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Department Press Briefing – May 17, 2022

2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone, and I apologize for the late start. And if you will indulge me, we have a few items to get through at the top.

Today on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia, and Transphobia – IDAHOBIT – we affirm that the promotion and protection of human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a foreign policy priority. We emphasize that the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are just that: human rights to which all persons are entitled, as made eminently clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides in its first Article that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, everyone deserves to live with respect, dignity, and safety.

The United States commits to doing our part to promote and advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and to end discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ persons. We will capitalize on commitments made during President Biden’s Summit for Democracy and the Year of Action to encourage positive reforms. Together with inclusive democracies, multilateral institutions, and civil society organizations around the world, we will continue to work toward a world where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.

This week we marked the occasion of Vesak Day, joining Buddhists around the world in celebration of a day honoring the life, legacy, and teachings of Buddha. This occasion also provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Buddhist communities around the world, communities that have helped to build a better world for people of all faith traditions. Let us all recommit ourselves to upholding the timeless values of tolerance, compassion, and respect that are imbued in the Buddhist faith.

Happy Buddha Purnima.

Next, the international community has witnessed horrific atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces since President Putin launched his devastating and unjustifiable war of choice against Ukraine. We are working through partnerships with U.S. academia and the private sector to assist current and future quests for justice following months of fighting and mounting evidence of these widespread, large-scale atrocities that have been committed.

To ensure that crimes committed by Russia’s forces are documented and perpetrators are held accountable, today we have launched a new Conflict Observatory for Ukraine. The program will capture, analyze, and make publicly available open-source information and evidence of atrocities, human rights abuses, and harm to civilian infrastructure, including Ukraine’s cultural heritage. Forthcoming reports will be posted on the program’s website: ConflictObservatory.org.

The information collected by the Conflict Observatory will be a resource for the world to see the deplorable and brutal actions of Russia’s forces against the Ukrainian people. It will shine a light on atrocities and is intended to contribute to eventual prosecutions in Ukraine’s domestic courts, courts in third-party countries, U.S. courts, and other relevant tribunals. It will provide information to refute Russia’s disinformation campaigns and expand the range of our and our partners’ accountability mechanisms.

However long it takes, we are committed to seeing that justice is served.

In Guatemala yesterday, President Giammattei chose to re-appoint Maria Consuelo Porras Argueta de Porres as attorney general, despite her record of facilitating corruption. This is a step backward for Guatemalan democracy, transparency, and rule of law – a step that will hurt the people of Guatemala.

During her tenure, Attorney General Porras has worked to dismantle Guatemala’s justice sector, protect corrupt actors, and perpetuate impunity. She has a documented record of obstructing and undermining anticorruption investigations in Guatemala to protect her allies and gain undue favor.  Porras’s pattern of obstruction includes reportedly ordering prosecutors in Guatemala’s Public Ministry to ignore cases based on personal or political considerations and firing prosecutors who investigate cases involving acts of corruption.

This corruption weakens the Guatemalan Government’s ability to reduce violence and stop narcotraffickers. It also slows down economic growth and scares away investments, robbing Guatemalans of jobs and opportunity – all of which are primary factors driving migration.

Yesterday, as a result, we announced the public designation of the attorney general under Section 7013(c)[1] of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2022. This designation renders the attorney general and her immediate family members ineligible for entry into the United States. We’ll have more announcements about consequences for the bilateral relationship of this decision at the appropriate time, and we’ll continue to robustly use our counter-corruption tools going forward.

The United States is determined to stand with all Guatemalans in support of democracy and the rule of law, and against those who would undermine these principles for personal gain.  We call on the Government of Guatemala to take serious, concrete steps to reverse democratic backsliding.

And finally, on Monday, May 23rd, the United States will welcome the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – OIC – Secretary General, His Excellency Hissein Brahim Taha, and the OIC delegation to Washington, D.C., for the inaugural U.S.-OIC Strategic Dialogue.

The United States and the OIC have been close partners for decades, and we share enduring economic, social, cultural, and person-to-person ties with the organization and its 57 members. The launching of this dialogue is an important affirmation of our growing ties. The dialogue will be led on our side by our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Assistant Secretary Yael Lempert and other senior department officials.

On Wednesday, May 25th, Secretary Blinken will meet with the OIC Secretary General. We’ll discuss shared challenges and opportunities in the fight against climate change, our support for greater respect for human rights the world over, mutual goals regarding women’s empowerment and health issues, and our commitment to countering violent extremism.

The strategic dialogue with the OIC is also part of our commitment to working closely with multilateral organizations, and it shows the depth and breadth of our shared interests. Through our sustained engagement, we will further this important partnership and enable greater joint efforts to address shared challenges.

So having said all that, there may be time for a final question or two.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’ve got a – thank you. Let me see, I’ve got a couple very brief logistical ones. But they’ll only be brief if you keep your answers brief, so make —

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Let me make that appeal.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Just one on this Ukraine Observatory.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: I’m not quite – what exactly is new about – I mean, aren’t you guys already doing this?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s a new mechanism. And essentially, we are providing millions of dollars worth of funding to our partners on the outside.

QUESTION: Aren’t you already providing millions of dollars of funding to your partners?

MR PRICE: Well, yes, to partners to work with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General. But this is a new mechanism, and it’s a new mechanism that will encompass the efforts of some of our key partners, including Yale, including Esri, PlantScape AI, the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative.

QUESTION: And these groups, these institutions or groups weren’t involved before?

MR PRICE: You would have to ask them about their level of involvement before, but this is the first time we’ve launched a portal like this that will not only be a mechanism by which the Department can work with these outside organizations to collect, to analyze, to document, but also importantly to share the findings that together we’re able to uncover. And just as I said, they will be shared publicly on the website.

QUESTION: Well, I think you’ve said almost the exact same thing as it relates to the collection of war crimes evidence in the past. So anyway, it’s fine that you have a new mechanism. I just want to know if there’s – I mean, fundamentally you’re still doing the same thing, right?

MR PRICE: We have been engaged in the work through a variety of mechanisms and efforts to collect, to document, to analyze, to share evidence of potential atrocities, potential war crimes with the relevant prosecutors, with relevant state entities, with relevant organizations. But this is the first time that these partners will have come together and to share those findings so that not only the public can see it, to shine a spotlight on what Russia’s forces are doing in Ukraine, but so that relevant authorities in areas of appropriate jurisdiction, including within Ukraine, potentially including within the United States – so that prosecutors can potentially even build criminal cases based on the material that is published online.

QUESTION: Okay. On the Afghan embassy and consulates thing that – that I pointed out to you earlier?

MR PRICE: We will get you updated information on that.

QUESTION: You don’t – do you know why off the top of your head the U.S. – I mean – the U.S. – the Afghan mission to the UN is not included in —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear.

QUESTION: The Afghan mission to the UN is not one of the facilities that has – that is being quote/unquote, “seized, taken control”?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any more details to share, but if we do, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: On the Secretary’s meeting tomorrow with the Turkish foreign minister, are you guys more, less, or the same concerned about what President Erdoğan’s position is on Finland and Sweden?

MR PRICE: Well, you heard the Secretary speak to this over the weekend in Berlin. And the Secretary was in Berlin to meet with his counterparts in the context of a NATO ministerial. He had an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu there, to speak with him. Other NATO members did as well. The Secretary, as you alluded to, Matt, will have an opportunity to see the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, on the sidelines of the UN event tomorrow in New York City.

What the Secretary said is that he, of course – and we, of course, won’t characterize private conversations, but there was over the weekend and there has been a strong consensus for bringing Finland and Sweden into the Alliance if they so choose. The Secretary made the point that we are confident that we will be able to preserve that consensus should Finland, should Sweden, formally apply for NATO membership. Of course, that has not yet happened. I know there is a perception that it may be a foregone conclusion, but precedent, protocol, procedure – all those P words – are very important, especially in the world of diplomacy. So we’ll reserve further comment until we hear additional —

QUESTION: Well, but are – there seem to be, at best, conflicting if not absolutely contradictory positions coming from the President and then President Erdoğan, and then apparently the people who the Secretary and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg have been – and the other foreign ministers have been talking to, because Erdoğan’s comments yesterday were very clear in raising opposition. So are you still seeking clarification of the Turkish position or —

MR PRICE: It is not for us to speak for the Turkish Government, of course. It is for us —

QUESTION: I’m asking you —

MR PRICE: It is for us to speak as —

QUESTION: — do you understand what the Turkish position is?

MR PRICE: — as a member of the NATO Alliance. And Secretary Blinken, who had the opportunity to sit into the – sit in on the foreign ministerial discussions in Berlin over the weekend came away with the same sense of confidence that there was strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden into the Alliance if they so choose to join, and we’re confident we’ll be able to preserve that consensus.

Daphne.

QUESTION: I mean, Erdoğan said yesterday that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Ankara to convince it to approve their NATO bid. I mean, I just don’t understand how you’re reconciling that there’s this consensus when Turkey’s telling them not even to bother coming.

MR PRICE: Again, it is not for me to speak for the Turkish Government or to characterize their position. What we can do is characterize what we heard inside the NATO ministerial, what we have heard in bilateral and multilateral – including in conversations as an Alliance – with our fellow NATO Allies. There is strong consensus, there has been strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden if they so choose to join, and again, as you heard from the Secretary, we are confident we’ll be able to preserve that consensus.

QUESTION: Has Turkey asked for anything from the U.S. in exchange for supporting their bids?

MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to read out private conversations. The Secretary did have a chance to see the foreign minister, Çavuşoğlu, in Berlin. He will have a chance to see him in New York City and I am certain these conversations will continue.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, you keep referring to the confidence that emerged from the meeting over the weekend, and were referring to what President Erdoğan said yesterday, so is that confidence still there? And what explains your confidence as to President Erdoğan said the contrary publicly?

MR PRICE: I am explaining our confidence in the context of discussions that we have had bilaterally, multilaterally, and together as an Alliance. Again, it is not for me to characterize the Turkish Government’s position. It is for us to characterize our position. You know where we stand should Finland and Sweden opt to apply for NATO membership. You have heard from a range of other NATO Allies, of their positions on this. Some have been quite explicit. I’m sure more will be if and when we hear that Finland and/or Sweden are formally applying for the Alliance, but all of the conversations we have had to date lend us that sense of confidence that we will be able to preserve that strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden if they so choose to apply.

QUESTION: And so today, after President Erdoğan spoke yesterday, you are confident that Turkey will not be a roadblock on the way – on that path?

MR PRICE: Our assessment of the sentiment among our NATO Allies and within the NATO Alliance has not changed.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR PRICE: Kylie.

QUESTION: Yeah. So I’m just – you refused to answer the question if Turkey’s asking the United States for anything to allow Sweden and Finland to join. You said that was private discussions. But if Turkey does leverage this moment to get something that it wants from NATO members in return for greenlighting these two countries joining, doesn’t that set a dangerous precedent? And can you speak to efforts underway to make sure that precedent isn’t set?

MR PRICE: Your question entails a hypothetical that’s on top of a hypothetical. Neither country have yet put forward an application for membership. Turkey, of course, has not made any specific asks or requests. So I will respectfully dodge the question on those two grounds, but again, we are having these conversations among Allies bilaterally and as an Alliance with the 30 existing NATO Allies. Those conversations will continue. Secretary Blinken, again, will have an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. Other conversations are ongoing between and among current NATO Allies and with potential aspirant countries.

QUESTION: And just one more question: Are you confident that Turkey’s concerns will be in the rear view mirror by the time the leaders of Sweden and Finland come to the White House later this week?

MR PRICE: We are confident that we will be able to preserve the consensus within the Alliance of strong support for a potential application of Finland and Sweden.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, same topic?

MR PRICE: Stay on the same topic? Sure.

QUESTION: Based on your response, is it fair for us to assume that you still don’t have clear understanding of what Turkey wants?

MR PRICE: The Turkish officials have made public statements. I would refer you to those public statements, including some statements that have been referenced here already.

QUESTION: Well, that doesn’t clear up anything, because the statements that —

MR PRICE: Again, it is not – it is —

QUESTION: We get you telling us that in Berlin the Turks were all on board and then the president of the country comes out yesterday and says he’s not on board.

MR PRICE: It is not up to me to characterize what the Turkish Government’s position is. I will leave it – I will leave it —

QUESTION: No, but that’s not the question. It’s: Do you understand what the Turkish position is?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to the Turkish Government to articulate —

QUESTION: Is it clear to you?

MR PRICE: — to articulate their position.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Is it clear to the United State Government what the Turkish position is?

QUESTION: On two major issues. So one is media freedom in Georgia and the second one will be about the rights of the LGBTQI community in Georgia as well. So yesterday the director of Mtavari Channel, Nika Gvaramia, was imprisoned for three and a half years. Based on the verdict by the Georgian city court, this U.S. Ambassador to Georgia issued the statement on this that reads, and I’m quoting, “The disturbing pattern of selective investigations and prosecution targeting those in opposition to the current government undermines the public’s confidence in the police, prosecution, the courts, and the government itself.” The ranking member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Jim Risch, tweeted as well, and I’m quoting, “Silencing political opposition will send Georgia in a very troubling direction.”

That’s the channel that I work for. I don’t know if I have a job next week or not. That’s the same concern that my team in Tbilisi has. So taking into account how much the U.S. Government values and cherish the importance of free media worldwide, what do you have to say about that?

MR PRICE: We have been quite clear, quite candid with our Georgian partners about the continued need to strengthen the pillars of democracy that we want to see bolstered in Georgia, that we want to see bolstered around the world. That includes democratic institutions; it includes the rule of law as well. And we’ll continue to partner with the people of Georgia as they pursue a democratic, prosperous, peaceful, and Euro-Atlantic future.

When it comes to media freedom, you have heard us consistently speak to the indispensability of a free, of an independent media the world over. Secretary Blinken just a couple weeks spoke to this in extended remarks at the Foreign Press Center here in Washington, D.C., where he extolled the virtue and really the necessity of a free and independent media, noting that over the past year, too many journalists have been repressed, too much of their work has been suppressed, and too many tragically have been wounded or even killed in the line of duty. And of course, their duty is to do nothing more than to report the truth, to spread the truth the world over using nothing more than a pen and perhaps a keyboard.

So we’ll continue to stand resolutely behind independent media, whether it’s in Georgia, whether it is anywhere around the world.

QUESTION: And all the LGBTQI rights in Georgia, that community still cannot enjoy their constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression, because Georgian Orthodox Church and pro-Russian ultra-nationalists persecute them and threaten to beat and kill anyone who tries to rally in the street. So Georgian Government and the law enforcement do not guarantee the safety – the prime minister last year called for not holding the peaceful rally because the police wasn’t able to protect them from the violent mob.

How much of a support should the members of the LGBTQI community in Georgia expect from the United States?

MR PRICE: LGBTQI communities around the world have the support of the United States. That is not only a rhetorical position; it’s a policy position. In February of 2021, President Biden issued an executive order calling for, once again, the policy of the United States, of our foreign affairs departments and agencies, to be to protect and to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We do that in a number of ways. We of course do it rhetorically, but we also do it through programmatic funding for supporting the important work of advocacy organizations, for calling out abuses, repression, intimidation, violence against LGBTQI communities around the world.

And of course, whether the cause, whether the community is the community of LGBTQI+ individuals or any other community, including marginalized communities, we always call for universal rights to be protected and to be enshrined in democratic institutions. And of course, the right the peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of expression – two of those important rights.

QUESTION: And very lastly, when you look at the media free speech in Georgia – we just previewed that – and when you look at the human rights record of the country, I know you don’t preview any sanctions or speak about the hypotheticals. But still, I just want to gather your thoughts on the general idea where the U.S. Government stands on that. When you look at those two venues of a country that is declared to be a partner of the United States, what is your major concern? Do you – how do you see the detrimental effect of the Georgia-U.S. relations when you look at those two avenues, and that’s the least?

MR PRICE: Well, we do consider Georgia a strategic partner. And as a strategic partner, the United States is well positioned to encourage Georgia down the path of reform, to encourage Georgia to take on some of the improvements, some of the steps that we have talked about here.

Of course, Georgia’s aspirations don’t occur overnight. They’re impossible to realize over the course of a single year, even a single decade. It takes hard work; it takes patience. It takes significant resources to realize. Part of our task is to continue to partner with Georgia, to continue to support them down that path, to do that with resources, with guidance, with direct support in many cases. And that is an area where we will continue to cooperate closely with our Georgian partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, just going back to something last week, President Zelenskyy told Chatham House in London that he’d be open to start discussing things normally with the Russians if the Russian military pulled back to their position that they were at on February 23rd. He said something similar to Margaret Brennan on CBS News – the beginning of April – he mentioned the date February 24th. What does this administration understand that to mean? Does that mean the Russians need to pull out of the country, or pull back to where their forces were already operating in parts of the Donbas? And then does that mean that Zelenskyy would be open to giving up parts of the Donbas to discuss with the Russians to move negotiations forwards?

MR PRICE: The important point here is that it is not for us to define the objectives that our Ukrainian partners seek to achieve. It is the task of the Ukrainian Government, which is, in turn, expressing the will of the Ukrainian people. It’s a democratically elected government, a representative government, and it is up to that government on behalf of the Ukrainian people to define what their objectives in pushing back on Russian aggression should be.

It is our task to support our Ukrainian partners in every appropriate way we can, to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table, recognizing that, at the moment, there are not high-level negotiations to speak of. We have heard very clearly from our Ukrainian partners that there has been no significant progress, that the Russian Federation has remained intractable in its positions.

And so of course, what we are doing now is two things: one, as I said before, supporting and strengthening the hand of our partners in Kyiv; and two, simultaneously, is imposing the massive costs and consequences that we have warned the Kremlin about since late last year. And in doing so, it is our hope to generate the conditions where dialogue, where good-faith diplomacy can take place.

And, of course, more so than the process, we are most concerned about the outcome, seeing to it that our Ukrainian partners are successful in seeing their objectives through. To do that, we will continue to provide them with security assistance. We will continue to provide them with economic assistance. We will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners, the Ukrainian people, with what they need with humanitarian assistance in the meantime as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to that: If your job is not to define their objectives but it is to support your Ukrainian partners – excuse me – at what point does that stop for those objectives and that support? Is there a limit to what the U.S. is willing to back?

MR PRICE: The U.S. wants what the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Government wants. It is a Ukraine that is democratic, a Ukraine that is independent, a Ukraine that is sovereign, a Ukraine that is free. Now, the contours of that, the specific objectives, will have to be defined by the Ukrainian Government – what those objectives are to them, how they want to pursue those at the negotiating table. Those are not questions for us. Those are questions for our Ukrainian partners to sort through.

Yes, Michael. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. So recently on this topic, the French President Macron implied that we should learn lessons from World War I and not punish Russia too severely. I was wondering if you could speak on the topic of whether the U.S. and its European allies support the same endgame scenario in Ukraine. And then, more broadly, if you could choose your most ideal, realistic endgame in Ukraine, what would that be?

MR PRICE: So I think your second question is just a clever way of asking the last question that was asked to me. It is not up to us to choose our ideal endgame. It is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine how they would like to see this conflict end. What we know is that they would – just like United States, just like NATO, just like the international community – we would profoundly like to see this conflict end. We would like to see a cessation of the violence, a cessation of the bloodshed, a cessation of the atrocities that have inflicted the country of Ukraine over the past 82 days, owing to the brutality that Russia’s forces are perpetrating against Ukraine’s people, its state, and its government as well.

Your first question —

QUESTION: Possible fissures between the Europeans’ idea of what an endgame scenario would be like and what the United States endgame is.

MR PRICE: We have any number of fora in which to discuss with our European partners and our European allies the long-term course of all of this. And I think there is no daylight between the United States and our European partners in the G7, in our European partners in the Quad, the European Quad, our European partners in the European Quint, our European partners at the EU, and our European partners more broadly – that we would like to see – and we know the Ukrainian people and government would like to see and will see – a Ukraine that at the end of this conflict is free, it is independent, it is sovereign, and democratic.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Different topic, please.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. About the corona crisis in North Korea, it was reported that three North Korean cargo planes were carrying corona treatment medicine from China yesterday. You know that the North Korea likes Chinese vaccines. What if North Korea requests assistance through COVAX with the United States (inaudible) North Korea’s – if North Korea wants assistance through COVAX.

MR PRICE: Your question is what has North Korea requested?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: Well, unfortunately, to date the DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. I say it is unfortunate because we are deeply concerned about the apparent COVID outbreak within the DPRK, how it might affect the North Korean people. And the United States continues to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK. We would like to see humanitarian, including medical relief, provided to the people of the DPRK. To that end, we strongly support and encourage the efforts of U.S. and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and, as necessary, to contain the outbreak, the spread of COVID-19 in the DPRK, and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people.

It is COVAX that determines allocations for the Pfizer vaccines we have donated. Those are the brunt of the vaccines that we have donated. Should COVAX allocate doses to the DPRK, we would be supportive of that, as we would to any member of the grouping and to the African Union as well. As I said before, however, it is the DPRK that has consistently refused all vaccine donations. We don’t currently have bilateral plans to share vaccines with the DPRK, but we continue to support, as I’ve said before, those international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable within North Korea.

There is another great irony, or perhaps it’s even a tragedy, in that even as the DPRK continues to refuse the donation of much – apparently much-needed COVID vaccines, they continue to invest untold sums in ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that do nothing to alleviate the humanitarian plight of the North Korean people. The DPRK leadership continues to enrich themselves, to take care of their cronies, while the people of the North – of the DPRK suffer, apparently now with the added burden of COVID.

QUESTION: There was previously that South Korean director of intelligence service said that there is the secret papers. He announced that the U.S. and South Korea previously suggested this through the COVAX, but Kim Jong-un refuses to help. Is that true?

MR PRICE: We have discussed with our Republic of Korea allies, with our Japanese allies, and with others ways that we might mitigate the humanitarian plight of the North Korean people. Unfortunately, it is the North Korean leadership that has prevented many of those steps from proceeding.

QUESTION: Lastly, do you think North Korea likely to put on hold nuclear test due to coronavirus?

MR PRICE: We have never seen the DPRK regime prioritize the humanitarian concerns of their own people over these destabilizing programs that pose a threat to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, so I do not think there is any expectation of that.

Yes, Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two question, and surprise, one is about Haqqani’s recent interview in CNN, and he said the United States is not our enemy. So good thing. If United State not your enemy, United State has expectation to reopen girls’ school. Number one, do you have the same – United States has the same position, establish friendship – new friendship – with Haqqani Network, leader of the Taliban?

MR PRICE: It is our position that the women and girls of Afghanistan, including those girls who have been denied the opportunity to attend post-secondary education for weeks now – it is our strong position, it is the position of countries around the world, as you may have seen in a statement that came out from the G7 and other multilateral statements as well, that these girls have – should have the opportunity to attend school, to build skills, to develop the capacity to improve their own lives, to improve the lives of their families, and ultimately the welfare and the livelihood of their communities and their country. We have made the point before that any society that seeks to suppress, to hold back, half of its population is not a society that can be thriving, is not even a society that can succeed.

So, of course, we’ve seen the remarks from Siraj Haqqani. I think you will understand that we have developed a well-earned skepticism of these sorts of comments. We’ve heard these types of comments before. What we care much more about rather than rhetoric is action, and we await the Taliban acting on these positive signals and reopening schools at all levels across the country, which itself would be a very welcome development.

QUESTION: Okay. The second question, Mr. Price, can you update U.S. on Afghan funds frozen by the New York courts?

MR PRICE: You may recall that several months ago now there was an executive order that came forth from the White House that spoke to the disposition of the $7 billion – approximately $7 billion – in frozen assets. It provided for a sum, an element, a part of these assets to be used for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. So that is something that we continue to work closely with our colleagues throughout the administration, including in the Department of Justice.

But as you know, Nazira, we have continued to be the world’s leader in terms of our humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars for education, for health care, for shelter, for food, for clean water, for sanitation, and for winterization projects at the appropriate time. We will continue to do that going forward, using the humanitarian funding that we currently have available to us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes, Daphne.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, Taiwan has been trying to secure an invitation to the World Health Assembly, and 13 member states made a proposal for it to join. Was the U.S. one of the 13? And what is the U.S. doing to try to get Taiwan access to the WHA, beyond public statements?

MR PRICE: Well, we strongly advocate for the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer and lend its expertise to the solution-seeking discussions at the 75th World Health Assembly, scheduled for this month. We believe that inviting Taiwan to participate as an observer would exemplify the WHO’s commitment – stated commitment – to an inclusive approach to international health cooperation and, quote/unquote, “health for all.” Taiwan in that regard is a highly capable, engaged, responsible member of the global health community, with unique expertise and approaches that can benefit the world.

We’ve made this point before, that Taiwan has much to share with the world in different realms, including in the realm of public health. And, of course, Taiwan’s absence from the WHA in recent years is something that we have sought to rectify. The WHO broke years of precedent at the 70th World Health Assembly in 2017 when it failed to invite a Taiwanese delegation to observe. Taiwan’s inclusion[2], unfortunately, has continued every year since 2017.

As we continue to battle a pandemic, as we continue to confront other public health threats, Taiwan’s isolation from the world’s preeminent global health forum – it’s unwarranted. It represents itself a serious health concern. We believe that its significant public health expertise, its technical and technological capabilities, its democratic governments – governance, its resilience in the face of COVID-19, and its robust economy offer considerable resources to inform the WHA’s deliberations, and we believe there is no reasonable justification to exclude its participation.

QUESTION: Was the U.S. one of the 13 that made the proposal?

MR PRICE: We have supported – excuse me – Taiwan’s participation as an observer in at the World Health Assembly.

Nick.

QUESTION: Just back to Afghanistan quickly, there was some reporting that the Afghans during the NEO who didn’t pass vet and were being held at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo – there were about some 16 of them – that the State Department is making a final determination of what to do with these 16 or more. Has a final determination been made on what to do with them? And if so, where are they going?

MR PRICE: So I don’t have anything to share in terms of specific cases, but as you know, every individual who was transported out of Afghanistan underwent and has undergone, in most cases, vetting throughout by the interagency, by our partners within law enforcement, within the Intelligence Community, within the Department of Homeland Security as well. In some cases, there have been individuals who have required additional vetting. They have undergone that additional vetting at Camp Bondsteel. In many cases, that remains ongoing, but I just don’t have anything to offer in terms of disposition.

Yes.

QUESTION: One follow-up. Is there a time limit on how long they can be held at Camp Bondsteel?

MR PRICE: Again, the vetting usually can take place fairly quickly. There will be limited cases that require a longer vetting period. Our goal always is to see to it that we can complete the process as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that, please?

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one question. Can you definitively say that they won’t be sent back to Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: I will – I can definitively say that we will comply with all regulations and guidelines when it comes to international humanitarian law and the principle of non-refoulement.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Israeli defense minister said, I think yesterday, that Iran is currently trying to complete the production and installation of 1,000 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, including at a new underground facility being built near Natanz. Is that the U.S. understanding of what is currently occurring by the Iranians?

MR PRICE: I am not going to detail what our understanding is. As you might gather, much of this, some of this may be derived from elements that we typically don’t speak to in public. But of course, we do share information routinely with our Israeli partners. We have a common understanding across many fronts, and we share a common strategic interest and that is seeing to it that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

So of course, our Israeli partners are not the only ones to have expressed concern about the progress that Iran’s nuclear program has been in position to make since the previous administration left the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. We, too, have expressed our own profound concerns about the pace at which Iran’s nuclear program has been in a position to gallop forward since 2018.

That is precisely why we are continuing to test whether we will be able to secure a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, because doing so remains profoundly in our interest. It would put back in a box the nuclear program, a nuclear program that has not been subject to the same limits, to the same transparency, to the same verification and monitoring that Iran’s nuclear program was prior to 2018 when the nuclear agreement was in full force – when it was verifiably and demonstrably, according to international weapons inspectors, according to this building, and according to our Intelligence Community, working to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Ned, on this topic, U.S. Central Command chief lands in Israel tonight to coordinate a joint Iran strike exercise. Is the military option on the table now since the Vienna talks stalled?

MR PRICE: We believe that diplomacy and dialogue affords an opportunity to sustainably and durably and permanently put an end to Iran’s ability to produce or otherwise acquire a nuclear weapon.

Yes, Gitte.

QUESTION: You’re aware that Enrique Mora left the – Iran on Friday, so I think it’s safe to assume that by now, he may – he has briefed Rob Malley on his talks with the Iranian officials. The Iranians are saying that they have presented it as several proposals. You have said that you don’t negotiate in public, but can you confirm that?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t negotiate in public. What I will say is that we and our partners are ready. We have been for some time. We believe it is now up to Iran to demonstrate its seriousness. As you’ve heard from us before, there are a small number of outstanding issues. We believe these small number of outstanding issues pertaining to Iran’s nuclear program could be bridged and closed quite quickly and effectively, if Iran were to make the decision to do so. We are grateful, as always, for Enrique Mora and his team’s efforts to – and we look forward to more detailed conversations with them in the days ahead.

But, as you’ve heard from us before, at this point, a deal remains far from certain. Iran needs to decide, as I alluded to before, whether it insists on conditions that are extraneous to the JCPOA, or whether it is ready, willing, and able to conclude the JCPOA, a mutual return to compliance with it, quickly. We know that it would serve America’s national security interests; we believe that it, in turn, would serve all sides’ interests.

QUESTION: Well, they’re saying the same thing, that it’s now up to the U.S. to make the decision, and that if it does so, if it does answer, that you could get back to the talks again.

MR PRICE: There are a number of parties involved in this negotiation. I think if you talk to the parties, they will tell you that the United States has negotiated indirectly, in the case of Iran, earnestly, in good faith, seeking to arrive at a mutual return to compliance. And unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of the Iranian side.

QUESTION: One last one on this?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: There are reports that Iran has set up a drone factory in Tajikistan. Are you aware – is the United States aware of this? Because the Israeli defense minister thinks that the drone program also is part of their program to send drones to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

MR PRICE: We’ve expressed our concerns about Iranian UAV technology. We have taken action using appropriate authorities against proliferators of Iranian UAV technology. I just don’t have anything to add on a possible drone factory in Tajikistan.

Courtney.

QUESTION: A couple on Russia?

QUESTION: On Iran? Yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR PRICE: Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Iran, yeah. Last week, we heard that Iran arrested two Europeans. Today we got to know they are French; we know their name. And Iran is labeling them with security accusation, like always familiar pattern. That is a matter related to French – to France foreign minister, so my question for you is about the negotiations you are having in Vienna about the hostages, dual nationalities, foreign citizens. Those negotiations, are they still going on? Are they tied to the nuclear talks? Can you give us an update? And as a country who has at least five citizens in Iranian jail, how do you react to that behavior?

MR PRICE: Well, let me first start with the arrest of the two French nationals. We, of course, are aware of these reports. We echo what you’ve heard from our French allies, the condemnation of these arrests. We similarly call on Iran to immediately release these two French nationals. As you alluded to, Iran has a long history of unjustly imprisoning foreign nationals in an attempt to use them as political leverage. It continues to engage in a range of human rights abuses, which include arbitrary and large-scale detention of individuals, some of whom have faced torture and execution after trials that have lacked due process. These practices are outrageous. We have continued to speak out against them together with our allies and partners.

When it comes to the Americans, the U.S. citizens who are held unjustly inside Iran and who have been for years, as we often say, we have no higher priority than seeing – than the safety and security of Americans everywhere, and of course, that includes Americans who are unjustly detained in places around the world.

The – we have been careful not to tie the fate of these individuals – their freedom, I should say – to a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And we’ve been careful not to do that for precisely what I said just a moment ago. A mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is far from certain. We want to see the return of our unjustly detained American citizens as a certainty.

Now it is true, as you have heard others say, that we are treating this as an utmost priority. The Iranians – we have made quite clear to them the priority we attach to this, and it is something that we will continue to do, regardless of what happens with the JCPOA.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have another one about a phone call between Secretary Blinken and the Qatari Foreign Minister Al-Thani. He thanked him for the mediating role he played between Iran and America. My question is that – can you give us detail about what sort of a role Qatar played and what exactly Al-Thani achieved from his trip to Iran?

MR PRICE: So I will have to refer you to the Qatari authorities to speak to the Amir’s visit to Iran. What I can say is that we’re grateful for the constructive role that Qatar has played in our efforts to achieve diplomatic resolutions to some of the important and difficult issues between the U.S. and Iran, and that includes what you referred to just a moment ago, the unjust detention of several U.S. citizens and our efforts to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Courtney.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Russia. Secretary – Defense Secretary Austin spoke on Friday with his Russian counterpart, and I’m just curious if there are plans for Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov to speak – they haven’t done so since February 12th – and just if there are additional lines of communication beyond Ambassador Sullivan and officials in Moscow.

MR PRICE: You are correct that the Secretary has not spoken to his Russian counterpart since February, and this goes back to something I noted just a moment ago in terms of where we are and, more precisely, where we are not with the diplomacy. The Russian Federation has not given – has not afforded us any reason to believe that a conversation at that level between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov would be constructive in the current environment. We have demonstrated many times that we have no bones about picking up the phone if doing so – having a conversation, having a meeting – has the potential to lead to a more constructive outcome. Everything we have heard from our Ukrainian partners, everything we have heard publicly from the Russians gives us no indication that a conversation at this time would be a useful exercise.

There are lines of communication between the United States and Russia. As you know, we have an embassy that is limited in terms of its – in terms of its ability to function fully given some of the restrictions that the Russians have unjustly and unfairly imposed on our mission community in Moscow. But Ambassador Sullivan continues, as he did last week, to meet with and to speak with his MFA counterparts. Our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs here in Washington continues to have occasional contact with Russian officials who are based here. We have spoken previously of the National Security Advisor’s contact with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Patrushev. And as the Pentagon read out this – Secretary Austin did have an opportunity to speak with his Russian counterpart.

There are issues that the Defense Department deals with, including issues of deconfliction, that are more tactical, that are different from the types of strategic conversations that Secretary Blinken has had in the past with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and if the conditions present themselves and if we make the judgment that a conversation between them could advance the cause of a dimunition of violence or easing the humanitarian plight of the Ukrainian people that they may have going forward.

QUESTION: And can you just give us an update on the case of Brittney Griner? There’s some talk of a possible prisoner swap with Viktor Bout, for instance.

MR PRICE: Well, of course I’m not going to get into – I’m not going to entertain that. But let me first speak generally to her case. You may have seen Ambassador Sullivan issued a statement earlier today. He made the point that it is unacceptable that for the third time in a month, Russian authorities have denied an embassy visit to Brittney Griner. A consular official was able to speak with her on the margins of her court proceedings on Friday. That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult.

But sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention, to which Russia has subscribed. That is why we continue to urge the Russian Government to allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, in line with those very legal obligations, and to allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia.

Among the issues that Ambassador Sullivan raises with his MFA counterparts are the cases of detained Americans. More broadly, I can confirm that Secretary Blinken had an opportunity in recent days to speak to the wife of Brittney Griner. He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeing the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia – those are Americans who we consider to be wrongfully detained. That has been a priority of Secretary Blinken since the earliest days of his tenure. He’s had an opportunity to speak with the families of American hostages and detainees as a group, but he often does one-on-one – has one-on-one conversations with these families as well. And he was appreciative of the ability to speak to Brittney Griner’s wife.

QUESTION: Ned?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on the Middle East. First, how will the U.S. delegation visit to UAE to offer condolences affect the relations between the two countries, and how was or how can you describe the meeting between Secretary Blinken and UAE foreign minister yesterday?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Secretary Blinken did join the delegation that was led by the Vice President to offer condolences and to pay respects to Sheikh Khalifa, and to honor his memory, his legacy in the context of his passing. The Vice President underscored the strength and the – of the partnership between our countries and our desire to further deepen our ties in the coming months and years. Really, the visit itself was an opportunity to commemorate the life of Sheikh Khalifa and to congratulate His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on assuming the presidency of the United Arab Emirates.

The Secretary did – on Monday night, I believe it was – have an opportunity to have dinner with his Emirati counterpart. It was a session that, again, commemorated the life and legacy of Sheikh Khalifa and was held in that context, but they were able to discuss a number of substantive areas, both regional and bilateral issues. They discussed our joint efforts to reinforce the ceasefire in Yemen; they discussed our – the international emphasis on defusing tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem; they discussed our joint cooperation in countering Iran and the threat that it poses; and ways that we can build on what is already a strong partnership between our two countries.

As you know, this is a relationship that Secretary Blinken – where Secretary Blinken has been fortunate to have had a lot of face time in recent weeks. He saw his Emirati counterpart in the Negev for the summit focused on the Abraham Accords. We then later traveled to Morocco, where he saw his Emirati counterpart, but of course met with Mohammed bin Zayed, then the crown prince, to discuss the relationship – the valued and valuable relationship – between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. And the conversation that he had with ABZ at dinner yesterday evening was an opportunity to build on those conversations and to look ahead to additional cooperation.

QUESTION: I have two more, one on Libya. Any comment on the clashes in the capital, Tripoli, and the visit that the prime minister made?

MR PRICE: We are highly concerned by reports of armed clashes in Tripoli. We urge all armed groups to refrain from violence, and for political leaders to recognize that trying to seize or retain power through force will only hurt the people of Libya. It’s critical for Libyan leaders to find consensus to avoid clashes like the ones we saw yesterday. We continue to believe that the only viable path to legitimate leadership is by allowing Libyans to choose their leaders through free and fair elections. The constitutional talks underway in Cairo are now more important than ever. Members of the house of representatives and the HSC gathered there must recognize that the continued lack of a constitutional basis leading to presidential and parliamentary elections on a realistic but aggressive timeframe is depriving Libyans of the stability and the prosperity they deserve.

QUESTION: And finally, on Lebanon, any comment on the elections and the results? And do you think that Hizballah is weaker today than it was yesterday?

MR PRICE: Well, we are pleased that the parliamentary elections took place on time in Lebanon without major security incidents. We encourage Lebanon’s political leaders to recommit themselves to the hard work that lies ahead, to implement needed reforms to rescue the economy. We believe that part of that important work that lies ahead is government formation, a government that is responsible and responsive to the Lebanese people, that can undertake some of the reforms that have been called for, some of the reforms that are necessary – both in terms of international financial and lending institutions, but also, more importantly, to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Lebanon.

Daphne.

QUESTION: Just to clarify quickly on UAE, and then I have a question on Ethiopia. Did oil not come up during yesterday’s visit?

MR PRICE: Again, I don’t have additional details to read out. We have held discussions with – previously with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on a collaborative approach to managing potential market pressures stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We are committed to doing everything we can and to work with other countries to bring down the costs of energy for the American people, and to make countries around the world more resilient to the type of – to potential price shocks and to potential disruptions in energy supplies owing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay, and then —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — the Ethiopia question, sorry.

MR PRICE: Ethiopia question.

QUESTION: Reuters reported yesterday that authorities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are forcing young people to join their army’s fight against the central government by threatening and jailing relatives. Is this something the U.S. is aware of? And are you concerned that the TPLF may be preparing for a possible resurgence in combat?

MR PRICE: Well, we certainly hope not. Our goal is to build on the humanitarian truce that was announced on April – that was announced last month. We strongly support that humanitarian truce that the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray regional authority have committed to as well. We’ve seen a series of encouraging actions by the Government of Ethiopia that we hope will lead and help lay the groundwork for an end to the conflict. That includes lifting the state of emergency, releasing some political prisoners and detainees. Tigrayan forces, for their part, have withdrawn most of their forces from Afar.

Our emphasis now is on doing all we can to support the parties in efforts to accelerate, to uphold, and expand efforts to ensure that this humanitarian truce sticks, but also to expand immediate, sustained, and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Ethiopians affected by this conflict. So certainly would not like to see any backtracking that has the potential to undermine the humanitarian truce that we’ve seen.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned —

MR PRICE: Let me go to you, and then we’ll come right to you.

QUESTION: My question is about the Secretary’s policy speech on PRC. Could you help us – could you help us understand the rough outline of it? And I also wonder when he will deliver it.

MR PRICE: I am not in a position today to offer a rough outline, but I can assure you that the Secretary intends to deliver these remarks at the first possible opportunity. As you know, he was set to deliver it the other week, but of course, his COVID diagnosis disrupted those plans. But we’ll have more details on that shortly.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to go back to the very first question on a new program. You said something important about sharing your findings with partners. Does that include the ICC as well? As you know, ICC is sending its largest-ever team to Ukraine. What is the U.S. position on that? And will you have your own separate investigation, or is this part of the cooperation with the ICC?

And secondly, President Zelenskyy last week said that he thinks that Moscow believes it’s going to get away with its war crimes because of its nuclear capabilities. Can you assure us that that’s not going to be the case? Thank you.

MR PRICE: In terms of the ICC, we support all international investigations into the atrocities in Ukraine. We welcomed the announcement by the prosecutor general of an effort vis-à-vis Ukraine. We support those conducted by the ICC.

We’ve said before that everything is on the table. We are considering the most appropriate options for accountability. We’ve also said that the Ukrainian prosecutor general, her team, obviously has an appropriate jurisdiction. They have developed well-developed efforts to document, to analyze, to preserve potential evidence of war crimes for criminal prosecutions. As you saw the announcement from her office just a couple days ago, they have actually started proceedings in one case.

So we will continue to pursue all appropriate venues to see accountability. And accountability means accountability; and no country – no matter how large, how potentially powerful, what types of weapons they may have in their arsenal – can escape accountability for the types of atrocities that we have seen Russia’s forces perpetrate against the Ukrainian people.

We have already made the assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes. Our task now is to support those, to support the important work of those who are seeking to build criminal cases against those who are responsible for this, whether at the tactical level or those who at much more senior levels may have given orders or may have been complicit in the war crimes that have occurred.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:38 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – May 11, 2022

 

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I apologize for the late start.

Let me start by saying that we are absolutely heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injuries to her producer Ali Samoudi today in the West Bank. We send our deepest condolences to Shireen’s family, her friends and loved ones, and strongly condemn her killing as we do the killing of journalists around the world.

Shireen was a veteran reporter. She was followed closely by those who care about the region and is mourned by all who knew her. The Secretary spoke just one week ago on World Press Freedom Day about the fundamental role journalists play in the free flow of information, ideas, opinions, including dissenting ones, as being essential to inclusive and tolerant societies. It is heart-wrenching to see the killing of another journalist just one week later.

We call for an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance. We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. Her death is a tragic loss and an affront to media freedom everywhere.

With that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned.

MR PRICE: Matt, I see you have a minder with you today. I’m very glad to see it.

QUESTION: Yes. Yeah, my boss. My boss. This is Anna. Ned, Anna.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: Good to meet you. We’ll talk later today.

QUESTION: Yes. On this situation, when you call for “an immediate and thorough investigation,” who exactly do you want to do the investigating?

MR PRICE: We – it is important to us that those who are responsible for her death be held responsible, that full accountability be ensured in this case.

QUESTION: Okay, but my question is not that. My question is who do you think can conduct a credible investigation into her death that would be accepted by all parties, including the United States?

MR PRICE: Well, in this case, I’m not going to prejudge where any investigation may go. We’ve seen, of course, that the Israeli Defense Forces have already announced that there is an investigation underway. We welcome that announcement. It is important to us, it is important to the world that that investigation be thorough, that it be comprehensive, that it be transparent, and importantly, that investigations end with full accountability and those responsible for her death being held responsible for their actions.

QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, do you want the Palestinians to be involved in the investigation?

MR PRICE: The IDF has announced an investigation.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s the IDF.

MR PRICE: Correct.

QUESTION: “I” standing for Israel.

MR PRICE: That is correct.

QUESTION: So what about the Palestinians? Because there are calls in Israel for the Palestinians to take part in this.

MR PRICE: What is – and I’m sure the Palestinians will do their own review as well. We have heard statements from both Israelis and Palestinians over the course of the day. What is important to us is that those responsible for this killing be held accountable for their actions.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So —

QUESTION: All right, so just one more thing and then I’ll defer. But are you confident that – maybe you’re not because the investigation hasn’t been done, but does it appear to you, circumstances right now as you know them, that she was targeted because she was a journalist?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to prejudge an investigation. That’s precisely why we’re calling for an investigation. We’ve heard the statements that she was clearly – she was wearing attire that was clearly – marked her as a journalist, but we are going to wait for the investigation to go where it goes. We are going to wait to hear where the facts lead in this case, and importantly, to see the accountability that is mounted in the aftermath of that investigation.

Said.

QUESTION: Ned, I just want to ask you, do you trust Israel investigating itself? I mean, I have asked this question over the past 20 years so many times. Can you trust them? Have they ever come back to you with saying these are the results? I mean, only in January, Omar Assad died in their custody, and you said – and he was a Palestinian American, and you said – from that podium you said that you are waiting on their investigating. You have not even followed through on this. So do you trust the Israelis investigating themselves?

MR PRICE: The Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation. Let me give you an example because you asked the question. In June of 2020, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot – and you are familiar with this case – Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to stop and to obey orders. About a year later, in June of 2021, the Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers, DIPO, filed an indictment with a Jerusalem district court against the border police officer who shot and killed Halak. Clearly, Israeli authorities have the wherewithal to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.

That is what we expect in this case. In this case we expect that the perpetrators, those responsible for the death of Shireen – who, by the way, was a very close contact of our post and someone our people, someone presumably many of you knew quite well. It is —

QUESTION: She was with us in this room.

MR PRICE: And it is important to us —

QUESTION: You have to remember that.

MR PRICE: It is important to us that her legacy be honored, be protected, with accountability for those who senselessly took her life.

QUESTION: Well, you know on this police case that you cited – just bear with me, indulge me, my colleagues. In this case that you cited, you know that the Israelis charged the policemen something like maybe $10 fine and so on. I don’t want to delve into that. But you talked about Press Freedom Day last week, Press Freedom Day. You never mentioned the Palestinian journalists. There are 15 Palestinian journalists in prison – in prison. They are held there, as we say in Arabic, zuran mwbitani, which means falsely and malevolent. They have been held there day after day, year after year. They are disallowed from conducting their work, from doing their work, including colleagues of mine from my newspaper.

So I want you to respond to that. I mean, you talked about other things, which is laudable, which is great. Talk about what journalists face in Ukraine and other places. But you never mention what Palestinian journalists face.

MR PRICE: Said, we know what many Palestinian journalists have faced, and we’ve commented quite a bit on that. You well remember what we said in the aftermath of the strike last year against the Associated Press building, against the Al Jazeera building in Gaza. We had an opportunity to speak to that publicly. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to the editor-in-chief of the Associated Press in the aftermath of that strike. We have spoken vociferously about the rights to a free press around the world, the fact that reporters should not be targeted, reporters should not be the objects of violence or suppression or repression anywhere around the world, whether that country is an autocracy, a democracy, whether that country is a friend or whether that country is a foe or competitor.

QUESTION: Let me just follow up on how journalists, Palestinian journalists, when there is an operation like this. The Israelis were about to storm the Jenin refugee camp. They go by, including the group that was with Shireen, including someone from my newspaper. They went by the Israelis that were standing right out there, and they said, “We’re going right there.” They told them just this morning, “We’re going to go right there.” So they knew perfectly. They knew exactly who was there and how clearly marked these people were.

So I want to hear from you if that – if – if ever the investigation shows the guilty party, should that guilty party be prosecuted to the full extent of the law?

MR PRICE: Those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, yes.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, just really briefly since you brought it up, the bombing of the AP and the Al Jazeera office in Gaza, did you guys ever get an explanation from the Israelis that was satisfactory?

MR PRICE: We were in contact with the Israelis. They shared with us some of the information regarding that strike.

QUESTION: And did you think that it was a legit target?

MR PRICE: Clearly, the fact that there were the offices of at least two independent media organizations made it highly concerning, highly troubling to us. But beyond that —

QUESTION: Well, is it still troubling, or were your concerns resolved after what they told you?

MR PRICE: It is —

QUESTION: I mean, it’s been almost – literally, that happened on May 15th of last year. It’s now, what, May 11th. Or is it the 12th?

MR PRICE: It is – that assessment has not changed. It is —

QUESTION: Will you guys —

QUESTION: So you’re still troubled by it? In other words, the explanation that the Israelis gave to you is not – it did not allay your —

MR PRICE: We voiced our concern by the fact that journalists were put at risk, that their offices came under assault.

QUESTION: I get that. But it’s been a —

QUESTION: Will you send someone to the church —

QUESTION: But it’s been a year, so I just want to know if the Israeli explanation has satisfied you and so those concerns are no – you don’t have those concerns.

MR PRICE: Those concerns still exist, yes.

QUESTION: Will you send someone to the church on Friday for the service of Shireen in Gaza?

MR PRICE: I will check with post. As I know, as I relayed to you, she was a close contact of post. They were in regular contact with her. They valued her work. They valued in some cases a personal friendship and relationship with her. And if we have anything to say regarding representation, we’ll let you know.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken to any leader in Israel or the Palestinian side about this? And just on the record, do you have any early assessment or understanding of who did that?

MR PRICE: We’re not going to prejudge an investigation. We’ve heard various statements throughout the day. Some of those statements have shifted. That’s why we have called for a thorough, comprehensive investigation ending in accountability. There have been a number of conversations by senior officials in this building, senior officials at our embassy in Jerusalem, to both Israeli and Palestinian counterparts conveying many of the same messages I conveyed to you just now.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I briefly ask about Hong Kong and Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I still have something on Shireen, if I can.

MR PRICE: Let’s take one more question on this, and then I’ll come right back to you, Nike.

QUESTION: Can I have one question too, please?

MR PRICE: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Many press and human rights organizations are calling for international independent investigation into her killings, because they condemned Israeli maybe before that they’re not going to thoroughly investigate themselves. Are you willing to support such efforts to turn this into an international investigation?

MR PRICE: Israel has the wherewithal and the capability to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation. They’ve done it before and we expect they’ll do so in this case.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you intend to conduct your own investigation or at least participate, since the lady or the – our colleagues, she is an American Palestinian. Because – because the record shows that Israeli investigation on those kind of incident haven’t been reliable, so I wonder if you are planning to do your part of the investigation.

MR PRICE: Our role every time an American citizen is – passes overseas, whether that individual – however that individual succumbs, is to provide appropriate consular support. We’ll be providing any necessary consular support in this case. But what we are calling for is an investigation – a comprehensive, a thorough investigation that ends with accountability.

Nike.

QUESTION: Yes. On Hong Kong, do you have anything on the arrest of the Catholic cardinal, Joseph Zen? And separately, if I may, can you recap the U.S. policy toward Taiwan? Does the U.S. support Taiwan independence? I’m asking because the Taiwan President Tsai has already said there is no need to declare Taiwan independence because Republic of China was established in 1912. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks, Nike. We discussed this a bit yesterday, but let me just reiterate that our policy towards Taiwan has not changed. The United States remains committed to our longstanding “one China” policy which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

To your question, we do not support Taiwan independence and we have repeatedly made this clear both in public and in private. Though the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan and does not support Taiwan independence, we do have, as you know, a robust unofficial relationship with Taiwan as well as an abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits.

In terms of Hong Kong, we – I expect we’ll have more to say on this later today, but we do strongly condemn the arrests of Cardinal Joseph Zen, Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung, and Denise Ho. In arresting these veteran activists, scholars, and religious leaders under the so-called National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities have again demonstrated that they will pursue all means necessary to stifle dissent and undercut protected rights and freedoms. We call for the immediate release of all of those who remain in custody, and of course, we continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong.

Janne.

QUESTION: Do you assess – do you assess the frequent deployment of Chinese PLA airplanes to Taiwan Straits is sending the wrong message to the people of Taiwan and may actually push them to the direction that PRC does not want to see, which is trigger the Taiwanese independence movement?

MR PRICE: I will let the people on Taiwan remark on the implications of the PRC’s actions. What I will say is that we have continued to voice our concern for these provocative operations. What we continue to call for is stability across the Taiwan Strait. We will continue to stand with our partner Taiwan. Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid, including in the face of acts of potential intimidation.

QUESTION: Taiwan? Can I —

QUESTION: Sorry, when you said you’ll have more to say about the arrests later in the day, is that like some kind of a statement or —

MR PRICE: I expect we’ll have some kind of a statement.

QUESTION: Like a written statement —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — from the Secretary? Okay. And then just the other – on the other thing on Taiwan, going back to our little discussion yesterday, when you say you do not support Taiwan independence, fine, but you sell them weapons. You send official delegations there, congressional delegations. You push —

MR PRICE: I can guess —

QUESTION: — for their inclusion – you push for their inclusion in international organizations as a —

MR PRICE: That don’t require statehood as a criterion for membership, correct.

QUESTION: But as a – but as something separate from mainland China. So —

MR PRICE: In organizations that do not require statehood as a membership. You are speaking to everything that we do as part of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan that falls under the auspices of our “one China” policy.

QUESTION: Right. So what I’m getting to is the WHO and the WHA this year, and you are pushing again, as I understand it, for Taiwan to be invited or to participate as an independent entity as a – not part of China. So how is that not supporting Taiwanese independence?

MR PRICE: These are two very separate things, Matt. We believe, on the one hand, that Taiwan’s —

QUESTION: First of all, you are, right?

MR PRICE: Excuse me, what?

QUESTION: You want the WHO to invite Taiwan as Taiwan?

MR PRICE: We support Taiwan’s robust and meaningful participation in international organizations that don’t require statehood as a criterion for participation or for membership.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are pushing for them to participate in the WHO?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcements today, but you’ve heard from us before that we push for Taiwan’s robust and meaningful participation in international organizations that don’t require statehood as a condition for membership. Taiwan is a leading democracy. The world has a lot to learn from our Taiwanese partners. Whether it is in the area of public health, whether it is in the area of economics, whether it’s in the area of climate change, we partner with the people on Taiwan, with our Taiwanese partners in a range of areas. We will continue to push for Taiwan’s meaningful participation, all within the bounds of our “one China” policy that has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay. So does the same apply for the Palestinians, that you push for them to be a part of and to participate in international fora that do not require statehood or —

MR PRICE: We are pushing – we are pushing for a two-state solution because we believe —

QUESTION: No, no, no, but I’m asking in the interim for – before that. So are you also pushing for the Palestinians to take part in international fora that —

MR PRICE: What we are pushing for, Matt, is a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equally to enjoy equal measures of safety, security, dignity – in the case of the Palestinians, and a state of their own.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a couple of question on China, North Korea, and South Korea.

First question: South Korean President Yoon said that – recently – he would provide drastic economic support to North Korea if it achieve substantial denuclearizations. On aid after North Korea has denuclearized first, how does it compare to the U.S. policy toward North Korea?

MR PRICE: Well, yesterday, I don’t know that you were here, but we did offer congratulations to the new South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl on his inauguration. We made the point that the U.S.-ROK alliance is rooted in close friendship. It’s the linchpin for peace, security, prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. And we have and will continue to coordinate closely with our treaty allies in the ROK across all variety of challenges and opportunities.

And of course, when it comes to challenges, there is no more pressing challenge than that posed by the DPRK’s WMD programs, its nuclear weapons, its ballistic missile programs. We will, as I said, coordinate closely to address the threats that they pose. And the fact is that we share an objective together with our allies in the ROK, together with our allies in Japan. That is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. How we get there, the steps, what that will look like is something we will continue to coordinate closely on with our allies in the ROK and Japan.

We know and we agree as allies that it will require principled dialogue and diplomacy. We have made very clear that we are willing to engage in good-faith diplomacy with the DPRK. We do so, of course, with no hostile intent. Our only intent is to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the interests of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. So that’s something we’ll continue to discuss with our South Korean allies.

QUESTION: On China, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, who recently attended the inauguration ceremony of the South Korean President Yoon, made a remark that put pressure on South Korea. China is concerned about the – Yoon Seok-youl administration’s strengthened U.S. and South Korea alliance. Do you know why China is concerned about strengthening the U.S. and South Korea alliance?

MR PRICE: I will let the PRC speak to that. I will say, for our part, we believe that the United States has a number of sources of strength in the world. One of them is our sources of strength here at home: our economy, the creativity, the vitality of our people, of our workforce. Another is our values and the principles, many of which we share with partners and allies around the world, and a third is very much that, our allies and partners around the world.

And we view our unprecedented systems – system of alliances and partnerships, including those we have in the Indo-Pacific, as a core source of strength. That is why Secretary Blinken, this department, has focused intently since day one of this administration on repairing, rebuilding, revitalizing those alliances, knowing, as Secretary Blinken often likes to say, that there is no challenge that the United States could take on more effectively alone than with our closest allies and partners. And that’s what we’ve sought to do.

Yes.

QUESTION: Last one: Will the North Korea issues be discussing at the U.S. and ASEAN summit?

MR PRICE: There’s a lot that we have to discuss with our ASEAN partners. This is a region of the world that is among the most dynamic. It is the fastest growing region of the world. It is one where the United States is making clear we have an abiding commitment and interest in. The fact that this leader-level summit is taking place in Washington, D.C., the fact that it has not taken place in recent years, I think, underscores our commitment to Southeast Asia, to ASEAN centrality. There will be a number of topics that we’re going to discuss, including shared interests, combating COVID, economic recovery, climate, security challenges in the region, as well as our shared values. So all of that will be on the agenda. We’ll have more to say in the coming days.

Rich.

QUESTION: Ned, just one follow-up on Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: Is it still your position that the changes to the fact sheet on Taiwan have nothing to do with the timing of Secretary Blinken’s speech on China or what had been planned to be his speech on China?

MR PRICE: That is our position. As you know, the Secretary was scheduled to deliver remarks on our approach to the PRC last week, and that was separate and apart from routine updates to a fact sheet.

QUESTION: One more on Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Taiwanese defense ministry in recent days has talked about some of the deliveries of U.S. weapons being delayed. Are all of the other U.S. weapons that have been notified to Congress and are in progress going to Taiwan – are all of those other systems set to be delivered on time?

MR PRICE: Well, let me say our defense relationship with Taiwan remains based on an assessment of Taiwan’s defense needs and the threat posed by the PRC. Continuing to pursue systems that will not meaningfully contribute to an effective defense strategy, we believe it’s inconsistent with an evolving security threat that Taiwan faces, and we strongly support Taiwan’s efforts to implement an asymmetric defense strategy. As you know, we have continued to provide Taiwan with the security assistance that together we deem most necessary. I don’t – I can’t give you an update on the pace of those deliveries, but if there’s anything additional we can share, we will.

QUESTION: Do you – sorry, do you guys not specifically track the pace of those deliveries? What is U.S. policy about when you want those deliveries to get there? I mean, I know it’s sort of out of your hands once it goes to the companies that are producing these weapons. But surely you guys are focused on this. So when do you want those weapons to get to Taiwan?

MR PRICE: Well, our – we want to see those systems delivered to Taiwan just as soon as they need them, and that is based on a need assessment and a needs assessment. It is something that we routinely do with our Taiwanese counterparts. I’ll say that air defense systems and artillery, these are critical to supporting Taiwan’s self-defense. The swift provision of Taiwan defensive weaponry and sustainment via our FMF, our Foreign Military Sales, and our direct commercial sales, or DCS, we believe is essential for Taiwan’s security and we’ll continue to work with industry to support that goal based in part on the assessment that I mentioned before. Since 2017, the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $18 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Of course, we can’t provide details on ongoing defense procurement discussions, but those discussions regarding Taiwan’s needs are constantly ongoing.

QUESTION: And just a final question on this. Ukraine – the Ukraine war. Has the deliveries of weapons to Ukraine at all impacted the scheduled deliveries of weapons to Taiwan, as far as you know?

MR PRICE: These are two very different security challenges. The vast majority of emergency military assistance to Ukraine is being delivered via the presidential drawdown authority that you’ve heard from. That is to say it’s being directly delivered out of DOD inventories. Taiwan, on the other hand, its defense procurements of defensive weaponry and sustainment are conducted via FMS, the Foreign Military Sales, and the direct commercial sales, which are subject to the standard contracting and manufacturing process.

QUESTION: Ned, off the top of your head, how many other non-state entities do you guys sell weapons to for self-defense?

MR PRICE: We’ll come back to you if we have anything to add.

QUESTION: In other words, none?

MR PRICE: I don’t know if there’s another example, Matt, to your question.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Ned.

MR PRICE: Sure. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes. I wonder if you had any comment on this idea of a Marshall Plan-style plan for rebuilding Ukraine. The top – president of the European Investment Bank sort of today pledged support for that, said the EU’s lending arm would back that. But they’re also saying they want to make sure that Europe is not left alone and make sure the U.S. contributes to that. Is that – is there a plan in place to get involved with that as a joint effort with the Europeans?

MR PRICE: It’s something that we are absolutely prepared to take part in. We have led the world already, and, of course, we have a legislative proposal that is awaiting action before Congress when it comes to more immediate support to the people and the Government of Ukraine. So we are very much focused on the near term, but we haven’t lost sight of the longer term, and it is our hope that we will be in a position to help the Ukrainian Government, the Ukrainian people rebuild and reconstruct in the near term. Of course, the first order of business is bringing this – Russia’s aggression to a close. We’re focused on that. We are focused on providing economic support to the Government of Ukraine in the meantime. We’re focused on providing humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine in the meantime. And we’re focused on providing security assistance to Ukraine in the interim as well.

But when there is an opportunity to help rebuild Ukraine to emerge from the destruction that the Kremlin has wrought across parts of the country, the United States will be there for that as well.

QUESTION: And separately, the Russians announced today a list of companies that they’re sanctioning, energy companies, including subsidiaries of Gazprom in parts of Europe. Do you have any response to that? Does that impact your efforts on energy and keeping gas prices down?

MR PRICE: No, I don’t have any response to that. What we are doing is focusing with our allies and partners, very similar to what we’re doing in the other context we just discussed, on the near term and providing our allies and partners, including those in Europe, with the energy supply that they need in the interim. We’re doing that through – with a coordinated release from various strategic petroleum reserves around the world. We are doing that by surging energy supplies, working with partners around the world, as we look towards the longer term. And over the longer term, it is about lessening our reliance, lessening our collective dependence on Russian energy sources, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels in general so that countries around the world, whether they’re in Europe or elsewhere, cannot be held hostage, cannot be subject to Moscow or any other country attempting to use energy as a weapon.

Yes.

QUESTION: The White House has repeatedly said that Vladimir Putin doesn’t have a way out right now, while experts have said a cornered Putin is a dangerous Putin. Is the State Department providing a clear offramp through diplomacy, and if it’s not, when is the time to do that?

MR PRICE: Well, you mentioned the offramp yourself. The offramp is very simple, it’s straightforward – it’s genuine diplomacy. The State Department, this administration, provided an offramp well before President Putin decided to launch this war against Ukraine. I made this point the other day, but many of us in fact were with us when we traveled to locations around the world working bilaterally with Russian counterparts, but also working multilaterally through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, working multilaterally through the NATO-Russia Council, in an effort to forestall what was then our concern: that Vladimir Putin would go forward with his war against Ukraine.

Once he did make that decision, the offramp of diplomacy, it has not closed. What has not been the case, however, is there has not been a Russian partner, there has not been a Russian negotiator, that has had inclination or the ability to engage in good-faith diplomacy and dialogue with their Ukrainian counterparts. We know from our Ukrainian counterparts that they are ready, willing, and able to engage in the type of diplomacy that we believe must be the offramp that you’ve spoken of.

Russia has heretofore shown no indication that they are as of yet ready to accept that offramp. So in the interim, we are going to continue to do what has demonstrably proven effective. We are going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with the defensive security assistance they need to continue to fend off some of these vicious attacks, to continue to protect their freedom, to protect their democracy, to protect their independence, and to protect their homeland. All the while, we’re going to continue to mount economic costs and financial costs on the Kremlin and all of those who are enabling this war of choice. Because that’s what it is.

It’s awfully ironic to speak of the party that is engaging in a war of choice of not accepting an offramp. The offramp is clear, it has been clear. The Kremlin’s choice has been to wage war, just not to pursue that offramp just yet. That is why we’re doing everything we can through supporting our Ukrainian partners and holding Russian officials, and Belarusian officials for that matter, accountable to change that decision-making calculus, to incentivize a – the start, the initiation of good-faith diplomacy and dialogue that we believe, that our Ukrainian partners believe can diminish the violence and lead to an end to this war.

QUESTION: Ned, can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I have another question later on Azerbaijan. But there was a meeting between Ambassador Sullivan and Ryabkov today. Can you fill us in about who initiated the meeting, and also was there any specific message that you want to deliver? And if you can, how much was coordinated with the Ukrainians? Because that was our policy, that we should not talk about Ukraine without Ukraine.

MR PRICE: That absolutely is our policy, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. I can confirm that in this case, our bilateral ambassador to Russia, Ambassador Sullivan, met with Russian Government officials today. It was a prescheduled meeting to discuss a narrow set of bilateral issues.

So to your question, Ambassador Sullivan is discussing issues in the bilateral relationship with his Russian counterparts. Those tend to be quite narrow. In many cases, those tend to be centered on the functioning of our embassy, which of course is a concern to us given the limitations – the undue limitations that the Russian Government has imposed on the operations of our embassy in Moscow.

We do maintain diplomatic communications with the Russian Federation through our Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and through our embassy in Moscow. There is no doubt that it is a difficult relationship; that is clear to everyone. But we do believe that these lines of communication should remain open.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, there was a speculation that there was a connection between that meeting and also Russia summoning Polish ambassador. These are separate – two separate issues?

MR PRICE: The – I’m sorry, the Russians doing what?

QUESTION: Connections between that meeting and Russians summoning the Polish ambassador in Moscow. That was on —

MR PRICE: I would need to defer to our Polish allies to speak to their interaction, but —

QUESTION: Okay. And on Azerbaijan, I have seen the readout between the – on the call between the Secretary and President Aliyev. One of the topics is human rights, and there’s several cases in the past couple months here, most recently journalist Aytan Mammadova, also attack against human rights defender Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, and also arrest of opposition party leader Ali Aliyev. These are specific cases that perhaps this call was a chance to raise by the Secretary. Did the Secretary have a chance to raise specific cases or it was just overall about human rights concerns?

MR PRICE: I will leave the specific contents of the call to the call itself. As you noted, we did issue a readout. It was just last week, I believe, that we had a Strategic Dialogue, the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue. So Secretary Blinken’s discussion today with President Aliyev was an opportunity to discuss some of the positive momentum and the future concrete steps on the path to peace in the South Caucasus. That includes some of the issues we discussed with our Armenian partners last week: border delimitation and demarcation, opening transport and communication links, and the release of the remaining Armenian detainees.

He did reiterate, as you saw, that we stand ready to help by engaging bilaterally as well as with likeminded partners, including through our role as an OSCE Minsk Group co-chair, to help the parties find a long-term, comprehensive peace. He did, as you note, also highlight the importance of increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. That is something that we also had an opportunity to discuss with our Armenian partners last week.

QUESTION: Okay. You mentioned positive momentum on Karabakh. Is there any concern at all on your end that Russians might jeopardize whatever positive connection is going on, as they have done before?

MR PRICE: Forging what we are seeking to forge here, a long-term, comprehensive peace, happens to be in our interest. It also happens to be in Moscow’s interest. Moscow, of course, is a part of the OSCE Minsk Group as well.

Yes, yes.

QUESTION: So coming off the question earlier about the lack of an offramp, the slog, the fact that this war is going to grind on for a very long time as far as we can tell, is there already discussions beyond the 40 billion that’s before Congress for more?

MR PRICE: Well, this 40 billion, the proposal that is before Congress at the moment, is for the remainder of the fiscal year. So it is for a finite period. It, of course, is our hope, it is our goal to see to it that this war comes to a close just as soon as can be managed. And so that is why we have asked for these resources, to continue to advance our strategy, to support our Ukrainian partners, to impose additional costs on the Russians so that we can help bring that about. If that strategy continues to be successful, the war, of course, we hope will be – it will be shorter in duration. That of course will help us request fewer funds over time. So our goal is to bring this war to a close and to see to it that we can turn to the task of rebuilding and working together with our Ukrainian partners on that task.

QUESTION: You’ll recall the fiscal year ends at the end of September, which is four months from now. We’re talking $10 billion a month.

MR PRICE: And, Matt, our point —

QUESTION: Right? I just want to make sure we’re talking – that’s what we’re talking about.

MR PRICE: That’s what the math says, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah?

MR PRICE: And our point —

QUESTION: When you talk about the end of this fiscal year, you’re talking about the current fiscal year, which ends in September?

MR PRICE: That – you’ve —

QUESTION: Okay. Can I —

MR PRICE: But let me just make the other point: the alternative would be much costlier. The alternative to doing nothing in the face of aggression, to doing nothing in the face of what we’re facing in terms of global food supply, what we are facing in terms of the broader implications of Russia’s war and what indifference or what inaction could spell around the world, that would be far costlier.

QUESTION: Okay. I wasn’t trying to cast aspersions on it.

MR PRICE: You never are.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure the timeline was correct. Back to Ambassador Sullivan’s meeting. Did the cases of the remaining American detainees come up? Did he raise them? I’m sure you’re aware that – I believe Brittney Griner has a hearing coming up, a court hearing on the 19th, so next week. Is there any movement? Did he raise them? Did he get any response?

MR PRICE: And I am sure you are aware that we just don’t discuss these elements in public.

QUESTION: Well, did he raise the cases of —

MR PRICE: I’ve – I’m – you —

QUESTION: Without naming names.

MR PRICE: You know that we don’t even go that far. I’ve made this point before, but in the days and the weeks and the months prior to the release of Trevor Reed, we did not discuss the specifics of our efforts beyond saying that securing the release of Americans who are wrongfully held around the world is of paramount importance to us, and it’s something we’re always working on.

Michel.

QUESTION: May I?

MR PRICE: Let me move around a little bit, Said.

QUESTION: No, no, I just want to — on this point, you just mentioned that you want to bring the war to an end. You’d like to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible. If as a part of that strategy were for you to, say, announce that you are willing to discuss Russia’s concerns, including the expansion of NATO or the non-expansion of NATO to countries like Ukraine and Georgia and Finland and so on as a part of that, would you do this as a peace offering?

MR PRICE: Two separate issues. Before Vladimir Putin chose to wage this war, we made very clear that we were prepared to discuss some of the purported concerns that Russia had put on the table. And there were concrete steps – or at least there were concrete discussions – that we thought were in the offing that would advance the security of the transatlantic community, that is to say the United States and our European allies and partners, as well as to address some of the stated concerns of Moscow. Of course, Russia rejected that. And if you might recall, they went to war on February 24th before even responding to the written proposal that we had put forward.

When it comes to NATO, Said, we have been very clear that for us NATO’s “open door” means an open door. That is important, and it is something for us that is non-negotiable.

Said – or Michel.

QUESTION: Any updates on the talks with Iran?

MR PRICE: No updates to offer. We are still in the same place since we last talked about it. It is still our assessment that if we were able to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that it would manifestly be in our national security interest because it would once again put permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program, a program that has been in many ways unconstrained since 2018 and a program that has galloped forward in ways that are unacceptable to us. We don’t have any more to share than what we discussed last time.

Simon.

QUESTION: Could —

QUESTION: One more?

MR PRICE: Sorry, let me move around. Courtney and then Ysef. Or do you want to stay in Iran? Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Michel. So does that mean that you don’t have any readout from Enrique Mora from his first day in Tehran?

MR PRICE: I am confident that our team will be in touch with Enrique Mora and his team. Of course, he is still on the ground, but Enrique Mora has been conveying messages back and forth. That is the role he’s been playing for some time. I am confident that our team will have an opportunity to discuss his time on the ground with him. I am also confident that we probably won’t be able to share much of that dialogue.

QUESTION: Yeah, but just one reminder. The last communication exchanged, was it from Washington to Tehran or Tehran to Washington?

MR PRICE: We have not given a play-by-play of the diplomacy. And once again, we are not in direct communication with Iran. Of course, we’ve made clear that it would in some ways facilitate diplomacy if we were in a position to have direct discussions with Tehran so that we weren’t reliant on a middleman, an especially capable middleman in this case in the form of Enrique Mora. But regardless, we’re not going to detail a play-by-play.

Courtney.

QUESTION: Just to return to Simon’s earlier question about rebuilding efforts for Ukraine. Is it the administration’s policy that you do not want to commit funds to such an effort until Russian forces are completely out of the country? Or —

MR PRICE: It’s our policy that we want to continue with a strategy that has proven demonstrably effective, and right now we are investing, and investing heavily, in that strategy. That’s why the legislative package that is before the Hill is primarily comprised of security assistance, security assistance that to date has been a key enabling facet of the effectiveness that our Ukrainian partners have been able to achieve on the battlefield. But it also has economic assistance, it has humanitarian assistance, it has assistance in the realm of food security as well.

Clearly, there will be a need – and we hope a need before long – to reconstruct and to rebuild, and the United States will be there for that task as well.

QUESTION: Some of those efforts are ongoing even as the war continues. Is your position that you would wait to dedicate U.S. funding for that purpose until after the war ends?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re providing – we’re seeking – we have provided and we’re seeking to provide economic assistance. We’ve provided direct budgetary assistance, and of course, our Ukrainian partners have great discretion in terms of what they do with that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Asia?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask about Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, so-called IPEF. Japanese ambassador to the United States said the Biden administration will launch Indo-Pacific Economic Framework during the time of the President Biden’s visit to Japan. Firstly, can you confirm it? And secondly, is the Biden administration eventually willing to replace Trans-Pacific Partnership, the so-called TPP, with Indo-Pacific Economic Framework?

MR PRICE: So of course, I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s travel to Japan. Secretary Blinken, when he was in Jakarta, Indonesia in December of last year, he did deliver a speech on our Indo-Pacific strategy, and there were key elements to that strategy. And deepening our economic ties with the region were a clear element of that strategy, and I suspect you’ll be hearing more about that before too long.

When it comes to the TPP, this is something that our – that my – still my current colleague at the White House has spoken to before. It was last September, I believe, when she said that the President has been clear he would not rejoin the TPP as it was initially put forward. We know a lot has changed in the world since 2016. We are evaluating our options to deepen our economic partnerships with countries in the —

QUESTION: But he supported it when it was initially proposed, right? When he was the vice president?

MR PRICE: The White House has been clear that the President has been clear he would not rejoin the TPP —

QUESTION: Yeah, but when he was the vice president, he supported it.

MR PRICE: — as it was initially put forward.

QUESTION: Right, when it was initially put forward —

MR PRICE: Simon.

QUESTION: — he was vice president, and he supported it. Correct? Right or not?

MR PRICE: Matt, I am telling you – I am telling you what – I am telling you what our policy is.

Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to come to the Philippines. You said yesterday it was too early to comment, so wanted to kind of ask again specific – I guess particularly because the ASEAN Summit is happening this week, and part of the focus of that is obviously – is obviously towards China or showing your prioritization of the region in the light of your broader China policy, I guess, or Indo-Pacific policy. But specifically, do you have any concerns that the new president-elect, Marcos Jr., represents a challenge to U.S. policy in the region, specifically with his comments, I believe during the campaign, talking about the 2016 ruling on – the UNCLOS ruling that he said this is not effective, and he said he’s going to seek a bilateral agreement with China to resolve their dispute in the South China Sea. How does that square with what the U.S. wants to do with this region?

MR PRICE: Simon, this applies to the Philippines, it applies to everywhere around the world: We will judge and we will operate within the confines of our bilateral relationship based on what happens once an individual or a party is in office. And when it comes to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., you heard from the Secretary earlier today that we congratulated him, we congratulated the people of the Philippines on their successful election. We look forward to working with the president-elect to strengthen the enduring alliance between our two countries. It’s a special partnership that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history of shared values, shared interests, and strong people-to-people ties. We’ll continue to collaborate closely with the Philippines to promote respect for human rights and to advance a free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific.

That will be at the top of our agenda. We look forward to seeing Foreign Minister Locsin when he is here at the ASEAN Summit later this week, and I suspect that we will be able to engage with the incoming Marcos government in the near term.

QUESTION: And specifically on the 2016 ruling, is that – does the U.S. still see that as relevant to resolving the South China Sea disputes?

MR PRICE: We still stand by that ruling. We issued a statement not all that long ago underscoring that the South China Sea, as we know, contains some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, trillions of dollars in merchant shipping transit annually. We have to remain vigilant to any effort to unlawfully restrict navigational rights and freedoms in this vital waterway. It serves as a lifeline to so many economies. And we reaffirm our statement of July of last year regarding the maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we stand by that.

QUESTION: Ned, I must admit that I don’t expect a whole lot of an answer from this, but given the history here, the United States and the Philippines and the fact that the United States played such a pivotal role in the ouster of Bongbong Marcos’s father, do you have any concerns about the return of the family?

MR PRICE: Matt, as I just said to Simon, we look forward to working with the incoming government —

QUESTION: So in other words, no?

MR PRICE: We have – we know that we have an enduring, shared values and shared interests. It is at the top of our agenda, and we expect at the top – it’s at the top of the agenda of the incoming administration in Manila to work to advance this.

QUESTION: So the – so you’re prepared to, like, start on a fresh page?

MR PRICE: We —

QUESTION: And the history doesn’t matter?

MR PRICE: Our bilateral relationships are contoured by what happens when individuals, parties come to office.

QUESTION: Can I have one more that I also expect this is going to be very brief, and that is I – we saw the joint statement out of the Marrakech, the anti-ISIS meeting, and I just want to know if you guys have anything that – if you have anything to add to it, or if there’s anything in particular that you wanted to highlight from this that you thought was a particular success or a particular accomplishment.

MR PRICE: Well, our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland is there representing us. There was a joint statement release. She did have an opportunity to speak to – before the cameras earlier today. It’s my understanding that she spoke to some of the salient points of that discussion. But again, I’d point you to that joint statement.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more on Marcos.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just – could you just state whether the president-elect is welcome in the United States? He hasn’t visited I think for 15 years given he and his mother are facing this court ruling, I think in Hawaii. Is the new president of the Philippines welcome in the U.S.?

MR PRICE: We look forward to engaging with the incoming Marcos administration, again, to pursue those shared interests and those shared values.

Thank you very much. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – May 10, 2022

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. We’ll do something extraordinary today and start on time, and also without a topper. So dangerous as that might be, I’ll turn right to your questions. Daphne.

QUESTION: Ukraine has said it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point that delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through Ukraine. Will the U.S. need to increase LNG exports to Europe given this move, and does it change the timeline at all for more U.S. or EU tightened sanctions on Russian energy?

MR PRICE: Well, it doesn’t change one timeline, and that is the timeline associated with lessening global dependence on Russian oil. And the timeline associated with that is as soon as possible. As you know, the United States, countries around the world, have already taken steps – the United States took steps last month through an executive order – to ban the import of Russian oil, of Russian energy. Other countries have followed suit using their own authorities. Blocs of countries are having these discussions about how best they can do that.

So I think what we’ve heard today only reinforces what we already knew. We knew that there has to be a near-term response to the disruptions in the global energy market that President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has caused. And as you’ve heard from us in recent weeks, we have been in close coordination, in close touch with allies and partners around the world to surge energy supplies, in some cases tapping strategic petroleum reserves – in the case of the United States, tens of millions of barrels from our strategic petroleum reserve; other countries have made similar investments in their own strategic petroleum reserves – to ensure that supplies of energy are where they need to be for countries that need it in this interim period.

And I call it an interim period because our goal over the longer term is to see to it that we take steps to lessen dependence on Russian energy. Part of that is going to be the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewables, towards green technology; that will help with that. But part of that, too, will be finding longer-term sustainable ways to ensure that our partners, especially those partners on the front lines who have found themselves over the course of years or even decades reliant on Russian energy flows, to see to it that they have other options to fulfill their energy needs. So that’s something we’re working on, including in the context of the U.S.-EU energy task force that President Biden established with his European counterpart a number of weeks ago.

Francesco.

QUESTION: I have a quick one on Ukraine. Senators Graham and Blumenthal introduced a resolution today asking the Secretary to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Can you update us on the process, if there is one, to determine whether Russia will qualify as a state sponsor of terrorism? Is that something you’re —

MR PRICE: Aware of that resolution, aware of Congress’s interest in this matter, and of course of Congress’s broader interest in our approach to Russia and Ukraine. What I can say is that the state sponsor of terrorism statute is a statute, not to be too subtle about it. And that means that it is something – the criteria by which states are designated or not, those are not up to us. Those are up to Congress.

What is up to us is to take a close look at the law, to take a close look at the facts – that is to say, what Russia is doing, whether it’s in Ukraine, whether it’s in countries around the world – to determine whether that fact pattern fits the criteria that is laid out in the statute. So that’s something that we’re always looking at, not only with this authority but with every authority that we have.

The broader point is that we are going to pull every appropriate level – lever, excuse me – we can to apply pressure on the Russian Federation until and unless its brutal invasion of Ukraine, its brutal aggression against Ukraine, comes to a halt. And the fact is that together with dozens of countries across four continents, we have applied our own sanctions, we’ve used international authorities as well, to not only apply sanctions, but also export controls.

And so the practical effect is that much of what various authorities call for have already been put in place, given what we’ve already done vis-à-vis our own authorities and what other countries have done in terms of their authorities. But we’ll continue to watch and to determine whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine merit and qualify for additional authorities. If we feel those authorities are appropriate, we won’t hesitate to apply them.

QUESTION: Does that just mean that at this stage, it doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t meet the criteria?

MR PRICE: We’re always looking at the facts and the law, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about terrorism designations in general, whether they are FTO designations or state sponsor designations? And will you – are you willing to say what a lot of people say privately, which is it’s just a bit of show, and in terms of the two cases that we’re looking at right now, the IRGC and Russia, that in fact most if not all of what could be done if these designations were, one, kept, or added, would be exactly the same as what you – this administration and previous administrations have already been doing?

MR PRICE: Well, I think your point is well taken, that there are various authorities we can use when it comes to the IRGC, to take that one example. It is an entity that is among the most heavily sanctioned entities on the face of the planet. In addition to the FTO, there are a number of other authorities that are used to constrain and constrict its activities and those of its leadership and its proxies as well. I used this data point the other day.

But of the 107 sanctions the Biden administration has imposed on Iran, 86 of those – some three-quarters – have been applied against the IRGC or its proxies. So the fact is that we do have a number of tools, but whether it’s the SST, whether it’s the FTO designation, both of these things are defined by statute. And —

QUESTION: Well, yeah. Understood. But, I mean, isn’t the administration a little bit frustrated that people seem to be making political points out of this – out of both of these things?

MR PRICE: Matt, we’re cognizant of the town we live in.

QUESTION: And?

MR PRICE: I – we are closely examining the facts and the law with all of these things. That applies equally to the state sponsor of terrorism designation as it does to the FTO.

QUESTION: Well, but for people who have been around for a long time, including those in this building, including the advisor’s office and others, do you think either of these decisions, they go the way that the critics suspect they will? That it won’t make any difference at all?

MR PRICE: I don’t know what the critics – what they expect. What I do know is that we are going to follow the law. We’re going to do what’s in our national security interest when it comes to every authority under the sun and whether the target of those authorities is Iran, Russia, any other state actor, or non-state actor.

But since you have raised Congress, I will walk through this open door and point out the fact that our assistance to Ukraine has been, just as we promised, massive. We have provided $4.5 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since the start of this administration, some $3.8 billion worth of security assistance since the invasion began. These are supplies, weapons, that – precisely what Ukraine needs to defend itself. We started doing this well in advance of the Russian invasion. We started doing it last summer. We did it again in December in advance of the invasion, and of course we have announced multiple drawdowns during the course of this invasion. We are now at our ninth presidential drawdown.

The fact, however, is that right now our coffers in terms of drawdown funding, they are dwindling, and after providing $3.8 billion worth of security assistance since the start of the invasion, we now have less than $100 million left. And we will exhaust those funds within the next week.

And so Secretary Blinken, together with Secretary Austin, they have conveyed a very simple message to congressional leadership. The message is: We need your help. We need Congress’s help to see to it that the strategy that President Biden pledged before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the strategy we have pursued in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strategy that has proved effective in helping our Ukrainian partners be effective at defending their country, that is a strategy that requires funding and a strategy for which funding will be exhausted in key ways as of next week.

We view the request that is before Congress now, the supplemental budget request, as vital in terms of what these funds will enable us to do, as well as the message they would send in terms of bipartisan support, in terms of the Executive Branch, the Hill, Americans of all stripes, for the people of Ukraine who are waging this fight to preserve their freedom, to preserve their democracy, and to preserve their country.

This additional assistance we’ve requested, the brunt of our supplemental emergency request was in fact for security assistance, precisely what our Ukrainian partners need to defend themselves. That includes artillery, armored vehicles, advanced air defense systems, all for Ukraine. This funding will also go beyond the security realm. It will help Ukraine keep schools open. It will help replenish the – and stockpile in support of U.S. troops on NATO territory. It will help our Ukrainian partners, and also our NATO Allies, do precisely what we feel it is imperative that they be positioned to do at this moment.

Nazira.

QUESTION: I don’t remember asking about the assistance, but thank you for the four-minute exposition.

MR PRICE: Before you arrived, and I will point out that you arrived late, for the cameras —

QUESTION: I did.

MR PRICE: — I said there would be no topper, so I wanted to make up for that.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR PRICE: Yes. Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Price. First of all, thank you very much for yesterday’s – your answer. Afghan women, they are so happy. But they still ask me and ask you that what option United States will bring to Taliban if they didn’t fix themself about women’s job. This is regular job that every Afghan do it, we don’t have any problem, but like that, it’s unacceptable for Afghan women. And also Afghan people ask, based off your opinion: Why United States failed to fix Afghanistan during this 20 years? Thank you, sir.

MR PRICE: Thank you. So let me start by following up on the conversation we had yesterday about some of the very disturbing, very concerning edicts we’ve heard from the Taliban. Of course, what we’ve heard in recent days regarding the requirement for women’s attire, what we’ve heard about the restrictions on girls attending secondary schools, and other steps – all of these have been deeply concerning. And it’s not only concerning to us; in some ways, much more importantly, it is much more important that it is deeply concerning to Afghans across their country, across Afghanistan. They have voiced their opposition to this edict that proposes severe limitations on half of Afghanistan’s population, and that effectively limits and constricts the ability of half of Afghanistan’s population to participate fully in Afghan society.

So combined with the continuing ban on girls’ secondary education, restrictions on freedom of movement and targeting of peaceful protesters, the Taliban’s policies towards women are an affront to human rights and they will continue to impair their – the Taliban’s relations with the international community, including with the United States. We are discussing these developments with our partners around the world. The legitimacy and support the Taliban seeks from the international community, they know that it depends on their conduct, including and centrally their protection on the rights of women and girls.

These are commitments that the Taliban has made privately. These are commitments, again, much more importantly, that they have made publicly to their own people, and these are the commitments on which we are going to base and we are going to judge any future relationship that we will have with the Taliban. And we know that other countries feel similarly. Other countries with whom we’ve worked closely on Afghanistan since August of last year and well before August of last year do feel similarly.

In the interim, we’ve paused nearly all senior-level engagement with the Taliban in response to the Taliban’s decision in March to prevent girls from attending secondary education. We do remain concerned about these other restrictions that we talked about. We believe, first and foremost, that the Taliban should respond to the Afghan people whose rights the Taliban have pledged, once again, publicly to respect. We have heard that very message from our Afghan partners in recent days. Tom West, our special representative for Afghanistan; Rina Amiri, our special representative for Afghan – for women and girls; Ian McCary, our representative who is now based on Doha, have heard that message from Afghan interlocutors in recent days.

Our Afghan partners tell us that they have seen a disturbing pattern of restrictions on their rights that doesn’t reflect the cultural diversity or their hopes for Afghanistan’s future. It also doesn’t reflect what they heard, what the world heard from the Taliban. This, of course, brings back painful memories of the Taliban from the 1990s. We remain, as I said before, in close communication with our allies and partners regarding our shared concern with what we’ve seen. And again, the Taliban’s responsiveness to the demands of the Afghan people and to the expectations of the international community will define not only our relationship with the Taliban, but the world’s relationship with the Taliban. We know that we cannot have a normal relationship with the Taliban until they respect fully the rights of all of the people of Afghanistan.

Yes.

QUESTION: Hold on. So what are you going to do? Can I ask – re-ask my question from yesterday? So what are you going to do? I don’t understand. I mean, I saw that some people wrote, oh, U.S. says it’s going to take measures to – if the Taliban doesn’t reverse these decisions, but what measures have you taken or are you going to take? And you haven’t taken any, even though they have done these offensive things that you say going back more than a month now. So what exactly are you going to do and why should anyone believe you when you say we’re going to punish the Taliban or we’re going to take steps to make our disapproval clear?

MR PRICE: First, Matt, we have led the world, as you know, in providing humanitarian relief and humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: You have, but you also led the world in withdrawing —

MR PRICE: So I think our credibility when it comes to —

QUESTION: — from Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to take control then, right?

MR PRICE: — when it comes to the concern of – when it comes to the humanitarian concerns of the Afghan people, I think we have established our leadership on that.

QUESTION: Did the United States lead the world in withdrawing from Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to take control again?

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: Yes or no? Yes, right? I mean, you can’t deny that, can you?

MR PRICE: I would absolutely reject the premise of the question that the United States allowed the Taliban to take the capital. And Matt, we can relitigate questions that have been litigated for the past 20 years about an investment that we have made in a country, including with treasure and, more importantly, bloodshed on the part of this country and the assessment of this President that the presence of some 2,500 troops who would once again be involved in a civil war, who would be targeted, who would have a target on their back not only by the Taliban but also by elements like ISIS-K, a 2,500-strong contingent that would not – in the end – would have been able to prevent the Taliban or any larger force from coming to power.

So you can argue with the decision that the President made to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan. We are confident in that decision. We know what’s in our national interest. We also know what we can accomplish without having a contingent of military – a military deployment on foreign soil. And that’s what we’re trying to do with our humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian assistance that we have provided to the people of Afghanistan since August of last year has led the world, just as our provision of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan prior to August of last year has led the world.

QUESTION: But this administration has always – has also said that human rights is its number one or one of its top priorities in terms of foreign policy, and —

MR PRICE: Central to our foreign policy.

QUESTION: Exactly. It doesn’t seem to be so central here.

MR PRICE: It is central —

QUESTION: Other than you —

MR PRICE: It is – it is —

QUESTION: — continuing to make statements and that —

MR PRICE: Matt, but you seem to be accusing us of what the Taliban is doing to the people of Afghanistan, and —

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m asking you what you’re doing to —

MR PRICE: And I am telling you – I am telling you we are doing —

QUESTION: — prevent this or to show your displeasure other than coming out with —

QUESTION: Saying it.

QUESTION: — saying it, writing a nasty letter.

MR PRICE: I can assure you we are doing more than saying it. We are —

QUESTION: Okay. There’s been a lot of talk about reopening the embassy in Kyiv. Is there any discussion about going – sending people back to Kabul?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any discussion right now about reopening the embassy in Kabul.

QUESTION: Okay. Is it your – is it your belief, though, that Kabul is a war zone in the same way that Kyiv —

MR PRICE: There – there are a couple elements we look at. Safety and security is always at the top of that list. We also look at the propriety of what is appropriate in terms of diplomatic representation, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s —

QUESTION: Okay. So one of the things – are you saying that one of the things you are doing to show your displeasure with the Taliban is not reopening the embassy?

MR PRICE: What I’m saying is that we are not in a position to reopen the embassy. There are a number of factors that go into that. Safety and security is, of course, one, but also we take a look at the propriety of diplomatic representation around the world.

Our point is that we will judge the Taliban and any future relationship we might one day have with the Taliban based on their conduct, based on their willingness to live up to the public commitments they’ve made to the world. First and foremost is human rights, protecting the rights of the Afghan people, including its women, its girls, its minorities; living up to its counterterrorism commitments; living up to the fact that no entity should be holding an American hostage. We’ve discussed, of course, the case of Mark Frerichs. We’ll continue to work to secure his freedom. There are a number of elements that go into our – any relationship we might one day have with the Taliban. But I can assure you that human rights is central to that list.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can we move to U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. So how – on U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, especially on Myanmar or Burma, how does the United States plan to work with ASEAN to hold the military junta further accountable for the coup and the violence afterwards?

MR PRICE: Well, we support ASEAN’s decision to invite nonpolitical representatives from Burma to high-level ASEAN events absent progress on the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus that was put forward. We will follow ASEAN’s precedent for the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit, and we’re going to continue to follow that precedent because the regime has demonstrably failed to make progress on ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus and it continues to escalate its violence, its repression against the people of Burma.

We continue to support in the meantime ASEAN’s efforts to press the regime to urgently and to fully implement the Five-Point Consensus and including an immediate and meaningful visit by the ASEAN special envoy and facilitation of his engagement with all stakeholders, including representatives of the pro-democracy movement. Our partnership with ASEAN is central to returning Burma back to the path of democracy. I certainly expect it will be a topic of discussion as ASEAN leaders descend on Washington, descend on this building later this week, and we reaffirm our commitment to the Burmese people and we will continue to promote a just and meaningful resolution to the crisis in Burma to help return Burma to that democratic path.

QUESTION: Are more U.S. sanctions against the junta on the table?

MR PRICE: We will always look for ways to promote additional accountability for the military coup, for the related violence, for the repression, for the human rights abuses that have followed in the wake of the coup. As you know, we don’t preview specific sanctions or specific steps, but we’re always looking for ways to hold accountable those responsible.

QUESTION: If I may —

QUESTION: Just speaking of upcoming regional summits to be held in the United States – do you know where I’m going here?

MR PRICE: You could be speaking of the COVID —

QUESTION: No, no, I would be speaking of the Summit of the Americas.

MR PRICE: You could be speaking of Summit of the Americas.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Do you have anything to say about the threats or – or if “threats” is the right word – but suggestions that some countries might not show up because the Cubans, the Nicaraguans, and others are not going to be there?

MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to say right now on that. Of course, we will have more to say as the summit gets closer. What – this will be an opportunity for countries throughout the hemisphere to come together to speak to our shared values, the shared interests that unite us. Of course, the White House, as the host of the 9th summit, will determine which countries to invite. The White House has not issued official invites to the summit at this time, but I expect those will go out soon.

QUESTION: Well, when you say “countries throughout the hemisphere,” does that mean all countries, or could some be excluded?

MR PRICE: That is a question that —

QUESTION: Those who do not share your values.

MR PRICE: The invitations are up to the White House, and so we’ll have more to say once invitations are extended.

QUESTION: Ned, can I please also ask who will represent Burma on Friday’s special summit? I’m asking because United States sent out an event invitation.

MR PRICE: Sorry, you’re asking because —

QUESTION: Who will represent Burma in the special summit? Because U.S. sent out an invitation.

MR PRICE: We’ll have – and I’m sure you will see more on that in the coming days.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is Secretary attending in person or in —

MR PRICE: He will. He will. That’s the plan.

Yes.

QUESTION: Going back to the security assistance for Ukraine, the President, of course, is meeting with the Italian prime minister. There’s been concerns expressed in that country, other allies, about the amount of weapons flowing into Ukraine. Does the administration see a limit, especially when it comes to lethal aid?

MR PRICE: We have made clear and the President made clear before the invasion – Secretary Blinken and others have also been speaking to this starting before the invasion but certainly during the invasion – that we would do three things in response to a Russian – renewed Russian invasion against Ukraine. We would provide Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself, the weapons that it would require to defend Ukrainian freedom, Ukrainian democracy, Ukrainian independence. Second, we would fortify NATO. We would see to it that our Allies, especially our Allies on the eastern flank, had what they needed to deter and potentially even respond to Russian aggression. And third, we made clear that we would put an unprecedented amount of pressure on the Kremlin through financial sanctions, through export control measures, through tools that we would enact with partners and allies around the world.

We have made good on all three of those steps. We will continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself. This is about self-defense. It is about preserving what is important to the Ukrainian people and what is in turn important to us, and that is Ukraine’s freedom, its democracy, and its independence.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Secretary Blinken called youngest foreign minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and invited him to attend a food security summit. So what were the points of discussion during the talk? And are we expecting any one-to-one meeting between Secretary Blinken and Bhutto?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any bilateral meetings to preview during the – next week’s food security gathering in New York. What I can say is that Secretary Blinken did have an opportunity to speak with his new Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, last week – May 6th, I believe it was. They had an opportunity to reflect on the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Pakistani relations, to talk about how we can strengthen that cooperation going forward. It is a broad-based bilateral relationship. The Secretary underscored the resolute U.S.-Pakistan commitment to Afghan stability and to combating terrorism as well. They also discussed ongoing engagement when it comes to our economic ties, trade and investment, climate, energy, health, and education. So it was a wide-ranging conversation, as these introductory conversations oftentimes are, and I expect before long they will have an opportunity to follow up on that.

QUESTION: Sir, former Prime Minister Imran Khan is still blaming U.S. efforts from – for his ouster from prime minister office and leading an anti-American campaign. So do you think that his anti-American campaign creating fractures among the structure of the diplomatic relation between Pakistan and U.S. or – or it doesn’t matter?

MR PRICE: We are not going to let propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation – lies – get in the way of any bilateral relationship we have, including with the bilateral relationship we have with Pakistan, one we value.

QUESTION: ISI’s chief is here in Washington, D.C. Is there any meeting with Secretary Blinken or any other State Department officials?

MR PRICE: I would refer you to Pakistani authorities to comment on his schedule. I’m not aware of any meeting with Secretary Blinken.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a question about Taiwan. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson criticized the State Department has changed the explanation on Taiwan, wording related to Taiwan on the website. So could you help us understand the significance of changing of the words? And were there any change on legal status of Taiwan or U.S.-Taiwan Relations Act?

MR PRICE: Well, there’s been no change in our policy. All we have done is update a fact sheet, and that’s something that we routinely do with our relationships around the world. When it comes to Taiwan, our policy remains guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques and Six Assurances, as that very fact sheet notes. We regularly do updates on our fact sheets. Our fact sheets reflect, in the case of Taiwan, our rock-solid, unofficial relationship with Taiwan. And we call upon the PRC to behave responsibly and to not manufacture pretenses to increase pressure on Taiwan.

Yes.

QUESTION: Is it oxymoron to say Taiwan is part of China if the United States has to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979?

MR PRICE: I didn’t catch the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Is it oxymoron to say Taiwan is part of China if the United States had to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979?

MR PRICE: We operate under the auspices of our “one China” policy.

Yes.

QUESTION: So can I just make sure I understand this?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: So there is absolutely no change in policy towards Taiwan and China based on – so why – why was it updated? Why did it change the language?

MR PRICE: Matt, you know, as probably better than most —

QUESTION: I do.

MR PRICE: — that we —

QUESTION: I know very well, but you know what? I also know that anything having to do with Taiwan is anathema to – any change, even if it’s a comma in a sentence, is going to get Beijing’s attention —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — and they’re going to be unhappy about it. So why now? Why was the decision made to change the fact sheet? And if there’s no change, then why change the fact sheet?

MR PRICE: The fact sheet had not been updated in several years. You know that our fact sheets are regularly updated. I think we care most about ensuring that our relationships around the world are reflected accurately in our fact sheets. I don’t think we’re as concerned as to what other countries might —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, as you —

MR PRICE: — latch onto in an effort to create a pretense.

QUESTION: As you know and as you guys had previewed, the Secretary was supposed to give a speech this week about U.S. China policy. And of course, he had to postpone it because of his COVID diagnosis. Was this fact sheet updated in anticipation, or was it mistakenly updated – the —

MR PRICE: No, it wasn’t a mistake. We —

QUESTION: That it was going to be – yeah, but was it going to be updated in conjunction with the speech that he was going to —

MR PRICE: This was not a policy rollout. This – believe me or not, this was really just a technical update to a fact sheet. Our policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay, but the language in it has changed, correct?

MR PRICE: The substance has not changed; the policy has not changed.

QUESTION: The language in it has changed, and we all know that language means things, that words mean things, right? So there was – so essentially you’re saying there was no reason at all – the previous language could have stood and it would still be viable, still be —

MR PRICE: I invite you – I invite you, rather than just say words have changed, to offer examples of —

QUESTION: Well, I looked at the two side by side.

MR PRICE: — of what might be different. And you will find that our underlying policy has not changed.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: The fact sheet makes very clear that our “one China” policy has not changed. It remains guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, on Russia-Ukraine, let me start with the Secretary’s statement on cyber activity. Can you tell us more about your findings? Any, let’s say, indication to Russia’s increased capabilities that would tell other countries, like immediate neighbors, that they are much more vulnerable than they used to be? If you talk to anyone in Georgia, Estonia, they will tell you, “We told you so years ago. You never listened to us.” But what does it tell you about Russia’s capabilities right now?

And also, secondly, isn’t – I think the Secretary mentions new mechanisms to help Ukraine to detect and also to protect from Russian cyber attacks. Any additional details about that?

MR PRICE: Sure. So on your second question first – and I’ll get to today’s announcement –but we have worked very closely with our Ukrainian partners in recent years, including in the months preceding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to bolster their cyber capabilities. And so when we talk about some of the attacks that took place against Ukrainian systems, including these DDoS attacks that took place in the days and weeks prior to Russia’s invasion, we’ve made the point – and our Ukrainian partners, more importantly, have made the point – that their systems were back up, fully running, fully operational, in many cases within hours. And that is a testament to Ukraine’s capabilities in the cyber realm. It’s a testament to its ability – to its cyber resilience, to its ability to weather such operations. And we have been quite instrumental in helping Ukraine get to that point.

Now, what we said today, and we did this in tandem with allies and partners in Europe and – in Europe, is to publicly share our assessment that Russia launched cyber attacks in late February against commercial satellite communications networks in an effort to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion, and that those efforts did have spillover effects into other European countries. The activity disabled very-small-aperture terminals, or VSATs, in Ukraine and across Europe. This includes tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide internet services to private citizens, essentially serving as a link between satellites in the sky and systems on the ground.

We and our partners are taking steps to help defend against Russia’s irresponsible actions. We’ve identified new mechanisms to help Ukraine identify cyber threats and recover from cyber incidents, precisely what I was referring to a moment ago. We’ve also enhanced our support for Ukraine’s digital connectivity, including by providing satellite phones and data terminals to Ukrainian Government officials and critical infrastructure operators.

We are – we praise Ukraine’s efforts, both in and out of government, to guard against and help their country recover from malicious cyber activity, even as their country is under physical attack. And the way that Ukraine was able to weather and to be resilient against and to bounce back from these malicious cyber attacks, it was a testament of the ability of Ukraine’s cyber defenders.

QUESTION: And one more question. Let me press you on the SST, if you don’t mind. I think you understand why we are asking about Russia’s designation, because another country today recognized Russia as a terrorist state. How far are we from the SST designation? Is it about days? A month? You mentioned other countries. You mentioned parliamentarian as a process. Are you expecting a message or any appeal from the Hill, or what is the process that we’re missing here? Are we missing a fact? Cuba last year was designated. At least is – how close is Russia to that list based on its actions, current actions, in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Well, whether it’s this authority or any other authority, we don’t detail our internal deliberations. But what I can tell you is that for every authority that’s available to us, we look at the law – in this case it’s a law that determines the criteria for designating a state sponsor of terrorism – and we look at the facts. And so we are looking at both. And when it comes to the facts, we are closely looking at what Russia is doing, what Russia has done, to the people of Ukraine to determine which policy tools are most appropriate and responsive to those actions, but again noting that we have already placed enormous economic and financial pressure on Moscow. It is not just the United States that has done this, but it is countries around the world, dozens of countries across four continents, that have done so as well.

But if there is a tool that is appropriate, as defined in this case or any other case by the law, and that would be effective, again, we will not hesitate to use it.

Yes.

QUESTION: Along that release of the information on the cyber attacks, now, what – can you talk about the timing of that? Why was that done now? And also, we know some of those attacks are ongoing. Is there a concern that that spillover effect could be felt, again, in Europe or other places?

MR PRICE: Well, these things do take time. What I can say is that we’ve worked closely with Ukraine, with NATO, with other European partners and other parties, since well before Russia’s invasion to understand the extent and the impact of Russia’s malicious cyber activity against Ukraine. And over time, we’ve sought out ways to meet Ukraine’s need for cyber security and connectivity support, and we’ll continue to augment that support.

As I said, in the leadup to the invasion, there were a spate of attacks, attacks from which Ukraine was able to bounce back quickly. An element of that was the training, was the support that the United States Government had provided to our Ukrainian partners well before the invasion, knowing that Ukraine has been a target of malicious cyber activity, including from the Russian Federation, for at least the better part of a decade.

Any time we attribute a cyber activity such as this one, we do so with an eye to protecting sources and methods. We do so with an eye to the implications. But in this case, we’re able to attribute it publicly, having gone through a process, having consulted closely with our Ukrainian partners, with our NATO Allies, with other European partners and others.

QUESTION: One more on holding Russia accountable, if you don’t mind?

MR PRICE: Let me move around just a little bit. Daphne.

QUESTION: I was going to switch to the Philippines, if that’s okay.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: How do you expect Marcos’s presidency will have an impact on relations with the U.S. and American efforts to curb Chinese influence in the region? And then I have a question on Sudan as well, if that’s okay.

MR PRICE: Well, your question jumps ahead just a little bit. We’re not quite there. We’re monitoring the election results, and we look forward to renewing our special partnership and to working with the next administration on key human rights and regional priorities. As I said, we look forward to working with the president-elect, once that person is officially named, to strengthen the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines. It’s an enduring alliance that is rooted in a long and deeply interwoven history, shared democratic values and interests, and strong people-to-people ties between our countries as friends, as partners, as allies.

We’ll continue to collaborate closely to advance a free and open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific region. We’ll also continue, as I said before, to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, which is fundamental to U.S. relations with the Philippines and in other bilateral contexts as well. And we’re very pleased to welcome Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin to Washington this week for the U.S.-ASEAN summit.

QUESTION: And then —

QUESTION: Well, wait. Before you go to Sudan, all signs point to the conclusion that Marcos has won. So do you have any concerns about Bongbong Marcos being the new president of the Philippines?

MR PRICE: What I can say from a technical standpoint is that we understand the casting and counting of votes to have been conducted in line with international standards and without significant incident. Again, the counting is still underway. It is not for us to declare a winner. We’ll wait for the Philippines election authorities to do that.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you to declare a winner. I’m just asking you if you have any particular concerns about Marcos’s son becoming the next president.

MR PRICE: We —

QUESTION: You certainly had concerns about Duterte.

MR PRICE: We look forward to working with the president-elect on the shared values and the shared interests that have united our countries across generations.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The State Department released a statement last night supporting the tripartite political process in Sudan, but the UNITAMS talks that were supposed to kick off today did not. Is this something the U.S. is concerned about? And what makes you confident this process, which is facing criticism and suspicion from parties in the country, is the right path? And then is there any progress being made on holding security forces accountable for violence against demonstrators?

MR PRICE: So we did release a statement last night. We released that statement to underscore our view that the UNITAMS-African Union-IGAD process is the best way to facilitate an inclusive path forward on Sudan’s transition to democracy. Any deviation from that process would undo months of hard work with grassroots civilian activists and human rights defenders geared towards obtaining a broadly acceptable agreement. We do condemn violence against and unjust detentions of peaceful protesters, and we call for those responsible to be held accountable. We likewise condemn undue restrictions on local and international press in Sudan.

We are prepared to levy consequences on those who impede or otherwise spoil Sudan’s transition to democracy. We won’t resume currently paused assistance to the Sudanese Government until a credible civilian government is in place. We will, however, continue to support the Sudanese people, including through humanitarian assistance and support for civil society, which has continued uninterrupted since the takeover.

Francesco.

QUESTION: On Sri Lanka, do you have anything new, any update since yesterday, since the situation has further deteriorated and the sight – sight on view order – to shoot sight —

MR PRICE: Well, we’re concerned by the deployment of the military. We underscore, we stress that peaceful protesters should never be subject to violence or intimidation, whether that’s on the part of a military force or civilian unit.

More broadly, we’re deeply concerned by reports of escalating violence in Sri Lanka over the past few days. We condemn, as I said before, violence against peaceful protesters. We call for a full investigation, arrests, and prosecution of anyone instigating and involved in acts of violence. We are, as I said before, also closely monitoring the deployment of troops, something that is of concern to us, and we’re also closely following political developments and the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka after the resignation of the prime minister.

We urge the government and political leaders to work quickly to ensure public safety and work together to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. The government must address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the economic crisis, including power, food, and medicine shortages, as well as their concerns about the political future of their country.

QUESTION: So in other words, the answer was no, you didn’t have anything to add from what you said yesterday, but you decided to go and repeat it.

MR PRICE: He asked about the deployment of military forces.

QUESTION: You talked about that yesterday, though – (laughter) —

MR PRICE: Nazira.

QUESTION: Yes. The other question that – as you know already, (inaudible) war started in Afghanistan as they protect it. And Ahmad Massoud, Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son, make a group, and they started some activity. On the other side, some expert – the United States, Australia, Canada – they get together and make a group to fight against the Taliban, and Afghan people sacrificed in this way. Does United States support some of them, either Ahmad Massoud group or some other expert, that they try to do something against Taliban?

MR PRICE: We believe the best way to protect and to promote the human rights of all Afghans, including Afghanistan’s women and girls, is through dialogue, inclusive dialogue. So we have continued to press the Taliban to take part in a meaningful, inclusive dialogue representative of all of Afghan society, including minorities, women, and girls.

QUESTION: Sir, one of my colleagues sent me a question, if you would like to respond. Sir, she says that U.S. and Pakistan have always had a good education exchange relationship that opens doors to sharing ideas, best practices, innovation, and much more. Do you foresee continuation of such initiatives and efforts to expand relations with Pakistan and the people of Pakistan?

MR PRICE: I absolutely do. Our educational exchange program, whether it’s with Pakistan, whether it’s with any other country, it’s a core element of our people-to-people ties. We’ve been fortunate to have Pakistanis studying here in this country. We have American students who’ve had the opportunity to study in Pakistan. Those types of exchanges are always helpful, are always valuable as we seek to understand our partners and, as Americans, seek to better understand the world, and as we have other countries better understand America.

Nike, last question.

QUESTION: Yes. Can I ask about South Korea? South Korea’s new president officially takes office today. Do you have anything on South Korea’s offer to North Korea’s – to improve North Korea’s economy if it ends its nuclear weapons? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Well, let me start by saying that we do congratulate President Yoon Suk-yeol on his inauguration. The United States-ROK alliance, rooted in the close friendship of our people, is the linchpin for peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. We have been and we will continue to coordinate closely with the ROK to address the threat posed by the DPRK’s unlawful WMD programs, its ballistic missile program as well, and to advance our shared objective on the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is, in fact, an objective that we share. It’s an objective we shared with the last ROK Government. It’s an objective we share with this ROK Government, and I know that we look forward to the opportunities ahead – over the phone, in person – including when the President travels to the ROK in just a matter of days to continue these discussions with the new ROK administration on how we can advance and promote that goal.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. also assess North Korea will conduct a nuclear test before – sometime before President Biden’s visit to Seoul? I’m asking because it’s a assessment by South Korea’s intelligence chief.

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to put a specific timeframe on it, but we have been warning for some time. We have been making public our concern that the DPRK could undertake additional provocations. We have seen three ICBM tests. We’ve seen additional ballistic missile tests, and we’ve spoken of our concern that the DPRK may mount another nuclear test in the near term.

Thank you all very much. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:50 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – May 9, 2022

2:24 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Hello.

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.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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.

Go ahead.

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.

Said.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. North Korea fired —

QUESTION: Can I ask – sorry – on Russia?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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.

Cindy.

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.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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.

Yes.

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.

Yes.

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.

Yes, sir.

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.

Yes, sir.

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.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from South Korea. The inauguration of South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, will be held today. So what do you think about it and do you have any comment on this?

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.

QUESTION: Ned, in his talks with his counterparts in Israel, Greece, and Cyprus, did the Secretary discuss the possibility of reviving the gas pipeline from Israel to Europe?

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.

QUESTION: And one more on the conference on Syria in Brussels: What was the main message that the U.S. wanted to send, and did the U.S. make any pledge?

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.

Yes.

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.

QUESTION: G7.

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.

Yes, Said.

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.

Francesco.

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.

QUESTION: Two questions. One is on Armenia. Can I get your reaction to ongoing protests in Armenia – it has been two weeks already – and its implications for the country and the region?

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.

Yes.

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.)

Department Press Briefing – May 6, 2022

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing. I have two elements at the top and then I will take your questions.

I want to reiterate that we vehemently condemn the terrorist attack in Elad, Israel, which killed at least three and wounded many others. This was a horrific attack targeting innocent men and women and was particularly heinous coming as Israel celebrated its Independence Day. Our hearts are with the victims and loved ones of those killed, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery. We remain in close contact with our Israeli friends and partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack.

Separately, we understand that Israel announced a meeting to advance new West Bank settlements for – West Bank settlement units for May 12. The Biden administration has been clear from the outset. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties. Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospect for a two-state solution.

Let’s go to the line of Ron Kampeas, please.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the call. What if anything will be the repercussions for Israel’s announcement of approvals for 4,000 more units? I know that you’re saying that you – you’re condemning this, but will there be any repercussions, particularly related to President Biden’s visit next month?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I’ll just say from here that we have been clear about the need to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions and make it more difficult to preserve the viability of a two-state solution. I have nothing to comment about the President’s upcoming trip.

Let’s go to Endale Getahun.

QUESTION: Yes. Good morning, Jalina. Can you hear me? This is Endale.

MS PORTER: Good afternoon. I can hear you, thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. I have two questions.

One is – will be on the statement that was made by our Secretary Blinken on April 29 regarding Tigrayan for Ethiopia. I think the statement was – I hope you have seen it, I believe. But on the statement was given, it says Ethiopia’s conflict since like most of the statement was given, it says conflict. But 10 months ago, when he appears in front the lawmakers to make a statement, he did mention by saying ethnic cleansing. But when it says conflict, it seems to make the situation in east Africa and even Tigray and the whole – seems to – not a conflict but as an actual war. So I was wondering why the word was lowered from ethnic cleansing to conflict. It seems to most Tigrayans and around the world was asked – made in statements on Twitter. So that’s the comment that was on Twitter that was based on the Secretary of State made the statement there is a piece that the coming – direction is going. But has anyone spoke to the Tigray region? Have he visited, just like he visited Ukraine? Has anyone – has a State Department official visited in Tigray region, as has only visited in Addis Ababa?

The second question I have is regarding the Tigrayan general, former general commander, which he used to be an African Union mission in Somalia, which he has worked with U.S. African Command, which is AFRICOM. He just passed away in the custody of Ethiopian Government. As you know, al-Shabaab was a threat to U.S. security. So this commander has worked shoulder to shoulder with American officials and service folks, and so have you heard or are you going to ask the death – the cause of the death? Because some said that he was poisoned or so, but I’m not ready to confirm that, but I just wanted to make sure if you know about from the general commander government, Fikadu. It’s is spelled G-e-b-r-e-m-e-d-h-i-n. Last name is F-i-k-a-d-u, Fikadu. Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Endale. To your most recent question on the cause of death, I’m actually just learning of these reports. So if we have anything to share, we’ll certainly update you and get back to you.

To your first question regarding the conflict in Ethiopia, I certainly don’t have any travel to announce for the Secretary. But what I would underscore from here is what we’ve said previously, in that we’re encouraged that the Government of Ethiopia as well as regional authorities in Tigray and Afar have taken steps to enable the delivery of desperately needed food and aid in the war-affected communities. And we also urge parties to accelerate, uphold, and expand these efforts to ensure, as President Biden has said, the immediate, sustained, and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Ethiopians who are impacted by this conflict.

Let’s go to Shannon Crawford.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for briefing. I just wanted to ask: Are there any updates on the Victory Day show of support for Ukraine from the U.S. and its allies that Ned previewed yesterday? Specifically, can we expect that announcement to come from the State Department or the White House?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shannon. We don’t have anything to share at the moment, but I imagine you’ll be hearing something pretty soon. Thank you.

Let’s go over to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Eunjung.

QUESTION: Thank you. The CNN reports quoting three U.S. officials that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies assess that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test by the end of this month. Does the State Department hold the same assessment that North Korea could be ready for a nuclear test by the end of this month?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Eunjung. The United States assesses that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month, which would be its seventh test. This assessment is consistent with the DPRK’s own recent public statements.

We’ve shared this information with allies and partners, and we’ll continue closely coordinating with them as well. We’ll also build on this close coordination when the President travels to the Republic of Korea and Japan later this month to strengthen our alliances and demonstrate our commitment to their security is ironclad.

I’ll have the operator repeat the instructions on if anyone wants to get in the Q&A queue.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.

MS PORTER: Let’s go over to Rosiland Jordan.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to get an update on the Secretary’s health, what he’s been doing today. Has he had any engagements on Ukraine or on Russia?

And separately, is there any update on the status of Brittney Griner and other Americans being held in Russia? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Ros. The Secretary continues to experience mild symptoms, but we don’t have anything to read out from today.

And on to your question about Brittney Griner and others who are detained in Russia, what we’ve said and will continue to say from here is that we have no other priority than the safety and security of the United States citizens who are overseas, and we continue to insist that the Government of Russia allow for consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizens – U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pretrial detention – in compliance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and bilateral consular convention with the United States. Our requests for access are consistently delayed or denied, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.

Let’s go to Matt Lee.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. I’m sorry, I’m on my cell phone and it cut out like three quarters of your response to that question on North Korea. I just want to – could you repeat that, your answer?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Matt. I think you’re referring to Eunjung’s question. What we said before is that the United States assesses that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month, which would be its seventh test. This assessment is also consistent with the DPRK’s own recent public statements. We’ve shared this information with allies and partners and will continue to closely coordinate with them, and we’ll also build on this close coordination when the President travels to the Republic of Korea and Japan later this month to strengthen our alliances and demonstrate that our commitment to their security is ironclad.

Let’s go over to Paulina Smolinski.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I just wanted to follow up on the Brittney Griner statement. Do you guys have any (inaudible), any comment on former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson helping out with this?

MS PORTER: If we still have you, Paulina, do you mind repeating your question a tad bit louder, please?

QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have any comment on reports that former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson is helping with Brittney Griner’s case?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Paulina. We don’t have any updates to share on her specific case. We continue to be in contact with her legal team, and, of course, we continue to press again for fair treatment for not only her, but all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.

Let’s go back over to Shannon Crawford.

QUESTION: Thanks again. I just wanted to ask about those sanctions on the cryptocurrency Blender – cryptocurrency mixer Blender, excuse me. Do you – does the State Department think that is going to be effective, and is it pushing for more proactive measures to stop this illicit financial activity before it takes place?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shannon. We don’t have anything further to announce, but I would say as a result of today’s action, all property and interest in the property of the entity of Blender.io that’s in the United States or in possession or control of U.S. persons is blocked and must be reported to OFAC, or the Office of Foreign Asset Control. In addition, any entities that are owned directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.

We’ll take the final question back to Rosiland Jordan.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks again. Completely different topic: The U.S. Government, as do many other governments, use social media in order to connect with its citizens. In light of Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter, there is a lot of discussion about how much control one private citizen should have over what is a de facto public space. Is there that concern within the State Department that a private citizen, no matter who it is, could decide who has access to this platform, could possibly interfere with the communication between a government and its citizens? And is the State Department looking at alternatives to using Twitter should this purchase go through? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Ros. We use a range of platforms from the State Department, which would include Twitter and other social media platforms, not only to connect with Americans but to connect with the global community abroad. I don’t have anything to share from here. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share whether that would change or whether we would interfere in a platform as large as Twitter, but we certainly appreciate that we do have that platform and are able to connect not only with other governments, but the American people and the global community.

Thank you all for joining today. That concludes today’s briefing. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

# # #

 

Department Press Briefing – May 5, 2022

MR PRICE: Small but mighty crew today. Good to see.

QUESTION: Small.

MR PRICE: Just one thing at the top, and then I look forward to taking your questions. This morning, together with the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, we announced the 2022 World Food Prize Laureate. Commonly known as the Nobel Prize for agriculture, the award recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.

This year’s winner is American climate scientist Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig, who works at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Dr. Rosenzweig is being recognized for her four decades of pioneering work improving the world’s understanding of climate change impacts on agriculture. We offer her our congratulations and gratitude for this critical work.

The World Food Prize Foundation’s mission to advance human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world, engaging in cutting-edge global food security issues, and inspiring the next generation to end hunger – it’s a mission that is critical to addressing food security challenges of today and preparing to feed future generations.

Already a critical concern due to the impacts of the climate crisis, the problem of food insecurity is now even more acute, as President Putin’s war in Ukraine has put millions around the globe at risk. And addressing this issue is a top priority for the U.S. Government.

This morning, as you saw, the department announced the appointment of Dr. Cary Fowler, a noted agriculturalist, as U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced the United States will launch a week of action to address food insecurity across the globe later this month, which will include a ministerial-level meeting on May 18th at the UN in New York and an open debate in the UN Security Council about food insecurity and armed conflict the following day, on May 19th.

On March 24th, President Biden announced $1 billion towards additional humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and global food security. These funds will provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies, and other forms of assistance to those affected by Russia’s invasion.

President Biden has also committed $11 billion to support long-term food security priorities. Once approved by Congress, these funds will be used at home and abroad to support long-term efforts to bolster food security, enhance supply chain resilience, and provide humanitarian aid, including to those affected by this war.

This is in addition to our ongoing work with allies and partners to combat food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s destructive war on Ukraine.

With that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Before I get to policy matters, the Secretary – I presume – maybe, maybe not – you’ve spoken to him? Is he doing okay?

MR PRICE: He is on the phone. He is experiencing only the same mild symptoms. I expect he’ll continue to have phone conversations, speak with staff here, counterparts around the world, members of Congress, and others over the next couple days. And I know he looks forward to returning to the office just as soon as he can.

QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday, before his positive PCR test, he met with the Swedish foreign minister, who said afterwards in an interview that she had spoken to him about the very real possibility that Sweden would apply for NATO membership, and that the Secretary responded that the U.S. is willing – would be willing to provide security assurances to Sweden in the interim period between application and accession. I’m wondering if you can tell us if – tell us anything more about that, if that is actually correct, and if there were any specifics involved, and what those assurances might be.

MR PRICE: Well, they had a wide-ranging discussion. It was a follow-on discussion to the many conversations, including the in-person meeting that the foreign minister and the Secretary had when the Secretary was in Stockholm for the OSCE meeting late last year. It not only broached Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the attendant issues there, but we cooperate closely with Sweden on a host of bilateral and global issues. That includes food security, advancing democracy, human rights around the world. Sweden has been instrumental in promoting and helping to build upon the ongoing truce in Yemen. We – they discussed areas of cooperation between the U.S. and the EU as Sweden prepares to assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2023.

Of course, they did have an extended discussion on Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the implications of it. As we have said before, every country has a right to choose its own path, every country has a right to determine for itself its foreign policy, its alliances, its partnerships. And when it comes to NATO, that is a decision for the 30 members of the Alliance and the aspirant country, and nobody else.

We have consistently made clear our commitment to NATO’s “Open Door” policy. NATO’s door remains open to aspirant countries when they are ready and able to meet the commitments and obligations of membership and to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area. When it comes to Finland and Sweden, as we’ve said before, both are valued partners of NATO. They’re valued partners of the United States. We remain firmly committed to this “Open Door” policy. Of course, the NATO secretary general has recently noted that Allies would welcome Sweden and Finland, and as the secretary general himself said, I am certain that we will find ways to address concerns they may have regarding the period between the potential application and the final ratification.

The discussion yesterday noted that Sweden has not made any formal public announcement about its intentions to put forward an application for NATO. There was a hypothetical discussion about that and related issues, but as we’ve said, our commitment to NATO’s open door, that is firm. It is an open door that should remain open, must remain open for any country that can meet those stringent application requirements.

QUESTION: Well, okay, fine, but obviously they haven’t yet applied for it, but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. So the idea that it’s a hypothetical question – in the realm of hypothetical questions, it’s less of a hypothetical than, say, I don’t know. I don’t want to insult any country here, but like some very, very tiny country launching a lunar expedition. This is something that is clearly going to happen and that people are preparing for, so what is it that you guys can offer to Sweden and potentially Finland —

MR PRICE: What I would say, Matt, is —

QUESTION: — in that interim period?

MR PRICE: What I would say is that this will remain a hypothetical until it’s not a hypothetical, and at this stage neither Sweden nor Finland has put forward a firm intention to seek NATO membership. That could change in the coming weeks. We’ll leave it to those countries or any other country to speak for itself.

I will just add this without going too far down the hypothetical rabbit hole. Our countries, our militaries have worked together for years. We are confident that we could, as parallel to what the NATO secretary general said, find ways to address any concerns either country could have about the period of time between a NATO membership application and a country’s potential accession to the NATO Alliance. But again, this remains a hypothetical, and until it is not a hypothetical, it’s best left in those terms.

QUESTION: All right, well, let me just – look, it’s a – it’s right now 2:14 p.m. It’s also a hypothetical that it’s going to be 2:15 p.m., okay? So you obviously are making plans for this very likely eventuality. And so – so you’re just not prepared to discuss what those are? Is that the answer to the question?

MR PRICE: You are putting this in terms that are —

QUESTION: It’s now 2:15, so that hypothetical is no longer a hypothetical.

MR PRICE: You are putting this in terms that are more certain than what we’ve heard from our Finnish and Swedish partners, so I will allow our Finnish and Swedish partners to speak for themselves. And if and when they do make that decision or make any other decision, we’ll be prepared to speak to it in more concrete terms.

QUESTION: Can I follow up there?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the United States have any intelligence or assessments or concerns that Russia will launch any kind of attack on Sweden and Finland if they apply?

MR PRICE: I do not have – we don’t have any such information, and certainly nothing to speak to. We have made very clear that we are committed to our partners in Europe. Of course, when it comes to NATO Allies, we have an Article 5 commitment. It’s an ironclad commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all, but as we are demonstrating in the context of Ukraine, we have a commitment to partners across Europe. And as I said before, Sweden, Finland, many other countries across the continent that are not members of NATO, they are strong, stalwart partners of the United States. In some cases they are members of the EU, and we’re committed to those partnerships.

Daphne.

QUESTION: Hi, I want to follow up as well. Did the Secretary have detailed discussions yesterday with the foreign minister on what that support would look like during the period of application?

MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to Matt’s hypothetical. I will just say —

QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical. You just said that they discussed it. They did.

MR PRICE: They discussed NATO’s “Open Door” policy and they discussed various possibilities in hypothetical terms. I would say it was not a conversation that was deep on the specifics at this point just because it remains a hypothetical.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions, China and North —

QUESTION: Can we stay in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll take a couple questions on —

QUESTION: Did the U.S. pledge any financial aid to Ukraine in the Poland conference today?

MR PRICE: So we did. As you alluded to, there was a pledging conference, and through the U.S. Agency for International Development we are providing and pledged nearly $387 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Ukraine amid this war. This, of course, is in addition to the more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities in the region since Russia first invaded Ukraine eight years ago, including more than $688 million, almost $700 million this year alone.

You’ve heard us say this before, but the United States has been and is the largest single-country donor of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. On – in late March, on March 24th, President Biden announced that we would be prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new funding towards humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine and its severe impacts around the world, including, as I alluded to at the top, a marked rise in food insecurity.

We’ve also put forward for Congress’s consideration a supplemental budget request that has additional funds, not only for security assistance, not only for economic assistance for Ukraine, but also for humanitarian assistance for those displaced by Russia’s war inside Ukraine and those refugees who have been forced to flee Ukraine, who are now in the region and in some cases further beyond.

QUESTION: You said 378?

MR PRICE: Three hundred and eighty-seven million dollars. Yeah. Anything else on Russia, Ukraine?

QUESTION: I have one on Russia.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Following Trevor Reed’s release last week, has there been any contact between the U.S. and Russian teams on the potential release of other detainees, including Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner?

MR PRICE: So I will say that prior to Trevor Reed’s release you didn’t hear us speak of our communication, our dialogue with the Kremlin, with the Russian Federation regarding any preparations, any plans, any efforts to do so. And that is chiefly because we have found that in these cases we can be more effective if we are afforded the opportunity to have discussions that are outside of public view, that are not conducted in public but are, rather, private.

What I will say generally is that there have been longstanding efforts to free, in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan. Of course, you heard us yesterday that we now consider Brittney Griner to be a case of wrongful detention. Her case will now be handled and is now handled by Ambassador Roger Carstens, our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. Those efforts to secure their release are ongoing, just as our efforts to secure the release of Americans who are detained around the world.

Yes, Jenny.

QUESTION: You said we’d be hearing more from the U.S. in the leadup to May 9th. Is that going to be support for Ukraine? Are those punitive measures? What – can you tell us anything?

MR PRICE: I suspect you will hear us put forward elements that will allow us to continue our strategy. It is a strategy that has, in the context of Ukraine, had two primary elements. One is significant security assistance, significant support for those brave defenders of Ukraine’s democracy, its freedom, its independence, and its territorial integrity.

To date, we have contributed nearly $4 billion since the start of the invasion to this effort. This is security assistance that has proved to be a key enabler of the success that our Ukrainian partners have been able to demonstrate on the battlefield. And if you just take a step back and think about where we are, we’re now 70 days into Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russia has lost the battle of Kyiv. Russia has been forced to narrow its aims. Its aims have gone from an attempt to take an entire country – to subjugate an entire people, to essentially redraw the map of Europe – to focus its military objectives on the south and the east, continuing its brutal campaign, but with objectives that are far different from what Vladimir Putin by many accounts had in mind when his forces went into Ukraine on February 24th.

We’ll continue with that security assistance. We’ll also continue, on the other side of the ledger, to apply unprecedented amounts of pressure on the Kremlin, and we’ve done that together with dozens of countries around the world, spanning four continents, with financial sanctions, with export control measures, with efforts to reduce and wean dependence on Russian energy that has for too long been a source of revenue for the Kremlin and for, more recently, the Kremlin’s war machine in Ukraine.

Both of these things combined to strengthen Ukraine’s hand on the battlefield and to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table, because our strategy is to see to it that Ukraine emerges from this victorious. Ukraine will do so at the negotiating table. Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s position at that negotiating table as we continue to place mounting costs on the Russian Federation.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Richardson Center has confirmed that the former ambassador to the UN is taking on Brittney Griner’s case. Is this welcome news to the State Department? Can you comment?

MR PRICE: Look, we appreciate all of those who are very invested in this case, and Brittney Griner is fortunate to have a network who has supported her from day one. We have worked very closely with that network. When it comes to others, we do often partner with various individuals and organizations on these cases, but it’s not something that we speak to publicly. We welcome all of those efforts that are coordinated closely with us that might help to seek the safe release of any American who’s unjustly detained around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: How concerned are you that Russia has said that any weapons deliveries from the U.S. or other NATO countries would be a legitimate target?

MR PRICE: We’re not going to respond to Russian bluster, to Russian propaganda. I think you’ve heard from my counterpart at the Department of Defense that we continue to have the unimpeded ability to flow weapons and security assistance into Ukraine. Those deliveries have, whether it’s from the United States or from our allies and partners around the world, been occurring almost daily. The fact that we have been able to announce such large drawdowns – the last two of which have been $800 million, nearly $4 billion since the start of the war, and then to deliver that within oftentimes days of making the announcement – speaks to the fact that we are able to process those drawdowns, to deliver those weapons precisely to our Ukrainian partners, what they need, so they then can take it precisely to where they need it most.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea and China, will additional U.S. sanctions on North Korea be adopted in this month’s UN Security Council resolution? If China and Russia use their veto, then what happen?

MR PRICE: Well, this is something that we are discussing with our allies and partners around the world, and in the first instance we’re having these discussions with our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific. We’ve talked about our ironclad commitment to the defense of Korea, the Republic of Korea, and to Japan as well. And so in the aftermath of these most recent provocations, including the three ICBM launches and the ballistic missile launches, this week we have continued those conversations with our allies.

But we are also discussing this with a broader set of allies and partners around the world. That includes in New York, where our ambassador there, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and her team have been engaged on the challenge that is posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program. It is a challenge, it is a threat to international peace and security that the UN Security Council and its members have recognized in the past. The UN Security Council and its members, including all five Permanent Members, in the past have signed on to a string of UN Security Council resolutions. That’s precisely why the ballistic missile launches this week, the ICBM launches in recent weeks have been an affront to multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

So we’re not going to get ahead of any steps that the UN might take or the UN Security Council might take, but we do think that accountability is important. We do think it’s vital that the international community, our allies as well as partners around the world, send a very clear signal to the DPRK that these types of provocations won’t be tolerated, they won’t improve its strategic positioning, and the world will respond accordingly.

QUESTION: On China, yesterday Chinese foreign ministry said the U.S. was responsible for North Korea’s continued missile violations. What is your reaction of Chinese blaming the United States?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to react to the Chinese reaction, especially to one like that. What I will say is that the PRC and the DPRK equally know where we stand on this. We have and we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. It is our goal, as it is the goal of other allies and partners in the region and around the world, to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe we can effect that through diplomacy and dialogue. That is what we seek to have. We have made very clear to the DPRK, we’ve made very clear publicly to all of you, that we are prepared to engage in that dialogue towards the end of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In the absence of discussions with the DPRK, we are engaged concertedly with our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea, but also with allies and partners around the world.

Michel.

QUESTION: Ned, on Syria. Austin Tice’s parents have said yesterday that the President has pledged to engage directly with the Syrian regime to free Austin. How will this engagement be? Are you planning to send a U.S. official to Damascus to talk about this issue?

MR PRICE: So this goes back to what we were – what I was saying in response to previous questions in the case of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner. We’ve often found that we can move the ball forward most effectively if we don’t detail everything we’re doing in public, if we do have space to conduct behind-the-scenes discussions.

In the case of Austin Tice, this is an American who has spent nearly a quarter of his life, almost 10 years of his 40 years on this Earth, separated from his family. We have said before that when our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs speaks with other officials, speaks with regimes, speaks with actors around the world, that is distinct from traditional diplomacy in many ways. And Ambassador Carstens can go places, he can talk to people that others in this administration in some cases would not, but I’m just going to leave it there.

QUESTION: That means he will be going to negotiate with the regime, and will he talk with them about U.S.-Syria relations and —

MR PRICE: I said nothing of the sort. I said that Ambassador Carstens is in a position as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs to talk to individuals, to talk to governments, to talk to regimes that others in this department or in this government might not be in a position to do. He has done that before in his role. He has been successful in efforts to free Americans who have been unjustly detained around the world, including in places where we don’t have diplomatic relations. And so we are going to seek to continue that track record of bringing Americans home.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon, tomorrow will start the parliamentarian elections. What are your expectations?

MR PRICE: Well, the elections aren’t until later this month. I believe they’re May 15th. But we do support free —

QUESTION: They start tomorrow in the Arab world and on Sunday (inaudible).

MR PRICE: But we do support free, fair, transparent, and on-time elections in Lebanon that represent the legitimate will of the Lebanese people who are living through crises of historic proportion. We hope these elections will lead to a timely formation of government – of a government that will quickly address the challenges faced by the people of Lebanon.

Yes, Jenny.

QUESTION: This news is just breaking now, but I was wondering if you have any comment. The Israelis are saying at least three people were killed in a suspected terror attack just today.

MR PRICE: I saw initial reports just as I was walking in. If these reports are accurate, and certainly no reason to doubt them, it would be the latest in what has been a string of despicable terrorist attacks that have rocked Israel in recent weeks. We saw them in advance of this holy period, the confluence of Easter, of Passover, of Ramadan. We saw them in advance of the Negev summit. And if this is what it appears to be, it is something that we would condemn in the strongest terms. Our commitment to our Israeli partners, to Israel’s security, that is ironclad, and we’ll provide any and all assistance that may be required in this case.

Yes.

QUESTION: On the reports that the CIA director told President Bolsonaro to stop casting doubts on the country’s election system last year, did State also communicate a similar message?

MR PRICE: Of course, I’m not going to speak to any messages or any travel that the CIA director may have conveyed. What I will say is that we have regularly engaged with our Brazilian partners. Just last month, we had a Strategic Dialogue, and Toria Nuland, our under secretary of state for political affairs, and Jose Fernández, our under secretary of state for economic affairs, were both in Brazil to continue these important conversations.

Our bottom line has been that, like the United States, Brazil is a strong democracy, and we both have a commitment to ensure our democracies deliver for our people. We have high confidence in Brazil’s democratic institutions. Brazil has a strong track record of free and fair elections, with transparency and high levels of voter participation. And it’s important that Brazilians, as they look forward to their elections later this year, have confidence in their electoral systems and that Brazil once again is in a position to demonstrate to the world through these elections the enduring strength of Brazil’s democracy.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Regarding the JCPOA, you have mentioned yesterday you are preparing for – equally for either scenario. So what is your plan B if the JCPOA doesn’t work anymore?

MR PRICE: So you’re referring to the fact that the JCPOA continues, we believe, to be in our national security interests. It continues to be in our national security interests principally because it would once again put in a box Iran’s nuclear program, a program that since 2018 has been in a position to gallop forward in ways that are unacceptable to us, that are unacceptable to many of our allies and partners around the world.

If we are going to be in a position to mutually return to full compliance with the JCPOA, what that would do is to once again impose the most stringent set of – the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated. And importantly, it would prolong what is now a breakout time – that is to say, the time it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon if Iran decided to pursue the path of weaponization. It would prolong that period, a period that, once again, for us is unacceptably short.

So we know the status quo can’t endure for long. And so either we’re going to be in a position to return to compliance with the JCPOA and to see those restrictions once again imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, or we’re going to have to pursue a different path. It has been clear to us since the beginning that a mutual return to compliance was never guaranteed. It was never a certainty. So discussions with our allies and partners regarding an alternative approach – that is not something that we have undertaken only in recent days or even recent weeks. These are discussions that we have had for a number of months now with allies and partners around the world.

President Biden has a commitment that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA, if that is back in force, will be the vehicle to carry that out. But we are engaging with allies and partners around the world to devise a means by which we will be able to make good on President Biden’s commitment whether or not there is a JCPOA.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, how —

QUESTION: Is military option on the table?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question.

QUESTION: Is military option still on the table?

MR PRICE: We believe that diplomacy and dialogue presents us with the most effective, sustainable, durable means by which to ensure Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: So on this, do you remember the first time that you actually said that you guys have to prepare for a world in which there is no – potentially there is no JCPOA? I mean, it wasn’t yesterday. How many months ago do you think the —

MR PRICE: Well, as I just said —

QUESTION: — do you think that that —

MR PRICE: But Matt, you’re making my point. As I just said, when we —

QUESTION: I’m not trying to make any point, I’m trying to – well, I’m just surprised that people all of a sudden took yesterday that you said we have to prepare for this like it’s something new.

MR PRICE: Ah. I was surprised by that too, yes.

QUESTION: You’ve been saying this for months, right?

MR PRICE: I was —

QUESTION: Do you remember what month you first started saying it?

MR PRICE: I don’t, but as I just alluded to, I’m sure you do and you’ll tell me in just a second.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I didn’t. I actually —

MR PRICE: Oh, okay. Oh, I see, it was a genuine question. I —

QUESTION: All of my questions are genuine, Ned, except when they’re not. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: What —

QUESTION: Except when they’re hypothetical.

MR PRICE: What I will tell you is that when we started this process in April of 2021 – April more than a year ago now – it was never a certainty. It was never a guarantee that we would get back to a point of mutual return to compliance. We always knew it was an uncertain proposition, so we started preparing for this reality, to your point – to your very valid point – quite some time ago.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay, exactly. So, now, in terms of the debate over this assessment or alleged assessment about whether or not it has – the window has already closed and that it no longer makes sense – according to some people that this assessment says that it no longer makes sense to rejoin the JCPOA – is there a situation in which even though you can’t get everything you want in terms of breakout time with the JCPOA, that the administration still believes that it is in the U.S. national security interest to come back into compliance with it?

MR PRICE: So to the first part of your question, I just want to be clear about this because I know there has been some misinformation, potentially disinformation, out there. There is no “secret assessment,” quote/unquote, that a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA is no longer in our national interest.

QUESTION: Okay, so – all right, stop right there and let me just say – so what is Senator Menendez talking about? Not Senator Cruz, Senator Menendez. When he says that he understands from classified or – I don’t know what – but he understands from the administration that the window actually closed in February. So is he just making this up?

MR PRICE: What I can tell you is that our experts – our experts here, our experts in the Intelligence Community and elsewhere – we are constantly assessing the nonproliferation gains of a potential return to the JCPOA. That is the metric we use. We compare where we are now to the potential nonproliferation gains of a possible return to compliance with the JCPOA. At this stage, such a return would still achieve our most important and most urgent nonproliferation goals and would – at least in the view of the administration – strongly be in our national interest. That is why we continue to pursue, at least for the moment, a mutual return to compliance.

Now, to the point that others have raised, there will come a time when the assessment of the nonproliferation benefits that a return to the JCPOA would bring – when that assessment renders the fact that Iran’s program has advanced too far, that rendering a potential return to the JCPOA is no longer in our interest. But we are not at the point.

QUESTION: In this situation, are you saying that U.S. – broader national U.S. security interests are entirely dependent on the nonproliferation part of it? Or is there a way in which you would assess that even if you don’t get what you’re looking for in terms of breakout time, that it could still be in the U.S. national interest to go back?

MR PRICE: This is a nonproliferation deal.

QUESTION: And that’s it.

MR PRICE: And we look at it through a nonproliferation lens.

QUESTION: And that’s it. There is no other – there’s no other lens. This is a —

MR PRICE: We look at – we – through a nonproliferation lens, comparing a potential return to compliance with the JCPOA to where we are now, it is in our advantage to return to the JCPOA. The famous saying from President Biden – don’t compare us to the Almighty, compare us to the alternative. The JCPOA is the best alternative. It remains the best alternative at the moment. That won’t be the case forever.

QUESTION: Where is Robert Malley at this time and what is he doing?

MR PRICE: The last time I saw Rob was a few days ago. He was in Washington, D.C. He is always on the phone. He is talking to our European allies. He’s talking to other stakeholders. And until and unless there is reason for him to return to Vienna, I suspect he will continue to do a lot of that from here.

QUESTION: Ned, my last one on this. Just what do you make, if anything, of this Senate vote yesterday on the – I mean, I know it’s non-binding, but it was a pretty clear shot across the bow of the administration.

MR PRICE: So it was a vote on the China bill, and we do look forward to the rapid passage of legislation that President Biden can sign to boost our competitiveness vis-à-vis the PRC —

QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the Iran deal.

MR PRICE: Well, it was part of the package.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that.

MR PRICE: But to —

QUESTION: All right. This is like me asking you to describe an elephant and you say, well, elephants are scared of mice.

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: And a mouse is a little brown animal, whatever, right?

MR PRICE: The problem is —

QUESTION: I’m asking you about the Iran part of this —

MR PRICE: I know, but the problem is that you —

QUESTION: — which Democrats —

MR PRICE: You —

QUESTION: Very – quite a few of them —

MR PRICE: You interrupted me before I could finish my first sentence, and the second clause of my first sentence was going to say —

QUESTION: All right. Well —

MR PRICE: — we are aware of the nonbinding Iran-related instruction to Senate conferees that was passed yesterday. As I said before, the President’s commitment is that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon. He has been clear that at this point, the best way to realize that is through a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. That is what Rob Malley and his team are seeking to achieve at the moment.

We do share the concern expressed by the Senate about other aspects of Iran’s behavior, including their development of ballistic missiles, support for terrorism through the IRGC and other elements. And that’s why our administration has actually increased sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and on the IRGC over the past year. There is nothing in a potential return to the JCPOA that would in any way diminish our resolve or our ability to continue combating these aspects of Iran’s policies in the region. If this math is still correct, of the 107 sanctions that we have applied on Iran since January 20th of 2021, 86 of those – which, if my math is right, about three quarters of those – have been on the IRGC. We are committed to doing all we can, pulling every lever we can to take on the threat, together with our partners, from the IRGC.

Now, having said all that, we know that all of these problems are even more intractable, even more challenging – and challenging, if Iran also is in a position to have a nuclear program that is unconstrained. That is why we have always been of the mindset that the decision to withdraw from an agreement that was demonstrably working to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has comprehensively failed to protect our national security interests and, in fact, has actually resulted in the opposite. It has resulted in an Iran that is more aggressive, that is more destabilizing, and its proxies could be called the same.

QUESTION: Okay. But it is still the administration’s position that you do not believe that you can get anything outside of the nuclear stuff into a return to the JCPOA? In other words, just as it was in 2015, the missiles, the support for extremists, et cetera – you’re not looking to get that into just – get that into a deal?

MR PRICE: The JCPOA is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Okay, so then is this the end of the longer and stronger thing that you guys have been – had been talking about since February of last year (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: As I said before, we are committed to working with our allies and partners to address these other challenges that —

QUESTION: Right, but the JCPOA is not going to be longer and stronger even —

MR PRICE: The first step —

QUESTION: Even —

MR PRICE: The first step, but —

QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. But if you, a deal to return, it isn’t going to be longer and stronger for now.

MR PRICE: The first step is testing the proposition as to whether we can mutually return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: I get that.

MR PRICE: That’s the first step.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Now, going back to the point about hypotheticals, it’s far from clear that we’ll get there.

QUESTION: Well, it wasn’t a hypothetical.

MR PRICE: No, no —

QUESTION: This is what the administration came into – into office saying not only do we want to return to the JCPOA, but we want to make it longer and stronger, part of one whole thing. And I just want to make sure that what you’re saying now is that you have essentially – given up might be a pejorative here, but you don’t believe that it is – that it is at all possible to include other things that weren’t covered by the original deal in —

MR PRICE: We have – we have —

QUESTION: — in a new one.

MR PRICE: We have always said that a first step is putting a box back on top of Iran’s nuclear program. That is the first step. It is, to my point a moment ago, a hypothetical as to whether we’ll be able to do that, because it’s far from certain whether a mutual return to the JCPOA will be in the offing or not. Whether we’re able to get there or if we’re not able to get there, we are still going to work with partners and allies and still engage in diplomacy to see to it that we can take on these other challenges that Iran poses to the region and by extension to us. And that includes the IRGC and its ballistic missile program, among other challenges.

Guita.

QUESTION: Ned, you – when you talk about Iran’s advances to a point where the benefits of the JCPOA will not be realized anymore, about that, nuclear experts believe that at a certain point anybody – anybody with nuclear capabilities – can produce crude nuclear bombs, which is one level, obviously, less than the actual, bigger size one. Does the administration differentiate between these two? Because according to David Albright, he – in early April, he estimated that between mid April and end of April Iran would have enough, 60 percent, to manufacture a crude bomb. Does the administration differentiate? Do you – are you waiting until it has – it does 90 percent?

MR PRICE: We have a commitment that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. And the reason why we have pursued a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is not only that it would define what Iran can’t do and to impose the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, but it would give the international community – principally through the IAEA – greater transparency into all of the potential pathways that Iran could seek to illicitly acquire a nuclear weapon. So to have an agreement that has these caps, that has a stringent verification and monitoring regime, and as a result that affords much greater levels of transparency to international weapons inspectors, this is why the JCPOA remains – at least for the moment – manifestly in our interest.

QUESTION: Well, sure. But by now Iran may have enough, 60 percent, to manufacture a smaller explosive. That doesn’t count?

MR PRICE: You’re raising something that, again, falls in the category of hypotheticals. We are – we have made clear that we are determined, the President has a commitment, that Iran won’t be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We want to see to it that we put everything in place in a way that is sustainable, in a way that is durable, in a way that is transparent, so that not only can we prevent this, but if Iran seeks to manufacture a nuclear weapon, if it seeks to manufacture, as you put it, a crude nuclear device, that is something that we would able to detect early on.

All right. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Hold it. I got one more.

MR PRICE: Oh, okay. Okay.

QUESTION: I just – I’m just wondering if you have an – any kind of an update on this child custody/abduction issue in Nepal.

MR PRICE: Not an update since we last talked about it. I think as you know, this is a matter that is before a court in Nepal. Our priority and responsibility is to assist U.S. citizens the most effective way possible. The embassy in Kathmandu, the department are working diligently to assist the family member in this case. Embassy personnel are in regular contact with the father. They’ve informed him of all developments in this case.

QUESTION: But you’re – you do not consider this to be a case of the child being abducted from India into Nepal?

MR PRICE: We are not characterizing this case as an international parental child abduction to Nepal.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: But – well, continue, if you have more.

MR PRICE: Okay. So I’ll give you the fuller facts.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: We understand the facts of the case to be the following: The child’s Indian national mother was – wrongfully retained the U.S.-citizen child in India in 2017. The father, who is a U.S. citizen, immediately secured a court order in Cook County, Illinois, determining he had sole custody of the child while she was still unlawfully retained in India with her mother. In light of the mother’s actions, the department considers the case to be an international parental child abduction case between the U.S. and India, and the U.S. has formally raised it with the Indian Government on several occasions, urging a swift resolution. In April of this year, the father, while visiting the child, departed India with her across the border to Nepal. Both parents are now in Nepal.

Daphne.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Oh – sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: No, I’m done. Thank you. I said “thank you.”

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any update on Blinken’s China speech? Will it be rescheduled?

MR PRICE: It will be rescheduled. I do not have a date to offer at this time, but I can assure you that we will find a date at the earliest opportunity.

Thank you, all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – May 4, 2022

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Maybe I should say good evening. I am very sorry for the delay. I assume you all have seen a statement that is just hitting your inboxes regarding the fact that Secretary Blinken has tested positive for COVID. The good news is that he is fully vaccinated; he is boosted. He is experiencing only mild symptoms. He will quarantine at home; he will follow CDC guidelines. I know he very much look forwards to returning to the office, returning to his full schedule, and returning to the road just as soon as he is able to do so.

So with that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Is the China speech still on – tomorrow —

MR PRICE: The Secretary looks forward to delivering the address that was scheduled for tomorrow. Unfortunately, it will not talk place tomorrow, but we’ll find an alternative date just as soon as we can.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On North Korea and South Korea, China: North Korea fired an ICBM yesterday. How will the United States respond to Kim Jong-un’s repeated missile provocations? And I have one other one next.

MR PRICE: Well, I am not sure if I heard you perfectly, but it was a ballistic missile that the North Koreans launched. We condemn that launch. Like the DPRK’s recent tests of at least three intercontinental ballistic missiles, this launch is a clear violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. It demonstrates the fact that North Korea’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, it pose – they pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors. They pose a threat to the region. They pose a threat to peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific.

When it comes to the United States – and we have said this before; we’ve said this in the aftermath of other recent provocations – our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, that commitment is ironclad. We have been and will – we will continue to be in close touch, in close coordination with our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan. And together, we will respond to the provocations that we have seen emanate from the DPRK. This is also something that we will address with our allies and partners in New York. That is work that is ongoing.

QUESTION:  But the – when North Korea launched the missile yesterday, Chinese ambassador to Korean Peninsula, Liu Xiaoming, (inaudible) China has never criticized North Korea.  How can you say about this, that China has never criticized North Korea, so they always say that you better – people are talking – is better way is that they both need to dialogue, but they never have?

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer to what I said earlier, and that is the fact that each of these provocations has been a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. The PRC, of course, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The fact that there are multiple UN Security Council resolutions, the fact that there are multiple statements that have emanated from the UN Security Council chamber itself is a testament to the fact that countries around the world – including the PRC – recognize that the DPRK’s ballistic missile, its nuclear program is a source of instability, it is a source of insecurity, and that it is a threat to the broader region.

We will continue to work very closely with Japan and the ROK on this challenge. But of course, we will work with allies as well as partners around the world. And we, as we’ve recently said, have had recent engagements with our PRC counterparts on the danger that is posed by the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program. Our special envoy, , has had recent engagements; Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in recent months to engage Wang Yi on this issue as well. It is a challenge that we, on every occasion, also do address with our PRC counterparts.

QUESTION: Lastly, as you know, China is ignoring North Korea’s continued missile provocation. There is no reason why South Korea should get approval from China to deploy THAAD for its own defense – THAAD missile. If South Koreans’ incoming government wants to deploy additional THAAD, will the United States consider it?

MR PRICE: Every country has the inherent right to self-defense. As I said before, our commitment to the defense of our treaty allies, the ROK in this case, it is ironclad. These will be discussions that we will have as allies regarding how best we can see to it that our commitment to the defense of the ROK remains ironclad.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that?

MR PRICE: Yep.

QUESTION: So is it your assessment that this was a ballistic missile but not an ICBM?

MR PRICE: It is our assessment that it is a ballistic missile. We’re not in a position to provide any additional detail at this time.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: News out of Iran today said that the Iranian Swedish detainee will be – his sentence is going to be carried out towards the end of this month. He is charged with spying for Israel and is to be executed. Today, apparently, also, the Iranian foreign minister spoke with – and that announcement out of Tehran, news out of Tehran is no coincidence. But yesterday Iran – I mean, the trial of a former officer at the – Tehran’s prosecution office, his trial ended in Stockholm, Sweden for having a hand in the execution of political prisoners in 1988. Given that the U.S. has more experience than other countries with its citizens being held hostage for different reasons and getting different sentences, do other countries reach out to the U.S. to see how to handle situations like this?

MR PRICE: Well, let me first say something about this particular case. It’s one that we’re watching very closely, and we’re watching it very closely because it is especially egregious. It is an egregious case of arbitrary detention of this Swedish Iranian doctor, Ahmad Reza Jalali. He has been held by Iranian authorities. Both this department, the State Department, along with the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, have highlighted Jalali’s case and human reports on human rights conditions in Iran. It was a case that was featured in our Human Rights Report.

We know that, as you alluded to, Iran does have a long history of unjust imprisonment of foreign nationals for use as political leverage. It continues to engage in a range of human rights abuses, which include large-scale arbitrary or unlawful detention of individuals, some of whom have faced torture or worse, in some cases execution, after a failure to receive due process and enduring unjust trials.

These practices are outrageous; we continuously document them. We, to your question, do often consult with our allies and partners. As you know, this is an issue that is quite personal for us as a country. Americans remain detained wrongfully, unjustly in Iran. They have been separated from their families for far too long. But it is not only Americans who suffer this treatment, and of course, countless Iranians do as well, dual nationals do as well. So yes, it is something that we routinely discuss with our closest partners to determine how best we can address this shameful practice of wrongful detention, how best we can work together to seek to affect the safe release of our nationals, and importantly, to work together to seek to create and to underscore a norm against this outrageous practice.

This is something that Secretary Blinken has been quite focused on. Our Canadian counterparts have put forward a series of very constructive, very useful proposals that will help to establish this norm by which countries around the world will work together not only to condemn this egregious practice, but to seek to put an end to it by holding accountable, collectively, those countries that are most responsible for this practice. And of course, Iran, unfortunately, is one of those countries.

Yes. Courtney.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Iran?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just a – do you have a status update on JCPOA compliance negotiations? You’ve spoken before and we’ve talked many times about the window closing, the runway being short. Where are we now?

MR PRICE: Happy to provide an update. You will find that the update is not all that dissimilar from what you heard when this was last asked, I think it was day before yesterday. The fact is, as everyone in this room knows, that we had achieved significant progress in the P5+1 context in Vienna in recent months, but of course we have not been able to close an agreement and it remains uncertain and unclear if we will be able to. We remain engaged with our European partners and we have spoken of the role of Enrique Mora, the helpful role that he has played conveying messages back and forth between the United States and, in this case, Iran.

We remain committed to testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for one reason, and for one reason only: a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, if Iran were to once again submit itself to the permanent, to the verifiable limits and checks imposed on its nuclear program – that would be manifestly in our national interest. Yes, this process has dragged on for much longer than we would like, for far too long, but the fact is that a mutual return to compliance – if Iran were to re‑enter the JCPOA, if we in turn were to re-enter the JCPOA – the result would work to our national security benefit.

That is because ever since 2018, when the last administration left the deal that was working, a deal with which Iran was in compliance, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced in ways that are unacceptable to us. And the net result of those advancements is the fact that Iran has gone from a breakout time – that is to say, the time that it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon should it make the decision to weaponize – has gone from a highwater mark of about a year at the outset of the deal to something that is best now measured in weeks.

And to us, that is unacceptable. And I say that we remain engaged on trying to determine whether a mutual return to compliance is in the offing because a mutual return to compliance would change that dynamic. It would significantly prolong the breakout time. It would change the dynamic. It would reimpose the most stringent verification and monitoring program ever peacefully negotiated on a nuclear program that has not been subject to it for several years now.

So —

QUESTION: Are you not yet at the point of diminishing returns? I’m sorry to cut you off, but we – I mean, we’ve talked about the time running short. We’ve now blown past what seem to be several kind of guideposts for timing on negotiating a (inaudible).

MR PRICE: There seems to be an impression that there was always a dated fixed on the calendar for us, and I’ve seen this reported, but I would just note that it flies in the face of what I have consistently said. We don’t think of this – and I’m sorry to go back to this; I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing it – as a temporal clock. This is a technical clock, and it is a technical clock for one simple reason: what we’re looking at is the technical assessment of the point at which a mutual return to compliance – that is to say, the point at which re-entering the deal would not convey benefits, nonproliferation benefits that outweigh the advancements and the implications of the advancements that Iran has been able to achieve while these nuclear shackles has been off – have been off.

So we are still at a point where, if we were able to negotiate a mutual return to compliance, that breakout time would be prolonged from where it is now. We would have greater transparency. There would be those permanent, verifiable limits reimposed on Iran. That would be in our national security interest.

Now, to your point, it is true that there will come a time when, on the basis of those technical assessments, a mutual return to compliance and the nonproliferation benefits it would convey would not, in fact, outweigh the implications of the advancements that Iran has been able to achieve in its nuclear program.

So we are constantly taking a close look at the state of Iran’s nuclear program, of what it is doing, the implications of those actions, and comparing that to the deal that may still be in the offing. But I should add that because the JCPOA, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, is very much an uncertain proposition, we are now preparing equally for either scenario – a scenario in which we have a mutual return to compliance, in which that breakout time is elongated and a point at which this – what has the potential to devolve further into a nuclear crisis is put back into a box.

We are also preparing with our allies and partners for a scenario in which there is not a JCPOA and we will have to turn to other tactics and other approaches to fulfill what is for us a requirement, a commitment that President Biden has made that Iran, whether there is a JCPAO or whether there is not a JCPAO, must never, never, never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Ned, can you just say – you keep saying there will come a time when it won’t be worthwhile anymore. But you can say definitively right now today that that time has not – there has not been a judgement made that that time has come and gone?

MR PRICE: That time has not come and gone.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Ned, moving on?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Axios has reported today that when the Israeli national security advisor was here and spoke with Jake Sullivan that they – it was agreed that they increase pressure on Iran to finalize this deal and prepare, if it doesn’t happen, for later to push Iran towards this. Can you say anything?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that we regularly have occasion to consult with our Israeli partners on this. I know that Secretary Blinken has recently met with Foreign Minister Lapid. He’s met with him several times in recent months. He’s been on the phone with him several times in recent months. When there were active negotiations in Vienna, we would routinely brief our Israeli partners before each round, during each round, after each round. Secretary Blinken has done that himself to Foreign Minister Lapid. Secretary Blinken has done that himself with Prime Minister Bennett and his predecessor as well. So I’m not going to detail those consultations, but it is regularly a topic of discussion with our Israeli partners.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can we go to Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: The Russians have said that they’re going to again have a ceasefire for three days at the steel plant in Mariupol. Do you see this as – do you see anything positive in this? Do you – are you hopeful that this could actually come to fruition?

MR PRICE: Well, every time an individual is able to take advantage of a humanitarian corridor, a humanitarian pause to reach safety, that is a good thing. What we want to see happen, however, is a prolonged humanitarian corridor, prolonged humanitarian access. What we have consistently seen, and we’ve seen this even in recent days, is the tendency on the part of the Russian Federation to embrace a so‑called humanitarian pause to cloak itself in the guise of an actor that has humanitarian concerns only to quickly and promptly resume shelling and violence, including against civilians who are trapped in besieged areas, including in Mariupol.

Our concern is – and what we want to see happen – is that this humanitarian access be motivated by genuine humanitarian concern and not the desire on the part of the Russian Federation to achieve a PR victory, to claim it has humanitarian concerns when its only concerns is propaganda.

Now, in recent days, there have been over a hundred individuals who have been able to reach safety as far as Zaporizhzhia in recent days. There are still hundreds of people who are trapped in the steel plant. There are still thousands of people who are in the besieged city of Mariupol who have been once again subject to shelling, to violence. People need to be let out. Humanitarian aid needs to be let in. That dynamic needs to last. That’s what we care about.

QUESTION: Ned, just a follow up on that. There have been reports in Ukraine that the Russians are planning a, quote/unquote, “victory parade” in Mariupol for Monday to mark their Victory Day against Nazi Germany. I mean, first of all, is there anything the United States know about that? But is – how would that be seen? What do you think the message would be if that were to —

MR PRICE: Well, I know there’s lots of speculation about what the Russians may or may not do on May 9th, but I can tell you that May 8th and May 9th, it’s not only a day of significance for the Russians. It is a significant day for all of Europe and for the United States too, the anniversary of the defeat of the advance of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. So this is not a day that any single country owns.

But what I can tell you is that on May 8th, on May 9th, our strategy and our approach is going to be the same strategy and the same effective approach that we have employed since February 24th, since the Russian invasion began. That is to support in many different ways our Ukrainian partners, to hold the Kremlin and the Russian Federation to account, and to do that with allies and partners around the world – dozens of allies around the world across four continents.

So I don’t have anything to preview for what they might do, but again, to claim as a victory, to parade through the streets of a city that not all that long ago was filled with hundreds of thousands of civilians, of people who were doing nothing but seeking livelihoods, pursuing their lives – I think that says a lot in the aftermath of a brutalization by Russian bombs, by Russian shells, by Russian artillery. And if that is the focus of any Victory Day parade, any Victory Day celebration, I think that speaks volumes about the nature of the Kremlin and the nature of what they’re doing to the people of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Thank you. President of the European Council Charles Michel said today that the European Union will provide additional military equipment to Moldova to strengthen its resilience. I wonder if the U.S. considers additional military assistance to Moldova and Georgia, and I wonder if you see any imminent threat of new Russian aggression in the region against these countries.

MR PRICE: Both Georgia and Moldova, our – are important partners of the United States. We are committed to their sovereignty, to their independence, to their territorial integrity. We have demonstrated that commitment in a number of ways. When it comes to Moldova, we spoke about this, I believe, on Tuesday. We recently restarted a strategic dialogue with our Moldovan counterparts. Secretary Blinken was recently in Chișinău, where he met with the Moldovan leadership; had an opportunity to meet with Moldovan leadership once again here for that strategic dialogue.

It is a partnership that spans many different elements. We have provided significant amount – a significant amount of humanitarian assistance to our Moldovan partners. Our militaries have an effective partnership. They have served together side by side as far away as Kosovo, and our commitment, as I said before, to the sovereignty, to the independence, to the territorial integrity of Moldova and to Georgia, which we have demonstrated in our own right as well – that is something that we will continue to support.

QUESTION: And any negotiations planned with Georgian side about the latest developments in the region and Russian aggression?

MR PRICE: We’re always in touch through our embassy, through the department here with our partners in the region. That certainly includes with our counterparts in Tbilisi. Those discussions are ongoing. Again, to your previous question, we know that Vladimir Putin may harbor aspirations to wage aggression against other countries in the region. I think we are demonstrating in response to how we are providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need to be effective against this instance, this egregious instance of Russian aggression – we are demonstrating that the United States and our allies and partners won’t stand for that type of activity.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) news network, Pakistan. Sir, last week there was a suicide bomb blast in Pakistan. Due to situation in Afghanistan, we have seen rising terrorism in Pakistan. The security assistance was suspended by previous U.S. administration. It is still suspended. Is there any reviews going on?

MR PRICE: Well, at the time, we strongly condemned the terrorist attack against Karachi University, a university in Pakistan. We reiterate that condemnation today. A terrorist attack anywhere is an affront to humanity everywhere, but for a terrorist attack to take place at a university, or at a religious site, or at some of the locations we’ve seen recently – that is a true affront to mankind.

When it comes to your question, what I’ll say is that we value our bilateral relationship. We want to continue to work together in areas where we do have mutual interests with our Pakistani partners. That includes counterterrorism. That includes border security as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. Sir, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom recommended to include India into their blacklist, like for the religious freedom violations. So what would be the – expecting to see in regards to, like, second time in a row a U.S. commission recommended India to be included into the CPC countries?

MR PRICE: Well, USCIRF is an independent commission. It’s not a governmental entity. It does provide recommendations and guidance to the U.S. Government. It is something that we look at closely as we evaluate conditions of religious freedom or lack thereof around the world. I have no doubt that our experts in our Office of International Religious Freedom will take a close look at the report that USCIRF has submitted as they prepare for our determinations and our findings when it comes to religious freedom around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: And on China, can you give a preview of the China strategy speech?

MR PRICE: I was going to deflect that question and to duck it, pointing to the fact that there would be a speech tomorrow. Unfortunately, there won’t be a speech tomorrow, but there will be a speech at some point in the not too distant future. So I will then duck that question pointing to that date in the not too distant future.

QUESTION: And about Secretary Blinken, did he take an antigen test or a PCR test? It said about taking – took one on Tuesday and also this morning.

MR PRICE: He tested positive earlier this afternoon via PCR test. He had tested negative as recently as earlier this morning, and again yesterday with antigen tests.

QUESTION: Okay, well, let’s just stay on that – and I don’t know how much you covered at the beginning before I was here.

MR PRICE: I think I answered everyone’s questions.

QUESTION: No, on this?

MR PRICE: I’m kidding.

QUESTION: On the COVID? So you say that he’s not considered a close contact with the President.

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: Certainly he’s – correct me if I’m wrong – a close contact with the Swedish foreign minister, who was —

MR PRICE: That’s right.

QUESTION: — here this afternoon, and potentially with the Mexican foreign secretary who was here yesterday and everyone who was at that luncheon. So have they all been informed? And then why, if he tested negative this morning with an antigen test, did he get a PCR test this afternoon? Was it because he was feeling symptomatic (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: So we are in the process and we have notified those individuals with whom he has been in close contact following CDC guidance. So in most cases, if not all cases, we’ve been in a position to notify them. The Secretary, as you know, he has young kids in the house. As you know, he was around a number of people this weekend. So as a matter of precaution, he does regularly test. He reported symptoms this afternoon. He received a PCR test shortly thereafter.

QUESTION: So in other words, he didn’t get the PCR test this afternoon because he was – he was feeling symptoms. He got it just because —

MR PRICE: He reported symptoms this afternoon and thereafter received a PCR test.

QUESTION: So that’s why he took the PCR test?

MR PRICE: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, it wasn’t something that was required since he had been – he had tested negative this —

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, and then – so can you say approximately how many people have been notified that they are close contacts of the Secretary? I mean, does it go back to Saturday night’s dinner? Does it go to whatever events, parties that he went to on Sunday?

MR PRICE: What I will say is —

QUESTION: How far back —

MR PRICE: — that he is he is working closely with the department physician, his physician here at the department. They are working together to follow CDC guidance, to reconstruct close contacts in the appropriate period. And those people either have been notified or are in the process of being notified.

QUESTION: Okay, well, can you just explain to me – according – I guess it’s CDC guidance, but also – and I’ve had personal experience with this as well with a State Department physician. But can you say that the Swedish foreign minister is a close contact? I mean, we saw them standing next to each other —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — but I don’t know if that qualifies for the 15 minutes and – you know.

MR PRICE: I will – I don’t want to divulge —

QUESTION: I know you don’t want to —

MR PRICE: — divulge anyone’s health information. What I will say is that he had a bilateral meeting —

QUESTION: Fair enough, but —

MR PRICE: — with the Swedish foreign minister, and the press aspect of that was only one element of it.

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: So suffice it to say that we are notifying everyone who is considered a close contact per that CDC guidance.

Yes.

QUESTION: The Secretary spoke at the Foreign Press Centers yesterday. You were along with the Secretary.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Have you tested negative? And also any update on informing reporters and Foreign Press Centers staffers?

QUESTION: So if – I believe you were there at the at the Foreign Press Center. The Secretary was not within six feet of reporters. There are CDC guidelines regarding close contacts. As I was explaining to Matt, we are and have notified those individuals who would qualify as close contacts. I was tested just about an hour ago and tested negative.

QUESTION: A couple questions on Ukraine.

QUESTION: So hang on a second, so you were identified as a close contact? I mean, I would hope you were since you’re his spokesman, but —

MR PRICE: What I will say is that I was tested about an hour ago and tested negative.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Ukraine, a couple of questions. Let me start with Hungary, which is pushing back against oil – Russian oil ban. I know you’re not involved in this, but the U.S. did not impose sanctions on Russian oil, but rather decided to go with its own purchase decision. Will Hungary’s pushback, first, affect your relationship with Hungary? Secondly, will maybe cause the U.S. to reconsider its decision on Russian oil ban moving towards the sanctions, which will make Hungary an enabler if they continue to —

MR PRICE: When it comes to the proposed oil ban, it is something we welcome on the part of the EU. I would need to refer you to the European Union for any details. Obviously this is a question that they continue to discuss within their own bloc, within their member states.

There is, however, broad support among our allies and partners for cutting off what is undeniably the strength of President Putin’s economy and his war machine, and that is energy. We are united as a NATO Alliance. We are united with our European allies, including with the EU, on the imperative on cutting back and choking off this important source of revenue for our – for the Russian Federation. We are in regular conversation with our partners and allies about the most effective way to decrease their dependence on Russian energy.

The position the United States is in is different from the position that any member of the EU is in; it is different from the position that any other country around the world is in. The United States, as we have discussed, is in a fortunate position in that we were never reliant on Russian energy, and in fact, we have infrastructure and we have energy supplies in this country that has enabled us to do things earlier that other countries, that other blocs are considering now. And shortly after the start of the invasion, on March 8th, President Biden signed an executive order that banned the import of key sources of Russian energy.

Now, of course, the EU – there are certain countries in the EU who have a higher dependence on Russian energy. Our goal is to see to it that we do everything to choke off these strategic assets, to make it as painful for the Kremlin and to make it as painless for the United States and our partners and allies around the world. But these are conversations that are ongoing within the EU, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of those.

Yes.

QUESTION: One more question on the EU – EU unity, actually – Secretary Blinken and French Foreign Minister Le Drian, last week they had their call, and the readout says that they also discussed intensifying support for both North Macedonia and Albania on their EU accession bids. So can you tell me more in detail what exactly this intensified support means that was mentioned in the readout and how this support is given? Do you have some back-and-forth diplomatic channels with Bulgaria? Did you contact the EU leaders to convince Bulgaria and even put pressure on it to lift its veto for these countries to finally start the negotiation talks with the EU, North Macedonia, and Albania?

MR PRICE: Well, the United States has long been a strong supporter of North Macedonia and Albania’s integration into the EU. We believe the future of the Western Balkans is squarely with the EU. The enlargement process promotes long-term peace, stability, prosperity throughout the region, and the EU’s March 2020 decision to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania we think was a positive step. These two countries have laid the groundwork, and the time, we believe, is now to move forward together to the next phase in the long and challenging accession process.

The historic Prespa Agreement demonstrated that countries in the Western Balkans are capable of doing difficult things, making compromises, and finding solutions, and we’re confident that Bulgaria and North Macedonia will do the same by negotiating their bilateral disputes. We do continue on a bilateral basis to urge both of them, Bulgaria and North Macedonia, to resolve those disputes quickly, but obviously we’re not going to detail those conversations.

Yes.

QUESTION: To go back to Iran. The families of some of the imprisoned Americans joined in a demonstration today outside the White House. Can you give us an update on the status of the indirect talks over the detainees? Are they still happening despite the holdup in the nuclear talks? And will the State Department help facilitate a meeting between the families and President Biden, as they called for today?

MR PRICE: So in terms of the Americans who are detained – wrongfully detained – in Iran, we have made the point that we have no higher priority than the safe return of Americans who are wrongfully or unjustly detained anywhere, and that includes the four Americans who are detained in Iran.

We’ve also made the point that even as there had been a process in Vienna to discuss nuclear issues, that we were not going to conflate these two areas of discussion. And we weren’t going to do those for one simple reason, and I think that simple reason has become even more evident given where we are now in terms of the talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The JCPOA has always been an uncertain proposition. It is very uncertain now, the potential of a mutual return to compliance with it.

We want to see to it that the return of these Americans is a certain proposition. So it does not do us, it certainly does not do these Americans or their families any good to tie their fates to something that may or may not happen. At the same time, we have conveyed in no uncertain terms to the Iranians the priority we attach to seeing the safe release of these Americans. It is something that our team here as worked on constantly. It’s something that we worked on even before the formal process in Vienna began in the spring of 2021.

Yes.

QUESTION: To follow up on the families.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Just – I just want to make sure you get a chance to respond to these families are out there. They gave – were out there this morning, gave a press conference where there was a lot of – obviously a lot of criticism of the administration for, as they see it, not doing enough to get their family members home. Specifically, Alexandra Forseth is the daughter and niece of two of the guys who were part of the CITGO-6 in Venezuela. She says, talking to the other families, they all see this pattern of indecision from the administration in terms of trying to get family members home, talked about running into roadblocks within the administration as they tried to – try to get more action from you guys that would help to get these family members home. Now, how do you respond to these people’s emotional pleas and criticisms like that?

MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to respond directly only because I am not going to be in a position to understand their full anguish and the emotion that is of course attached to having a loved one held unjustly in a faraway place for, in all cases, far too long and, for most of those cases, years at a time. I will never be able to understand that. There are many people in this building who don’t – won’t be able to understand that on a personal level. But what I can say is that we are doing everything we can, almost all of it unseen, almost all of it unsaid in public, to do everything we can to advance the commitment that President Biden has to see these Americans who are wrongfully or unjustly detained around the world or in some cases held hostage around the world brought home.

The President has made a commitment to do that. We have been able to make good on that commitment in a number of cases, including as you alluded to in Venezuela, including in Burma, including in Afghanistan, including in Haiti, including most recently in Russia with the return of Trevor Reed. In all of those cases, we did not detail contemporaneously what it was that we were doing, but we were doing it and we were executing on the President’s commitment. We are executing on the priority that the President attaches to this, that Secretary Blinken attaches to this.

And our special presidential envoy for hostage affairs and his office, Roger Carstens and his office. They have traveled the world, they are ready and willing to go anywhere, to talk to anyone as in some cases – as in many cases they have – in an effort to see these Americans returned to their homes. That is a commitment we have. We will keep executing on that commitment until every single last American is reunited with her or his family.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can you talk some more about the State Department’s process for determining that Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia? And why did that take the amount of time that it did?

MR PRICE: What I can say is that – and as you heard from us yesterday, we have – we have determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. There is – there will be no change, of course, to the fact that we are going to do everything we can to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner, to her family. There’s only so much I can say about the process for determining whether an American is wrongfully detained. It is a deliberative process.

But what I can say is that we weigh the totality of circumstances in every case: whether it’s the case of Brittney Griner, whether it’s the case of Paul Whelan, whether it’s the case of Americans in Iran. There are going to be unique factors in each and every one of those cases. But I would say that the Robert Levinson Act, section 302 of that act, does spell out a number of criteria – 11 criteria that are among the factors that we look at in determining whether an American who is detained overseas is held wrongfully or unjustly.

And you can see for yourself many of those criteria: if there is, for example, an indication of innocence; if the detention is based on being a U.S. national; if it is in violation of the laws of the detaining country; if due process has been sufficiently denied or impaired, and you can go on through that list.

But each case of an American detained overseas is going to be unique, and in each case, we look at the totality of circumstances in that case when it comes to arriving at such a determination.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on their call for White House meetings, the Tices met with President Biden this week. Will the other families have a chance to?

MR PRICE: What I can say – I can only speak for the Department of State, but I can say that Secretary Blinken has frequently had an opportunity to meet and to speak with the families of Americans who are wrongfully detained around the world. As recently within the past couple days he’s had an opportunity to meet face to face with the family of one such American and to speak to the family over the phone of another such American.

We often don’t publicize these, again, because our efforts – we want to see to it that our efforts have the best prospects of being effective. And we’ve found that when we undertake these activities, these discussions quietly, that they are bestowed typically with more effectiveness.

Now, of course, President Biden, Jake Sullivan, others at the White House have also routinely met with the families of hostages. It is important for us to hear their perspective, to hear their inputs. After all, it’s these families who know the details, who know the intricacies of these cases better than anyone. And there was a process put forward in 2015 with a new PPD that called for a more streamlined, more effective process for engaging with the families. That is a commitment that the department and I know this entire administration takes very seriously, knowing that, again, these families are going to be the best advocates, these families are going to be the best experts when it comes to the unique and the totality of circumstances behind each individual case.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, two questions on conflicts, and let me start with Ukraine again. President Zelenskyy said today that we will not go to a frozen conflict. I wonder if it reflects Washington’s viewpoint as well. Can Ukraine rely on State Department’s or Washington’s support when it comes to frozen conflict (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. I missed part of your question. Can Ukraine rely on the United States —

QUESTION: Yeah. The president said that he will not accept frozen – another frozen – we have been there, done that, so that’s not a solution. Does that reflect general sentiment here as well as a potential playout of this —

MR PRICE: The general sentiment here – in fact, the only sentiment here – is that it is up to our Ukrainian partners to determine the endpoint that they want to achieve. It is up to them to determine what they seek to achieve in their discussions with the Russians. It is up to them to determine what it is that is the will of their people. And it is our role to support them in carrying that out. It is our role to support them on the battlefield by providing security assistance. It is our role to support them at the negotiating table by strengthening their hand, including by providing them security assistance, but also holding the Russian Federation to account.

QUESTION: To another conflict as well, chief OSCE monitor Andrzej Kasprzyk was at the State Department this morning. I believe he met with Assistant Secretary Donfried. Have they discussed the Nagorno-Karabaakh issue and/or is the U.S. – the state of U.S. involvement at this point? I know that there are some efforts between Europeans and Washington and probably the – if I’m not mistaken, there have been other meetings this week or next week with Europeans. Am I right?

MR PRICE: Sorry, I missed the last part of your question.

QUESTION: That there have been other meetings between Europeans and Washington either this week or next week, if I’m not mistaken —

MR PRICE: I don’t know if they agreed to an additional meeting or if that was discussed, but we’ll let you know if we have more details to share from that meeting.

We’ll take a couple final questions, yes.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a question on Saudi Arabia on behalf of a colleague, Michele, who had to leave. But The Wall Street Journal says that – has reported that CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to Saudi Arabia in mid-April, and according to this article, one American official has called – has described the trip as better than prior engagements. What’s the status of relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia? Has it gotten worse? Is it the Russia crisis – the crisis that Russia has created? And what will it take to bring back Saudi Arabia in this way and not – and not let it go towards Russia and China?

MR PRICE: Well, I think I would dispute the premise of the second part of your question. Of course, Saudi Arabia has been a longstanding partner of the United States. In many ways that’s a partnership that dates back to 1945, when FDR met with King Abdul Aziz. But fast-forwarding, more recently, you’ve heard from senior American and Saudi officials about the critical importance of the strategic ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and importantly, how we can use that strategic partnership and those strategic ties to deliver for our own people.

For our part, we have pursued the many mutual interests that we have with our Saudi partners. We’ve pursued the many interests that we have within the Gulf region and beyond with Saudi Arabia, just as we have sought to elevate human rights and to put them at the center of our foreign policy, including at the center of our bilateral relationships. And we have – not unrelated to that – engaged in vigorous diplomacy, including with our Saudi partners, to seek to bring an end to the war in Yemen. And I think across the board you have seen the way we have managed this relationship and the way we have – the way we have engaged with this partner deliver results for the United States, for our Saudi partners as well.

Most recently, we supported UN efforts to secure a nationwide two-month truce in Yemen. We – it is something that we were – have been quite encouraged by. It is a testament to the work of the UN special envoy but also to our own Special Envoy Tim Lenderking, who has spent quite a good bit of time in Riyadh and other parts of Saudi Arabia and in other parts of the Gulf to arrive at this two-month truce that, of course, we want to see built upon.

We’re also encouraged by Saudi Arabia’s return of its ambassador to Lebanon at an important moment. And we remain committed to building a partnership with Saudi Arabia that is durable and that is, importantly, sustainable that accounts for the broad range of shared interests that our countries have, whether that is helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory and the 70-some-odd thousand Americans who are resident within the kingdom; whether it is helping to educate tens of thousands of young Saudis who will help to craft and to drive their country’s future; whether it’s partnering on clean energy and renewables; whether it’s addressing human rights or, as I said before, helping to end the war in Yemen.

Our approach to this partnership has been designed to advance the ball on each and every one of those, and the way we measure this partnership is in terms of that effectiveness: what have we been able to achieve? And we’ve been able to achieve a great deal, including in recent weeks.

QUESTION: There is no point of contention, no differences?

MR PRICE: Every relationship is unique, and of course there is no country around the world with whom we share identical perspectives on every single issue. What is important for us is that we manage our relationship in a way that delivers results for our two countries, and I think in the case of Saudi Arabia you’ve been able to see many of those results in recent weeks.

One final question.

QUESTION: Are there any plans to help the Ukrainian refugees that traveled to Mexico and are now in this limbo state because the U.S. is no longer accepting them?

MR PRICE: Well, what I can say is that we have put in place a process so that Ukrainians need not make the journey to Mexico or to any other third country in the region because we do have a pipeline now, a program we are calling Uniting for Ukraine under which Ukrainians can be sponsored directly and under which they can be paroled directly into the United States for two years.

Now, the President has made a commitment to bring to this country 100,000 Ukrainians and others affected by this war. That includes Ukrainians who are internally displaced within their home country, Ukrainians who are now refugees in Europe, but in some cases there will be Ukrainians who are refugees in places closer to the United States. We’re going to adjudicate each of those cases, but again, there is now a program through which Ukrainians have much readier, much easier access to the United States through this sponsorship program. Of course, that’s not the only pathway for arrival here in the United States – the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the Lautenberg Program under those auspices, and then the additional resources we have committed to visa processing – visa processing in the region for Ukrainians seeking to travel to the United States.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 4:42 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – May 2, 2022

2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. As you can see, we have a special guest with us today. It’s always a good day when we have someone here at the podium to – someone else here at the podium to answer your questions. We have with us Dr. Michael Carpenter. He is our ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He will provide some opening remarks and then take a few of your questions, and then we’ll continue on with the press briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Great. Thank you so much, Ned, and good to be with you all. I wanted to spend a little bit of time today talking about some indications we have concerning Russia’s political intentions in Ukraine, particularly in the south and east.

First I want to start out by saying just how inspired we all are by the courage of the Ukrainian people in defending their homes, their neighborhoods, their cities, and indeed their country. We have seen they have repelled attacks, particularly on the northern reached of Kyiv, and pushed Russian troops back across the border. And their heroism at battle has been commendable.

And indeed, they have won the battle of Kyiv and Russia has lost, but that of course has come at a huge cost in terms of both human – the human toll – and also the humanitarian toll. What we are seeing right now is that Russia’s forces are regrouping and refocusing their effort on Ukraine’s south and east, and as we look at Russian planning it is also being refocused on Ukraine’s south and east.

And I want to share with you all something that I spoke about at the OSCE’s Permanent Council recently, which is that we have information that Russia’s initial planning including – included a plan for a forced capitulation of Ukraine’s democratically elected government as well as dissolution of local government structures. And that plan, to the best of our information, included plans not just for a new government in Ukraine but also for a new constitution.

So what I would say is that although Ukraine won the battle of Kyiv, we’re now seeing that Russia’s playbook is being tailored for what it plans to do in the south and east of Ukraine. And so I would highlight for you reports that we have seen of abductions of mayors and other local officials. We have received reports of enforced disappearances of a range of folks to include school directors, journalists, local activists, municipal officials. There have been reports of plans to impose a Russian school curriculum in the south and east. I think you’ve probably seen reports that Russia plans to force the local population to use the ruble. More recently, there have been reports as well that Russian forces have cut off internet and some cellular phone access in these regions in order to disable the flow of reliable information. And then finally, there is this phenomenon of the replacement of local municipal governments with these groups that are loyal to Moscow.

And in addition to this – and this is something that I’d like to highlight – we believe that the Kremlin may try to hold sham referenda to try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy. And this is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook. They organized these sham referenda, as you all know, in Crimea, in Luhansk, in Donetsk, and in other places. And when it calls – what the Kremlin playbook calls for is delegitimizing, as I said, the democratically elected leaders and imposing fake people’s councils essentially made up of the Kremlin’s puppets and proxies. Again, this is something that we’ve seen in the past, and we’re looking very closely to see whether the Kremlin might try to orchestrate something like this in the near future.

So just as Russia engineered these quasi-statelets, the Donetsk “people’s republic” and the Luhansk “people’s republic,” now we believe that the Kremlin may be trying to organize a Kherson “people’s republic” in the Kherson oblast of southern Ukraine.

And here’s something that I also would like to highlight. According to the most recent reports, we believe that Russia will try to annex the Donetsk “people’s republic” and Luhansk “people’s republic,” in quotes, so-called, to Russia. The reports state that Russia has plans to engineer referenda on joining Russia sometime in mid-May, and that Moscow is considering a similar plan for Kherson.

Now, the international community, including the OSCE, where I work as ambassador, has been very clear that such referenda, such sham referenda, fabricated votes, will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory. But we have to act. We have to act with a sense of urgency. And if you’ll allow me, I’ll say a few things that we’re doing at the OSCE in this regard.

We are exposing Russia’s actions, doing it here in Washington at the podium every day, my colleagues are. We’re doing it at the OSCE. We’re doing it in other multilateral fora. We are standing with Ukraine. We are isolating Russia diplomatically, which is the case at the OSCE. We are working to – overtime and leaving no stone unturned to try to get humanitarian assistance to the populations in need across Ukraine. And we’re working, in fact, at the OSCE on the ground to provide some humanitarian relief as well as calling for a humanitarian pause and an end to this monstrous war of choice that Russia has waged on Ukraine.

So that’s what I’ve got, and I’m happy to take a few questions.

MR PRICE: Great, start with a few questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador, speaking of Kherson, you mentioned Russia’s political intentions. We have also seen pictures of how Russian troops are declaring victory and then installing the statues of Lenin. Why are they doing this?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, look, I’m not going to speak to the political mythology that Russian forces are trying to impose on democratic Ukraine. But I think it speaks volumes that we have seen this sort of effort underway. And it jives certainly with the propaganda that we have heard from Moscow.

MR PRICE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you detail how specific are those reports and what is the source? Is this intelligence? And do you have any response planned to react to that, any more sanctions?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So we think the reports are highly credible. For reasons I’m sure you all can appreciate, I won’t get into specific sources and methods. But we have every reason to believe that these reports are highly credible. And I can’t – by the way, I’ll just follow up on that. I cannot speak to whether Russia will be able to execute on its planning, but this is the planning that we are seeing.

MR PRICE: Simon.

QUESTION: There’re some reports that Russia, President Putin might formally declare war with Ukraine. I wonder if you have any sense whether that’s possible and what that might mean for some of these plans. Would that give them any extra ability to conduct the kind of things you’re talking about?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Look, I know there’s speculation that a formal declaration of war would allow Russia to engage in mass mobilization. But I can’t speak to their intentions.

MR PRICE: Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry for being late and forgetting my phone, having to leave. But on the reports that you’re talking about, about Donetsk and Luhansk and annexation, what can the OSCE actually do about this? We’ve already seen Abkhazia, South Ossetia. We’ve already seen Crimea.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, I think as the Secretary – yeah.

QUESTION: You can come out and say, “Oh, well, we oppose this” all you want to. But the reality on the ground is that both those two places – part of Georgia, you would argue – are essentially not part of Georgia. And even though they’re not recognized by anyone other than Nicaragua and Belarus, maybe, what actually can you do?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, part of what we’re trying to do is to expose Russia’s intentions. And as the Secretary said some time ago, unfortunately we have been more right than wrong in exposing what we believe may be coming next. And so that is part of what we are trying to do here, but of course, this all falls into the larger strategy of dealing with Russia’s revanchism and imposing costs and degrading their war machine.

QUESTION: Okay. But then, Crimea – I mean, this is stuff that you don’t have to warn about. It’s stuff that’s already actually happened. And you and others can say we don’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and yet it is, de facto. Right?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: We do not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation —

QUESTION: No, I know you don’t. But —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: — and I would just remind you of the Welles Declaration, which held for many, many decades as a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Baltics.

QUESTION: I get that. But I’m just wondering – the OSCE seems to be completely toothless here. It can’t really do anything.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, the OSCE – that’s a separate question. The OSCE is a consensual organization, but it has engaged – first of all, it has a field presence in Ukraine. The project coordinator’s office does exist inside Ukraine and assists with the disbursement of humanitarian relief. We have invoked something called the Moscow mechanism, which is an accountability tool for documenting human rights abuses, war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity. And we speak out, and we isolate Russia and Belarus diplomatically, as I said at the outset. So we’re going to continue to do that. But the OSCE is not the perfect forum. It doesn’t allow us to accomplish every goal. But we use it to the extent that we can.

MR PRICE: Vivian.

QUESTION: Two questions, Ambassador. Vivian Salama from The Wall Street Journal. On the question if war crimes, I’m wondering what the OSCE’s role has been. And in particular, we’re talking about the southeastern part of the country, where we’re hearing reports about mobile crematorium and other ways that Russia is trying to basically hide some of its tracks – allegedly hide some of its tracks – in terms of what’s been going on there. And so what effort are you making to collect with your – with our allies, partners any kind of evidence and investigate and possibly prosecute down the line in conjunction with the UN and the International Criminal Court, and whether or not that’s being complicated by efforts to hide, cover it up?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the OSCE in early March invoked something that I just referred to called the Moscow mechanism, the U.S. together with 44 other participating states. And as a result of that we were able to deploy a fact-finding team that collected evidence on violations of human rights, on war crimes, and on possible crimes against humanity. That team then released a report a couple of a weeks ago which, in fact, stated unequivocally that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.

Now, I’m not an international lawyer, but my understanding is that those crimes then get prosecuted at the individual level. And so it is now incumbent on that fact-finding team and other similar accountability mechanisms to collect the evidence, preserve the evidence, and then eventually build cases so that everybody at all levels of the chain of command is held accountable.

QUESTION: The other question I wanted to ask you is there’s been discussion about replacing Ukraine’s weapons with sort of NATO-grade weapons, and I’m wondering if OSCE is also kind of working in conjunction with NATO to be able to kind of phase out some of the more Soviet-era weapons and security systems that Ukraine has, to give them sort of a – overall like a post-Soviet arsenal that they can fight this war.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah, this is not something that the OSCE is involved in. The OSCE does have a political-military dimension, but it’s primarily focused on military transparency and confidence- and security-building.

MR PRICE: Said and then Michele.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Ambassador. Quick question – we’ve heard the Secretary of Defense and I believe the Secretary of State talk about we weakened Russia, a weakening Russia. And we’ve – we heard the strategic defeat for Russia. When did that – what will that look like? Is that going to (inaudible)? I have another —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So I believed the Secretary of Defense referred to strategic as the goal, and of degrading Russia’s war machine so that it cannot prosecute this monstrous of a campaign against its neighbors in the future. And that does remain very much part of one of our goals.

MR PRICE: Michele.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up. Do you expect the Russian president on May 9 – a week from today – to make some sort of an announcement that goals have been achieved and victory – much like, let’s say President George W. Bush did, I think 2003?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: I can’t anticipate what President Putin’s going to do on May 9th. I know that so far the military campaign has been an abject failure, and the monstrosity and the barbarity of Russia’s assault is plain for all to see.

MR PRICE: Michele.

QUESTION: Yes. Does the OSCE – you were saying – do they still have monitors in Ukraine? Are they able to document some of these things you’re talking about, the abductions, taking people out of Ukraine and forcing them into Russia? Do you have any sense of the scale of that?

And then secondly, have you seen any indications that the Russians are stirring up trouble in any of these other frozen conflicts where the OSCE does have monitors, whether Transnistria or Nagorno-Karabakh or any of these other frozen conflicts?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah. So on your first question, the OSCE did have a several-hundred-person-strong special monitoring mission in Ukraine that was deployed primarily around the line of contact, and that monitoring mission did exist until a few weeks ago when it was evacuated, at first temporarily, but then Russia vetoed the mandate, essentially, of the SMM or the monitoring mission. And so that mission in now in a wind-down process.

As far as some of the other protracted conflicts on Russia’s periphery, of course, we watch very carefully. There were some unexplained explosions in Transnistria just last week, and we continue to look very carefully. And it is, in fact, part of the OSCE mandate to monitor the security situation in and around Transnistria in Moldova. And of course, we watch Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as well.

MR PRICE: A few more questions. Yes.

QUESTION: As you well know, today Georgia has quite horrible situation in terms (inaudible) violations in the occupied territories of Georgia, and the role of OSCE has always been so important for us. Against in this background, Georgia has repeatedly heard calls about the opening of second front as – and that now might be the time for Georgia to retake the occupied territories by military force. How acceptable do you think are such statements and calls?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: We think that the Georgian Government has behaved very responsibly when it comes to its own territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, and we have, of course, been steadfast supporters of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. At this moment there is an EU monitoring mission on the ground in Georgia, as you’re well aware. And the OSCE also participates in something called incident response and prevention mechanisms on the administrative boundary lines of both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, and so we continue to monitor the situation.

MR PRICE: Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador, when will the United States embassy resume the work in Kyiv? Is it soon as possible?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, the Secretary has said that we intend to go back into Ukraine. I think there’s already temporary visits occurring right now. But on a more permanent basis in the near future, I can’t speak to the time.

MR PRICE: Jenny.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Ambassador. To follow-up on Michele’s question, you’ve spoken to filtration camps in the past. Do you have an estimate of how many Ukrainians have been forcibly moved through these camps? And is there anything the OSCE is doing to try to track – once they are taken out of Ukraine – what happens to these people?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes. So we have exposed this brutal practice, or at least the reports of it. We have information from the Mariupol mayor’s office that there are something like four of these filtration camps in and around Mariupol. I would expect there might be more in the south and east of Ukraine. Of course, this would be in violation of international humanitarian law, and a war crime if people were forcibly being displaced from Ukraine to Russia. So the OSCE’s human rights monitoring mechanism will continue to look at this.

Of course, there’s an issue of access, right? I mean, those – that’s a – an active war zone right now. And so access is limited. But we’re going to continue to look at this, absolutely.

MR PRICE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can you – you spoke a little bit about this when you were asked about – in one of your briefings a couple of weeks ago, but do you have anything more about those reports on children —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Can you repeat? I didn’t hear the first part.

QUESTION: You spoke about this a couple of weeks ago in a briefing that you did. Do you have any more about reports about enforced adoption of children, Ukrainian children, in the context of these filtration camps? And also, you followed up a little bit on the President’s opinion that he believes that Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine. I know this is a long process in terms of a legal process, but you did comment a little bit on, again, what you believed might attribute to genocide. Can you comment at all on the length or the timing of this process?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, so to the first part of your question I would just say that if women and children and elderly and other individuals are being displaced forcibly, as I said earlier, that would be a war crime and it would just be appalling as a completely uncivilized endeavor. And so yes, it needs to be tracked very closely and documentation needs to be done to ensure that there is accountability for such actions in the future. I can’t speak to numbers, I can’t speak to specifics, because the information is at this point quite limited.

And then remind me of the second part of your question? On genocide, yes.

So I think I’ll let my previous comments on this stand. I have nothing to add to that.

MR PRICE: Take a final question?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes.

QUESTION: Is there an indication PRC’s helping Russia on the ground in Ukraine?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: No. I don’t think we have any indications at the current time that the PRC is endeavoring to help Russia with its military campaign in Ukraine. But obviously, we’ll watch.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: All right. I don’t have anything else at the top. Ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Ned. Welcome back from the weekend; hope you had a good one.

MR PRICE: You as well.

QUESTION: Two things really briefly on Ukraine – and I’ve got two other subjects, but I’ll let everyone else finish before. But just don’t forget that I’ve got these two other non-Ukraine-related —

MR PRICE: We will come back to you.

QUESTION: At the end. First of all, on the question that was just asked about the embassy and diplomats going back into Ukraine, are they going in every day? Since – have they been going in every day to Lviv, sorry, since Tuesday? And is there a timeline that you can offer about the reopening of the embassy?

MR PRICE: For just about a week now, our diplomats have been making day trips into Lviv from Poland where they are currently based. It is not every day, but it has been consistent. As some of you may have seen, they were in Lviv today. Our chargé even did some public appearances, did some media appearances as well. But they have been able to take advantage of these sporadic trips into Lviv to meet with their counterparts from the ministry of foreign affairs, to meet with civil society, to meet with other important stakeholders, and they will continue to do that.

Now, of course, we want to ladder up to having a regular presence in Kyiv. Every single day, we’re monitoring the security situation on the ground ot determine when we’ll be able to do that. The only answer I can give you right now as to the question of when is: as soon as possible. I think it is fair to say, as you heard from our chargé today, that that will be within the coming weeks, but it will depend on a regular assessment of the security situation and our ability to operate safely and responsibly from Kyiv.

QUESTION: Right. And as you know, there’s been quite a lot of interest in the idea of Marine guards, would they go to – would there be – or would there be, whether they are the fully dressed and uniformed Marine guard detachment that is at most but not all embassies – when that happens, the “as soon as possible” happens, will – would – they would obviously be going in with security. So how does that fit with the idea that there aren’t going to be any U.S. troops, soldiers on the ground in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: What I can tell you is that our diplomats will return to Kyiv just as soon as it is safe and responsible and appropriate for them to do so. There are obviously details that go into that question of safety and responsible – responsibility in terms of any return to Kyiv. As you know, we don’t comment on our security practices. That will be the case here, but our diplomats will be back on the ground in Kyiv just as – as it is safe for them to do so.

QUESTION: On the second one, and I’m just – I’m wondering if you – you’re not directly involved in this, but I’m sure you have seen the comments that Foreign Minister Lavrov made in an interview with Italian media about anti-Semitism. I’m wondering if you have any comments on that.

MR PRICE: We, of course, have seen those despicable comments. We also saw a number of responses from other world leaders. The one that stuck out to me, stuck out to many of us here, was the response from Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid. He is, of course, someone who speaks with a great deal of authority on these matters. It would be impossible to improve upon the response that he offered. As he said, the foreign minister’s “remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error.” He went on to note that “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”

This statement from Foreign Minister Lavrov – it was the lowest form of racism, it was the lowest form of propaganda, it was the lowest form of insidious lies. And I think with it and other not only statements but conduct from the Kremlin, its top officials, its personnel – including its personnel in Ukraine – the Kremlin is consistently proving that there is no floor when it comes to just how low they can stoop. And this, I think, is just the latest example of that.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Ned, to follow up on the answer I got regarding the strategic defeat, now, unless I misunderstood what the ambassador said – but it dealt with degrading, I guess, Russia’s capability of making arms and so on like this, depleting their weapons. Is that – something akin to that? But Russia makes its own weapons. I mean, they seem to have, like, an endless source of weapons and so on if they choose to.

MR PRICE: So coming back to your question and to the answer that the ambassador gave, he accurately noted – and I think I’ve said this before – but I have been surprised at the level of surprise that we’ve heard in response to Secretary Austin’s comment. But as the ambassador noted, what Secretary Austin was referring to was a strategic failure on the part of the Kremlin and the Russians here. And we are two months into the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine. I think it is clear to everyone, or it should be clear to everyone who is looking at this impartially, the elements of the strategic failure that has already come to pass.

Moscow had several objectives in mind when it went into Ukraine on February 24th. It sought to subjugate Ukraine, to enhance Russian power, to divide the West. On each of those fronts, you have seen Moscow fail in its objectives. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated that Moscow will not be able to take Ukraine by force; that Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence will outlast this military objective. You have seen that rather than enhance Russian power, Russia’s power in the region and beyond is significantly diluted, and it is diluted because of something you referred to, Said. Those are the export controls but also the economic sanctions that we have placed on Moscow. It’s diluted because of the diplomatic isolation, the pariah status that President Putin’s war campaign in Ukraine has bestowed upon him.

To your specific question, yes, Moscow does have a defense industry. It is a defense industry that is not wholly self-reliant. It is reliant on key inputs and products from the international community, including from the West. That is precisely what our export controls are designed to choke off. Because of that, Moscow’s high tech, its defense sectors, its aerospace sector, its energy exploration sector – a number of strategic sectors that Moscow would need for its regional and ambitions beyond the region – have been and are being starved.

And as I said before, Russia is now a pariah. It is a pariah in terms of the response we’ve seen from the international community. You look at any number of votes at the UN, for example, we’re 141 countries, the vast majority of the world – world’s countries have come together to condemn President Putin’s behavior, to what we’re seeing from countries around the world, many of whom have relationships with Russia. And just today, made mention of the response that we’ve heard from Foreign Minister Lapid regarding what Foreign Minister Lavrov had to say.

So this is a strategic failure for Moscow. The ingredients of that are already evident. Every day we’re seeing more evidence of it. And the strategy we have will be to continue to empower our Ukrainian partners – to empower them with security assistance, to support their economic needs, to support the humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people – just as we continue to apply significant and really unprecedented amounts of pressure on Russia in terms of our sanctions, in terms of our export controls, in terms of the diplomatic isolation that we in turn are applying with, again, dozens of countries around the world.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on North Korea, Russia, and China. Regarding Russia, North Koreans support Russia’s war in Ukraine. If North Korea and China engaged in military cooperation with Russia, the war is sure to escalate. What kind of efforts is the United States pursuing to prevent China and North Korea from cooperating with Russia? And I have a follow-up —

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, that is obviously a hypothetical at this point. You just asked – one of your colleagues just asked Ambassador Carpenter about any support that we are seeing the PRC provide to Russia’s war effort. As we said a number of weeks ago, we had indications that Russia was seeking that support. In response, we made very clear that we would watch closely any reaction from the PRC. If in fact the PRC aided Russia’s war effort in any way – with weapons helping it to offset in a systemic way the losses it is enduring from the response of the international community – that there would be strong consequences from not only the United States, but from our allies and partners around the world.

As the ambassador just made clear again, we have in fact been watching closely, and we have not detected any shift, but any shift would incur those consequences.

QUESTION: Second question: Recently Russian President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared the use of nuclear weapons. How would you analyze the impact of this on the Korean Peninsula? And does the United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear power state?

MR PRICE: Well, of course we’re concerned about the rhetoric that has emerged from some corners of the Russian Federation. The loose talk of the use of any weapon of mass destruction, it is the height of irresponsibility. Russia as a nuclear power has a solemn obligation to act responsibly. Russia as early as – as recently, I should say, as this year, again, reaffirmed a maxim that’s been around since the days of the Cold War by underscoring what we heard from UN Security Council: that a nuclear war must never be fought and cannot be won. That’s something that Russia affirmed, has affirmed consistently over the course of decades. It was affirmed after President Biden’s summit, meeting with President Putin in June of last year. The UN Security Council put it out again this year. Now, we have seen contradictory statements. We have heard other Russian officials downplay any potential use of weapons of mass destruction. Regardless, it is, as I said before, the height of irresponsibility for anyone to engage in such loose talk, but especially coming from a nuclear power like Russia.

It is dangerous not only in the context of Ukraine, but it is also dangerous for the diluting effect that such talk could have on the global nonprolifation norm. It is our goal, along with other responsible nuclear powers and a broader set of stakeholders, to see to it that the nonproliferation norm, including those norms that are enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are instead protected, that they are fortified. And that’s why we’re speaking out very clearly in response to these reckless comments from the Russians.

Yes, Francesco.

QUESTION: Following up on Simon’s questions on May 9, do you have anything to add on your assessment on whether Russia may or may not declare formally war and what that would mean for Ukraine and for its partners? And more broadly, what are your expectations or concerns on what may be said or happen on that day?

MR PRICE: Again, we are not going to preview what the Russians may seek to do on the so-called Victory Day on May 9th.

QUESTION: You previewed what they’re going to do everywhere else. Since December you’ve been previewing —

MR PRICE: Well, I appreciate you acknowledging that now, but –

QUESTION: Well, no. I’m not saying that your previews were always correct, but I’m saying that you’ve been – you’ve made no – you haven’t been shy about previewing –

MR PRICE: If we have something specific to share, we will. What I can say is that I think everyone, including, I assume, many of you in this room, have good reason to believe that the Russians will do everything they can to use the date in terms of their propaganda effort. We’ve seen the Russians really double down on their propaganda efforts, probably – almost certainly – as a means to distract from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine, the strategic failure that we’ve seen this military campaign result in in terms of Russia’s economy, its standing in the international community, its position on the world stage.

And so I think it is safe to assume that that will continue. I’ve seen the speculation that Russia may formally declare war. I suppose I would add that that would be a great irony if Moscow used the occasion of Victory Day to declare war, which in itself would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they’re not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives. But I am quite confident that we’ll be hearing more from Moscow in the leadup to May 9th. I am quite confident you’ll be hearing more from the United States, from our partners, including our NATO partners, in the leadup to May 9th as well.

Yes, Vivian.

QUESTION: Ned, two questions, please. Despite the limited visibility that we have in Mariupol, especially at the steel plant, do you have any indication that Russia will allow more civilians to be evacuated? And also, is the U.S. working behind the scenes at all to facilitate some of those negotiations along with – I know the UN is taking the lead. That’s my first question. I have another one on Moldova.

MR PRICE: Well, we do welcome the reports that have emerged in recent hours that some civilians have been able to evacuate Mariupol, and we encourage continued efforts to allow civilians to depart Mariupol and other cities under siege. We are in communication with the international humanitarian organizations involved in this effort. We will remain in close coordination and communication with them. We will do that because we know that humanitarian corridors are absolutely critical to evacuating citizens and providing urgently needed humanitarian aid. That includes food. It includes medicine. It includes water and other needed supplies, needed by those who are besieged, who are at this very moment seeking to escape harm’s way.

People need to be let out. Humanitarian supplies need to be let in. We want to make sure that the limited humanitarian access we’ve seen in recent hours is not fleeting. Doing so would demonstrate that there may be a genuine humanitarian intent behind this evacuation and not just another craven attempt on the part of the Kremlin to change the narrative to achieve a PR victory. We want this humanitarian access to be sustained, to be sustained until everyone who is trapped in Mariupol, everyone who is trapped in other cities that are under siege because of this Russian assault, is able to flee to safety.

QUESTION: The second one on Moldova, really quickly. You did address it about 10 days ago. The situation there hasn’t quite stabilized yet. At what point is U.S. aid and also those renewed relations that we now – or the engagements that we now have with the Moldovan Government at risk if the situation continues as is?

MR PRICE: Well, our relationship with the Moldovan Government is not at risk. And I think, if anything, you have seen us redouble our partnership with Chişinău in recent weeks. As you know, Secretary Blinken was there just a few weeks ago. We had an excellent set of bilateral meetings with his counterpart as well as with the Moldovan leadership. We restarted our strategic dialogue with Moldova just last month – it was the first time in several years that we had held a meeting of our – of this strategic dialogue – precisely because of the urgency of this moment, of the imperative of demonstrating our commitment to the government, to the people of Moldova, to its sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity and its constitutionally enshrined neutrality as well.

Over the course of our relationship with Moldova, independent Moldova, the United States has supported the Moldovan people with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support. In recent weeks alone, we have provided tens of millions of additional dollars in humanitarian assistance. Moldova has opened its doors to those fleeing violence across the border in Ukraine; it has done so generously. And the United States will continue to stand by the people and Government of Moldova as it does so.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I change topics?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Let’s take a couple more questions. Jenny.

QUESTION: Okay. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation this weekend to Kyiv. Did any embassy officials or Diplomatic Security agents accompany this congressional delegation on that trip?

MR PRICE: Well, let me just say generally about the speaker’s visit, it sends a clear message that the United States stands with Ukraine. It underscores the strong bipartisan commitment of the American people to supporting the brave people of Ukraine who are standing up the Kremlin’s brutality.

This delegation underscored that we will continue to work with our allies and partners to maintain support for Ukraine and to do everything we can, as I was saying before, to put pressure on Russia, to strengthen Ukraine’s position at the – on the battlefield, and to ensure that Ukraine emerges victorious.

We were in close coordination with the speaker and her office in advance of this visit. Of course, I’m not going to comment on security arrangements, but anytime the individual who is third in line to the presidency travels into a place like Ukraine going into Kyiv, of course security is of paramount importance to us.

Yes, one more.

QUESTION: Russia? Yeah. Russia’s spy plane reportedly violated airspaces of Denmark and Sweden over the weekend. I wonder if you have any reaction given the fact that Denmark is a member of NATO. And one more question on this: another part of the war going on, which is on cyberspace. Over the weekend, we heard the DDoS attacks against Romania and Moldova. Any reaction from the State Department?

MR PRICE: So on the first I would refer you to the Department of Defense. I’m aware there have been a number of routine intercepts of Russian aircraft, but the Department of Defense would be able to provide more of a comment on that.

I don’t have anything specific to offer in terms of reported DDoS attacks against our partners in Europe. We do know, however, that Moscow’s playbook is quite long. Cyber attacks are certainly part of that playbook. We know that they have used these tactics against countries in the region. We spoke openly of cyber attacks against Ukraine in the hours and the days leading up to the start of the invasion, including DDoS attacks against Ukrainian systems. So it’s something we continue to watch very closely.

Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Back with me on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Last week Matt asked you about the new Israeli rules on foreigners visiting West Bank, which is – which stirred quite an outrage and restricts the Palestinians mainly – schools, colleges, and so on. If you have any position on that.

MR PRICE: We’re aware of the new procedures for foreigners to enter and reside in the West Bank that were recently published by Israel’s COGAT and they’re due to go into effect, as we understand. We continue to study them. We are engaging with Israeli counterparts to understand their applications and any implications of them.

QUESTION: But they go into effect on the 22nd of this month. So you’re still studying them?

QUESTION: Does that mean —

MR PRICE: We are still studying them. Correct.

QUESTION: The exact same answer I got —

MR PRICE: You were —

QUESTION: — offline last week. So really, there hasn’t been, like, since – I think I asked on Wednesday, maybe Thursday.

QUESTION: It was on Tuesday.

QUESTION: So really, there hasn’t been any more deep dive into what this actually means?

MR PRICE: You asked less than a week ago. They are due to go into effect. We are taking a close look at them.

QUESTION: But you’re taking since February.

MR PRICE: And we will —

QUESTION: You guys have been aware of them for over a month.

MR PRICE: We will – if we have – if —

QUESTION: There has been serious concern about this, as particularly as it relates to Israel’s application or attempts to get into the Visa Waiver Program —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: — because people who have —

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: — actually looked at —

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: Let me finish. People who have actually read it are concerned that this will give the Israelis a way to deny entry to Palestinian Americans before they actually present themselves in Israel – in other words, that they have to apply here to the embassy and the embassy can turn them down, and that under some kind of technicality that the Israelis could then say they haven’t actually been denied entry because they never actually got to Israel to present themselves in person. So that’s the specific question.

Now, please try to get an answer to what it is that you guys think about this.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: And on a tangential issue —

MR PRICE: Do you want me to speak to the Visa Waiver Program or do you want to go on with your soliloquy?

QUESTION: Well, yes. Yeah, you go ahead – you go ahead —

MR PRICE: When it comes to the Visa Waiver Program, we continue to work with our Israeli partners and with our Israeli counterparts towards fulfilling the program requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals upon arrival. As you know, this is something that we work with the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary of State, along with his Homeland Security counterpart, will have authority over this, and we’re continuing to work closely with our Israeli partners on it.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s also the exact same answer I got last week, which was more than five days ago, so —

MR PRICE: And I imagine that will be the answer until there’s a – potentially a different answer.

QUESTION: Well, you know what, if I don’t do a quote/unquote “soliloquy,” I’m never going to get an answer to this question, at least not one on camera, on the record.

Anyway, tangentially to this issue – and Said has been asking about this – but these six human rights groups that were declared terrorist organizations. So two members – two senior members – of two of these groups have been denied exit from Israel, one of whom is an American citizen. The other one has a valid U.S. visa. They were trying to get to Mexico for a meeting of the World Social Forum, which I imagine that you might be aware of, but they can’t get out. Now, I know that you don’t – you probably won’t have a lot to say about a U.S. visa holder because they’re not an American citizen, but there is one American citizen, and I’m just wondering – this is Sahar Francis. Do you have anything to say about the Israelis (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: You’re right, Matt, we don’t. As you know, visa records are confidential, so we’re not in a position to comment on any individual visa holders. As we discussed with Said last week, we have made clear to our Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority counterparts that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank, in Israel must be able to continue their important work. We value the monitoring of human rights violations and abuses that these types of independent NGOs undertake in places like Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel, and elsewhere around the world, and we strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsive and responsible governance and democratic governance. And so that’s why it’s important that we continue to monitor those conditions, and we absolutely will with the help of our partners in civil society.

QUESTION: Okay. And on – then on the – on the actual – on the U.S. citizen, the U.S. passport holder, Ubai Aboudi, the executive director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development?

MR PRICE: Again, Matt, as you know, we’re not in a position to speak from the podium to actions as it relates to a particular American citizen.

QUESTION: Well, how about just denying American citizens the ability to leave? I mean, it’s one thing to not allow them in. It’s another to not let them leave, isn’t it?

MR PRICE: Matt, I can’t speak to a specific American citizen in this case.

Said.

QUESTION: Well, just to remind you that this actually – it’s people like us, like myself, like my brothers and so on, that go in and they are asked as they enter whether they own property, where they own their property, where they go and so on. Awful stuff. These are good, solid, taxpaying citizens of this country.

I have another question for you on the king of Jordan. He is on a private visit to the United States. Will there be any meeting by the – with the Secretary of State on the issues that are ongoing, whether on Al-Aqsa Mosque —

MR PRICE: Typically when world leaders travel here on private visits, we don’t speak to the schedule. Typically if it is a private visit, there won’t be any interaction. I don’t have any meetings to preview.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Ned, do you have any comment on The New York Times story on the death of the Egyptian economist Ayman Hadhoud?

MR PRICE: We are deeply disturbed by reports surrounding the death in custody of Egyptian researcher Ayman Hadhoud and allegations of his torture while in detention. The circumstances of his detention, his treatment, of his death we think require a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation without delay. We have made clear with – including with our Egyptian partners that human rights are a priority. We have urged the Egyptian Government to make progress on protecting human rights in virtually every session, whether it’s over the phone, whether it’s face to face.

We have raised the issue of human rights. We raise the issue broadly. We also raise specific cases, and just as we express our disturbance when there are significant and shocking setbacks, as in this case, we also do welcome when there are positive steps, and we do welcome reports of Egypt’s release last week and over the weekend of dozens of political detainees and journalists. We strongly support additional releases and pardons. As we know, as we’ve said before, that progress on human rights, it will lead to progress in our bilateral relationship. That is true in the case of Egypt; it is true in every bilateral relationship we have.

QUESTION: And one more on Iran. Reuters has quoted Western officials saying that they have largely lost hope the Iran nuclear deal can be resurrected. Do you share the same assessment?

MR PRICE: It continues to be the case that we believe a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in our national security interests. It is in our national security interest primarily because it would reimpose the permanent, the verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program. It would put a box back on Iran’s nuclear program, a program that has been in many ways unshackled since 2018 and a program that has galloped forward in ways that are unacceptable to us, they are unacceptable to our partners around the world, and it is something that we seek to change.

We will continue to forge ahead with efforts, with dialogue via the – via our partners, including the European Union, to seek to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as we determine that a mutual return to compliance would be in our interests. Again, at this point, it would still be in our interests. If and when we reached the point where the nonproliferation benefits of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would not overcome the progress that Iran has achieved in its nuclear program in the past three or so years, that’s when we’ll reassess and pursue an alternative course.

QUESTION: There’s reporting that Enrique Mora is offering to go to Tehran to break that deadlock, and Iran has not responded. Do you have any more detail you can provide on that?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to Mr. Mora’s office, but we are in close contact with him, the EU coordinator. We – he does continue to convey messages back and forth. We do support his efforts to bring these negotiations to a conclusion.

Yes.

QUESTION: President Biden confirmed to CBS today that Austin Tice’s parents are meeting with the President. Does this signify any change or update in his case, or – and/or is it because Debra Tice was recognized at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? And can you give us an update on the assessment of his case?

MR PRICE: It’s a testament to the fact that the case of Austin Tice, who has spent nearly a quarter of his life in detention – he celebrated his 40th birthday this past year. This August he will mark a solemn occasion of his 10th anniversary in custody. It is a testament to the fact that achieving a successful resolution to this case, reuniting Austin with his family, with his parents, Debra and Marc, that is a priority of ours. It has been a priority of ours.

There is no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens who are detained around the world. And of course, the case of Austin Tice is one that has attracted, with good reason, the focus, the attention of the world. He is someone who traveled the world, including into Syria, to do nothing more than to spread reporting, to spread the truth. And he has been in detention, he has been away from his family for far too long. We’re doing everything we can to see that come to a successful conclusion.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Will the Tices meet with Secretary Blinken or Roger Carstens or anyone at the State Department?

MR PRICE: The State Department is regularly in touch with the Tices. We do have, through our SPEHA office, regular contact with them. The Secretary has had an occasion to meet them, including quite recently had an opportunity to sit down Debra Tice.

QUESTION: Another follow-up on that.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: We know that the prisoner exchange that resulted in the freedom of Trevor Reed came after months of intense talks. Obviously the diplomatic relationship with Syria is a bit different. Can the Tice family hope for a similar happy outcome given that – circumstances?

MR PRICE: As we were – the point – I made a couple points in response to the release of Trevor Reed. One is that you didn’t hear us share the details of those consultations before he was released. We do believe that we can best and most effectively achieve potentially successful outcomes if we do have space to conduct private conversations.

A second point: We of course don’t have, I would say, normal – fully normal relations with Moscow at this time, and yet we were able to have a discreet, focused set of discussions regarding the effort to free Trevor Reed that ultimately were successful. When it comes to our efforts to free Americans, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, he will go anywhere, he will talk to anyone if it means that we’re able to come home with an American, to reunite that American with her or his family. That is true in the case of Austin Tice. It is true in the case of Paul Whelan. It is true in the case of the Americans who are detained in Iran and Americans who are detained around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, on press freedom, the U.S. Government assessed that the Russian intelligence was behind the recent attack against Nobel Peace Prize laureate – actual winner, Muratov. Ahead of the Press Freedom Day, I want to give you a chance to put that into context in terms of the state of press freedom in Russia.

And secondly, to South Caucasus, there was a Memorandum of Understanding signed today between the U.S. and Armenia. Can you talk about the significance of nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and the South Caucasus countries?

And also, I’ve seen several MOUs between the U.S, Poland, and several other countries. What is the process behind that, and who approached whom in terms of the —

MR PRICE: The process behind what?

QUESTION: The signature of – signing this Memorandum of Understanding.

MR PRICE: Got it.

QUESTION: Or is it – the process behind that. Thank you.

MR PRICE: So as you alluded to, there was a bilateral meeting today between the Secretary and his Armenian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mirzoyan, here at the Department of State. This will launch the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue. We will have a readout of this session later today. But what I can tell you now is that the Secretary committed to further strengthening bilateral relations in line with our shared democratic values and continuing cooperation on Armenia’s reform agenda.

During the meeting, as you alluded to, the Secretary and his foreign minister counterpart, they did sign a nuclear cooperation Memorandum of Understanding, paving the way for increased cooperation on civil nuclear matters as Armenia looks to diversify its energy supply. They also discussed Armenia’s progress in implementing democratic rule of law and anti-corruption reforms as well as a broader dialogue about relations between Armenia and its neighbors.

This will lead into tomorrow’s Strategic Dialogue. That Strategic Dialogue will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Armenian diplomatic relations. It underscores our shared commitment to strengthening bilateral ties and a bilateral relationship that is both broad and deep and that will be broader and deeper at the conclusion of this Strategic Dialogue.

When it comes to press freedom in Russia – and you’ll hear more from us tomorrow, we’re currently on the eve of World Press Freedom Day and so I do expect you will hear from Secretary Blinken tomorrow on World Press Freedom Day – but it is difficult to identify a country where we have seen more setbacks, more destruction to the principle of press freedom and freedom of information than in Russia over the past year, and especially in Russia over the past few weeks as the Kremlin has seemingly gone into overdrive in its efforts to hide from its own people the toll of this war, the opposition to this war, the fact that this war is not going to – according to plan, or at least not going to the plan that the Kremlin put forward.

We have seen journalists thrown in jail. We have seen journalists intimidated. We have seen news outlets in Russia be shut down. We have seen news outlets in Russia be essentially forced to close. And on top of that, we have seen the toll of Russia’s assault on Ukraine; of course, principally, in the first instance, on the Ukrainian people. But journalists, reporters have also paid the price. And just late last week, of course, we lost a journalist with RFL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who was killed in a Russian strike on a residential apartment building outside of Kyiv. She, of course, was not the first journalist to have lost her life in this conflict. Many more journalists have been injured. A journalist who should be in this briefing room right here today was injured as a result of Russia’s aggression as well. So this is something we’ll be speaking to in more detail tomorrow, I can assure you.

Final question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) because I’ve got – I have one more.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right. Let me go there and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to follow up on the report about Mora reaching out to Tehran. The Wall Street Journal report also says that Western diplomats have said that if Iran comes back with a demand for a U.S. concession or another issue, Washington would be willing to consider it. It sounds like there is a message here from Washington to Mora to take to Tehran if he goes. And is there any more room for concession to Iran? And what other possible issues within the framework of the JCPOA would Washington be willing to talk about?

MR PRICE: I think there was a slight misimpression, at least in the way it was conveyed. But what we have said is that, one, we’re not going to negotiate in public. At the same time, we have made clear that we are focused on the JCPOA, on the nuclear agreement. If Iran wants to seek – wants to put issues on the table that are outside the confines of the JCPOA, Iran will of course have to be in a position to make concessions on those issues. That’s just the very nature of any negotiation.

But what we are focused on is the JCPOA, testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance. We’ll continue down that path as long as we deem that a potential return to compliance would be in our interest.

Yes.

QUESTION: I asked Jalina about this on Friday. She said she was just learning of it in real time, which is fair enough, so she didn’t have an answer. But this has to do with the situation in Nepal – happened on Friday – with the assault of at least one, possibly two or three U.S. embassy staff who were trying to help a father and a daughter in a child abduction case. What can you tell me about that? Because I understand that the embassy has filed a formal complaint with the Nepalese home ministry about this.

MR PRICE: Well, Jalina spoke on Friday to the child custody case —

QUESTION: No, she said she was aware of it. I’m not actually asking about that right now. I’m asking about an assault on U.S. personnel.

MR PRICE: We’ve been in touch with our posts in Nepal. There’s nothing that we can share publicly on any alleged assault. But when it comes to this case, we’re aware of reports of alleged child abduction in Nepal involving U.S. citizens. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance, as we do in these cases. Our highest priority is the welfare of our citizens overseas, and we recognize that international child custody cases are by their very nature complex, they’re difficult. But we’re committed to doing all we can to resolving these challenging cases.

MR PRICE: Ned, that’s exactly what she said to me on Friday. Are you telling me that since Friday, you guys haven’t found anything else out? And why are you calling it an alleged assault? There’s video of this assault that’s out there on the internet.

MR PRICE: Matt, I am conveying to you what has been conveyed to us from our team.

QUESTION: Okay, well, can I just make – then can you retry? Because I’d like to find out, especially if there were serious injuries to American personnel in this. And then secondly, do you have anything – on the case itself, what are you guys doing to help?

MR PRICE: Matt, you’ve asked —

QUESTION: There was a court order again this morning in Chicago – judge issued a restraining order on this. So what are you doing?

MR PRICE: You —

QUESTION: And – okay, go ahead.

MR PRICE: You’ve asked a number of questions today about what we’re doing the cases of specific Americans. We’re obviously limited in what we can say in the – in terms of the specifics, especially from here, but it is our —

QUESTION: Because of why?

MR PRICE: Because of privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Okay. So here is the Privacy Act waiver that they have signed. All right? And I’m happy to provide this to you, but I know that you – I know that you have it. So let’s not go through this song and dance, okay? Well, most of the time when I complain about this, I don’t actually have the document, but now I do.

So I would like to get a straight answer about what you guys are doing, and also while – and also find out what exactly happened to U.S. embassy personnel who were assaulted, which is – you can see online – while they were attempting to assist in this case. Thank you.

MR PRICE: We’re in touch with the embassy today. It was conveyed to us that there’s nothing additional we can share publicly at this time. If that changes, if —

QUESTION: Does that mean that the privacy – oh wait, are you talking about the assault or are you taking about the case?

MR PRICE: I am talking —

QUESTION: Because if you’re just going to say – because I have the Privacy Act waiver right here signed. And if you’re going to say, well, that doesn’t matter, well, then – then what does the Privacy Act Waiver mean? You guys can just keep anything secret.

MR PRICE: I’m not saying that. I was referring to the to the alleged assault.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PRICE: Said, final question.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. Final question. Can you clarify for us Sahar Francis is not disallowed from entering the United States of America?

MR PRICE: Again —

QUESTION: Is she allowed or not allowed re-entry into the United States?

MR PRICE: Visa records are private and confidential. There’s nothing I can say from here on the specifics of any particular visa record.

Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – April 29, 2022

MS PORTER: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining today’s press briefing. I just have two updates at the top, and then I will start with taking your questions.

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC. For a quarter century, the United States has worked with its allies and partners to help rid the world of chemical weapons and also deter their use by anyone, anywhere, and under any circumstances.

In recent years the world has witnessed chemical weapons use that challenges the CWC’s core prohibitions: by the Assad regime and ISIS in Syria; by Russian Government operatives against the Skripals in the UK and Aleksey Navalny in Russia; and by the DPRK against Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia.

Syria remains in non-compliance with the CWC, and we will continue to work to hold the Assad regime accountable for its repeated use of chemical weapons against its own people.

We will also continue our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable for its non-compliance with the CWC, repeated use of chemical weapons, and ongoing efforts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its chemical weapons use. Furthermore, we will continue to closely monitor for the possible use of chemical munitions by Russian forces in Ukraine.

On this anniversary we renew our commitment to upholding the CWC, and also note the convention’s important role in contributing to U.S. national security.

And I’ll take a point of personal privilege to just acknowledge our State Department reporter colleague, Conor Finnegan of ABC. Conor, if you’re on, or even if you aren’t, I hope you get this message. We know this is your last day. I just want to take a moment to say thank you for all of your contributions, for your insightful and fair and consistent reporting. We certainly will miss you here, and wish you the very best on your next chapter.

Let’s start with Cindy Saine.

QUESTION: Could you please confirm a report that American citizen and former U.S. Marine Willy Joseph Cancel was killed in Ukraine, fighting along Ukrainian forces? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Cindy. Well, we are aware of these reports, and certainly stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the family. However, out of respect to the family during this very difficult time, we don’t have anything further to announce.

We also do want to reiterate that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine during this active armed conflict. It is a very dangerous situation – and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian Government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately, if it is safe to do so using commercial or privately available ground transportation options.

Let’s go to Matt Lee, please.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, Matt. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hey. Okay. I got two things, both brief. Yesterday, the Secretary when he was on the Hill was asked about this Chinese memory chip company, YMTC, and whether it is violating laws that provide the – laws against providing technology to Huawei and others. He did not have an answer. I’m wondering if you guys have looked into it and do have an answer now and, if you do, what that is.

And the second thing is are you aware of an incident in Nepal recently, where you – in relation to a custody – child custody case. U.S. Embassy guards or officials were assaulted. I believe this happened on the 16th. Anyway, are you – this involves a child who was apparently abducted to Nepal by one of her parents. And anyway, I know that you probably won’t be able to talk about that because of privacy, but I want to know if you have anything on the assault on embassy officials. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks. I’ll start with your second question. So the State Department is aware of reports of an alleged child abduction case in Nepal involving a U.S. citizen, and we are providing all appropriate consular assistance.

To your point on assaults on staff, I am just now learning about that in real time, so I don’t have anything to offer. But what I will say is what we continue to underscore from here, that one of the department’s highest priorities is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas, and we also recognize that international parental child abduction cases are, by nature, extremely difficult. They’re also extremely complex, and we’re committed to doing everything that we can to assist in resolving these challenging cases.

To your first question, we don’t have anything to offer, but we’re certainly happy to take that back to the team and get you any updates as soon as possible.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. I hope you can hear me.

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Laura.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Have any State Department officials met with Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili while she’s here in Washington? And is the State Department concerned that Russian threats to Georgia pose a risk to the U.S. interests in the region? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. I don’t have any meetings to read out at this time, but what I can say from here on Georgia: from the beginning, the American people have stood in solidarity with the people of Georgia and their desire to be a free and sovereign country. Over the years we’ve also developed into strategic partners working together towards our shared vision of Georgia fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations, and as a part of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Let’s go over to Conor Finnegan, please.

QUESTION: Jalina, thank you for your generous words. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this press corps.

Two questions for you. First, Secretary Blinken said yesterday, I think, during – or maybe on Tuesday, during his Senate testimony, that the upside for Afghan women is that the country has become relatively safer and more stable. We’ve seen yet another bombing in Kabul today. I’m wondering if you have any response to that bombing, and whether or not he stands by that statement.

And then second, if you can provide any update on the effort to return U.S. diplomats to Ukraine. Are they now overnighting in Lviv yet, and does the strike yesterday on Kyiv change that calculus at all? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Conor. So first I’m going to let the Secretary’s comments at his hearing speak for themselves, but what I’ll say from here is that we offer our sincere condolences to the families as well as the loved ones who were killed in these cowardly attacks. The United States condemns these attacks in what appears to be the targeting of members of minority groups in the strongest terms. The United States is also committed to supporting the ability of all Afghans, including members of religious minority groups, to practice their religion freely, without fear of violence against them. We are also extremely concerned about the rise of attacks in Afghanistan and call for an end to these cowardly attacks and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

As far as your second question on diplomats in Ukraine, I would say that earlier this week our deputy chief of mission as well as members of our embassy team traveled to Lviv to continue our close collaboration with key partners, and that would include our ministry of foreign affairs of Ukraine. Our diplomats are returning to Ukraine this week on a temporary basis, and we envision more regular travel in the immediate future. Planning is also underway to resume Embassy Kyiv operations as soon as possible.

And then, Conor, if we still have you, just in response to the strike, we’re closely following the reports of yesterday’s strike, and we are also very sad to hear that the strike killed Vera Gyrych of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Ukrainian Service journalist, and we express our most heartfelt condolences to her family as well as her colleagues. The Kremlin’s war continues to wreak havoc on Ukraine and its people, with dire consequences for those who continue to stand for justice and tell the truth about its brutality.

Let’s go over to Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the secretary general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said, that – threatened that that Iran could attack Israel directly and not through proxies. Do you have concerns over that, or how do you comment on this?

MS PORTER: Hiba, if we still have you, can you please repeat your question? The first part of your question was cut off.

QUESTION: Yes. Today the secretary general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech that Iran could attack Israel directly and not through proxies. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have concerns also?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Hiba. We don’t have any particular response at this time. But if we have one soon, we’ll be sure to follow up.

Let’s go over to Mariana Sanchez.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. Can you hear me well?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Mariana.

QUESTION: Perfect. So this last week there was this high level with State Department visit in Brazil, and on that I would like to ask some questions. Could you confirm that Brazilian authorities requested help from the Americans with the American nuclear submarine technology, and what the U.S. officials answered concerning this matter?

And the second question, the U.S. authorities said that they are following the electoral process in Brazil and they trust the institutions there. Two days ago the Brazilian president said that the military should be directly involved in counting the votes for the next presidential election. Is the U.S. following these new events, and would the State Department provide any comments on that?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Mariana. So I won’t get into too much of the specifics of the discussions, but I will reiterate that we did have principals recently in the region, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and our Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose Fernandez.

What I will say from here is that shared goals were discussed to protect the environment, mitigation of effects of climate change, recovery from COVID-19, and ways to build supply chain resilience. We also reinforced our cooperation in security and defense, and promoting peace and the rule of law, as well as our appreciation for the vibrant partnership that the United States does share with Brazil.

And as far as your second question on elections, we have nothing specific to offer on – at that time.

Let’s go to the line of Endale Getahun.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jalina. Happy Friday to you. I hope you can hear me.

MS PORTER: Yes, thank you. Happy Friday to you as well.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks so much. I was just wondering if you have read the statement that was made by the Congress Bradley Sherman regarding – based on his tweet that said that he was waiting for the Secretary of State’s promise that he would probably publicly come up and determine for the – regarding the genocide take place in Tigray, Ethiopia or any statement that would be – because said he’s waiting, that the Secretary promised but so far has not made that publicly yet. And so do you have any comment on that?

My also second questions: Do you have any reaction to the Eritrean Government, which has still occupied the western Tigray, including the neighboring Amhara troops or groups in western Tigray? But Eritreans-appointed officials has visited Russia. Possibly there is a negotiation for new military arms for Eritrea and possibly also, according to sources, that the Russians, possibly a warship, could be docked in Red Sea close to Eritrea. As you know, Eritrea is still occupied with Ethiopian authorities and Amhara regime in western Tigray. What’s your reaction on that and if you have those – those are two questions that I have, and thank you so much.

MS PORTER: So Endale, to your second question, I just don’t have anything to offer on that.

What I would say to your first question on the determination, on the atrocity determination, our position hasn’t changed and we are following the situation in Tigray as well as across northern Ethiopia very closely. We’re also deeply concerned by reported human rights abuses and violations.

In response to these credible reports, we regularly issue statements condemning these incidents and also call for accountability. The Secretary acknowledged to Congressman Sherman on Thursday that the State Department, by law, has the prerogative to issue atrocity determinations and, as a matter of policy, will issue one if and when appropriate.

Let’s go to Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me, Jalina?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to follow up both on Conor and Cindy’s questions.

On Conor’s, can you just confirm how many trips the embassy staff has taken into Ukraine this week? Has it just been the one-day trip or have there been multiple, and are they overnighting at this point yet?

And then I know the State Department doesn’t track the number of Americans who are abroad, but do you have a rough estimate of how many Americans have gone to Ukraine to fight on behalf of the Ukrainian forces there? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So we don’t have an exact number to preview as far as the trips to Ukraine and overnight. We’ll be happy to share that whenever we do.

And as far as Americans fighting in Ukraine, we don’t have anything to share today on that as well.

Let’s go to Eunjong Cho.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Wonderful. I have two questions today.

South Korean NGO launched one million leaflets into North Korea by balloon this week, and South Korean Government said it will enforce the anti-leaflet law which bans sending leaflets across the border. What is the State Department’s position on South Korean NGO’s efforts to send leaflets into North Korea?

And then my second question: U.S. think tanks this week released analysis that North Korea is continuing work to restore its nuclear test site. What is State Department’s reaction to North Korea’s continued preparations for a nuclear test? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So we are aware of reports that the DPRK may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test in the coming months. And such an action not only would be dangerous but it would also be deeply destabilizing to the region. It would blatantly violate international law as set out in multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council. It would also undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

The DPRK has already launched 13 ballistic missiles this year, including at least three ICBMs, and we urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead choose to engage in serious and sustained dialogue.

As far as leaflets, we don’t have anything to share at this time.

Let’s go to Alex Raufoglu.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jalina, and Happy Friday. Couple of questions here, and let me start with the – your early statement on fallen journalist Vira Hyrych, who worked for a U.S.-backed outlet. Will the State Department be willing to lead the investigation around her death, as well as the deaths of other reporters during this war – be investigated as a war crime?

And my second question is about November G20 summit, whose hosts received confirmation today that President Putin plans to attend. Do you have anything on how Washington will approach that event?

And lastly, any result on meetings at the State Department with Belarus president elect Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: Alex, to your first question, broadly speaking, so evidence of criminality is mounting, and those who have unleashed, perpetrated, and ordered crimes must be held to account. We strongly condemn apparent atrocities by the Kremlin forces across Ukraine. And we’ve assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes, and we continue to monitor atrocities being committed in Ukraine.

To your second question on the G20, the United States continues to believe that it can’t be business as usual with regards to Russia’s participation with the international community or international institutions. The G20 president, Indonesia, is responsible for all the invitations, and outside of that we don’t have anything further to announce.

To your last question, we have issued a readout that’s found on our website.

We’ll take our last question from Hyejun So.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you called my name, but did you call me? Hyejun So?

MS PORTER: Yes. Hyejun So.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. My question is very similar to the previous one from our colleague on North Korea, but it’s a – I saw a report that South Korean military authorities are closely monitoring North Korean military movement, judging from the assessment that there is a high chance of another test firing of missiles, possibly one of the ones that North Korea showed off at their military parade on the 25th. And I’m wondering if this kind of discussion or this kind of South Korean military authority assessment was discussed with U.S. in advance. Thank you.

MS PORTER: What I would say from here is that we continue to closely monitor the situation on the Korean peninsula, and I’ll just underscore that we urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead choose to engage in serious and sustained dialogue.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining. I hope you have a great weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – April 26, 2022

2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Welcome, everyone. To those with whom I’ve been traveling, welcome back. Welcome to everyone else. Welcome to those in the last row; I just want to call out – we have some members from, colleagues from our Operations Center who are here to observe today’s briefing. Obviously, our Operations Center is really a nerve center for the department. We were just saying that many of us literally could not do our jobs without the Operations Center. So appreciate them being here, and even more so appreciate the work they do every single day.

I have a couple things at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions. First, to meet the Secretary’s goals to modernize American diplomacy, win the competition for talent, and ensure that all applicants can present a full picture of their qualifications, the Department of State today is announcing improvements to the Foreign Service selection process.

The Department is moving away from the Foreign Service Officer Test as a pass/fail gateway test and expanding focus on a candidates’ education and experience for a more holistic approach in the selection process.

Starting with June the 2022 Foreign Service test takers, all candidates will proceed to the Qualification Evaluations Panel, or QEP, where their performance on the Foreign Service test will be one factor taken into consideration along with the personal narratives that they’ll submit during the registration process.

Combined with scores from the Foreign Service exam and the Qualification Evaluations Panel – which reviews each candidate’s work history, education, experience, and six brief written narratives based on Foreign Service core precepts – that will give the Department a more balanced view of candidates who will be selected for the next phase of the Foreign – of the selection process, the Foreign Service Oral Assessment.

This change is happening in the midst of what is expected to be the best year for Foreign Service intake in a decade. I think many of you saw the news earlier this month that we had the largest class of incoming officers, more than – just under 200 officers. And we expect this year to be the best year for our intake in a decade. It is the most significant change to the Foreign Service selection process since 1930, and we anticipate this change will result in a identifying a more qualified pool of applicants.

Next and finally, the United States is deeply concerned by the Tunisian president’s decision to unilaterally restructure Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections, or ISIE. A genuinely independent election authority is critical, given its constitutionally mandated role in Tunisia’s upcoming referendum and parliamentary elections. The United States has consistently communicated to Tunisian leaders the importance of upholding the independence of key democratic institutions and ensuring Tunisia returns to democratic governance. We remain committed to supporting the Tunisian people in their democratic path and renew our call for an inclusive and transparent political and economic reform process with civil society, labor unions, and political parties represented at the table.

With that, happy to take your questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Ned, just first briefly on the FSO testing thing. You’re aware that this is not being universally acclaimed, correct? That there is – particularly AFSA has registered some what seem to be some pretty significant concerns about this having been done without any input from them, without any other federal employee group, whether you want to call it a union or not. Will their concerns at all – do they matter at all?

MR PRICE: We are in a regular discussion with outside groups, including of course in this case AFSA. AFSA is an important organization. Their input is and will be especially valuable on these types of decisions. I am also aware, Matt, that the previous – or still the current – process also endured some criticism, given a narrow focus on a pass/fail Foreign Service exam that didn’t take into account the applicant’s holistic qualifications, what that person has done, that person’s educational experience, that person’s individual circumstances. We are confident that this restructured and revised process will help us select an applicant pool that is qualified, that is experienced, and that brings to bear the talents and diversity that this country offers.

QUESTION: Well, then why not eliminate the exam altogether?

MR PRICE: We still need various metrics to measure potential new colleagues against. So the Foreign Service exam will continue to be one such metric. But we’re going to look at a more holistic picture.

QUESTION: So would you – you would equate this to colleges and universities no longer requiring SAT or ACT scores for incoming students? Or how —

MR PRICE: Well, look. We are gratified that we have, and especially in recent months, received a tremendous amount of interest in this department. And with so many applicants, thousands upon thousands of applicants, we need various metrics against which to weigh applicants.

QUESTION: But the counterargument —

MR PRICE: So the SAT example is somewhat analogous. I’m not sure it’s a perfect comparison. But just as the SAT has done —

QUESTION: Well, it used to be that the test was administered by the same people as the SAT, back in my day, at least. But if you’re getting so many more applicants, wouldn’t you think that it would be more important to have a pass/fail on the Foreign Service exam rather than —

MR PRICE: We think —

QUESTION: — letting everyone go into the – everyone who takes the test, they all go – doesn’t that just bog the whole selection process down?

MR PRICE: Not at all. We think it is important, again, to be able to measure different aspects of a candidate’s qualifications. The Foreign Service exam will continue to be one input.

QUESTION: All right. On Ukraine – and I’ll be brief so my colleagues can go – two things. One is I realize that Secretary Austin spoke kind of about this earlier, but what you’re seeing in Moldova and Transnistria right now, does that give you any particular concern?

And then also, yesterday it came to light that the Russians had launched attacks on several train stations in the west of Ukraine, and I’m just wondering if there was any indication that you guys had that this might have been related at all to the two secretaries’ train journey into Kyiv and out.

MR PRICE: When it comes to Transnistria, Matt, you are right. The Secretary of Defense addressed elements of this this morning, but as I believe you’ve heard, we are aware of the explosions that occurred yesterday in Transnistria. We’re closely monitoring the situation as we determine what happened. We reiterate the Moldovan Government’s call for calm in response to these incidents. And we fully support, as you have heard us say before, Moldova’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We respect its constitutionally guaranteed neutrality.

We don’t know all of the details beyond – regarding what transpired yesterday, but we do remain concerned about any potential attempts to escalate tensions. I would just reiterate that over the past – in recent weeks, certainly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, you have seen us demonstrate the partnership we have with Moldova in a number of ways. Some of you here in the room today were with us when we went to Chisinau with Secretary Blinken just a few weeks ago. We know that if left unchecked, Moscow’s aggression against – Moscow’s aggression could become a threat to the region. That’s why we’re not leaving Moscow’s aggression unchecked in Ukraine. It’s also why we are standing with our partners in the region, including all – our Moldovan partners.

Since February 24th, since Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine started, we’ve committed more than $30 million in humanitarian assistance to support the humanitarian response in Moldova – as you know, Moldova is generously hosting many Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to flee their homes – and $100 million in development assistance to strengthen Moldova’s long-term democratic and economic resiliencies. Our militaries work closely together, they cooperate in places as far off as Kosovo. We were, as I mentioned, just there a few weeks ago. And last week, we relaunched with Moldova our strategic dialogue, a dialogue that had been on pause for several years. Moldova is a strong partner. We are working to make sure that they have what they need to respond to the regional consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Yes, Andrea.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. I want to ask you about Lavrov’s comments from last night to – not to underestimate their threat. And I know that Secretary Austin responded very briefly at Ramstein to this, but it’s the first time we’ve heard this from the Russians in quite some time. The last thing that we heard analytically was what Bill Burns said in Atlanta in his speech – we’re always ready. But in talking to Secretary Moniz today, he talked to me about the nuclear threat, which, as you know, he’s so deeply invested in. He said to me that the Russians have now turned nuclear deterrence on its head, using the nuclear threat against a conventional opponent that they have invaded rather than as it had been used for decades as mutually assured destruction against two nuclear powers.

So I’m asking more broadly about how concerned you might be as Russia may feel increasingly cornered in this next phase and as the weapons delivery is obviously so increased from the West to use tactical nuclear weapons. I also want to ask you a follow-up question about the trip.

MR PRICE: Sure, and let me start with that one first. So we have seen in recent weeks a pattern of bellicose statements. And whether you call them statements, whether you call them bluster, whether you call them propaganda, this has become a pattern. These certainly are provocative statements. We think they are deeply irresponsible. We deem them to be a continuation of the Russian Government’s very clear attempts to distract from its failure in Ukraine, to distract from the brutality that it is perpetrating on the Ukrainian people, to distract from its apparent unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, and to distract from its history against its neighbors.

They have at every turn sought to deflect responsibility for their actions by attempting to shift blame from where it resides – and that, of course, is with the Kremlin – to other parties, whether that is to Ukraine, whether that is to NATO, whether that’s to the West, whether that is to the United States. Director Burns referenced this, as you mentioned, in Atlanta. We’ve spoken to this before. We think loose talk of nuclear weapons, nuclear escalation, is especially irresponsible. It is the height of irresponsibility. And it’s a clear contradiction of what the Russian Federation has confirmed and reconfirmed on any number of occasions, including with the UN Security Council statement that emanated earlier this year, that a nuclear war can – must not be fought and can never be won. That is a statement we heard from Moscow during the Cold War. It’s a statement we heard from Moscow after President Biden’s meeting with President Putin last June. It’s a statement that Moscow signed on to earlier this year.

Now, that is not to say that even as we talk about this in terms of bluster, in terms of propaganda, in terms of provocative statements or bellicose statements, that we’re not paying very close attention and that we’re not thinking through various contingencies. We absolutely are. When it comes to potential nuclear escalation, of course, we are paying very close attention to Russia’s activities, to what it’s doing, to what it’s not doing. You’ve heard from the Department of Defense that we are always evaluating our own nuclear posture, and at this point we have determined that there is no reason to change our posture.

You said you had a follow-up.

QUESTION: Is there any – to any extent, do you think that Secretary Austin saying that our goal was to weaken Russia so that they can never again invade when you were in Poland or Secretary Blinken saying that Ukraine is winning and that Ukraine will be a sovereign, independent nation – I’m paraphrasing – long after Putin’s gone – was that in any way provocative or poking the bear or changing the mission to be not just helping Ukraine defend but helping Ukraine win with the heavier weapons as well? I noted today in the hearing that Senator Romney, while praising – fulsomely praising what has been done so far, said with the caveat of what Secretary Blinken had said, Secretary Austin had said (inaudible).

MR PRICE: I have to say I’ve been a little bit surprised by the surprise that I’ve heard expressed regarding Secretary Austin’s comments. This is a point that we have made for some time now. We have said for months that we intend to make this invasion a strategic failure for Russia. They have endured tactical defeats on the battlefield, they have lost the battle for Kyiv, they have lost a large number of Russian service members, Russian equipment. You look at Russians – Russia’s economy, Russia’s financial system, they are well on the path to strategic defeat.

And one of our goals in seeking to ensure this outcome has been to ensure that something like this couldn’t happen again, and that’s precisely what Secretary Austin was referring to. It is precisely what Secretary Blinken was referring to some six weeks ago. The middle of last month, as I recall, he did an interview with NPR, and he made a couple of points then. He said one of the things we’re doing is denying Russia the technology it needs to modernize its country, to modernize key industries – aerospace, defense, high tech, energy exploration. All of these things are going to have profound effects – not just the immediate effects we’re seeing, but increasing and growing over time. He went on to make a second point: We’ll want to make sure that they – Moscow – that – to make sure that anything that is done in effect is irreversible and that this can’t happen again, that Russia won’t pick up and do exactly what it’s doing in a year or two or three years.

So this is a point that we have consistently made, not only that this will be a strategic defeat for Russia, a country that has on an unprovoked, unjustified, brutal basis invaded its neighbor and that continues to rain down terror on its neighbor, but we’ve also made the point that we want Ukraine to win. And that is why we have a strategy that has these two principal prongs. Number one, we are doing everything we responsibly can to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty, its territorial integrity. We have contributed billions of dollars to this effort, more than $3.8 billion worth of security assistance since the invasion began, about $4.5 billion since the start of this administration.

And as I alluded to before, the other prong is what we are doing to hold Moscow to account. That includes the sanctions. It includes the export controls. It includes the visa restrictions. It includes everything that you’ve heard from us that places accountability on the decision makers who are responsible for this invasion in the first instance and all of those in their inner circle and the circles surrounding them who in some ways have supported this disastrous decision. And that is something that we will continue to do.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that before we change —

QUESTION: Could I follow up on —

MR PRICE: Let me do one follow-up, and Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a follow-up too.

MR PRICE: Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m just curious. You said that Russia is well on the path to strategic defeat. Can you expand on that idea a little bit for us? Because you talked about them militarily not doing well and the hope that they won’t be able to invade Ukraine or another country again, but what does strategic defeat mean for the Russian economy, for Russia’s place in the world going forth, and some bigger ideas beyond the military?

MR PRICE: Well, that’s precisely what it refers to. You can talk about battlefield progress or lack thereof, and that, of course, is important when it comes to the fight for Ukraine’s freedom, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity. But when we talk about strategic defeat, we’re talking about Moscow’s positioning in the international system. And the Moscow that prepared to invade and that on February 24th went forward with its invasion will not be the same Russian Federation, in terms of its positioning on the world stage, that will emerge when this conflict is over.

And we mean that in a couple different ways. One, you can already see the toll on Russia’s economy and its financial system. It’s an economy that is forecast to contract by some 15 percent this year. It’s an economy that is losing hundreds, some 600 multinational companies that have made the choice to leave the Russian marketplace, either not wanting to in any way support President Putin’s war machine, or making the very strategic decision that it’s not a market that will be worth the investment either now or when this is over. You have seen what’s happened to the Russian stock market, to Russia’s currency. But you’ve also seen the toll that – and you will see over time increasingly – the toll that the export controls will have on Moscow’s ability to wield strategic influence on the world stage, and the way in which we are choking off key inputs to Moscow’s defense industry, its aerospace industry, its technology, its energy and oil and natural gas exploration capabilities.

All of those things, coupled with the pariah status that President Putin has on the world stage and the diplomatic isolation that Moscow has endured since – especially since the start of this invasion where it has seen itself handed really brutal defeats at the UN and be an object of scorn by the international community – all of those things add up to the simple fact that because of Moscow’s unprovoked, unjustified invasion against Ukraine, not only will Ukraine emerge sovereign and independent when this is over, but Moscow will emerge weaker. And we’re already seeing that, and many of these are tools that will have increasing effect over time.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: And just one quick follow-up on that. Moscow will emerge weaker for the long term, or when this war comes to a conclusion, will they be given the opportunity to rebuild themselves? Will you guys keep the sanctions in place, or will you take the sanctions off?

MR PRICE: So these are decisions that really are in Russia’s hands. Our sanctions – every sanction is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. And the end in this case, the near-term end, is seeing an end to this bloodshed, putting an end to this violence, bringing this war to a conclusion. So we’ve made the point that as long as Moscow escalates, we will escalate with our sanctions, with our economic measures. If Moscow changes its course, we will change our course.

Now, that’s not to say that there won’t have to be accountability. Of course, there will have to be accountability, and we’ve talked about various accountability mechanisms. We also want to see to it again, as the Secretary said some six weeks ago and Secretary Austin alluded to yesterday, that something like this, this type of aggression, can’t be repeated, whether that’s in days, weeks, or months, or years from the conclusion of these hostilities.

Said.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this very point that you just mentioned, you said for weeks, months, for years, and so on – so you – this war can go on conceivably, I mean, to achieve the strategic defeat of Russia could go on for years? Is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: No, that’s not what I was referring to. What I was referring to is that we want to see to it that Moscow’s aggression, aggression of this nature, can’t be repeated once this conflict is over, whether that is weeks after the conflict ends, months after the conflict ends, or years after the conflict ends.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you keep saying that they are losing on the battlefield, yet they are controlling – they have controlled Mariupol, they are controlling the east, they are controlling the south and so on. It’s not exactly like a defeat. And the Russians, from their point of view, they say, we have good relations with China, we have good relations with India, and so on. Sure, they are a pariah in the West, but not among other countries. What’s your comment?

MR PRICE: Relations with no other country, even particularly large countries, will be able to replace what Moscow has lost and will have lost by its actions and the response that, together with dozens of countries across four continents, we’ve put in place. So no relationship, no set of relationships will be able to compensate for what Moscow will have lost and stands to lose.

To your first point, there is no denying, of course, that Moscow has a lot of firepower. They have demonstrated not only the capability but I think even more disturbingly a willingness to brutalize the Ukrainian people. Our goal is to see to it that this conflict, this war, Russia’s war against the people of Ukraine, is brought to a close as soon as can be achieved precisely to put this violence to an end, to put the bloodshed to an end, to put the brutality to an end as well.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Follow-up?

QUESTION: You mentioned diplomatic isolation. I get the sentiment, but as a matter of fact, the propaganda that we are talking about right now is being pushed during Russian leaders’ meetings with world leaders. UN secretary-general was in Moscow today, and Lavrov – some of statements that came out of Russia today in fact came during those meetings, and President Putin made a statement during his phone call with Erdoğan talking about already having Mariupol in his hands. My question is: Do you think the world leaders’ communications with Russian leaders should be precondition with getting out of Ukraine first before we communicate with you?

MR PRICE: We believe this war has to be brought to a close through dialogue and diplomacy, and we have consistently said that we support diplomatic efforts that are done in full coordination, in the first instance, with Ukraine. That’s most important because these are not choices that will be the purview of any other country, any other international organization. The Ukrainian Government, an expression of the will of the Ukrainian people, ultimately is going to have to be the entity that makes decisions that affect its country going forward.

So whether it’s the efforts of the Turkish Government, of the German Government, of the Israeli Government, of the French Government, of other governments who have used their good offices or offered their auspices for dialogue between the parties or attempted to shuttle between Russia and Ukraine, we support those efforts as long as they’re done in full coordination with our Ukrainian partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Couple of questions about the secondary sanctions. This is something that the Secretary was asked today in the hearing at the Senate. As the leaked phone calls suggested yesterday, sanctioned Russian oligarch who is one of the major architects of this war, Mr. Yevtushenkov, and Georgia’s richest man, oligarch Ivanishvili, who controls the Georgian politics from the shadow, they are figuring out ways to bypass the sanctions and secure supply of vital grain products to Russia. Yevtushenkov himself confirmed the authenticity of this conversation in an interview with Georgian media.

Based on these leaked phone calls, David Arkhamia, who is a leading Ukrainian politician who chairs the negotiations with Russia, he appealed to the Western leaders to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili and his assets in the West. Does the U.S. track or assess this phone call, this leaked phone conversation? Do you have any assessment of that? And what would be your response to that when it comes to, like, imposing secondary sanctions on those countries or institutions who are helping Russia or Belarus bypass these harsh measures?

MR PRICE: So I’m not in a position to speak to any purportedly leaked phone call or to confirm the authenticity or not of what you’re referring to, but a couple points. Not only have we leveled sanctions and other tools against those who are responsible for the Kremlin’s decision to go into Ukraine – those in Russia, those in Ukraine – but last week we announced a large tranche of sanctions against those responsible for facilitating sanctions evasion. And so sanctions evasion is something that we are taking a very close look at around the world, whether that’s in Russia, whether that’s in Belarus, whether that is anywhere else around the world. And I think our actions last week demonstrated that we will go after those networks, those entities, those individuals who are willfully, deliberately, systematically evading or helping others to evade these sanctions. Of course, I’m not in a position to preview sanctions on any individual or any specific entities, but it’s something we’re taking a very close look at.

Yes, Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on South and North Korea. North Korean —

QUESTION: Could I ask a Ukraine – one more Ukraine question?

MR PRICE: Sure. Before we go on to another region, we’ll take a couple of final Ukraine questions. We need to – Conor.

QUESTION: Sure. Secretary Blinken announced – excuse me – on Monday that the State Department would return some diplomats to Lviv this week. Can you confirm whether or not that has started today and if they successfully made the journey back to Poland today?

MR PRICE: I can confirm that. The deputy chief of mission and members of the embassy team traveled to Lviv, Ukraine today, where they were able to continue our close collaboration with key Ukrainian partners. Today they met with interlocutors from the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As Secretary Blinken announced yesterday, our diplomats are returning and have returned to Ukraine this week on a temporary basis.

Today’s travel was a first step ahead of more regular travel in the immediate future, and as we’ve said, we’re accelerating preparations to resume Embassy Kyiv operations just as soon as possible. We are constantly assessing and evaluating and re-assessing the security situation with a view towards resuming those embassy operations as soon as possible, again, to facilitate our support to the government and people of Ukraine as they bravely defend their country.

QUESTION: On Bridget Brink being finally nominated, what took so long? It’s been over a year into this administration. You said you’ve prioritized this relationship. Why did it take so long to get a nomination here?

MR PRICE: Well, the fact is that we haven’t had, unfortunately, an ambassador in Ukraine in several years now, and, of course, need not go into why we didn’t have an ambassador there in the first place. But there are processes, both within our government and coordination with the host country government – in this case, our Ukrainian partners – that are a prerequisite before we’re in a position to announce a nominee publicly. In this case, we’ve been gratified to hear of the reception to her nomination. Of course, we’ve heard a very positive response from our Ukrainian partners. And today, for those of you who were watching Secretary Blinken on the Hill, you heard again a very positive and welcome reception to the news from members of Congress, who we hope will be in a position to take up her nomination very shortly.

QUESTION: Ned, just to check on the Lviv thing. They – no one went in yesterday?

MR PRICE: Today was the first day.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s not what I meant. For those people, but did anyone go in yesterday, on Monday?

MR PRICE: Today was the first day that we had embassy officers —

QUESTION: That anyone – well, okay. Embassy officers.

QUESTION: And they returned (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: Correct, correct. Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Let me take a couple – any – one more question on Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ukraine. Ukraine.

MR PRICE: Simon. Let’s move it around.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Secretary has spoken, including on the Hill today, about the war entering a different phase. And obviously this is something that was discussed in the meeting with Zelenskyy, with the other Ukrainian officials. In terms of what new weapons are required by the Ukrainians for this new phase, you’ve spoken about Howitzers, long-range artillery. Are there any other types of weaponry that they’re particularly asking for and that you’re considering giving any more sophisticated systems than that?

MR PRICE: Well, I think it – I would start by saying that we’ve already provided sophisticated systems directly or facilitated the provision of sophisticated systems directly in response to what our Ukrainian partners have been asking for. And it is a regular staple of our engagement with our Ukrainian partners that they update us on their particular needs, and those needs are different now than they were in the earliest days and hours of the invasion, because as you alluded to, Russia’s aggression is shifting from its initial ambitions to take the capital city, its initial ambitions to engage in successful urban warfare, to now the campaign for the south and the east. And so as Russia’s war aims have shifted, after they’ve been defeated in their initial aspirations, the nature of our assistance has changed as well in terms of the capabilities and the systems that we are providing them.

When Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken met with President Zelenskyy and his team in Kyiv on Sunday, there was a discussion of the battlefield and precisely what implications that battlefield holds for Ukrainian needs. You heard from Secretary Blinken in the aftermath of that that we had – we’re going to be in a position to provide hundreds of millions of dollars more in FMF, foreign military financing. This is separate and distinct from the presidential drawdowns that you’ve heard us put forward in previous weeks, but it is equally useful, and in many ways it gives our Ukrainian partners flexibility in terms of what it is that they are procuring from the United States for their defensive needs against this Russian aggression.

Secretary Blinken also announced more than $150 million or so in terms of ammunition. The Department of Defense has talked about the artillery, the systems that the Ukrainians have requested for the battle for the Donbas. And I’ll defer to the DOD to speak to that.

QUESTION: Question about the German tanks?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Which is finally the Germans today agreed to send their tanks. Well, now according to Reuters, Switzerland is refusing to approve the re-export of the ammo needed for those tanks. Is there anything that the U.S. could do with Switzerland to try to smooth this out, given how long Ukraine has been waiting for the German weapons?

MR PRICE: Well, Germany has been an important partner, an important member of the coalition that we have put together not only in recent weeks but over the course of recent months. And we welcome Germany’s announcements over the course of months that it will increase defense spending, bolster defense capability and readiness; its announcement that it had halted the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; and its transfer of lethal assistance and now heavy weaponry to Ukraine. These bold moves we think will strengthen Germany’s role as a leader in global security in line with its diplomatic, economic, development, and humanitarian influence in Europe and around the world.

It’s not for us to speak to specific systems or assets or capabilities that any other country is providing, so I’ll leave it to our German allies to speak to what it is precisely that they’re providing, and I would have to refer you to the Swiss Government for any discussions between those two governments.

Yes.

QUESTION: Georgia participated in every peace mission and is a valuable NATO partner. Having this in mind, can Georgia get any tentative dates regarding its aspirations to become NATO EU member? We all have heard that it’s a consensus-based decision, but don’t you think the Georgian people and government deserve to know how much longer they need to wait instead of being told that it will happen someday?

And second question, please. You say you understand Georgia’s position very well, but it’s fact that there are both some opposition members inside of my country and also inside of my country who are trying to nudge Georgia toward a decidedly radical position on this. And this is happening in parallel to the ongoing Russian invasion in Ukraine. In our partner country, there was even talk of opening up a second front in Russia – on Russia, and this is being advised to a country that, together with Moldova, faces the greatest risk of renewed Russian aggression. As you know, 20 percent of my country is occupied of – by Russia. What objectives do you think this campaign for more radical stance and increased pressure on the Georgian Government serve? These have been, as I said, inside of my country and outside of my country. I mean opposition members. And this campaign is permeated with so much disinformation – the so-called secret recordings that are paraded as scandalous or exclusive (inaudible).

Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. So on your first question, we have said for some 15 years now that we support Georgia’s NATO aspirations. We believe that NATO’s “Open Door” policy, it should be an open door for those countries that aspire to join the Alliance. We’ve also said that no outside entity can or should have a veto on any eligible country’s aspirations to join the NATO membership.

Now, as you alluded to in your question, the membership process, it is a process that is overseen by the Alliance. These will be Alliance decisions. They are a set of requirements that any aspirant country will need to fulfill before being eligible to be considered for full membership. But Georgia already is an important NATO partner. We have had close consultations with Georgia on the margins of NATO meetings.

And to your second question – and this bridges the two – we have consistently stood by Georgia and with the people of Georgia in their desire to be a free and sovereign people and a free and sovereign country. And over the years, from the earliest days of Georgia’s post-Soviet independence, we have now developed a strategic partnership between our countries. We work together towards our shared vision of a Georgia that is fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations and part of a Europe that is whole, free, and, we would hope, at peace. And this is a vision that takes hard work; it takes patience. It takes significant resources to realize. That’s why we have sought to do our part.

We have allocated almost $6 billion in assistance funds to Georgia. We’ve trained over 20,000 Georgian soldiers. We’ve sent over 6,000 people to the United States for cultural and educational exchange programs. We’ve helped promote economic growth, the rule of law, democratic governance, many other initiatives that are important to the Georgian people and their aspirations, but important interests of ours as well. And so we’ll continue to partner with Georgia on their aspirations, on their ambitions, and to protect what they’ve been able to achieve. Janne, I’ll go back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. On the North Korea – I have two questions also on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un mentioned the preemptive use of their nuclear weapons at a military parade in Pyongyang yesterday. Regarding Kim Jong-un’s emphasis on the use of nuclear force rather than dialogue for abandoning the nuclear program, how can you assessing the prospect for future dialogue with North Korea? And I have follow-up next question.

MR PRICE: Well, to start, your reference to Kim Jong-un’s speech yesterday at the military parade – we’re aware of what he said. It reiterates our assessment that the DPRK constitutes as threat to international peace and security and to the global nonproliferation regime. We have a vital interest – together with our allies and partners around the world, but especially those in the Indo-Pacific – to deter the DPRK, to defend against its provocations or its use of force, to limit the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs, and above all, to keep safe American people in the region, our deployed forces, and our allies, Japan and the ROK being two of them.

Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. As you’ve heard me say before and as recently as last week, we harbor no hostile intent toward the DPRK. We do remain open to engaging in diplomacy and dialogue with the DPRK with an aim of achieving progress towards that overall objective. But we also have an obligation to address the recent provocations that we’ve seen from the DPRK, including its two recent ICBM launches. We have an obligation to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions that are in place. Those are obligations that we’ll continue to work on very closely with our allies in the region, with our partners in the region, and with our allies and partners at the UN. And it goes without saying, of course, that our commitment to our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK, is ironclad and remains that way.

QUESTION: Second question: According to a recent exchange of personal letter between South Korean President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in this letter North Korea contains preconditions for dialogue with South Korea. What is your assessment of the sincerity of Kim Jong-un’s personal letter?

MR PRICE: It’s not for me to assess the sincerity of anything that has come from the DPRK. What we’ve said before is that we support inter-Korean dialogue. We support anything that de-escalates tensions and that moves us closer towards our shared objective with the ROK, and that’s the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Joseph.

QUESTION: Thanks. Secretary Blinken was asked multiple times today about the Vienna talks and nuclear deal. He was – I mean, he used very intricate language multiple times when it came to the FTO designation and specifying the Qods Force. Can you give us any updates on where those are? Are there – is there anything scheduled, any meeting scheduled back in Vienna? And is that what’s holding up the deal right now? Is it the FTO designation on the IRGC or the IRGC-Qods Force?

MR PRICE: We don’t have any travel to Vienna to preview. We are in close contact with the EU coordinator, who continues to convey messages back and forth. We continue, as you heard me say just the other day – we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached, but it can be reached only if Iran is prepared to conclude a deal without, for example, raising issues that are extraneous to the JCPOA. If that’s the case, we believe that we can achieve a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA in fairly short order, and that remains our goal for a couple of reasons. You heard the Secretary speak to this today. It remains our goal principally, because President Biden has a commitment to see to it that Iran is never in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon.

And the fact is that while the JCPOA was in full effect from implementation day in early 2016 until May of 2018, Iran was verifiably and permanently prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And again, when the JCPOA was in full effect, the breakout time – that is to say the time that Iran would require to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to go in that direction – was about 12 months when the deal was consummated and fully in effect. Now – and the Secretary said this today – that breakout time is measured not in months but, unfortunately, in weeks. And that is something that is unacceptable to us as a long-term proposition. That is why we continue to see if we can reach a conclusion, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. But as we said, we are preparing equally for either world, a world in which we have a JCPOA and a world in which we are forced to seek other means to be faithful to the President’s commitment.

Now, the challenge is we’ve seen both of these worlds. We’ve seen what a world with a fully functioning JCPOA looks like – and again, that’s a world in which Iran is verifiably and permanently constrained from obtaining a nuclear weapon with a breakout time that is extended – and we’ve seen a world without a JCPOA. So this is not a thought experiment. Unfortunately, there’s been a real-world experiment when it comes to the utility of the JCPOA.

And in the world in which the JCPOA has been suspended, not only have we’ve seen Iran’s nuclear program gallop forward with the installation of centrifuges, the accumulation of nuclear material, various developments that would contravene the obligations under the JCPOA, but we’ve seen Iran that has acted with even greater impunity. We’ve seen an Iran that has enabled its proxies, that has supported malevolent groups and actors in the region. We’ve seen an Iran that has continued with its ballistic missile program. We’ve seen in Iran that has continued to be a deeply destabilizing force to the region.

We believe that if we are able to put Iran’s nuclear program back into a box, if we are able to contain what would constitute the greatest challenge we could face from Iran, the greatest challenge we could face in the region, that we will be more effective and better positioned to confront these other challenges that we face with Iran.

So there’s some distance yet to close. It’s unclear if we’re going to be able to get there, but it remains our assessment that mutually returning to the JCPOA would profoundly be in our interest. And we’ll pursue that mutual return as long as it remains in our interest.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: You mentioned yourself months ago that this wouldn’t be open ended. And I mean, talks have been going on for a little over a year. Granted, I mean, it’s not an uneasy agreement to reach, but I mean, surely – and you guys have also been saying that the breakout time’s a matter of weeks for now months. So I mean, how much longer are you guys willing to wait? Because it seems like Iran’s – has its demands, and they’re not backing down.

MR PRICE: Well, we’re going to test the proposition of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as doing so remains in our interests. And the fact is that right now Iran’s breakout time, it is far shorter than we would like. Were we to reenter the JCPOA, and more precisely were Iran to once again be subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, that breakout time would be extended. So as long as the nonproliferation benefits that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA brings is better than what we have now, that will likely be an outcome that’s in our interest.

But again, we may not be able to get there, because a negotiation in this case, not only does it take two parties but there are multiple parties in this, and there are complex questions, some of which remain unresolved.

QUESTION: Ned, on this – and I’ll leave aside the argument that we could get into over whether everyone agrees that the JCPOA permanently and verifiably ended your nuclear potential – Iran’s nuclear potential. Leaving that aside, the Secretary seemed to suggest in his answers today that the State Department and the DNI had made a determination that the threat against former Secretary Pompeo and Special Envoy Hook from Iran continued, and that you are continuing to pay whatever amount it is per month for protection for them. Is that correct? Is that a correct reading of what he said?

MR PRICE: There is only so much I can say on this, but we have an obligation that we take very seriously to provide protection to former officials of this building who may be subject to a threat. Now I think you could understand why if someone were, in fact, subject to a foreign threat we probably wouldn’t want to speak to that publicly, so as not to spotlight something like that, to spotlight measures we might be taking to mitigate any such threat. But you heard this from the National Security Advisor on January 9th I think it was of this year. He issued a very clear statement.

QUESTION: Yes. But after that – and I remember that, and I appreciate the fact that he said that, but after that you guys notified the Hill that you were spending $2 million a month roughly for protection for these two former officials and also that a decision had to be made within the next – within 10 days of that notification of whether or not you were going to ask for more money to continue that protection. And it sounded to me, from what the Secretary said, that you had made that decision.

MR PRICE: We notify the Hill of many things that we’re not in a position to speak about publicly. Let me move around just – yes, please.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran?

MR PRICE: Quick follow-up on Iran. Okay.

QUESTION: Very quick follow-up on Iran. The Israeli – the Times of Israel reported that Israeli officials are saying that the Americans have basically acknowledged the failure of the Vienna talks and you’re about to make that public in a very short order. Can you comment on that?

MR PRICE: My comment would be precisely the answer that I offered to Joseph just a moment ago, that we are going to pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA as long as it remains in our national interest to do so.

QUESTION: So the Israelis in this case are wrong, exaggerating, that —

MR PRICE: It sounds like you’re citing a press report that’s citing anonymous Israelis, so oftentimes that is a recipe for information that may not be entirely accurate.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I —

QUESTION: One more Iran question?

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to build off what Joseph was asking you. Can you just explain to us how the breakout time has remained weeks for months now? It seems to indicate that Iran has slowed down accelerating its program, has done it more slowly than you expected it to. Is that the case? Can you just explain how we’re in the same place we were in January, February?

MR PRICE: Well, the breakout time is an assessment. It’s an assessment based on our technical know-how. It’s an assessment that is based on non-public sources of information as well, so there’s only so much we can say on this. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that the Iranians are – or feel – constrained right now, in terms of their nuclear program, and that’s precisely why we are still testing the proposition of a potential mutual return to compliance, so that they are constrained by the JCPOA, the constraints that are conveyed by the JCPOA, in terms of centrifuges, in terms of amassing nuclear material, in terms of amassing heavy water, in terms of what all of that means for a potential breakout time.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have a quick question about China. Although Secretary Blinken mentioned today he would speak publicly about comprehensive strategy to deal with China, so the United States has published interim national security strategy and Indo-Pacific strategy already, which are focusing on China in some ways. So could you tell us, understand – could you help us understand what the difference between the incoming strategy and the ongoing strategies?

MR PRICE: So the Secretary did mention that he expected to have an opportunity in the coming days, coming weeks to speak in a bit more depth to our approach to the PRC. I think what you’re referring to when you mention our Indo-Pacific strategy – this was a strategy that Secretary Blinken laid out on a fairly memorable trip, for those of you who were with us, in Jakarta late last year, in December of last year.

And our Indo-Pacific strategy, as the name suggests, is focused on the broader region, is focused on principally our partnership with the region and our shared vision with and for the region. It’s a vision of a region that is centered on key elements.

First, advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which problems are dealt with openly; rules will be reached transparently and applied fairly; goods and ideas, people will flow freely. Second, it’s about forging stronger connections within and beyond the region on a bilateral basis or on a multilateral basis, if you talk about the Quad, or stitching together our partnerships and alliances if you were to talk about, for example, an AUKUS. Third, it’s a vision that promotes broad-based prosperity for the region, again with us as a partner, knowing that the region is home to some 40 percent of global GDP. It’s a region of opportunity not only for the people of the region but also for the United States. It’s a vision that seeks to build a more resilient Indo-Pacific, resilience against COVID, resilience against climate change, resilience against shared threats. And finally, it’s a region in which we seek to bolster security, and there are any number of threats. And when it comes to our assessment, our system of alliances and partnerships is the most important tool we have when it comes to confronting those threats.

So it’s a vision principally for a broader region. We’ve talked about our approach to the PRC. We’ve talked about the multifaceted relationship we have with the PRC, but I know that the Secretary looks forward in the coming days to speaking a bit more about that.

QUESTION: Ned.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: A quick question on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Ned, it’s been six months since the six organizations were designated as terrorist organization. I know I’ve asked you this question many times before, so please indulge me, so – and I know that you requested clarifications from the Israelis and you received that clarification. So are you satisfied that these organizations – these six organizations are in fact engaged in terrorist activities? Because their funding has been cut off, the European Union is looking at maybe – there has been experts today – UN experts that said they should be funded, there’s been no evidence that they have engaged in terrorist activity. What is your assessment after the Israelis responded to you?

MR PRICE: As I’ve said for some time now, Said, our Israeli partners have provided us with information regarding the basis for their determination. That’s information that we’re reviewing. It’s a process that can be lengthy because it’s a process that takes place not only here —

QUESTION: Six months – six months —

MR PRICE: — not only here in this building, but also across other departments and agencies across town.

I can say more broadly that we’ve made it very clear to our Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority interlocutors that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and in Israel must be able to continue their important work. We value the monitoring of human rights violations and abuses that independent NGOs undertake in Gaza, undertake in the West Bank, undertake in Israel and elsewhere. And we strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsive – and to responsive democratic governance.

It’s also important to note that we have already designated – we long ago designated the PFLP as an FTO. They have been designated as an FTO since 1997. And we’ve not designated, as you know, any of the six NGOs that the Israeli Government did. It’s also important to note we haven’t funded these groups.

QUESTION: But the PFLP is one thing and these organizations is another thing altogether. I mean, I understand that you have designated the PFLP a long time ago as a terrorist organization. There is maybe a good reason for that, I don’t know. But on these six organizations, they have conducted themselves only in terms of human rights abuses, reporting on that, doing civil society organization and so on.

MR PRICE: That’s something we’re looking at.

QUESTION: Ned, on Israel, presumably you’ve seen these very lengthy regulations that were dated February but apparently take effect in May for entry – entry by foreigners into the West Bank?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with them, but if we have a reaction, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Yeah, because it would require foreigners of any nationality to get prior approval from Israeli military officials at the embassy where they’re applying for a visa before they can even present themselves for entry into the West Bank. So yes, I’d be very interested in any reaction you have, and also if this will have any impact on the visa waiver negotiations, because as you know, one of the main sticking points in that has been the treatment of Palestinian Americans. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. Simon.

QUESTION: I just wanted to try and clarify something. You – the Indo-Pacific strategy that you were mentioning, I think the exchange that took place in – on the Hill earlier, the Secretary was being asked about a formal national security strategy on China, and your response just now – you seemed to suggest he will address this issue in coming weeks, but there isn’t a separate strategy for China that’s forthcoming. Can you just clarify? He’s going to address something in coming weeks but it’s not going to be a new strategy?

MR PRICE: The question was how remarks on the PRC might be different from the Indo-Pacific strategy that we – that the Secretary explained in December of last year. And so my answer was the fact that that was a regional strategy. It wasn’t about any one country. It was about our partnership with the region and our bilateral relationships with the countries of the region and the relationships we have bilaterally and multilaterally with blocs in the region as well.

QUESTION: So the Secretary will detail a specific strategy for China?

MR PRICE: The Secretary looks forward to speaking more about our approach to the PRC in the coming days.

A very quick final question, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, actually two questions on Ukraine. First, to clarify on what you just said in your response to Conor’s question on embassy, you mentioned traveling. Are the diplomats going back out and forth? Is it like day-long trip? Do you have any timeline on when the embassy in Kyiv will be restaffed? And my second question after this.

MR PRICE: They are making, for the time being, day trips into Lviv. That first day trip started today. As I said before, we are accelerating planning to re-establish a diplomatic presence in our – at our embassy in Kyiv. It is something we want to do as soon as it is responsible for us to do so.

QUESTION: Awesome. And second question on the last weekend’s meeting. There are reports that Zelenskyy handed over a plan to strengthen sanctions. It’s about ramping up sanctions against Russia and enablers. Any – are you in a position to confirm those reports?

MR PRICE: Well, I think there are reports because in the Ukrainian Government readout, it said that President Zelenskyy handed over a document regarding the Yermak-McFaul International Expert Group on strengthening sanctions. So sanctions enforcement, the next step in our sanctions against Russia and those who are enabling the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, that certainly was a topic of discussion, and we’ll continue to coordinate closely with our Ukrainian partners on that.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:32 p.m.)

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