2:04 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Two announcements at the top and then we’ll take your questions.
First, today we learned the very sad news that Mexican state and federal authorities recovered four U.S. citizens kidnapped on March 3rd in Matamoros, Mexico. Two U.S. citizens were returned to the United States. The bodies of two other U.S. citizens killed in the same incident were also recovered. We’re providing all appropriate assistance to them and their families. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased. We thank our Mexican and U.S. law enforcement partners for their efforts to find these innocent victims, and the task forward is to ensure that justice is done.
Next, earlier today at the launch of the 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya: A Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh, the United States announced nearly $26 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the region, for those people in Burma affected by ongoing violence, and for the communities hosting refugees from Burma. With this new funding, our total assistance for those affected by the Rakhine State and Rohingya crisis has reached nearly $2.1 billion since August of 2017, when over 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee to safety in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
This new funding allows our humanitarian partners to continue providing lifesaving assistance to affected communities on both sides of the Burma-Bangladesh border, including nearly 980,000 Rohingya refugees hosted by Bangladesh, some 740,000 of whom arrived in the months following August 2017 when they were forced to flee genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and other horrific atrocities and abuses perpetrated by Burma’s military in Rakhine State. This funding will also provide assistance to nearly 540,000 Bangladeshi host community members and to others affected by ongoing violence in Burma.
The United States appreciates the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh and other nations and the hospitality of the Bangladeshi people in hosting Rohingya refugees, especially now that we are in the sixth year of this protracted crisis. We remain committed to working towards durable solutions to the crisis, and we’ll continue to partner with the Government of Bangladesh, the Rohingya community, host communities, and people inside Burma to ensure a coordinated and well-supported response to this humanitarian crisis. The international community must remain steadfast in our commitment to alleviating the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, including through the Rohingya crisis response.
With that, I’m happy to take questions.
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: And that the other – and that the other two are now back in the U.S., the two survivors?
MR PRICE: The two survivors have since been repatriated back to the United States. That occurred with the assistance of our Mexican partners, with the assistance of our officials in Mexico. We are in the process of working to repatriate the remains of the two Americans who were killed in this incident.
QUESTION: Okay. So they – so those bodies are not back?
MR PRICE: Not yet.
QUESTION: And I understand that the investigation is still early, but do you have any reason to believe that they were targeted?
MR PRICE: Matt, just as you said, the investigate is in its earliest days. I understand we may have more to share from the FBI at the appropriate time. But from the Department of State, it’s important for us not to impinge on investigative equities, especially in an investigation like this that implicates the kidnapping of four Americans, the death of two Americans, and two Americans who survived what, by all accounts, must have been a traumatic and harrowing experience. So we don’t want to get ahead of that investigation.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: This is ongoing about Georgia. Have you been following the situation in Tbilisi, Georgia? Since morning there were clashes between the protesters and the police, and there were clearly an excessive use of military – I’m sorry, the law enforcement power. And this is over the Kremlin’s-inspired legislation that we – you talked extensively in the last few weeks. So what are you learning about that?
MR PRICE: We have been closely following developments in Georgia in recent hours. We’ve seen the reports that are emanating from Tbilisi. We’ve seen reports that protesters have been met with tear gas, with other efforts to repress and suppress the protest against this draft so-called foreign agents legislation.
Our message to the people of Georgia, to the Government of Georgia, to people and governments around the world, is that the United States stands with all of those who are peacefully exercising what is a universal right. It is a universal right of people around the world to assemble, to have their voices heard, to speak freely, to hold their own governments accountable.
We are going to continue to monitor the situation on the ground in Georgia. But our message is that peaceful protesters should be allowed to exercise that right peacefully. That is a right that is available to people in Georgia; it is a right that is available to people in every country around the world.
QUESTION: And very lastly, today’s latest statement by the embassy of the U.S. in Georgia starts with the sentence, “Today is a dark day for Georgia’s democracy,” and the entire text is the harshest that I’ve ever seen throughout the 30-plus years of diplomatic relations. So just give me a general sense of – what is the feeling at the State Department between diplomats when they are looking at those human rights records, rule of law, the freedom of speech, and detrimental effect it has towards Euro-Atlantic integration? How much will the U.S. foreign policy and the foreign aid and all of that will change if that trajectory will be continued by the Georgian Government and – which is moving the country towards Russia?
MR PRICE: You asked about the feeling here. The feeling here is one of deep concern. You have heard us express that sentiment consistently in recent days. It is a feeling of deep concern because of the potential implications of this draft law. This draft law would strike at some of the very rights that are central to the aspirations of the people of Georgia for a consolidated democracy, for Euro-Atlantic integration, and for a brighter future. It would stigmatize and silence independent voices and citizens of Georgia who wish to do nothing more than work together to build a brighter future, a future that is integrated with Europe, a future that is democratic and free, where Georgia is an independent and sovereign country.
We are so deeply concerned and troubled, of course, for what this could mean for the people of Georgia, but also because the United States has been a partner to Georgia over the course of recent decades. Ever since Georgia declared its independence, the United States has been right there with it supporting the aspirations of the Georgian people. And at the earliest days of Georgia’s independence, those aspirations were nascent. They were nothing more than an idea in some cases.
Over the course of ensuing decades, the people of Georgia have worked to realize those aspirations. They have made tremendous progress in becoming the democracy that they sought from those earliest days, in integrating Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic community and ensuring that Georgia stays on that path.
Now, however, we see a draft piece of legislation that would be a tremendous setback. This would be a setback to the aspirations of the people of Georgia; it would be a setback to the ability of the United States to continue to be a partner for the people of Georgia. I made this point yesterday, I think it was, but anyone who is voting for this draft legislation would be responsible in part for jeopardizing those very Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people. We don’t wish to see that happen. Beyond the United States, it is the EU, the UN, of course most importantly the Georgian people, Georgian civil society groups – all of them have issued strong statements of concern about this draft legislation.
QUESTION: Can I actually follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Georgian Government is looking at Hungarians and others and seeing that they did exact same thing and they got away with it. When you say they’re going to be responsible, is there any obvious example that demonstrates what you mean by that? And also, when it comes to Georgia’s aspiration and integration towards European institutions, has the Georgian Dream government crossed a line today?
MR PRICE: Alex, I think really the best example is the counterexample. It is the example of the type of partnership that the United States Government can have with people and countries that aspire to continue down that path of democracy, of democratic reform, of integration with Europe and the broader Euro-Atlantic region. I think the best counterexample is the United States partnership with Georgia, if you want to look at what that partnership can look like, what that partnership can feel like, and how, as we are concerned, that partnership could be – at least in part – jeopardized should a law like this move forward.
Ultimately, these are going to be the decisions of the Georgian people and the Georgian Government. It is our strong hope that the Georgian Government listens to the Georgian people. The Georgian people are speaking with a clear voice. Right now, we’re seeing some of those clear voices, those loud voices drowned out by tear gas, by efforts to suppress those – that peaceful exercise of freedom of assembly. That’s of concern to us. But ultimately, we think it’s important that governments around the world, including of course the government in Tbilisi, listens to its people.
QUESTION: And in terms of accountability, is there anything that prevents the United States Government from sanctioning the man behind all this state – all this historic – Mr. Ivanishvili, who – whose party is obviously bringing up this sort of legislations and basically they are out there and trying to advocate for a pro-Russian, let’s say, pathway?
MR PRICE: So Alex, as you know, I don’t speak to specific individuals or entities who may be subject to U.S. or other sanctions, but we have a number of tools within our purview that would allow us to hold accountable anyone in any country around the world who is responsible for the suppression of what would otherwise be a universal human right. There are authorities that are written into various laws, into executive orders that we will look at closely in this context, as we do in any context, to hold to account those who may run afoul of what the Georgian people want and, most importantly, what the Georgian people expect and deserve in terms of their universal rights.
MR PRICE: Okay. One question on Russia.
QUESTION: Yeah. Russia is slated to lead the UN Security Council next month. Is this something that United States is worried about, the world should be worried about?
MR PRICE: Well, Alex, this is part of a rotation of the members of the UN Security Council. If I recall, Russia was president of the Security Council in February of 2022, and it was during a pretty notable session of the Security Council that Russia tried to bring together to issue its own propaganda to talk about what it termed speciously the violations of human rights in the Donbas region. But despite Russia’s best efforts, the international community came together and exposed what Russia was planning to do to its neighbor on an unjust, illegal basis in the coming days. Secretary Blinken laid that out in that session in pretty exacting detail. Other countries who were represented at that roundtable in the UN Security Council chamber voiced similar concerns, grave concerns, about what we highly suspected Russia would be doing in the coming days.
So even if Russia and when Russia again takes the helm of the Security Council, there will be no amount of propaganda, of disinformation, of misinformation that Russia can attempt to manufacture to drown out its lies and to hide to the truth from those represented in this body and those around the world who are listening to it.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to the Palestinian issue. Today the Israeli army stormed the Jenin refugee camp again, left at least six dead, six Palestinians dead, 2,600 wreckage of homes destroyed and so on. And I’m wondering whether – in the statement last night that was issued after meeting with Mr. Dermer and Mr. Hanegbi, the Secretary of State called on both sides for calm. Is that the kind of calm that you expect from the Israelis, your partners, or is it – or are you reconciled to the fact that this government, this Netanyahu government, will take it out on the Palestinians to sort of export its crisis at home?
MR PRICE: Said, a couple things on this. First, we are aware of these reports. We understand the IDF – which they have said publicly was pursuing a terrorist who murdered two Israeli civilians in what can only be described as a horrific attack late last month, on February 26th. Israel, as we have made the point before, has the legitimate right to defend its people and its territory against all forms of aggression, including, of course, those from terrorist groups. And we’ve, as I just mentioned, have seen far too many vivid illustrations of the terrorist threat that Israel faces, including in recent days. We remain deeply concerned by the sharp rise in violence in the West Bank, and we continue to urge the parties to take immediate steps to prevent the further loss of life, as you saw in the readout from the Secretary’s discussion yesterday with Mr. Dermer and the national security advisor. That was a message that the Secretary reiterated in that context as well.
We’ve said this many times before, but we continue to believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, of security, of prosperity. That remains our goal. That remains our long-term goal to, in the first instance, keep alive the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution on the path to realizing that. The near-term goal is the goal we keep stressing in public and in private, that Israelis and Palestinians must take steps on an urgent basis to de-escalate tensions, to restore calm, and to put an end to this cycle of violence that has taken the lives of far too many on both sides.
QUESTION: Ned, this is really like Groundhog Day. I mean, you keep saying Israel has a right to defend itself. Fine, Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel considers most Palestinians to be terrorists. Anyone that lifts a stone or protests in any way is considered in the Israeli parlance as a terrorist. You said day after day, glorifying the Ukrainian people resistant to the Russian occupation, which is great. What about the Palestinians? Do they have a right to resist this military occupation that has gone on for almost 60 years?
MR PRICE: Said, our goal, as I just said a moment ago, is to, in the first instance, keep alive the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution and ultimately to help realize that negotiated two-state solution. The end state that we seek, that successive American administrations have sought, that countries around the world seek is an independent state for the Palestinian people, where they can live with equal measures of security, of prosperity, of stability, of freedom, democracy, and importantly of dignity.
Now, of course, that is not the reality we have today. And so much of our efforts – in addition to attempting to support a restoration of calm, which has been the focus of recent weeks – has been to preserve not only the viability of a negotiated two-state solution but to preserve the horizon of hope, to preserve the horizon of opportunity for the Palestinian people. That was a task that was complicated by our inheritance, what we found when this administration came into office in January of 2021. But we made it an early priority to restore the relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people and, as part of those efforts, to preserve and reinforce that horizon of opportunity and hope to provide the Palestinian people with the humanitarian support that they need – more than $900 million worth of humanitarian support to the Palestinian people, to provide them in what we hope are real and tangible ways with an improvement, however incremental it might be, in their quality of life.
Now, of course no one is satisfied; we’re not satisfied. We’re going to continue with that task ahead of us. But ultimately all of this is in service of a negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: And for sure, this administration position and restoration and you standing there day after day fielding questions and so on is all appreciated. We see that. We see that the Palestinian issue is being at least addressed. But for – in Huwara, for instance, we just see the settlers doing exactly the same thing – not necessarily with the same bloody outcome, but today, they’re there today. They’re dancing with soldiers, blasting music, chasing Palestinians as we speak here, celebrating Purim. What measures should the United States take to make sure that these settlers do not go unpunished in their daily deeds?
MR PRICE: Well, first, Said, we’ve spoken out clearly on this. We have condemned all forms of violence. We’re aware of reports yesterday – excuse me, we’re aware of reports of another attack on Huwara by settlers yesterday, as you referred to. And that comes just one week after the completely unacceptable attacks and torching of property in the same village. We’re extremely concerned by these events and the continuing violence in Israel and the West Bank. We very much appreciate the statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu, by President Herzog, and others in Israel calling for a cessation of this vigilante violence. Accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence, and equal resources dedicated to prevent such attacks and to bring those responsible for them to justice.
The events of recent days only underscore for us the fragility of the situation in the West Bank and the urgent need to increase cooperation to prevent further violence. We have expressed our concern for the well-being of the civilian population in Huwara, and as we’ve said repeatedly, Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live in safety and security.
QUESTION: Ned, just related to this, very briefly: Have you guys completed your review into the Israeli designation of the six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups?
MR PRICE: Matt, look, these types of reviews are always going to be subject to –
QUESTION: Oh, okay. You —
MR PRICE: These – no, but – if you —
QUESTION: Have you finished?
MR PRICE: If you ask the question, allow me to offer an answer.
QUESTION: Well, I am asking the question, but it, like – you can say “yes” or “no” and then explain, but —
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: — let’s not get the “yes” or “no” at the very end of a —
MR PRICE: These types of investigations – because “investigation” is not the right term –
QUESTION: Review, whatever.
MR PRICE: These types of reviews are always subject to new information. If we are in receipt of additional information that changes our approach, our decision-making, our calculus on this, we of course will review this carefully and with a critical eye.
What I can say is what we’ve said consistently on this. We have not seen anything that has led us to change our approach to these NGOs. Of course, our approach was different from the one that our European Union allies had. We’ve never funded or supported these groups. But we have not seen anything that has been provided to us that would allow us to take punitive action against any of these groups, for example.
QUESTION: Okay, which means that, what? That there is – I mean, as I understand it, there was never any U.S. money going to any of these groups.
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s correct.
QUESTION: So what does that mean, that you haven’t changed your – you’re not designating them –
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: — like the Israelis did.
MR PRICE: That’s correct.
QUESTION: But you’re – but at the same time, are you also saying that pending some new information that the Israelis provide, that you think that – you think, as you have before, that the allegations against these groups are specious?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t know that we’ve used that term. What we’ve said –
QUESTION: Right. That they’re not – that –
MR PRICE: What we’ve said consistently is that these types of actions against independent NGOs need to be predicated on a very high bar.
QUESTION: Okay. And when was the last time that you updated either the Israelis or these Palestinian NGOs about the status of the review? Do you know?
MR PRICE: When we spoke to the NGOs themselves?
QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. I mean, when – you’re saying that you haven’t changed it, but that it’s subject to change depending on there being new information. When was the last time you informed the Israelis of this? Perhaps yesterday?
MR PRICE: We’ve had regular discussions with our Israeli partners on this front.
QUESTION: Did it come up in the conversation between Secretary Blinken and Minister Dermer?
MR PRICE: We issued a readout of that. And —
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. And it didn’t mention it. That’s why I’m asking this question. So did it come up?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to go beyond the readout. What I will say is that Mr. Dermer and the National Security Advisor have a remit that is primarily regional security. Of course, the Secretary did make the point about the need to de-escalate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. But much of that conversation was focused on the challenges to security in the region. And of course, at the top of that list is Iran. That was the focus of that conversation.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you watched Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s press conference yesterday? And what is your take on it?
MR PRICE: Well, I did, of course, see excerpts of it. I saw some of the excerpts printed in state-run media. Look, our approach to the PRC is always going to remain the same. It is an approach that is predicated on the strategy that the Secretary laid out in May of last year that we’ve spoken to ever since. It boils down to invest, align, compete: investing in ourselves, aligning with our allies and partners, and a recognition that competition is at the heart of this relationship. We hear a number of things from our PRC counterparts.
Of course, the PRC is going through its own internal processes, and I couldn’t speak to the motivation for some of the statements we’ve heard from senior PRC leaders over the course of the past several days. But what I can tell you – and this is a message intended for the American people, the Chinese people, people around the world – that the United States does not seek conflict. The United States seeks a relationship with the PRC that has a floor, that has guardrails, and that ultimately is a relationship that has measures in place to prevent competition from veering into conflict. That has been the core focus of our engagement with the PRC since the earliest days of this administration.
When Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan met with their counterparts in Anchorage to more recent meetings – the meeting between President Biden and President Xi – recent engagements between Secretary Blinken and Wang Yi, it has been about primarily, at its core, one thing and one thing only: responsibly managing this relationship to see to it that competition can’t veer into anything resembling conflict.
QUESTION: So would Qin Gang’s remarks in any way change your calculus or decision-making towards China?
MR PRICE: Again, our approach is based on these extrinsic features: the need to invest in ourselves, which we’ve done; the need to align with allies and partners around the world, which we’ve done – we’ve done that in Europe; you see that reflected in the G7 communique from 2021; you see that reflected in the NATO Strategic Concept that for the first time mentions the systemic challenge that the PRC poses to the rest of the world; you see that in the restoration and the revitalization of the EU China dialogue, an important mechanism that we have with our European Union allies as well; you’ve seen us take that same approach with partners in the Indo-Pacific region – but also competition and seeing to it that the United States is best positioned to compete, knowing that for us at least competition is not a bad thing.
Competition is a good thing. It is what is ingrained in us as Americans as something that is healthy and something that we seek out on a constructive basis. We ultimately, however, seek to ensure that that competition, which we welcome as long as it’s fair, is, number one, fair, and that it doesn’t veer into that realm of conflict.
QUESTION: Actually, talking about competition, he said in reality, the competition – this – your competition aims to contain and suppress China in all respects. Basically, he just accused the United States only accept one result, which is the U.S. wins, China lose. Can you accept other result?
MR PRICE: Of course. This is not about containing any country around the world. This is not about containing China. This is not about suppressing China. This is not about holding China back. This is about upholding the rules-based order, the rules-based order that countries like China have signed onto, that they signed onto in the earliest days of the UN system, that they signed onto in the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that they signed onto in the context of international law, and that countries like China also consistently point to. This is what we’re seeking to uphold.
It is not about holding back China. It’s not about holding back any other country. We want to have that constructive competition that is fair, that allows our two countries to coexist responsibly as we are confident we can, and that has those checks in place to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into that conflict.
QUESTION: And lastly, he warned that if the United States is not going to take a break, you risk conflict with China. Are there any mechanisms left right now to prevent confrontation or – and/or conflict?
MR PRICE: Well, first on that list is dialogue, is communication.
QUESTION: Yeah, but almost all dialogues are suspended.
MR PRICE: Well, that’s unfortunate, and it’s – it is not our wish; it’s not our doing. I would —
QUESTION: Is it true?
MR PRICE: I would also push back – thank you for preempting me on that. I would also push back on the idea that almost all communication is suspended. That’s not the case, of course. We have an embassy in Beijing. The PRC has an embassy here with a new ambassador, in fact, someone who is well known to senior American officials. Secretary Blinken just sat down with Wang Yi in Munich. There have been a number of engagements with our PRC counterparts at various levels, even in recent weeks when, admittedly, tensions have been somewhat elevated.
So first on that list is the ability to engage in dialogue, the ability to communicate clearly, directly with one another. Now, there are areas where there isn’t the level or the cadence of communication that we would like to see, and our colleague at the Department of Defense have spoken to that. Again, that is not our doing; that is because of the decisions that have been made in Beijing, not the decisions that have been made in Washington.
So we would like to see these channels of communication continue, to expand, and, at the appropriate time, even deepen.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that specifically?
MR PRICE: Yeah.
QUESTION: When you laid out the Biden administration’s policy approach to China just there, you talked about investing in ourselves, allying with partners and allies, and competing constructively. Another major pillar that you guys have referenced in the past is working with China where interests align. Why did you leave that out today? Is there any reason for it? Are you more pessimistic about working with China at this point in time?
MR PRICE: Not at all, not at all. This is – it is a key element of our vision of the relationship. We know – and there are different ways to talk about the relationship. The pillars that we talked about are the pillars that Secretary Blinken laid out in May. But there are different features of this relationship. There are some features that are competitive, and in fact that’s most features of this relationship, we think. There are some features that have the potential to be adversarial, even conflictual. Those are the areas that we want to confine, narrow, even potentially eliminate if we could. And there are some areas that we believe have to be cooperative and collaborative, not because it’s a favor to the PRC or to any other country but it’s – because it’s profoundly in our interest and in the interests of countries around the world.
We’ve talked about some of those such areas. Climate is one. This is, with the world’s two largest emitters, an area in which we have to cooperate with one another. It’s also an area where we have managed to cooperate with one another now over successive administrations. Fentanyl and the challenge of synthetic drugs of course is another where we have to find ways to work together. We would like to do more with the PRC. We are encouraging deeper cooperation and collaboration on the part of the PRC on a challenge that is the leading killer of Americans aged 18 to 49, but that has wreaked havoc on countries near and far.
All that to say there are transnational challenges, challenges that have a disruptive effect on the lives of the American people, but also on people around the world where the United States and China, we believe, can and should work together.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry, I missed the top of the briefing. I saw your remarks, but I just have a few follow-up questions on the Americans kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. You said that the two bodies of the Americans who were killed had been recovered. Do you have any information for us as to who within the U.S. Government has those bodies right now? Is it FBI investigators? Is it State Department officials? And where exactly those bodies are in Mexico right now.
MR PRICE: I don’t have specific details to relay on where those – where their remains are. We are working collaboratively – our officials from our consulate in Matamoros, our officials based in the embassy in Mexico City are working very closely with their Mexican counterparts, with the FBI, with the DEA, with other partners on this in an effort to repatriate those remains as soon as we can.
QUESTION: And just one more question – actually two. Sorry. Is the U.S. Government satisfied at this point with your engagement with the Mexican Government on this crisis issue? And we’ve heard from yourself and from the White House that you guys are focused on ensuring that justice is done. Can you just explain for us what justice could actually look like in this case?
MR PRICE: Well, first, when it comes to what we’ve seen from our Mexican partners, we do express our deepest appreciation to our Mexican partners as well as to our interagency colleagues for their efforts in facilitating the recovery of these two Americans and for the recovery of the remains of the two Americans who tragically are now deceased.
In terms of justice and accountability, this is something that will be within the purview of our law enforcement colleagues. Of course the FBI is engaged on this, Mexican authorities are engaged on this. It’s not for me or for the State Department to be prescriptive, but ultimately we want to see accountability for the violence that has been inflicted on these Americans that tragically led to the death of two of them.
QUESTION: On Mexico?
MR PRICE: Mexico? Stay on Mexico? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you think that the Mexican Government is doing enough against drug cartels? And some Republicans are asking again to designate drug cartels as terrorist groups. What’s your position on that?
MR PRICE: So this is a challenge in parts of Mexico. It is a challenge that has spillover effects for Americans and for the United States. It is a challenge on which we are partnering with our Mexican counterparts. This is of course something that has the full attention of this administration. It is a long-running challenge, but we are going to work cooperatively, collaboratively with our Mexican partners in any way we can to help address these pockets of insecurity, the drug trafficking, the other security threats that are at or near – sometimes cross over into – our border.
When it comes to the drug cartels, we are going to do what is most effective to limit their ability to traffic in their wares. This is something that our colleagues at the DEA are extremely focused on. We have laws on the books. We have designated these criminal organizations, these drug-trafficking organizations, consistent with the authorities that we as a government have, but we are always going to look at every tool that is – by law or any other authority available to us – to attempt to work with our Mexican partners to crack down on what is a threat to Mexicans and to Americans alike.
QUESTION: So you – you’re open to consider them like a group, terrorist groups?
MR PRICE: We have designated these groups as appropriate. We are always going to continue to do what is most effective and what is available to us to hold these groups accountable.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Even after one year of the war, even seeing all these atrocities, Ukrainians are really shocked now because of the footage emerged. And it’s a footage of the Ukrainian soldier reportedly captured by Russian in Bakhmut and to shot by death, standing unarmed, and just saying glory to Ukraine. Two questions, please.
Firstly, could you comment on this, if the State Department is aware of this footage and this reportages? And secondly, may one expect that the international team and American team who is helping Ukraine to investigate the military crime can help with this? Because the country started its own investigation right now. Thank you.
MR PRICE: So of course we are aware of this gruesome video. There is no other word for it. The harrowing imagery of this unarmed Ukrainian being executed after making the simple statement of glory to Ukraine is just breathtaking in terms of its barbarity.
Russia, we believe, should be ashamed of itself. It is flouting the basic rules of war, basic humanity, basic decency, when its forces take part in atrocities like this. Members of Russia’s force have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. We’re not naïve to believe that Russia will admit to this or – in the near term – even change its ways. This, of course, is not the first evidence of Russia’s apparent atrocities in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it probably will not be the last. A tally that our Ukrainian partners are maintaining of potential war crimes or atrocities now has tens of thousands of instances on it.
Russia has – repeatedly says that it wants peace. There can be peace in Ukraine today; there could have been peace in Ukraine a year ago. Russia, if it is serious about that, can withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Russia’s leaders in the Kremlin, as they see these harrowing images, should remember that the international community, including the United States, will do everything we possibly can to see to it that those responsible – at the ground level up to the political level – are held responsible and accountable for these war crimes and atrocities that we’ve seen committed.
QUESTION: Ned —
MR PRICE: Let me move around just so we can —
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this point. You’re saying that Russia could end this war today. So – but they need to withdraw. Is that – is that a precondition to start any negotiations?
MR PRICE: Said, President Zelenskyy has put forward a vision for a just and durable peace. A just peace means a peace that is consistent with the basic foundational principles that countries around the world, including Russia, have signed up to: the UN Charter; international law; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; basic principles like territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence – everything that is at stake in Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. And durable, meaning that there can’t be a phony peace in which Russia stops fighting only to rest, to refit, to regroup, and to reattack, whether that’s within months or years down the road.
This is a vision that President Zelenskyy has put forward. It’s a vision we believe in, that countries around the world have endorsed as well.
QUESTION: Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. The current Government of Pakistan suspended the transmission and license of ARY News in all over the country, and this is not the first time ARY News is being targeted. We spoke about it many times. Even Counselor Derek Chollet told me that he is going to take up this issue with the Pakistani Government when he was visiting Pakistan. Your thoughts and your comments on that, please?
MR PRICE: Well, this is an issue that we routinely raise. We routinely raise our concerns about press freedom to stakeholders around the world, including to counterparts and partners in Pakistan. A free press and informed citizenry are key to any nation and its democratic future. As a general matter, we’re concerned by media and content restrictions that undermine the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
QUESTION: So the same Government of Pakistan who suspended the license of ARY News also banned women’s march. They are not giving permission to the women to mark International Day for some reason, and the interesting thing is that the foreign minister of Pakistan is giving lecture in UN right now on women’s leadership and rights of women.
Anyways, what are your thoughts on giving permission to the women to express themselves on International Women’s Day?
MR PRICE: Well, the narrow question you raise is not a question for the United States. The narrow question you raise, as I understand it, pertains to a decision that was put down by municipal authorities in Lahore, and ultimately we would defer to municipal authorities for the narrow question.
On the broader question, we know – the United States knows – that by strengthening gender equity and equality, countries around the world strengthen their stability, prosperity, their security, and their democracy.
QUESTION: So United States Government announced 500 scholarships for the 500 flood-affected students in Pakistan. Can you share some details about that?
MR PRICE: So we did announce 500 new scholarships for Pakistani university students from these flood-affected districts. These scholarships will assist the students in completing their degrees. Our Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Bloom announced the scholarships today as part of an International Women’s Day celebration at the Higher Education Commission in Islamabad.
The United States – through the department, through USAID – has supported scholarships for meritorious yet financially disadvantaged students to pursue higher education at top Pakistani universities. In partnership with the Higher Education Commission, the U.S. Government has awarded over 6,000 scholarships to the merit and needs-based scholarship program, and 60 percent of those scholarships have been awarded to women as part of our support for women’s higher education. And that goes back to the point I made earlier about women’s equity and equality.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just would like to follow up on yesterday’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and South Korean National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han. Can you talk a bit about the outcome of the meeting? Did they also exchanged their views about ROK’s new announcement on historical issue with Japan and coming ROK’s president visit to United States? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes – so the answer to your questions is yes, it was a very productive meeting that the Secretary had with ROK NSA Kim Sung-han yesterday. We issued a readout after that meeting, but as we said, the Secretary heartily welcomed the announcement that bilateral discussions between the ROK and Japan to resolve sensitive historical issues had concluded.
In addition, the Secretary and the national security advisor discussed how both countries can further support – can further offer our support to Ukraine and to boost our collective economic security. And the Secretary assured the national security advisor of the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defense of the ROK, and they also noted how much they look forward to the state visit that was announced by the White House today of President Yoon to the White House in April.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: They talked about it before the announcement was made?
MR PRICE: Sometimes, Matt —
QUESTION: My God, what – how shocking.
MR PRICE: It’s hard to imagine, I know.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. To follow up on the ROK president’s visit to White House, what kind of topics do you expect during the state visit, including security issues in East Asia and economic security? And also, do you hope this state visit will also contribute to deeper trilateral cooperation including Japan?
MR PRICE: So this, of course, will be the second state visit of this administration. I note that because, for us, it’s important that our ROK allies were to have that spot of honor. The upcoming visit celebrates the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance. It’s critical, we believe, to advancing peace, stability, and prosperity for our two countries, for the broader Indo-Pacific region, and for the broader world.
The two presidents will highlight the importance and enduring strength of the ironclad U.S.-ROK alliance as well as the United States’ unwavering commitment to the ROK. They’ll also discuss our shared resolve to deepen and broaden our political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties. Obviously that is a broad set of topics, but the state visit is now about a month away. I imagine we’ll have more specific details to share as we approach that visit.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. It’s about Grossi’s trip to Tehran. You mentioned very briefly yesterday, but have you seen the corrections done by Islamic Republic on Grossi’s verbal report during his presser? Because they are basically denying many of agreements that Grossi talked about, for instance increased monitoring or having access to some people or some suspected sites. Also Grossi said that some cameras are going to start working again, the cameras that Islamic Republic took down in June.
Have you seen those corrections, and where do you stand on that? Because you decided that during the Board of Governors ongoing session to take no actions against Islamic Republic. So how do you interpret this contradictions between what Grossi is saying and what Islamic Republic is claiming?
MR PRICE: To the second part of your question, we are closely coordinating with our European allies, the so-called E3 allies that are part of the P5+1, following Director General Grossi’s discussions in Tehran this past weekend. But we don’t have anything to preview when it comes to our posture at the Board of Governors that will unfold in the coming hours.
We’ll continue to support the IAEA in its efforts to clarify and resolve all outstanding safeguards issues and apply effective verification and monitoring measures at Iran’s nuclear facilities. And we call on Iran to fully comply with its legally binding obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.
Now, the key point for us is that the joint statement between the IAEA and Iran was important. What will be much more important is the follow-through. And we have full faith and confidence on the part of the IAEA to monitor Iran’s follow-through or lack thereof, as the case might be. We will judge Iran on its actions, nothing less. And we expect, as does the IAEA, Iran to follow through with the commitments that it made in line with that joint statement.
QUESTION: And do you think anything regarding Iran’s nuclear program is going to happen from U.S. side before the 2024 presidential election? Are you going to take any action before the election?
MR PRICE: I just wouldn’t want to speculate on that. Look, we have a number of concerns with Iran. We’ve repeatedly made the point that we are conveying very clearly to the Iranians three messages: First, stop killing, stop suppressing your people; second, stop providing UAV technology to Russia; and third, release the wrongfully detained Americans that you have held.
Now, of course, when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, that is a threat, is a challenge to the United States. It is a threat and a challenge to our partners in the region. In some ways, it’s a threat and challenge to countries around the world. We continue to believe that only through diplomacy will we be able to address the challenge that Iran’s nuclear program poses, only will we be able to address it in a way that is permanent, is durable, and is verifiable.
Our focus when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program remains on diplomacy. Diplomacy is always going to be our first resort, but that is not to say that it would be our last resort. We haven’t taken any options off the table. We’re very focused on this. Right now, we’re working with allies, partners around the world on the most effective ways to counter Iran’s nuclear program that, of course, is a concern to us.
QUESTION: Ned, Iran?
MR PRICE: Still on Iran? Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. Report – there were reportedly cross-border missile attacks from Iran into Iraq today. Defense Secretary Austin is there; so is the German foreign minister. Do you think – given what you just said, your messages to Iran and the fact that the U.S. and its allies have been talking, speaking out in support of the Iranian people – that this missile attack may be a message?
MR PRICE: Guita, I’d seen those reports. As of an hour or so ago, we weren’t in a position to confirm those reports, so I can’t speak to the veracity of the information you just relayed. What I can say, however, is that we have seen Iran undertake challenges, threats, provocations with the objective of intimidating or violating the sovereignty of Iraq. We stand by our Iraqi partners; we stand by Iraq’s sovereignty. And any efforts to strike out at Iraq’s sovereignty, its independence, that is something that we condemn forcefully. But we’re just not in a position to confirm those reports just yet.
QUESTION: And on Iran as well?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So with their warships landing in Brazil last week, does the State Department or White House have any comment for the Brazilian Government specifically? And do you guys view this sort of like through a kind of Monroe Doctrine lens of like they’re on our body of land?
MR PRICE: Countries are going to make their own decisions. The Monroe Doctrine is a legacy of history. It is not something that the United States espouses. We have partners in our hemisphere. Brazil, of course, is a close partner of the United States; it’s a close democratic partner of the United States. It’s our impression that no democracy in this hemisphere or anywhere else would want these kinds of Iranian assets, these warships docking in their ports. We want to continue to work with our Brazilian partners to send the right message to Iran, to others who would pose a threat, pose a challenge to our collective interests around the world. We believe, as we’ve said, that warships like this have no place in the Western Hemisphere, given the signal it sends.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Zelenskyy has vowed to retake Crimea, where Russian civilians have lived for almost a decade now. And he said he’s going to launch the spring offensive when Western tanks arrive – or someone in Ukraine, an advisor has. Are you guys concerned about Western weapons being used against Russian civilians in Crimea?
MR PRICE: A couple points. First, and most importantly, Crimea is Ukraine. That has been the position of the United States and the vast majority of the global community since 2014. Only a small handful of countries have offered anything to the contrary. Crimea is Ukraine. It will be Ukraine going forward. That will not change.
When it comes to the decisions that President Zelenskyy and his government will make, there’s – those are their decisions. We are supporting Ukraine, our partners in Ukraine, to take on the battle where it is raging. Right now, it’s raging in the east. It’s raging in the south. We’re providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their democracy, and ultimately to be effective in the battle where it is at the moment.
QUESTION: But if it were to – if civilians were to take casualties, what would the U.S. position, you know —
MR PRICE: Again, that’s a hypothetical. Ukraine is going to make its own decisions. It will define what it seeks to accomplish. But we are supporting Ukraine as it is taking on Russian invaders where the battle is raging right now. That’s in the south, that’s in the east.
QUESTION: Ned, sorry, can I just go back to the Brazil question for a second – the Brazil-Iran question? That is, is the administration going to impose sanctions on the Brazilian port, the port of Rio de Janeiro? And any gas – I don’t know what they take – diesel, whatever it is – any vendors that supplied them with fuel or food or other supplies?
MR PRICE: Matt, you won’t be surprised to hear that we don’t preview those types of actions, but Brazil, of course, is a partner. Brazil is a —
QUESTION: Are they aware? Have you made them aware that they are subject to secondary sanctions given the fact that these two warships are designated?
MR PRICE: We are a partner to Brazil; Brazil is a partner to us.
QUESTION: Have they been told?
MR PRICE: We have discussions with our Brazilian partners on a range of issues. They, I am confident, are aware of existing sanctions authorities, but —
QUESTION: Is it not U.S. law that they must be sanctioned?
MR PRICE: Matt, again, we just don’t —
QUESTION: That they must be – is it not the law that they – that you – this is a violation of those sanctions.
MR PRICE: I would have to look into the law —
QUESTION: So is it not the law that —
MR PRICE: I would have to look into whether these are mandatory and what the details are, but again, our Brazilian partners are sanctions – our Brazilian partners are partners. We are going to do what is most effective together in pushing back on the threat and the challenge that Iran poses to —
QUESTION: What does – does that mean that you could decide that what is most effective is not implementing the law?
MR PRICE: Matt, you know we follow the law. Again, I am – I’m not going to – I’m not – I’m not going to —
QUESTION: I don’t know, you seem to be – you seem not – if it were found that the Brazilian port operator and attendant companies – caterers, fuel suppliers, whoever – provided this – provided these two ships, sanctioned ships, with assistance, with support, would the sanctions apply?
MR PRICE: As we always do, we marry the facts with the law and arrive at a decision, but we don’t preview those decisions.
QUESTION: Okay, so the – so – all right, so the answer is yes, if you do determine that the sanctions were violated, then there will be penalties imposed on your “partners,” quote/unquote, in Brazil at the port of Rio and whoever else.
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you’re zooming a bit far ahead. We marry the facts with the law. We don’t preview any actions we might take, but importantly, Brazil is a partner and we’re having these conversations with our Brazilian partners.
QUESTION: Okay, but you can – but you can say that you will uphold the law.
MR PRICE: Matt, we follow the law.
QUESTION: All right. And then just secondly, on your Monroe Doctrine comment, it was back in 2014 or so that Secretary Kerry declared that the Monroe Doctrine was dead, so that’s not particularly new. But in fact —
MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to make news with that.
QUESTION: Well, I know, but the fact of the matter is – is that it doesn’t really appear to be dead. I mean, you guys say that it is dead, but if you’re going to go ahead and enforce the law when it comes to Brazil and these Iranian warships, that would seem to – now, granted, Iran is not Europe, but it would seem to suggest that you are opposed to and will take action against foreign non-Western Hemisphere interference in the Western Hemisphere, which would suggest —
MR PRICE: You’re making – Matt, you’re making a number of assumptions. What is —
QUESTION: I don’t think I’m making any assumptions.
MR PRICE: What is true – what is true and that you are not wrong in relaying is the fact that a country like Iran poses a collective threat to the United States and to our partners in this hemisphere. It is our intention to work collaboratively with our partners in the region but even closer to this neighborhood on those types of threats.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, do you believe that China poses a threat in the Western Hemisphere, in places like Panama and Central America, in places where they’re making inroads?
MR PRICE: These are decisions that governments are going to have to make on a sovereign basis. Our intention in engagement with these governments is to see to it to do everything we can that their decisions are informed decisions. These are not decisions for us to make.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I have a question concerning Okinawa Governor Tamaki’s visit to the State Department today. Before the visit, Governor Tamaki has said that there is an overburden on the Okinawan residents due to the U.S. military presence there in the island. He’s been calling for the relocation plan of the U.S. base in Okinawa to be reviewed so it is located outside of Okinawa. Could you tell me if any of these issues were discussed today during today’s visit? And how does the State Department address these concerns and claims?
MR PRICE: I – we’ll see if we have anything to offer in the aftermath of the discussion today, see if we can get you some details of that.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: There was a TikTok – I have a question to – America made ban for TikTok, and was there any discussion with the Chinese side about this? I’m just wondering what is the current assignment for Chinese devices?
MR PRICE: What is our current —
QUESTION: Assessment for Chinese devices.
MR PRICE: Well, we don’t paint with a broad brush, but I think you’ve heard my colleagues from the White House and from other partners across the government express the concern that we have for technologies like TikTok, technologies that we recognize that foreign governments could use to pose a threat to the privacy, the personal security to American citizens, or to pose a more systemic threat to the United States and our interests. These are challenges that we’re attuned to, but ultimately, this is a matter that is under review by the relevant authorities in this country and we’re not going to get ahead of that review.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Dylan.
QUESTION: Yeah, I know you said yesterday that it would ultimately be up to Speaker McCarthy to decide what he’s going to do as far as traveling to Taiwan or not. Part of the reporting that covered that also said that there was concern on both sides, including in the administration, about China’s reaction to such a visit. Can you speak to that? Is that true? Is there concern within the department, within the administration about how China would react to that visit if it happened?
MR PRICE: Dylan, Congress is an independent, coequal branch of government. The Speaker, any member of Congress is going to make his or her own decision about the meetings that they take or choose not to take or how they take those meetings or where they take those meetings. We routinely engage with members to share information that we have.
Look, our broader concern, leaving aside the reports that have been out there about Speaker McCarthy and a potential engagement, is the fact that the PRC has consistently sought to undermine the prevailing status quo, the status quo that has upheld decades of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
We saw the PRC in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan attempt falsely to claim that her visit was a change to the status quo and to use that as a pretext to undermine the prevailing status quo. Our charge and our goal, unlike that of the PRC, is not to undermine the status quo; it is to reinforce, it is to strengthen the status quo, because we recognize that the status quo across the Taiwan Strait has undergirded peace and security, it’s enabled commerce, it has contributed to the vision we share with so many of our partners of a free and open Indo-Pacific. We are concerned that the PRC and its deeds, its words has sought to undermine that, and that’s something that we’re continuing to watch very closely.
QUESTION: So in the conversations you may have had with McCarthy’s office, has there been increased concern expressed versus, for instance, Pelosi’s visit, since you mentioned that?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to comment on any conversations we may have had with the Speaker and his office. I’m not aware that Speaker McCarthy has announced any intention to engage in a meeting. I’m not aware that Taiwanese officials have announced any forthcoming travel. Of course, those decisions are going to rest with the Speaker, and we’d refer you to his office in the first instance.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Blinken has just met with business leaders and members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I know that it was simultaneous with this press briefing, but is there anything else that you can update us on?
MR PRICE: We may have some additional details to relay in the aftermath of that engagement today.
QUESTION: In written statement – I mean how —
MR PRICE: We’ll convey it how we’re able to. I think we may have some written material to pass.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a question about the Die Zeit report today about the blast on the Nord Stream pipelines. So Die Zeit reported that the investigators established the vessel that was allegedly used to blow up the Nord Stream, and it belongs to two Ukrainian nationals from Poland. So should the investigators conclude that the Ukrainian Government was actually behind the blasts?
MR PRICE: Well, you referenced —
QUESTION: Will it somehow affect the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine?
MR PRICE: You reference the investigators, and in fact there are three countries —
MR PRICE: — that are investigating exactly what transpired: our German allies, our Swedish and Danish partners as well. They’ve opened investigation into what has happened. They – those investigations are ongoing. As we always do, we’re going to let those investigations play out before we comment on any potential findings or conclusions.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Just to follow up on yesterday’s readout on the Russian diamonds – the engagement in this building, I think with industry professionals, ahead of the president on their latest trip to Washington, D.C., is there anything – speaking like from broader picture, anything we should expect on this front in the coming days?
QUESTION: How to respond along with your European colleagues?
MR PRICE: Alex, all I can say – and again, because we don’t preview any actions that we may or may not take – we’re always looking at steps we can take to deprive the Russian Federation of revenue that it would otherwise use to prosecute this brutal war against the people of Ukraine. We have taken steps when it comes to Russian oil, when it comes to Russian energy, when it comes to Russian gold, a number of other assets that Russia would seek to leverage to fill its coffers and that in turn would be fungible as Russia seeks to fund this war, but I don’t have anything to preview at this time.
QUESTION: And separately, can I get a reaction —
MR PRICE: I need to move because we’ve already – yeah.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you just say, does the United States intend to eventually make a conclusion of its own based off the variety of investigations? Will it back those findings or not?
MR PRICE: These are close partners of ours who are investigating the blasts. We have full faith and confidence in the investigation that they’re running. Of course, we’re going to wait for those investigations to conclude. We’ll see what they say, but again, we have full faith and confidence in our European partners who are behind this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:10 p.m.)