Department Press Briefing – May 11, 2022
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I apologize for the late start.
Let me start by saying that we are absolutely heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injuries to her producer Ali Samoudi today in the West Bank. We send our deepest condolences to Shireen’s family, her friends and loved ones, and strongly condemn her killing as we do the killing of journalists around the world.
Shireen was a veteran reporter. She was followed closely by those who care about the region and is mourned by all who knew her. The Secretary spoke just one week ago on World Press Freedom Day about the fundamental role journalists play in the free flow of information, ideas, opinions, including dissenting ones, as being essential to inclusive and tolerant societies. It is heart-wrenching to see the killing of another journalist just one week later.
We call for an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance. We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. Her death is a tragic loss and an affront to media freedom everywhere.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned.
MR PRICE: Matt, I see you have a minder with you today. I’m very glad to see it.
QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, my boss. My boss. This is Anna. Ned, Anna.
MR PRICE: Good to meet you. We’ll talk later today.
QUESTION: Yes. On this situation, when you call for “an immediate and thorough investigation,” who exactly do you want to do the investigating?
MR PRICE: We – it is important to us that those who are responsible for her death be held responsible, that full accountability be ensured in this case.
QUESTION: Okay, but my question is not that. My question is who do you think can conduct a credible investigation into her death that would be accepted by all parties, including the United States?
MR PRICE: Well, in this case, I’m not going to prejudge where any investigation may go. We’ve seen, of course, that the Israeli Defense Forces have already announced that there is an investigation underway. We welcome that announcement. It is important to us, it is important to the world that that investigation be thorough, that it be comprehensive, that it be transparent, and importantly, that investigations end with full accountability and those responsible for her death being held responsible for their actions.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, do you want the Palestinians to be involved in the investigation?
MR PRICE: The IDF has announced an investigation.
QUESTION: Okay, that’s the IDF.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: “I” standing for Israel.
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: So what about the Palestinians? Because there are calls in Israel for the Palestinians to take part in this.
MR PRICE: What is – and I’m sure the Palestinians will do their own review as well. We have heard statements from both Israelis and Palestinians over the course of the day. What is important to us is that those responsible for this killing be held accountable for their actions.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: All right, so just one more thing and then I’ll defer. But are you confident that – maybe you’re not because the investigation hasn’t been done, but does it appear to you, circumstances right now as you know them, that she was targeted because she was a journalist?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to prejudge an investigation. That’s precisely why we’re calling for an investigation. We’ve heard the statements that she was clearly – she was wearing attire that was clearly – marked her as a journalist, but we are going to wait for the investigation to go where it goes. We are going to wait to hear where the facts lead in this case, and importantly, to see the accountability that is mounted in the aftermath of that investigation.
QUESTION: Ned, I just want to ask you, do you trust Israel investigating itself? I mean, I have asked this question over the past 20 years so many times. Can you trust them? Have they ever come back to you with saying these are the results? I mean, only in January, Omar Assad died in their custody, and you said – and he was a Palestinian American, and you said – from that podium you said that you are waiting on their investigating. You have not even followed through on this. So do you trust the Israelis investigating themselves?
MR PRICE: The Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation. Let me give you an example because you asked the question. In June of 2020, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot – and you are familiar with this case – Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to stop and to obey orders. About a year later, in June of 2021, the Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers, DIPO, filed an indictment with a Jerusalem district court against the border police officer who shot and killed Halak. Clearly, Israeli authorities have the wherewithal to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.
That is what we expect in this case. In this case we expect that the perpetrators, those responsible for the death of Shireen – who, by the way, was a very close contact of our post and someone our people, someone presumably many of you knew quite well. It is —
QUESTION: She was with us in this room.
MR PRICE: And it is important to us —
QUESTION: You have to remember that.
MR PRICE: It is important to us that her legacy be honored, be protected, with accountability for those who senselessly took her life.
QUESTION: Well, you know on this police case that you cited – just bear with me, indulge me, my colleagues. In this case that you cited, you know that the Israelis charged the policemen something like maybe $10 fine and so on. I don’t want to delve into that. But you talked about Press Freedom Day last week, Press Freedom Day. You never mentioned the Palestinian journalists. There are 15 Palestinian journalists in prison – in prison. They are held there, as we say in Arabic, zuran mwbitani, which means falsely and malevolent. They have been held there day after day, year after year. They are disallowed from conducting their work, from doing their work, including colleagues of mine from my newspaper.
So I want you to respond to that. I mean, you talked about other things, which is laudable, which is great. Talk about what journalists face in Ukraine and other places. But you never mention what Palestinian journalists face.
MR PRICE: Said, we know what many Palestinian journalists have faced, and we’ve commented quite a bit on that. You well remember what we said in the aftermath of the strike last year against the Associated Press building, against the Al Jazeera building in Gaza. We had an opportunity to speak to that publicly. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to the editor-in-chief of the Associated Press in the aftermath of that strike. We have spoken vociferously about the rights to a free press around the world, the fact that reporters should not be targeted, reporters should not be the objects of violence or suppression or repression anywhere around the world, whether that country is an autocracy, a democracy, whether that country is a friend or whether that country is a foe or competitor.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up on how journalists, Palestinian journalists, when there is an operation like this. The Israelis were about to storm the Jenin refugee camp. They go by, including the group that was with Shireen, including someone from my newspaper. They went by the Israelis that were standing right out there, and they said, “We’re going right there.” They told them just this morning, “We’re going to go right there.” So they knew perfectly. They knew exactly who was there and how clearly marked these people were.
So I want to hear from you if that – if – if ever the investigation shows the guilty party, should that guilty party be prosecuted to the full extent of the law?
MR PRICE: Those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, yes.
QUESTION: Ned, sorry, just really briefly since you brought it up, the bombing of the AP and the Al Jazeera office in Gaza, did you guys ever get an explanation from the Israelis that was satisfactory?
MR PRICE: We were in contact with the Israelis. They shared with us some of the information regarding that strike.
QUESTION: And did you think that it was a legit target?
MR PRICE: Clearly, the fact that there were the offices of at least two independent media organizations made it highly concerning, highly troubling to us. But beyond that —
QUESTION: Well, is it still troubling, or were your concerns resolved after what they told you?
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: I mean, it’s been almost – literally, that happened on May 15th of last year. It’s now, what, May 11th. Or is it the 12th?
MR PRICE: It is – that assessment has not changed. It is —
QUESTION: Will you guys —
QUESTION: So you’re still troubled by it? In other words, the explanation that the Israelis gave to you is not – it did not allay your —
MR PRICE: We voiced our concern by the fact that journalists were put at risk, that their offices came under assault.
QUESTION: I get that. But it’s been a —
QUESTION: Will you send someone to the church —
QUESTION: But it’s been a year, so I just want to know if the Israeli explanation has satisfied you and so those concerns are no – you don’t have those concerns.
MR PRICE: Those concerns still exist, yes.
QUESTION: Will you send someone to the church on Friday for the service of Shireen in Gaza?
MR PRICE: I will check with post. As I know, as I relayed to you, she was a close contact of post. They were in regular contact with her. They valued her work. They valued in some cases a personal friendship and relationship with her. And if we have anything to say regarding representation, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to any leader in Israel or the Palestinian side about this? And just on the record, do you have any early assessment or understanding of who did that?
MR PRICE: We’re not going to prejudge an investigation. We’ve heard various statements throughout the day. Some of those statements have shifted. That’s why we have called for a thorough, comprehensive investigation ending in accountability. There have been a number of conversations by senior officials in this building, senior officials at our embassy in Jerusalem, to both Israeli and Palestinian counterparts conveying many of the same messages I conveyed to you just now.
QUESTION: Can I briefly ask about Hong Kong and Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I still have something on Shireen, if I can.
MR PRICE: Let’s take one more question on this, and then I’ll come right back to you, Nike.
QUESTION: Can I have one question too, please?
MR PRICE: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Many press and human rights organizations are calling for international independent investigation into her killings, because they condemned Israeli maybe before that they’re not going to thoroughly investigate themselves. Are you willing to support such efforts to turn this into an international investigation?
MR PRICE: Israel has the wherewithal and the capability to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation. They’ve done it before and we expect they’ll do so in this case.
QUESTION: Do you intend to conduct your own investigation or at least participate, since the lady or the – our colleagues, she is an American Palestinian. Because – because the record shows that Israeli investigation on those kind of incident haven’t been reliable, so I wonder if you are planning to do your part of the investigation.
MR PRICE: Our role every time an American citizen is – passes overseas, whether that individual – however that individual succumbs, is to provide appropriate consular support. We’ll be providing any necessary consular support in this case. But what we are calling for is an investigation – a comprehensive, a thorough investigation that ends with accountability.
QUESTION: Yes. On Hong Kong, do you have anything on the arrest of the Catholic cardinal, Joseph Zen? And separately, if I may, can you recap the U.S. policy toward Taiwan? Does the U.S. support Taiwan independence? I’m asking because the Taiwan President Tsai has already said there is no need to declare Taiwan independence because Republic of China was established in 1912. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Nike. We discussed this a bit yesterday, but let me just reiterate that our policy towards Taiwan has not changed. The United States remains committed to our longstanding “one China” policy which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.
To your question, we do not support Taiwan independence and we have repeatedly made this clear both in public and in private. Though the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and does not support Taiwan independence, we do have, as you know, a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan as well as an abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.
In terms of Hong Kong, we – I expect we’ll have more to say on this later today, but we do strongly condemn the arrests of Cardinal Joseph Zen, Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung, and Denise Ho. In arresting these veteran activists, scholars, and religious leaders under the so-called National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities have again demonstrated that they will pursue all means necessary to stifle dissent and undercut protected rights and freedoms. We call for the immediate release of all of those who remain in custody, and of course, we continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong.
QUESTION: Do you assess – do you assess the frequent deployment of Chinese PLA airplanes to Taiwan Straits is sending the wrong message to the people of Taiwan and may actually push them to the direction that PRC does not want to see, which is trigger the Taiwanese independence movement?
MR PRICE: I will let the people on Taiwan remark on the implications of the PRC’s actions. What I will say is that we have continued to voice our concern for these provocative operations. What we continue to call for is stability across the Taiwan Strait. We will continue to stand with our partner Taiwan. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid, including in the face of acts of potential intimidation.
QUESTION: Taiwan? Can I —
QUESTION: Sorry, when you said you’ll have more to say about the arrests later in the day, is that like some kind of a statement or —
MR PRICE: I expect we’ll have some kind of a statement.
QUESTION: Like a written statement —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: — from the Secretary? Okay. And then just the other – on the other thing on Taiwan, going back to our little discussion yesterday, when you say you do not support Taiwan independence, fine, but you sell them weapons. You send official delegations there, congressional delegations. You push —
MR PRICE: I can guess —
QUESTION: — for their inclusion – you push for their inclusion in international organizations as a —
MR PRICE: That don’t require statehood as a criterion for membership, correct.
QUESTION: But as a – but as something separate from mainland China. So —
MR PRICE: In organizations that do not require statehood as a membership. You are speaking to everything that we do as part of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan that falls under the auspices of our “one China” policy.
QUESTION: Right. So what I’m getting to is the WHO and the WHA this year, and you are pushing again, as I understand it, for Taiwan to be invited or to participate as an independent entity as a – not part of China. So how is that not supporting Taiwanese independence?
MR PRICE: These are two very separate things, Matt. We believe, on the one hand, that Taiwan’s —
QUESTION: First of all, you are, right?
MR PRICE: Excuse me, what?
QUESTION: You want the WHO to invite Taiwan as Taiwan?
MR PRICE: We support Taiwan’s robust and meaningful participation in international organizations that don’t require statehood as a criterion for participation or for membership.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are pushing for them to participate in the WHO?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcements today, but you’ve heard from us before that we push for Taiwan’s robust and meaningful participation in international organizations that don’t require statehood as a condition for membership. Taiwan is a leading democracy. The world has a lot to learn from our Taiwanese partners. Whether it is in the area of public health, whether it is in the area of economics, whether it’s in the area of climate change, we partner with the people on Taiwan, with our Taiwanese partners in a range of areas. We will continue to push for Taiwan’s meaningful participation, all within the bounds of our “one China” policy that has not changed.
QUESTION: Okay. So does the same apply for the Palestinians, that you push for them to be a part of and to participate in international fora that do not require statehood or —
MR PRICE: We are pushing – we are pushing for a two-state solution because we believe —
QUESTION: No, no, no, but I’m asking in the interim for – before that. So are you also pushing for the Palestinians to take part in international fora that —
MR PRICE: What we are pushing for, Matt, is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equally to enjoy equal measures of safety, security, dignity – in the case of the Palestinians, and a state of their own.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a couple of question on China, North Korea, and South Korea.
First question: South Korean President Yoon said that – recently – he would provide drastic economic support to North Korea if it achieve substantial denuclearizations. On aid after North Korea has denuclearized first, how does it compare to the U.S. policy toward North Korea?
MR PRICE: Well, yesterday, I don’t know that you were here, but we did offer congratulations to the new South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl on his inauguration. We made the point that the U.S.-ROK alliance is rooted in close friendship. It’s the linchpin for peace, security, prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. And we have and will continue to coordinate closely with our treaty allies in the ROK across all variety of challenges and opportunities.
And of course, when it comes to challenges, there is no more pressing challenge than that posed by the DPRK’s WMD programs, its nuclear weapons, its ballistic missile programs. We will, as I said, coordinate closely to address the threats that they pose. And the fact is that we share an objective together with our allies in the ROK, together with our allies in Japan. That is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. How we get there, the steps, what that will look like is something we will continue to coordinate closely on with our allies in the ROK and Japan.
We know and we agree as allies that it will require principled dialogue and diplomacy. We have made very clear that we are willing to engage in good-faith diplomacy with the DPRK. We do so, of course, with no hostile intent. Our only intent is to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the interests of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. So that’s something we’ll continue to discuss with our South Korean allies.
QUESTION: On China, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, who recently attended the inauguration ceremony of the South Korean President Yoon, made a remark that put pressure on South Korea. China is concerned about the – Yoon Seok-youl administration’s strengthened U.S. and South Korea alliance. Do you know why China is concerned about strengthening the U.S. and South Korea alliance?
MR PRICE: I will let the PRC speak to that. I will say, for our part, we believe that the United States has a number of sources of strength in the world. One of them is our sources of strength here at home: our economy, the creativity, the vitality of our people, of our workforce. Another is our values and the principles, many of which we share with partners and allies around the world, and a third is very much that, our allies and partners around the world.
And we view our unprecedented systems – system of alliances and partnerships, including those we have in the Indo-Pacific, as a core source of strength. That is why Secretary Blinken, this department, has focused intently since day one of this administration on repairing, rebuilding, revitalizing those alliances, knowing, as Secretary Blinken often likes to say, that there is no challenge that the United States could take on more effectively alone than with our closest allies and partners. And that’s what we’ve sought to do.
QUESTION: Last one: Will the North Korea issues be discussing at the U.S. and ASEAN summit?
MR PRICE: There’s a lot that we have to discuss with our ASEAN partners. This is a region of the world that is among the most dynamic. It is the fastest growing region of the world. It is one where the United States is making clear we have an abiding commitment and interest in. The fact that this leader-level summit is taking place in Washington, D.C., the fact that it has not taken place in recent years, I think, underscores our commitment to Southeast Asia, to ASEAN centrality. There will be a number of topics that we’re going to discuss, including shared interests, combating COVID, economic recovery, climate, security challenges in the region, as well as our shared values. So all of that will be on the agenda. We’ll have more to say in the coming days.
QUESTION: Ned, just one follow-up on Taiwan.
MR PRICE: Sure, sure.
QUESTION: Is it still your position that the changes to the fact sheet on Taiwan have nothing to do with the timing of Secretary Blinken’s speech on China or what had been planned to be his speech on China?
QUESTION: One more on Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The Taiwanese defense ministry in recent days has talked about some of the deliveries of U.S. weapons being delayed. Are all of the other U.S. weapons that have been notified to Congress and are in progress going to Taiwan – are all of those other systems set to be delivered on time?
MR PRICE: Well, let me say our defense relationship with Taiwan remains based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by the PRC. Continuing to pursue systems that will not meaningfully contribute to an effective defense strategy, we believe it’s inconsistent with an evolving security threat that Taiwan faces, and we strongly support Taiwan’s efforts to implement an asymmetric defense strategy. As you know, we have continued to provide Taiwan with the security assistance that together we deem most necessary. I don’t – I can’t give you an update on the pace of those deliveries, but if there’s anything additional we can share, we will.
QUESTION: Do you – sorry, do you guys not specifically track the pace of those deliveries? What is U.S. policy about when you want those deliveries to get there? I mean, I know it’s sort of out of your hands once it goes to the companies that are producing these weapons. But surely you guys are focused on this. So when do you want those weapons to get to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: Well, our – we want to see those systems delivered to Taiwan just as soon as they need them, and that is based on a need assessment and a needs assessment. It is something that we routinely do with our Taiwanese counterparts. I’ll say that air defense systems and artillery, these are critical to supporting Taiwan’s self-defense. The swift provision of Taiwan defensive weaponry and sustainment via our FMF, our Foreign Military Sales, and our direct commercial sales, or DCS, we believe is essential for Taiwan’s security and we’ll continue to work with industry to support that goal based in part on the assessment that I mentioned before. Since 2017, the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Of course, we can’t provide details on ongoing defense procurement discussions, but those discussions regarding Taiwan’s needs are constantly ongoing.
QUESTION: And just a final question on this. Ukraine – the Ukraine war. Has the deliveries of weapons to Ukraine at all impacted the scheduled deliveries of weapons to Taiwan, as far as you know?
MR PRICE: These are two very different security challenges. The vast majority of emergency military assistance to Ukraine is being delivered via the presidential drawdown authority that you’ve heard from. That is to say it’s being directly delivered out of DOD inventories. Taiwan, on the other hand, its defense procurements of defensive weaponry and sustainment are conducted via FMS, the Foreign Military Sales, and the direct commercial sales, which are subject to the standard contracting and manufacturing process.
QUESTION: Ned, off the top of your head, how many other non-state entities do you guys sell weapons to for self-defense?
MR PRICE: We’ll come back to you if we have anything to add.
QUESTION: In other words, none?
MR PRICE: I don’t know if there’s another example, Matt, to your question.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR PRICE: Sure. Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yes. I wonder if you had any comment on this idea of a Marshall Plan-style plan for rebuilding Ukraine. The top – president of the European Investment Bank sort of today pledged support for that, said the EU’s lending arm would back that. But they’re also saying they want to make sure that Europe is not left alone and make sure the U.S. contributes to that. Is that – is there a plan in place to get involved with that as a joint effort with the Europeans?
MR PRICE: It’s something that we are absolutely prepared to take part in. We have led the world already, and, of course, we have a legislative proposal that is awaiting action before Congress when it comes to more immediate support to the people and the Government of Ukraine. So we are very much focused on the near term, but we haven’t lost sight of the longer term, and it is our hope that we will be in a position to help the Ukrainian Government, the Ukrainian people rebuild and reconstruct in the near term. Of course, the first order of business is bringing this – Russia’s aggression to a close. We’re focused on that. We are focused on providing economic support to the Government of Ukraine in the meantime. We’re focused on providing humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine in the meantime. And we’re focused on providing security assistance to Ukraine in the interim as well.
But when there is an opportunity to help rebuild Ukraine to emerge from the destruction that the Kremlin has wrought across parts of the country, the United States will be there for that as well.
QUESTION: And separately, the Russians announced today a list of companies that they’re sanctioning, energy companies, including subsidiaries of Gazprom in parts of Europe. Do you have any response to that? Does that impact your efforts on energy and keeping gas prices down?
MR PRICE: No, I don’t have any response to that. What we are doing is focusing with our allies and partners, very similar to what we’re doing in the other context we just discussed, on the near term and providing our allies and partners, including those in Europe, with the energy supply that they need in the interim. We’re doing that through – with a coordinated release from various strategic petroleum reserves around the world. We are doing that by surging energy supplies, working with partners around the world, as we look towards the longer term. And over the longer term, it is about lessening our reliance, lessening our collective dependence on Russian energy sources, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels in general so that countries around the world, whether they’re in Europe or elsewhere, cannot be held hostage, cannot be subject to Moscow or any other country attempting to use energy as a weapon.
QUESTION: The White House has repeatedly said that Vladimir Putin doesn’t have a way out right now, while experts have said a cornered Putin is a dangerous Putin. Is the State Department providing a clear offramp through diplomacy, and if it’s not, when is the time to do that?
MR PRICE: Well, you mentioned the offramp yourself. The offramp is very simple, it’s straightforward – it’s genuine diplomacy. The State Department, this administration, provided an offramp well before President Putin decided to launch this war against Ukraine. I made this point the other day, but many of us in fact were with us when we traveled to locations around the world working bilaterally with Russian counterparts, but also working multilaterally through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, working multilaterally through the NATO-Russia Council, in an effort to forestall what was then our concern: that Vladimir Putin would go forward with his war against Ukraine.
Once he did make that decision, the offramp of diplomacy, it has not closed. What has not been the case, however, is there has not been a Russian partner, there has not been a Russian negotiator, that has had inclination or the ability to engage in good-faith diplomacy and dialogue with their Ukrainian counterparts. We know from our Ukrainian counterparts that they are ready, willing, and able to engage in the type of diplomacy that we believe must be the offramp that you’ve spoken of.
Russia has heretofore shown no indication that they are as of yet ready to accept that offramp. So in the interim, we are going to continue to do what has demonstrably proven effective. We are going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the defensive security assistance they need to continue to fend off some of these vicious attacks, to continue to protect their freedom, to protect their democracy, to protect their independence, and to protect their homeland. All the while, we’re going to continue to mount economic costs and financial costs on the Kremlin and all of those who are enabling this war of choice. Because that’s what it is.
It’s awfully ironic to speak of the party that is engaging in a war of choice of not accepting an offramp. The offramp is clear, it has been clear. The Kremlin’s choice has been to wage war, just not to pursue that offramp just yet. That is why we’re doing everything we can through supporting our Ukrainian partners and holding Russian officials, and Belarusian officials for that matter, accountable to change that decision-making calculus, to incentivize a – the start, the initiation of good-faith diplomacy and dialogue that we believe, that our Ukrainian partners believe can diminish the violence and lead to an end to this war.
QUESTION: Ned, can I follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I have another question later on Azerbaijan. But there was a meeting between Ambassador Sullivan and Ryabkov today. Can you fill us in about who initiated the meeting, and also was there any specific message that you want to deliver? And if you can, how much was coordinated with the Ukrainians? Because that was our policy, that we should not talk about Ukraine without Ukraine.
MR PRICE: That absolutely is our policy, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. I can confirm that in this case, our bilateral ambassador to Russia, Ambassador Sullivan, met with Russian Government officials today. It was a prescheduled meeting to discuss a narrow set of bilateral issues.
So to your question, Ambassador Sullivan is discussing issues in the bilateral relationship with his Russian counterparts. Those tend to be quite narrow. In many cases, those tend to be centered on the functioning of our embassy, which of course is a concern to us given the limitations – the undue limitations that the Russian Government has imposed on the operations of our embassy in Moscow.
We do maintain diplomatic communications with the Russian Federation through our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and through our embassy in Moscow. There is no doubt that it is a difficult relationship; that is clear to everyone. But we do believe that these lines of communication should remain open.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, there was a speculation that there was a connection between that meeting and also Russia summoning Polish ambassador. These are separate – two separate issues?
MR PRICE: The – I’m sorry, the Russians doing what?
QUESTION: Connections between that meeting and Russians summoning the Polish ambassador in Moscow. That was on —
MR PRICE: I would need to defer to our Polish allies to speak to their interaction, but —
QUESTION: Okay. And on Azerbaijan, I have seen the readout between the – on the call between the Secretary and President Aliyev. One of the topics is human rights, and there’s several cases in the past couple months here, most recently journalist Aytan Mammadova, also attack against human rights defender Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, and also arrest of opposition party leader Ali Aliyev. These are specific cases that perhaps this call was a chance to raise by the Secretary. Did the Secretary have a chance to raise specific cases or it was just overall about human rights concerns?
MR PRICE: I will leave the specific contents of the call to the call itself. As you noted, we did issue a readout. It was just last week, I believe, that we had a Strategic Dialogue, the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue. So Secretary Blinken’s discussion today with President Aliyev was an opportunity to discuss some of the positive momentum and the future concrete steps on the path to peace in the South Caucasus. That includes some of the issues we discussed with our Armenian partners last week: border delimitation and demarcation, opening transport and communication links, and the release of the remaining Armenian detainees.
He did reiterate, as you saw, that we stand ready to help by engaging bilaterally as well as with likeminded partners, including through our role as an OSCE Minsk Group co-chair, to help the parties find a long-term, comprehensive peace. He did, as you note, also highlight the importance of increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. That is something that we also had an opportunity to discuss with our Armenian partners last week.
QUESTION: Okay. You mentioned positive momentum on Karabakh. Is there any concern at all on your end that Russians might jeopardize whatever positive connection is going on, as they have done before?
MR PRICE: Forging what we are seeking to forge here, a long-term, comprehensive peace, happens to be in our interest. It also happens to be in Moscow’s interest. Moscow, of course, is a part of the OSCE Minsk Group as well.
QUESTION: So coming off the question earlier about the lack of an offramp, the slog, the fact that this war is going to grind on for a very long time as far as we can tell, is there already discussions beyond the 40 billion that’s before Congress for more?
MR PRICE: Well, this 40 billion, the proposal that is before Congress at the moment, is for the remainder of the fiscal year. So it is for a finite period. It, of course, is our hope, it is our goal to see to it that this war comes to a close just as soon as can be managed. And so that is why we have asked for these resources, to continue to advance our strategy, to support our Ukrainian partners, to impose additional costs on the Russians so that we can help bring that about. If that strategy continues to be successful, the war, of course, we hope will be – it will be shorter in duration. That of course will help us request fewer funds over time. So our goal is to bring this war to a close and to see to it that we can turn to the task of rebuilding and working together with our Ukrainian partners on that task.
QUESTION: You’ll recall the fiscal year ends at the end of September, which is four months from now. We’re talking $10 billion a month.
MR PRICE: And, Matt, our point —
QUESTION: Right? I just want to make sure we’re talking – that’s what we’re talking about.
MR PRICE: That’s what the math says, yes.
MR PRICE: And our point —
QUESTION: When you talk about the end of this fiscal year, you’re talking about the current fiscal year, which ends in September?
MR PRICE: That – you’ve —
QUESTION: Okay. Can I —
MR PRICE: But let me just make the other point: the alternative would be much costlier. The alternative to doing nothing in the face of aggression, to doing nothing in the face of what we’re facing in terms of global food supply, what we are facing in terms of the broader implications of Russia’s war and what indifference or what inaction could spell around the world, that would be far costlier.
QUESTION: Okay. I wasn’t trying to cast aspersions on it.
MR PRICE: You never are.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure the timeline was correct. Back to Ambassador Sullivan’s meeting. Did the cases of the remaining American detainees come up? Did he raise them? I’m sure you’re aware that – I believe Brittney Griner has a hearing coming up, a court hearing on the 19th, so next week. Is there any movement? Did he raise them? Did he get any response?
MR PRICE: And I am sure you are aware that we just don’t discuss these elements in public.
QUESTION: Well, did he raise the cases of —
MR PRICE: I’ve – I’m – you —
QUESTION: Without naming names.
MR PRICE: You know that we don’t even go that far. I’ve made this point before, but in the days and the weeks and the months prior to the release of Trevor Reed, we did not discuss the specifics of our efforts beyond saying that securing the release of Americans who are wrongfully held around the world is of paramount importance to us, and it’s something we’re always working on.
QUESTION: May I?
MR PRICE: Let me move around a little bit, Said.
QUESTION: No, no, I just want to — on this point, you just mentioned that you want to bring the war to an end. You’d like to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible. If as a part of that strategy were for you to, say, announce that you are willing to discuss Russia’s concerns, including the expansion of NATO or the non-expansion of NATO to countries like Ukraine and Georgia and Finland and so on as a part of that, would you do this as a peace offering?
MR PRICE: Two separate issues. Before Vladimir Putin chose to wage this war, we made very clear that we were prepared to discuss some of the purported concerns that Russia had put on the table. And there were concrete steps – or at least there were concrete discussions – that we thought were in the offing that would advance the security of the transatlantic community, that is to say the United States and our European allies and partners, as well as to address some of the stated concerns of Moscow. Of course, Russia rejected that. And if you might recall, they went to war on February 24th before even responding to the written proposal that we had put forward.
When it comes to NATO, Said, we have been very clear that for us NATO’s “open door” means an open door. That is important, and it is something for us that is non-negotiable.
Said – or Michel.
QUESTION: Any updates on the talks with Iran?
MR PRICE: No updates to offer. We are still in the same place since we last talked about it. It is still our assessment that if we were able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that it would manifestly be in our national security interest because it would once again put permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program, a program that has been in many ways unconstrained since 2018 and a program that has galloped forward in ways that are unacceptable to us. We don’t have any more to share than what we discussed last time.
QUESTION: Could —
QUESTION: One more?
MR PRICE: Sorry, let me move around. Courtney and then Ysef. Or do you want to stay in Iran? Yes.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Michel. So does that mean that you don’t have any readout from Enrique Mora from his first day in Tehran?
MR PRICE: I am confident that our team will be in touch with Enrique Mora and his team. Of course, he is still on the ground, but Enrique Mora has been conveying messages back and forth. That is the role he’s been playing for some time. I am confident that our team will have an opportunity to discuss his time on the ground with him. I am also confident that we probably won’t be able to share much of that dialogue.
QUESTION: Yeah, but just one reminder. The last communication exchanged, was it from Washington to Tehran or Tehran to Washington?
MR PRICE: We have not given a play-by-play of the diplomacy. And once again, we are not in direct communication with Iran. Of course, we’ve made clear that it would in some ways facilitate diplomacy if we were in a position to have direct discussions with Tehran so that we weren’t reliant on a middleman, an especially capable middleman in this case in the form of Enrique Mora. But regardless, we’re not going to detail a play-by-play.
QUESTION: Just to return to Simon’s earlier question about rebuilding efforts for Ukraine. Is it the administration’s policy that you do not want to commit funds to such an effort until Russian forces are completely out of the country? Or —
MR PRICE: It’s our policy that we want to continue with a strategy that has proven demonstrably effective, and right now we are investing, and investing heavily, in that strategy. That’s why the legislative package that is before the Hill is primarily comprised of security assistance, security assistance that to date has been a key enabling facet of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have been able to achieve on the battlefield. But it also has economic assistance, it has humanitarian assistance, it has assistance in the realm of food security as well.
Clearly, there will be a need – and we hope a need before long – to reconstruct and to rebuild, and the United States will be there for that task as well.
QUESTION: Some of those efforts are ongoing even as the war continues. Is your position that you would wait to dedicate U.S. funding for that purpose until after the war ends?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re providing – we’re seeking – we have provided and we’re seeking to provide economic assistance. We’ve provided direct budgetary assistance, and of course, our Ukrainian partners have great discretion in terms of what they do with that.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Asia?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, so-called IPEF. Japanese ambassador to the United States said the Biden administration will launch Indo-Pacific Economic Framework during the time of the President Biden’s visit to Japan. Firstly, can you confirm it? And secondly, is the Biden administration eventually willing to replace Trans-Pacific Partnership, the so-called TPP, with Indo-Pacific Economic Framework?
MR PRICE: So of course, I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s travel to Japan. Secretary Blinken, when he was in Jakarta, Indonesia in December of last year, he did deliver a speech on our Indo-Pacific strategy, and there were key elements to that strategy. And deepening our economic ties with the region were a clear element of that strategy, and I suspect you’ll be hearing more about that before too long.
When it comes to the TPP, this is something that our – that my – still my current colleague at the White House has spoken to before. It was last September, I believe, when she said that the President has been clear he would not rejoin the TPP as it was initially put forward. We know a lot has changed in the world since 2016. We are evaluating our options to deepen our economic partnerships with countries in the —
QUESTION: But he supported it when it was initially proposed, right? When he was the vice president?
MR PRICE: The White House has been clear that the President has been clear he would not rejoin the TPP —
QUESTION: Yeah, but when he was the vice president, he supported it.
MR PRICE: — as it was initially put forward.
QUESTION: Right, when it was initially put forward —
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: — he was vice president, and he supported it. Correct? Right or not?
MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you – I am telling you what – I am telling you what our policy is.
QUESTION: I wanted to come to the Philippines. You said yesterday it was too early to comment, so wanted to kind of ask again specific – I guess particularly because the ASEAN Summit is happening this week, and part of the focus of that is obviously – is obviously towards China or showing your prioritization of the region in the light of your broader China policy, I guess, or Indo-Pacific policy. But specifically, do you have any concerns that the new president-elect, Marcos Jr., represents a challenge to U.S. policy in the region, specifically with his comments, I believe during the campaign, talking about the 2016 ruling on – the UNCLOS ruling that he said this is not effective, and he said he’s going to seek a bilateral agreement with China to resolve their dispute in the South China Sea. How does that square with what the U.S. wants to do with this region?
MR PRICE: Simon, this applies to the Philippines, it applies to everywhere around the world: We will judge and we will operate within the confines of our bilateral relationship based on what happens once an individual or a party is in office. And when it comes to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., you heard from the Secretary earlier today that we congratulated him, we congratulated the people of the Philippines on their successful election. We look forward to working with the president-elect to strengthen the enduring alliance between our two countries. It’s a special partnership that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history of shared values, shared interests, and strong people-to-people ties. We’ll continue to collaborate closely with the Philippines to promote respect for human rights and to advance a free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific.
That will be at the top of our agenda. We look forward to seeing Foreign Minister Locsin when he is here at the ASEAN Summit later this week, and I suspect that we will be able to engage with the incoming Marcos government in the near term.
QUESTION: And specifically on the 2016 ruling, is that – does the U.S. still see that as relevant to resolving the South China Sea disputes?
MR PRICE: We still stand by that ruling. We issued a statement not all that long ago underscoring that the South China Sea, as we know, contains some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, trillions of dollars in merchant shipping transit annually. We have to remain vigilant to any effort to unlawfully restrict navigational rights and freedoms in this vital waterway. It serves as a lifeline to so many economies. And we reaffirm our statement of July of last year regarding the maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we stand by that.
QUESTION: Ned, I must admit that I don’t expect a whole lot of an answer from this, but given the history here, the United States and the Philippines and the fact that the United States played such a pivotal role in the ouster of Bongbong Marcos’s father, do you have any concerns about the return of the family?
MR PRICE: Matt, as I just said to Simon, we look forward to working with the incoming government —
QUESTION: So in other words, no?
MR PRICE: We have – we know that we have an enduring, shared values and shared interests. It is at the top of our agenda, and we expect at the top – it’s at the top of the agenda of the incoming administration in Manila to work to advance this.
QUESTION: So the – so you’re prepared to, like, start on a fresh page?
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: And the history doesn’t matter?
MR PRICE: Our bilateral relationships are contoured by what happens when individuals, parties come to office.
QUESTION: Can I have one more that I also expect this is going to be very brief, and that is I – we saw the joint statement out of the Marrakech, the anti-ISIS meeting, and I just want to know if you guys have anything that – if you have anything to add to it, or if there’s anything in particular that you wanted to highlight from this that you thought was a particular success or a particular accomplishment.
MR PRICE: Well, our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland is there representing us. There was a joint statement release. She did have an opportunity to speak to – before the cameras earlier today. It’s my understanding that she spoke to some of the salient points of that discussion. But again, I’d point you to that joint statement.
QUESTION: Sorry, one more on Marcos.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just – could you just state whether the president-elect is welcome in the United States? He hasn’t visited I think for 15 years given he and his mother are facing this court ruling, I think in Hawaii. Is the new president of the Philippines welcome in the U.S.?
MR PRICE: We look forward to engaging with the incoming Marcos administration, again, to pursue those shared interests and those shared values.
Thank you very much. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)