2:24 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
MR PRICE: Happy Monday. One thing at the top and then I will take your questions. On May 8th and 9th, 1945, celebrations erupted around the world to mark the end of World War II in Europe after Nazi Germany surrendered its military forces to the Allies. It represented the defeat of the forces of authoritarianism, of oppression, and of aggression. We honor the sacrifice of all those who made that victory in 1945 possible. We also join our friends in the European Union celebrating Europe Day today, working to realize the dream of a Europe whole, free, and at peace, which is more urgent today than in any time in recent memory.
Today, President Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, its peaceful neighbor, again threatens the stability of Europe, violating the principles that undergird the rules-based international order. His coldblooded aggression has ended too many lives, forced millions of Ukrainian citizens from their homes, and brought suffering to millions more. Just this past weekend, Putin’s forces executed an airstrike on a school serving as a bomb shelter, and reports indicate that around 60 civilians are under the rubble.
On this solemn occasion, we reiterate that the United States stands with Ukraine. We thank our allies, we thank our partners who are providing safe haven to refugees from Ukraine. We applaud the countries that have stood up to the Kremlin’s bullying and threats. The United States remembers that victory over tyranny is hard fought and hard won, and we will continue to support Ukraine as it fights for the freedom of its country and its people and the values we together share.
Yesterday, the United States took sweeping actions to hold perpetrators and facilitators of human rights abuses accountable, to impose severe costs on the Government of the Russian Federation, and to degrade the Kremlin’s ability to support President Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine.
Specifically, we imposed visa restrictions on over 2,600 Russian and Belarusian military officials who are believed to have been involved in actions that threaten or violate the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of Ukraine. Including among this group are personnel who reportedly took part in Russian military activities in Bucha, the horrors of which have shocked the world.
We designated the executives and board members of two of Russia’s most important banks, a Russian state-owned bank and 10 of its subsidiaries, and a state-supported weapons manufacturer.
Further, we designated the Ministry of Defense’s shipping company and six other maritime shipping companies that transport weapons and other military equipment for the Government of Russia, while identifying 69 of their vessels as blocked property. Additionally, we designated a specialized marine engineering company that produces remotely operated subsea equipment, among other activities.
We also designated three state-owned and controlled media outlets that are within Russia and have been among the largest recipients of foreign revenue, which feeds back to the Russian state. These television stations are key sources of disinformation used to bolster President Putin’s war.
Finally, the United States is cutting off Russia’s access to certain key services from U.S. companies that the Russian Federation and Russian elites exploit to hide their wealth and evade these very sanctions. We are prohibiting U.S. persons, wherever located, from providing accounting, trust and corporate formation, and management consulting services to any person located in Russia. We are also identifying the accounting, trust and corporate formation services, and management consulting sectors of the Russian economy, which will allow the United States to target any person who operates or has operated in these sectors of the Russian economy.
Our actions yesterday complement previous steps we have taken with our allies and partners since the beginning of Russia’s unconscionable war. The United States will continue to execute new economic measures against Russia as long as the Russian Federation continues its aggression against Ukraine.
With that, happy to turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Happy Monday. A couple things on Ukraine, on the sanctions, and then after that I wanted to ask you just if you have any thoughts about President Putin’s Victory Day speech today and what you thought about it. But on the sanctions first – and I suspect that your answers will be brief – one, can you be at all more specific about the visa restrictions, about who these 2,600 people are? How many of them are actually accused of or suspected of or have been identified as being suspects in committing war crimes, and how many others are just what you would say, I suppose, just complicit in the whole operation?
And then also on the sanctions, secondly, are you concerned at all that the sanctions that you’ve imposed on these Russian-owned, state-owned TV stations will open up in particular U.S.-funded – more restrictions, more Russian restrictions on U.S.-funded media outlets?
MR PRICE: Sure. So on your first question, Matt, as you know, we announced a slew of measures yesterday. The visa restrictions on Belarusian and Russian military officials was one element of that. As you alluded to and as I alluded to at the top, we imposed sanctions on three of the most highly viewed state-controlled TV stations. We put measures in place to prevent U.S. persons from providing key services to individuals in the Russian Federation. We announced additional export controls, new controls to further limit Russia’s access to items and revenue that could potentially support its military activity. And we sanctioned a large number of individuals, including the – actually more than 2,600 individuals you mentioned.
Specifically, we took action to impose visa restrictions on 2,596 Russian nationals who are members of Russia’s armed forces and are believed to have been involved in actions that threatened or violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political – or political independence. A majority of these nationals were reportedly in Bucha during the atrocities that occurred in March – or excuse me, in March of this year. We further targeted 13 Belarusian military officials believed to have been – believed to have supported or been actively complicit in President Putin’s war against Ukraine.
When it comes to the sanctioning of these television stations, I think a couple points are in order. First, these are some of the most prolific purveyors of the misinformation and rather the disinformation that President Putin and his government have consistently fed to Russians. These are some of the very outlets that claimed that the atrocities – potential war crimes – that we have all seen in Bucha and other places were staged, that they took place after Russian forces left, that they are the work of Ukraine, of the West. There is no doubt that these are key elements in President Putin’s efforts to keep his people in the dark and to actually place a veil of disinformation around their heads.
Importantly, what we did is deprive the ability of U.S. advertisers – any U.S. advertiser that would see fit to advertise with these stations – to do so. And not only are these key sources of misinformation and disinformation for President Putin and the Kremlin, but they are key sources of foreign revenue, about $300 million a year. That is not a paltry sum, especially when you take into account the fact that we have systematically choked off many of the sources of foreign revenue that President Putin and the broader Kremlin have been able to enjoy.
So we know the Kremlin often takes part in moral equivalence. I am somewhat certain they might seek to do so here. But there is no equivalence between what these stations do and what U.S.-funded outlets do around the world.
MR PRICE: And then on your question in terms of President Putin’s speech today, look, rather than respond directly to something that is so ahistorical, something that is so divorced from reality, it’s an opportunity for us to be clear about the facts and the reality. Contrary to what we heard today in Moscow, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a brutal war of choice. It was unprovoked, it was unjustified, it was premeditated, and it has brought catastrophic loss of life across Ukraine – Ukrainians and, yes, Russian service members who – many of whom were sent to Ukraine without prior knowledge to fight and die for a war that many of them may have wanted no part in.
We know that in the conduct of this war Russia’s forces have committed war crimes and carried out atrocities. Just this weekend we saw a school in eastern Ukraine leveled by a Russian bomb. I mentioned at the top there are reports that dozens of individuals may still be under the rubble. To call this a defensive action is patently absurd. To call this anything other than a premeditated war of choice against the state of Ukraine, the Government of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine is an affront to the historical record.
One other point on this – and many of you are deeply familiar with this because many of you were with us during these efforts – but Secretary Blinken, others in the administration spared no diplomatic effort to prevent, to forestall this war. These efforts started last year, late last year, when we first went public with our concerns about what was then Russia’s military buildup along the borders with Ukraine inside Belarus. We tried to do so bilaterally, engaging directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov, engaging directly with his deputies in the context of the Strategic Stability Dialogue that Deputy Secretary Sherman led. We tried to do so multilaterally at the NATO-Russia Council together with our NATO Allies. We tried to do so multilaterally through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with a broader set of allies and partners.
Of course, none of those efforts worked. It was not for lack of trying. It was not for lack of good faith effort. It was because this was a premeditated and wholly unjustified war – there’s no other term for it, no other euphemism for it, even if you’re not allowed to say it in Russia – that was premeditated and predetermined from the start.
So to hear senior Russian officials claim otherwise again is a disservice to history. It is an insult to those who have lost their lives and those who have fallen victim to this senseless aggression.
QUESTION: Okay. So on the visa bans, where do these names come from? And how do you know that the majority of the 2,596 Russian troops were reportedly in Bucha? Are these coming from the – are the names coming from the Ukrainians, or do you have your own, like, list of Russian soldiers who’ve been deployed to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So there’s not too much I can say here. What I can say is that we pull from all sources of information that are available to us. In some cases, this will be public information. As you might imagine, in many cases, especially in instances like this, this information won’t be public. It will be from our own sources of information. We do coordinate closely with our Ukrainian partners. But I will tell you that we do an immense amount of vetting on any information we receive to ensure that when we apply a statutory authority against any individual, against any entity or target, that that individual entity or target does, in fact, meet the statutory requirements of the law.
QUESTION: You have no idea if any of these people actually have even Russian passports for which they could get a – might be able to get a visa.
MR PRICE: Well, there are some 2,500 Russians and 13 Belarussians —
QUESTION: All right. Well, but do – how many of them actually had visas or even had passports who were –
MR PRICE: You probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that visa records are confidential. So I just –
QUESTION: Well, I’m not surprised to hear you say that. But on the TV thing —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Were you aware of any U.S. advertisers that were actually buying time on these channels? By that, I’m trying to get at what – if you say you’re denying them this opportunity, this revenue opportunity, how – what’s the hit here? How much are they going to lose in U.S. advertising?
MR PRICE: I couldn’t tell you if any U.S. advertisers had been purchasing time recently. But what I can tell you is that there were hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that these stations were pulling in. It’s not only U.S. advertisers who are now not able to do this, but it sends an important signal to foreign companies around the world that might otherwise consider advertising in what not all that long ago was a lucrative marketplace, could have been a lucrative marketplace.
QUESTION: Okay. But you don’t have any idea what the hit that they’re going to take is, do you?
MR PRICE: I don’t have an assessment to offer for you right here.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: Ned, staying on Ukraine, I think it was last week the U.S. ambassador to OSCE said he was – the U.S. was assessing that Russia was planning to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, hold the sham referendums there. There has been a lot of speculation on what Putin may or may not say today. Some of that hasn’t materialized. Given that, is the U.S. still worried about this potential annexation? You guys, I think, had uttered the timeline of mid-May. Is that still the anticipation? Is that still the expectation from the U.S., that that’s going to happen around then?
MR PRICE: Our concern remains, and our concern is based on a couple different elements. First, it is based on the Russian playbook. It is a Russian playbook that we have seen, that we have seen turned to time and again. In Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, this is what Russian authorities and proto-authorities have done in the past. They have sought to annex. They have sought to conduct sham elections to give their occupation this patina of legitimacy. And our concern remains that they will attempt to do so once again in territory in eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: And timeline-wise?
MR PRICE: Timeline-wise, nothing has changed. We’re continuing to watch very closely.
What we wanted to do, and part of the reason why we wanted to have Ambassador Carpenter here last week to speak to all of you, was to put our concerns on the record. And this is similar to what we did across the board starting late last year and well into early this year, to put our concerns on the record so that if, and we think when, we see these sham elections in places like Kherson, that the world is keyed in, clued in, to what is happening; that fewer people are fooled by what Russia and its authorities are attempting to do; and that – so we can approach this eyes wide open.
QUESTION: Right. Just on the U.S. diplomats going back to Kyiv, so we – I mean, this is temporary. Can you sort of say, like, what’s the latest U.S. assessment on the security situation there? And based on that, there was a previous projection that, again, like, the embassy’s operations might be resumed there for good around mid-May, if I’m not mistaken. Is that still the projection based on the security situation?
MR PRICE: Well, we haven’t ever put a precise time frame on it. What we’ve said is that we will do it as soon as possible. And when Secretary Blinken was in Kyiv late last month with President Zelenskyy, he pledged to President Zelenskyy that our diplomats would be back in Kyiv as soon as possible, that our embassy would reopen as soon as possible.
And so of course, yesterday on Victory in Europe Day, Ambassador Kvien and a small contingent traveled back into Kyiv. This was something that we had been planning for some time under the direction of Secretary Blinken in close consultation with the White House, with the Department of Defense, and others.
You are right that this is a temporary visit. It does not signal the reopening of our embassy at this time. But we have, and what the Secretary told President Zelenskyy when he saw him in Kyiv, was that we have accelerated planning to reopen our embassy. Of course, a foremost concern for us is the safety and security of our diplomats, of our personnel on the ground. We were confident that the chargé and a small team of hers would be in a position to make the trip yesterday. The chargé is still in Kyiv. She remains there.
This visit, yes, was heavy on symbolism, coming on Victory in Europe Day, but it is also heavy on substance. And I say that because the chargé and her team will be able to meet and have been able to meet with Ukrainian counterparts, with members of civil society, with other representatives of the international community, and conduct a whole host of activities that until yesterday they have not been able to conduct in Kyiv since prior to the invasion.
So we are still assessing the security situation. As soon as we are confident in our ability to fully resume operations at our embassy, we’ll do that.
QUESTION: Just for the record, it was actually end of May. I guess you guys are still targeting for that?
MR PRICE: We never – we said in weeks’ time. We never offered a —
QUESTION: So it’s the chargé for the meantime.
MR PRICE: Yes. Francesco.
QUESTION: Following up on today’s speech in Moscow, I heard what you said about the patent absurdity. But what do you make of all the speculations of the fact that he would declare war and mobilize more formally the Russians, and that didn’t happen? What’s your comment for that?
MR PRICE: I can’t speculate as to the speculation and why such speculation may or may not have come to fruition. I think what I offered here the other day is that a declaration of war, a mass mobilization, may well have been tantamount to admitting what the world knows, and that is that the Ukrainians have achieved great strides and that they have been able to stand up to an aggressing force, to hold out.
And we are now more than 10 weeks into this conflict, a conflict that Russian officials, Russian leaders, thought would culminate in a matter of hours or a matter of days with Russia de facto in charge of Ukraine. Of course, that has not happened, and it hasn’t happened because of the tenacity, the grit, the determination, the bravery, the courage of our Ukrainian partners and the enabling assets that the United States and our partners around the world – dozens of partners across four continents – have provided to our Ukrainian partners, $3.8 billion since the start of the invasion alone from the United States alone. Other partners have provided other sums of security assistance.
But two other points on what we heard today in Moscow. Much of it was quite ironic. The first irony is that this was a day to commemorate the victory of – the victory against the forces of authoritarianism, of oppression, of aggression. That’s what happened 77 years ago when the international community – including, might I add, Russia – came today to stop the Nazi advance. And today, the Russians have attempted to co-opt that cause, to celebrate some of these very features that the world sought to vanquish nearly eight decades ago.
I suppose the other great irony is that Moscow is celebrating Victory Day. They’re celebrating a victory, and it is in the midst of a victory, but it is in the midst of a Ukrainian victory, and this gets back to what I was saying before. What the Ukrainians have been able to achieve, principally with their own determination and tenacity but also enabled by what the United States and our partners around the world have provided, is nothing short of remarkable.
I think there are few people who might have thought that we would see today, more than 10 weeks after the start of this invasion, a capital city that is coming back to life, whose cafes are filled, whose boulevards are once again filled with people, with the same happening in other parts of the country.
Now, that of course doesn’t elide the fact that parts of Ukraine – eastern and southern Ukraine specifically – have been mercilessly targeted and continue to be targeted by Russian bombs, Russian missiles. And so that’s why our effort to support our Ukrainian partners is far from finished. We have put forward a supplemental budget request of $33 billion, much of that for security assistance for the next five months, to enable our Ukrainian partners to continue to achieve this kind of success on the battlefield, but ultimately to have a stronger hand at the negotiating table.
What we are doing principally is putting our Ukrainian partners in a position for them to carry out their aims, their – ultimately, their political objectives. We’re strengthening their hand on the battlefield with our security assistance. At the same time we are imposing increasing pressure on the Russian Federation, combining these two things so that our Ukrainian partners can be in the most advantageous position possible as they engage to try to end this war.
QUESTION: Ned, a couple of points that you mentioned. First of all, you have any comment on what apparently Pope Francis said, that NATO and the West were actually barking at Russia this whole time, in essence saying that maybe the Russians had a reason to do what they did? If you had any comment on that, if you saw his comment.
MR PRICE: I did, and I’ve seen subsequent comments from the Vatican on this same matter.
MR PRICE: I’ve also seen Pope Francis’s very clear condemnation of the aggression that is taking place in Ukraine, of the loss of life, the bloodshed, the brutality that is taking place.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, the other thing is also the president of France, French President Macron, said that you cannot expect that the Russians will negotiate or achieve peace by continuing to humiliate Russia. So he talked about negotiations. He wanted to strengthen the Ukrainian hand in the negotiations, but it seems that they’re – or at least none of the rhetoric that is coming out from you guys, from the – your Western allies or NATO, that shows any flexibility. For instance, you talked about diplomatic efforts prior to the invasion that went on for a long time, yet you totally dismissed Russia’s security demands or whatever that they expressed, the Russians’ concerns.
MR PRICE: Said, I don’t think we totally dismissed anything. And in fact, we, as I said at the top, engaged in good faith. We believe that there was a path before us that, if the Russians were acting in good faith, could have addressed some of their stated security concerns, but also could have addressed our concerns. And we put forward a pathway that was paved with certain measures – transparency measures, confidence-building measures, nonproliferation measures – that would have done just that.
To say that we didn’t account for Russia’s security concerns – I’m sorry, but I think that is taking the bait that Moscow has put forward.
QUESTION: Now, one last thing on the diplomatic thing. Ambassador Antonov, I believe, said that he has not met with any American officials for the past two or three months and so on, and conversely. Can you also share with us what is Ambassador Sullivan doing in Moscow and so on?
MR PRICE: Ambassador —
QUESTION: Are there any – yeah.
MR PRICE: Ambassador Sullivan and his team at the embassy in Moscow are continuing to engage with their MFA counterparts. Of course, those engagements are largely limited to the bilateral relationship. There is a lot that Ambassador Sullivan and his team have on their plate, attempting to keep afloat a mission that has been severely constrained in terms of personnel, in terms of our ability to sustain an embassy community there, given some of the restrictions that the Russian Federation has placed on us. So they are continuing to engage with their MFA counterparts.
QUESTION: What about the Russian ambassador here?
MR PRICE: You would need to speak to him about his engagements.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. North Korea fired —
QUESTION: Can I ask – sorry – on Russia?
MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll say maybe on or two questions on Russia. Go ahead, Jenny.
QUESTION: Has there been any update on the Americans detained there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any update I can offer you right now. As you know, last week we made a variety of announcements. We made clear that we consider Brittney Griner to be wrongfully detained. We are working very closely on her case; we’re working very closely on the case of Paul Whelan. Our message across the board for Americans who are detained in Russia is that we expect, consistent with the Vienna Convention, to have regular and consistent access to Americans who are detained, including those Americans who are in pretrial detention. So that is a message that – to Said’s question about what we’re doing with our Russian counterparts, that is certainly one message that we are pressing regularly with them, that we expect and insist upon this regular access.
QUESTION: Roughly how many are in pretrial detention right now?
MR PRICE: Everywhere around the world, it’s a number that fluctuates, and especially in a place where there is a somewhat sizable – although smaller – American citizen community, the number fluctuates, so I’m just not in a position to offer a static one.
QUESTION: Yes. French President Macron is in Berlin this evening for dinner with the German chancellor. And of course, one item is going to be Macron’s push for European integration, perhaps more independence from the U.S. also on defense matters. How does the U.S. view this in light of the united front supporting Ukraine?
MR PRICE: We see a strong Europe as absolutely a good thing. We see a strong Europe as essential to transatlantic security and to the transatlantic partnership. Our point has always been that the capabilities that we have should be complementary to what Europe has and what Europe develops. So a strong Europe that is complementary to the United States, that works in close partnership with United States, that is a realization of the framework, of the idea that was put forward some 72 years ago, I suppose it was, by one of the architects of the European Union.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia/Ukraine before we move on?
QUESTION: North Korea.
MR PRICE: Russia/Ukraine?
QUESTION: Yeah – no, no.
MR PRICE: Okay – no. Okay. We’ll one – two more on Russia. Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) sanctions. You mentioned some 2,600 soldiers. What about their family members? We have some instances such as a young wife greenlighting her husband’s – soldier husband’s actions in Ukraine. Are you planning to extend to family members as well?
And also, any plan to extend the ban on professional services to legal services, which – I’ve heard from the Congress for many years that you should go after lawyers who have been enabling Russian kleptocracy, engaging money laundering in the U.S.
MR PRICE: We have not yet opted to go after legal services. We believe that those offering due process here, that those are not yet on the table in terms of our sanctions, but again, we’re not going to rule anything in or out in terms of subsequent sanctions tranches.
When it comes to the family members of service members, it is true that we have pursued with our various sanctions authorities close family members, close associates of senior Kremlin leadership, knowing that in many cases these are individuals who share an ill-begotten wealth, who in some way enable the crimes, the injustices that their relatives or associates have put forward. I’m not aware that we’ve done that in the case of rank-and-file service members. I think the point is, in many cases, individuals have been sent to the front lines not initially knowing where they were going, why they were fighting, or what the intended objective was. So with our sanctions, we want to ensure that those we pursue have some sort of strategic value, some sort of strategic import.
QUESTION: Yes, and on disinformation, it looks Russians have been expanding their lies about bio labs to other countries, such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, something (inaudible) felt over the weekend that they had to respond to. I don’t want to dignify what they are talking about in this room, but I want to give you a chance to respond to the fact that they are expanding the geography by – with the talk about so-called bio labs. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Again, I don’t want to dignify those lies either. We know they’re lies. We’ve been very clear about where we stand in terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, where countries like – and the Biological Weapons Convention – where Ukraine stands in terms of the CWC and the BWC, where other countries stand. And that is in contrast to where Russia stands.
QUESTION: On those Victory Day celebrations, we did see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Russians march in support of Vladimir Putin’s military campaign. Do you see this as a sign that the war is gaining widespread support in Russia? And if yes, how do you combat that?
MR PRICE: We see it as a sign that the Russian population is being fed a steady diet of disinformation and lies. This is one of the reasons why we went after the television stations we did with our sanctions today. President Putin and the mouthpieces of the Kremlin have been providing their people with lies, with disinformation, with misinformation, in order to sell them a war that, I think if many of them knew the truth, they would reject out of hand. It is difficult to measure – to accurately measure – popular opinion within Russia. Of course, what we can point to is the fact that at the very outset of this unjustified war, thousands upon thousands of Russians took to the street to protest it. Those protests were obviously met with a crackdown, in some cases a violent crackdown, in many cases – in up to 15,000 cases, if I recall – the imprisonment, the detention of individuals who were doing nothing more than exercising what should be the universal right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and doing so peacefully.
So the phenomenon you point to may also be a reflection of the fact that President Putin has attempted to intimidate, has attempted to stifle any and all dissent, but we know that dissent exists. Many of your networks have personnel on the ground in Russia. They know that when they attempt to ask Russians their true thoughts of President Putin, the Kremlin, many of them walk away, oftentimes in fright. I think that says a lot.
Okay, we’ll move on.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Ned. I – talking about North Korea fired missiles. North Korea fired a ICBM on the 7th. The South Korean Government reported that the North Korea launch was a SRBM, submarine-launch ballistic missiles. Does the United States agree with this, or is there any other analyst in the United States?
MR PRICE: Is there any other —
QUESTION: Any other analyst.
MR PRICE: Analysis – our analysis is that this was a – the launch of a ballistic missile. Our analysis is that, like previous launches, including the three previous tests of the ICBM systems, that this was a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. That’s why we’re discussing this, as we are previous provocations, previous launches, with our allies in the Republic of Korea, in Japan, and also in New York.
QUESTION: Last time, you said that North Korea’s ICBM was an affront to the United Nations Security Council resolutions, but the UN Security Council resolution has not properly adopted the resolutions. Do you think the United Nations Security Council is fulfill its role, or you need another alternative roles —
MR PRICE: The UN Security Council has an important role to play. It has an important role to play that it’s exercised in the past, and this gets back to the point I mentioned just a moment ago. The most recent ballistic missile launch, the three previous ICBM launches, the other ballistic missile launches in recent months – these have been in violation of multiple security council resolutions. The fact that these resolutions are on the books points to the utility that the Security Council, that the UN system can have in confronting North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program.
It’s incumbent upon all countries – certainly including the permanent five members of the UN Security Council – to see to it that UN Security Council resolutions are fully implemented, fully applied, because countries around the world, including the five members of the permanent security – five permanent Security Council members, those members that voted in support of these and other resolutions, have recognized the fact that the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are a threat to international peace and security. And, of course, the Security Council is the world’s preeminent forum – it was set up to be that – to address all threats to peace and security. This is one of them, and we’ll continue to work on this issue with our allies and partners in New York.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. As you know, Taliban didn’t keep their commitment, and recently they ordered all women in Afghanistan to wear burqa hijab – not regular hijab, burqa like that. Yesterday Afghan women celebrated Mother’s Day with the crying. Everybody contact with me cry, I cried, all women in Afghanistan. Do you think it’s not very backwards? That’s crazy.
MR PRICE: We have expressed our deep dismay, we have expressed our deep concern with what we have seen from the Taliban, with what we have heard from the Taliban in recent days and in recent weeks. Over the weekend most recently, our Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West; our Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri; Ian McCary, our chargé – our Embassy Kabul chargé who’s now based in Doha – issued statements to this effect.
And we have noted that the Taliban continue to adopt policies oppressing women and girls, in many ways as a substitute for addressing the acute economic crisis and the need for inclusive government. And we have called for an end to these restrictive measures. Importantly, Afghans across the country have voiced their opposition to an edict that proposes severe restrictions and limitations on half the country’s ability to participate in society. This follows, of course, on the heels of the decision with girls’ secondary education. No country can succeed that holds back half of its population – its women, its girls – that doesn’t allow them to go to secondary school, that dictates what they must wear in a restrictive way. Combined with the ban on secondary education, restrictions on freedom of movement and these edicts related to clothing, the Taliban’s policies towards women we think are an affront to human rights and will continue to impair their relations with the international community.
QUESTION: So, Ned, what happened to the assessment that – or at least the hope that the Taliban wouldn’t do anything that – or would – understood that if it wanted to be internationally recognized, that if it wanted all the benefits that come with such recognition, they wouldn’t impose the kind of draconian rules and regulations that they did the first time they were in power? I mean, I remember conversations with you in this very room pre-withdrawal about why did you – why did you think that they had changed at all? Why did you think that – they didn’t care what the world thought the first time around they were in charge; why would you possibly think that they would care the second?
MR PRICE: Matt, our point has always been – well, let me start by saying our point was never that the Taliban is fundamentally different from the Taliban that existed in years prior. Our contention was always that the United States, when – especially when we’re acting with partners around the world, we have sources of leverage to wield with the Taliban. In response to the decision on secondary school, in response to this most recent decree, in response to some of the other human rights abuses and atrocities that we’ve seen in Afghanistan, we are working with our allies and partners to use that leverage.
QUESTION: Well, what have you done? I mean, the school – the secondary school decision is old now. I mean, it’s not new, but there’s been nothing done in response to it. What are you going to do now?
MR PRICE: We have consulted closely with our allies and partners. There are steps that we will continue to take to increase pressure on the Taliban to reverse some of these decisions, to make good on the promises that they have made, first and foremost to their own people, not to mention to the international community.
QUESTION: Well, what are those steps? I mean, other than you coming out and saying we deeply deplore this and we don’t think it’s – you don’t think it’s – I mean, they don’t care if you – if you insult them or if you criticize them. They just – it doesn’t matter to them. So what —
MR PRICE: Leaving aside whether or not they care, there are sources of leverage, including —
QUESTION: Well, what are they, and why you haven’t you been —
MR PRICE: — including incentives and disincentives —
QUESTION: Okay, but why haven’t they been used now that they’ve done – taken these two very dramatic steps as it relates to women and girls?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are working on this closely with our allies and partners. We’ve addressed it directly with the Taliban. We have a number of tools that, if we feel these won’t be reversed, these won’t be undone, that we are prepared to move forward with.
In the meantime, the United States continues to be the world’s largest humanitarian provider to the Afghan people. We have provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of humanitarian support, including an additional installment of humanitarian support recently. We’ve spoken, of course, of the reserves, half of which will be available to the people of Afghanistan. We’ll continue, even in the midst of the setbacks on the part of the Taliban, to do all we can – which is in some ways quite a lot – to support directly the Afghan people in a way that doesn’t benefit the Taliban.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. This is Mushfiqul Fazal. I’m representing HAS News Media. I have two question, one on Sri Lanka and one on Bangladesh. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned. A mass protest, five people have died and more than 190 injured in violent in the capital. The island nation is facing its worst economic crisis since its independence. So what is your comment on this one?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re closely following the ongoing developments in Sri Lanka, including the resignation of the prime minister. We urge the government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions, including power, food, and medicine shortages as well. We condemn violence against peaceful protesters, and call for a full investigation, arrests and prosecutions of anyone involved. We are also concerned with the state of emergency declarations which can be used to curb dissent. So we’re continuing to watch this very closely.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: As you know, Bangladesh is struggling for democracy, voting rights, and freedom of expression. The Digital Security Act is on our shoulder. And the – our country’s reputed economist and Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus facing false charges. And former prime minister and main opposition leader still is in jail. Your recent State Department report mentioned that it’s a political ploy to remove her from the electoral process.
So will you urge or you will call for her immediate release, as everybody knows it’s a political ploy for —
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to this specific case, but what I can say is that we continue to engage with our partners in Bangladesh. A senior State Department official recently took part in bilateral engagements in Bangladesh. We value our partnership with the people, with the Government of Bangladesh. Issues of human rights, issues of civil liberties, those are always on the agenda when we engage around the world.
MR PRICE: Well, there is an enduring quality to our alliance with the Republic of Korea, and it’s enduring in the sense that it is an alliance that is built on shared interests and shared values. It is not predicated on who’s in office at any given time, whether that’s here in the United States, whether that is in the Republic of Korea.
So we are very confident – and we know this because we have had a chance to already meet with some of the transition officials, some of the incoming government officials – that our alliance with the ROK will endure, and that together we’ll be able to pursue our interests and to protect our values.
Yes. Let me move around a little bit just to – yes, Michel.
MR PRICE: We will – we – in fact, we did have a joint statement regarding the so-called 3+1 talks between the Secretary and his Israeli, Greek, and Cypriot counterparts. There was a discussion of energy security. It was a broader opportunity to recommit to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a format in which the – those involved decided to intensify their efforts on a number of fronts, including, as I said before, in the energy – in the areas of energy security, economy, climate action, emergency preparedness, counterterrorism, which, in turn, contributes to resilience, energy security, and interconnected – interconnectivity in the region. I wouldn’t want to go beyond what’s in the readout in terms of specific issues discussed, but we may have a little bit more for you today.
MR PRICE: Well, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is representing us in Brussels. This conference is May 9th and 10th. It is hosted by the EU. I think the message that you will hear from the ambassador is one to underscore our commitment and our determination to work in partnership with the international community to support the Syrian people.
On the margins of the Brussels conference, she’ll host a ministerial meeting to discuss the future of international support for the Syrian political process and the importance of accountability for human rights violations abuses and violations of the Law of Armed Conflict. She also, while in Brussels, will meet with NATO and EU officials to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine, but I suspect you’ll hear more shortly on that.
QUESTION: Excuse me, Ned. G7 foreign ministerial meeting will be held in Germany this week. So what deliverables do you expect from the meeting and who will participate in the meeting of – on the behalf of the United States?
MR PRICE: Sorry, which meeting specifically were you referring you?
QUESTION: Who will participate in the meeting on behalf of the United States?
MR PRICE: NATO or G7? I didn’t hear you.
MR PRICE: G7. So Ambassador Toria Nuland, our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, will be representing the United States. Of course, Secretary Blinken was very much looking forward to attending the meeting in Wangels. He will be in a position to attend the meeting that we expect that was scheduled in Berlin. All of this is permitting what we expect will be continued progression, positive progression. Maybe that’s the wrong term in his case. But we’ll have more for you on the schedule, but Ambassador Nuland will be representing us at the counter-ISIS coalition and the meeting in Wangels.
QUESTION: Very quickly on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, the Israeli supreme court ruled, okayed actually, gave the green light, to the removal of about 1,300 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, and statements have been issued by the United Nations and so on calling this forcible removal and so on. Do you have a comment on this? Are you urging the Israelis not to do so?
MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of and we’re watching this case very closely. We believe it is critical for all sides to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes evictions.
QUESTION: And on Friday, Jalina issued a very strong statement on the settlements and so on. And my question that was raised by one of the journalists, just to repeat what he asked, what’s next? I mean, you issue a strong statement. The Israelis are not deterred. I mean, you talk about not listening to you. They’re not listening to you. What steps are you willing to take to give your strong statement, your strong objection, to give it some sort of leverage?
MR PRICE: Said, I can tell you that when we make strong statements in public, those are matched by principled engagement diplomatically. We are continuing to discuss a range of issues, including our concerns with our Israeli partners. But as you know, we don’t detail those diplomatic conversations.
QUESTION: On Iran. As the EU coordinator is heading back to Tehran this week, is he – will he be carrying any kind of new message, new offer from the U.S. to – on the sticking points? And what are your expectations from the Iranians out of this meeting?
MR PRICE: What I’ll say generally in terms of process is that we are in close touch with Enrique Mora, the EU coordinator. He has continued to convey messages back and forth. We support his efforts to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion. I wouldn’t want to prejudge or attempt to discern what he might hear from his Iranian counterparts. Of course, we’ll learn more after his trip.
QUESTION: What are your expectations?
MR PRICE: Our hope is that we can conclude this negotiation quickly. And we are confident that we can conclude this negotiation quickly if the Iranians are willing to proceed in good faith to allow us to continue to build on and to move forward with the significant progress that had been made over months and months of oftentimes painstaking diplomacy and negotiations. But we’ll have to see how those conversations go.
QUESTION: And are you offering a new message from the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Obviously, we’re not going to negotiate in public. We coordinate very closely with our EU – with our European allies, and in turn Enrique Mora is conveying messages back and forth.
QUESTION: If this effort doesn’t work, will you – will you admit that it’s off, that it didn’t work out? We’ve been in this holding pattern for weeks.
MR PRICE: The – we will pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA as long as it’s in our national security interest to do so. Right now, it remains in our national security interest to see Iran’s nuclear program put back in a box, to see the verifiable, permanent limits once again imposed on Iran. If we get to a point where the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA would bring forth have been obviated by the advancements in Iran’s nuclear program since 2018, then we’ll reassess. We’re already at the point where we’re preparing equally for either scenario – a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA or an alternative – and we’re discussing both with our allies and partners.
Final couple quick questions. Yes.
And secondly, in Azerbaijan a high-profile journalist, Aytan Mammadova, got – she covers high-profile trials, and she got attacked today. And this comes just days after we celebrated International Press Freedom Day. I was looking for your comment on the overall – the press freedom situation as a journalist with this latest incident. Thank you.
MR PRICE: In terms of protests in Armenia – and as you know, we had a Strategic Dialogue with the Armenians last week, I suppose it was – and it was in that forum that we reaffirmed our mutual commitment to Armenia’s democratic development and the United States support for lasting peace in the South Caucasus.
We believe that peaceful protests are an element of an open political system. We fully support the fundamental freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. We urge people to express their opinions in a peaceful manner. We urge authorities to exercise restraint and encourage those protesting to refrain from violence and to respect the rule of law and Armenia’s democracy.
When it comes to the specifics of the reporter in Azerbaijan, I’m not immediately familiar with that. If we have a specific comment, we can provide that to you. But as you heard from the Secretary a week ago today, I believe it was, on World Press Freedom Day, you heard our commitment to upholding anywhere and everywhere the freedom of – freedom of the press and freedom of expression that is a right that is universal and that, by definition, is applicable to people everywhere.
We know that reporters around the world oftentimes conduct their work at great peril. Sometimes it’s in conflict zones. Sometimes it’s in – within political systems that are repressive, insecure, and therefore afraid of the truth. Whenever that happens, we stand with those who are doing nothing more than attempting to shine a light on injustice, to promote accountability, and to improve the lives of their fellow citizens or citizens around the world.
QUESTION: On the Bahamas Sandals investigation, given there’s still not a clear cause of death for those three Americans – the resort remains open – what’s the State Department’s level of concern for the Americans who are still staying there? And what if anything from the U.S. side is being done to investigate?
MR PRICE: Well, we can confirm the death of three U.S. citizens in the Bahamas on May 6th. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families, the other loved ones, for those who have passed. We are closely monitoring local authorities’ investigations into the cause of death, and we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the families, we just don’t have anything to add at this time. If, I should say as a general matter, we do feel that there is a piece of information that the broader American citizen community in any country should know, we of course do relay that via the appropriate consular channels.
QUESTION: But there has not been any such —
MR PRICE: There has not been.
QUESTION: In this case.
MR PRICE: There has not been in this case.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:19 p.m.)