Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:17 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Another full house today; very good to see. I understand the house is particularly full because we have some guests today, some graduate students from American University who are here to observe. So I must ask that everyone be on their best behavior. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Why do you look at me?
MR PRICE: Before —
QUESTION: I’m always on my best —
MR PRICE: Before we get to your questions, let me say a few things at the top. First, Russia has now announced the pre-baked results of its sham referenda. These results were concocted in Moscow, not collected in Ukraine. Let’s be clear: The results are completely fabricated and do not reflect the will of the people of Ukraine. This is the will of Moscow, not the free will of Ukraine or its people.
Because we’ve seen this movie before, we know what will come next. We expect Russia to use these sham referenda as a false pretext to attempt to annex Ukraine’s territory.
But no matter what President Putin and his enablers try to claim, these areas are and will remain part of Ukraine. Ukraine has every right to continue to defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.
The United States will never recognize Russia’s attempts to annex parts of Ukraine. Quite the opposite. We will continue to work with allies and partners to bring even more pressure on Russia and the individuals and entities that are helping support its attempted land grab. You can expect additional measures from us in the coming days. At the same time, we will not be deterred from supporting Ukraine, and as my colleagues at the White House and soon the Defense Department will announce, we will continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine so it can defend itself and its sovereign territory for as long as it takes.
Next, we are deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank. This year alone, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and more than 30 in Gaza, while more than 20 Israelis and other civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks.
We call on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. As we have said for some time, we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence. The United States and other international partners stand ready to help but we cannot substitute for vital actions by the parties to mitigate conflict and to restore calm.
And finally, I am pleased to announce that Secretary Blinken has designated Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Monica Medina as special envoy for biodiversity and water resources. She will take on the special envoy designation in addition to her current responsibilities.
The months ahead are essential for advancing efforts to confront the loss of nature and rising water insecurity crises, as there is a unique confluence of global events that will determine the health of the planet for generations to come. Special Envoy Medina will be uniquely positioned to coordinate an all-of-government effort to address these crises – leveraging the talent and expertise in the department as well as across the federal government.
With that, turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Ned. On your first – two things on your – your very first opening remarks. The – I presume from what you said that should Russia go ahead and – after the referendum and annex these parts – these four parts of Ukraine, that the U.S. guidance or perhaps prohibition on Ukraine using U.S.-supplied weaponry to launch attacks into those areas will not – it won’t apply. Is that correct?
MR PRICE: So since the start of this conflict, and in fact even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, we have provided our Ukrainian partners with the supplies, with the systems that they need to do one thing – that is to defend themselves, to defend their independence, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their territorial integrity. We have provided different systems and supplies at every stage of this conflict, contouring the nature of that assistance and the specifics of it to precisely the battle that our Ukrainian partners were facing at the time. It was true as the Ukrainians were fighting for their capital city, Kyiv. It was true as they won that battle of Kyiv. It was true and it is true as the fighting has intensified in the south and the east. And now that Ukraine is mounting its effective – and heretofore successful – counteroffensive in the north and the south as well, we’ve done the same. At every step of the way, we’ve been very clear that everything we’re providing is for the defense of Ukraine’s own territory, the defense of its sovereignty, the defense of its independence, the defense of its territorial integrity. We have been clear when it comes to certain longer-range systems with our Ukrainian partners that these systems are for use on sovereign Ukrainian territory. If and when this annexation occurs, as we expect it will, these areas will remain sovereign Ukrainian territory.
QUESTION: Okay. And that also applies to Crimea. Right?
MR PRICE: Crimea is Ukraine. Obviously —
QUESTION: Okay. So then you would have no objections to the Ukrainians using your weaponry to launch strikes on Russian targets in Crimea, either.
MR PRICE: We don’t select targets for our Ukrainian partners. It is up to them to devise —
QUESTION: I know. I’m just saying – well, you – but you told – you’ve told – but you’ve told them that you don’t want them to use your weaponry to launch strikes into Russia, what is Russia now. Correct?
MR PRICE: And Crimea is not Russia. But —
QUESTION: I know. So —
MR PRICE: But I mean —
QUESTION: So why haven’t – so it’s all on the Ukrainians that they haven’t launched – used U.S. weapons to attack Crimea?
MR PRICE: I think what we can say for the Ukrainians is – well, in the first instance I will let the Ukrainians speak to their military strategy. But just at a very high level, I think we’ve seen the effectiveness of the strategy that undergirds their counter-offensive. The fact that within hours of launching it in August they retook hundreds and subsequently thousands of square miles of territory that Russia had for a time, at least, wrested from them – their military strategy is their military strategy. The targets they select are the targets they select.
Now, of course, our Department of Defense is a source of guidance and can provide advice and counsel, just as we provide advice and counsel when it comes to questions of foreign policy and broader questions of national security.
QUESTION: All right. And then lastly, and your colleague at the White House just went – spoke about this in depth, so I just want to ask you about it – the Nord Stream explosion/leaks. We saw last night that the Secretary had a conversation with the Danish foreign minister about this. Has he had any additional conversations specifically related to these incidents? And if he has or even if he hasn’t, has there been any change in your assessment of what happened?
MR PRICE: So you’re right. The Secretary last night did have an opportunity to speak to his Danish counterpart, Foreign Minister Kofod. Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, had an opportunity last night to speak to his Danish counterpart as well. The Secretary, I would expect within the coming day, potentially as soon as later today, will have an opportunity to speak to other European partners regarding what seem to be apparent acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream pipeline.
We have seen the statements from our Danish partners and from others. We are supporting European efforts to investigate this, and we’re also – we also stand ready to support European efforts to mitigate any potential environmental impact. As you know, the energy impact of this apparent sabotage is and was mitigated by the fact that neither Nord Stream 2, which of course was never operational, and Nord Stream 1, because the Russians had already weaponized Nord Stream 1 by essentially turning it off – neither of these pipelines were pumping gas into Europe at the time. And so, of course, the impacts on Europe’s broader energy security and energy resilience will therefore be mitigated.
QUESTION: Well, in the short term.
MR PRICE: In the short term.
QUESTION: So who do you suspect – who is behind it? And I welcome the student from AU, of course. So who – you suspect anyone did this?
MR PRICE: We have more questions than answers at this point, Said. We’re not going to get ahead of the investigation. An investigation like this, owing to the nature of the investigation, — underwater, for one – could well take time. So we’re going to allow the investigation to play out before we start to lay out theories or hypotheses.
QUESTION: But you call it apparent sabotage. You used the word “apparent.”
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: So what are you basing that on exactly? Just your conversations with the European counterparts, or do you have other information? Then why are you not ready to go a little bit further than that?
MR PRICE: We’re basing it primarily on the conversations that we’ve had with our European partners. They, of course, are much closer to the site of this apparent sabotage. We are, as part of our assistance to the investigation, sharing information we may have on these acts, on these apparent acts of sabotage. But this moniker, “apparent sabotage,” is based on what we know but primarily what we’re hearing from our European counterparts.
QUESTION: If it did turn out to be sabotage by a nation state, do you think that could rise to the level of NATO Article 5 infringement?
MR PRICE: Again, that is a hypothetical perhaps wrapped within another hypothetical, so I just wouldn’t want to entertain it at this point. There is an investigation that’s underway. We’re prepared to support that investigation. We’re prepared to support the environmental mitigation efforts, the efforts to mitigate the environmental impact, but I just wouldn’t want to weigh in before any conclusion is reached in that investigation.
QUESTION: If this turns out to be sabotage, how vulnerable the alternative pipelines are, do you think? And will the U.S. step up and help countries such as Norway, Azerbaijan, and others to boost up the security of their pipelines?
Secondly, there are reports that the U.S. actually did see this coming. There were some intelligence reports and the U.S. did inform Germans and others. Are you in a position to confirm or deny those reports?
MR PRICE: Of course, I’m not in a position to speak to any intelligence, or any intelligence that may have been passed to Germany or any other ally. What we did see coming, what many countries around the world saw coming, was Russia’s attempts – broadly speaking, not speaking to events of the past 24 hours, but broadly speaking – to weaponize energy. And we’ve seen that since the earliest days of this conflict. We’ve seen that since before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
You asked what we are prepared to do when it comes to Europe’s energy security and energy resilience. Well, let me just remind you of what we are already doing. We’ve been deeply engaged in this task again – even prior to February 24th. We have worked with our European partners and European allies to surge LNG supplies, oftentimes in cooperation with partners on the other side of the world. Countries such as Japan have been in a position to help us surge LNG supplies to Europe. Various countries have tapped their own strategic petroleum reserves. We’ve done that to an unprecedented tune in recent months. U.S. oil production is up by more than 500,000 barrels per day. Our LNG exports, oftentimes to Europe, are up more than 20 percent since last year. We became the largest – this year we became the largest LNG supplier both to the EU and to the UK. And we will become the overall largest global LNG exporter this year.
That is what we’re doing in the short term. What we have been doing – knowing, as I alluded to before, that the Russians could seek to weaponize energy as part of their aggression against Ukraine – over the longer term, because as you alluded to, or someone alluded to, and I think it was you in your question – this will be a longer-term challenge. This is not a challenge that will only be with us for the coming weeks or through this winter; this will be something that we’ll have to confront year after year. That is in large part why President Biden and President von der Leyen of the – of the EU set up a taskforce earlier this year to work on energy security issues. And as you know, through various auspices and mechanisms, we are working with partners not only in Europe but around the world to lessen our dependence on Russian energy – Russia, of course, has proven itself to be a wholly unreliable energy supplier – but also to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels as we accelerate that transition to renewables, which will also be part of the answer.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. been formally asked to assist in that investigation? And then separately, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow warned American citizens that Russia may not recognize dual nationality when it comes to mass mobilization and conscription. And I’m just wondering whether you’ve seen evidence that this is occurring, that Americans are being conscripted or being denied consular access.
MR PRICE: So a couple points. On your first question, we have been in close touch with our Danish partners since reports of this started to emerge. Beyond the Secretary – and I meant to note this earlier – beyond the Secretary, senior officials in this building have engaged with their Danish partners, others – other partners and allies in the region as well. We have offered assistance for any environmental response, but we haven’t yet received any such requests for assistance from our Danish partners. As I said before, we’re already sharing information that is in our possession regarding these apparent acts of sabotage, and we’ll continue to do that.
When it comes to your question on – regarding Russia, we did – our embassy in Moscow did issue a security alert last night Washington time – Eastern time, at least – notified U.S. citizens about Russia’s mobilization of Russia’s citizens to the armed forces in support of its invasion in Ukraine. Of course, we are concerned about potential implications for dual U.S.-Russian nationals. We’re not yet aware of any reports of dual U.S.-Russian nationals who have been called or conscripted into service as a result of this. But the security alert that you saw last night was triggered primarily by President Putin’s so-called partial mobilization, the 300,000 additional Russian citizens who President Putin is seeking to enlist in his brutal war in Ukraine. A consequence of that mobilization is, one, the possibility of conscription of dual nationals – in this case, dual U.S.-Russian nationals.
But as we’ve seen, this call for a partial mobilization has also engendered protests across Russia. And of course, we have concern that any Americans could be caught up in such acts; they could be specifically targeted. We’ve previously made clear our concerns that Americans have been specifically targeted because of their American nationality by Russian security officials. So that, too, is a concern. But we are not yet aware of any Americans who have been arrested as part of the demonstrations in response to the partial mobilization.
QUESTION: As it relates to conscription, though – I mean, you noted the other day that Edward Snowden might now be subject to it. You haven’t heard anything about him being conscripted, have you? And you would still urge him, as with other Americans, to come back home? So he has the – he has the opportunity to stay in Russia and potentially be conscripted or come back and be put on trial, right?
MR PRICE: So we have issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for Russia since last August. Starting in February —
QUESTION: He wasn’t a Russian citizen until just the other day. He wasn’t a dual citizen until just the other day.
MR PRICE: No, of course, and I’m not talking to any specific American citizen at this point. I may come to that. But then, of course, in February we urged all American citizens not only not to travel to Russia, but those American citizens who were in Russia to leave Russia.
When it comes to Mr. Snowden, our position on him has been consistent. It has been clear. He should return to the United States where he would be afforded due process, which, by the way, is not a right he would be afforded were he to stay in Russia and to be accused of a crime there.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I want to go to where you began or the second item about the possible violence erupting in the West Bank, and in fact there was an interview with Ambassador Nides where he actually warns against such a thing. But I tell you, I mean, the Palestinians don’t have much hope other than perhaps resort to violence. They keep hitting a brick wall. I mean, you talk about both sides. Now, only one side occupies the other, torments the other, and so on. Even the most modest of actions – well, to sort of follow through on your commitment to the two-state solution, which is the reopening of the consulate that was open and so on – it’s not open. So what do you say to the Palestinians that are almost hopeless?
MR PRICE: Said, I will start where you started, because that has been a core premise of our policy: to afford a greater degree of hope, a greater degree of opportunity to the Palestinian people. Now, the first element of that was re-engaging with the Palestinian Authority, re‑engaging with the Palestinian people, something we did nearly as soon as we came into offer – into office. Re-engagement, of course, is only one part of that.
What is perhaps more meaningful when it comes to that hope and that opportunity is what we have provided, what we have been in a sense – in a sense able to deliver to and for the Palestinian people. And in addition to the more than half-billion dollars the United States has provided to the Palestinian people since January of 2021, when this administration came into office, President Biden when he was in the region in May announced an additional $316 million to support the Palestinian people when he was in the West Bank. And last week, this department, we were in a position to announce nearly $64 million, additional funding for UNRWA providing health care, providing emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of potentially vulnerable Palestinian children and families.
Together, this brings total support in 2022 to nearly $350 million. It brings our total assistance to the Palestinian people to some $680 million since April of 2021. This assistance, of course, is not a panacea. This is assistance that can help to do what we talked about the other day – to lay the predicate for greater levels of opportunity and optimism and opportunity and hope for the Palestinian people so that this can be cemented and ultimately can translate into progress in what is our ultimate goal, and that’s the two-state solution, a negotiated two-state solution negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: That’s all well and good and so on, the money, and I’m sure the Palestinians appreciate that. You keep saying you want Palestinians and Israelis to enjoy the same level of dignity. I mean, they look – the Palestinians look at what you have done with, let’s say, the Shireen Abu Akleh case. I mean, you have sanctions the Iranian morality police, as you should have, because a young woman died in their custody and so on. Palestinians die in Israeli custody all the time. You have not spoken about – I mean, you’ve spoken about Shireen Abu Akleh; you have not pursued any kind of independent investigation. And as far as they’re concerned, this issue is dead. It’s gone.
So, I mean, they look at your actions and they lose faith, Ned.
MR PRICE: Said, it is extraordinarily difficult to compare cases like this, and I can spend just a moment —
QUESTION: Yeah, but in principle.
MR PRICE: — talking about the profound differences between the case, between the two cases that you referenced.
With Mahsa Amini in Iran – a young woman who was arrested for exercising what should have been a universal right to freedom of expression, in this case specifically the right to determine for herself her appearance, what she chose to wear – she was arrested by the so-called morality police. Within days she was dead. Of course we took a firm response in the form of sanctions and the efforts we’ve taken to support the universal right of the Iranian people to have their voices heard.
When it comes to the tragic killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, we of course spoke out within – at the first opportunity, upon learning of her – of her killing. We – our U.S. security coordinator worked very closely with Palestinian authorities, worked very closely with the IDF, and ultimately not only did the IDF but also the U.S. security coordinator came to a number of conclusions, one of which was the fact that there was – appeared to be no intentionality behind her killing.
So I think these cases are different on – for a number of reasons. We always speak out in favor of universal rights. We always speak out in favor of the human rights of people around the world. It’s no different whether that’s within Israel, whether that’s in the West Bank, in Gaza, or in Iran for that matter.
QUESTION: Okay. But just one —
QUESTION: They’re also different because Shireen Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen.
MR PRICE: Correct.
QUESTION: But you didn’t mention that.
MR PRICE: Of course. She was a U.S. citizen.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but —
MR PRICE: Of course.
QUESTION: — you didn’t mention that in your little spiel there. Respond.
MR PRICE: It is —
QUESTION: Okay, so you —
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Let me move around because —
QUESTION: Ned, one —
MR PRICE: — we have many people here today.
QUESTION: — last thing. One last thing.
MR PRICE: Said, we have many —
QUESTION: Please, Ned.
MR PRICE: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Please, Ned.
QUESTION: You put —
MR PRICE: Go ahead, Guita.
QUESTION: You put out a statement condemning the missile and drone attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Iraqi Kurdistan. What is the U.S. Government doing to protect – to help protect the region, especially given that there are U.S. forces stationed there as well?
MR PRICE: So you’re right. We did put out a statement. We put out a statement in my name. The National Security Advisor also condemned these drone and missile attacks against Iraq’s Kurdistan region earlier today. We’ve made the point that we stand with Iraq’s leaders, its leaders in its Kurdistan region as well as in Baghdad, in condemning what was a brazen assault on Iraq’s own sovereignty and Iraq’s own territorial integrity. This is unfortunately just another instance of Iran’s flagrant disregard for not only the lives of their own people but also for their neighbors and for what are core principles at the crux of the UN Charter: sovereignty, territorial integrity.
This is not the first time that we have seen Iran use these tactics – ballistic missiles and drones – but we are going to continue working with our partners in the region to help them defend against these types of threats. And we can do that in a number of different ways. We have levied sanctions when it comes to networks of UAV – when it comes to UAV networks in Iran. We have taken a number of steps with partners in the region to provide them with supplies and assistance that they would need to defend themselves against the types of Iranian-provided weapons systems that are such a destabilizing force. So we’ll continue to do that. Ultimately this was an attack – a brazen assault on the sovereignty of Iraq. And the most important thing we can do in many ways is to stand with Iraq’s leaders, Iraq’s leaders in Baghdad, Iraq’s leader in the region – leaders of Kurdistan and Erbil going forward.
QUESTION: Have they reached out for any assistance?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware of any requests for assistance?
QUESTION: Same topic.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? So a duel citizen or an American citizen was actually confirmed to be among the killed. We just confirmed that. But also the CENTCOM put out a statement saying that they shot down a drone that they believe was going towards American forces. So is there any safety concerns for Americans in Kurdistan region?
MR PRICE: In the aftermath of these attacks, we did an accountability check. In the aftermath of that, we determined that there were no casualties on the part of American officials in the region. Of course, we take threats – potential threats like this very seriously but in this case there’s nothing to suggest that American officials were injured.
QUESTION: So I know that you guys have two statements out, but I am just curious what’s the understanding here. Why is Kurdistan region a target of Iranian attack?
MR PRICE: That would be a question for Tehran, not for Washington.
QUESTION: And last question. During the Obama administration and then early Trump administration, the Iranian opposition were able to engage with U.S. officials, but then former Secretary Mike Pompeo put out an order to kind of refrain from engaging with the Iranian opposition. What is the position of your administration? Do you guys engage with them? If not, why not?
MR PRICE: The Iranian opposition inside of Iran?
QUESTION: Or here, like —
MR PRICE: Of course, we’re always open to listening to those who have a perspective when it comes to Iran and its people. I think the most important thing we can do is to listen to those brave Iranians who were peacefully taking to the streets to exercise and to make clear their aspirations for greater levels of democracy, of freedom, of human rights. It’s important that the world not only listen but important that the world be able to hear them in the first place.
And so that’s why we’ve taken some of the steps we have not only in recent years, including the general license that was issued in 2014 but the so-called General License D-2 that we issued late last week, whose primary purpose was to allow the voice of the Iranian people to be heard by the outside world. It’s an important tool, and it’s – since the issuance of this general license last Friday, we’ve seen indications that U.S. technology companies have availed themselves of this newfound ability to provide services to the Iranian people. It is our hope that the Iranian people are in a position to take advantage of these – of this new technology, of these new services, not only to communicate with one another but to see to it that their voices are heard around the world.
Yes, in back.
QUESTION: You said there were no U.S. officials among the victims. There was one U.S. citizen. His name is Omar (inaudible), known as Chichu. So do you have any response other than the statement you put out?
MR PRICE: I am not aware that we’ve been able to confirm that just yet, but if and when we are, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Also, I have a question about sanctions, because you were talking about sanctioning the morality police. I want to ask about the – about the existing sanctions that we already have in place regarding specifically Iranian oil sanctions. Do you believe that these sanctions at the moment are properly executed? Because based on statistics, we know Iran boost its own oil exports, specifically to China.
MR PRICE: So some of the – and these are all, of course, open-source estimates, and so to some extent there is always going to be a margin of error when you look at statistics like that. I think what we can say with some confidence is that some of the open-source statistics have been inflated, and that is the case when it comes to certain reports of Iranian oil exports to the PRC.
But the fact of the matter is that sanctions and sanctions enforcement, it is an iterative – it requires an iterative approach. We are always looking at ways we can optimize the sanctions regimes that are in place around the world. We can optimize them in two important ways. One is to ensure that there aren’t humanitarian implications and to make sure there aren’t spillover effects on arenas that are important to us – like humanitarian arenas, for example – but also to ensure that the limitations and the restrictions that these sanctions are designed to impose are as constricting as possible.
So even in the case of Iran, in recent weeks not only have we leveled – and levied, excuse me – new sanctions against Iran’s petrochemical and – petrochemical industry, but we’ve taken action against sanction evasion networks precisely for the reason that you highlight. We’re always in discussion not only with our interagency to determine what more we can do as a government, but also with other governments as well to make sure that we’re all working together to see to it that these sanctions regimes are as biting as possible.
QUESTION: Separate topic. Turkey has issued a diplomatic protest to the United States and Greece for deploying U.S.-provided armored vehicles to the Aegean Islands of non-military status under existing agreements. Have you provided an official response to Turkey?
MR PRICE: Look, we would refer you to specific governments regarding any deployment of their own defense equipment. That is not something for us to speak to. More broadly, and I believe I said this the other day, we continue to encourage our NATO Allies – Turkey and Greece, in this case – to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve their differences diplomatically. We urge all the parties to avoid rhetoric and to avoid taking actions that could further exacerbate tensions. The sovereignty, the territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. Greece’s sovereignty over these islands is not in question, but we call on all countries, including our allies, to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty, and to avoid actions that could inflame tensions.
QUESTION: We just – moments ago we talked about Ukraine and the provisions under arms provided to Ukraine. Now, I know that all defense articles of the United States are provided on certain provisions. Aren’t there any provisions on those equipment provided to Greece in – being used in violation of international agreements, as Turkish Government deems it?
MR PRICE: We are always taking a close look at the security assistance, including potential weapon systems and supplies, that we’re providing to allies and partners around the world. We are in a fortunate position to have a number of close security partners around the world, people – countries that look to the United States as a supplier for the security that they need to confront what are often shared challenges and shared threats. Oftentimes this will come in the form of terrorism threats and other collective challenges, but there is a constant evaluative process when it comes to looking at the security assistance we provide to any country around the world.
QUESTION: Does that apply to Turkey and the S-400s as well, when you talk about how it’s up to each country to oversee or to determine the deployment of their own defense equipment?
MR PRICE: Of course it is. And their – and —
QUESTION: It is. Okay, well then, why are you telling the Turks constantly not to deploy this and not to buy it in the first place, but —
MR PRICE: And we have also made clear that there will be implications given certain choices.
QUESTION: Then I think, then, the logical next question is if – and we’re talking about U.S.-supplied military here in Greece, right? Are there not any implications?
MR PRICE: Matt, I don’t think our – this ally is interested in purchasing the S-400 system in question here. This is the purchase of a particular Russian system that ran afoul of —
QUESTION: I know. It’s a question of consistency —
MR PRICE: — of congressionally mandated sanctions. So these are different cases. Of course, countries around the world are open to make their own choices. There will be cases – extreme cases – where certain choices will have implications on the part of the United States and our bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: There are also – yeah, for example, F-16s. About – we talk about F-16s, and Congress is trying to bring some provisions that F-16s should not be used in kind of a violation of Greek airspace, something like this. The question is: If provision applies to one partner and not the other, what is the standard? How should we trace those provisions and see that, okay, here is the standard, and here is double standard?
MR PRICE: The standard we use is what is in America’s national interests, and it just so happens that when it comes to our allies and partners, what tends to be in our national interest is in the collective interest as well.
QUESTION: Is it in the national interest of the United States —
MR PRICE: Let me move around, so yes.
QUESTION: Turkey uses its drone technology to spy illegally on the Greek islands, and also, as a matter of fact, they don’t even try to hide it; they release themselves the picture. So my question is: What is your reactions to this incident? And second, is it unacceptable for a NATO Ally to spy on another NATO Ally?
MR PRICE: As I said in response to your colleague’s question, we encourage countries around the world, particularly our NATO Allies, particularly as we are facing a collective threat from the Russian Federation – not only what it’s doing in Ukraine but the threat it poses to the broader region – to remain focused, to remain focused on the threats that are a challenge to all of us. And in so doing, we encourage all of our NATO Allies to work together to resolve any differences through dialogue and diplomacy.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I would like to go back to the energy crisis and rising costs of gas and electricity, and I would like to ask you, what do you think about the strategy Liz Truss has in the United Kingdom, where she’s doing these tax cuts that includes an energy package that is going to help families and businesses pay their energy bills? Is this something that the U.S. is looking to copy? And is there going to be any global strategy for every country that they can implement then on a national level that can help offset the energy cost due to the war in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: This is a question for the British people to decide, the sort of energy policy they want in their country. When it comes to the United States, what we have sought to do is to increase the resilience on the part of our partners and allies around the world. That includes in the UK, that includes our allies in the EU and elsewhere. I’ve spoken already to some of the steps we have taken. We, of course, are acting in concert and in some cases in coordination with allies and partners in terms of tapping into strategic petroleum reserves, in terms of moving supplies of LNG where it’s needed most, and then, of course, executing and devising policies that will help lessen dependence over time on Russian energy but also on fossil fuels more broadly as we transition to renewables.
QUESTION: Segueing into a British person is a beautiful segue.
MR PRICE: Yes, please.
QUESTION: Hello, Ned. Good afternoon. New topic: The security situation in Haiti has deteriorated over the past 12 months dramatically. American citizens are told not to go to Haiti, but at least 25,000 Haitians seeking asylum have been deported in the past 12 months. Does the State Department have any misgivings about deporting Haitians when their country is so dangerous?
And then picking up on how you started the briefing, with the Ukraine crisis, 100,000 Ukrainians have been given asylum in the United States, approximately. Haitians are seeing this and saying there’s a double standard. What would you say to Haitians about that?
MR PRICE: So a couple points. Number one, we are and we have consistently partnered with Haitian authorities to try to address the underlying security challenges that are at the root of what you point to, the violence, the kidnappings, the transnational crime that has plagued Haiti for far too long. We are in frequent touch with the leadership of the Government of Haiti, with the Haitian National Police as well, including through embedded police advisors to evaluate and to address many of these most urgent security needs.
For example, at the request of the Haitian National Police, we have provided 60 vehicles to address some of their mobility issues, and we’re working to provide more critical equipment as well. This summer, we committed an additional $48 million to support holistic anti-gang programming, which includes specialized training and vetting of the Haitian National Police counter-gang units, community development, violence prevention programming in partnership with USAID and the OAS, and programming that begins to address other gaps, such as Haiti’s ports and firearms trafficking.
We have a bureau here at the department, bureau of – our INL Bureau. We also support counternarcotics efforts in Haiti, crowd control, counter-gang programming, community policing, corrections and border security units. All the while we put an emphasis on human rights training and enhancing police transparency, knowing that that is a key component of our assistance as well.
There are another – a number of examples of our collaboration with Haitian authorities, including the Haitian National Police, but the point is that we are determined to work with them to address these underlying security challenges just as we continue to work with Haiti to encourage a government that is responsive to the profound needs of its people.
QUESTION: But returning 25,000 – more than 25,000 Haitians when you actually know the situation is dangerous – the State Department is comfortable with that?
MR PRICE: Of course we are not comfortable with the security situation in Haiti at the moment. It is a security situation that is precarious. It has become increasingly precarious. That is why we’ve become increasingly focused on working with Haitian authorities to do what we can as appropriate to help address – to help them address the security situation. We always have an eye to security situations in countries around the world when we are in the position to have to deport nationals back to their home countries, and we’ll continue to work with our Haitian partners to address these longer-term challenges.
QUESTION: Last question. Your Haitian partners – does that mean that the U.S. supports Ariel Henry, the prime minister, as long as he takes back deportees?
MR PRICE: We support Haiti’s constitutional process. We believe not in people but in institutions, and in this case Haiti has a constitution that has stood the test of time, that we think lays out an appropriate roadmap for the next steps. So that’s what we support.
QUESTION: Also asylum. So we’ve seen a checkered response so far from EU countries on whether to accept Russians avoiding conscription. Will the U.S. support or encourage, as allied countries, to hear these asylum claims? And of course the White House has said that Russians are more than welcome to come and apply for asylum here and they’ll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Just wondering if you could say if the administration views fleeing conscription alone as a legitimate grounds for an asylum claim.
MR PRICE: So on the last part of your question, DHS processes – processes asylum claims, so that would be a question for them, not for us. I think it’s fair to say they look holistically at each case, and all relevant factors would be taken into consideration.
When it comes to our engagement with countries in the region and potentially beyond, each country is going to have to make its own sovereign decision about how to respond to Russians that are seeking refuge and safety within their borders. That is not something that we are going to prescribe; that is not something we would prescribe. What we have made clear is the distinction we make and that a number of countries have made around the world, the distinction between the Russian Government and the Russian people. And I think the events of the past week or so put a spotlight on that dynamic.
In response to the actions of the Russian Government, we have seen an equal and opposite reaction on the part of the Russian people, and we have seen thousands of Russians take to the streets once again, just as they did in the earliest hours of President Putin’s war against Ukraine, to make clear that they are not supportive of this war effort, they are not endorsing the decision on the part of their leadership to potentially – to potentially send hundreds of thousands of additional Russians to face injury or potentially death inside of Ukraine.
We think it’s important, for our part, to continue to have our doors open to Russians who are in a position to come to this country, and we have seen over the course of this war potentially hundreds of thousands of Russians quite literally vote with their feet – Russians who have never had the genuine opportunity to have their voice heard at the ballot box are now in a position to vote with their feet. In the aftermath of the announcement of this partial mobilization, airfare sold out to the few places Russians are in a position to fly. We’ve seen border crossings with long lines of cars, individuals trying to get out of the United States, and Russian nationals around the world seeking to apply for asylum or other forms of safe haven wherever it is they are.
QUESTION: So, wait, I just want to – it’s up to DHS to decide whether fleeing conscription is a legitimate ground for an asylum claim, but you’ll welcome them here, but it’s up to DHS?
MR PRICE: As they process asylum applications.
QUESTION: Right, but do you take – does the administration as a whole, outside – you take a position on whether that’s a legitimate – a legitimate – that that’s —
MR PRICE: Again, that’s a question for DHS because they adjudicate asylum claims.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I just remember that back in the ’60s and ’70s, the U.S. administrations at the time took a very different position with Americans running to Canada to avoid the draft then, and until they were pardoned en masse, they were still wanted criminals.
MR PRICE: Matt, that’s a —
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: It’s a question for DHS.
Yes, in the back.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), Australian Broadcasting Corporation. At the Pacific Islands Summit today, Secretary Blinken said that a declaration of partnership had been agreed upon. Can I just confirm: Have all of the Pacific Island leaders here today agreed to that declaration? Specifically, has Solomon Islands agreed to that declaration?
MR PRICE: As is typically the case ahead of summits and ministerials, multilateral gatherings, we are engaged in deep and constructive conversations with participants in that gathering. This has been no exception. We’ve been discussing our shared vision for the region, a vision that could be reflected in anything that could possibly emerge tomorrow as a result of the summit that President Biden is convening. We’ve made tremendous progress when it comes to those conversations, and I’m confident you will hear more and you will see more from President Biden tomorrow.
QUESTION: Is it accurate to say, though, that that still hasn’t been agreed to yet, that discussions are still underway?
MR PRICE: I will for now, so as not to spoil some of the surprise for tomorrow, just say that we’ve been in a position to make tremendous progress. We’ve been gratified by the constructive conversations that we’ve had with Pacific Island attendees. And we’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.
QUESTION: And how would you characterize Solomon Islands’ concerns?
MR PRICE: It is not for me to characterize the concerns of another country. You’re welcome to ask them; they happen to be in the building.
QUESTION: So, Ned, Belarussian President Lukashenka arrived today in occupied Abkhazia and met local leader. As Lukashenka mentioned, he wants, and I quote, to build not only a “bridge of friendship… very serious relations” as well. I wonder if you could give me your reaction on that, please.
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we remain steadfast in our support for Georgia and for its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. We believe that Russia must be held accountable for the commitments it made under the 2008 ceasefire. Russia must withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions and reverse its recognition of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. The Georgian ministry of foreign affairs did, as you know, release a statement today condemning the visit of Alexander Lukashenka, condemned his visit to Abkhazia, and we’d refer you to the Georgian Government for additional details.
QUESTION: Is —
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: Just to come back to the Solomon Islands, like, could you just clarify in plain language – the Secretary said – he held up a document and said we’ve agreed on this. Your answer just now suggests that that’s not the case.
MR PRICE: No, I didn’t mean to suggest that’s not the case. I just —
QUESTION: Hasn’t – it hasn’t been agreed?
MR PRICE: I was suggesting that you will hear more on this tomorrow. I think what the Secretary said is that we’ve come to agreement on the vision we share for the region, a vision that will be reflected in everything that emanates from this summit, including any documents you may see tomorrow.
QUESTION: That doesn’t mean that all the countries have agreed to sign on to it.
MR PRICE: I think the Secretary was clear that we’ve been able to come to an agreement on a shared vision, something we’re very gratified about.
QUESTION: Separate topic.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about a report out today from the Foley Foundation on U.S. hostages and Americans being wrongfully detained abroad. The report shows a dramatic increase in the number of incidents of U.S. nationals being wrongfully detained overseas. It’s up almost 200 percent this decade compared to last decade, and there’s been a 60 percent increase in the average length of time that these hostages are being held, with over half being held for a decade or longer. Does the State Department agree that over the past decade some of the – that the cases of U.S. hostages being held have become more difficult to resolve? And what do you attribute that to? And what is the Biden administration doing to ensure that countries are not taking Americans to be used as political leverage?
MR PRICE: So as you know, we often, and as a general rule, we don’t speak to numbers even in the aggregate when it comes to American hostages or wrongful detainees around the world. I think what is true is that the broader assessment that this report paints is one that is reflective of the reality of the past decade, reflective of the scale and the scope of the challenge that not only the United States faces, but that so many countries face when it comes to the taking of hostages, when it comes to the holding of wrongful detainees around the world.
This has been a priority of ours since the earliest days of this administration. We are working with experts inside of government, outside of government, including of course with the Foley Foundation and other institutions, to defy – devise ways to not only bring Americans home who are subject to being held hostage or being held or being wrongfully detained, but also to deter countries from this abhorrent practice going forward. We have really two imperatives. Number one is to see to it that the Americans who are – have been kept from their families for far too long, in some cases years, are returned to their families and loved ones as soon and as quickly as we can possibly manage; but number two, to create and ultimately to reinforce a norm against this type of despicable behavior on the part of certain states. We want to make sure that every government who would engage in this practice understand that there are economic, there are financial, there are diplomatic consequences for their actions.
And we’re starting to do that. We are starting to raise the costs on those countries who engage in this. We have worked very closely with our Canadian allies. They have demonstrated leadership in the fight against this practice. The Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, as it’s called, now has nearly 70 endorsements – 68 endorsements – from countries around the world. We’ve called on others to support this as well. As you know, earlier this year President Biden signed a new executive order directing this department and the interagency to recommend options to the White House to counter and to deter hostage-taking and wrongful detentions. And we’re working on ways to do that – again, to make clear to countries around the world that engage in this that there will – there would be and will be costs for their actions.
We’re also working on ways to educate and to protect U.S. travelers, including by publishing transparent and accurate travel information, including risk indicators, on the relevant country’s Travel Advisory page on our State Department website. Two of our nine current risk indicators identify countries where kidnapping and hostage-taking of U.S. nationals and wrongful detention of U.S. nationals occur. As you know, the newest indicator we rolled out just a couple months ago – the so-called “D” indicator – indicates around the world those countries where Americans may find themself – find themselves at risk of wrongful detention. And we continue to explore options to further amplify information to ensure that Americans, when they travel around the world, are aware of these potential risks.
Our hope is that over time, with careful planning and an eye towards developing a common approach with partners and allies around the world, the cost-benefit analysis of countries that have engaged in this will change and that over time this will be a practice that is ultimately relegated to the dustbin of history.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that. One of the findings in the Foley Foundation’s report was that the families – many families say they’re left in the dark when it comes to the State Department’s process for determining whether their loved one is wrongfully detained or not. One person surveyed said they’d been left to wait nine months before knowing if their case would be handled by SPEHA. So my question is: Can the State Department be doing more to speed up this process for identifying wrongful detainee cases?
MR PRICE: What we’ve learned over the years – and there are many people in this administration who worked in the Obama-Biden administration who have firsthand – who had firsthand experience with this then – is that engagement with the families, early and frequent engagement with the families, is one of the most important ingredients to the handling and to the ultimate successful resolution of a case of a U.S. hostage or an American who may be wrongfully detained around the world. We have, both through the course of this executive order and through a presidential policy directive that President Obama signed in 2015, devised new authorities and means by which the Executive Branch can engage with families, can share with them updates on their loved ones, updates that can sometimes contain sensitive or classified or otherwise sensitive information. So our goal, of course, is to always be as transparent and communicative and responsive to these families as possible.
Now, there are always going to be limitations, but no one knows better than we do that oftentimes these cases can benefit from families and from engagement with families. After all, no one knows the circumstances, the broader context, the unique considerations of any particular case better than family members and other loved ones. So we always strive to involve them in the process.
QUESTION: Thank you. So Polish Foreign Minister Rau said this today in an interview with NBC News that if Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the – NATO’s response should be conventional but devastating. Is that something – I mean, is that an agreed approach? And speaking of Polish foreign ministers, the former one – Radek Sikorski – thanked the U.S. for this apparent sabotage of Nord Stream. And Senator Cruz asked today Ambassador O’Brien in the Senate if the U.S. was in fact behind it, and he didn’t get a very clear answer, so can you clarify that?
MR PRICE: I’d be happy to clarify that. The idea that the United States was in any way involved in the apparent sabotage of these pipelines is preposterous. It is nothing more than a function of Russian disinformation and should be treated as such.
When it comes to the contingency planning that we’ve engaged in for the potential use of a nuclear weapon by Russia in Ukraine, we have spoken very clearly of the implications for Russia were that to happen. We’ve used a number of adjectives. We have said there would be catastrophic, severe, strong, profound implications for Russia. All of those are accurate. We are – we stand by all of those descriptors. The point that we have made both publicly and privately to the Russians is that the consequences would be real, and they would be extraordinary.
QUESTION: That —
QUESTION: That does imply a military strike —
MR PRICE: We’re just —
QUESTION: — because that’s what —
MR PRICE: — not going to go into specifics for reasons I think you could understand.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow up on that?
MR PRICE: Sure. A couple final questions.
QUESTION: Yeah, so people are talking about two types of nuclear – usage of nuclear arms: tactical nuclear arms and strategic nuclear arms. When we say catastrophic response, do we mean about strategic use of nuclear arms or will it be the same if Russians use tactical, low-yield nuclear missiles?
MR PRICE: The use of any nuclear weapons in this conflict would carry those consequences.
QUESTION: This is question on a completely different topic: Mexico and U.S. COVID-19 donate – vaccination donations. Mexico is the top recipient in Latin America of U.S. COVID vaccine donations. Per State Department data, the U.S. has donated Mexico nearly 18 million doses of COVID vaccines. This past weekend there was big news in Mexico because we learned that from those 18 million that the U.S. has donated, 3.5 million will be flushed down the toilet because Mexico didn’t use them before their expiry date. The question here is: Did the U.S. make a wrong assessment of Mexico’s capacities to administer vaccines? Are you concerned that such a large number of vaccines donated to Mexico have been wasted? Let’s consider that Haiti only received 1 million doses.
MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to our Mexican partners to speak to their ability to have used the vaccines that we’ve made available to them. What I can say is that we’ve recognized in the broader context – something we’ve really focused on over the course of the past year or so – is not only the challenge associated with vaccine donations but also vaccine distribution and also something we call the last mile challenge. It is one thing to provide large-scale shipments of vaccines, either bilaterally or through COVAX as we have to so many countries around the world, to hundreds of millions of doses around the world. In some cases the challenge, in some cases the biggest challenge, is the challenge associated with actually putting those shots in arms. And so not only have we been in a position to provide support in the term – in terms of vaccine dosage, but we have worked with countries around the world, including last Friday in New York City, where countries came together to discuss what we call our GAP plan, our Global Action Plan on COVID. And one key element of that is this so-called last mile challenge, the distribution challenge that comes with that. We’re very focused on it, focused on it not in the context of any – not only in the context of particular countries, but also working together with countries around the world to address how we might overcome these challenges.
QUESTION: Just a clarification. Is the U.S. State Department looking at this issue, or it’s just something that doesn’t concern at all? The number is huge, 3.5 million more than what Peru got, 2 million more than what Haiti got, 1 million. It’s a quite impressive number; it’s not like small potatoes.
MR PRICE: Well, of course, we’re concerned with global health and the public health situation in our hemisphere, certainly the situation in our own backyard. That’s why we’ve worked very closely with our Mexican partners over the course of the past 18 months to do what we can together through vaccines, through other mechanisms – first to stop the spread of COVID, and second to build broader and greater resilience on the part of not only Mexico, but also countries in the region, knowing that this will not be the last outbreak, epidemic, or potentially even pandemic that we face in this hemisphere. So we’ve started to focus, too, on the next challenge.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Ned. Two questions. Let me go back to sham referenda first. In your opening statement, you said we have seen this movie before, and more pressure is coming in the coming days. Is there any reason why the administration has been in the wait-and-see mode in this particular case? You knew the actors involved. I’m just trying to figure out what is taking —
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t call our approach “wait and see,” Alex. In fact, quite the opposite. As you know, we have been warning about this for months and months now. In some cases, our multiple warnings have engendered some frustration, including from some in this room asking why we’re covering the same thing over and over again. And that’s precisely because we were and have been concerned that the Russians would go back to this playbook. You can say a lot about the Russians in terms of their – you can say a lot about the Kremlin in terms of its brutality, in terms of its aggression. One thing it is not is perhaps all that creative, because they have used these very tactics before. Every aspect of this process, based on our information, was pre-staged and orchestrated by the Kremlin weeks, in some cases months ago. We have information indicating that officials planned to announce these predetermined outcomes. In some cases, they even set the target approval rates, the target voter turnout rates.
So we wanted to be very clear as early as we could, and our warnings on this started shortly after Russia’s aggression began.
QUESTION: Thanks. Shifting gears to South Caucasus, yesterday National Security Advisor met with senior representatives of Azerbaijan and Armenia at the White House. Is there any reason why we did not see Ambassador Reeker in the room?
MR PRICE: Ambassador Reeker has been actively engaged with his Armenian and Azeri counterparts. He was, of course, up in New York City last week with us, with the Secretary. He took part in the trilateral meeting he had – we had with Armenia and Azerbaijan. He’s recently been in the South Caucasus, meeting in person with senior officials there. So he’s been deeply engaged in this.
QUESTION: Just so – clarify, yesterday’s meeting was part of the sustainable process that you guys kicked in New York, or is it —
MR PRICE: Yesterday’s meeting, as I understand it, was a meeting between the national security advisors. We have engaged – the Secretary has engaged with his foreign minister counterparts. The Secretary has also engaged at the leader level with Armenia and Azerbaijan. So we are engaging at multiple levels, through multiple channels, to reinforce the need to de-escalate and to disengage.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:23 p.m.)
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