2:29 p.m. EST
President Putin has renewed his siege of Ukraine, expanding his attacks upon a free and sovereign state to additional cities. We continue to see reports of intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure and buildings, resulting in even more injuries and deaths. More than 2.5 million people have fled the country, seeking refuge from this needless war.
While waging an unjustified war on a peaceful neighbor, Putin is also tightening his chokehold on Russian dissent back at home. NGOs report that Russian authorities have detained nearly 14,000 anti-war protestors since late last month, since February 24th.
The United States, acting in concert with our G7 partners, today took further steps to hold Russia to account. We announced additional actions against wealthy Russian elites to ensure the Government of Russia pays a severe economic and diplomatic price for its invasion of Ukraine, including actions against individuals who sit on the boards of major Russian financial institutions.
We are also designating 12 members of the Russian Duma who led the effort to recognize the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as well as the wife and adult children of Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The Department of Commerce has imposed new controls on exports of U.S. luxury goods to Russia and Belarus to ensure those propagating this war of choice cannot enjoy or benefit from these U.S. products.
We have also imposed an import ban on Russian alcohol, seafood, and non-industrial diamonds, and we’re working with Congress to revoke Russia’s Permanent Normal Trade Relations, commonly referred to as “Most Favored Nation” status.
In addition to the practical steps we are taking to impose costs on Russia, our commitment to supporting Ukraine and to countering Russian disinformation is steadfast. We will not waver in our clear support for Ukraine’s right to pursue its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The Kremlin does not stand and cannot dictate – excuse me – the Kremlin does not and cannot dictate the foreign policy decisions of other countries. That simple principle is at the heart of the world’s steadfast support for Ukraine.
The Russian Federation called a UN Security Council resolution meeting today in an attempt to use the Security Council as a platform to further sow disinformation about biological and chemical weapons. As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, “Russia asked the Security Council for today’s meeting for the sole purpose of lying and spreading disinformation.” Using the Security Council as a venue for spreading lies is repugnant, but it is also par for the course for President Putin and his cronies.
Putin may be counting on the United States and the international community to lose focus, to move on. I want to be clear – we will not lose focus. We will not move on. The world will not lose focus, nor will it move on.
We are and will remain committed to the – and united with Ukraine. There will be no relief from sanctions or other costs we have and will continue to impose on Russia until President Putin reverses course and relents in his brutal aggression.
With that, happy to turn to questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I don’t want to be accused of losing focus, but I do want to start with Iran rather than Ukraine. I’m sure we’ll get it later. I just – and I think this can be dispensed with fairly quickly.
What’s your understanding of the situation with the pause, Russia’s relationship to the pause?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, the Special Envoy Rob Malley and his team have returned to Washington today for consultations. They just have returned to D.C. As we’ve said before, these are complex negotiations. We’re still working through a number, a very small number but still a number, of what are undoubtedly difficult issues. I made this point yesterday. But when you’re at this stage of a negotiation, 11 months in, this – these are indirect negotiations that started last April – you are going to get down gradually to a very small number of the hardest issues. And these hardest – these issues are hardest because they are complex. They’re challenging. But we continue to believe that we are close to a potential deal.
Now is the time for all parties to demonstrate that seriousness of purpose. We can and we should be able to reach a mutual understanding, to return to full implementation of the JCPOA, but there is very little time remaining to do that. You’ve heard from Josep Borrell that there are – essentially, we’re close, but there are external factors that are also now interceding in these negotiations. But delegations are returning to capitals. There will need to be decisions made in places like Tehran and Moscow. And if that political will is there, if that seriousness of purpose is there, we remain confident that we can achieve a mutual return to compliance in fairly short order.
QUESTION: Do you – but so no decisions need to be made here in Washington? It’s basically you guys are satisfied with where things are and it’s up to the Iranians to resolve that small number of issues and the Russians to resolve their sanctions issues?
MR PRICE: I don’t want to parse too much these – this set, this very small number of remaining issues, but I will just leave it at the fact that we are confident that we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA if there is seriousness of purpose, if those decisions are made in places like Tehran and Moscow.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, is – when he – when you noted – you said that he mentioned external factors. But is it really plural or is it just one external factor?
MR PRICE: I will —
QUESTION: And can you explain —
MR PRICE: Speaking of things I’m not going to parse, I’m not going to parse the tweets of —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, what are the external factors specifically? I mean, can we just put a fine point on it? It’s the Russians’ demand that sanction – that Ukraine-related sanctions not interfere with —
MR PRICE: Well, in response to that we have been very clear, including from this podium yesterday, that the new Russia-related sanctions are wholly and entirely unrelated to the JCPOA. They shouldn’t have any impact on a potential implementation of the JCPOA. We’ve also similarly been clear that we have no intention of offering Russia anything new or specific as it relates to these sanctions, nor is – nor would that be required. There is nothing required to successfully reach an agreement on a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.
QUESTION: Moving to Russia, I wonder if you could respond to a couple of things that President Putin has said. Firstly, his comment about there being positive shifts in diplomacy. Do you see any positive shifts? Do you have any idea what that might be that he’s referring to? Is there something positive that’s come out of the meetings between Lavrov and Kuleba in Turkey?
And secondly, he mentioned the 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East who are going to fight alongside the Russian forces in Ukraine. Do you have any response to that?
MR PRICE: In terms of the diplomacy, we would certainly welcome a positive reorientation of the various diplomatic tracks. And I call it a reorientation because it would require a shift in what we’ve seen to date. I – of course, we weren’t a party to yesterday’s discussions in Antalya, but you heard from Foreign Minister Kuleba before he went into those talks; you heard from him after he emerged from those talks. Before he went into those talks, he said that Ukraine, appropriately, had low expectations, and it seems that those low expectations may or may not have been met. He said after the fact that Moscow, it seems – the impression he was left with – continues to essentially ask for, advocate, demand, the complete surrender of Ukraine.
Of course, that is not – that is not genuine diplomacy. That strikes us as something much more akin to what we’ve talked about before, and that is the pretense of diplomacy: going through the diplomatic motions; taking part in meetings; doing so occasionally at senior levels, to include at a ministerial level, as took place yesterday, without having any genuine intent of seeking to make progress on the underlying issues. That is what it now seems quite clear that we saw prior to the Russian invasion. It is what we were concerned and we warned about potentially seeing prior to the Russian invasion. It seems that’s what we may be seeing now.
If there is a positive movement, of course we would welcome that, but we would want to hear that not from the Russian Federation, which has continually – continuingly and continuously mischaracterized its intent, its objectives, its goals, and we would want to hear that from our Ukrainian partners.
MR PRICE: On – look, we’ve seen these reports. We’ve seen Putin’s comments about Syrian foreign fighters. If true, this would represent an even further escalation in Russia’s unjustified, unprovoked, premeditated aggression and now its brutal war against Ukraine. Russia is and would be pulling from its destructive, its destabilizing playbook that has brought havoc to places like Syria. Russia’s focus should be on stopping the war it started needlessly on an unjustified and premeditated basis rather than adding to the further suffering of the Ukrainian people, further casualties that Moscow has experienced.
And this also speaks, I think, to the fundamental miscalculations that Putin has made in choosing the path of war over the path of diplomacy. It seems quite clear from a number of indications, including – again, if true – the fact that the Russian Federation feels the need to pull so-called volunteers from other theaters, that President Putin and those around him severely miscalculated if they thought that they would aggress against a sovereign, independent country and not encounter fierce resistance. It’s clear that they are encountering fierce resistance, and you can see that in the fact that even Russian state media, even Russian Government officials are now admitting to the fact that Russian soldiers – husbands, brothers, sons – are dying, that they are coming home in body bags, if the Russian Government bothers to bring home their remains at all.
We are seeing that now discussed openly on Russian media, in Russian media. This is something that, as you know, the Russians have hesitated to do – and went to great lengths, in fact – to avoid doing, in terms of their aggression against Ukraine that started in 2014. As we know, they went to great lengths to obscure the losses and the casualties that Russia was facing. There is no obscuring, there is no hiding these losses, because they are quite profound, in terms of their scale.
Of course, that doesn’t speak to the full toll of human suffering that this invasion, this needless invasion, has precipitated. The Ukrainian people, innocent Ukrainian civilians, are suffering, are dying. Ukrainians are being forced to flee their houses, their homes, to flee their country. And the toll on the Russian people – of course, our actions are not aimed at the Russian people, but our actions, as we promised, have been consequential, have been profound, in terms of their impact.
President Biden pledged that, if President Putin went forward with this aggression, we would, together with our partners and allies, enact these series of measures. And as President Biden has said, big nations don’t bluff. We were not bluffing in this case. The G7, with which we acted again today, was not bluffing in this case. The 141 countries that came together to condemn this needless aggression, they were not bluffing in this case.
And so the toll, because the response has been so united, so unified around the world, of course it has had a toll on everyday Russians. Just as we have targeted our actions at President Putin, his cronies, the oligarchs, his lieutenants, the – these measures will be felt and are being felt across Russia.
QUESTION: I wanted to – just another quick thing. There is some reporting that the Ukrainian Embassy there in Washington is helping Americans who want to go and fight. We’ve seen a lot more of that coming out in reporting, that Americans and other nations are going there. Is there anything – any change to your advice on that, and do you have anything to say about the Ukrainian Embassy playing a role in that?
MR PRICE: Well, we haven’t changed our advice. Our advice on that has been clear from when we first started talking about this.
Ukrainians, it is true, have shown their courage and bravery in taking on this aggressor. And they are calling on every resource and every lever they have to defend themselves. And, of course, the United States is standing with them in the provision of our security assistance, in the form of our humanitarian supplies, in the form of our broader support. We applaud, we are inspired by their bravery.
At the same time, our guidance remains the same, and our travel advisory remains. U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine. Those in Ukraine should depart immediately, if it is safe for them to do so, using commercial or other privately available options for now ground transportation.
Importantly, U.S. citizens who travel to Ukraine, especially with the purpose of participating in fighting there, they face significant risks, including the very real risk of capture or death. The United States, as you know, is not able to provide assistance to evacuate U.S. citizens from Ukraine, including those Americans who may decide to travel to Ukraine to participate in the ongoing war.
In addition to those other risks to personal safety – and this is a point we want to underscore – U.S. citizens should be aware that Russia has stated that it intends to treat foreign fighters in Ukraine as quote/unquote “mercenaries,” rather than as lawful combatants or prisoners of war. While we expect Russia to respect all of its obligations under the law of war, in light of this very concerning statement, U.S. citizens detained by Russian authorities in Ukraine, they may be subject to potential attempts at criminal prosecution and may be at heightened risk for mistreatment. Given our obligation to the American people to speak clearly about what we know, we wanted to communicate that in no uncertain terms.
So while we continue to urge U.S. citizens not to travel to Ukraine for their own safety, regardless of the underlying purpose, we continue to encourage them to divert their energies towards safe, constructive, volunteer or civil society activities. We know that the Ukrainian people, they need humanitarian assistance, they need funds, they need advocates for their cause around the world. And we applaud Americans across this country, and those around the world, who are using their skills, their passion, their energy, their resources to assist the various NGOs that are working to support this important mission in the United States or around the world.
As you may know, we have a public page on our public how-to-help section of our United With Ukraine webpage that Americans can find additional resources for supporting them.
QUESTION: Ned, in addition to the physical danger that they might get into and the poor treatment or treatment by Russians if they’re captured. Do Americans who travel to Ukraine to fight risk any kind of penalty from the U.S. Government?
MR PRICE: This is a question for the Department of Justice. I will just say, generally, that the risk of prosecution is not one we’re speaking to. This is a risk to their safety and security.
QUESTION: Not – meaning there isn’t any?
MR PRICE: That – I would refer you to the Department of Justice, but my understanding is that there is not that particular risk. There are other grave risks that we’re highlighting.
QUESTION: Two main concerns in Ukraine right now, that, firstly, Russia may somehow use the chemical weapons in Ukraine and, secondly, that it may fabricate finding of those biomaterials or (inaudible) leak, blaming Ukraine and telling okay, here what we told about.
The State Department policy from the very beginning was not to classify any information about Russia plans, but to make them public. So I’d like to ask your position and your understanding. Is it possible?
MR PRICE: Well, in this instance, we’re not speaking to classified information. But we have spoken to our profound concern that this may be a real possibility. And there are really two underlying reasons that inform that concern.
First, we know that Moscow has used these banned substances in the past. It has used them against dissidents at home. Alexei Navalny, is, of course the most prominent — and notorious, I should say — example of that. The Skripals in United Kingdom, using a banned chemical agent on British soil.
The other concern, what – the other element that undergirds our concern is what we discussed yesterday. And if you were to diagnose the tactics of the Russian Federation, you might call it projection. But Moscow has a tendency to blame others – to blame Ukraine, to blame the United States, to blame the West – of the very activities that — in which it is engaging. And so we take its track record, and we take its tactics, and we marry those two things together. And we see that Russian officials in recent weeks, and even more so in recent days, with the UN Security Council session that they called today, have been speaking to the possibility of the United States, of Ukraine, of others employing chemical agents, chemical weapons, biological weapons. Of course, that is totally false. It is baseless.
Our concern, however, is that these baseless accusations do point to potential plans on the part of Moscow. And so we have been very clear about that concern for a couple of reasons. In the first instance, to do all we can through our public messaging and through every means by which we can to deter any such use of chemical weapons, but also to make sure that the world is operating with eyes wide open. And if Russia in the coming days or coming weeks claims to have been the victim, claims that Russian speakers, Russian citizens have been the victims of this type of attack, to have a good sense of what this was all about.
This is pulled directly from the Kremlin’s playbook. This is a playbook that was employed in the leadup to the invasion. It’s a playbook that Secretary Blinken sat in that very UN Security Council chamber and warned about several weeks ago now. And it the playbook that we continue to be concerned that Russia will call upon in the conduct of this unjustified aggression.
QUESTION: Do you have any evidence, beyond their past practice and their claims in this session they called?
I have a couple of other questions. Also at today’s session China supported this proposition on Russia’s behalf. What does that tell you about any hope of President Xi –
MR PRICE: Well –
QUESTION: — trying to pull Putin back from this invasion?
MR PRICE: I will say generally, regarding today’s session at the UN, of course, it was called by Russia. It is a session that, as you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, that we, in many ways, embraced because we took advantage of the forum to fight disinformation with the best antidote to disinformation, and that’s information. And what you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield were the facts, pure and simple. And what you heard from the Russian Federation – I think it’s fair to say it rivals what you might see, what you might find on some of the darkest corners of the internet.
We heard too many lies, too many pernicious and corrosive lies. I don’t want to go through them one by one to give them even more oxygen, of course, but there was one in my effort to review what the Russian perm rep said that really stuck out because of its vividness. And he spoke about the strike at the maternity ward. We’ve all seen the harrowing images with our own eyes. We’ve seen video footage from the ground. I know many of your outlets have captured that imagery with your own people on the ground. But we heard the perm rep refer to this quote/unquote “allegedly destroyed maternity hospital,” claiming that it wasn’t destroyed. We heard him point to photos allegedly taken from inside the building that, according to his account, showed little more than what he called disorder – an overturned chair, overturned furniture – claiming that the building was otherwise intact, not in any way addressing the fact that this was a brutal strike against a maternity hospital that killed innocent Ukrainians. Of course, there was much more when it came to the lies, the fiction – the pernicious lies – about various supposed chemical and biological efforts.
But the fact is that any country that stands with, that espouses, that backs up this – these lies – they too are associating themselves with whatever the Russian Federation may enact in Ukraine. Again, we have deep concerns about what the Russians may be plotting in this regard. We think all responsible countries should speak out against this. Any responsible – any sentient country could listen to what was coming from the perm rep today and diagnose it for what it is and what it was. The fact that any country would lend any bit of credence or credibility is disturbing, and it will, again, associate that country with any actions that the Russian Federation undertakes in Ukraine.
QUESTION: I had another question, sorry.
MR PRICE: Oh, sure.
QUESTION: My foreign desk is asking whether we have any confirmation of something that may have happened in Moscow, that the Fifth Directorate of the FSB – in charge of, as you know, foreign intelligence, including Ukraine – has been raided by the FSO, the Federal Protective Service of the Russian Federation, and by President Putin’s own security service, and that some people may be under house arrest.
MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to speak to that particular report. We can let you know if we’re in a position —
QUESTION: Are you aware of it?
MR PRICE: I was not aware of this. It sounds like it may have just come out. What I will say, however, is that certainly in the weeks leading up to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we saw – and in the days after, in fact – we saw thousands upon thousands of Russian citizens, private Russian citizens, take to the street, more than 10,000 of whom have been detained for doing nothing more than peacefully exercising the rights that are as universal in Russia as they are anywhere else in the world. But we also saw senior policy heavyweights, let’s say, in Russia speak their opposition to what was then the – President Putin’s plan. So we have seen dissent in the streets; we have seen dissent in elite policy circles in Russia. So I can’t speak to this report, but we’ve certainly seen a broader pattern.
QUESTION: Do you think that this could be connected to how seriously wrong their ground game went for the first 16 days of this operation, until the news that we have now seen on the ground overnight?
MR PRICE: I would hesitate to speculate on a report that I haven’t seen, but what I will say is that President Putin has claimed that his plan is going according to plan. I do not think that any political leader, military planner, strategist worth any salt would devise a plan that would be met with stiff opposition, that would be met with fierce and unified international opposition, and that would be met with almost universal global condemnation, and a plan that is now leading Russia into what is a strategic morass of its own making in terms of an economy in freefall, a financial system that has now given up the gains of integration over the past 30 years, and a strategic positioning in the world that is a far cry from what it might have been before this and, given our export controls, given the diplomatic isolation, given the financial and other economic measures, will be appreciably weaker for some time to come.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I quickly want to follow up on Simon’s question and then I have another. Is the State Department aware of any Americans who have gone to fight alongside the Ukrainians? And if so, how many?
MR PRICE: So, as you know, Jenny, when Americans travel abroad, they are not required to register with the Department of State in any way, so these are not metrics that we would track. But our goal has been to be very clear with any Americans who would be interested in traveling to Ukraine for any reason, but especially to take up arms, of the profound risks that they would take – they would undertake to their health, to their safety, their security.
QUESTION: And then on two of the Americans who are detained in Russia, do you have any update on Brittney Griner? Has she been granted consular access yet? And then Trevor Reed’s family says his health is continuing to deteriorate. Have there been specific warnings from the embassy to Moscow about his health or calls for him to get medical access?
MR PRICE: So what I will say is that every time a U.S. citizen is detained anywhere around the world, our diplomats, our consular affairs officers spring into action to provide any and all forms of assistance that we can to those Americans. When it comes to Brittney Griner, of course we’ve been working very diligently on this case, providing – have been in close touch with those around her, providing all forms of appropriate support, and will continue to do that.
When it comes to Paul Whelan, when it comes to Trevor Reed, both of whom traveled to Russia as tourists and have since been held on an unjustified, wrongful basis since then, we have been in a position to provide various forms of support. The embassy was able to pay consular visits to both men late last year. As you know, the President spoke to Trevor Reed’s family earlier this week when the President had traveled to Texas. We are not going to comment on reports about Mr. Reed’s health. We’re of close – we’re of course monitoring his welfare, the welfare of Paul Whelan, and of all Americans who may be detained in Russia very closely. We consistently advocate for fair treatment from Russian authorities, and we continue to call for their immediate release.
QUESTION: Trevor Reed’s family have objected. They have not heard back after the President’s conversation, and his conversation came only after they were planning to protest outside of the venue in Texas where he was appearing. And do you have anything further about Trevor Reed?
MR PRICE: Andrea, I can tell you that these are cases that this department is focused on every single day. Secretary Blinken, Roger Carstens, the President, Jake Sullivan have had an opportunity to speak to the families of wrongful detainees around the world, including those who are held in Russia. We continue to make it a priority to secure their release. We have done that since the very first day of this administration, and in fact our point person is someone who has worked these issues long before January 20th. Roger Carstens was working these cases in the last administration, and the continuity that we’ve sought, given the paramount importance and the priority we attach to these cases, speaks to the fact that he has been a through line across administrations.
QUESTION: And on the same day he was busy in Venezuela, understandably. He was coming back I think that very day. Have you provided any other details about what might have been done? There are a lot of charges from Senator Rubio and others that there was some quid pro quo on Venezuela.
MR PRICE: There was no quid pro quo. There was – there is absolutely no quid pro quo. We have been working to secure the release of those Americans who are wrongfully detained in Venezuela, again, since the very start of this administration. For us, there can be no tradeoff. Their – the release of Americans around the world is something that we advocate for, we work for, pulling every level – every lever at our disposal.
QUESTION: A couple more questions, including on that first since it’s where we are right now. Just the Venezuelan opposition has said that the administration should not buy any Venezuelan oil unless the Maduro regime makes commitments within talks. You’ve said that – you sort of left the door open to purchases after they have committed verbally to talks. Would you rule out purchases until they actually take some sort of irreversible steps?
MR PRICE: What – let me make a couple of points. The delegation that was in Caracas just a few days ago had two priorities in mind. One was the release of these very Americans we have been discussing, and of course Special Envoy Carstens was able to return home with two of those Americans. There are additional Americans whose safe return we are continuing to work on as a overriding priority for this department, and we’ll continue to do that until all of them have been reunited with their family.
The second – their families – the second priority was championing the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, making very clear in a frank and candid way to the Maduro regime that we continue to stand with, to support the Venezuelan people and their aspirations for a government that is responsive to their needs. We have been clear since this visit and long before this visit that our current Venezuela-related sanctions remain in full effect. These sanctions deny the regime the revenue streams that would finance repression and line the pockets of regime officials as well as protect the U.S. financial system from exposure to what otherwise would be corrupt and illicit financial flows.
We of course don’t speak to or preview sanctions actions, but we’ve also said that we would review some sanctions policies if and only if the Venezuelan parties made meaningful progress in the Venezuelan-led negotiations in Mexico towards achieving fulfilling those aspirations of the Venezuelan people for a true, for a genuine democracy.
MR PRICE: That is not something I could speak to from here. The reports of the Russian Federation and President Putin calling on recruits from other conflict zones, that alone is a sign of – a deeply troubling sign of further escalation.
QUESTION: And then on diplomacy, has there – you said yesterday there’s been no outreach, basically, from the State Department to the Russian Government. Why hasn’t there been? I mean, you championed diplomacy throughout this time, and obviously you say that Russia is not engaging in good faith. But if it would make any kind of difference to at least have some sort of letter, call, whatever from the administration to the Russian Government, why not take that opportunity?
MR PRICE: Conor, the moment we thought that our intervention in that particular way could lead to progress, could lead to a breakthrough, could diminish the violence, could save lives, we would do so. Right now there are a number of close partners who are engaged directly with the Russian Federation. That includes the French, and we saw President Macron in person earlier this week on our way home from Europe. That includes Prime Minister Bennett of Israel. We saw Foreign Minister Lapid in Europe earlier this week. That includes the – our Turkish allies. The President had an opportunity to speak to President Erdoğan yesterday to hear about – to hear about that engagement. It includes the Germans. Of course we’ve been in close touch at the foreign minister level and at the level of the chancellor as well.
So all of these diplomatic efforts have been done in full coordination and consultation with the United States. There has not been, and to the contrary, the United States has not been absent from this process. This process involves a number of different steps. We are supporting our Ukrainian partners. We are supportive of the diplomatic engagements that our close partners are undertaking in full consultation and coordination with us, just as we are working and in many ways leading the international community to impose increasing costs on the Russian Federation for its aggression against Ukraine. We see these – we see these various missions as complementary.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. Nice to see you again.
MR PRICE: Good to see you.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on the South Korea, North Korea, and China. First question is: The South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol said he would take decisive actions against North Korea’s illegal and unreasonable behavior. What can your assessment in his defensive efforts against North Korea?
MR PRICE: Well, Janne, the advantage we have in terms of our relationship with countries like South Korea is that it is a relationship, in this case it is an alliance, that transcends political parties. It transcends individuals. It is bigger than that. And so we look forward to and we have congratulated President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on his election. We look forward to working with him and his full government because we know that together we’ll be able to continue to deepen the economic ties, the close people-to-people ties between our two countries and our cooperation on matters of regional and broader international security.
And as we discussed yesterday, of course there is no more pressing challenge to peace and security in the – in Northeast Asia than the DPRK’s illicit ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. So just as we have worked very closely on a bilateral basis with our South Korean allies and on a trilateral basis with our South Korean allies and Japanese allies together, we’ll continue to do that with the new South Korean government going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. On North Korea, the North Korean Kim Jong-un visit Tongchang-ri satellite launch site yesterday and are preparing to launch ICBM missiles soon. Do you have any information on this?
MR PRICE: That’s not something I would be able to speak to.
QUESTION: Okay. The ultimate goal of the North Koreans’ excessive missile launch is to lift the sanctions against North Korea. Does the United States have any plans to lift sanctions for dialogue with North Korea?
MR PRICE: So, Janne, we are focused on substantive, practical, pragmatic diplomacy, working in full coordination with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, in this case the Japanese and our South Korean allies. We seek together with them to make progress against what is our shared overall objective, and that’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are ready and willing to engage in dialogue with the DPRK, to include direct dialogue with the DPRK. We have made our willingness to engage abundantly clear. I did so again yesterday from here. We’ve also made abundantly clear that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK, and that is why we have repeatedly underscored our willingness to engage. It is now up to the DPRK to determine if it wishes to engage.
Of course, in recent days, rather than engagement we have seen additional provocations. And so even in recent days we have worked with our partners and allies in the UN and, of course, with our allies in Northeast Asia, the ROK and Japan, on ensuring that we take appropriate action to hold the DPRK accountable for these provocations.
QUESTION: Last one. North Korea and China are uncooperative Russian sanctions. What disadvantage do you have for considering for these countries – disadvantage for China because China is not participate sanctions against Russia?
MR PRICE: Sorry, was your question about the PRC’s enforcement of sanctions against Russia or DPRK?
QUESTION: Yeah, PRC – yeah, yeah. DPRK, also China.
MR PRICE: Well, so it is incumbent upon, when it comes to the DPRK – and much the same could be said of Russia, for that matter – it is incumbent on all countries, all – especially all responsible countries – to fully implement the international sanctions regimes that are in place. In the case of the DPRK, the DPRK’s illicit ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, it is not in our security interest, to be sure; it’s not in the security interests of our allies in the Indo-Pacific. But it’s not also in the interest of the PRC, and it is incumbent upon all responsible actors to enforce the sanctions that are on the books, to contain this program, to confine it, and to hold the DPRK accountable for its violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions over the course of many years.
QUESTION: Treasury Department today announced that there’s additional sanctions against North Korea. Do you have anything on that?
MR PRICE: We don’t preview sanctions activities, but again, speaking to the provocations – additional provocations – from the DPRK in even recent days, I would not be surprised if we have more to say on that before too long.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. Jason Calderon from NTN24 here. As you know, yesterday President Biden announced the designation of Colombia as a major non-NATO ally. What exactly does this designation mean? Does it make any difference in the relations of the two countries? And also, when is going to be sent the notification to the Congress?
MR PRICE: Well, this designation is notable for a number of reasons. First, it makes Colombia only the third major non-NATO ally in the Americas. We recently bestowed this status upon Qatar and other countries, but Colombia is now only the third country in the United States to have been afforded this status.
This designation provides a long-term framework for our security and defense cooperation, and it further reinforces the already strong cooperation and bilateral defense cooperation and relationship between the United States and Colombia. It helps to support our joint defense planning, procurement, training activities. Some of the advantages of this status also include eligibility for collaboration on the development of various defense technologies, privileged access to the U.S. defense industry, and increased joint military exchanges, exercises, trainings, as well as special access to military equipment and financing.
And the fact that we are able to grant this status to Colombia speaks to the fact that together we enjoy one of the closest defense and security relationships in the hemisphere. We have a vigorous military-to-military partnership. We share any number of interests in the hemisphere and, in some cases, well beyond.
MR PRICE: Well, I think the message it sends is that we value Colombia as a partner. When it comes to Venezuela, Colombia has been very generous in terms of opening its doors, opening its collective arms to millions of Venezuelans who have been forced by repression, by economic deprivation, to flee their homes and to cross the border into Colombia. And we are deeply appreciative of the generosity that the Colombian people and the Colombian Government have demonstrated to their Venezuelan neighbors.
QUESTION: But you don’t know when it’s going to be sent, the notification to the Congress?
MR PRICE: There is a process that’s involved in each one of these announcements, and so I suspect at the earliest opportunity.
QUESTION: Thank you. Couple of things on Ukraine. Actually, there were some reports yesterday claiming that the U.S. is looking at the possibility to deliver Russian-made S-300s to Ukraine. Greece, Bulgaria, and Slovakia have these missiles, as we know. So are you guys talking to these countries on this issue, delivering the S-300s to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So we don’t detail every system that we have provided or that we’re potentially considering providing to our Ukrainian partners. What we have detailed is the aggregate amount of that security assistance. Right now it well exceeds $1 billion dollars over the past year. It exceeds $250 million or so in recent days alone. In terms of the broad categories, we’ve provided our Ukrainian partners with what they need for their self-defense. That includes anti-armor systems, anti-tank systems, anti-aircraft systems – and we discussed that at some length yesterday – small arms, munitions, other systems that will allow our Ukrainian partners to most effectively defend themselves, defend themselves against the Russian aggressors.
QUESTION: So right now actually, everybody knows that Kyiv is under siege by the Russian forces. And in a – I mean, from a realistic perspective, nobody knows what’s going to happen next couple of weeks. So does the Biden administration have a plan B in case Zelenskyy government would fall?
MR PRICE: We have been in closed consultations with President Zelenskyy, with others in his government. We know that they have undertaken the appropriate planning, and I think I’ll leave it at that. Andrea.
QUESTION: One final —
QUESTION: Let me just ask —
MR PRICE: One final question? Yes.
QUESTION: On final – yeah.
MR PRICE: Okay. Sorry.
QUESTION: On Turkey, I mean – actually, I was going to ask about Turkey’s recent effort on the Ukraine thing. Since the beginning, Turkey has been acting in line with NATO Alliance, and at the same time has been speaking with Moscow and Kyiv at the same time. So what would you say about Turkey’s role as a mediator between Moscow and Kyiv from now?
MR PRICE: We welcome it. We welcome it precisely because our Turkish allies have done so in full coordination and consultation with the United States. As I said a moment ago, President Biden had an opportunity to speak to President Erdoğan after the Antalya discussions. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu just the other day before the Antalya discussions. So any diplomatic effort that is conducted just as we had conducted our diplomacy with the Russian Federation – that is to say, in full consultation and coordination with our allies and partners – that is something that we welcome.
QUESTION: Ned, let me ask you again about war crimes. The Vice President made some mention of this again today. She said, “We are clear that any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period.” Do you – does the United States believe that the attack on the maternity hospital in Mariupol was intentional or an accident?
MR PRICE: Well, that’s —
QUESTION: Do you believe that the attacks on the civilians trying to leave in those humanitarian corridors that were violated were intentional or were accidental?
MR PRICE: So that is the challenging aspect when it comes to a potential war crimes designation. There is no doubt that civilians have been killed by Russian bombs, Russian missiles, Russian forces. The element that requires due diligence and investigation is that element of intentionality. Was it the intent of Russian fighter jets, was it the intention of Russian commanders at sea to drop munitions, to fire missiles, to use force against civilians? And so that is what we are in the process ourselves of documenting. That is what we are in the process of supporting, these investigations that are ongoing around the world to determine whether there was an intentional targeting of civilians in this context.
QUESTION: Because there were deliberate efforts by the United States – in contrast to the 39 countries that are going much further and saying, as the British foreign secretary said here in Washington yesterday, this was a war crime, period. Is there a distinction here because the United States is trying to preserve some ability to compromise a way out in the future, a negotiation with Vladimir Putin who has not already been labeled a war criminal?
MR PRICE: Andrea, I think the actions that the United States has organized, has galvanized, and has implemented against the Russian Federation – measures from sanctions to export controls, designations that have had a devastating effect on the Russian economy – I think that should speak to the fact that we’re not trying to preserve currency with the Russian Federation. We are doing everything we can to impose pressure on Vladimir Putin, on those around him, to bring them to the negotiating table.
So I can tell you that the only criterion in our mind when it comes to war crimes is whether it meets that definition, the definition that’s defined in the Geneva Conventions. And you put your finger on what can be a challenging element to ascertain. But we are using every resource at our disposal, and we are supporting the various investigative efforts that are out there to determine, to attempt to determine, if these are war crimes.
Yes, a final question?
And regarding the additional sanctions, which is supposed to be announced today, do you think it will have a negative effect on possible dialogue with North Korea?
MR PRICE: Well, this – the test that you refer to, the testing of an ICBM system, is something that North Korea attempted to hide, and something that the United States announced to the world yesterday. The decision to pursue these escalating tests, including these last two tests, they raise tensions, they are destabilizing to the broader region.
So the door does remain open to diplomacy. As I said before, we remain ready and willing to engage in practical, pragmatic diplomacy with our allies and partners. But we will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of our homeland, and to ensure the security of our allies, including our allies in Japan and South Korea.
So just a couple of examples from this week.
Earlier this week the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command ordered intensified ISR – that’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance collection activities – in the Yellow Sea, as well as enhanced readiness among our ballistic missile defense forces in the region.
And the Department of the Treasury, as we’ve said before, has a number of authorities at its disposal, and we have previously held those who have supported the proliferation of these technologies, of those who have supported the DPRK’s illicit nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs – we’ve held them accountable, and I have no doubt we will continue to use those authorities to good effect to hold all those responsible who may be supporting this program.
QUESTION: Just one on Yemen. Saudi Arabia has said that it freed from captivity two U.S. citizens through a special security operation. The State Department didn’t use that same language. You guys called it the safe departure of two U.S. citizens from an area of Yemen currently under Houthi control. I’m wondering if you can provide some clarity. Were these women in Houthi captivity, or otherwise obstructed from departing the country by the Houthis?
MR PRICE: We released a statement on that yesterday. There are some additional details in there. We’re not in the position to provide a full set of details, given privacy and other considerations. But we welcome the safe return of these two American citizens.
QUESTION: Can you say which one it is, though? Were they being detained?
MR PRICE: We issued a statement on that. You noted the statement we used.
QUESTION: I missed the statement. When did it come out? Was it actually pushed out, or –
MR PRICE: No, we provided it yesterday.
QUESTION: — what time? Okay. Can I just ask you one thing on Saudi?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about his release?
MR PRICE: Of course, these are issues that we have addressed at senior levels with our Saudi partners. We have made very clear that human rights are at the center of our foreign policy. I think you’ve seen that in our engagements in the Middle East and around the world.
So every time there is progress when it comes to human rights, it helps us advance an even closer partnership, an even closer relationship with our partners and allies. Certainly would welcome this release.
QUESTION: So – well, but you don’t seem overjoyed about it. Is it basically because you think it should have happened a long time ago?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ll get you more details on this.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.