2:02 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. We’ll do something extraordinary today and start on time, and also without a topper. So dangerous as that might be, I’ll turn right to your questions. Daphne.
QUESTION: Ukraine has said it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point that delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through Ukraine. Will the U.S. need to increase LNG exports to Europe given this move, and does it change the timeline at all for more U.S. or EU tightened sanctions on Russian energy?
MR PRICE: Well, it doesn’t change one timeline, and that is the timeline associated with lessening global dependence on Russian oil. And the timeline associated with that is as soon as possible. As you know, the United States, countries around the world, have already taken steps – the United States took steps last month through an executive order – to ban the import of Russian oil, of Russian energy. Other countries have followed suit using their own authorities. Blocs of countries are having these discussions about how best they can do that.
So I think what we’ve heard today only reinforces what we already knew. We knew that there has to be a near-term response to the disruptions in the global energy market that President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused. And as you’ve heard from us in recent weeks, we have been in close coordination, in close touch with allies and partners around the world to surge energy supplies, in some cases tapping strategic petroleum reserves – in the case of the United States, tens of millions of barrels from our strategic petroleum reserve; other countries have made similar investments in their own strategic petroleum reserves – to ensure that supplies of energy are where they need to be for countries that need it in this interim period.
And I call it an interim period because our goal over the longer term is to see to it that we take steps to lessen dependence on Russian energy. Part of that is going to be the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewables, towards green technology; that will help with that. But part of that, too, will be finding longer-term sustainable ways to ensure that our partners, especially those partners on the front lines who have found themselves over the course of years or even decades reliant on Russian energy flows, to see to it that they have other options to fulfill their energy needs. So that’s something we’re working on, including in the context of the U.S.-EU energy task force that President Biden established with his European counterpart a number of weeks ago.
QUESTION: I have a quick one on Ukraine. Senators Graham and Blumenthal introduced a resolution today asking the Secretary to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Can you update us on the process, if there is one, to determine whether Russia will qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism? Is that something you’re —
MR PRICE: Aware of that resolution, aware of Congress’s interest in this matter, and of course of Congress’s broader interest in our approach to Russia and Ukraine. What I can say is that the state sponsor of terrorism statute is a statute, not to be too subtle about it. And that means that it is something – the criteria by which states are designated or not, those are not up to us. Those are up to Congress.
What is up to us is to take a close look at the law, to take a close look at the facts – that is to say, what Russia is doing, whether it’s in Ukraine, whether it’s in countries around the world – to determine whether that fact pattern fits the criteria that is laid out in the statute. So that’s something that we’re always looking at, not only with this authority but with every authority that we have.
The broader point is that we are going to pull every appropriate level – lever, excuse me – we can to apply pressure on the Russian Federation until and unless its brutal invasion of Ukraine, its brutal aggression against Ukraine, comes to a halt. And the fact is that together with dozens of countries across four continents, we have applied our own sanctions, we’ve used international authorities as well, to not only apply sanctions, but also export controls.
And so the practical effect is that much of what various authorities call for have already been put in place, given what we’ve already done vis-à-vis our own authorities and what other countries have done in terms of their authorities. But we’ll continue to watch and to determine whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine merit and qualify for additional authorities. If we feel those authorities are appropriate, we won’t hesitate to apply them.
QUESTION: Does that just mean that at this stage, it doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t meet the criteria?
MR PRICE: We’re always looking at the facts and the law, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about terrorism designations in general, whether they are FTO designations or state sponsor designations? And will you – are you willing to say what a lot of people say privately, which is it’s just a bit of show, and in terms of the two cases that we’re looking at right now, the IRGC and Russia, that in fact most if not all of what could be done if these designations were, one, kept, or added, would be exactly the same as what you – this administration and previous administrations have already been doing?
MR PRICE: Well, I think your point is well taken, that there are various authorities we can use when it comes to the IRGC, to take that one example. It is an entity that is among the most heavily sanctioned entities on the face of the planet. In addition to the FTO, there are a number of other authorities that are used to constrain and constrict its activities and those of its leadership and its proxies as well. I used this data point the other day.
But of the 107 sanctions the Biden administration has imposed on Iran, 86 of those – some three-quarters – have been applied against the IRGC or its proxies. So the fact is that we do have a number of tools, but whether it’s the SST, whether it’s the FTO designation, both of these things are defined by statute. And —
QUESTION: Well, yeah. Understood. But, I mean, isn’t the administration a little bit frustrated that people seem to be making political points out of this – out of both of these things?
MR PRICE: Matt, we’re cognizant of the town we live in.
MR PRICE: I – we are closely examining the facts and the law with all of these things. That applies equally to the state sponsor of terrorism designation as it does to the FTO.
QUESTION: Well, but for people who have been around for a long time, including those in this building, including the advisor’s office and others, do you think either of these decisions, they go the way that the critics suspect they will? That it won’t make any difference at all?
MR PRICE: I don’t know what the critics – what they expect. What I do know is that we are going to follow the law. We’re going to do what’s in our national security interest when it comes to every authority under the sun and whether the target of those authorities is Iran, Russia, any other state actor, or non-state actor.
But since you have raised Congress, I will walk through this open door and point out the fact that our assistance to Ukraine has been, just as we promised, massive. We have provided $4.5 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since the start of this administration, some $3.8 billion worth of security assistance since the invasion began. These are supplies, weapons, that – precisely what Ukraine needs to defend itself. We started doing this well in advance of the Russian invasion. We started doing it last summer. We did it again in December in advance of the invasion, and of course we have announced multiple drawdowns during the course of this invasion. We are now at our ninth presidential drawdown.
The fact, however, is that right now our coffers in terms of drawdown funding, they are dwindling, and after providing $3.8 billion worth of security assistance since the start of the invasion, we now have less than $100 million left. And we will exhaust those funds within the next week.
And so Secretary Blinken, together with Secretary Austin, they have conveyed a very simple message to congressional leadership. The message is: We need your help. We need Congress’s help to see to it that the strategy that President Biden pledged before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the strategy we have pursued in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strategy that has proved effective in helping our Ukrainian partners be effective at defending their country, that is a strategy that requires funding and a strategy for which funding will be exhausted in key ways as of next week.
We view the request that is before Congress now, the supplemental budget request, as vital in terms of what these funds will enable us to do, as well as the message they would send in terms of bipartisan support, in terms of the Executive Branch, the Hill, Americans of all stripes, for the people of Ukraine who are waging this fight to preserve their freedom, to preserve their democracy, and to preserve their country.
This additional assistance we’ve requested, the brunt of our supplemental emergency request was in fact for security assistance, precisely what our Ukrainian partners need to defend themselves. That includes artillery, armored vehicles, advanced air defense systems, all for Ukraine. This funding will also go beyond the security realm. It will help Ukraine keep schools open. It will help replenish the – and stockpile in support of U.S. troops on NATO territory. It will help our Ukrainian partners, and also our NATO Allies, do precisely what we feel it is imperative that they be positioned to do at this moment.
QUESTION: I don’t remember asking about the assistance, but thank you for the four-minute exposition.
MR PRICE: Before you arrived, and I will point out that you arrived late, for the cameras —
QUESTION: I did.
MR PRICE: — I said there would be no topper, so I wanted to make up for that.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. First of all, thank you very much for yesterday’s – your answer. Afghan women, they are so happy. But they still ask me and ask you that what option United States will bring to Taliban if they didn’t fix themself about women’s job. This is regular job that every Afghan do it, we don’t have any problem, but like that, it’s unacceptable for Afghan women. And also Afghan people ask, based off your opinion: Why United States failed to fix Afghanistan during this 20 years? Thank you, sir.
MR PRICE: Thank you. So let me start by following up on the conversation we had yesterday about some of the very disturbing, very concerning edicts we’ve heard from the Taliban. Of course, what we’ve heard in recent days regarding the requirement for women’s attire, what we’ve heard about the restrictions on girls attending secondary schools, and other steps – all of these have been deeply concerning. And it’s not only concerning to us; in some ways, much more importantly, it is much more important that it is deeply concerning to Afghans across their country, across Afghanistan. They have voiced their opposition to this edict that proposes severe limitations on half of Afghanistan’s population, and that effectively limits and constricts the ability of half of Afghanistan’s population to participate fully in Afghan society.
So combined with the continuing ban on girls’ secondary education, restrictions on freedom of movement and targeting of peaceful protesters, the Taliban’s policies towards women are an affront to human rights and they will continue to impair their – the Taliban’s relations with the international community, including with the United States. We are discussing these developments with our partners around the world. The legitimacy and support the Taliban seeks from the international community, they know that it depends on their conduct, including and centrally their protection on the rights of women and girls.
These are commitments that the Taliban has made privately. These are commitments, again, much more importantly, that they have made publicly to their own people, and these are the commitments on which we are going to base and we are going to judge any future relationship that we will have with the Taliban. And we know that other countries feel similarly. Other countries with whom we’ve worked closely on Afghanistan since August of last year and well before August of last year do feel similarly.
In the interim, we’ve paused nearly all senior-level engagement with the Taliban in response to the Taliban’s decision in March to prevent girls from attending secondary education. We do remain concerned about these other restrictions that we talked about. We believe, first and foremost, that the Taliban should respond to the Afghan people whose rights the Taliban have pledged, once again, publicly to respect. We have heard that very message from our Afghan partners in recent days. Tom West, our special representative for Afghanistan; Rina Amiri, our special representative for Afghan – for women and girls; Ian McCary, our representative who is now based on Doha, have heard that message from Afghan interlocutors in recent days.
Our Afghan partners tell us that they have seen a disturbing pattern of restrictions on their rights that doesn’t reflect the cultural diversity or their hopes for Afghanistan’s future. It also doesn’t reflect what they heard, what the world heard from the Taliban. This, of course, brings back painful memories of the Taliban from the 1990s. We remain, as I said before, in close communication with our allies and partners regarding our shared concern with what we’ve seen. And again, the Taliban’s responsiveness to the demands of the Afghan people and to the expectations of the international community will define not only our relationship with the Taliban, but the world’s relationship with the Taliban. We know that we cannot have a normal relationship with the Taliban until they respect fully the rights of all of the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Hold on. So what are you going to do? Can I ask – re-ask my question from yesterday? So what are you going to do? I don’t understand. I mean, I saw that some people wrote, oh, U.S. says it’s going to take measures to – if the Taliban doesn’t reverse these decisions, but what measures have you taken or are you going to take? And you haven’t taken any, even though they have done these offensive things that you say going back more than a month now. So what exactly are you going to do and why should anyone believe you when you say we’re going to punish the Taliban or we’re going to take steps to make our disapproval clear?
MR PRICE: First, Matt, we have led the world, as you know, in providing humanitarian relief and humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: You have, but you also led the world in withdrawing —
MR PRICE: So I think our credibility when it comes to —
QUESTION: — from Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to take control then, right?
MR PRICE: — when it comes to the concern of – when it comes to the humanitarian concerns of the Afghan people, I think we have established our leadership on that.
QUESTION: Did the United States lead the world in withdrawing from Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to take control again?
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: Yes or no? Yes, right? I mean, you can’t deny that, can you?
MR PRICE: I would absolutely reject the premise of the question that the United States allowed the Taliban to take the capital. And Matt, we can relitigate questions that have been litigated for the past 20 years about an investment that we have made in a country, including with treasure and, more importantly, bloodshed on the part of this country and the assessment of this President that the presence of some 2,500 troops who would once again be involved in a civil war, who would be targeted, who would have a target on their back not only by the Taliban but also by elements like ISIS-K, a 2,500-strong contingent that would not – in the end – would have been able to prevent the Taliban or any larger force from coming to power.
So you can argue with the decision that the President made to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan. We are confident in that decision. We know what’s in our national interest. We also know what we can accomplish without having a contingent of military – a military deployment on foreign soil. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian assistance that we have provided to the people of Afghanistan since August of last year has led the world, just as our provision of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan prior to August of last year has led the world.
QUESTION: But this administration has always – has also said that human rights is its number one or one of its top priorities in terms of foreign policy, and —
MR PRICE: Central to our foreign policy.
QUESTION: Exactly. It doesn’t seem to be so central here.
MR PRICE: It is central —
QUESTION: Other than you —
MR PRICE: It is – it is —
QUESTION: — continuing to make statements and that —
MR PRICE: Matt, but you seem to be accusing us of what the Taliban is doing to the people of Afghanistan, and —
QUESTION: No, no, I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m asking you what you’re doing to —
MR PRICE: And I am telling you – I am telling you we are doing —
QUESTION: — prevent this or to show your displeasure other than coming out with —
QUESTION: Saying it.
QUESTION: — saying it, writing a nasty letter.
MR PRICE: I can assure you we are doing more than saying it. We are —
QUESTION: Okay. There’s been a lot of talk about reopening the embassy in Kyiv. Is there any discussion about going – sending people back to Kabul?
MR PRICE: I am not aware of any discussion right now about reopening the embassy in Kabul.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it your – is it your belief, though, that Kabul is a war zone in the same way that Kyiv —
MR PRICE: There – there are a couple elements we look at. Safety and security is always at the top of that list. We also look at the propriety of what is appropriate in terms of diplomatic representation, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s —
QUESTION: Okay. So one of the things – are you saying that one of the things you are doing to show your displeasure with the Taliban is not reopening the embassy?
MR PRICE: What I’m saying is that we are not in a position to reopen the embassy. There are a number of factors that go into that. Safety and security is, of course, one, but also we take a look at the propriety of diplomatic representation around the world.
Our point is that we will judge the Taliban and any future relationship we might one day have with the Taliban based on their conduct, based on their willingness to live up to the public commitments they’ve made to the world. First and foremost is human rights, protecting the rights of the Afghan people, including its women, its girls, its minorities; living up to its counterterrorism commitments; living up to the fact that no entity should be holding an American hostage. We’ve discussed, of course, the case of Mark Frerichs. We’ll continue to work to secure his freedom. There are a number of elements that go into our – any relationship we might one day have with the Taliban. But I can assure you that human rights is central to that list.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Yeah. So how – on U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, especially on Myanmar or Burma, how does the United States plan to work with ASEAN to hold the military junta further accountable for the coup and the violence afterwards?
MR PRICE: Well, we support ASEAN’s decision to invite nonpolitical representatives from Burma to high-level ASEAN events absent progress on the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus that was put forward. We will follow ASEAN’s precedent for the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, and we’re going to continue to follow that precedent because the regime has demonstrably failed to make progress on ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus and it continues to escalate its violence, its repression against the people of Burma.
We continue to support in the meantime ASEAN’s efforts to press the regime to urgently and to fully implement the Five-Point Consensus and including an immediate and meaningful visit by the ASEAN special envoy and facilitation of his engagement with all stakeholders, including representatives of the pro-democracy movement. Our partnership with ASEAN is central to returning Burma back to the path of democracy. I certainly expect it will be a topic of discussion as ASEAN leaders descend on Washington, descend on this building later this week, and we reaffirm our commitment to the Burmese people and we will continue to promote a just and meaningful resolution to the crisis in Burma to help return Burma to that democratic path.
QUESTION: Are more U.S. sanctions against the junta on the table?
MR PRICE: We will always look for ways to promote additional accountability for the military coup, for the related violence, for the repression, for the human rights abuses that have followed in the wake of the coup. As you know, we don’t preview specific sanctions or specific steps, but we’re always looking for ways to hold accountable those responsible.
QUESTION: If I may —
MR PRICE: You could be speaking of the COVID —
QUESTION: No, no, I would be speaking of the Summit of the Americas.
MR PRICE: You could be speaking of Summit of the Americas.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Do you have anything to say about the threats or – or if “threats” is the right word – but suggestions that some countries might not show up because the Cubans, the Nicaraguans, and others are not going to be there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to say right now on that. Of course, we will have more to say as the summit gets closer. What – this will be an opportunity for countries throughout the hemisphere to come together to speak to our shared values, the shared interests that unite us. Of course, the White House, as the host of the 9th summit, will determine which countries to invite. The White House has not issued official invites to the summit at this time, but I expect those will go out soon.
QUESTION: Well, when you say “countries throughout the hemisphere,” does that mean all countries, or could some be excluded?
MR PRICE: That is a question that —
QUESTION: Those who do not share your values.
MR PRICE: The invitations are up to the White House, and so we’ll have more to say once invitations are extended.
MR PRICE: Sorry, you’re asking because —
QUESTION: Who will represent Burma in the special summit? Because U.S. sent out an invitation.
MR PRICE: We’ll have – and I’m sure you will see more on that in the coming days.
QUESTION: Is Secretary attending in person or in —
MR PRICE: He will. He will. That’s the plan.
QUESTION: Going back to the security assistance for Ukraine, the President, of course, is meeting with the Italian prime minister. There’s been concerns expressed in that country, other allies, about the amount of weapons flowing into Ukraine. Does the administration see a limit, especially when it comes to lethal aid?
MR PRICE: We have made clear and the President made clear before the invasion – Secretary Blinken and others have also been speaking to this starting before the invasion but certainly during the invasion – that we would do three things in response to a Russian – renewed Russian invasion against Ukraine. We would provide Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself, the weapons that it would require to defend Ukrainian freedom, Ukrainian democracy, Ukrainian independence. Second, we would fortify NATO. We would see to it that our Allies, especially our Allies on the eastern flank, had what they needed to deter and potentially even respond to Russian aggression. And third, we made clear that we would put an unprecedented amount of pressure on the Kremlin through financial sanctions, through export control measures, through tools that we would enact with partners and allies around the world.
We have made good on all three of those steps. We will continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself. This is about self-defense. It is about preserving what is important to the Ukrainian people and what is in turn important to us, and that is Ukraine’s freedom, its democracy, and its independence.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Secretary Blinken called youngest foreign minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and invited him to attend a food security summit. So what were the points of discussion during the talk? And are we expecting any one-to-one meeting between Secretary Blinken and Bhutto?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any bilateral meetings to preview during the – next week’s food security gathering in New York. What I can say is that Secretary Blinken did have an opportunity to speak with his new Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, last week – May 6th, I believe it was. They had an opportunity to reflect on the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Pakistani relations, to talk about how we can strengthen that cooperation going forward. It is a broad-based bilateral relationship. The Secretary underscored the resolute U.S.-Pakistan commitment to Afghan stability and to combating terrorism as well. They also discussed ongoing engagement when it comes to our economic ties, trade and investment, climate, energy, health, and education. So it was a wide-ranging conversation, as these introductory conversations oftentimes are, and I expect before long they will have an opportunity to follow up on that.
QUESTION: Sir, former Prime Minister Imran Khan is still blaming U.S. efforts from – for his ouster from prime minister office and leading an anti-American campaign. So do you think that his anti-American campaign creating fractures among the structure of the diplomatic relation between Pakistan and U.S. or – or it doesn’t matter?
MR PRICE: We are not going to let propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation – lies – get in the way of any bilateral relationship we have, including with the bilateral relationship we have with Pakistan, one we value.
QUESTION: ISI’s chief is here in Washington, D.C. Is there any meeting with Secretary Blinken or any other State Department officials?
MR PRICE: I would refer you to Pakistani authorities to comment on his schedule. I’m not aware of any meeting with Secretary Blinken.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question about Taiwan. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson criticized the State Department has changed the explanation on Taiwan, wording related to Taiwan on the website. So could you help us understand the significance of changing of the words? And were there any change on legal status of Taiwan or U.S.-Taiwan Relations Act?
MR PRICE: Well, there’s been no change in our policy. All we have done is update a fact sheet, and that’s something that we routinely do with our relationships around the world. When it comes to Taiwan, our policy remains guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques and Six Assurances, as that very fact sheet notes. We regularly do updates on our fact sheets. Our fact sheets reflect, in the case of Taiwan, our rock-solid, unofficial relationship with Taiwan. And we call upon the PRC to behave responsibly and to not manufacture pretenses to increase pressure on Taiwan.
QUESTION: Is it oxymoron to say Taiwan is part of China if the United States has to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979?
MR PRICE: I didn’t catch the first part of your question.
QUESTION: Is it oxymoron to say Taiwan is part of China if the United States had to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979?
MR PRICE: We operate under the auspices of our “one China” policy.
QUESTION: So can I just make sure I understand this?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So there is absolutely no change in policy towards Taiwan and China based on – so why – why was it updated? Why did it change the language?
MR PRICE: Matt, you know, as probably better than most —
QUESTION: I do.
MR PRICE: — that we —
QUESTION: I know very well, but you know what? I also know that anything having to do with Taiwan is anathema to – any change, even if it’s a comma in a sentence, is going to get Beijing’s attention —
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: — and they’re going to be unhappy about it. So why now? Why was the decision made to change the fact sheet? And if there’s no change, then why change the fact sheet?
MR PRICE: The fact sheet had not been updated in several years. You know that our fact sheets are regularly updated. I think we care most about ensuring that our relationships around the world are reflected accurately in our fact sheets. I don’t think we’re as concerned as to what other countries might —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, as you —
MR PRICE: — latch onto in an effort to create a pretense.
QUESTION: As you know and as you guys had previewed, the Secretary was supposed to give a speech this week about U.S. China policy. And of course, he had to postpone it because of his COVID diagnosis. Was this fact sheet updated in anticipation, or was it mistakenly updated – the —
MR PRICE: No, it wasn’t a mistake. We —
QUESTION: That it was going to be – yeah, but was it going to be updated in conjunction with the speech that he was going to —
MR PRICE: This was not a policy rollout. This – believe me or not, this was really just a technical update to a fact sheet. Our policy has not changed.
QUESTION: Okay, but the language in it has changed, correct?
MR PRICE: The substance has not changed; the policy has not changed.
QUESTION: The language in it has changed, and we all know that language means things, that words mean things, right? So there was – so essentially you’re saying there was no reason at all – the previous language could have stood and it would still be viable, still be —
MR PRICE: I invite you – I invite you, rather than just say words have changed, to offer examples of —
QUESTION: Well, I looked at the two side by side.
MR PRICE: — of what might be different. And you will find that our underlying policy has not changed.
MR PRICE: The fact sheet makes very clear that our “one China” policy has not changed. It remains guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.
QUESTION: Ned, on Russia-Ukraine, let me start with the Secretary’s statement on cyber activity. Can you tell us more about your findings? Any, let’s say, indication to Russia’s increased capabilities that would tell other countries, like immediate neighbors, that they are much more vulnerable than they used to be? If you talk to anyone in Georgia, Estonia, they will tell you, “We told you so years ago. You never listened to us.” But what does it tell you about Russia’s capabilities right now?
And also, secondly, isn’t – I think the Secretary mentions new mechanisms to help Ukraine to detect and also to protect from Russian cyber attacks. Any additional details about that?
MR PRICE: Sure. So on your second question first – and I’ll get to today’s announcement –but we have worked very closely with our Ukrainian partners in recent years, including in the months preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to bolster their cyber capabilities. And so when we talk about some of the attacks that took place against Ukrainian systems, including these DDoS attacks that took place in the days and weeks prior to Russia’s invasion, we’ve made the point – and our Ukrainian partners, more importantly, have made the point – that their systems were back up, fully running, fully operational, in many cases within hours. And that is a testament to Ukraine’s capabilities in the cyber realm. It’s a testament to its ability – to its cyber resilience, to its ability to weather such operations. And we have been quite instrumental in helping Ukraine get to that point.
Now, what we said today, and we did this in tandem with allies and partners in Europe and – in Europe, is to publicly share our assessment that Russia launched cyber attacks in late February against commercial satellite communications networks in an effort to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion, and that those efforts did have spillover effects into other European countries. The activity disabled very-small-aperture terminals, or VSATs, in Ukraine and across Europe. This includes tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide internet services to private citizens, essentially serving as a link between satellites in the sky and systems on the ground.
We and our partners are taking steps to help defend against Russia’s irresponsible actions. We’ve identified new mechanisms to help Ukraine identify cyber threats and recover from cyber incidents, precisely what I was referring to a moment ago. We’ve also enhanced our support for Ukraine’s digital connectivity, including by providing satellite phones and data terminals to Ukrainian Government officials and critical infrastructure operators.
We are – we praise Ukraine’s efforts, both in and out of government, to guard against and help their country recover from malicious cyber activity, even as their country is under physical attack. And the way that Ukraine was able to weather and to be resilient against and to bounce back from these malicious cyber attacks, it was a testament of the ability of Ukraine’s cyber defenders.
QUESTION: And one more question. Let me press you on the SST, if you don’t mind. I think you understand why we are asking about Russia’s designation, because another country today recognized Russia as a terrorist state. How far are we from the SST designation? Is it about days? A month? You mentioned other countries. You mentioned parliamentarian as a process. Are you expecting a message or any appeal from the Hill, or what is the process that we’re missing here? Are we missing a fact? Cuba last year was designated. At least is – how close is Russia to that list based on its actions, current actions, in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, whether it’s this authority or any other authority, we don’t detail our internal deliberations. But what I can tell you is that for every authority that’s available to us, we look at the law – in this case it’s a law that determines the criteria for designating a state sponsor of terrorism – and we look at the facts. And so we are looking at both. And when it comes to the facts, we are closely looking at what Russia is doing, what Russia has done, to the people of Ukraine to determine which policy tools are most appropriate and responsive to those actions, but again noting that we have already placed enormous economic and financial pressure on Moscow. It is not just the United States that has done this, but it is countries around the world, dozens of countries across four continents, that have done so as well.
But if there is a tool that is appropriate, as defined in this case or any other case by the law, and that would be effective, again, we will not hesitate to use it.
QUESTION: Along that release of the information on the cyber attacks, now, what – can you talk about the timing of that? Why was that done now? And also, we know some of those attacks are ongoing. Is there a concern that that spillover effect could be felt, again, in Europe or other places?
MR PRICE: Well, these things do take time. What I can say is that we’ve worked closely with Ukraine, with NATO, with other European partners and other parties, since well before Russia’s invasion to understand the extent and the impact of Russia’s malicious cyber activity against Ukraine. And over time, we’ve sought out ways to meet Ukraine’s need for cyber security and connectivity support, and we’ll continue to augment that support.
As I said, in the leadup to the invasion, there were a spate of attacks, attacks from which Ukraine was able to bounce back quickly. An element of that was the training, was the support that the United States Government had provided to our Ukrainian partners well before the invasion, knowing that Ukraine has been a target of malicious cyber activity, including from the Russian Federation, for at least the better part of a decade.
Any time we attribute a cyber activity such as this one, we do so with an eye to protecting sources and methods. We do so with an eye to the implications. But in this case, we’re able to attribute it publicly, having gone through a process, having consulted closely with our Ukrainian partners, with our NATO Allies, with other European partners and others.
QUESTION: One more on holding Russia accountable, if you don’t mind?
MR PRICE: Let me move around just a little bit. Daphne.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: How do you expect Marcos’s presidency will have an impact on relations with the U.S. and American efforts to curb Chinese influence in the region? And then I have a question on Sudan as well, if that’s okay.
MR PRICE: Well, your question jumps ahead just a little bit. We’re not quite there. We’re monitoring the election results, and we look forward to renewing our special partnership and to working with the next administration on key human rights and regional priorities. As I said, we look forward to working with the president-elect, once that person is officially named, to strengthen the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines. It’s an enduring alliance that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history, shared democratic values and interests, and strong people-to-people ties between our countries as friends, as partners, as allies.
We’ll continue to collaborate closely to advance a free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific region. We’ll also continue, as I said before, to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, which is fundamental to U.S. relations with the Philippines and in other bilateral contexts as well. And we’re very pleased to welcome Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin to Washington this week for the U.S.-ASEAN summit.
QUESTION: And then —
QUESTION: Well, wait. Before you go to Sudan, all signs point to the conclusion that Marcos has won. So do you have any concerns about Bongbong Marcos being the new president of the Philippines?
MR PRICE: What I can say from a technical standpoint is that we understand the casting and counting of votes to have been conducted in line with international standards and without significant incident. Again, the counting is still underway. It is not for us to declare a winner. We’ll wait for the Philippines election authorities to do that.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to declare a winner. I’m just asking you if you have any particular concerns about Marcos’s son becoming the next president.
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: You certainly had concerns about Duterte.
MR PRICE: We look forward to working with the president-elect on the shared values and the shared interests that have united our countries across generations.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: The State Department released a statement last night supporting the tripartite political process in Sudan, but the UNITAMS talks that were supposed to kick off today did not. Is this something the U.S. is concerned about? And what makes you confident this process, which is facing criticism and suspicion from parties in the country, is the right path? And then is there any progress being made on holding security forces accountable for violence against demonstrators?
MR PRICE: So we did release a statement last night. We released that statement to underscore our view that the UNITAMS-African Union-IGAD process is the best way to facilitate an inclusive path forward on Sudan’s transition to democracy. Any deviation from that process would undo months of hard work with grassroots civilian activists and human rights defenders geared towards obtaining a broadly acceptable agreement. We do condemn violence against and unjust detentions of peaceful protesters, and we call for those responsible to be held accountable. We likewise condemn undue restrictions on local and international press in Sudan.
We are prepared to levy consequences on those who impede or otherwise spoil Sudan’s transition to democracy. We won’t resume currently paused assistance to the Sudanese Government until a credible civilian government is in place. We will, however, continue to support the Sudanese people, including through humanitarian assistance and support for civil society, which has continued uninterrupted since the takeover.
MR PRICE: Well, we’re concerned by the deployment of the military. We underscore, we stress that peaceful protesters should never be subject to violence or intimidation, whether that’s on the part of a military force or civilian unit.
More broadly, we’re deeply concerned by reports of escalating violence in Sri Lanka over the past few days. We condemn, as I said before, violence against peaceful protesters. We call for a full investigation, arrests, and prosecution of anyone instigating and involved in acts of violence. We are, as I said before, also closely monitoring the deployment of troops, something that is of concern to us, and we’re also closely following political developments and the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka after the resignation of the prime minister.
We urge the government and political leaders to work quickly to ensure public safety and work together to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. The government must address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the economic crisis, including power, food, and medicine shortages, as well as their concerns about the political future of their country.
QUESTION: So in other words, the answer was no, you didn’t have anything to add from what you said yesterday, but you decided to go and repeat it.
MR PRICE: He asked about the deployment of military forces.
QUESTION: You talked about that yesterday, though – (laughter) —
QUESTION: Yes. The other question that – as you know already, (inaudible) war started in Afghanistan as they protect it. And Ahmad Massoud, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son, make a group, and they started some activity. On the other side, some expert – the United States, Australia, Canada – they get together and make a group to fight against the Taliban, and Afghan people sacrificed in this way. Does United States support some of them, either Ahmad Massoud group or some other expert, that they try to do something against Taliban?
MR PRICE: We believe the best way to protect and to promote the human rights of all Afghans, including Afghanistan’s women and girls, is through dialogue, inclusive dialogue. So we have continued to press the Taliban to take part in a meaningful, inclusive dialogue representative of all of Afghan society, including minorities, women, and girls.
QUESTION: Sir, one of my colleagues sent me a question, if you would like to respond. Sir, she says that U.S. and Pakistan have always had a good education exchange relationship that opens doors to sharing ideas, best practices, innovation, and much more. Do you foresee continuation of such initiatives and efforts to expand relations with Pakistan and the people of Pakistan?
MR PRICE: I absolutely do. Our educational exchange program, whether it’s with Pakistan, whether it’s with any other country, it’s a core element of our people-to-people ties. We’ve been fortunate to have Pakistanis studying here in this country. We have American students who’ve had the opportunity to study in Pakistan. Those types of exchanges are always helpful, are always valuable as we seek to understand our partners and, as Americans, seek to better understand the world, and as we have other countries better understand America.
Nike, last question.
QUESTION: Yes. Can I ask about South Korea? South Korea’s new president officially takes office today. Do you have anything on South Korea’s offer to North Korea’s – to improve North Korea’s economy if it ends its nuclear weapons? Thanks.
MR PRICE: Well, let me start by saying that we do congratulate President Yoon Suk-yeol on his inauguration. The United States-ROK alliance, rooted in the close friendship of our people, is the linchpin for peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. We have been and we will continue to coordinate closely with the ROK to address the threat posed by the DPRK’s unlawful WMD programs, its ballistic missile program as well, and to advance our shared objective on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is, in fact, an objective that we share. It’s an objective we shared with the last ROK Government. It’s an objective we share with this ROK Government, and I know that we look forward to the opportunities ahead – over the phone, in person – including when the President travels to the ROK in just a matter of days to continue these discussions with the new ROK administration on how we can advance and promote that goal.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. also assess North Korea will conduct a nuclear test before – sometime before President Biden’s visit to Seoul? I’m asking because it’s a assessment by South Korea’s intelligence chief.
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to put a specific timeframe on it, but we have been warning for some time. We have been making public our concern that the DPRK could undertake additional provocations. We have seen three ICBM tests. We’ve seen additional ballistic missile tests, and we’ve spoken of our concern that the DPRK may mount another nuclear test in the near term.
Thank you all very much. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)