Targeting Hizballah Financial Facilitator’s Abuse of the Business Sector

19 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Hizballah continues to exploit the private sector and commercial activity to fund its illicit and destabilizing activities.  The United States is committed to protecting the international financial system from Hizballah’s abuses and to supporting legitimate businesses in Lebanon, Iraq, and the broader Middle East.  Today, the United States is designating a key Hizballah businessman and financial facilitator, as well as several of his companies and associates in Lebanon and Iraq.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has designated Ahmad Jalal Reda Abdallah and his network of associates and companies under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended, which targets terrorists, leaders of terrorist groups and other officials, and those providing support to acts of terrorism or to persons blocked under E.O. 13224.  The United States designated Hizballah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997 and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2001.

Hizballah structures companies to disguise its ownership and make the companies appear legitimate.  Through actions like those carried out today, we continue to counter Hizballah’s exploitation of businesses to fund its terrorist activities and its efforts to destabilize Lebanon and the wider region.

For more information on this action, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release .

Department Press Briefing – May 17, 2022

18 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

WASHINGTON, D.C.

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 “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) 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, 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.)

Secretary Blinken’s Travel to New York, New York

18 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States is committed to ending hunger and malnutrition and building more sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems at home and abroad.  In support of these ongoing efforts, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to New York City May 18-19 to convene meetings to mobilize action on global food security.

On May 18, Secretary Blinken will meet with senior officials from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, and Senegal in addition to meetings with the Pakistani and Turkish Foreign Ministers.  In the afternoon, Secretary Blinken will chair a “Global Food Security Call to Action” Ministerial hosted by the United States, with a focus on strengthening global food security, nutrition, and resilience.

On May 19, Secretary Blinken will chair the first signature event of the United States’ presidency of the UN Security Council: an open debate focusing on the critical links between conflict and food security.  Following this debate, he will meet with UN Secretary-General Guterres to discuss the global response to the acute human suffering in and around Ukraine.

Biden Administration Expands Support to the Cuban People

17 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The Administration’s policy towards Cuba continues to focus first and foremost on support for the Cuban people, including their human rights and their political and economic well-being.

Today, the Administration announced measures to further support the Cuban people, providing them additional tools to pursue a life free from Cuban government oppression and to seek greater economic opportunities.

We will reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program and further increase consular services and visa processing, making it possible for more Cubans to join their families in the United States via regular migration channels.

We will make it easier for families to visit their relatives in Cuba and for authorized U.S. travelers to engage with the Cuban people, attend meetings, and conduct research.

We will encourage the growth of Cuba’s private sector by supporting greater access to U.S. Internet services, applications, and e-commerce platforms.  We will support new avenues for electronic payments and for U.S. business activities with independent Cuban entrepreneurs, including through increased access to microfinance and training.

We also will support Cuban families and entrepreneurs by enabling increased remittance flows to the Cuban people in ways that do not enrich human rights abusers.  We will lift the family remittance cap of $1,000 per quarter and will support donative remittances to Cuban entrepreneurs, both with the goal of further empowering families to support each other and for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses.

With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home.  We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures.

Guidance on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Information Technology Workers

16 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a joint advisory to alert the international community, the private sector, and the public to attempts by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and remote DPRK information technology (IT) workers to obtain employment while posing as non-DPRK nationals.

The advisory is intended to provide freelance recruitment and digital payment platforms, along with private sector companies that may intentionally or inadvertently recruit, hire, or facilitate the hiring of DPRK IT workers, with information and tools to counter the risks associated with these activities.

Hiring or supporting the activities of DPRK IT workers poses many risks, ranging from theft of intellectual property, data, and funds to reputational harm and legal consequences, including sanctions under both United States and United Nations authorities.

The advisory provides detailed information on how DPRK IT workers operate and identifies red flags to help companies avoid hiring them and identify those who may already be abusing their services. Additionally, it provides information about relevant United States and United Nations sanctions, including a non-exhaustive list of activities for which persons could be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

The United States is committed to disrupting illicit DPRK revenue-generating activities, which may facilitate criminal activity, provide direct support to the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs, and threaten international peace and security.

The advisory along with a two-page summary version are available here .

The United States has previously issued a number of advisories on the DPRK regarding ballistic missile  procurement, cyber threats , illicit maritime activities , and supply chain  links. These advisories offer guidance and information to help governments and the private sector minimize risk.

Secretary Blinken’s Travel to Germany, France, and the United Arab Emirates

14 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Germany, France, and the United Arab Emirates May 14-16 to attend the informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Berlin, Germany, join the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council meeting in Paris-Saclay, France, and to pay respects to the late Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

On May 14, the Secretary will travel to Berlin to attend an informal meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers where Allies and partners will discuss their unified response to Russia’s continuing brutal war against Ukraine and the upcoming Leaders’ Summit in Madrid.  Allies will also adopt a new NATO Strategic Concept to guide the Alliance’s work over the next decade.

On May 15, the Secretary will travel to Paris, joined by United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, to attend the second ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC).  They will meet with EU leaders to discuss how democratic approaches to trade, technology, and innovation can serve as a force for greater prosperity.

On May 16, the Secretary will join Vice President Harris as part of the Presidential Delegation to offer condolences on behalf of the United States for the passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Humanitarian Relief Trustees Arrested in Hong Kong

12 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

By arresting Cardinal Joseph Zen, Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung, and Denise Ho under the National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities have again demonstrated they will pursue all means necessary to stifle dissent and undercut protected rights and freedoms.  Hui Po-keung’s arrest at Hong Kong International Airport prior to his departure further indicates local authorities maintain a politically motivated exit ban on certain residents. These individuals served as trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped thousands of arrested Hong Kong democracy protestors access funds for medical aid, legal advice, psychological counseling, and emergency financial relief.

We call for the immediate release of those who remain in custody and continue to stand with people in Hong Kong.

Department Press Briefing – May 10, 2022

11 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

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.)

United States Support for the Sudanese Tripartite Political Process

10 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States reiterates its strong support for the combined efforts of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), the African Union (AU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to facilitate a political process to restore a civilian-led transition to democracy in Sudan.  We welcome the outreach and progress made to date.

As the process moves forward and the facilitators begin conversations with stakeholders on the substance of a solution, we are convinced that the UNITAMS-AU-IGAD facilitated process is the most inclusive mechanism to achieve an urgently needed agreement on a civilian-led transitional framework.  We continue to encourage all Sudanese civilian and military actors to utilize this process to achieve democratic progress and national stability.

In recent phone calls with Sudanese civilian and military leaders, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee welcomed the release of political detainees in the past few weeks.  At the same time, she pressed for the full implementation of promised confidence-building measures by the Sudanese military including lifting the state of emergency and the release of the remaining political detainees.  She stressed the need for all stakeholders to participate constructively in the UNITAMS-AU-IGAD facilitated process and to make rapid progress on the framework for a civilian transitional government.  She underscored the need for the military to transfer power to a civilian government established under such a framework to enable the resumption of international financial support and development assistance.

Department Press Briefing – May 9, 2022

10 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

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.)