MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Maybe I should say good evening. I am very sorry for the delay. I assume you all have seen a statement that is just hitting your inboxes regarding the fact that Secretary Blinken has tested positive for COVID. The good news is that he is fully vaccinated; he is boosted. He is experiencing only mild symptoms. He will quarantine at home; he will follow CDC guidelines. I know he very much look forwards to returning to the office, returning to his full schedule, and returning to the road just as soon as he is able to do so.
So with that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Is the China speech still on – tomorrow —
MR PRICE: The Secretary looks forward to delivering the address that was scheduled for tomorrow. Unfortunately, it will not talk place tomorrow, but we’ll find an alternative date just as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea and South Korea, China: North Korea fired an ICBM yesterday. How will the United States respond to Kim Jong-un’s repeated missile provocations? And I have one other one next.
MR PRICE: Well, I am not sure if I heard you perfectly, but it was a ballistic missile that the North Koreans launched. We condemn that launch. Like the DPRK’s recent tests of at least three intercontinental ballistic missiles, this launch is a clear violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. It demonstrates the fact that North Korea’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, it pose – they pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors. They pose a threat to the region. They pose a threat to peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.
When it comes to the United States – and we have said this before; we’ve said this in the aftermath of other recent provocations – our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, that commitment is ironclad. We have been and will – we will continue to be in close touch, in close coordination with our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan. And together, we will respond to the provocations that we have seen emanate from the DPRK. This is also something that we will address with our allies and partners in New York. That is work that is ongoing.
QUESTION: But the – when North Korea launched the missile yesterday, Chinese ambassador to Korean Peninsula, Liu Xiaoming, (inaudible) China has never criticized North Korea. How can you say about this, that China has never criticized North Korea, so they always say that you better – people are talking – is better way is that they both need to dialogue, but they never have?
MR PRICE: Well, I would refer to what I said earlier, and that is the fact that each of these provocations has been a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The PRC, of course, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The fact that there are multiple UN Security Council resolutions, the fact that there are multiple statements that have emanated from the UN Security Council chamber itself is a testament to the fact that countries around the world – including the PRC – recognize that the DPRK’s ballistic missile, its nuclear program is a source of instability, it is a source of insecurity, and that it is a threat to the broader region.
We will continue to work very closely with Japan and the ROK on this challenge. But of course, we will work with allies as well as partners around the world. And we, as we’ve recently said, have had recent engagements with our PRC counterparts on the danger that is posed by the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. Our special envoy, , has had recent engagements; Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in recent months to engage Wang Yi on this issue as well. It is a challenge that we, on every occasion, also do address with our PRC counterparts.
QUESTION: Lastly, as you know, China is ignoring North Korea’s continued missile provocation. There is no reason why South Korea should get approval from China to deploy THAAD for its own defense – THAAD missile. If South Koreans’ incoming government wants to deploy additional THAAD, will the United States consider it?
MR PRICE: Every country has the inherent right to self-defense. As I said before, our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies, the ROK in this case, it is ironclad. These will be discussions that we will have as allies regarding how best we can see to it that our commitment to the defense of the ROK remains ironclad.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: So is it your assessment that this was a ballistic missile but not an ICBM?
MR PRICE: It is our assessment that it is a ballistic missile. We’re not in a position to provide any additional detail at this time.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: News out of Iran today said that the Iranian Swedish detainee will be – his sentence is going to be carried out towards the end of this month. He is charged with spying for Israel and is to be executed. Today, apparently, also, the Iranian foreign minister spoke with – and that announcement out of Tehran, news out of Tehran is no coincidence. But yesterday Iran – I mean, the trial of a former officer at the – Tehran’s prosecution office, his trial ended in Stockholm, Sweden for having a hand in the execution of political prisoners in 1988. Given that the U.S. has more experience than other countries with its citizens being held hostage for different reasons and getting different sentences, do other countries reach out to the U.S. to see how to handle situations like this?
MR PRICE: Well, let me first say something about this particular case. It’s one that we’re watching very closely, and we’re watching it very closely because it is especially egregious. It is an egregious case of arbitrary detention of this Swedish Iranian doctor, Ahmad Reza Jalali. He has been held by Iranian authorities. Both this department, the State Department, along with the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, have highlighted Jalali’s case and human reports on human rights conditions in Iran. It was a case that was featured in our Human Rights Report.
We know that, as you alluded to, Iran does have a long history of unjust imprisonment of foreign nationals for use as political leverage. It continues to engage in a range of human rights abuses, which include large-scale arbitrary or unlawful detention of individuals, some of whom have faced torture or worse, in some cases execution, after a failure to receive due process and enduring unjust trials.
These practices are outrageous; we continuously document them. We, to your question, do often consult with our allies and partners. As you know, this is an issue that is quite personal for us as a country. Americans remain detained wrongfully, unjustly in Iran. They have been separated from their families for far too long. But it is not only Americans who suffer this treatment, and of course, countless Iranians do as well, dual nationals do as well. So yes, it is something that we routinely discuss with our closest partners to determine how best we can address this shameful practice of wrongful detention, how best we can work together to seek to affect the safe release of our nationals, and importantly, to work together to seek to create and to underscore a norm against this outrageous practice.
This is something that Secretary Blinken has been quite focused on. Our Canadian counterparts have put forward a series of very constructive, very useful proposals that will help to establish this norm by which countries around the world will work together not only to condemn this egregious practice, but to seek to put an end to it by holding accountable, collectively, those countries that are most responsible for this practice. And of course, Iran, unfortunately, is one of those countries.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just a – do you have a status update on JCPOA compliance negotiations? You’ve spoken before and we’ve talked many times about the window closing, the runway being short. Where are we now?
MR PRICE: Happy to provide an update. You will find that the update is not all that dissimilar from what you heard when this was last asked, I think it was day before yesterday. The fact is, as everyone in this room knows, that we had achieved significant progress in the P5+1 context in Vienna in recent months, but of course we have not been able to close an agreement and it remains uncertain and unclear if we will be able to. We remain engaged with our European partners and we have spoken of the role of Enrique Mora, the helpful role that he has played conveying messages back and forth between the United States and, in this case, Iran.
We remain committed to testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for one reason, and for one reason only: a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, if Iran were to once again submit itself to the permanent, to the verifiable limits and checks imposed on its nuclear program – that would be manifestly in our national interest. Yes, this process has dragged on for much longer than we would like, for far too long, but the fact is that a mutual return to compliance – if Iran were to re‑enter the JCPOA, if we in turn were to re-enter the JCPOA – the result would work to our national security benefit.
That is because ever since 2018, when the last administration left the deal that was working, a deal with which Iran was in compliance, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced in ways that are unacceptable to us. And the net result of those advancements is the fact that Iran has gone from a breakout time – that is to say, the time that it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon should it make the decision to weaponize – has gone from a highwater mark of about a year at the outset of the deal to something that is best now measured in weeks.
And to us, that is unacceptable. And I say that we remain engaged on trying to determine whether a mutual return to compliance is in the offing because a mutual return to compliance would change that dynamic. It would significantly prolong the breakout time. It would change the dynamic. It would reimpose the most stringent verification and monitoring program ever peacefully negotiated on a nuclear program that has not been subject to it for several years now.
QUESTION: Are you not yet at the point of diminishing returns? I’m sorry to cut you off, but we – I mean, we’ve talked about the time running short. We’ve now blown past what seem to be several kind of guideposts for timing on negotiating a (inaudible).
MR PRICE: There seems to be an impression that there was always a dated fixed on the calendar for us, and I’ve seen this reported, but I would just note that it flies in the face of what I have consistently said. We don’t think of this – and I’m sorry to go back to this; I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it – as a temporal clock. This is a technical clock, and it is a technical clock for one simple reason: what we’re looking at is the technical assessment of the point at which a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, the point at which re-entering the deal would not convey benefits, nonproliferation benefits that outweigh the advancements and the implications of the advancements that Iran has been able to achieve while these nuclear shackles has been off – have been off.
So we are still at a point where, if we were able to negotiate a mutual return to compliance, that breakout time would be prolonged from where it is now. We would have greater transparency. There would be those permanent, verifiable limits reimposed on Iran. That would be in our national security interest.
Now, to your point, it is true that there will come a time when, on the basis of those technical assessments, a mutual return to compliance and the nonproliferation benefits it would convey would not, in fact, outweigh the implications of the advancements that Iran has been able to achieve in its nuclear program.
So we are constantly taking a close look at the state of Iran’s nuclear program, of what it is doing, the implications of those actions, and comparing that to the deal that may still be in the offing. But I should add that because the JCPOA, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, is very much an uncertain proposition, we are now preparing equally for either scenario – a scenario in which we have a mutual return to compliance, in which that breakout time is elongated and a point at which this – what has the potential to devolve further into a nuclear crisis is put back into a box.
We are also preparing with our allies and partners for a scenario in which there is not a JCPOA and we will have to turn to other tactics and other approaches to fulfill what is for us a requirement, a commitment that President Biden has made that Iran, whether there is a JCPAO or whether there is not a JCPAO, must never, never, never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Ned, can you just say – you keep saying there will come a time when it won’t be worthwhile anymore. But you can say definitively right now today that that time has not – there has not been a judgement made that that time has come and gone?
MR PRICE: That time has not come and gone.
QUESTION: Ned, moving on?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Axios has reported today that when the Israeli national security advisor was here and spoke with Jake Sullivan that they – it was agreed that they increase pressure on Iran to finalize this deal and prepare, if it doesn’t happen, for later to push Iran towards this. Can you say anything?
MR PRICE: What I can say is that we regularly have occasion to consult with our Israeli partners on this. I know that Secretary Blinken has recently met with Foreign Minister Lapid. He’s met with him several times in recent months. He’s been on the phone with him several times in recent months. When there were active negotiations in Vienna, we would routinely brief our Israeli partners before each round, during each round, after each round. Secretary Blinken has done that himself to Foreign Minister Lapid. Secretary Blinken has done that himself with Prime Minister Bennett and his predecessor as well. So I’m not going to detail those consultations, but it is regularly a topic of discussion with our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: The Russians have said that they’re going to again have a ceasefire for three days at the steel plant in Mariupol. Do you see this as – do you see anything positive in this? Do you – are you hopeful that this could actually come to fruition?
MR PRICE: Well, every time an individual is able to take advantage of a humanitarian corridor, a humanitarian pause to reach safety, that is a good thing. What we want to see happen, however, is a prolonged humanitarian corridor, prolonged humanitarian access. What we have consistently seen, and we’ve seen this even in recent days, is the tendency on the part of the Russian Federation to embrace a so‑called humanitarian pause to cloak itself in the guise of an actor that has humanitarian concerns only to quickly and promptly resume shelling and violence, including against civilians who are trapped in besieged areas, including in Mariupol.
Our concern is – and what we want to see happen – is that this humanitarian access be motivated by genuine humanitarian concern and not the desire on the part of the Russian Federation to achieve a PR victory, to claim it has humanitarian concerns when its only concerns is propaganda.
Now, in recent days, there have been over a hundred individuals who have been able to reach safety as far as Zaporizhzhia in recent days. There are still hundreds of people who are trapped in the steel plant. There are still thousands of people who are in the besieged city of Mariupol who have been once again subject to shelling, to violence. People need to be let out. Humanitarian aid needs to be let in. That dynamic needs to last. That’s what we care about.
QUESTION: Ned, just a follow up on that. There have been reports in Ukraine that the Russians are planning a, quote/unquote, “victory parade” in Mariupol for Monday to mark their Victory Day against Nazi Germany. I mean, first of all, is there anything the United States know about that? But is – how would that be seen? What do you think the message would be if that were to —
MR PRICE: Well, I know there’s lots of speculation about what the Russians may or may not do on May 9th, but I can tell you that May 8th and May 9th, it’s not only a day of significance for the Russians. It is a significant day for all of Europe and for the United States too, the anniversary of the defeat of the advance of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. So this is not a day that any single country owns.
But what I can tell you is that on May 8th, on May 9th, our strategy and our approach is going to be the same strategy and the same effective approach that we have employed since February 24th, since the Russian invasion began. That is to support in many different ways our Ukrainian partners, to hold the Kremlin and the Russian Federation to account, and to do that with allies and partners around the world – dozens of allies around the world across four continents.
So I don’t have anything to preview for what they might do, but again, to claim as a victory, to parade through the streets of a city that not all that long ago was filled with hundreds of thousands of civilians, of people who were doing nothing but seeking livelihoods, pursuing their lives – I think that says a lot in the aftermath of a brutalization by Russian bombs, by Russian shells, by Russian artillery. And if that is the focus of any Victory Day parade, any Victory Day celebration, I think that speaks volumes about the nature of the Kremlin and the nature of what they’re doing to the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Thank you. President of the European Council Charles Michel said today that the European Union will provide additional military equipment to Moldova to strengthen its resilience. I wonder if the U.S. considers additional military assistance to Moldova and Georgia, and I wonder if you see any imminent threat of new Russian aggression in the region against these countries.
MR PRICE: Both Georgia and Moldova, our – are important partners of the United States. We are committed to their sovereignty, to their independence, to their territorial integrity. We have demonstrated that commitment in a number of ways. When it comes to Moldova, we spoke about this, I believe, on Tuesday. We recently restarted a strategic dialogue with our Moldovan counterparts. Secretary Blinken was recently in Chișinău, where he met with the Moldovan leadership; had an opportunity to meet with Moldovan leadership once again here for that strategic dialogue.
It is a partnership that spans many different elements. We have provided significant amount – a significant amount of humanitarian assistance to our Moldovan partners. Our militaries have an effective partnership. They have served together side by side as far away as Kosovo, and our commitment, as I said before, to the sovereignty, to the independence, to the territorial integrity of Moldova and to Georgia, which we have demonstrated in our own right as well – that is something that we will continue to support.
QUESTION: And any negotiations planned with Georgian side about the latest developments in the region and Russian aggression?
MR PRICE: We’re always in touch through our embassy, through the department here with our partners in the region. That certainly includes with our counterparts in Tbilisi. Those discussions are ongoing. Again, to your previous question, we know that Vladimir Putin may harbor aspirations to wage aggression against other countries in the region. I think we are demonstrating in response to how we are providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to be effective against this instance, this egregious instance of Russian aggression – we are demonstrating that the United States and our allies and partners won’t stand for that type of activity.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) news network, Pakistan. Sir, last week there was a suicide bomb blast in Pakistan. Due to situation in Afghanistan, we have seen rising terrorism in Pakistan. The security assistance was suspended by previous U.S. administration. It is still suspended. Is there any reviews going on?
MR PRICE: Well, at the time, we strongly condemned the terrorist attack against Karachi University, a university in Pakistan. We reiterate that condemnation today. A terrorist attack anywhere is an affront to humanity everywhere, but for a terrorist attack to take place at a university, or at a religious site, or at some of the locations we’ve seen recently – that is a true affront to mankind.
When it comes to your question, what I’ll say is that we value our bilateral relationship. We want to continue to work together in areas where we do have mutual interests with our Pakistani partners. That includes counterterrorism. That includes border security as well.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Sir, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom recommended to include India into their blacklist, like for the religious freedom violations. So what would be the – expecting to see in regards to, like, second time in a row a U.S. commission recommended India to be included into the CPC countries?
MR PRICE: Well, USCIRF is an independent commission. It’s not a governmental entity. It does provide recommendations and guidance to the U.S. Government. It is something that we look at closely as we evaluate conditions of religious freedom or lack thereof around the world. I have no doubt that our experts in our Office of International Religious Freedom will take a close look at the report that USCIRF has submitted as they prepare for our determinations and our findings when it comes to religious freedom around the world.
QUESTION: And on China, can you give a preview of the China strategy speech?
MR PRICE: I was going to deflect that question and to duck it, pointing to the fact that there would be a speech tomorrow. Unfortunately, there won’t be a speech tomorrow, but there will be a speech at some point in the not too distant future. So I will then duck that question pointing to that date in the not too distant future.
QUESTION: And about Secretary Blinken, did he take an antigen test or a PCR test? It said about taking – took one on Tuesday and also this morning.
MR PRICE: He tested positive earlier this afternoon via PCR test. He had tested negative as recently as earlier this morning, and again yesterday with antigen tests.
QUESTION: Okay, well, let’s just stay on that – and I don’t know how much you covered at the beginning before I was here.
MR PRICE: I think I answered everyone’s questions.
QUESTION: No, on this?
MR PRICE: I’m kidding.
QUESTION: On the COVID? So you say that he’s not considered a close contact with the President.
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Certainly he’s – correct me if I’m wrong – a close contact with the Swedish foreign minister, who was —
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: — here this afternoon, and potentially with the Mexican foreign secretary who was here yesterday and everyone who was at that luncheon. So have they all been informed? And then why, if he tested negative this morning with an antigen test, did he get a PCR test this afternoon? Was it because he was feeling symptomatic (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: So we are in the process and we have notified those individuals with whom he has been in close contact following CDC guidance. So in most cases, if not all cases, we’ve been in a position to notify them. The Secretary, as you know, he has young kids in the house. As you know, he was around a number of people this weekend. So as a matter of precaution, he does regularly test. He reported symptoms this afternoon. He received a PCR test shortly thereafter.
QUESTION: So in other words, he didn’t get the PCR test this afternoon because he was – he was feeling symptoms. He got it just because —
MR PRICE: He reported symptoms this afternoon and thereafter received a PCR test.
QUESTION: So that’s why he took the PCR test?
MR PRICE: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: I mean, it wasn’t something that was required since he had been – he had tested negative this —
MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, and then – so can you say approximately how many people have been notified that they are close contacts of the Secretary? I mean, does it go back to Saturday night’s dinner? Does it go to whatever events, parties that he went to on Sunday?
MR PRICE: What I will say is —
QUESTION: How far back —
MR PRICE: — that he is he is working closely with the department physician, his physician here at the department. They are working together to follow CDC guidance, to reconstruct close contacts in the appropriate period. And those people either have been notified or are in the process of being notified.
QUESTION: Okay, well, can you just explain to me – according – I guess it’s CDC guidance, but also – and I’ve had personal experience with this as well with a State Department physician. But can you say that the Swedish foreign minister is a close contact? I mean, we saw them standing next to each other —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: — but I don’t know if that qualifies for the 15 minutes and – you know.
MR PRICE: I will – I don’t want to divulge —
QUESTION: I know you don’t want to —
MR PRICE: — divulge anyone’s health information. What I will say is that he had a bilateral meeting —
QUESTION: Fair enough, but —
MR PRICE: — with the Swedish foreign minister, and the press aspect of that was only one element of it.
MR PRICE: So suffice it to say that we are notifying everyone who is considered a close contact per that CDC guidance.
QUESTION: The Secretary spoke at the Foreign Press Centers yesterday. You were along with the Secretary.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Have you tested negative? And also any update on informing reporters and Foreign Press Centers staffers?
QUESTION: So if – I believe you were there at the at the Foreign Press Center. The Secretary was not within six feet of reporters. There are CDC guidelines regarding close contacts. As I was explaining to Matt, we are and have notified those individuals who would qualify as close contacts. I was tested just about an hour ago and tested negative.
QUESTION: A couple questions on Ukraine.
QUESTION: So hang on a second, so you were identified as a close contact? I mean, I would hope you were since you’re his spokesman, but —
MR PRICE: What I will say is that I was tested about an hour ago and tested negative.
QUESTION: On Ukraine, a couple of questions. Let me start with Hungary, which is pushing back against oil – Russian oil ban. I know you’re not involved in this, but the U.S. did not impose sanctions on Russian oil, but rather decided to go with its own purchase decision. Will Hungary’s pushback, first, affect your relationship with Hungary? Secondly, will maybe cause the U.S. to reconsider its decision on Russian oil ban moving towards the sanctions, which will make Hungary an enabler if they continue to —
MR PRICE: When it comes to the proposed oil ban, it is something we welcome on the part of the EU. I would need to refer you to the European Union for any details. Obviously this is a question that they continue to discuss within their own bloc, within their member states.
There is, however, broad support among our allies and partners for cutting off what is undeniably the strength of President Putin’s economy and his war machine, and that is energy. We are united as a NATO Alliance. We are united with our European allies, including with the EU, on the imperative on cutting back and choking off this important source of revenue for our – for the Russian Federation. We are in regular conversation with our partners and allies about the most effective way to decrease their dependence on Russian energy.
The position the United States is in is different from the position that any member of the EU is in; it is different from the position that any other country around the world is in. The United States, as we have discussed, is in a fortunate position in that we were never reliant on Russian energy, and in fact, we have infrastructure and we have energy supplies in this country that has enabled us to do things earlier that other countries, that other blocs are considering now. And shortly after the start of the invasion, on March 8th, President Biden signed an executive order that banned the import of key sources of Russian energy.
Now, of course, the EU – there are certain countries in the EU who have a higher dependence on Russian energy. Our goal is to see to it that we do everything to choke off these strategic assets, to make it as painful for the Kremlin and to make it as painless for the United States and our partners and allies around the world. But these are conversations that are ongoing within the EU, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of those.
QUESTION: One more question on the EU – EU unity, actually – Secretary Blinken and French Foreign Minister Le Drian, last week they had their call, and the readout says that they also discussed intensifying support for both North Macedonia and Albania on their EU accession bids. So can you tell me more in detail what exactly this intensified support means that was mentioned in the readout and how this support is given? Do you have some back-and-forth diplomatic channels with Bulgaria? Did you contact the EU leaders to convince Bulgaria and even put pressure on it to lift its veto for these countries to finally start the negotiation talks with the EU, North Macedonia, and Albania?
MR PRICE: Well, the United States has long been a strong supporter of North Macedonia and Albania’s integration into the EU. We believe the future of the Western Balkans is squarely with the EU. The enlargement process promotes long-term peace, stability, prosperity throughout the region, and the EU’s March 2020 decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania we think was a positive step. These two countries have laid the groundwork, and the time, we believe, is now to move forward together to the next phase in the long and challenging accession process.
The historic Prespa Agreement demonstrated that countries in the Western Balkans are capable of doing difficult things, making compromises, and finding solutions, and we’re confident that Bulgaria and North Macedonia will do the same by negotiating their bilateral disputes. We do continue on a bilateral basis to urge both of them, Bulgaria and North Macedonia, to resolve those disputes quickly, but obviously we’re not going to detail those conversations.
QUESTION: To go back to Iran. The families of some of the imprisoned Americans joined in a demonstration today outside the White House. Can you give us an update on the status of the indirect talks over the detainees? Are they still happening despite the holdup in the nuclear talks? And will the State Department help facilitate a meeting between the families and President Biden, as they called for today?
MR PRICE: So in terms of the Americans who are detained – wrongfully detained – in Iran, we have made the point that we have no higher priority than the safe return of Americans who are wrongfully or unjustly detained anywhere, and that includes the four Americans who are detained in Iran.
We’ve also made the point that even as there had been a process in Vienna to discuss nuclear issues, that we were not going to conflate these two areas of discussion. And we weren’t going to do those for one simple reason, and I think that simple reason has become even more evident given where we are now in terms of the talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The JCPOA has always been an uncertain proposition. It is very uncertain now, the potential of a mutual return to compliance with it.
We want to see to it that the return of these Americans is a certain proposition. So it does not do us, it certainly does not do these Americans or their families any good to tie their fates to something that may or may not happen. At the same time, we have conveyed in no uncertain terms to the Iranians the priority we attach to seeing the safe release of these Americans. It is something that our team here as worked on constantly. It’s something that we worked on even before the formal process in Vienna began in the spring of 2021.
QUESTION: To follow up on the families.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Just – I just want to make sure you get a chance to respond to these families are out there. They gave – were out there this morning, gave a press conference where there was a lot of – obviously a lot of criticism of the administration for, as they see it, not doing enough to get their family members home. Specifically, Alexandra Forseth is the daughter and niece of two of the guys who were part of the CITGO-6 in Venezuela. She says, talking to the other families, they all see this pattern of indecision from the administration in terms of trying to get family members home, talked about running into roadblocks within the administration as they tried to – try to get more action from you guys that would help to get these family members home. Now, how do you respond to these people’s emotional pleas and criticisms like that?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to respond directly only because I am not going to be in a position to understand their full anguish and the emotion that is of course attached to having a loved one held unjustly in a faraway place for, in all cases, far too long and, for most of those cases, years at a time. I will never be able to understand that. There are many people in this building who don’t – won’t be able to understand that on a personal level. But what I can say is that we are doing everything we can, almost all of it unseen, almost all of it unsaid in public, to do everything we can to advance the commitment that President Biden has to see these Americans who are wrongfully or unjustly detained around the world or in some cases held hostage around the world brought home.
The President has made a commitment to do that. We have been able to make good on that commitment in a number of cases, including as you alluded to in Venezuela, including in Burma, including in Afghanistan, including in Haiti, including most recently in Russia with the return of Trevor Reed. In all of those cases, we did not detail contemporaneously what it was that we were doing, but we were doing it and we were executing on the President’s commitment. We are executing on the priority that the President attaches to this, that Secretary Blinken attaches to this.
And our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs and his office, Roger Carstens and his office. They have traveled the world, they are ready and willing to go anywhere, to talk to anyone as in some cases – as in many cases they have – in an effort to see these Americans returned to their homes. That is a commitment we have. We will keep executing on that commitment until every single last American is reunited with her or his family.
QUESTION: Can you talk some more about the State Department’s process for determining that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia? And why did that take the amount of time that it did?
MR PRICE: What I can say is that – and as you heard from us yesterday, we have – we have determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. There is – there will be no change, of course, to the fact that we are going to do everything we can to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner, to her family. There’s only so much I can say about the process for determining whether an American is wrongfully detained. It is a deliberative process.
But what I can say is that we weigh the totality of circumstances in every case: whether it’s the case of Brittney Griner, whether it’s the case of Paul Whelan, whether it’s the case of Americans in Iran. There are going to be unique factors in each and every one of those cases. But I would say that the Robert Levinson Act, section 302 of that act, does spell out a number of criteria – 11 criteria that are among the factors that we look at in determining whether an American who is detained overseas is held wrongfully or unjustly.
And you can see for yourself many of those criteria: if there is, for example, an indication of innocence; if the detention is based on being a U.S. national; if it is in violation of the laws of the detaining country; if due process has been sufficiently denied or impaired, and you can go on through that list.
But each case of an American detained overseas is going to be unique, and in each case, we look at the totality of circumstances in that case when it comes to arriving at such a determination.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on their call for White House meetings, the Tices met with President Biden this week. Will the other families have a chance to?
MR PRICE: What I can say – I can only speak for the Department of State, but I can say that Secretary Blinken has frequently had an opportunity to meet and to speak with the families of Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world. As recently within the past couple days he’s had an opportunity to meet face to face with the family of one such American and to speak to the family over the phone of another such American.
We often don’t publicize these, again, because our efforts – we want to see to it that our efforts have the best prospects of being effective. And we’ve found that when we undertake these activities, these discussions quietly, that they are bestowed typically with more effectiveness.
Now, of course, President Biden, Jake Sullivan, others at the White House have also routinely met with the families of hostages. It is important for us to hear their perspective, to hear their inputs. After all, it’s these families who know the details, who know the intricacies of these cases better than anyone. And there was a process put forward in 2015 with a new PPD that called for a more streamlined, more effective process for engaging with the families. That is a commitment that the department and I know this entire administration takes very seriously, knowing that, again, these families are going to be the best advocates, these families are going to be the best experts when it comes to the unique and the totality of circumstances behind each individual case.
QUESTION: Ned, two questions on conflicts, and let me start with Ukraine again. President Zelenskyy said today that we will not go to a frozen conflict. I wonder if it reflects Washington’s viewpoint as well. Can Ukraine rely on State Department’s or Washington’s support when it comes to frozen conflict (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I missed part of your question. Can Ukraine rely on the United States —
QUESTION: Yeah. The president said that he will not accept frozen – another frozen – we have been there, done that, so that’s not a solution. Does that reflect general sentiment here as well as a potential playout of this —
MR PRICE: The general sentiment here – in fact, the only sentiment here – is that it is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine the endpoint that they want to achieve. It is up to them to determine what they seek to achieve in their discussions with the Russians. It is up to them to determine what it is that is the will of their people. And it is our role to support them in carrying that out. It is our role to support them on the battlefield by providing security assistance. It is our role to support them at the negotiating table by strengthening their hand, including by providing them security assistance, but also holding the Russian Federation to account.
QUESTION: To another conflict as well, chief OSCE monitor Andrzej Kasprzyk was at the State Department this morning. I believe he met with Assistant Secretary Donfried. Have they discussed the Nagorno-Karabaakh issue and/or is the U.S. – the state of U.S. involvement at this point? I know that there are some efforts between Europeans and Washington and probably the – if I’m not mistaken, there have been other meetings this week or next week with Europeans. Am I right?
MR PRICE: Sorry, I missed the last part of your question.
QUESTION: That there have been other meetings between Europeans and Washington either this week or next week, if I’m not mistaken —
MR PRICE: I don’t know if they agreed to an additional meeting or if that was discussed, but we’ll let you know if we have more details to share from that meeting.
We’ll take a couple final questions, yes.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a question on Saudi Arabia on behalf of a colleague, Michele, who had to leave. But The Wall Street Journal says that – has reported that CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia in mid-April, and according to this article, one American official has called – has described the trip as better than prior engagements. What’s the status of relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? Has it gotten worse? Is it the Russia crisis – the crisis that Russia has created? And what will it take to bring back Saudi Arabia in this way and not – and not let it go towards Russia and China?
MR PRICE: Well, I think I would dispute the premise of the second part of your question. Of course, Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding partner of the United States. In many ways that’s a partnership that dates back to 1945, when FDR met with King Abdul Aziz. But fast-forwarding, more recently, you’ve heard from senior American and Saudi officials about the critical importance of the strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and importantly, how we can use that strategic partnership and those strategic ties to deliver for our own people.
For our part, we have pursued the many mutual interests that we have with our Saudi partners. We’ve pursued the many interests that we have within the Gulf region and beyond with Saudi Arabia, just as we have sought to elevate human rights and to put them at the center of our foreign policy, including at the center of our bilateral relationships. And we have – not unrelated to that – engaged in vigorous diplomacy, including with our Saudi partners, to seek to bring an end to the war in Yemen. And I think across the board you have seen the way we have managed this relationship and the way we have – the way we have engaged with this partner deliver results for the United States, for our Saudi partners as well.
Most recently, we supported UN efforts to secure a nationwide two-month truce in Yemen. We – it is something that we were – have been quite encouraged by. It is a testament to the work of the UN special envoy but also to our own Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, who has spent quite a good bit of time in Riyadh and other parts of Saudi Arabia and in other parts of the Gulf to arrive at this two-month truce that, of course, we want to see built upon.
We’re also encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s return of its ambassador to Lebanon at an important moment. And we remain committed to building a partnership with Saudi Arabia that is durable and that is, importantly, sustainable that accounts for the broad range of shared interests that our countries have, whether that is helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory and the 70-some-odd thousand Americans who are resident within the kingdom; whether it is helping to educate tens of thousands of young Saudis who will help to craft and to drive their country’s future; whether it’s partnering on clean energy and renewables; whether it’s addressing human rights or, as I said before, helping to end the war in Yemen.
Our approach to this partnership has been designed to advance the ball on each and every one of those, and the way we measure this partnership is in terms of that effectiveness: what have we been able to achieve? And we’ve been able to achieve a great deal, including in recent weeks.
QUESTION: There is no point of contention, no differences?
MR PRICE: Every relationship is unique, and of course there is no country around the world with whom we share identical perspectives on every single issue. What is important for us is that we manage our relationship in a way that delivers results for our two countries, and I think in the case of Saudi Arabia you’ve been able to see many of those results in recent weeks.
One final question.
QUESTION: Are there any plans to help the Ukrainian refugees that traveled to Mexico and are now in this limbo state because the U.S. is no longer accepting them?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that we have put in place a process so that Ukrainians need not make the journey to Mexico or to any other third country in the region because we do have a pipeline now, a program we are calling Uniting for Ukraine under which Ukrainians can be sponsored directly and under which they can be paroled directly into the United States for two years.
Now, the President has made a commitment to bring to this country 100,000 Ukrainians and others affected by this war. That includes Ukrainians who are internally displaced within their home country, Ukrainians who are now refugees in Europe, but in some cases there will be Ukrainians who are refugees in places closer to the United States. We’re going to adjudicate each of those cases, but again, there is now a program through which Ukrainians have much readier, much easier access to the United States through this sponsorship program. Of course, that’s not the only pathway for arrival here in the United States – the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the Lautenberg Program under those auspices, and then the additional resources we have committed to visa processing – visa processing in the region for Ukrainians seeking to travel to the United States.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 4:42 p.m.)