2:13 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Welcome back to all of those who were traveling with Secretary Blinken. Welcome to the week to everyone else. I have one announcement at the top and then we’ll turn to your questions.
As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have stated, the United States welcomes the historic announcement that bilateral discussions between the Republic of Korea and Japan to resolve sensitive historical issues have concluded. We encourage the ROK and Japan to build on this step to continue to advance their bilateral relations.
The Republic of Korea and Japan are two of our most important allies in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and stronger ties between them advance our own shared goals.
The trilateral relationship between the United States, the ROK, and Japan is central to that shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, which is why we have invested so much time and so much focus on this critical partnership. Specifically, we have had roughly 25 senior‑level trilateral engagements with Japan and the ROK over the course of this administration. This includes engagements from Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim, and of course from President Biden himself.
We look forward to continuing to strengthen our trilateral partnership to help bring about a safer and more prosperous world.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Great. Happy Monday.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday.
QUESTION: Two things first, really briefly. Do you have anything to add to the statement that your White House colleague just read about the Americans who have been kidnapped in Mexico?
MR PRICE: I will admit I didn’t see the full extent of her own statement, but I expect she noted that we are closely following the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens in Matamoros on March 3rd – the FBI, working very closely with other federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies to investigate this. I’m sure you saw the FBI put out a reward for their safe return. We’re standing ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We do also remind Americans about the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular part of Mexico. The Travel Advisory for Tamaulipas state remains at Level 4: Do Not Travel. We encourage Americans to heed that – heed that advice.
QUESTION: Okay. So essentially, no, you don’t have anything to add. Thank you. But do you —
MR PRICE: I’m always glad to hear we’re consistent.
QUESTION: There was a – well, there was a – (laughter) – there was a question about whether all four were U.S. citizens —
MR PRICE: I see.
QUESTION: — or not. Has that been confirmed now to your —
MR PRICE: We’re aware —
QUESTION: — satisfaction?
MR PRICE: — of the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens. That’s our understanding.
QUESTION: All right. And then separate from that and going back to the Secretary’s trip, I just wanted to know, and I’m not really expecting anything here, but just a shot in —
MR PRICE: Always a good approach.
QUESTION: — shot in the dark here.
MR PRICE: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering after his 10-minute or less-than-10-minute exchange with Foreign Minister Lavrov if there has been any follow-up to that or any conversation at a notable level between you guys and the Russians, or if he left that exchange, that encounter with the idea that there might be in the near future?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve always had the idea that we are prepared and ready to engage when our interests are implicated, when the interests of our partners and allies around the world are implicated. That’s precisely why this wasn’t the first conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wasn’t even the first since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion against Ukraine in February of last year.
QUESTION: Well, it was the second.
MR PRICE: It was the second. It was the second.
QUESTION: Two —
MR PRICE: But —
QUESTION: Two in —
MR PRICE: But we have demonstrated, and two makes this a consistent pattern, but both in word and we’ve also made it clear – both in deed and we’ve made it clear in word that we are ready to engage when it is in our interest to do so, when it’s in the interests of our allies and partners around the world to do so. The Secretary was clear about the three priorities that he raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov in that meeting. We’ve also been clear that we didn’t – we wouldn’t expect one particular, one specific meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov would lead to a resolution of the issues that he raised, and that of course is putting it very mildly.
We remain prepared, ready to engage if it is in our interest. As you know, we do have lines of communication. We have an embassy in Moscow. The Russians have an embassy here. There are other channels from within the State Department, from within other departments and entities within the Executive Branch. We are going to do – continue to do what is most effective to advance our interests.
We thought that last week because Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov were in the same room, they were in the same place, it was an opportunity for the Secretary to convey very directly, without any room for misinterpretation, the areas that matter a great deal to us. Whether the Russians will in turn act on that in any way, the jury is still out. Again, we harbor no illusions that a single, brief encounter would change their position, but it’s important for us to advocate and to advocate effectively for our interests.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary seen the now-infamous clip on social media in which Lavrov claims that the war was launched by the West against him, his country, and that he is out there to stop it? I was wondering what was the Secretary’s reaction. Was it reflecting the reaction that we have seen from the audience?
MR PRICE: I think, Alex, you can’t watch that clip, you couldn’t have been in the room and heard Foreign Minister Lavrov make those remarks and not to have the same reaction that, apparently, everyone else in that room had. For those who haven’t seen the clip, the room breaks into what can be described as probably uproarious laughter at a statement from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia was attacked and that was the genesis of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
We’ve heard similar statements, outlandish statements like this, from Russia before. I think it is clear from the reaction in that room the fact that the world is under no illusion about how this started, about who is responsible, and perhaps most importantly of all, who could end it if they – if Russia sought to seek an end to this war today, tomorrow.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there’s any second thought after seeing Lavrov is denying even basic truth.
MR PRICE: Alex, we’ve observed Foreign Minister Lavrov over the – over the course of the past year. I think the Secretary has used the term that the foreign minister has an adversarial relationship with the truth. We didn’t engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov because we necessarily trust what he has to say or what he has said, for that matter. We engaged with Foreign Minister Lavrov just as we’ve engaged through other channels and through other counterparts because it’s in our interests to do so. And again, we are clear-eyed about the potential for any sort of change, near-term change in the Russian posture on this. The point of this brief encounter was not to seek to effect a reversal in the near term over these core issues that matter a great deal to us and to the rest of the world, but it’s in our interests to engage in diplomacy and to make clear where the United States stands.
QUESTION: Ned, since you’re prepared to comment on that bit with the laughter, what’s your response to the fact that for those of us who were there, that at the beginning of his address at which this thing happened he actually got a round of applause from that same audience when he talked about how NATO was – and the West were encroaching on Russia and going and raising tensions because they’re getting closer? So if you’re going to talk about the laughter at that one bit, I’m just wondering what you make of the applause.
MR PRICE: Well, to say I was prepared to respond to it – he asked a question and I answered it, not that this was —
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know – I don’t – I’m not suggesting it was precooked or anything.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: But you were – you did respond to that. So I’m just wondering if you have any concerns at all that that very same audience also seemed to be sympathetic to Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier.
MR PRICE: Matt, there are misperceptions, and we do our best to counter the misperceptions that are out there, whether they are about the United States, whether they are about our Ukrainian partners, whether they are about NATO. And we make clear at every opportunity we have that NATO is a defensive Alliance, pure and simple. NATO has never threatened anyone that in turn doesn’t pose a threat to members of NATO. NATO has expanded as a result of Russian aggression, and it is incumbent on NATO, on the member states as a defensive Alliance, to take prudent steps in response to what they’re seeing from Russia’s very own actions.
The Secretary almost every opportunity he gets makes the point that President Putin, who I think has done a great deal to not only unite NATO – NATO is now stronger, it is more purposeful, it is more determined – but more broadly than that, President Putin has precipitated just about everything he has sought to prevent. And this goes back to 2014, whether you look at popular opinion of NATO in a place like Ukraine, whether you look at the Wales commitments that resulted from President Putin’s aggressive action in eastern Ukraine, his attempts to seize Crimea in 2014, the defense – the increase in defense spending that we’ve seen in the aftermath of Wales, and now in the aspirations of two additional European countries to join the world’s strongest defensive Alliance.
QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. But you seem to be pleased by the fact that people laughed at him when he made this statement about —
MR PRICE: Matt, I was – I was simply responding to a question.
QUESTION: I know, but – I get that. So I’m asking another question. I mean, does it not cause you any concern that the same audience was receptive to his argument that you reject, obviously? But, I mean, we’re talking about an audience of highly educated people in India, nonaligned country, a country with which you are working to increase opposition to the Russian actions or the Russian war in Ukraine, and yet they seemed sympathetic not to the idea that Russia was attacked, but that somehow Russia was provoked or is threatened.
MR PRICE: Matt, I —
QUESTION: Is that not a cause for concern?
MR PRICE: I think I told you at the outset that we have our work cut out for us.
MR PRICE: It is a task that we have, that NATO has, and that our allies and partners more broadly have to combat misinformation, to combat disinformation. We know that Russia is sowing disinformation, is sowing lies about the strategic intent of NATO. We believe the best antidote to disinformation and misinformation is information. It’s why we get up here and brief every day. It’s why the Secretary brings reporters with him everywhere he travels. It’s why we do press avails in – when he’s traveling, especially in – within our emerging partners. All of that is part and parcel of it.
QUESTION: Would you say – would you say the same about China?
MR PRICE: Would I say what about China?
QUESTION: About promoting disinformation and trying to —
MR PRICE: I would.
QUESTION: And just you would; that’s it?
MR PRICE: Of course we have seen Russia and the PRC peddle misinformation and disinformation, yes.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. On the issue of diplomacy, I know that the new American ambassador, Lynn Tracy, only submitted her credentials a couple of months ago and so on. Are there any – so she met with Russian officials and so on. But has Ambassador Antonov been meeting with anyone in the State Department? Has he met with like the Secretary of State or the under secretary of state —
MR PRICE: Well, it wouldn’t —
QUESTION: – or the deputy?
MR PRICE: It wouldn’t be within protocol for the Russian ambassador to meet with the Secretary of State. That’s not his natural counterpart. But yes, without going into details of these engagements, Ambassador Antonov has had contact, including recent contact, including in-person contact, with appropriate State Department officials.
QUESTION: I ask this because I think last month you said he had not met with any American officials in a very, very long time.
MR PRICE: It may not be to the extent, and the cadence of that engagement may not be to his liking, but lines of communication remain open. That is of critical importance to us. And Ambassador Antonov is one element when it comes to those lines of communication.
QUESTION: And one quick follow-up. Secretary Austin said from Jordan yesterday that the fall of Bakhmut is not going to change the course of the war. Can you comment on this? I mean, are you guys now prepared that Bakhmut all but has fallen?
MR PRICE: I’m not prepared to offer that assessment. Of course, our Ukrainian partners in the first instance are going to have the best tactical battlefield update. Our colleagues at the Department of Defense may speak to that as well. But the sentiment that Secretary Austin was putting forward is exactly right, as you might expect. This is a conflict that – a war, an invasion, I should say – whose contours were set in place on February 24th, February 25th, and the days that followed of last year.
It was very clear from the earliest hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that whenever this ended, it would end in a strategic failure for Russia. That’s because the Ukrainians made very clear in the earliest hours of this conflict that the goals that President Putin sought to pursue – the fall of Ukraine, the fall of its government, the subjugation of its people, the erasure of its identity, the – essentially the subjugation of the country itself, would not be in the cards.
And so yes, we have been very clear that there are going to be tough days ahead. Fighting, while it has lulled somewhat during the winter months, it has continued to rage, especially in the east, especially in the south. There have been incremental gains by both sides; we expect that dynamic to continue. The only reason a town like Bakhmut, which I believe, as Secretary Austin said, holds very little strategic import, is in the news, is in the headlines, is because the Russians have nothing else to point to over the course of more than 12 months of a brutal invasion, of their own brutal aggression.
Were the Russians in any – had they had any sort of success in this effort, the fall or the fact that a place like Bakhmut is being contested wouldn’t even register halfway around the world. The fact that it is, the fact that people are focused on it, is because the Russians have nothing to point to during the course of their 12 months of brutal aggression against the Ukrainians.
The Ukrainians are, as they have across the country, making a valiant effort. The broader strategic tide of this invasion, we think, is set in stone. This will be a strategic failure for Russia. The Ukrainians have demonstrated that they are in a position not only to withstand advancing Russian forces but to take back territory that has been wrested away from them. That won’t change.
QUESTION: Thank you. Regarding the – I’m sorry. Regarding the South Korea and Japan did make a decision on historic resolutions, many Koreans still do not agree on the solution of the history between South Korea and Japan, and this is because Japan has not formally apologized. How do you feel on this?
MR PRICE: Well, first and foremost, we’ve heartily welcomed the announcement between these two allies of ours, Japan and the ROK. These issues of history are difficult. They are complex. They are complicated. But both President Yoon, Prime Minister Kishida have demonstrated bold vision. They have demonstrated courageous leadership by taking this step forward.
The United States is an ally to both of these countries. We have rock-solid – we have a rock-solid bilateral relationship with both Japan and the ROK. We have sought from the earliest moments of this administration to deepen and to advance the trilateral relationship, and I spoke a moment ago to some of the metrics that speak to that, some 25 trilateral engagements, several on the part of Secretary Blinken and his ministerial counterparts, several on the part of Deputy Secretary Sherman and her counterpart, Sung Kim and his counterparts, in person, over the phone, as well of course with the leader-level engagements that President Biden has taken part in as well.
And we’re doing that because the trilateral relationship is critical to a vision we share with both countries for a free and open Indo-Pacific. You can talk about in terms of specific issues, in terms of the importance of trilateral cooperation on the challenges that are posed by the DPRK, but it’s also in some ways broader than that. These are countries with whom we share interests, we share values, and at the crux of both those interests and those values is that very same vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
So we very much welcome the step forward that Japan and the ROK announced today, and the United States is going to continue to be a partner to do what we can to help these countries as they continue to take additional steps.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
QUESTION: Do you think Japanese should be – apologize to victims, not the government?
MR PRICE: These are not questions for the United States to answer. These are discussions that Japan and the ROK, our dear allies, are having between themselves. That is the appropriate forum for these questions.
QUESTION: One more. South Korean National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han and Secretary Blinken are meeting today. Why did National Security Advisor Kim suddenly visit to U.S., and what topic will they be talking about?
MR PRICE: I don’t know that it was a sudden visit. I think this visit has been on the books for some time. Of course, it does come on a historic day in the context of our relationship with the ROK and with Japan as well.
They’ll discuss a number of issues. They’re going to discuss how our two countries can continue to work together collaboratively to support our partners in Ukraine, to ensure our countries’ economic security and economic prosperity. The Secretary, of course, will welcome the announcement between the ROK and Japan that we’ve been speaking to, and he will reinforce our commitment to extended deterrence in the face of the DPRK threat. I do expect that we’ll have additional details after the meeting today, and we’ll be sure to share that.
QUESTION: Are they going to talking about the semiconductor law also?
MR PRICE: We’ll have additional details after the meeting, and we’ll be sure to share those.
Leon, did you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: I did, but you answered it.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: Or you didn’t answer, but – (laughter).
MR PRICE: We’ll move forward then. Shannon.
QUESTION: Türkiye reportedly summoned Ambassador Flake to express their discontent over General Milley’s visit to Syria over the weekend. Do you have any comment on this, and do you feel that any unease on Türkiye’s part is merited here?
MR PRICE: We can confirm that Ambassador Flake did go the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs today for meetings and for discussions. Of course, when it comes to General Milley’s visit, we’d refer you to the Department of Defense; however, it’s our understanding that General Milley met only with U.S. troops while in Syria. It was only an interaction with American service members.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on that?
MR PRICE: A follow-up on that? Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Same subject. What you just said about he was only there to meet with U.S. officials, that is disputed by media that is close to the SDF/YPG, and they are saying that he did indeed meet with Mazloum Abdi, the head of the SDF. So can you please put it into context for me, because we know that United States ambassador was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to give an explanation, quote/unquote, by the Turkish state agency. So the U.S. Army chief travels to an area controlled by the YPG/PKK, and they are headed – the SDF is headed by someone who we all know comes from PKK ranks, and he ordered the killings of Turkish and Kurdish civilians as well as NATO soldiers. So just the optics of that, the U.S. Army chief just doesn’t pop up anywhere around the world, so what is really the explanation for the visit?
MR PRICE: The U.S. Army chief – and again, I’m not the Pentagon spokesperson so I’m not going to wade too far into this. But the U.S. Army chief does pop up around the world to visit with U.S. service members. That’s what he did in this context. Our service members are deployed in Syria in service of a goal that we share with Türkiye as well as with our other allies as well as with all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Our service members in Syria serve one function and only one function; that is to see to it that the enduring defeat of ISIS is cemented and that ISIS isn’t able to regain a pivotal foothold that they once had in places like Syria, in places like Iraq. This is a goal that serves our interests. It serves Türkiye’s interests. It serves the interests of every single member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. There are now dozens of countries around the world that are part of this mission.
So no, it is not unusual for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to visit with U.S. service members who are deployed, in many cases deployed in harm’s way potentially and making sacrifices on behalf of their fellow Americans, but also on behalf of people around the world.
QUESTION: If this man had traveled all the way there, and you’ve made it really clear that he only met with U.S. officials, so if there’s no problem with the fact that he can be seen in the same photograph with SDF officials, why didn’t that happen? So he wasn’t welcomed by the SDF there in that area that was controlled – that is controlled by the J-SDF?
MR PRICE: These are questions for the Department of Defense. It’s our understanding that he met only with U.S. troops while in Syria.
QUESTION: Just to follow on this, Kobani and that area where he visited, the area under the control of the Democratic Kurdish forces and so on, you can – you still consider that to be part of Syria, correct?
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: Part of the Syria that you recognize.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: Did the – the chairman get a visa to go there, in Syria?
MR PRICE: Said —
QUESTION: I’m – it’s an honest question. I mean —
MR PRICE: Said, if that’s a serious question, I would encourage you to talk to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: It is a serious question. How does he go – that – if that area, if you still recognize that area as being part of Syria, the top military leader in the United States of America, he goes there, in and out, without consulting with that government, without doing anything – correct?
MR PRICE: Said, I would refer you to the Department of Defense if that is, in fact, a serious question.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Secretary Blinken is meeting Lithuanian foreign minister today. What would you say at least in principle what are the most important points of this meeting?
MR PRICE: So we will have a fairly robust readout coming out of this meeting with our Lithuanian counterparts. But Lithuania is a critical ally of the United States. We share goals, of course, and interests as members of NATO. We share a number of economic interests. Lithuania, for its part, has demonstrated tremendous leadership, and beyond that resilience, in the face of the campaign of coercion that Lithuania has endured and of course withstood from the PRC over the course of the past year.
So we’ll have a pretty robust readout to offer in the aftermath of this meeting, but it’s important for Secretary Blinken to sit down with his Lithuanian counterpart to discuss these shared interests, to discuss the values that unite our two countries, and really to commend Lithuania for the leadership and resilience that it has demonstrated across the board.
Yes. Leon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, I was wondering, the Secretary is also meeting a senior Israeli official today. And this comes after the trip of the head of the IAEA in Tehran came back and said there was progress in negotiations of cameras and so forth. So what is the U.S. assessment of Grossi’s trip to Iran, and where do you stand on potentially introducing a resolution or not during this council meetings in Vienna?
MR PRICE: Sure. So first, on the visit of the director general to Tehran over the weekend, we welcome and appreciate the efforts of the IAEA Director General Grossi to engage on the importance of resolving longstanding questions related to Iran’s safeguards, obligations, and on other matters related to its nuclear program.
In the joint statement that was announced on March 4th between Iran and the IAEA, Iran committed to take important steps and expressed a readiness to provide long overdue cooperation with the agency on the outstanding safeguards issues. We expect, most importantly, Iran to take prompt and concrete action in line with the joint statement. Too many times in the past we’ve seen Iran issue vague promises, only never to follow through.
We and the IAEA Board of Governors have been clear that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA fully and without delay, and we look forward to additional reporting from the IAEA in the coming weeks on the steps taken by Iran.
When it comes to the meeting of the Board of Governors, of course Iran will be a topic at the Board of Governors. We’re engaged with our European allies, we’re also engaged with the IAEA itself, on the most effective means by which to see to it that Iran is held to the commitments that it has made.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’ve got a question on the Americans kidnapped in Mexico. The Mexican president said that they have information that the Americans crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, and then they were detained after a confrontation between groups. I’ve seen other reporting that said a U.S. official said that they had traveled to the border city for medical procedures, citing receipts found. Can you just clarify the – confirming either the Mexican president’s comments, or what can you tell us of what’s been circulating?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen these same reports. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to confirm any of them – in part because this is an active investigation. The FBI is working very closely with Mexican counterparts in an effort to safely recover these Americans. So we wouldn’t want to get ahead of that investigation to the extent we do know details, but details are also quite scant at this time.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t refute what the Mexican president —
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to weigh in. I’ve seen those same reports.
QUESTION: And then one quick follow-up. I know you’ve said you don’t want to say too much, but are – is the State Department aware of a video that’s been circulating online showing a white van with people getting put into the van? There’s been a lot of photos and videos circulating online. I’m just wondering if authorities are at least looking into that, if you can kind of confirm whether those are authentic leads in this incident.
MR PRICE: These are questions about an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Certainly we’re not going to comment on any active leads. I believe the FBI has issued a statement where they have put out some details of the vehicle in which these individuals were traveling. But again, we’ll have to refer to the FBI on those questions.
QUESTION: I just want a couple more just following up on that, if there’s any more information that you have or who carried this out, what is being done to get them home safely, and does this put more pressure to label cartels terrorist groups if this indeed is an act by the cartels?
MR PRICE: So these are questions, again, that are about an ongoing investigation, and especially when an ongoing investigation has the ultimate goal of safely recovering Americans who have been abducted, we don’t want to say anything or do anything that could impair the ability of our counterparts in the FBI or other departments and agencies to safely carry out their mission. On top of that, information is scant at this point, so we’re just not going to weigh in.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I want to follow up on the announcement between ROK and Japan. The U.S. has emphasized the importance of trilateral relationship among U.S., ROK, Japan many times, and on this historical forced labor issue specifically, what kind of advice did the U.S. give to ROK before this announcement? What kind of role did the U.S. play in this announcement?
MR PRICE: The United States has played the role of ally. The United States has played the role of partner to both countries. These are decisions that Japan and the ROK have had to make and will have to make themselves. Of course, we are going to play whatever role we can to be most helpful, as helpful as we can, to our treaty allies, but these are decisions that the countries themselves have had to decide to pursue. And when it comes to the decision that was announced today, it is something that we heartily commend, because we welcome the advancement of the bilateral relationship between the ROK and Japan, but it’s also critically important to us that the trilateral relationship between Japan, between the ROK, and the United States is as deep and effective and seamless as it possibly can be, not only for the core challenge that is the DPRK and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but also for the shared vision our three countries have of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
QUESTION: Staying in the region.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a Financial Times report that Speaker McCarthy has been convinced by the Taiwan Government to actually meet with their president in California instead of Taiwan due to concerns about a Chinese aggressive response to that visit. Has the State Department been involved in discussions about planning of that meeting between the two?
MR PRICE: So first, I’m not aware of any confirmed travel on the part of President Tsai to the United States. I’m specifically not aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any travel, so I would need to refer you to President Tsai’s office, to Speaker McCarthy’s office for any additional details beyond that.
QUESTION: But just from like a – from a policy and planning perspective, would this department be involved in those conversations?
MR PRICE: Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. Members of Congress – the Speaker of the House, in a case like this – is going to decide for himself or herself the meeting – the nature of the meetings that he or she wishes to make. Now, of course, in the conduct of – in the actual travel of a foreign dignitary to the United States, there would be a role to play for the Department of State, but of course I’m not aware of any confirmed travel, nor am I aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any intention to travel.
QUESTION: And just while we’re on the subject of travel and China, after the canceled visit to Beijing last month for the Secretary of State, you guys said that you would look to planning another visit when the conditions were conducive to that visit, I believe. Are we any closer to getting that on the calendar?
MR PRICE: What we said in the aftermath of that postponement – we pointed to the meeting between President Biden and President Xi, the meeting they had in Bali in November of last year, where there was an expansive agenda on the table. It was an agenda that had different elements, but the crux of that agenda was the priority we place – both of our countries place – in seeking to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict and our shared efforts to build a floor on the relationship and, ultimately, to establish guardrails to see to it that areas that are potentially conflictual don’t actually verge into the realm of conflict.
We made the point in the aftermath of the decision to postpone the visit that it wouldn’t be – that a visit in the aftermath of the high-altitude surveillance balloon wouldn’t be conducive to an agenda along those lines. We still have lines of communication with our PRC counterparts. We wish we had more and in some ways deeper lines of communication with our PRC counterparts, but the Secretary, when the time is right, when the conditions are in fact conducive to a meeting with his counterparts in the PRC, is prepared to travel.
This is a decision that we are going to discuss internally within the department and across the Executive Branch, but also, I expect there will be – continue to be conversations between the United States and our PRC counterparts on this.
QUESTION: So conditions aren’t conducive right now?
MR PRICE: We haven’t announced any plans to – for the Secretary to travel in the near term.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to ask about Tunisia. You touched on it last week in regard to the political situation, but there’s a separate issue. The World Bank has today said that they’re – or yesterday, I think, in a note said they’re going to pause future work with Tunisia over the president’s statements regarding migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. I wondered if – I don’t think you’ve spoken on that particular issue, the president’s comments and also the country’s crackdown on migrants, and I wondered if you had any comment on that and whether we could expect any kind of pause or disruption to U.S. aid arrangements to Tunisia.
MR PRICE: Well, as you heard from the World Bank, we too are deeply concerned by President Saied’s remarks regarding migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and reports of arbitrary arrests of migrants in recent weeks. These remarks are not in keeping with Tunisia’s long history of generosity and hosting and protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, and we’re disturbed by reports of violence against these very migrants.
We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants; and we encourage Tunisian authorities to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations to facilitate the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. And moving to the Caucasus, if you don’t mind, I’m wondering if you have anything to say about like latest casualties from last night between – well, in Nagorno-Karabakh region.
MR PRICE: We’re following reports of a shooting incident on March 5th inside Nagorno-Karabakh which killed five individuals, we understand. We offer our condolences to the families of those injured and killed. There can be no military solution to conflict, and the use of force to resolve disputes is never acceptable. The only way to sustain peace is at the negotiating table and to – and the use of force undermines negotiations. Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Lou Bono is in the region to stress the only way forward is through direct dialogue and diplomacy. And as the Secretary has emphasized, the United States is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations.
QUESTION: Any sense of its timing and also its implications for – as you said, the senior advisor is in the – is in the region – its implications for the negotiation process?
MR PRICE: Its implications for —
QUESTION: For the peace process.
MR PRICE: The implication – the clearest implication for us is the imperative of continued direct dialogue and discussion between the parties’ themselves. This is imperative on the part of the parties. We have played the role of partner to both countries, facilitating on a trilateral basis engagement between the foreign ministers and between the – at the leader level as well. We are prepared – whether bilaterally, trilaterally, multilaterally – to continue to be a partner in furtherance of efforts to secure a lasting peace.
QUESTION: On that point, Azeris heard last week from Lavrov directly when he was traveling in the region that basically it’s better way to solve the problem if they stick with Russian mediating efforts – something that was (inaudible) by actually his spokesperson later on as well. So I want to give you a chance to make your case why the Western mediation you think is the way to go.
MR PRICE: This is a question for the parties themselves, and we are not going to put ourselves against any other offer of mediation, and in fact we’re not a mediator. We are a partner to the two countries. I think we have demonstrated both in word and in deed the nature of our relationship with the two countries, our ability to bring the two countries together, our willingness and readiness to help bring about additional progress in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
We are not doing this as a means by which to compete with Moscow. We are doing this in an effort to bring about the settlement and resolution of a longstanding dispute between these two countries, and unfortunately a dispute that has consistently taken lives, just as it did on March 5th. Our interest here is in peace and security. It’s in the interests of the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going to the Palestinian issues, very quickly the – Hussein Sheikh – he’s the executive director – I mean the director of the – executive director of the PLO – told the Israeli newspaper, The Times of Israel, that Israel has not fulfilled the Aqaba promises to transfer withheld PA funds. Are you aware of that? Are you aware of this report and do you have any comment?
MR PRICE: Said, I’ve seen that report. We’d have to refer you to the parties themselves. Generally, our point has always been that we and our regional partners will continue to work with the parties to advance the commitments made in Aqaba. Resulting from Aqaba was a public statement that spelled out commitments on the part of the parties. I’m not aware that the commitment that you reference was actually in the communique from Aqaba.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you satisfied with Israel’s fulfillment of all the elements that came in the communique of Aqaba?
MR PRICE: What’s most important to us, Said, is that the parties fulfill the commitments they’ve made. I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to render a verdict on whether their work is complete. This is an incomplete project because tensions do remain high. The situation on the ground remains tenuous. And so especially as that’s the case, it’s imperative that the parties adhere to the commitments that they made to one another, the commitments that they made to the United States, to Jordan, to Egypt as well. These commitments are important in and of themselves; but, if and when implemented, these are important commitments that can help to de-escalate tensions, that can help to restore the overriding sense of calm that we and our partners in Egypt, Jordan, and throughout the region would like to see return.
QUESTION: Okay. But going back to the settler attack last Sunday, Sunday the 26th of February – while it was shown all over the world and so on, settler violence continues – I mean almost every day – and most of the time with the protection of the Israeli army. So I don’t know, all these communiques and all these talks and so on that you talk with the Israelis and Palestinians and so on has not seen, at least until now – a week has elapsed – to really impact or to stop Israel from at least giving cover, the Israeli army giving cover to the – to settler violence. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: Said, we believe it’s critical that both parties refrain from unilateral steps that serve only to exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. We’ve been unequivocal in condemning any and all forms of violence. We are agnostic as to the perpetrator. Violence is never appropriate. It is never acceptable. We condemn it regardless of who’s behind it.
QUESTION: Is this an issue that you will be discussing this afternoon with Minister Ron Dermer?
MR PRICE: Minister Dermer and the national security advisor have a portfolio of regional security issues. I expect the Secretary and the team will have a discussion – a broad discussion – with their Israeli counterparts on the central regional security issues. Of course, at the top of that list is the challenge that is posed by Iran, its nuclear program, but also the broader set of threats that Iran poses to the region. We’ll have more to say in the aftermath of that meeting.
QUESTION: And lastly, I want to ask on – about the whereabouts of Envoy Hady Amr. Is he still there? Is he back here? Is —
MR PRICE: Hady Amr was in the region last week. He was in the West Bank last week. I’d have to check to see if he’s returned, but we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Thanks. Picking up on the reference to Iran, I have a question about the school poisoning. It has spread, it hasn’t stopped, and more and more schools are bringing – the students are being poisoned. The government is not doing anything about it. One thing there seems to be – one thing that they seem to be doing is preventing the medical profession from giving the parents access to their kids’ lab results or even preventing them from seeing their kids while they are being treated. Some officials say this is just stress-related and some others are saying that the girls are doing this themselves, they are doing the – what there everybody is calling chemical attack. Would you support or even initiate a call for international investigation?
MR PRICE: So Guita, first, these reports of continued poisoning of schoolgirls across Iran, they are unconscionable. These poisonings need to be stopped immediately. Women and girls in Iran – and women and girls everywhere, for that matter – have a universal human right. It is the universal right to education. It’s essential to advancing economic security, prosperity, realizing their potential, whether that’s in Iran or anywhere else. There must be accountability for those responsible for what is happening. To your question, if these poisonings were found to be related to women and girls’ participation in protest, then it would be within the mandate of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran to investigate.
Our thoughts do remain with all of those who are suffering from this, and to the other element of your question, we are alarmed by what we’ve seen on the part of Iranian authorities – the reported arrest of a prominent journalist, Ali Pour-Tabatabaei, for investigating the poisonings. We’re also alarmed by reports that Iranian authorities have intimidated parents, that they have intimidated medical professionals into silence. The entire world is greatly concerned about these poisonings. Iranian authorities should cease suppressing the media and allow them to do their jobs. The same is true for medical professionals. The same is true for parents who are attempting merely to care for their children. There must be accountability for these poisonings, and most importantly, they must come to an end.
QUESTION: Well, the fact-finding mission’s mandate is long. How about, I don’t know, the WHO or the International Red Cross? Would it be possible? Would you call for that? Do you think that’s something that would be more credible than the government itself doing the investigation?
MR PRICE: So I’m not going to speak for any other organization that may or may not have a role in this, but there is a fact-finding mechanism within the UN itself. It was a fact-finding mechanism within the auspices of the – an existing UN body. If it is determined that there was a motive at play and an effort to suppress the ambitions, the abilities of women and girls in Iran, we do think it would be appropriate for that particular body to – within their mandate to investigate.
QUESTION: How do – how can you determine the motive if – I mean, presumably you don’t trust any Iranian investigation. How do you get to the point where you can say that, okay, this now falls within the purview of the —
MR PRICE: So the world, Matt, is watching very closely, and we are – even in the midst of Iranian attempts to intimidate and to suppress information that is reaching the rest of the world, we’ve been able to see these reports. We’ve been able to see video. We’ve been able to hear firsthand accounts. I think it will become clear to the world what is or what is not happening if that information continues to emanate from Iran. We’ll continue to watch very closely and we’ll continue to call for what’s appropriate and effective.
QUESTION: But you haven’t – based on what’s come out so far, you have not been able to assign motive.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: What makes you think that – I mean, this has been going on for some time now.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: So you’re confident that without an international investigation or an international fact-finding mission or something like that that could get inside Iran and look to see what a motive might be or was, is, you can determine that anyway?
MR PRICE: We’ve been able to see with our own eyes through news reports, through reports that are emanating from Iran, video footage of this as well. I suspect we’ll continue to learn more about this if these, unfortunately, continue. We want to do what is most effective, what we think will help to address, that will come to the aid of women and girls who’s been subjected to this. Most importantly, these reported poisonings need to come to an end.
QUESTION: There’s also reports about —
QUESTION: On Iran?
QUESTION: — this matter of secret jails in Iran where they torture those girls they arrested. Do you have any comments on that?
MR PRICE: We’ve seen these reports of attempted suppression on the part of those who are reporting on this. We’ve seen reports as well that those who may have been subjected to what is afflicting these girls in Iran may also have been intimidated and the subject of repression themselves. Of course, all of this is greatly concerning for us.
QUESTION: Yeah, the foreign ministry in Iran spokesman today said his country’s still exchanging message with Washington, and he express commitment to diplomacy, as he said, to resolve the differences in the nuclear negotiation issue. Can you confirm that about the message? And what’s your comment? Why did he – why – how do you read it?
MR PRICE: I haven’t seen the full context of these remarks, but what I can tell you is that we have heard plenty of misleading and outright – misleading statements and outright lies from Iranian officials over the course of weeks now. The JCPOA is not on the agenda; it has not been on the agenda for some time. What has been on the agenda are three primary topics: the violence and the repression, the efforts on the part of the Iranian regime to suppress its own people; Iran’s provision of UAV technology to Russia; and then of course Iran’s continued practice of wrongfully detaining Americans in Iran. We have means by which to make our positions and to make clear our – the priority we attach to each of those issues. But we’re just not going to speak to the particular channels.
QUESTION: So you’re denying that you’re exchanging messages with Iran with respect to the nuclear negotiation?
MR PRICE: The JCPOA is not on the agenda.
QUESTION: I also want to follow up on South Korea-Japan agreement about the wartime labor issues. In the wake of this agreement, Japanese Government said it would start a process to lift restriction on semiconductor material export to ROK. So do you support this movement as you seek a stronger supply chain among U.S. allies?
MR PRICE: These are questions for the governments of the ROK and Japan themselves. We support any effort that seeks to improve and to advance the relationship between our allies, the ROK and Japan, because that in turn supports the trilateral relationship that we have cultivated and we have focused on to such a great detail over the course of this administration. I should say, for Secretary Blinken himself, this is something that has been a focus of his for even longer than that. When he was deputy secretary of state in the final two years of the Obama-Biden administration, this was a priority of his to cultivate and seek to support better relations between these two treaty allies.
We have come a ways from where we were 10 years ago. Today’s step is a very positive development, one we heartily commend, and we hope to see our treaty allies continue to build on this going forward.
QUESTION: Question on Russia. Thank you. The United States refused to issue visas to Russian diplomats who were heading to New York this week for an event at the United Nations. Do you have any comment here?
MR PRICE: I don’t. If we if we have anything to offer on that, we will.
QUESTION: Okay, and one more question. The New START Treaty, as you know, expires in less than three years. Should Washington and Moscow fail to agree on extension in February 2026, are there any contingency planning you’re doing now for this scenario? Or are you planning anything for this case?
MR PRICE: I think your question gets far ahead of where we are, and I say that because Moscow has announced its purported suspension of implementation of the New START agreement. Even before that happened, we found that Moscow was in technical noncompliance with the New START Treaty. So before we start talking about what happens in 2026 and a potential renewal of the New START Treaty, we want to focus on bringing Moscow back into compliance with the treaty. It is in the interests of the American people; it is in the interests of the people of Russia. It’s in the interests of people around the world to see to it that the two countries that possess the largest number of nuclear weapons engage in responsible behavior.
And part of being a responsible nuclear power is engaging in arms control. It’s engaging in talks about strategic stability, just as the United States and Soviet Union did over the course of the Cold War. Over the course of the Cold War, we had mechanisms in place to mitigate against the possibility that there would be a nuclear exchange. Ultimately, these efforts were successful in that there was not a nuclear exchange between nuclear powers during the Cold War. Now the responsibility we have as nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, is just as great. It’s incumbent upon countries that seek to be responsible stakeholders in the international community to act responsibly.
We have consistently acted responsibly. Late last year, we thought we would soon be meeting with our Russian counterparts in Cairo for a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission to discuss issues of New START implementation and compliance. Russia unfortunately pulled out of that engagement. Earlier this year, we thought there would be a meeting of the BCC; Russia unfortunately pulled out of that. And that is what ultimately led us to render Russia not in technical compliance with the New START agreement.
But there is a very uncomplicated way for Russia to come back into compliance: It needs to take part in inspections. That’s something that can happen fairly quickly and it’s something that we hope Moscow does for the sake of its citizens, for the sake of our citizens, for the sake of people around the world.
QUESTION: Last question on Syria, on General Milley’s travel to Syria. Did the U.S. notify Russia in any way about the travel?
MR PRICE: This is a question for DOD; I couldn’t say.
MR PRICE: Okay. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:09 p.m.)
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