Department Press Briefing – March 16, 2022
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
As the President said today, America stands with the forces of freedom in Ukraine.
To that end, we are leading the effort to isolate President Putin on the global stage while also simultaneously strengthening Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table. What’s at stake here are the principles of freedom, the right to determine one’s own future. A right that Ukrainians have shown the world they will fight to preserve.
In recent weeks, the United States has sent $300 million in humanitarian aid – tens of thousands of tons of food and medicine for displaced families fleeing Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war. U.S. humanitarian aid personnel are on the ground in the region assessing needs in real time.
And just as President Biden pledged we would, we have also surged security assistance to our Ukrainian partners so that they can defend themselves.
As Russia began its military buildup last year, the United States delivered $650 million in military equipment to Ukraine, building on a growing security cooperation relationship dating back to 2014.
As the conflict started, we sped 350 million more in equipment to help bolster Ukraine’s defenses.
Now, this week we are authorizing $1 billion more of arms and equipment, including types already used successfully by Ukraine’s security forces to defend their country against Russian aggression.
Today’s announcement nearly doubles total security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the administration to more than $2 billion, enabling us to surge additional needed assistance, including anti-aircraft, anti-tank, anti-armor systems as well as small arms and munitions used by Ukrainian security forces on the ground right now in their fight to defend their country.
Among the items included in this new package are 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems; 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems; 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems; 100 grenade launchers, 500 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, and 400 shotguns; in addition to over 200 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds; and more.
In addition to the U.S.-produced short-range air defense systems the Ukrainians have been using to great effect, the United States has also identified and is helping the Ukrainians acquire from our partners and allies additional, longer-range systems on which Ukraine’s forces are already trained, as well as additional munitions for those systems.
The United States continues to expedite the authorization and facilitation of additional assistance to Ukraine from our allies. At least 30 countries have provided security assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. In 2022, this year, the Department of State has authorized third-party transfers of defensive equipment from more than 14 countries, a number that continues to grow as allies and partners increase their support to Ukraine.
As the President said, this could be a long and difficult battle, but America will be steadfast. America will continue to answer the call. The United States, our allies and partners, we are united in supporting Ukraine in its time of need.
With that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I actually – I have some Iran questions, but I guess we’ll start with Ukraine because I think that’s probably on the top of everyone’s mind. When you speak about additional long-range systems that you – longer-range systems that the Ukrainians are already trained in, you’re talking about the S-300s, or are you talking about – is it broader than just that? And —
MR PRICE: Well, so, Matt, what we are doing and what I referred to now is the fact that we are continuing to pursue solutions to help our Ukrainian partners acquire long-range anti-aircraft systems and the munitions they would need for those systems, and the President also alluded to this in his remarks today. I can’t get into the full specifics of this, but we are continuing to work with our allies, with our partners to surge new assistance, and that includes Soviet or Russian-origin anti-aircraft systems and the necessary ammunition to employ them every day to Ukraine. Those are the systems on which they’re already using, the systems on which they are already trained and have actually demonstrated great effect already.
We have said that we welcome assistance from countries around the world. As I mentioned a moment ago, more than 30 countries across the globe have provided defensive security assistance to Ukraine. The United States has – the Department of State, I should say, has authorized the provision of U.S.-origin equipment from at least 14 countries, but we know that —
QUESTION: Right, but —
MR PRICE: — many more are standing up.
QUESTION: But this isn’t U.S.-origin?
MR PRICE: That’s correct. That’s correct.
QUESTION: So without getting into the actual nitty-gritty specifics of what systems they are and what countries, although it would be nice to know what countries you’re in discussions with about this, what does the U.S., if anything, have to do to facilitate the transfer of such systems? And secondly, can you – I mean, are you close to reaching an agreement with any of the potential donor countries?
MR PRICE: What do we have to do to facilitate the transfer of non-U.S.-origin equipment?
QUESTION: Well, yeah, legally – correct.
MR PRICE: So first, for U.S.-origin equipment, of course there are waivers that are necessary given ITAR provisions and other applicable provisions. The Secretary has repeatedly, with more than 14 countries, authorized the provision of such U.S.-origin equipment to our Ukrainian partners, and we’ve done so on an extremely expedited basis, turning those around in the course of a day.
When it comes to working with countries that may have Russian-made, Soviet-origin equipment, obviously that is not equipment for which we would need to provide any sort of waiver or any sort of formal paperwork. What we are doing, however, is sharing our assessment of the security needs that our Ukrainian partners have – precisely the needs they have, the threat they are under, the types of fires and munitions that they are enduring from President Putin’s forces, and working with them to determine what they may have in their inventories, to marry that with what we have in our inventories, with our knowledge, with their knowledge of what the Ukrainians already have, the training they already have, to determine the most effective package that will allow them to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Well, are you – can you say if you’re close to an agreement with any – or is it —
MR PRICE: We are having these discussions every day. Thirty countries around the world have already provided security assistance to Ukraine, and we’re having these discussions daily.
QUESTION: Okay, and then the last one is just that – and if a deal is struck, and I realize it’s a hypothetical, so you probably won’t answer, but let me try anyway – if you do get a country X or country Y, or both X and Y, to provide Ukraine with these systems, is – are you – is the U.S. prepared to make up for those? Because I mean presumably if country X and Y give those systems to Ukraine, the Russians most likely aren’t going to want to sell them replacements, right?
MR PRICE: Well, I will —
QUESTION: So is the U.S. going to be, or any ally – are you in discussions to replace those systems that countries might give up?
MR PRICE: I always appreciate when you answer the question for me. I will note that that is a hypothetical. I will also note, however, that we have continued to provide forms of reassurance to our allies, including our allies on the eastern flank. The Department of Defense recently spoke of the two Patriot missile batteries that had been moved into Poland. We know that countries that are valiantly standing up, that are providing defensive weaponry from their own stocks, they too have their own security needs. When it comes to the NATO Alliance, certainly we will continue to stand by our NATO Allies to make certain that NATO has the power, the capability to defend itself.
QUESTION: Just a quick one. I have a – there are – I think there are drones in the package of new equipment. I wonder if you can confirm that there are these Switchblade drones are part of that, and any details you can give.
MR PRICE: I’ve seen quite a bit of reporting over the last 24 hours on that particular system. I think I understand why, when you see the video of it. Look, I can’t confirm particular systems. The President did speak of, or we did speak of tactical unmanned aerial systems. We provided and are providing a hundred of those systems. The system that you referred to would be an anti-armor system. It is certainly consistent with the type of defensive weaponry that we’re providing. But I’m just not in a position to speak to all the specific systems that may be included in that package.
QUESTION: Okay, then can we move onto the negotiations, discussions going on between the Ukrainians and the Russians?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There are some signs, some noises coming from both sides that there might be some movement on that. I wondered if you had a view on the potential for an agreement there, and there’s a discussion about an agreement that would see Ukraine kind of pledge neutrality, not join NATO, like a Sweden or Austria kind of neutrality, and then also have security guarantees from other countries. Could the U.S. be a guarantor of some kind of an agreement like that?
MR PRICE: Well, we welcome the sentiments expressed that there is hope, that there is optimism for diplomatic progress. But what Ukraine needs now more than sentiments, more than hope, more than optimism, is de-escalation, is an end to the violence, is a tangible indication that President Putin is changing course. And that is something we have not yet seen. And just as I was coming down here, there are more horrifying reports of shelling, of destruction of what appear to be civilian sites across Ukraine, including in Mariupol.
We’ve made clear that we unequivocally support Ukraine’s efforts to achieve peace, to bring an end to the mounting human suffering from President Putin’s war of choice. Diplomacy is always going to be at the center of these efforts. But we remain clear-eyed, as do our Ukrainian partners, as you heard from President Zelenskyy, as you’ve heard from the foreign minister, as you’ve heard from others. It remains our position that Russia needs to halt its campaign of death, of destruction immediately. And we are working simultaneously to do all we can to give Ukraine the strongest hand it can have at the negotiating table, and we’re doing that in a couple different ways.
We’ve already spoken to one of those ways at the top of this briefing when we detailed some of the security assistance that we’re providing to Ukraine, $2 billion over the past year, $1 billion in the past week alone. That is certainly an important element of that. The other part of that effort to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table is what the United States and our allies and partners have brought to bear on the Kremlin, on the Russian Federation, including its economy and its financial system.
We have placed unprecedented pressure on the Russian economy, on its financial system, and every day you see very tangible metrics of that. The stock market remains closed, will remain closed for at least the remainder of this week and potentially even longer, presumably in an effort to prevent capital flight. The ruble is virtually worthless; it is literally worth less than a penny. Russia is on the verge of default; its credit rating is at junk status. Hundreds of international companies are fleeing the Russian market. And we can go on and on.
Now, all of that is part and parcel of our effort to strengthen that Ukrainian position. So we see Ukraine day by day will have a stronger hand as these measures have even more effect on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system, and as we, together with our allies and partners here, too, continue to provide Ukraine with the defensive security assistance that our Ukrainian partners need to defend themselves inside their own territory.
QUESTION: I just wanted to dig on that a little further, Ned, because certain export controls exist on some of these systems that the two gentlemen mentioned. So is the State Department going to take the lead in talking to allies and easing those export controls, or maybe changing them altogether? And especially given Ukraine’s desperate need, how can you work through those obstacles to maybe get them the aid that they need faster, especially with the export —
MR PRICE: Well, I think we have proven throughout the course of this conflict, and even before it, that we are not going to let any sort of technical barrier stand in our way. And I’ve already spoken to the expedited procedures that we have used to approve the provision of U.S.-origin equipment to Ukraine. We have done that in many cases with less than 24 hours notice. The fact that – it was just a couple weeks ago that we announced an additional $350 million in security assistance to Ukraine; within four or five days, more than 70 percent of that vast sum had already been delivered.
So I think that speaks to the fact that we are breaking through not only what might be otherwise burdensome bureaucratic processes and hoops, but we are doing so with alacrity here in this department. Our colleagues at the Department of Defense are doing the same. We know that our allies and partners around the world are doing the same on their end precisely because we recognize the urgency with which our Ukrainian partners need these defensive supplies.
So if there are procedures that we need to go through here at the Department or elsewhere within the government to see to it that appropriate and effective systems are provided to our Ukrainian partners, whether that is from our stocks, whether that is U.S.-origin materiel from the stocks of our allies and partners, or materiel that is non-U.S.-origin, that may even be Russian-made or Soviet origin, we will see to that.
QUESTION: Yes. So Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Kaczyński, Jarosław Kaczyński, was in Kyiv yesterday along with leaders of Poland and Czechia and Slovenia. And he called for a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine with the involvement of NATO troops. So is that something that the U.S. would be willing to entertain?
And somewhat relatedly, President Zelenskyy yesterday said that he would like to see more leaders coming to visit him. Are there any chances of U.S. officials doing that?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, of course, it’s not up to us to speak for NATO. What I can say is essentially what we have heard from the NATO secretary general, is that the Alliance of course is squarely focused on putting an end to this war, bringing this brutal aggression to a close. Just as NATO is, we are intently focused on doing the same. In the same vein, we want to avoid doing anything that would prolong this war or that would expand this war. And having American service members on Ukrainian territory, American pilots in Ukrainian airspace, NATO service members on Ukrainian soil, NATO pilots in Ukrainian airspace – of course that has the potential not to bring this war to a close but to expand it to something that is even larger and much more grave in terms of its implications.
In terms of U.S. officials visiting Ukraine, you’ll know that it was just last week that Secretary Blinken met with his foreign minister counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, on the Polish-Ukrainian border. They actually conducted part of that meeting on sovereign Ukrainian soil, the very sovereign – very sovereignty that Ukrainians are so valiantly and bravely and courageously standing up to defend.
QUESTION: Right, but that – it’s a little bit different than going to Kyiv and meeting with Zelenskyy. Stepping across the – I mean, not that it wasn’t a symbolic show of support or anything, but there are no plans to do similar to what the three European —
MR PRICE: The White House has announced plans for the President to go to Brussels. That is the only presidential travel I’m aware of at the moment.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. I’m talking about – okay. Well, but I’m talking about lower than the President. I mean, and just to follow up on Simon’s question earlier about this idea of neutrality and security guarantees, is this something – I realize that you said that what Ukraine needs right now – what they need immediately is de-escalation and a sign that Putin has changed his – changing course. But in the more medium term, is this something that you guys are willing to consider? Because, frankly, I think a lot of us, including Ukraine, thought they already had security guarantees from the Budapest Memorandum. So is the U.S. ready to look at the Budapest-plus agreement that expands the number of guarantors?
MR PRICE: So this is – in terms of the diplomacy, this is not a question for us regarding what might lead to a ceasefire, a diminution of violence between Ukraine and Russia. This is ultimately a question for our Ukrainian partners to decide – to decide the terms of diplomacy, what they are willing to pursue, what they are not willing to pursue.
This is really at the heart of this conflict, this needless war of aggression that President Putin and his forces are waging. They are waging this war precisely because they sought to deprive Ukraine of its sovereign rights, its sovereign right to determine its own foreign policy, its sovereign right to determine its own Western orientation, its sovereign right to choose its own partners and alliances.
So as part and parcel of that, it is not for us to say the terms by which Ukraine and Russia may be in a position to reach an agreement that we all hope could diminish the violence. That is for Ukraine to decide. We will be standing by our Ukrainian partners, assisting them with the diplomacy as we know a number of our allies and partners around the world are doing. But these are questions for the sovereign state of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Hi. Just a follow-up on this question. More generally, is it good idea, is it wise idea, to sign something under the Russian shelling? And yes or no, if it end up signing some kind of agreement, could one expect that United States will be a part of this agreement?
MR PRICE: I missed the first part of your question. It is a —
QUESTION: Is it generally good idea, wise idea to sign a peace agreement during the shelling?
MR PRICE: Well, we continue to believe that there must be a diplomatic resolution to this war, and that is why we are standing with our Ukrainian partners as they continue to engage in diplomacy, why we’ve been consulting and coordinating so closely with our French allies, our German allies, our Turkish allies, our Israeli partners, and others who have been involved in various diplomatic efforts to try and bring this brutal war to a close.
But we know something else to be true, and that is that diplomacy will have the best chance of success not in the context of escalation but in the context of de-escalation. And to your point, we – and to what I said earlier – have not yet seen any indication that President Putin is willing to de-escalate. In fact, we have seen escalation after escalation. As the Secretary said yesterday, President Putin has continued to put his foot on the accelerator. It is time to put the brakes on this conflict. It is time to see a diminution of the violence. It is time to see de-escalation. It is time to see the Russians take steps that spare additional lives.
Let me go around.
QUESTION: Thank you. Getting away from the specifics for a minute, I have slightly more of a philosophical question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You and others in the administration have repeatedly spoken about how united you and your NATO Allies are. And my question is whether you think this is a permanent resolution of the differences and frictions that came up with NATO and the United States over the last four years or if this is sort of a unique convergence of events and there are still – will still be a lot more work to do in terms of the U.S. working with NATO.
MR PRICE: Well, I would make the point that any disagreements or disharmony between the United States and NATO came to a close in January of last year, long before this conflict. Secretary Blinken’s first travel to the European continent, you probably recall, was to Brussels. He went to a NATO ministerial. If I recall, his second travel to the continent of Europe was to Brussels, where he attended a NATO ministerial just a few weeks later.
So we have demonstrated from the very first hours of this administration, when Secretary Blinken spoke to the NATO secretary general – and of course, the President has had conversations as well – the indispensability of the NATO Alliance and the fact that to us NATO’s Article 5, the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, is as sacrosanct today as it was 70-plus years ago when the NATO charter was signed.
Now, I think it is true that the Alliance, in the buildup and in the wake of Russia’s aggression, is as united, as focused, and as purposeful as it has been since the end of the Cold War. It has really brought into focus the reason for being of the Alliance in the first place. I also think – and you can – I’ll let countries speak for themselves, but this brings up once again the point that President Putin, through his actions, has in fact precipitated everything that he has sought to prevent. And a number of countries that just a few short months ago probably would have demurred if asked about any NATO aspirations have given different answers. Of course, I think that the value of NATO, its purpose, its reason for being today is as in focus as it ever has been.
QUESTION: I know it’s not your department per se, but – so today’s call between Jake Sullivan and General Patrushev, is this not a – because this is the first – correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first high-level contact since the beginning of the invasion. So is this not a positive signal or – that the sides are coming together? Or how are we supposed to interpret that?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t quite characterize it in quite those terms. I will speak – I won’t speak for the White House; they will speak to their own engagements. What I can say is that the last time Secretary Blinken had been in contact with his counterpart was in the immediate aftermath of the potential meeting in Geneva coming down. And this was, of course, right in the midst of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And I say that I might characterize this contact a bit differently because, as the White House laid out, the National Security Advisor outlined in very clear terms for his counterpart our commitment to continuing to impose costs on the Russian Federation, our commitment to continuing to support the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of our Ukrainian partners.
He also took advantage of the conversation to make very clear that there would be significant consequences and implications were the Russian Federation to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. So I think this speaks to the fact that there are some very weighty, very consequential issues that are now on the table. There are some very weighty concerns that we have. And so we are going to – we are not going to pass up an opportunity to convey those concerns and to convey the potential implications if we think that direct contact is in our interest.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So where are we? The Iranians say there’s two issues left, which presumably are that they want guarantees from the U.S. and they – against another policy change, and they want the IRGC to be cleared of being named a terrorist group. Can those issues be bridged, and do you expect them to be bridged soon? And secondly, can you – what do you think of the – Britain’s ability to get back its hostages and the coincidental timing of them releasing Iranian funds?
MR PRICE: So to your first question, we do think the remaining issues can be bridged. We do think, and we – as we said before, we have made significant progress, we are close to a possible deal, but we’re not there yet. From our end, we are not going to characterize the number or the nature of these remaining issues precisely because we are at a very delicate stage.
We want to do everything we can to see to it that a mutual – well, to determine if a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the offing, and it would need to be in the offing in the short term. As we’ve said, there is little time remaining, given the nuclear advancements that Tehran has made, that over time would obviate the non-proliferation benefits that the JCPOA conveyed. So this is an issue that needs to be worked urgently. It is an issue that has had our urgent attention for some time now. We still continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance would be manifestly in our interests, and we are going to find out in the near term whether we’re able to get there.
When it comes to the news you referred to today, let me just say that we welcome the news regarding British citizens Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. We, of course, would refer you to our British counterparts for specific questions on their status. When it comes to our efforts, we continue to work night and day to secure the release of our wrongfully detained citizens, and that includes U.S.-UK citizen Morad Tahbaz.
Simply put, Iran is unjustly detaining innocent Americans and others, and Tehran should release them immediately. Securing their release is an utmost priority for this administration. We call upon Iran to make urgent progress toward the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizens. I can tell you that Special Envoy Malley and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Carstens, they have been regularly speaking with the families of our detainees. They’ll continue to do so, particularly to pass along the status of any progress to bring their loved ones home. In fact, they spoke with the families of all four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens just yesterday.
QUESTION: Does the British release of funds to Iran make it more difficult for you to obtain the release of Americans without doing the same kind of gesture?
MR PRICE: Well, this was a sovereign UK decision. We were not a party to this decision. It doesn’t change the fact that we are going to continue working night and day to do everything we can to bring our citizens home.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Also, this is my first time in the briefing this week, and I want to thank you for your thoughtful words yesterday; for the support of the State Department for our colleagues, for Ben, Pierre, and Sasha; and all the support that you’ve given us. And I know it means a lot to the bullpen, it means a lot to Fox, and it means a lot to me. So thank you for that.
MR PRICE: Rich, it’s why we’re here; to help citizens, help those in need. So we’ve – we welcome the good news; we hope to hear more of it.
QUESTION: Great, thank you. Moving on to an Iran question, there’s a report in Axios that the administration is considering removing the IRGC from the FTO list in return for a public commitment from Iran to de-escalate in the region. Is that something that you can confirm?
MR PRICE: It’s not something I can speak to. It’s not something I can speak to beyond the fact that there are two key issues at the heart of these negotiations. On the one hand, you have the nuclear commitments that Tehran would need to adhere to were it to resume full compliance with the JCPOA. On the other side of the ledger, you have the sanctions relief that the United States, working with our P5+1 partners, would be prepared to provide if we were to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. So the issue of sanctions relief is really and has been at the heart of these negotiations, but we’re just not going to speak to specifics at this stage.
QUESTION: Does the IRGC’s missile launches near an American consulate change that calculation? And with that in mind, does the administration still think it would be appropriate for that to even be considered?
MR PRICE: What it underscores for us is the fact that Iran poses a threat to our allies, to our partners, in some cases to the United States, across a range of realms. The most urgent challenge we would face is a nuclear-armed Iran or an Iran that was on the very precipice of obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every challenge that we face and would face from Iran – whether that is its support for proxies, its support for terrorist groups, its ballistic missile program – all of those challenges would become all the more difficult to confront if Iran were in the possession of a nuclear weapon. Iran would be able to act with far greater impunity if it were in possession of a nuclear weapon.
So we are determined to continue to confront all of those threats working in tandem with our allies and partners, just as we are determined to take that central potential threat off the table – the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. That is what we are seeking to do by testing the proposition that, through a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, we can reimpose the permanent, verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program to see to it that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Is the administration committed, if there is an agreement, to submitting an agreement to congressional review and waiting out the 30-day period before lifting any sanctions?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say at this point, Rich, we obviously don’t have an agreement of any sort, but we will carefully consider the facts and circumstances of any U.S. return to the JCPOA to determine the legal implications, including those under INARA. We’re committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are fully satisfied.
The President believes that a bipartisan approach across our foreign policy – and we’ve been heartened to see this on a number of issues recently, including on Ukraine, with a $13.6 billion in appropriations, a large chunk of which we spoke to today – but we believe that a bipartisan approach to our foreign policy, including to Iran, is the strongest way to safeguard U.S. interests in the long term. And we have reached out at all levels to members of Congress and their staffs to discuss our approach to Iran. This very week, there have continued to be briefings on the Hill. Special Envoy Malley, Brett McGurk at the White House, others are deeply committed to this continued close engagement with Congress in a bipartisan manner during the negotiations and for whatever comes next.
QUESTION: But that sounds as though you’re not committing to INARA review.
MR PRICE: It should sound as though we are committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are fully satisfied.
QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that you’re submitting it – I mean, that’s not a pledge to submit it to that – through that review process.
MR PRICE: Matt, as I said before, we don’t have a deal.
QUESTION: Yes, okay.
MR PRICE: This is a hypothetical, but if and when there is any sort of agreement, we are committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are fully satisfied.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you were a bit circumspect about Foreign Minister Lavrov’s comments with the Iranian foreign minister at their meeting in Moscow in which he said – you talked – he suggested – his comments appeared to suggest at least that the last-minute Russian objections or their concerns about Ukraine sanctions essentially bleeding over into the JCPOA, that those were resolved. You said that you didn’t think there was really ever an issue in the first place, but have you gotten any more clarity from – not directly from the Russians, presumably, but through anyone else that it is – this issue is, in fact, now resolved and the Russians won’t blow a deal up?
MR PRICE: Well, what I will say is that we have spoken to a very small number of outstanding issues in addition to – call it what you will – I think Mr. Borrell called it external factors.
MR PRICE: So there have been external factors in addition to outstanding issues. Even if these external factors are fully resolved, and without speaking to them in detail, we’ve seen the comments from senior Russian officials that would seem to suggest that they are in a different place, have been in a different place over the past couple days, than they might have been a few days before that. Even if external factors are removed, we still have some ways to go until and unless we’re able to —
QUESTION: Understood, but as far as – your understanding is that those external factors are now reduced or no longer there?
MR PRICE: These external factors were not about us in the first place, so it would not be our place to comment on whether they’re resolved or not.
QUESTION: And then I think I can probably guess your answer to this question, but I just want to know, today is the day that you’re supposed to – that the Secretary is supposed to make a determination as to whether to continue the protection for former Secretary Pompeo and Special Envoy Hook. Has he done that? And if he has, what did he decide?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we don’t discuss the specifics of protective operations. As you know, Congress has approved authorities that allow the Department of State to protect former or retired senior department officials if the Secretary, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, determines that the official faces a credible threat from a foreign power or the agent of a foreign power arising specifically from duties that that former official pursued while employed by the Department of State.
And so under Section 7071 of the Appropriations Act, again, the Secretary, in consultation with the DNI, determines and then reports to congressional leadership and the appropriate congressional committees if a former or a retired senior State Department official would receive protection. We have up to $30 million in appropriated funds to be made available if such a determination is made, but I think you can understand why we wouldn’t speak publicly to whether we have made such a determination, as that would potentially pose a security issue.
QUESTION: Well, not only would it potentially pose a security issue, but it would also be problematic if you were to lift a FTO designation against the IRGC when they’re – if you determine that the threats that they have made to those two men continue to exist.
MR PRICE: You heard from the National Security Advisor. It’s a statement he issued I believe on January 9th, where he made crystal clear that any effort to harm a U.S. citizen, be it on U.S. soil, anywhere in the world, whether that person was a former official, current official of any party, it is something we would take extraordinarily seriously. There is nothing we take with more gravity than the protection, the safety of U.S. citizens. So I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: I want to kind of come back to Ukraine, but specifically the meeting that the National Security Advisor held with his Chinese counterpart in Rome. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink you said was there; he’s now returned to Washington, I believe, and I guess had time to debrief you on that or debrief the Department on that. Is there anything more you can tell us about – we understand the message that was given in that meeting, that there are these concerns about China supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. But at the conclusion of the meeting or coming out of that meeting, what’s your reading on what China’s view is going forward on supporting Russia in Ukraine and whether they’re giving material support?
MR PRICE: So it’s not for us to characterize what the PRC view on this or any other issue may be or is. It is for us to characterize the messages that were conveyed very clearly in the course of our diplomacy. And as I indicated two days ago now, one of the reasons – probably the most important reason – we convene at high levels with our PRC counterparts is to ensure that those lines of communication remain open. This is probably the most consequential bilateral relationship on the face of the Earth. It is incumbent upon us as a responsible country to see to it that the competition that characterizes our relationship doesn’t veer into the realm of conflict. And, of course, dialogue and discussion is part of that.
When it comes to the PRC’s approach to Russia and Ukraine, a number of countries – the vast majority of the world’s countries – have stood up with and for our Ukrainian partners. They have stood up against President Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. We have yet to see those – that sort of unambiguous statement from the PRC or that sort of unambiguous support from the PRC, and we’ve made very clear to the PRC that we have significant concerns, and that any effort to compensate Russia for its financial losses, for the economic toll, or, of course, any effort to supply, to provide materiel for Russia’s war effort – that would be met with significant costs not only from the United States but from our allies and partners around the world.
Those are the messages that were conveyed. It is not up to us to characterize any sort of PRC response.
QUESTION: Right. You said you’ve yet to see an unambiguous statement from the Chinese. Have you seen any signal or any indication since that meeting from the Chinese of what their position might – is there any change to their position?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our PRC counterparts to speak to their position.
QUESTION: I want to turn to Venezuela.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: After the trip to Caracas of a senior U.S. delegation to meet with government – with the government of President Nicolás Maduro, is the U.S. still recognizing Juan Guaidó as the interim president? Are you planning follow-up meetings with Maduro? And are you concerned that these kind of meetings weaken the Venezuelan opposition?
MR PRICE: Well, as we talked about a couple days ago, the visit to Venezuela focused on really two things, and that was securing the release of wrongful detainees and urging the Maduro regime to return to the negotiating table in Mexico with the democratic opposition’s unitary platform to restore democracy in Venezuela. So far from undermining Juan Guaidó, it actually reinforced our support for Interim President Juan Guaidó and his call for a negotiated solution through the Mexico process. There, of course, has been no change in our recognition of Interim President Juan Guaidó’s role. We will continue to work with him as such. We will continue to urge the resumption of negotiations through the Mexico City process.
QUESTION: But does it mean a recognition that who’s in power is, like, Nicolás Maduro and not Juan Guaidó? Because the delegation didn’t go to the house of Juan Guaidó, it went to meet Maduro officials.
MR PRICE: In one way, it was a recognition that it was the Maduro regime that was and continues to hold Americans unjustly against their will. It, of course, was not Juan Guaidó or the unitary platform that held and continues to hold, unjustly, American detainees. So if we seek the return of Americans who are held unjustly against their will, in that case we met with the party that was holding them.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:01 p.m.)
- The package includes 5,000 rifles and over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds. ↑