are satisfied with the Russian engagement on these cases? You said there has been engagement, but are you satisfied with the degree to which there has been engagement?
MR PRICE: We are never going to be satisfied until Brittney Griner is back with her wife, until Paul Whelan is back with his family, until wrongful detainees around the world have been released from custody. So we don’t look at this in terms of satisfaction; we look at this through the lens of doing everything we possibly can to see to it that these individuals are reunited with their families as quickly as we can.
QUESTION: And just one more question on Mark Fogel, an American who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in June for the crime of carrying cannabis into the country. Does the State Department view that sentence as appropriate for the crime that he committed?
MR PRICE: There’s only so much I can say, given privacy considerations in this case. As you know, privacy considerations vary case by case. But of course, we’re aware of a U.S. citizen sentenced in Russia. We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad. We’re monitoring the situation.
More broadly – and this applies to all Americans who are detained in Russia, be they detained wrongfully in our estimation, or otherwise – we insist that the Government of Russia allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens –U.S. citizen detainees, including those in pretrial detention, in compliance with its various obligations, including those under the Vienna Convention, including those in the context of our bilateral relationship.
We’ve continued to urge Russian authorities to allow this, and we also continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia.
QUESTION: And then the term “wrongfully detained” has not been applied to the case of Mark Fogel, so can you just explain why that’s the case, given there are some similarities to the crime he committed and the crime that Brittney Griner committed?
MR PRICE: Well, each case is unique. And in determing whether detention is wrongful, determining if the detention is wrongful, we look at the totality of the circumstances. And those circumstances are then weighed against a series of criteria and factors. The Bob Levinson legislation that was passed some years ago, and in fact was just codified in key ways into the EO, defined some of those considerations that we look at.
But I want to make an important point: There is never – we never close the book when it comes to any particular case. We are constantly looking at the facts; we are constantly looking at the circumstances as we learn more about any given case, as we learn more about the circumstances of detention, the charges, fair trial guarantees, due process or lack thereof. We are always weighing those developments against the criteria to determine whether an American is wrongfully held or not.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: It seems like Josep Borrell has called the end of the nuclear negotiations with Iran. In his opinion piece in The Financial Times today, he says that he has – he tabled a proposal, taking into consideration the steps both sides have to take, because he doesn’t think there is any more room for compromise. Is his proposal fully acceptable to the Biden administration?
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll start with something you’ve heard before from us, and that is that we’re not going to negotiate in public. What I can say is that we are reviewing the draft understanding on mutual return to full implementation with the JCPOA that the high representative shared with us, as well as with Iran and the other JCPOA participants. We will share reactions we have directly with the EU.
But as we’ve said already – and this is something you heard as recently as yesterday – there’s been an outline of what we believe to be a good deal on the table since March that we have been prepared to accept. And we understand that this new text that Mr. Borrell referred to, it’s the basis for – its basis is that draft that has been on the table since March. We are studying the changes that have been proposed by the EU; we’ll respond to them in short order. And we hope that Iran finally and ultimately decides to seize the opportunity that has been before it for some time now.
QUESTION: Is there a timeframe within which both sides have to answer?
MR PRICE: I think you saw in the op-ed that Mr. Borrell published today he didn’t allude to a timeframe. We are going to be swift in our review of the proposal that he put forward. We know that time is of the essence. But again, we also know that Iran’s nuclear program has galloped forward in such a way that the parameters of the mutual return to compliance that have been in the offing for several months now is to us, to our national interest, far preferable than where we are today. So we are going to continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as it’s in our interest to do so. That remains the case.
QUESTION: And is —
QUESTION: Didn’t you say that time is of the essence?
MR PRICE: It – time is an important consideration in this.
QUESTION: When did – well, when did that become the – when did that become important?
MR PRICE: We’ve always said that —
QUESTION: I mean, look, we’ve been having the same conversation pretty much every day for the last eight months, nine months, even maybe ten months.
QUESTION: Almost a year.
QUESTION: And it’s been – the runway has been shortening; the window has been closing since the beginning of this year.
MR PRICE: And the fact is that —
QUESTION: And so now all of a sudden time is of the essence? What is that exactly supposed to mean?
MR PRICE: The fact is —
QUESTION: What is it supposed to mean to the Iranians when you keep —
MR PRICE: The fact is that the deal that has been available to Iran for a number of months now is still —
QUESTION: Yes, a —
MR PRICE: — in our national security interest. That will not be the case indefinitely. We will reach a point – and again, this is a point that I can’t define for you right now —
QUESTION: Which means it’s indefinite. That’s the very definition of “indefinite.” Is it not?
MR PRICE: I think we have – we may have different definitions of “indefinite,” but this is – what I can tell you, Matt, what you know, is that we will reach a point where it is no longer in our interest to pursue a mutual return to compliance, at the point at which —
QUESTION: All right. I just don’t understand how you – all of the sudden today time is of the essence, when you’ve been saying that for the last eight months, and you still can’t say – you say there – you can’t put a date on anything. That is the very definition of “indefinite.”
MR PRICE: Matt, you – as we’ve said before, the point at which we will pursue alternatives is the point at which it’s no longer in our interest to pursue a mutual return to compliance.
QUESTION: But I thought you already had – you already a plan B, I mean, you already had prepared for the possibility —
MR PRICE: We have. We’ve been working with partners and allies on this for some time now.
MR PRICE: So the point is that when we reach the point where the JCPOA, the nonproliferation benefits it would convey have been eroded by the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program, that is the point at which we’ll pursue these alternatives, alternatives that we’ve been discussing for some time now.
QUESTION: Just one question on that. Have you guys stopped using the term “a few weeks” to describe when that time will be for any particular reason?
MR PRICE: I believe the reference you’re alluding to is Iran’s breakout time. And the fact is that when the JCPOA was being fully implemented by Iran in this case its breakout time, at one point, was 12 months. With the decision on the part of the previous administration to leave a deal that was verifiably working to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s nuclear program in the proceeding few years has been able to gallop forward in such a way that Iran’s breakout time is now measured in weeks or less, so that has not changed.
QUESTION: Ned, one last one on this. Is this development the reason the hearing tomorrow at House Foreign Affairs Committee has been canceled or postponed?
MR PRICE: I am not aware of any connection, but if we have any details to offer on that hearing, we’ll let you know.
MR PRICE: Well, we note the outcome that has been reported by the Independent High Authority for Elections, or ISIE, and civil society election observers. The referendum has been marked by low turnout. That is something that we do note. A broad range of Tunisia’s civil society, media, and political parties have expressed deep concerns regarding the referendum. And in particular, we note the widespread concerns among many Tunisians regarding the lack of an inclusive and transparent process and limited scope for genuine public debate during the drafting of the new constitution. We also note concerns that the new constitution includes weakened checks and balances that could compromise the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. With legislative elections scheduled for the end of the year, we continue to stress the importance of respect for the separation of powers and an inclusive and transparent electoral law that enables wide participation in those elections.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can I ask your comment on upcoming Erdoğan-Putin meeting in Sochi, both in terms of PR element of it, also but just the fact that Putin is being allowed to meet with a world leader, let alone a NATO member, another time?
MR PRICE: I’ll need to defer to our Turkish allies to speak to the intent and any agenda for President Erdoğan’s potential travel. What I can say is that our Turkish allies have been instrumental in working to secure the grain deal that was signed last week, and of course the onus is now on Moscow to standby and to uphold the commitments that it has made. Turkey has been an important mediator, has sought to play a role mediating between the parties more broadly in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. We’ve said consistently that we support all efforts to bring Russia’s aggression to an end that are coordinated fully in the first instance with Ukraine but also with the United States and our allies and partners.
QUESTION: I know you also responded to some of Lavrov’s comments yesterday when I was in the room. But Russia says explicitly that it actually seeks some regime change in Ukraine. I was wondering – Lavrov today even repeated the same statement. That’s an apparent reversal from their wartime messaging. What is your comment on that?
MR PRICE: Well, it is a messaging reversal. I’m not sure that is a policy reversal. It’s a messaging reversal, and that’s – you’re – you are right. Before February 24th, we heard consistently the lie from various Kremlin officials that this was about some perceived threat from Ukraine, from NATO, from the United States. We called all of that a lie at the time.
And since then, but especially in recent days, the Russians have been doing as good a job of anyone of debunking their own disinformation and their own lies. Refer to what Sergey Lavrov said yesterday – and you alluded to this – he called President Zelenskyy and his government in Kyiv a quote/unquote “unacceptable regime,” making clear that this was not what Russia purported it to be just the previous week. He admitted that Russia’s quote/unquote “geographical goals” go well beyond the Donbas to include Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, other sovereign regions of Ukraine.
It hasn’t just been Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wasn’t all that long ago, as Secretary Blinken has pointed out on a couple of occasions now, that President Putin spoke – compared himself to Peter the Great, noted that when Peter went to war with Sweden, he was simply looking to take back what Peter thought belonged to Russia. President Putin went on to note that Russia is again looking to take back what is theirs. So repeatedly senior Russian officials have put to the lie just about everything that we heard from them prior to the invasion. They have made clear in doing so this is not a defensive operation.
This is, in fact, what it always appeared to be, and that is a war of territorial conquest. That’s why it’s so important that countries around the world stand not only with Ukraine – stand with Ukraine to help it defend it’s sovereignty, it’s territorial integrity, it’s independence, but also to stand with the rules-based international order that for decades now, since the end of World War II, has made clear that we cannot reside in a world where might makes right, where large countries can bully the small ones, where a country’s foreign policy can be dictated by any other country.
QUESTION: And very quickly on – to follow up on Russian imprisonment question. I’ll leave my questions about non-U.S. citizens. Helsinki Commission leadership yesterday sent out a letter to the administration urging them to use every possible instrument in our toolkit to release political prisoner Vladimir Kara-Murza. Do you have any response to that?
MR PRICE: We have consistently called for his release. We have noted that his detention comes in the context of a broader crackdown on civil society, on fundamental freedoms, on human rights within Russia. This is a government that has made very clear that it is not willing to countenance dissent or vocal opposition. These are the actions of a regime, of a government that is fundamentally afraid of the ability of its citizens to speak the truth, to spread the truth, and to exercise in doing so the rights that are as universal to them as they are to people around the world.
QUESTION: Some more on Russia.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The space program.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Russia announcing that it will no longer participate after 2024 in the International Space Station. How does the United States feel about this? Does it have the confirmation that this is the case? How will it affect the space (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen Russia’s statement that it plans to leave the International Space Station after 2024. It’s an unfortunate development, given the critical scientific work performed at the ISS, the valuable, professional collaboration our space agencies have had over the years, and especially in light of our renewed agreement on space flight cooperation. I expect NASA will have more details for you.
QUESTION: Do you hope that they’ll revisit this or do you think – is that something that’s underway in negotiations to – or any sort of discussion about this with —
MR PRICE: I understand that we were taken by surprise by the public statement that went out. I’m not aware of – I’m not aware that discussions on this front have started yet, but would need to refer you to NASA for that.
QUESTION: I know that you don’t like to talk about history, but since you’ve mentioned the relation to Peter – Peter the Great and Foreign Minister Lavrov and President Putin, given that Peter the Great also was the one who opened up Russia to the West, went on a grand tour of Europe, built Russian – what was then the modern Russian navy, do you find it at all jarring that they would pull out of a scientific thing like the ISS now given their – given President Putin’s apparent desire to be seen as a modern-day explorer?
MR PRICE: I will leave that to the Russians to speak to their motivations. Here I will just note that the United States and Russia, we have cooperated on space exploration for years now, over the course of decades. We obviously – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has obviously changed our relationship fundamentally, but there are still aspects of our relationship, including our joint pursuits in science, joint pursuits in safety, people-to-people ties, that we would like to see preserved, and the Russians are sending a contrary signal here.
QUESTION: So Israel revealed today that in May, Russia fired at one of its military jets. I was wondering if the State Department is aware of this and also if they agree with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s assessment that it was a one-off, and have they communicated with Russia at all over this incident?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to our Israeli partners to speak to any engagements that they have had with Russia regarding this. That’s not something we would weigh in on.
MR PRICE: We’ve called for an immediate de-escalation in northern Syria. We believe it’s crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work towards a political solution to the conflict.
QUESTION: And Ned, so in just the past month, an estimated 18 SDF members have been killed by Turkey. So is there anything else that the U.S. can do apart from just calling on your ally to cease the hostilities? Because if Turkey continues at this rate, you may run out of partners soon. So a no-fly zone – that’s something that the SDF have been kind of floating, the idea of a no-fly zone. Is that something that you guys can support or is that a —
MR PRICE: We continue to have these discussions with key partners and allies. We continue to have these discussions with our Turkish allies. We’ve made clear to them in private what we’ve made clear in public, and this is something that we reiterated again last week, the deep concerns we have about the potential for renewed military activity in northern Syria – in particular its impact on the civilian population. We have made clear our specific concern that any renewed offensive of this sort, any broader offensive of this sort, could set back the significant gains that the coalition has made against Daesh in recent years. It could have humanitarian implications on the civilian population in the region, and it would certainly not be in the interest of the political process pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
QUESTION: Just quickly, so is that for a renewed incursion by Turkey into Syria, or does that also apply to (inaudible) kind of drone attacks on SDF commanders?
MR PRICE: We’re speaking to a renewed offensive into northeast Syria.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So you said we continue discussion. The question was about no-fly zone. Are you discussing no-fly zone with anybody in the region?
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense. We are – for the part of the State Department, we are having diplomatic engagements with our allies and partners; of course, with our Turkish allies in this case.
QUESTION: About what?
MR PRICE: About our concern regarding the potential for a broader and renewed military offensive in northeastern Syria.
QUESTION: North Korea. South Korean Government official said that there is a possibility North Korea will conduct its seventh nuclear test on the occasion of Korean War Armistice Day, which is tomorrow, the 27th of this month. So is the State Department concerned – sharing this concern or discussing about this matter with South Korean Government? And does the U.S. still assess that North Korea will conduct its nuclear test soon?
MR PRICE: Our concerns regarding the potential for a seventh North Korean nuclear test have not abated. We have spoken publicly to these concerns for a couple of months now. You have heard assessments that our ROK counterparts have made public that the DPRK regime has conducted all necessary preparations for a potential nuclear test. That has not changed. We have continued to be very clear in our public statements, but also working closely with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and well beyond, to make clear that any additional nuclear test that the DPRK conducts would carry tremendous costs. And we’ve been working with allies and partners in New York, capitals in the Indo-Pacific, and around the world to send a very clear message to the DPRK regarding this.
QUESTION: If I could ask you on the same topic – is the State Department reviewing to update the U.S. North Korea policy as South Korea is crafting its roadmap for their own North Korean policy that is known as the “audacious plan,” which is including the measures to implement economic cooperation with North Korea and provide security guarantees for the country?
MR PRICE: When this administration first came into office, we spent several months conducting our own policy review, taking a look at what the prior administration had done vis-à-vis the DPRK, what previous administrations had done vis-à-vis the DPRK, what had worked but, unfortunately, more of what has not worked over the course of decades when it comes to the DPRK and specifically its WMD program.
So we undertook a comprehensive review. The policy that resulted from that is the policy that we have articulated publicly and the one that we’ve pursued for the better part of almost two years now. It is a policy that believes that dialogue and diplomacy and engagement are the best courses by which we can achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We’ve made clear as a result of that policy review that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. In fact, we have made clear our willingness to engage in dialogue with the DPRK to determine how we might be able to move forward with that diplomacy. Unfortunately, those requests, those invitations have gone substantively unanswered.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Couple of questions. First, on Iraq, Iraqi foreign minister has said that Iraq will ask the Security Council to vote on a resolution that pushes the Turkish forces out of Iraq. Will the U.S. support Iraq in this demand?
MR PRICE: We’re aware of the complaint made by the Government of Iraq at the Security Council and the statement that the Security Council released today on this. We reaffirm our position that military action in Iraq should be – should respect Iraqi sovereignty, should respect Iraqi territorial integrity. We expressed our condolences – we reiterate our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed or injured, and we emphasize the importance of ensuring civilians are protected. But we’d need to refer you to the Government of Iraq for further comment.
QUESTION: But do you – will you support Iraq in the UN Security Council in cases —
MR PRICE: We’ve supported those principles, including the principles that were articulated in the UN Security Council statement that was – that was released today.
MR PRICE: This is something that is highly concerning to us. We urge all groups to refrain from violence. Ambassador Norland, our special envoy, spoke with Abdulhamid Dabaiba and Fathi Bashagha on Sunday. Both committed to finding ways to de-escalate the situation and to prevent further loss of life. We believe that the recent clashes demonstrate the urgent necessity for Libya’s political leaders to immediately embrace an agreed-upon path to elections which can install a truly legitimate, unified government to serve the interests of all Libyans.
QUESTION: And one on Hizballah secretary general, who issued a new threat against Israel over the maritime dispute and said: if the extraction of gas from Karish begins in September before Lebanon gets its rights, we will have a problem. Will this threat affect the U.S. mediation and what about this deadline, September deadline?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen these reports. We don’t respond to threats, but we do remain committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a decision on the delimitation of the maritime boundary. Progress towards a resolution can only be achieved through negotiations by the two governments. We welcome the consultative and open spirit of the parties to reach a decision, a final decision which has the potential to yield greater stability, security, and prosperity for both Lebanon and Israel as well as for the region, and we do believe that a resolution is possible.
QUESTION: Any update on special envoy – or Advisor Hochstein travel to Lebanon?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to speak to, but he has engaged – remained engaged with the parties since his last travel to the region.
QUESTION: I wonder if you have any update of – the last week’s developments with the Ukrainian prosecutor general being dismissed, and particularly from a U.S. point of view, does that change your position in terms of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group that was working closely with the prosecutor? Is that still – is that sort of still in action?
MR PRICE: Sure. Let me make a couple of broad points and then I’ll come to the issue of the prosecutor general.
Broadly, as you know, for – over the course of months we have rallied the world to respond to Ukraine’s – excuse me, to respond to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine. Ensuring a secure and stable Europe and protecting the international rules-based order, that is profoundly in our national interest. But beyond the external threat that Ukraine faces from Russia, Ukraine, like many other governments around the world, continues to face another threat to its long-term success as a sovereign, independent, democratic, and prosperous country, and that’s corruption. Corruption must be combated even as Ukraine defends itself against Russia’s war of aggression. Russia’s war against Ukraine poses an external threat, but corruption poses an internal threat, and the threat that corruption poses can be corrosive to democracy, to sovereignty, to the freedoms that the people of Ukraine so desperately wish to retain.
So even as we support Ukraine by providing security assistance, we will support sustained efforts in Ukraine to increase transparency, to strengthen democratic institutions, independent anti-corruption infrastructure, and the rule of law, while building resilience against corruption. In June, Ukraine took a major step forward in its European aspirations when the EU granted it candidate status, but Ukraine knows it still has work to do even as it continues to face Russia’s brutal attacks. And together with our partners and allies, we’ll continue to stand with our Ukrainian partners as they stand up to all threats, external and internal, to their chosen democratic path, and we’ll continue to stand with Ukraine in its ongoing efforts to advance democratic and human rights reforms.
When it comes to the prosecutor general, we continue to monitor the situation closely. We join the people of Ukraine in emphasizing the importance of transparently appointing a highly qualified and truly independent successor as prosecutor general. The independence and impartiality of the prosecutor general is vital to ensuring the integrity of accountability efforts in Ukraine. The judicial system must be fair, impartial, independent to ensure that both victims and the accused receive justice. And the recent final selection of the specialized anti-corruption prosecutor was an encouraging sign, and we look forward to a swift appointment. And we hope that this momentum continues with, again, the selection of an independent prosecutor general who meets high standards of professional ethics as well as personal integrity. And our assistance and advisories program – excuse me, our assistance and advisory programs support these strategic reform initiatives.
We’ll continue to provide robust support for the work of the office of the prosecutor general, for reform efforts, just as we will continue to work with the office of the prosecutor general as an institution in the interim on the important efforts through the ACA, together with our international partners, to hold Russians accountable for the crimes that they have committed in the conduct of this war.
QUESTION: And on the corruption piece, obviously the U.S. has pledged a lot of money, a lot of – as well as the weapons and arms that are going there. There’s a lot of humanitarian support. Have you gotten any – have you got any evidence that – since you say Ukraine has work to do, like, that some of that money may be being lost to corruption? Or is there – do you have a way of knowing whether it has been?
MR PRICE: Well, we know that oversight of these funds is critical. It is something that we have baked into the provision of these funds. In addition to the extensive accountability and transparency mechanisms built into the use of funds in our foreign assistance, the funding package we requested from Congress – we requested and that Congress approved – included millions of dollars to support additional oversight measures, including additional funding for existing inspectors general, and the supplemental legislation also contained provisions explicitly calling for the DOD IG to review the use of security assistance funds and to provide a written report of that review to Congress. So it’s something we’re paying very close attention to.
QUESTION: Sorry, I don’t want to extend this, but the recent final selection of the special anti-corruption – this guy was chosen in December.
MR PRICE: In the grand scheme of things.
QUESTION: It’s now July, the end of July.
MR PRICE: The —
QUESTION: He was chosen in December. Nothing was done about it and nothing has still been done about it.
MR PRICE: And that’s why we’re urging for his swift appointment.
QUESTION: Swift? Okay. Like, swift like the Iran – on the Iran – no, come on. What – I don’t understand this.
MR PRICE: We are urging our Ukrainian partners to move forward with his appointment.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you’ve been urging your Ukrainian partners to move forward with this appointment since mid-December, and he was finally – or actually even earlier, and he was finally chosen at the end of December. Now, obviously there was a little thing called the Russian invasion which got in the way. But it’s not – this guy’s final selection is not recent.
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: I mean, in what world is December recent?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are urging his appointment. Our broader point, which despite your quarrel with – with a descriptor —
QUESTION: It’s not just mine. I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that would think that the —
MR PRICE: — is that our Ukrainian partners, even in the midst of Russia’s brutal aggression, can’t let their eye off the ball when it comes to corruption.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so are you concerned still about the issue of corruption in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Of course we’re concerned with the issue of corruption in Ukraine, as we are in countries around the world. We know, too, that this is something that this government in Ukraine has sought to address. It’s imperative that they continue efforts to address it because, as I said just a moment ago, corruption can have a corrosive effect on democracy, on sovereignty, on independence in a way that is – that stands in contrast to what we are trying to help our Ukrainian partners do in defending themselves against Russia’s aggression.
MR PRICE: I don’t. We don’t get in a habit of taking part in a back and forth with our Chinese counterparts, in this case with my MFA counterpart. What we have said on this still stands. It’s my understanding that the Speaker’s office has not announced any travel, and our approach to Taiwan has not changed in any way.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Different region: South Caucasus. I have seen your readout on the Secretary’s calls yesterday to President Aliyev and Pashinyan. There’s one line that I see that you’re – correct me if I’m wrong – three or four times since January. The Secretary reiterated his offer of assistance in helping and facilitating the process to both sides. Does that mean the previous offers have been turned down?
MR PRICE: No, it doesn’t mean that. It means that we’ve been able to achieve what we think is a degree of progress, and through continued engagements and diplomatic conversations with our Armenian, with our Azerbaijani partners in this case, we think we can continue that momentum. So the Secretary obviously has had a number of calls with the Armenian and Azerbaijani leadership, but there are a number of people, senior officials in this building who have engaged with their counterparts at all levels to continue this momentum and to continue to offer our assistance in the issues as we seek a long-term, comprehensive peace.
QUESTION: But there’s one caveat, though, which is the Minsk Group. Yesterday, President Aliyev’s office issued a statement. There was no reference to Minsk Group. If you’re an average Azerbaijani, you will see your president is lambasting Minsk Group every other day. And then you have the State Department readout referring to the very Minsk Group as a possible, let’s say, way to go. My question is: There’s clearly a mismatch here in terms of how you see and how the Azeri Government sees it.
MR PRICE: We’ve made clear in our statements, including, I believe, in the readouts yesterday, that the United States stands ready to assist these two countries and our likeminded partners in whichever way, whichever format is most effective. We have been a co-chair of the Minsk Group since 1994, but as we’ve demonstrated, we’re also willing to engage bilaterally with the countries to help Armenia and Azerbaijan find that long-term, comprehensive peace.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)