2:12 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. As you heard from the Secretary and from the National Security Advisor, today is another sad day for “justice” in Russia. And we use that term “justice” loosely because there has been no justice in this case. There has been no rule of law in this case. This process, to put it simply, has been a sham.
The denial of Brittney Griner’s appeal is another repudiation of justice, which only compounds the original injustice of her detention. Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner and fellow U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. Nothing about Brittney’s conviction or the denial of this appeal today changes that.
Secretary Blinken and President Biden have been clear that they should be released. That’s why this summer, Secretary Blinken came to this very room to speak about the substantial proposal we made to Russia for the release of Brittney and Paul. We believe Russia should engage seriously and in good faith on this proposal, and we have continued to urge Moscow to do so, including in recent days.
The department has no higher priority than the wellbeing, the fair treatment, and justice for all of our citizens detained in Russia and in other parts of the world.
We will not relent until all wrongfully detained Americans, including Brittney and Paul, are reunited with their loved ones.
With that, Matt.
QUESTION: Oh, that’s it. Okay.
MR PRICE: That’s it.
QUESTION: I’m sure we’ll get back to that, but I just wanted to ask you one thing – kind of a housekeeping thing —
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: He – I do remember.
QUESTION: Perhaps you remember that we were supposed to get some kind of —
MR PRICE: And I do recall —
QUESTION: — a readout of that yesterday.
MR PRICE: — you were promised a readout. I also recall not attaching a timeframe to when we would provide that readout. But I can —
QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. Well, next year we can get that. We’ll get it before January?
MR PRICE: I can assure you, as much as I can assure you of anything in this building, you will get one today. But let me just preview, if you don’t mind.
He did meet with Director General Grossi yesterday. They spoke about the dangers to global security stemming from Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The Secretary expressed his deep appreciation for the IAEA’s efforts in the Ukraine context, including when it comes to its work vis-à-vis the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. And he also welcomed the agreement between the IAEA and Ukraine in the face of Russia’s false so‑called dirty bomb claims.
He reaffirmed our commitment to provide the resources the IAEA needs to fulfill its verification and monitoring responsibility in Iran as well as its commitment to the ongoing work between the IAEA and the trilateral partners of AUKUS. He noted that we look forward to closely continuing to partner with the IAEA going forward.
QUESTION: Well, in terms of Ukraine and Russia, yesterday, as you mentioned, the IAEA agreed to send a team or teams to Ukraine to look at these sites, but is there any – is there going to be any U.S. involvement in any of that? Is there – or is this something that you guys are going to stay out of, so as to not give the Russians a pretext?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any planned U.S. involvements in this mission. This is a mission on the part of the IAEA. It is something that Ukraine has offered. It came at the invitation – the IAEA mission came at the invitation of our Ukrainian partners. The IAEA is an independent body. It is important to us. It’s important to its mission that we do everything to preserve the independence of that mission, and so the IAEA will go in at the invitation of Ukraine, and they will report their findings.
QUESTION: All right. And then just this – what took – what has taken so long for this?
MR PRICE: Matt, I could spend an entire briefing talking about the coordination process in this building.
QUESTION: Well, it’s been almost —
MR PRICE: But —
QUESTION: — like 20 —
MR PRICE: But instead —
QUESTION: — 23 hours.
MR PRICE: Instead I will just – I will promise you that you’ll see a readout today.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Obviously this comes amid very high tensions for the United States and Russia. Can you say what diplomacy, if any, is still going on? Are the channels of communication still on? Specifically on this, you had the Secretary speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Or is there some communication still just regarding her case or the case of other Americans who are detained?
MR PRICE: There is communication regarding her case. There is communication regarding the case of Paul Whelan. The fact is, however, that this process has not moved as swiftly as we would have liked. We have certainly not gotten to the point that we would have liked by now. Brittney Griner has been in detention, wrongfully detained for the better part of a year, for some nine months. Paul Whelan has been in detention since December of 2018, nearly four years.
We have done everything that we have been able to do to make clear to the Russians the priority we attach to the release of Paul Whelan and to Brittney Griner. That includes the call that the Secretary made to Foreign Minister Lavrov. It was the only time Secretary Blinken has spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov during the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it sent a very clear signal that is something we are absolutely focused on. It is something we will remain focused on until Paul and Brittney are reunited with their families.
We haven’t gotten into the habit of detailing specifically the nature of these conversations or specifically when and how they occur, but I can tell you they have continued, including in recent days. Our message consistently has been that the Russians should engage on the substantial proposal that the Secretary first outlined this summer, but at the very least they should engage seriously and constructively and in good faith. If that happens, we are prepared to see to it and to take steps of our own that would see Paul and Brittney reunited with their families.
Follow up on – sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. How can the U.S. intensify your efforts, if at all, to avoid Brittney Griner being transferred to a penal colony?
MR PRICE: So I want to be clear about this. We unfortunately don’t know when, where, or whether Brittney Griner will be transferred going forward. And I say that for a few reasons.
Number one, there are options that remain available to her legal team, and they’re going to have to make their own decisions about which steps they pursue. We’re of course in very close contact with Brittney Griner’s legal team. Our Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs is regularly in touch with her legal team, with her broader network, with her wife Cherelle and others. They are going to have to decide which steps they pursue, knowing that this process has been shambolic. Of course, we know that and have known that going into it.
Second, the Russians may not tell us before they transfer Brittney Griner. Unfortunately, the Russians do not routinely inform us ahead of time before they transfer American detainees. And third, even if they were to tell us, they could change their mind. They could change the decision regarding her location or her disposition.
Our message when it comes to Brittney Griner has been clear. She should be released. She is wrongfully held. We have requested consistent consular access to her. Our Chargé D’affaires in Moscow Elizabeth Rood sought to speak to her today. Of course, Brittney Griner was not in the court room. She was in attendance via video link. Our chargé was not able, ultimately, to speak to Brittney Griner. The Russian authorities would not permit that.
QUESTION: And you said that you’ve been discussing this with Russia in recent days. Can you tell us broadly what you’ve been discussing, what the significance of the discussion was?
MR PRICE: Well, there’s only so much I can offer here, and I’ve offered most of it already. We have an imperative at play, and that imperative is to see to it that Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner are freed as soon as possible. We have found collectively in our experience in effecting the safe return of Americans wrongfully detained overseas that these conversations are best conducted in private channels. That was the case with Trevor Reed. We didn’t speak of our efforts with the Russians to secure his release before the fact of his release was announced earlier this year. And I suspect we won’t be in a position to detail exactly the messages that we are conveying to the Russians or the responses that we’re hearing from the Russians, beyond the simple core message that the Russians should engage, they should engage seriously, they should engage constructively, and they should engage in good faith.
QUESTION: Do you know how many —
QUESTION: I was wondering whether —
MR PRICE: Said, I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Just to clarify and then I’ll —
MR PRICE: Said, I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: I’m just curious whether today’s decision will cause – trigger any tactical change on your end? Because in fact it was Lavrov a couple months ago offered, quote, unquote “quiet diplomacy” in this case. Is that your judgement – based on today’s decision, judgment that “quiet diplomacy” is not working?
MR PRICE: Well, those quiet conversations have been ongoing. I hesitate to call this diplomacy, because ultimately this is about wrongful detainees. These are about Americans; these are about the lives of individuals who have been separated from their families for the better part of a year in the case of Brittney Griner and the better part of four years when it comes to Paul Whelan. So we’ve had those quiet conversations for some time, even before Secretary Blinken made public the offer of a substantial proposal that we had put on the table.
Whether today’s denial of the appeal of Brittney Griner changes the Russian posture, we couldn’t say. Of course it is our hope that this will unlock the next step in the process, but ultimately this is going to have to be a decision that the Russians make. We have made very clear the decision and the choices we are prepared to make. Oftentimes when it comes to seeing Americans reunited with their families, it is incumbent on senior officials to make difficult choices. Often in these cases it is incumbent on the President of the United States to make difficult choices. He has demonstrated his willingness, including with a former wrongfully detained American in Russia, Trevor Reed – he’s demonstrated that willingness to make difficult decisions, and we are prepared to take such decisions, if it would see the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.
QUESTION: No, I just wanted to ask about a figure of Americans that are being held in Russia, if you have it. How many?
MR PRICE: There currently are two Americans we deem to be wrongfully detained in Russian custody. I don’t have a figure, a public figure, to offer you of Americans who are in Russian detention, because that figure fluctuates over time; it’s not static. But currently there are two Americans we deem to be wrongfully detained in Russia.
QUESTION: This morning a Lebanese general spoke about Austin Tice and said his mediation efforts were ongoing. Do you have any updates to provide, or what’s the latest on that, in terms of U.S. efforts to secure his release or find out – try and find his whereabouts?
MR PRICE: Those efforts are ongoing, and this case is just as heart-wrenching. Austin has been in detention, separated from his family, for a quarter of his life. We have recently marked a somber milestone, 10 years of separation from his family, 10 years of detention. He recently marked his 40th birthday, and unfortunately we had this somber milestone to accompany it.
This has been a priority of I can say successive administrations, but certainly a priority of this administration. We are prepared and we have taken steps to demonstrate that we are ready and willing to speak to anyone who could possibly help to effect Austin’s release. When someone like Roger Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, travels around the world to speak with foreign officials and foreign counterparts, this is, as I was alluding to a moment ago, not traditional diplomacy. This is hostage diplomacy. We are willing to do things, we are willing to speak to people, if it has the potential to free a wrongfully detained American, to free an American hostage, that we otherwise wouldn’t do in the conduct of more, shall we say, traditional American diplomacy.
So these efforts are unceasing. We regularly speak with Debra and Marc, Austin’s parents. There are many people in this administration who came to know them during the course of the Obama-Biden administration years ago now. Those relationships have continued. We assure them, we assure the world, we assure Austin we are doing everything we can to see his release.
QUESTION: Just a second one. I believe it was last week or the week before you mentioned that the administration was working with the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen about Iranian drones or supplied drones. Do you have any updates on what you guys have passed on or what the latest is on those investigations?
MR PRICE: So, as you know, there was a closed session in the UN Security Council last week where a UN expert presented evidence of Iranian support, UAV support, to – in various contexts. The information that was presented there, as I understand it, it primarily was not U.S. information. It was not information that we had directly provided to the UN. It was information that the UN itself had collected. And just as the IAEA is an independent body, the fact that the UN itself was able to put on this presentation to members of the Security Council – permanent and non-permanent members alike – is and was an important sign that there is clear, unmistakable evidence of Iran’s support to various malign actors, from the Houthis to Russia to others in conflict zones around the world, of UAV technology.
And so it’s important that the UN hold Iran accountable for this. It’s important that member-countries hold Iran accountable for this. We have now levied a couple rounds of sanctions on those who are complicit in the proliferation of Iranian UAV technology. We are looking at what more we can do using our own authorities and what more collectively we can do with partners and allies around the world to hold Iran accountable for this.
QUESTION: Thank you. So Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator said today that Russia was doing some secret work at the Zaporizhzhia plant, suggesting it might be planning to do – to use the dirty bomb that is – that Russia is accusing Ukraine about. Do you have any information that’s suggesting that Russia might be doing something like that?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen those reports. I can’t speak, from here at least, to precisely what Russia might be doing at a specific facility or a specific plant, but we absolutely agree with our Ukrainian partners. We share the concern that was expressed in those comments. We’re always concerned when we hear these – this type of patently false – these specious claims come from the Russians, the fact that Defense Minister Shoigu and others are now making these false claims of a so-called dirty bomb use in Ukraine.
It’s of concern because, one, it’s patently false. It is just objectively untrue. It is of concern because it is irresponsible. Russia is a nuclear power. It is a nuclear weapons state under the NPT. It has obligations as a nuclear power under the NPT and more broadly. The type of rhetoric that we have heard from Russia consistently over the course of this conflict, the nuclear saber rattling and now references to the false allegation of a dirty bomb use – that’s irresponsible. But third, it’s concerning because Russia also has a track record. And whether you call it mirror imaging, whether you call it projection, we’re concerned because Russia has demonstrated a pattern of accusing others of that which it ultimately itself is planning.
Again, we are watching very closely. We’ve seen no need to change our own nuclear posture. We don’t have any indication that Moscow is preparing to use nuclear weapons. But this type of rhetoric is concerning for many reasons.
Shaun. Go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: Are you following up?
QUESTION: If possible.
MR PRICE: Is it a follow-up or something else?
QUESTION: It’s not a follow-up. Go ahead.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday discussed potential mission to the occupied part of Ukraine. And I mean, as you mentioned that you are concerned about potential false flag. If Russia is engaging in something in the occupied territory, you don’t expect the invitation from Russia to Ukrainian territory, right, to be able to go there? Is that – I’m just wondering if that was discussed yesterday at all.
MR PRICE: A mission on the part of the IAEA to occupied —
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s correct.
MR PRICE: I would defer to the IAEA on the specifics of their mission. The IAEA can speak to that. They did speak and the Secretary did welcome the IAEA’s upcoming mission to Ukraine at the invitation of Ukrainian authorities, but I would refer to the IAEA to speak to it.
QUESTION: I want to switch topics.
MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Palestinian territories. Ned, the past few days have witnessed an increased assault by the Israeli occupational army into towns and villages, killing a number of people, killing six people last night alone in a home. The biggest city in the West Bank is under siege, Nablus, and that coincides with the visit of the Israeli president. Are you raising these issues with them at the present time?
MR PRICE: Said, we – when we meet with our Israeli counterparts we do routinely discuss with them the conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We’ve said publicly from here that we’re concerned by the sharp uptick in violence. We’ve had an opportunity in recent days and I assume today with President Herzog and tomorrow with President Herzog will be another opportunity to reinforce the need for de-escalation, for the two sides, for Palestinian authorities and for Israelis to take steps to de-escalate the situation.
The fact is that we recognize Israel’s very real security threats. We’re also very concerned by the increased violence in the West Bank, where this past month alone two Israelis and 33 Palestinians have been killed. And we re-emphasize the need, as I just said, for all parties to take steps to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation. The recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Israeli and Palestinian deaths, including those of numerous children.
We continue to emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians both deserve equal measures of security, of stability, of justice, of freedom, of dignity, and of democracy. And it’s vital that both parties – Israelis and Palestinians – take urgent action to prevent an even greater loss of life.
QUESTION: That sounds wonderful, but let me ask you straight out. I mean, you also – you recognize Israel’s security needs and so on. You also recognize that the Palestinians are occupied. Let me ask you straight out: Do the Palestinians have a right to resist the military occupation?
MR PRICE: Said, we want to see a two-state —
QUESTION: It’s a simple thing. I mean —
MR PRICE: — a negotiated, two-state solution.
QUESTION: Do they have the right to resist a military occupation that is killing them daily, assaulting their villages, stealing their crops, destroying their cars, their homes?
MR PRICE: Every —
QUESTION: Day after day. Do they have the right to resist that occupation? Or maybe the Palestinians are the children of a lesser god?
MR PRICE: Said, the loss of every innocent life is a tragedy. It is something that we feel deeply. It is precisely why we have been so engaged from the earliest days of this administration, in the first instance, to re-establish relations with the Palestinian Authority but with the Palestinian people, and as part of that to provide humanitarian – urgent – urgently needed humanitarian support to the Palestinian people. We have provided upwards of $1 billion in support to the Palestinian people, in the West Bank, in Gaza. That support will continue.
Ultimately, to your question, we want to see a negotiated, two-state solution to this conflict. There is no military solution to this conflict. There is no solution to this conflict through violence. Ultimately, it has to come through diplomacy.
QUESTION: Well, the Palestinians are the recipient of that violence most of the time.
Let me ask you, earlier this year a Palestinian American died in Israeli custody, and the Israelis claim that they settled with his family. His family said no, we have not. They still demand investigation. Are you following up on this issue?
MR PRICE: We’re aware of it. We are aware of reports of a proposed – a proposal to compensate the family of U.S. citizen Omar Assad, who tragically died earlier this year. We’d refer you to the Government of Israel and to the Assad family with regard to the details of that settlement. But as we’ve previously stated, we were and are extremely concerned regarding the circumstances surrounding Mr. Assad’s death, and importantly, we urge the swift conclusion into the ongoing criminal investigation into his death. We note the public statement on the report of the IDF commander’s inquiry into the case and its findings, including the determination that, quote, “The incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment and a failure to,” quote, “‘protect the sanctity of any human life.’”
We are also aware of the – that disciplinary action is being taken against three commanders of the unit involved in the incident. We’re continuing to follow this very closely.
QUESTION: Ned, on Israel.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout on the Secretary’s meeting with the Israeli president?
MR PRICE: It has just concluded or even soon will conclude. Just as I promised yesterday with another readout, I promise you we’ll have a readout of this meeting. And I suspect we will —
MR PRICE: I suspect we will have it today.
QUESTION: Well, there’s an Israeli election coming up soon, and I realize it’s not a presidential one, but —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: But still, it’d be nice to get it before December – November 1st.
MR PRICE: No, understood. We will have a written readout for you at some point today.
QUESTION: Is it true that the Israelis shared some inclination about the use of Iranian drones in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t speak to anything that had been shared in intelligence channels.
QUESTION: One more on —
MR PRICE: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Any date or time for the signing and ceremony of the agreement between Israel and Lebanon?
MR PRICE: Amos Hochstein continues to be in regular touch with the parties. As you know, there are national processes that both sides have to undertake in order for them to submit to the United States as a facilitator of this deal in order for us to take that next step. Those processes are continuing. We are optimistic that we’ll be in a position to share additional information on this before long.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Ned, about the new banknotes in Afghanistan – different people has a different opinion. What is the main goal of the United States to print this new banknotes? It’s kind of agreeing debts to the Taliban. It’s close to recognize Taliban because people think like that. What is the main reason?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the special representative for Afghanistan recently announced two transactions to pay to print Afghani banknotes to replace what had been crumbling banknotes in Afghanistan. This may seem esoteric, this may seem highly technical, but it’s actually highly important. These two transactions have been underway for several months now. Banks dealing with Afghanistan see any banking transactions originating from or going to Afghanistan as extremely high-risk following the fall of the government in Kabul last year and the rise of the Taliban.
The United States and our partners have been working hard with international banks to facilitate payment transfers from Afghanistan’s central bank to European printing companies where new banknotes would actually be produced. These companies will now prepare new afghanis, which will be used to replace worn-out banknotes. And this will address one of the aspects of Afghanistan’s ongoing liquidity crisis, consistent with U.S. efforts to support basic human needs and avoid an economic collapse.
As has been widely reported, Afghanistan’s markets, even today, run widely on cash, but existing banknotes are crumbling. And that’s why this is such an urgent challenge. Though goods are available for sale, cash to purchase those goods is deteriorating, and the central bank with these transactions will be able to replace old and damaged banknotes. And this will provide the Afghan people’s ability to purchase food and other necessary items. So it’s hugely important.
QUESTION: It doesn’t have any effect to the relationship of the United States and Taliban?
MR PRICE: It does not. This is about the welfare and the well-being of the Afghan people. They have suffered from the deterioration of these banknotes. Their largely cash-driven economy has been hamstrung by the lack of banknotes that are not crumbled or otherwise deteriorated.
QUESTION: Okay, one more question about the people who left behind in Afghanistan and they already travel to the second country. And President Biden announced two weeks ago that United States are able to pay for them, their expenses, rent, and for their food and something until their case get processed and come to the United States. People who are in the second country, they didn’t receive this facility. Any update?
MR PRICE: We – of course, our commitment to those Afghans who – including those who partnered with us over the course of 20 years – it has no expiration date; it has no end date. So even after the evacuation from Kabul International Airport concluded last August, we have made good on our commitment to continue facilitating the departure of those Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan. As part of that process, there are many steps along the way. One is transporting them from Afghanistan. Regular flights have continued. Thousands of Afghans have now transmitted out of the country on planes that have also carried U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents.
When it comes to Afghans and other third-country nationals, there is an intermediate step, and they go to third countries where they undergo vetting, where they fill out the necessary forms, undergo the vetting procedures before they are in a position to come to United States. It’s always our goal to see to it that their stay in that third country is as short, as transitory as possible. So we have taken a number of steps with these third countries, whose – for whose cooperation we are grateful and highly appreciative, to speed that process. We’ve taken steps within our own government as well to ensure that the vetting is thorough and sufficient, but also that it takes place as quickly as possible. So that process is continuing. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been able to call America home because of the effort that started well before last August, that accelerated last August and has continued ever since.
QUESTION: Could I ask you – in Africa, Ethiopia, the Ethiopia talks have (inaudible) in Joburg. Do you have any – I realize they just began, but do you have any assessment of how much we can expect, whether this could potentially result in something lasting? I know the Secretary made some calls over the weekend on this. Could you let us know about the U.S. involvement and a bit of what you expect from this?
MR PRICE: Sure. So as you know, the talks did just start today. Our Special Envoy Mike Hammer has been in South Africa. He was and has been today observing and participating in the talks. These talks, of course, are led by the AU. We are – stand ready to support African Union High Representative Obasanjo, former South African Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka, and former Kenyan President Kenyatta in facilitating an agreement. We do see these talks as an opportunity for the sides to end the fighting in Ethiopia and to restore peace and security for all of the Ethiopian people.
We’ve been actively involved diplomatically in supporting the launch of this mediation effort. As I’ve already said, our special envoy is present in South Africa. He will remain down there. Secretary Blinken has in recent days spoken to President Ruto. He has spoken to his South African counterpart, spoken to others as we set up and did some of the leg work to help assist these talks. But ultimately they are AU-led.
These talks, if they are successful – and we certainly hope they will be – can serve to bring about multiple ends. One is an immediate cessation of hostilities; two is the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need; three is measures to protect civilians; and fourth, importantly, is Eritrea’s withdrawal from northern Ethiopia.
There is – as we’ve said from the beginning of this conflict, there is no military solution to this conflict and this mediation effort provides a chance, it provides an opportunity to resolve the political issues and to achieve a lasting peace for all Ethiopians.
As this conflict drags on, the humanitarian conditions for millions in northern Ethiopia is deteriorating. Nine million people today are facing food insecurity, and as many as one million people are projected to be facing famine-like conditions in the region.
Humanitarian access as a result of this conflict has been largely blocked since last August, when it began to flare up once again, and emergency nutrition and health supplies have completely run out in many areas, and severely malnourished populations, particularly children under five, will start dying at alarming rates without immediate and additional supplies. That’s why we are prioritizing our support. We believe these talks are not only an opportunity to solve the political empasse to bring a cessation to the violence, but to provide much-needed relief to so many in the region who have been suffering as a result of the conflict.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you quickly something else?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And also if anyone wants to follow up on Ethiopia. Something else in Africa – Nigeria, the authorized departure. I know there’s probably not much you can say about security concerns, but can you say if there’s a specific new threat, if it’s something that’s ongoing, and what the threat assessment is right now for Americans in Abuja?
MR PRICE: There’s not much that I can say beyond what the embassy has released publicly. And yesterday, Mission Nigeria distributed and posted online a security alert stating that there is, quote, “an elevated risk of terror attacks in Nigeria, specifically in Abuja.” The embassy there will offer reduced services until further notice. We take our responsibility when it comes to providing timely, accurate information to the American citizen community there and everywhere around the world very seriously. We take seriously our commitment to have no double standard when there is information available to us. In this case, we provided timely notification of the security alert and the fact that the embassy will be offering reduced services for the time being.
QUESTION: I have two question about North Korea. Do you have any indication that North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test sooner or later? And second one is that: Do you have any update on appointing a special envoy for North Korea human right? It has been said that – for a while that the new special envoy for human right going to be appoint, but it’s not. So can you tell me why such appointment has been delayed?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, we spoke about this at some length yesterday. It has been our assessment for some time now that the North Koreans are in a position to conduct a nuclear test, which would be their seventh nuclear test, really at any point. They’ve conducted preparations at the nuclear test site. We have been warning of those preparations for some time. We’ve also been warning of the costs and the consequences for the DPRK if they were to go forward with what.
We have sought to send a very clear message that is emanating not only from Washington, but from capitals around the world, that there will be consequences for a seventh nuclear test, just as we have been consistent in making the point that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. In fact, we believe that diplomacy remains the best means by which to bring about what is our ultimate objective, and that is a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Wendy Sherman, our deputy secretary of State, is in Japan today. She met bilaterally with her Japanese counterpart, she met bilaterally with her South Korean counterpart. Later tonight – tonight Eastern Time at least, tomorrow in the region – she will hold a trilateral meeting with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
We know that bilateral cooperation with Japan and South Korea is indispensable, but as is trilateral cooperation. The message that Deputy Secretary Sherman conveyed both to her Japanese and South Korean counterparts today is that our commitment to the security of our treaty allies is ironclad. We are prepared to take additional steps when it comes to defense and deterrence in response to any additional North Korean provocations, including the possibility of a seventh nuclear test.
When it comes to human rights in North Korea, of course this is something that we’re deeply concerned with. The challenge that is posed by the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are not the only threat that emanates from North Korea, is not the only threat on the Korean Peninsula.
WMD programs, cyber programs, North Korea’s malign influence, its deepening cooperation with Russia, but also its abysmal treatment of its own people is something that we’re deeply concerned about. I don’t have any personnel announcements to make today, but we are focused on it. There are people in this building in a number of bureaus, including in our East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau but also in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor, who are very focused on this. Uzra Zeya, our under secretary, that oversees many of these issues, is very focused on this. And if we have any additional personnel —
QUESTION: But do you have any candidate for U.S. special envoy for North Korea human right as of now?
MR PRICE: I’m just not going to speak to the personnel process, but the issue is something we’re deeply concerned with.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, trilateral meeting tomorrow?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: And so I remember when Secretary Sherman ended up in having press conference alone and after the trilateral meeting, so do you see an improvement in relationship between Japan and South Korea, and how do you encourage them to improve it further?
MR PRICE: I will leave it to our allies, our South Korean allies and our Japanese allies, to talk about their bilateral relationship. What I will say is that increasing cooperation and coordination on a trilateral basis between and among the United States, Japan, and South Korea – that is something that we have invested heavily in, and I think you can see the fruits of those labors even in recent weeks and months.
President Biden, when he traveled to the Indo-Pacific, when he traveled to Japan, he held a trilateral meeting with his counterparts – a leader-level trilateral for the first time in many years. That itself was an important sign. Secretary Blinken, as he has traveled the world and – he has also been in a position to hold trilateral meetings at his level. Deputy Secretary Sherman later today, tomorrow in the region, will host a trilateral engagement.
I think these engagements speak to our focus on bringing our Japanese allies, our South Korean allies together. There is, of course, no shortage of focus on the threat that the DPRK poses to Japan, poses to South Korea, poses to the region as well. So this is something that we believe is vital as we take on the challenges that this regime poses.
QUESTION: Ned, so earlier today the State Department announced a trip by Secretary Kerry, Special Envoy Kerry, to London between Wednesday the 25th and Friday the 28th. The Mexican Government had announced that Secretary Kerry would be in Mexico on the 28th. Does that mean that that trip is canceled at all, or will he be able to be at – in two places on the same day?
MR PRICE: If you followed Secretary Kerry over the course of many years, you know he’s capable of doing miraculous things in some cases. I don’t have his travel schedule in front of me, but he is someone who has demonstrated an ability to travel around the world in a short time and to engage different regions. So whether he’s still in a position to be in Mexico on the 28th I would refer to his office, but I – and I suspect they’ll be able to provide you an updated itinerary.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has done miraculous things?
MR PRICE: In terms of —
QUESTION: Are you guys going to put him up for sainthood? (Laughter.) I mean, what does that mean?
MR PRICE: In —
QUESTION: And I’m not sure you can get – unless you’re like Elton John taking the Concorde from Wembley to Philly for Live Aid, I don’t know how you get —
MR PRICE: I —
QUESTION: I don’t know how you get to —
MR PRICE: I don’t have his travel schedule in front of me, but it doesn’t take a miracle to wake up in London and to end up in Mexico City by the end of the day.
QUESTION: I’m just asking you because I’ve written to his office and they’ve never come back to me with any response, so I hope you can send them the message. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Okay, we’ll see if we can find out. Sure.
QUESTION: No doubt you’ve seen the House progressives withdrew that initial letter asking President Biden to rethink his stance on Ukraine and push more practically for diplomacy. I was just wondering: Was there any communication after that letter was released yesterday between officials here in this building and lawmakers on the Hill, and is there any lingering concern that the release of that letter could put the U.S. support for Ukraine into question on the world stage given that those misgivings were coming from within the President’s own party?
MR PRICE: The answer to the second question is no. I won’t speak for members of Congress. I won’t speak for this particular caucus. But they have spoken to their original aims. They have spoken to the letter and its disposition now.
The only point I will make, and in fact you’ve heard this from many members of this particular caucus, there is support on both sides of the aisle in Congress, in both houses of Congress, for continued support to Ukraine. There is continued support for security assistance, for the provision of security assistance, for the provision of economic assistance, for the provision of humanitarian assistance. And in fact, we have been able to provide more than $17 billion in security assistance since the start of Russia’s invasion, more than $8 billion – $8.5 billion, I believe – in economic assistance, and billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance, only because we have been able to benefit from that bipartisan support. In recent days we’ve heard from Democrats, we’ve heard from Republicans, that they understand the need to continue to stand with Ukraine, to stand for the principles that are at play here.
Ultimately, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is not only an effort to topple the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian Government, but it’s an effort to erase the Ukrainian people, to erase their identity. The stakes here could not be more profound not only for Ukraine and the – what it represents, but also the principles that are at play: the UN Charter, the tenets that have undergirded the UN system since its start, the principles that have animated relations between states for some eight decades now. Members of Congress, other stakeholders in this country and around the world, they understand that our support, it is vitally important for Ukraine but it’s vitally important the world over.
QUESTION: You mentioned today couple of times that – certain conflicts that could not be resolved militarily. Do you believe that the Russia-Ukraine war could be resolved militarily?
MR PRICE: You have heard very clearly from our Ukrainian partners, including from President Zelenskyy, that this conflict will only end through dialogue and diplomacy.
QUESTION: I remember, as everybody does, last December when the Russians submitted like 16 – whatever – points about their security needs and so on. Once there is a negotiating table and you go back to that table, will these points be considered, do you think?
MR PRICE: Look, it is something I wouldn’t want to even speculate on right now. Right now we are focused on supporting our Ukrainian partners, giving them what they need on the battlefield so that if and when that negotiating table emerges – and ultimately it will – Ukraine is in the strongest possible position.
But you raise a good point. Before Russia made the decision or before President Putin sent Russian forces into Ukraine, we made very clear that we wanted and we were prepared to do everything we responsibly could to deter this conflict, to forestall President Putin from sending his forces into battle and to sentencing so many of his citizens and so many Ukrainian citizens to injury and to death. We met in person. There were discussions at the leader level. There were discussions at Secretary Blinken’s level. There were discussions at Deputy Secretary Sherman’s level. There were subsequent calls up until days – just days – before February 24th, when President Putin ultimately sent his forces into battle.
We were absolutely prepared to address the issues that Russia had put on the table when it came to its stated security concerns. Some of what it put on the table was a non-starter. We’ve – this goes back many months now. We made clear, though, our commitment to NATO’s open door. But if there were practical ideas that Moscow put on the table on which we could engage, we were prepared to do so.
Ultimately, President Putin made the decision to start this war. Ultimately, President Putin can make the decision to end this war. It is our goal, it is the goal of President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian Government, to see to it that this war ends. And unless and until that negotiating table is developed when Russia indicates that it is ready to engage in negotiations, in the dialogue and diplomacy that’s necessary, we will be there to support Ukraine in that diplomacy to bring this war to an end.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: So in today’s meeting between Deputy Secretary Sherman and Japan’s Prime Minister Mori – Japan’s foreign – Deputy Foreign Minister Mori, they both agreed to deepen the alliance between U.S. and Japan and to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific. So I would like to ask you how the United States wants to tackle this growing challenge from China with a stronger alliance.
MR PRICE: So the challenge that we face from the PRC, it is substantial. And from the earliest days of this administration, we have been clear that when it comes to the competition with the PRC – ultimately, competition being at the crux of this bilateral relationship with Beijing – we have several innate and unique strengths.
One of those strengths, and this is something that President Biden and the White House has focused on and it’s something that Secretary Blinken focused on during his recent domestic travel, is what’s happening here at home, the investments that we’re making here at home, the innovation that we’re pioneering here at home, the workforce that we have here at home. It’s one of our greatest strengths when it comes to competing and ultimately out-competing with the PRC around the world.
But second, our allies and partners, the unparalleled system of alliances and partnerships that successive American administrations had built and that this administration has prioritized revitalizing over the course of nearly two years now – that is an unparalleled source of strength, as are the values that unite us with those – with those allies and partners. So it is not so much what we are against in the context of any bilateral relationship, but really what we’re for. And together with our Japanese allies in this case, there are a set of affirmative principles – a free, open Indo-Pacific region, to put it in the shorthand – that we seek. And there are a number of ways that together we’re working on that agenda with our Japanese counterparts.
Part of it is through our close alliance relationship, the political elements of that relationship; part of it is through the economic elements of the relationship, including with IPEF, the framework that was put forward in recent months on which we’re collaborating closely with Japan; part of it is through the security dimension; but there’s also a dimension between the American and the Japanese people. And Japan is a country – we have deep affinity, deep people-to-people relations with Japan, and that too propels our alliance forward.
MR PRICE: Just – yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry to go back to Ukraine. I know you guys have mentioned seeing Iranian military advisor IRGC personnel in – or training Russians on the use of drones. Have you guys seen any Iranian personnel or IRGC members in Belarus?
MR PRICE: So we’re aware of those reports. I’m not in a position to a confirm those reports today, but of course, we have seen Russian forces mass, stage in Belarus. We’ve seen the Lukashenka regime make decisions that certainly don’t seem to be in the interests of the Belarusian people but do seem to be in the interest of President Putin and his cronies. To us, it’s once again the Lukashenka putting its own interest ahead of the interest of the Belarusian people. As a result, not only have we mounted costs and consequences on the Kremlin and those responsible for this war in Moscow, but also on the leadership in Belarus.
MR PRICE: Let me move – make sure everyone gets a question.
Yes, sir. Dylan.
QUESTION: Yeah, there was a lengthy report last week in The Washington Post about more than 500 retired generals and admirals that had taken jobs with foreign governments, advising foreign militaries the last several years. Many of these are in countries with horrible human rights records, including 15 of these jobs that were in Saudi Arabia advising directly the Saudi Defense Ministry. In light of the fact that you guys have said you’re re-evaluating the relationship with the Saudis in recent weeks and the tension that has grown there, is this something you might evaluate as something to stop greenlighting? Because these jobs do have to be approved by both the State Department and the branch of the military that these generals served in. So is that something that you might evaluate stopping?
MR PRICE: Well, on this specific program, I’d ultimately have to refer you to the Department of Defense for details on what’s called the foreign government employee process. But as you alluded to, the State Department does have a role in this process. We review applications for employment with a foreign government by reservists or military retirees following review and approval by the applicant’s respective military service. So once an applicant has put forward his or her application within the DOD system, it ultimately comes to the State Department.
And when it does come to us, we make a decision on each individual application based on how the proposed employment with a foreign government relates to and potentially advances the foreign relations of the United States. Each case is unique. We’re going to take into account the risks, the potential benefits, and ultimately make a decision on that basis, but it’s hard to speak to the program writ large because the application process is so individualized and conducted on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Can you speak to any updates on the consequences or re-evaluation of the Saudi relationship? It’s been about two weeks now since the OPEC decision and the fallout from all of that first broke. Do you have any updates or are we still re-evaluating?
MR PRICE: Well, it has been about two weeks, but this is a relationship that was built up over the course of decades – built up over the course of decades on a bipartisan basis. So the President, the Secretary, they’re going to act methodically and strategically in determining the next steps. Ultimately the President is going to decide what those steps look like – looks – look like. He’s going to take his time to do this deliberately, strategically, methodically, as I said, with partners, with allies, with the Saudis as well.
We’ve taken note since the OPEC+ decision that Saudi Arabia voted against Russia at the United Nations and also pledged $400 million in support for Ukraine’s reconstruction and its humanitarian needs. These steps, of course, don’t compensate for the production cut that was announced, but they’re noteworthy, and we’ll be watching to see what Saudi Arabia does over the coming weeks, and that in turn will inform our consultations and ultimately the President’s decision.
QUESTION: Sorry, Ned, but the energy minister of Saudia Arabia today – Abdulaziz bin Salman – blasted – basically blasted the United States for releasing emergency oil, saying that the intent is really to manipulate the market. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on that. Our proposition all along has been that supply needs to meet demand. And ultimately, the Saudis and OPEC+ announced a production cut. The President has taken steps before the announcement, but since the announcement, to make clear that we’re going to do everything we can to see to it that supply is adequate for demand. Part of that is about domestic production; part of that is about tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; part of that is about working closely with allies and partners around the world.
Yes, in the back. You haven’t had a question.
QUESTION: Thank you. You’ve been clear in your —
MR PRICE: Sorry?
QUESTION: Thank you. You’ve been clear in your statement yesterday that there is no connection between the State Department and the decision of the Ukrainian Government to sanction certain Georgian citizens. So rationale for the specific choice of sanctioned persons has not yet been presented to the people of Georgia in a compelling manner. So in the given situation, it is important that Georgians hear a clean message from the United States with regard to our country as a whole, especially since Georgia has been supplying Ukraine with humanitarian and as well as supports on the world stage as early as the first days of the war.
And also incidentally, on the topic of Georgia’s EU aspirations, you’ve mentioned that polarization in our society remains one of the key obstacles, which is certainly true, unfortunately. How would you, as our strategic partner, comment on the responsibilities of the government (inaudible) as well, as the opposition parties, when it comes to the execution of the 12-point plan, suggest it will be Georgian by the EU? And I’m very sorry for bringing all this domestic policy here, but unfortunately it became the part of the – of our European path. How would you comment on this?
MR PRICE: I’m also sorry. I wasn’t able to hear every element of your question, but I think I caught the gist of it.
Let me just say that from the beginning this administration and the American people – we’ve stood in solidarity with the people of Georgia, and this is something that spans successive administrations. Over the course of successive administrations, we’ve stood with their desire to be a free and sovereign country within internationally recognized borders.
Despite recent damaging rhetoric from some Georgian political elites, this has not changed. We remain a partner to the Georgian people. Over the last 30 years, in fact, we’ve become strategic partners, working together toward our shared vision of Georgia, fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations and part of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. This is a vision that takes political will. It takes hard work; it takes patience; it takes significant efforts to realize.
As part of that, the United States has allocated more than $6 billion in assistance funds to Georgia, training tens of thousands of Georgian soldiers, and sending thousands more to the United States for cultural and educational exchanges. We’ve also helped promote economic growth, the rule of law, and democratic governance, among many other initiatives with the Georgian people, with the Georgian Government.
We are open with the Georgian Government about the need to strengthen democratic institutions and processes, the rule of law, and human rights for all. The democratic backsliding that we’ve observed, that we’ve talked about even in recent days, is taking Georgia away from its stated goal of Euro-Atlantic integration; but even more importantly, it’s weakening its own democracy. It’s weakening the democracy that the Georgian people so clearly aspire to achieve.
We’ll continue to partner with the people of Georgia as they pursue a democratic, a prosperous, peaceful, and Euro-Atlantic future. And we urge the Georgian Government to implement the necessary reforms to acquire EU candidate status, and we stand ready to assist the government in doing so.
MR PRICE: Let me take a couple final questions. Daphne.
QUESTION: Sorry. So the Pentagon has just said that Russia has notified the U.S. about its Grom nuclear exercises, and they’re referring to State, it seems, for additional details on what kinds of activities that State’s been notified about. Do you have any details you can share on that?
MR PRICE: Well, what I can share is that we were, in fact, notified. This is a routine annual exercise by Russia. Russia is complying with its arms control obligations and transparency commitments to provide advance notice of ICBM and SLBM launches. And so while Russia engages in unprovoked aggression and reckless nuclear rhetoric, these notification measures do ensure we are not taken by surprise and reduce the risks of misperception. Of course, that’s important.
QUESTION: What’s the timeline for this?
MR PRICE: I don’t know that we’re in a position to share every detail of that notification. But we have in fact been in contact with the Russians and they have followed appropriate protocols, in this case.
QUESTION: Ned, one on the Iranian drones – Iran foreign minister has said today that if it’s proven to us that Iranian drones are being used in the Ukraine war against people, we should not remain indifferent. Do you have any reaction to them?
MR PRICE: My reaction is solely that, as we said last week, Iranians have been present in Crimea. Iranians have been on the ground with Russians as Russians have conducted these deadly, horrific assaults on Ukrainian cities and towns. So either the foreign minister is being misled or he’s attempting to mislead the world.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Blinken is going to attend reception of D-10 Strategy Forum tonight – says Forum D-10 is the 10 country, including U.S. and Japan and South Korea, making – building some rule-based order to dealing with a global change. Says (inaudible) each country will send their – the high-level official to this forum. So I want to know is that: what is the U.S. Government position about idea from D-10 Strategy Forum? So do you think they will be helpful to deal with a global challenge like North Korea threat? Yeah.
MR PRICE: So this is an event that is being put on by our policy planning staff within this building and their counterparts around the world. These are offices that serve as a strategic resource for the Secretary and for the senior leadership here at the department. It’s important for us that, in day-to-day policy channels, that we have close working relationships, but also when it comes to policy planners, those who are not necessarily looking at the day-to-day or week-to-week, but who are taking a concerted step back to provide their strategic counsel and guidance to Secretary of State to their respective foreign ministers. It’s important that we have close relations with them as well.
The D-10 is an important forum. It brings together many of our close partners and allies from Europe, from the Indo Pacific. And so this is a collection of countries that we bring together in – on some occasions, and we think it’s important to do so here with policy planners.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Ned. Back to South Caucasus. Your Russian colleague today accused the West of engaging in self-promotion – I mean, she was referring to your efforts between Azerbaijan-Armenia. And also she said you are trying to squeeze Russia out of Transcaucasia. Too many visits from the West to Armenia, she says. This all happened to happen when Putin is trying to bring together Armenia-Azerbaijan leaders by the end of this month. Do you have any concern on your end that judging from Zakharova’s statements, that upcoming meeting will serve for undermining the achievements of Brussels and Prague meetings rather than cementing it?
MR PRICE: First, we would certainly take issue with a characterization of our efforts being self-promotional. There is nothing self-promotional about seeking to put an end to years of conflict and to years of flare-ups that have led to violence and ultimately to deaths, both on the part of Armenians and the citizens of Azerbaijan. Our only goal here is to see and to help these countries work together to bring about a comprehensive and lasting peace, and ultimately to save lives. I don’t know what about that can be construed as self-promotional.
As the Secretary has emphasized, we are committed to peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’ve encouraged both leaders to meet in whatever format is most useful to them. We believe direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and to reaching a lasting peace. It’s why Secretary Blinken brought together his foreign minister counterparts from Armenia and Azerbaijan in New York City in September, the first time that the two had been in the same room since the recent flare-up of violence. It’s ultimately for Armenia and for Azerbaijan to decide whether President Putin’s invitation would be helpful or useful to them in pursuit of that lasting peace. Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its ongoing brutal invasion of Ukraine suggests that Moscow has little respect for its neighbor’s sovereignty and is hardly a reliable, long-term partner. But ultimately, this is going to be a decision that Armenian and Azerbaijan will have to reach.
There is ultimately no greater support than the United States for the sovereignty and the independence of the countries in the South Caucasus. The restoration of Armenia, Azerbaijan’s, and Georgia’s independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union was a seminal event that guaranteed each of these countries the right to pursue their own foreign policy interests independent of Moscow or independent of any other country. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:16 p.m.)