Department Press Briefing – May 5, 2022
MR PRICE: Small but mighty crew today. Good to see.
MR PRICE: Just one thing at the top, and then I look forward to taking your questions. This morning, together with the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, we announced the 2022 World Food Prize Laureate. Commonly known as the Nobel Prize for agriculture, the award recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.
This year’s winner is American climate scientist Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, who works at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Dr. Rosenzweig is being recognized for her four decades of pioneering work improving the world’s understanding of climate change impacts on agriculture. We offer her our congratulations and gratitude for this critical work.
The World Food Prize Foundation’s mission to advance human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world, engaging in cutting-edge global food security issues, and inspiring the next generation to end hunger – it’s a mission that is critical to addressing food security challenges of today and preparing to feed future generations.
Already a critical concern due to the impacts of the climate crisis, the problem of food insecurity is now even more acute, as President Putin’s war in Ukraine has put millions around the globe at risk. And addressing this issue is a top priority for the U.S. Government.
This morning, as you saw, the department announced the appointment of Dr. Cary Fowler, a noted agriculturalist, as U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced the United States will launch a week of action to address food insecurity across the globe later this month, which will include a ministerial-level meeting on May 18th at the UN in New York and an open debate in the UN Security Council about food insecurity and armed conflict the following day, on May 19th.
On March 24th, President Biden announced $1 billion towards additional humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and global food security. These funds will provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies, and other forms of assistance to those affected by Russia’s invasion.
President Biden has also committed $11 billion to support long-term food security priorities. Once approved by Congress, these funds will be used at home and abroad to support long-term efforts to bolster food security, enhance supply chain resilience, and provide humanitarian aid, including to those affected by this war.
This is in addition to our ongoing work with allies and partners to combat food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s destructive war on Ukraine.
With that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Before I get to policy matters, the Secretary – I presume – maybe, maybe not – you’ve spoken to him? Is he doing okay?
MR PRICE: He is on the phone. He is experiencing only the same mild symptoms. I expect he’ll continue to have phone conversations, speak with staff here, counterparts around the world, members of Congress, and others over the next couple days. And I know he looks forward to returning to the office just as soon as he can.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday, before his positive PCR test, he met with the Swedish foreign minister, who said afterwards in an interview that she had spoken to him about the very real possibility that Sweden would apply for NATO membership, and that the Secretary responded that the U.S. is willing – would be willing to provide security assurances to Sweden in the interim period between application and accession. I’m wondering if you can tell us if – tell us anything more about that, if that is actually correct, and if there were any specifics involved, and what those assurances might be.
MR PRICE: Well, they had a wide-ranging discussion. It was a follow-on discussion to the many conversations, including the in-person meeting that the foreign minister and the Secretary had when the Secretary was in Stockholm for the OSCE meeting late last year. It not only broached Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the attendant issues there, but we cooperate closely with Sweden on a host of bilateral and global issues. That includes food security, advancing democracy, human rights around the world. Sweden has been instrumental in promoting and helping to build upon the ongoing truce in Yemen. We – they discussed areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the EU as Sweden prepares to assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2023.
Of course, they did have an extended discussion on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the implications of it. As we have said before, every country has a right to choose its own path, every country has a right to determine for itself its foreign policy, its alliances, its partnerships. And when it comes to NATO, that is a decision for the 30 members of the Alliance and the aspirant country, and nobody else.
We have consistently made clear our commitment to NATO’s “Open Door” policy. NATO’s door remains open to aspirant countries when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. When it comes to Finland and Sweden, as we’ve said before, both are valued partners of NATO. They’re valued partners of the United States. We remain firmly committed to this “Open Door” policy. Of course, the NATO secretary general has recently noted that Allies would welcome Sweden and Finland, and as the secretary general himself said, I am certain that we will find ways to address concerns they may have regarding the period between the potential application and the final ratification.
The discussion yesterday noted that Sweden has not made any formal public announcement about its intentions to put forward an application for NATO. There was a hypothetical discussion about that and related issues, but as we’ve said, our commitment to NATO’s open door, that is firm. It is an open door that should remain open, must remain open for any country that can meet those stringent application requirements.
QUESTION: Well, okay, fine, but obviously they haven’t yet applied for it, but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. So the idea that it’s a hypothetical question – in the realm of hypothetical questions, it’s less of a hypothetical than, say, I don’t know. I don’t want to insult any country here, but like some very, very tiny country launching a lunar expedition. This is something that is clearly going to happen and that people are preparing for, so what is it that you guys can offer to Sweden and potentially Finland —
MR PRICE: What I would say, Matt, is —
QUESTION: — in that interim period?
MR PRICE: What I would say is that this will remain a hypothetical until it’s not a hypothetical, and at this stage neither Sweden nor Finland has put forward a firm intention to seek NATO membership. That could change in the coming weeks. We’ll leave it to those countries or any other country to speak for itself.
I will just add this without going too far down the hypothetical rabbit hole. Our countries, our militaries have worked together for years. We are confident that we could, as parallel to what the NATO secretary general said, find ways to address any concerns either country could have about the period of time between a NATO membership application and a country’s potential accession to the NATO Alliance. But again, this remains a hypothetical, and until it is not a hypothetical, it’s best left in those terms.
QUESTION: All right, well, let me just – look, it’s a – it’s right now 2:14 p.m. It’s also a hypothetical that it’s going to be 2:15 p.m., okay? So you obviously are making plans for this very likely eventuality. And so – so you’re just not prepared to discuss what those are? Is that the answer to the question?
MR PRICE: You are putting this in terms that are —
QUESTION: It’s now 2:15, so that hypothetical is no longer a hypothetical.
MR PRICE: You are putting this in terms that are more certain than what we’ve heard from our Finnish and Swedish partners, so I will allow our Finnish and Swedish partners to speak for themselves. And if and when they do make that decision or make any other decision, we’ll be prepared to speak to it in more concrete terms.
QUESTION: Can I follow up there?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the United States have any intelligence or assessments or concerns that Russia will launch any kind of attack on Sweden and Finland if they apply?
MR PRICE: I do not have – we don’t have any such information, and certainly nothing to speak to. We have made very clear that we are committed to our partners in Europe. Of course, when it comes to NATO Allies, we have an Article 5 commitment. It’s an ironclad commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all, but as we are demonstrating in the context of Ukraine, we have a commitment to partners across Europe. And as I said before, Sweden, Finland, many other countries across the continent that are not members of NATO, they are strong, stalwart partners of the United States. In some cases they are members of the EU, and we’re committed to those partnerships.
QUESTION: Hi, I want to follow up as well. Did the Secretary have detailed discussions yesterday with the foreign minister on what that support would look like during the period of application?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to Matt’s hypothetical. I will just say —
QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical. You just said that they discussed it. They did.
MR PRICE: They discussed NATO’s “Open Door” policy and they discussed various possibilities in hypothetical terms. I would say it was not a conversation that was deep on the specifics at this point just because it remains a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions, China and North —
MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll take a couple questions on —
QUESTION: Did the U.S. pledge any financial aid to Ukraine in the Poland conference today?
MR PRICE: So we did. As you alluded to, there was a pledging conference, and through the U.S. Agency for International Development we are providing and pledged nearly $387 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Ukraine amid this war. This, of course, is in addition to the more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities in the region since Russia first invaded Ukraine eight years ago, including more than $688 million, almost $700 million this year alone.
You’ve heard us say this before, but the United States has been and is the largest single-country donor of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. On – in late March, on March 24th, President Biden announced that we would be prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new funding towards humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine and its severe impacts around the world, including, as I alluded to at the top, a marked rise in food insecurity.
We’ve also put forward for Congress’s consideration a supplemental budget request that has additional funds, not only for security assistance, not only for economic assistance for Ukraine, but also for humanitarian assistance for those displaced by Russia’s war inside Ukraine and those refugees who have been forced to flee Ukraine, who are now in the region and in some cases further beyond.
QUESTION: You said 378?
MR PRICE: Three hundred and eighty-seven million dollars. Yeah. Anything else on Russia, Ukraine?
QUESTION: I have one on Russia.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Following Trevor Reed’s release last week, has there been any contact between the U.S. and Russian teams on the potential release of other detainees, including Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner?
MR PRICE: So I will say that prior to Trevor Reed’s release you didn’t hear us speak of our communication, our dialogue with the Kremlin, with the Russian Federation regarding any preparations, any plans, any efforts to do so. And that is chiefly because we have found that in these cases we can be more effective if we are afforded the opportunity to have discussions that are outside of public view, that are not conducted in public but are, rather, private.
What I will say generally is that there have been longstanding efforts to free, in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan. Of course, you heard us yesterday that we now consider Brittney Griner to be a case of wrongful detention. Her case will now be handled and is now handled by Ambassador Roger Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. Those efforts to secure their release are ongoing, just as our efforts to secure the release of Americans who are detained around the world.
QUESTION: You said we’d be hearing more from the U.S. in the leadup to May 9th. Is that going to be support for Ukraine? Are those punitive measures? What – can you tell us anything?
MR PRICE: I suspect you will hear us put forward elements that will allow us to continue our strategy. It is a strategy that has, in the context of Ukraine, had two primary elements. One is significant security assistance, significant support for those brave defenders of Ukraine’s democracy, its freedom, its independence, and its territorial integrity.
To date, we have contributed nearly $4 billion since the start of the invasion to this effort. This is security assistance that has proved to be a key enabler of the success that our Ukrainian partners have been able to demonstrate on the battlefield. And if you just take a step back and think about where we are, we’re now 70 days into Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russia has lost the battle of Kyiv. Russia has been forced to narrow its aims. Its aims have gone from an attempt to take an entire country – to subjugate an entire people, to essentially redraw the map of Europe – to focus its military objectives on the south and the east, continuing its brutal campaign, but with objectives that are far different from what Vladimir Putin by many accounts had in mind when his forces went into Ukraine on February 24th.
We’ll continue with that security assistance. We’ll also continue, on the other side of the ledger, to apply unprecedented amounts of pressure on the Kremlin, and we’ve done that together with dozens of countries around the world, spanning four continents, with financial sanctions, with export control measures, with efforts to reduce and wean dependence on Russian energy that has for too long been a source of revenue for the Kremlin and for, more recently, the Kremlin’s war machine in Ukraine.
Both of these things combined to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield and to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table, because our strategy is to see to it that Ukraine emerges from this victorious. Ukraine will do so at the negotiating table. Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s position at that negotiating table as we continue to place mounting costs on the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: The Richardson Center has confirmed that the former ambassador to the UN is taking on Brittney Griner’s case. Is this welcome news to the State Department? Can you comment?
MR PRICE: Look, we appreciate all of those who are very invested in this case, and Brittney Griner is fortunate to have a network who has supported her from day one. We have worked very closely with that network. When it comes to others, we do often partner with various individuals and organizations on these cases, but it’s not something that we speak to publicly. We welcome all of those efforts that are coordinated closely with us that might help to seek the safe release of any American who’s unjustly detained around the world.
QUESTION: How concerned are you that Russia has said that any weapons deliveries from the U.S. or other NATO countries would be a legitimate target?
MR PRICE: We’re not going to respond to Russian bluster, to Russian propaganda. I think you’ve heard from my counterpart at the Department of Defense that we continue to have the unimpeded ability to flow weapons and security assistance into Ukraine. Those deliveries have, whether it’s from the United States or from our allies and partners around the world, been occurring almost daily. The fact that we have been able to announce such large drawdowns – the last two of which have been $800 million, nearly $4 billion since the start of the war, and then to deliver that within oftentimes days of making the announcement – speaks to the fact that we are able to process those drawdowns, to deliver those weapons precisely to our Ukrainian partners, what they need, so they then can take it precisely to where they need it most.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea and China, will additional U.S. sanctions on North Korea be adopted in this month’s UN Security Council resolution? If China and Russia use their veto, then what happen?
MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we are discussing with our allies and partners around the world, and in the first instance we’re having these discussions with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific. We’ve talked about our ironclad commitment to the defense of Korea, the Republic of Korea, and to Japan as well. And so in the aftermath of these most recent provocations, including the three ICBM launches and the ballistic missile launches, this week we have continued those conversations with our allies.
But we are also discussing this with a broader set of allies and partners around the world. That includes in New York, where our ambassador there, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and her team have been engaged on the challenge that is posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program. It is a challenge, it is a threat to international peace and security that the UN Security Council and its members have recognized in the past. The UN Security Council and its members, including all five Permanent Members, in the past have signed on to a string of UN Security Council resolutions. That’s precisely why the ballistic missile launches this week, the ICBM launches in recent weeks have been an affront to multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
So we’re not going to get ahead of any steps that the UN might take or the UN Security Council might take, but we do think that accountability is important. We do think it’s vital that the international community, our allies as well as partners around the world, send a very clear signal to the DPRK that these types of provocations won’t be tolerated, they won’t improve its strategic positioning, and the world will respond accordingly.
QUESTION: On China, yesterday Chinese foreign ministry said the U.S. was responsible for North Korea’s continued missile violations. What is your reaction of Chinese blaming the United States?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to react to the Chinese reaction, especially to one like that. What I will say is that the PRC and the DPRK equally know where we stand on this. We have and we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. It is our goal, as it is the goal of other allies and partners in the region and around the world, to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe we can effect that through diplomacy and dialogue. That is what we seek to have. We have made very clear to the DPRK, we’ve made very clear publicly to all of you, that we are prepared to engage in that dialogue towards the end of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In the absence of discussions with the DPRK, we are engaged concertedly with our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, but also with allies and partners around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, on Syria. Austin Tice’s parents have said yesterday that the President has pledged to engage directly with the Syrian regime to free Austin. How will this engagement be? Are you planning to send a U.S. official to Damascus to talk about this issue?
MR PRICE: So this goes back to what we were – what I was saying in response to previous questions in the case of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner. We’ve often found that we can move the ball forward most effectively if we don’t detail everything we’re doing in public, if we do have space to conduct behind-the-scenes discussions.
In the case of Austin Tice, this is an American who has spent nearly a quarter of his life, almost 10 years of his 40 years on this Earth, separated from his family. We have said before that when our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs speaks with other officials, speaks with regimes, speaks with actors around the world, that is distinct from traditional diplomacy in many ways. And Ambassador Carstens can go places, he can talk to people that others in this administration in some cases would not, but I’m just going to leave it there.
QUESTION: That means he will be going to negotiate with the regime, and will he talk with them about U.S.-Syria relations and —
MR PRICE: I said nothing of the sort. I said that Ambassador Carstens is in a position as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to talk to individuals, to talk to governments, to talk to regimes that others in this department or in this government might not be in a position to do. He has done that before in his role. He has been successful in efforts to free Americans who have been unjustly detained around the world, including in places where we don’t have diplomatic relations. And so we are going to seek to continue that track record of bringing Americans home.
MR PRICE: Well, the elections aren’t until later this month. I believe they’re May 15th. But we do support free —
QUESTION: They start tomorrow in the Arab world and on Sunday (inaudible).
MR PRICE: But we do support free, fair, transparent, and on-time elections in Lebanon that represent the legitimate will of the Lebanese people who are living through crises of historic proportion. We hope these elections will lead to a timely formation of government – of a government that will quickly address the challenges faced by the people of Lebanon.
MR PRICE: I saw initial reports just as I was walking in. If these reports are accurate, and certainly no reason to doubt them, it would be the latest in what has been a string of despicable terrorist attacks that have rocked Israel in recent weeks. We saw them in advance of this holy period, the confluence of Easter, of Passover, of Ramadan. We saw them in advance of the Negev summit. And if this is what it appears to be, it is something that we would condemn in the strongest terms. Our commitment to our Israeli partners, to Israel’s security, that is ironclad, and we’ll provide any and all assistance that may be required in this case.
MR PRICE: Of course, I’m not going to speak to any messages or any travel that the CIA director may have conveyed. What I will say is that we have regularly engaged with our Brazilian partners. Just last month, we had a Strategic Dialogue, and Toria Nuland, our under secretary of state for political affairs, and Jose Fernández, our under secretary of state for economic affairs, were both in Brazil to continue these important conversations.
Our bottom line has been that, like the United States, Brazil is a strong democracy, and we both have a commitment to ensure our democracies deliver for our people. We have high confidence in Brazil’s democratic institutions. Brazil has a strong track record of free and fair elections, with transparency and high levels of voter participation. And it’s important that Brazilians, as they look forward to their elections later this year, have confidence in their electoral systems and that Brazil once again is in a position to demonstrate to the world through these elections the enduring strength of Brazil’s democracy.
MR PRICE: So you’re referring to the fact that the JCPOA continues, we believe, to be in our national security interests. It continues to be in our national security interests principally because it would once again put in a box Iran’s nuclear program, a program that since 2018 has been in a position to gallop forward in ways that are unacceptable to us, that are unacceptable to many of our allies and partners around the world.
If we are going to be in a position to mutually return to full compliance with the JCPOA, what that would do is to once again impose the most stringent set of – the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated. And importantly, it would prolong what is now a breakout time – that is to say, the time it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon if Iran decided to pursue the path of weaponization. It would prolong that period, a period that, once again, for us is unacceptably short.
So we know the status quo can’t endure for long. And so either we’re going to be in a position to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to see those restrictions once again imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, or we’re going to have to pursue a different path. It has been clear to us since the beginning that a mutual return to compliance was never guaranteed. It was never a certainty. So discussions with our allies and partners regarding an alternative approach – that is not something that we have undertaken only in recent days or even recent weeks. These are discussions that we have had for a number of months now with allies and partners around the world.
President Biden has a commitment that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA, if that is back in force, will be the vehicle to carry that out. But we are engaging with allies and partners around the world to devise a means by which we will be able to make good on President Biden’s commitment whether or not there is a JCPOA.
QUESTION: Ned, sorry, how —
QUESTION: Is military option on the table?
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question.
QUESTION: Is military option still on the table?
MR PRICE: We believe that diplomacy and dialogue presents us with the most effective, sustainable, durable means by which to ensure Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: So on this, do you remember the first time that you actually said that you guys have to prepare for a world in which there is no – potentially there is no JCPOA? I mean, it wasn’t yesterday. How many months ago do you think the —
MR PRICE: Well, as I just said —
QUESTION: — do you think that that —
MR PRICE: But Matt, you’re making my point. As I just said, when we —
QUESTION: I’m not trying to make any point, I’m trying to – well, I’m just surprised that people all of a sudden took yesterday that you said we have to prepare for this like it’s something new.
MR PRICE: Ah. I was surprised by that too, yes.
QUESTION: You’ve been saying this for months, right?
MR PRICE: I was —
QUESTION: Do you remember what month you first started saying it?
MR PRICE: I don’t, but as I just alluded to, I’m sure you do and you’ll tell me in just a second.
QUESTION: No, no, no, I didn’t. I actually —
MR PRICE: Oh, okay. Oh, I see, it was a genuine question. I —
QUESTION: All of my questions are genuine, Ned, except when they’re not. (Laughter.)
MR PRICE: What —
QUESTION: Except when they’re hypothetical.
MR PRICE: What I will tell you is that when we started this process in April of 2021 – April more than a year ago now – it was never a certainty. It was never a guarantee that we would get back to a point of mutual return to compliance. We always knew it was an uncertain proposition, so we started preparing for this reality, to your point – to your very valid point – quite some time ago.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay, exactly. So, now, in terms of the debate over this assessment or alleged assessment about whether or not it has – the window has already closed and that it no longer makes sense – according to some people that this assessment says that it no longer makes sense to rejoin the JCPOA – is there a situation in which even though you can’t get everything you want in terms of breakout time with the JCPOA, that the administration still believes that it is in the U.S. national security interest to come back into compliance with it?
MR PRICE: So to the first part of your question, I just want to be clear about this because I know there has been some misinformation, potentially disinformation, out there. There is no “secret assessment,” quote/unquote, that a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA is no longer in our national interest.
QUESTION: Okay, so – all right, stop right there and let me just say – so what is Senator Menendez talking about? Not Senator Cruz, Senator Menendez. When he says that he understands from classified or – I don’t know what – but he understands from the administration that the window actually closed in February. So is he just making this up?
MR PRICE: What I can tell you is that our experts – our experts here, our experts in the Intelligence Community and elsewhere – we are constantly assessing the nonproliferation gains of a potential return to the JCPOA. That is the metric we use. We compare where we are now to the potential nonproliferation gains of a possible return to compliance with the JCPOA. At this stage, such a return would still achieve our most important and most urgent nonproliferation goals and would – at least in the view of the administration – strongly be in our national interest. That is why we continue to pursue, at least for the moment, a mutual return to compliance.
Now, to the point that others have raised, there will come a time when the assessment of the nonproliferation benefits that a return to the JCPOA would bring – when that assessment renders the fact that Iran’s program has advanced too far, that rendering a potential return to the JCPOA is no longer in our interest. But we are not at the point.
QUESTION: In this situation, are you saying that U.S. – broader national U.S. security interests are entirely dependent on the nonproliferation part of it? Or is there a way in which you would assess that even if you don’t get what you’re looking for in terms of breakout time, that it could still be in the U.S. national interest to go back?
MR PRICE: This is a nonproliferation deal.
QUESTION: And that’s it.
MR PRICE: And we look at it through a nonproliferation lens.
QUESTION: And that’s it. There is no other – there’s no other lens. This is a —
MR PRICE: We look at – we – through a nonproliferation lens, comparing a potential return to compliance with the JCPOA to where we are now, it is in our advantage to return to the JCPOA. The famous saying from President Biden – don’t compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative. The JCPOA is the best alternative. It remains the best alternative at the moment. That won’t be the case forever.
QUESTION: Where is Robert Malley at this time and what is he doing?
MR PRICE: The last time I saw Rob was a few days ago. He was in Washington, D.C. He is always on the phone. He is talking to our European allies. He’s talking to other stakeholders. And until and unless there is reason for him to return to Vienna, I suspect he will continue to do a lot of that from here.
QUESTION: Ned, my last one on this. Just what do you make, if anything, of this Senate vote yesterday on the – I mean, I know it’s non-binding, but it was a pretty clear shot across the bow of the administration.
MR PRICE: So it was a vote on the China bill, and we do look forward to the rapid passage of legislation that President Biden can sign to boost our competitiveness vis-à-vis the PRC —
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the Iran deal.
MR PRICE: Well, it was part of the package.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that.
MR PRICE: But to —
QUESTION: All right. This is like me asking you to describe an elephant and you say, well, elephants are scared of mice.
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: And a mouse is a little brown animal, whatever, right?
MR PRICE: The problem is —
QUESTION: I’m asking you about the Iran part of this —
MR PRICE: I know, but the problem is that you —
QUESTION: — which Democrats —
MR PRICE: You —
QUESTION: Very – quite a few of them —
MR PRICE: You interrupted me before I could finish my first sentence, and the second clause of my first sentence was going to say —
QUESTION: All right. Well —
MR PRICE: — we are aware of the nonbinding Iran-related instruction to Senate conferees that was passed yesterday. As I said before, the President’s commitment is that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon. He has been clear that at this point, the best way to realize that is through a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That is what Rob Malley and his team are seeking to achieve at the moment.
We do share the concern expressed by the Senate about other aspects of Iran’s behavior, including their development of ballistic missiles, support for terrorism through the IRGC and other elements. And that’s why our administration has actually increased sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and on the IRGC over the past year. There is nothing in a potential return to the JCPOA that would in any way diminish our resolve or our ability to continue combating these aspects of Iran’s policies in the region. If this math is still correct, of the 107 sanctions that we have applied on Iran since January 20th of 2021, 86 of those – which, if my math is right, about three quarters of those – have been on the IRGC. We are committed to doing all we can, pulling every lever we can to take on the threat, together with our partners, from the IRGC.
Now, having said all that, we know that all of these problems are even more intractable, even more challenging – and challenging, if Iran also is in a position to have a nuclear program that is unconstrained. That is why we have always been of the mindset that the decision to withdraw from an agreement that was demonstrably working to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has comprehensively failed to protect our national security interests and, in fact, has actually resulted in the opposite. It has resulted in an Iran that is more aggressive, that is more destabilizing, and its proxies could be called the same.
QUESTION: Okay. But it is still the administration’s position that you do not believe that you can get anything outside of the nuclear stuff into a return to the JCPOA? In other words, just as it was in 2015, the missiles, the support for extremists, et cetera – you’re not looking to get that into just – get that into a deal?
MR PRICE: The JCPOA is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: Okay, so then is this the end of the longer and stronger thing that you guys have been – had been talking about since February of last year (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: As I said before, we are committed to working with our allies and partners to address these other challenges that —
QUESTION: Right, but the JCPOA is not going to be longer and stronger even —
MR PRICE: The first step —
QUESTION: Even —
MR PRICE: The first step, but —
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. But if you, a deal to return, it isn’t going to be longer and stronger for now.
MR PRICE: The first step is testing the proposition as to whether we can mutually return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: I get that.
MR PRICE: That’s the first step.
MR PRICE: Now, going back to the point about hypotheticals, it’s far from clear that we’ll get there.
QUESTION: Well, it wasn’t a hypothetical.
MR PRICE: No, no —
QUESTION: This is what the administration came into – into office saying not only do we want to return to the JCPOA, but we want to make it longer and stronger, part of one whole thing. And I just want to make sure that what you’re saying now is that you have essentially – given up might be a pejorative here, but you don’t believe that it is – that it is at all possible to include other things that weren’t covered by the original deal in —
MR PRICE: We have – we have —
QUESTION: — in a new one.
MR PRICE: We have always said that a first step is putting a box back on top of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the first step. It is, to my point a moment ago, a hypothetical as to whether we’ll be able to do that, because it’s far from certain whether a mutual return to the JCPOA will be in the offing or not. Whether we’re able to get there or if we’re not able to get there, we are still going to work with partners and allies and still engage in diplomacy to see to it that we can take on these other challenges that Iran poses to the region and by extension to us. And that includes the IRGC and its ballistic missile program, among other challenges.
QUESTION: Ned, you – when you talk about Iran’s advances to a point where the benefits of the JCPOA will not be realized anymore, about that, nuclear experts believe that at a certain point anybody – anybody with nuclear capabilities – can produce crude nuclear bombs, which is one level, obviously, less than the actual, bigger size one. Does the administration differentiate between these two? Because according to David Albright, he – in early April, he estimated that between mid April and end of April Iran would have enough, 60 percent, to manufacture a crude bomb. Does the administration differentiate? Do you – are you waiting until it has – it does 90 percent?
MR PRICE: We have a commitment that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. And the reason why we have pursued a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is not only that it would define what Iran can’t do and to impose the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, but it would give the international community – principally through the IAEA – greater transparency into all of the potential pathways that Iran could seek to illicitly acquire a nuclear weapon. So to have an agreement that has these caps, that has a stringent verification and monitoring regime, and as a result that affords much greater levels of transparency to international weapons inspectors, this is why the JCPOA remains – at least for the moment – manifestly in our interest.
QUESTION: Well, sure. But by now Iran may have enough, 60 percent, to manufacture a smaller explosive. That doesn’t count?
MR PRICE: You’re raising something that, again, falls in the category of hypotheticals. We are – we have made clear that we are determined, the President has a commitment, that Iran won’t be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We want to see to it that we put everything in place in a way that is sustainable, in a way that is durable, in a way that is transparent, so that not only can we prevent this, but if Iran seeks to manufacture a nuclear weapon, if it seeks to manufacture, as you put it, a crude nuclear device, that is something that we would able to detect early on.
All right. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Hold it. I got one more.
MR PRICE: Oh, okay. Okay.
MR PRICE: Not an update since we last talked about it. I think as you know, this is a matter that is before a court in Nepal. Our priority and responsibility is to assist U.S. citizens the most effective way possible. The embassy in Kathmandu, the department are working diligently to assist the family member in this case. Embassy personnel are in regular contact with the father. They’ve informed him of all developments in this case.
QUESTION: But you’re – you do not consider this to be a case of the child being abducted from India into Nepal?
MR PRICE: We are not characterizing this case as an international parental child abduction to Nepal.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: But – well, continue, if you have more.
MR PRICE: Okay. So I’ll give you the fuller facts.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: We understand the facts of the case to be the following: The child’s Indian national mother was – wrongfully retained the U.S.-citizen child in India in 2017. The father, who is a U.S. citizen, immediately secured a court order in Cook County, Illinois, determining he had sole custody of the child while she was still unlawfully retained in India with her mother. In light of the mother’s actions, the department considers the case to be an international parental child abduction case between the U.S. and India, and the U.S. has formally raised it with the Indian Government on several occasions, urging a swift resolution. In April of this year, the father, while visiting the child, departed India with her across the border to Nepal. Both parents are now in Nepal.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh – sorry, Matt.
QUESTION: No, I’m done. Thank you. I said “thank you.”
MR PRICE: It will be rescheduled. I do not have a date to offer at this time, but I can assure you that we will find a date at the earliest opportunity.
Thank you, all.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)
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