Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:13 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
MR PRICE: It’s a little more hospitable in here today, temperature-wise at least. I have a few things at the top, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Isn’t that because the building was empty for the last three days and the air-conditioning was probably not on?
MR PRICE: I think we also made a request to raise the temperature a little bit.
QUESTION: Oh, oh (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Yes, yes, yes. Looking out for your needs. Before we begin, a few things.
Yesterday marked World Refugee Day. I would like to underscore the messages shared by the Secretary and the department acknowledging the unprecedented humanitarian crises across the globe, resulting in the largest number of refugees in history.
For the first time in history, last month the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights abuses, and persecution reached more than 100 million. That means more than 1 percent of the world’s population has been forcibly displaced.
The United States reaffirms our unwavering commitment to alleviate the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people through our global leadership in humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.
We are the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance, providing more than $13 billion in humanitarian aid during Fiscal Year 2021.
We also recognize the generosity of communities that host refugees and the united global response of international humanitarian partners who work diligently to help them.
We will continue to represent the best of American values by saving lives and alleviating suffering, working with our partners at home and abroad to assist those forcibly displaced in their time of need no matter who they are or where – no matter who they are, where they are, on World Refugee Day and every day.
Next, the United States congratulates the Colombian people for holding a free and fair presidential election on June 19th. The United States welcomes the results of the second round of elections.
We look forward to working with President-Elect Gustavo Petro and his new administration and to continuing our strong collaboration and joint regional leadership.
The U.S.-Colombia relationship remains based on shared democratic values, and we remain committed to working with the next Colombian administration in support of our mutual goals. Those goals include supporting Colombia’s implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord, reducing violence and narcotics trafficking, expanding rural development and security, promoting human rights, growing inclusive trade and investment, protecting the environment, and combating the climate crisis.
On June 19th, we also celebrated the 200th anniversary of the U.S-Colombia diplomatic relationship. Together with the people of Colombia, we built this enduring partnership that reflects the deep ties between our societies, our economies, our security, and our efforts to build a more democratic and equitable hemisphere.
And finally, earlier today, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack accompanied Attorney General Merrick Garland for a quick visit to Rzeszow, Poland, and the Ukrainian-Poland border.
At the border, they met with Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to further advance U.S.-Ukraine cooperation in support of efforts to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and other atrocities during Russia’s unprovoked and brutal war on Ukraine.
They also held meeting with – meetings, excuse me, with U.S. Government partners working on accountability and justice issues in Ukraine. This included the leadership of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, ACA, our joint initiative with the EU and the UK to support Prosecutor General Venediktova’s work to document war crimes and prepare case files for prosecution.
They also met partners from the Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigation Training Assistance Program, or ICITAP, which provides assistance to Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service and National Police. ICITAP efforts in Ukraine are jointly funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, or INL, and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation’s, or ISN, and their Export Control and Related Border Security program.
Attorney General Garland upon the visit noted that, “The United States is sending an unmistakable message: There is no place to hide. We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to ensure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.”
Ambassador Van Schaack will accompany Attorney General Garland to Paris, where she will join the AG, the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and other U.S. officials for meetings of the U.S.-EU Ministerial Meeting on Justice and Home Affairs. And we’ll have additional information on that event in the coming days.
So with that, we’ll go to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a very brief one, but it’s going to be brief because I think you’re not going to have much of an answer. But since we haven’t had a briefing since Friday when this decision was made by the British Government on the extradition of Julian Assange, I just wanted to check to see if there had been any change in your policy that either journalism is not a crime or if there’s been any change to the – your belief that Julian Assange is not a journalist.
MR PRICE: Matt, there has been no change, and there’s been no change to the answer I delivered to you last time on this matter. We defer to the Department of Justice when it comes to all cases of extradition. I would refer you to the Department of Justice because this is an ongoing matter before the British courts and an extradition case.
QUESTION: But it still is your position, as it was on World Press Freedom Day not so long ago, that journalism was not – should not be a crime.
MR PRICE: That is absolutely our conviction, correct.
QUESTION: Thanks. Can you – did you have something on that? So I – this is – your colleague – actually colleagues, plural, at the White House kind of had a little State Department briefing earlier. It was quite interesting because a lot of I think of what you’re going to be asked today was – has already been asked and answered.
But your White House colleague – not Mr. Kirby, the press secretary, was asked about Brittney Griner and this phone call that was supposed to have happened the other day, and she said it was her understanding that it had been – has been rescheduled. So I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that, but also explaining what happened, what —
MR PRICE: Sure. As you heard earlier today, the phone call has been rescheduled. It’s not for us to provide specific timing, because there is not official U.S. Government involvement in this call. This is not a call between a U.S. official and a detained American; this is a call between two private Americans, one of whom is wrongfully detained by Russia, has been wrongfully detained for too long, and whose case we are working assiduously to see her release just as quickly as can possibly be achieved.
I think what you heard earlier today is absolutely the case. We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak to her wife over the weekend because of a logistical error. It was a mistake. It is a mistake that we have worked to rectify. As we said before, the call has been rescheduled and will take place in relatively short order.
It was a logistical issue that was compounded in part by the fact that our Embassy in Moscow is under significant restrictions in terms of its staffing, and so when we have issues with the telephone system there, for example, the technicians are not located onsite. In fact, they’re not even located in Russia. They have to be located in a third country because of the onerous restrictions that the Russian Federation has placed on our embassy and its operations.
So all of that compounded what was a mistake, what was a logistical error, and we look forward to the opportunity for Brittney Griner to speak to her wife in short order.
QUESTION: But whatever the specifics of that logistical error, you’re confident that when this call is rescheduled, whenever it’s supposed to happen, it’s going to happen, and the same thing isn’t going to happen again?
MR PRICE: We are confident of that. We have done everything we can to rectify this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Francesco.
MR PRICE: Well, we aren’t going to speculate on how Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster – don’t even want to give it additional airtime. We have been very clear over the course of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and in fact well before Russia began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, that our commitment to NATO and specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article 5, the premise that an attack on one would constitute at attack on all, that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad. Not only have we made that clear rhetorically, but together with NATO and with our own announcements of troop posture adjustments, we have reinforced our commitment to the NATO Alliance. We have reinforced NATO’s eastern flank, especially those countries who have been at the forefront of Russian threats over the course, in many cases, of many years.
We, of course, appreciate the unprecedented economic measures that many countries around the world, dozens of countries across continents that our allies and our partners, including in this case Lithuania, have joined us in taking against Russia for its unprovoked war in Ukraine. Of course, would refer you to Lithuania regarding its enforcement of EU sanctions.
QUESTION: So you fully support Lithuanian enforcement of the sanctions and against any threat from Russia?
MR PRICE: Lithuania is a member of the NATO Alliance. We stand by the commitments that we have made to the NATO Alliance. That includes, of course, a commitment to Article 5 that is the bedrock of the NATO Alliance. This is a campaign that includes dozens of countries around the world, including blocs of countries, in this case the EU but also individual countries using their national authorities.
Lithuania has been a stalwart partner in this. We stand by NATO. We stand by our NATO Allies, and we stand by Lithuania.
QUESTION: Ned, on – New York Times also came out over the weekend with an investigation about the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Basically, they are also saying, just like all of the other media outlets who have done similar investigation, that the bullet was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy. So I’m just wondering in light of this, like, mounting new information, is the United States going to do anything more to press the Israelis to speed up their investigation, and are you going to do anything differently, maybe like consider conducting your our own investigation, since this is a U.S. citizen?
MR PRICE: Humeyra, we have been in close and constant touch with our Israeli and with our Palestinian partners as well. We have sought, in just about all of these conversations, to bridge cooperation between the parties. We want to see the parties cooperate. We believe that enhanced cooperation between Israeli and Palestinians on this investigation will facilitate what is and what should be a collective goal, and that is an investigation that culminates in accountability. That’s what we would like to see happen.
We’ve made clear our view, again, both to Israelis and Palestinians, that we seek a thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. We expect full accountability for those responsible. And we have urged to that end, as I alluded to a moment ago, that the two sides share their evidence with one another. We believe the sharing of evidence and the bridging of these investigations will help facilitate accountability, an investigation that culminates in that.
QUESTION: Right. Do you mean by that – do you mean by that that you guys are pushing for, like, a joint investigation? Because the Israelis are conducting their own – like, exactly what kind of bridging are we – to what end are we talking about?
MR PRICE: The two sides are conducting their own investigations. We’re not necessarily calling for a joint investigation, but we are calling on the two sides to share evidence with one another. We believe, again, that by sharing evidence, we will be able to – or the two sides, I should say, will be able to facilitate what is our goal, what should be a collective goal, and that is an investigation that is impartial, that’s transparent, that’s thorough, and that culminates in accountability.
QUESTION: Are you considering conducting your own? And if you’re not, why not?
MR PRICE: We’re – that is not on the table at the moment. The two parties, the two sides – the Israelis, the Palestinians – are conducting their own investigations. We want to see those investigations be conducted in a way that’s thorough, that’s impartial, that’s transparent, and that culminates in accountability. We believe that can be accomplished most effectively if the two sides share evidence with one another, if they bridge their investigations in that way.
QUESTION: That’s not on the table. Could that be on the table in the coming weeks, months if the Israeli investigation or this cooperation that you’re pushing for doesn’t come through?
MR PRICE: Again, I’m not going to weigh in on a hypothetical. We want to see the two parties work together constructively because we believe it should be a collective goal of all three of us, and of course, every other country that has a stake not only in this particular killing, but also in this broader issue of press freedom and ensuring that the press, independent media around the world are afforded adequate protections – that that interest is served.
QUESTION: Okay, just super quickly on the – on – final thing on Israel. Defense Minister Benny Gantz basically briefed lawmakers the other day about this Middle East air defense alliance, saying that this has been going on for some time, basically U.S.-sponsored regional air defense alliance. Can you talk a little bit about that? Which countries are in this? What is the exact U.S. role? Is this going to be something that President Biden will talk at length about when he’s there?
MR PRICE: I don’t have any specifics to offer at this time. We’ve talked and we’ve spoken at length previously about the cooperation. We have – vis-à-vis Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the region, of course, Iran is a country that exports its malign influence not only in the Middle East, but well beyond. We cooperate very closely with our Israeli partners. We cooperate very closely with our Arab partners and with a number of other countries around the world to counter Iran’s malign influence.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just want to follow up on Humeyra’s – on Shireen. Now, you believe that Israel’s track record proves that it can conduct a transparent and thorough investigation in this particular case?
MR PRICE: Said, we’ve spoken to previous historical analogies. Israel does have the wherewithal to conduct an investigation that is transparent, that is impartial, and that – importantly – culminates in accountability. That’s what we would like to see happen.
QUESTION: I mean, how often does this specifically occur?
MR PRICE: Said, we’ve —
QUESTION: I mean, we don’t want to compare notes and so on, but I can assure you there are not very many examples that show Israel can commit to a transparent and thorough investigation. I want to go back —
MR PRICE: We’ve spoken of previous examples. We have spoken of the example of Eyad al-Hallaq, for example, one such example. But again, I’m speaking for —
QUESTION: But that —
MR PRICE: I am speaking for what the United States is asking for, what we seek. We seek an investigation that is transparent, that’s impartial, that culminates in accountability.
QUESTION: Okay. I want to ask you about what I asked you last week, which is the Secretary of State, asked by Abby Martin, responded by saying that he calls for an independent investigation. What does that mean? Have you reflected on what he said? There are mechanisms that you have in mind that an independent investigation could be pursued?
MR PRICE: The Secretary was not signaling a change in our approach. He was not signaling anything different than what I just said right now. What we are calling for, what we are seeking, what much of the international community is seeking is a set of investigations – there are two in this case, but investigations that are impartial, that are transparent, that culminate in accountability.
QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on Israel. Now, the collapse of the Israeli coalition, I wonder whether you’d comment on that. How would that likely impact whatever ongoing programs that you have with the Israelis, whether it’s the JCPOA or anything else or possible – the possible even normalization with Arab countries and so on. How do you see this impacting your policy towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
MR PRICE: I don’t expect political developments in Israel will have implications for what we are seeking to accomplish together with our Israeli partners or with our Palestinian partners, for that matter. And that’s because Israel is a strategic partner of the United States. It’s a fellow democracy. We respect its democratic processes.
One of the strengths of the bilateral U.S.-Israeli relationship, a strength that has come to be formed over the course of many decades, is the bipartisan support it has in this country, is the fact that the strength of our relationship does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office. It doesn’t depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair in Israel. This is a strategic partnership between our two countries. It will continue to be a strategic partnership between our two countries in the coming weeks, in the coming months as the process plays out.
QUESTION: Even as we stare into the fifth possible election in three years, and the specter of Mr. Netanyahu making a comeback.
MR PRICE: Again, Said, this is a strategic relationship. It does not depend on who sits in the Oval Office; it does not depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair.
QUESTION: And I promise my last – on the refugees because you mentioned refugees. My heart goes out to all refugees and especially Palestinian refugees that have been languishing for more than 70 years. There is a UN resolution, there is a General Assembly resolution that called for their return ever since it happened. Why cannot you – why can’t you support this call by the United Nations?
MR PRICE: Said, there are a number of so-called final status issues. The right of return is one of the so-called final status issues. What we seek to do is to create the conditions to advance the prospects over the longer term for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s what we are trying to set in place now, those conditions. In the case of the Palestinian people, we are trying to do that in part with our significant humanitarian support to provide to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip what they need to have more prosperity, have more stability, have at the end of the day the dignity that they deserve.
Again, our approach to this conflict is based on what should be a very simple and non-controversial premise that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve equal measures of security, of prosperity, of dignity, and that is what we assess, as have previous administrations, would be best accomplished by a two-state solution.
QUESTION: One more on Israel?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the collapse of the Israeli Government isn’t going to have an impact on policy. Where does this – does this mean that President Biden’s promise of a consulate in Jerusalem is going to go unfulfilled? Just because there was a widely assumed belief that the reason that this wasn’t implemented is because the administration feared the collapse of the Israeli Government, so that’s why they weren’t fulfilling Biden’s promise to open a consulate. But it’s collapsed now, so what – where are we in this process? What – is that actually going to happen?
MR PRICE: We remain committed to reopening a consulate in Jerusalem. In the meantime, we have really re-energized the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority, but also the Palestinian people. And I spoke to our humanitarian support, but of course, we’ve had a number of opportunities, I believe most recently when Barbara Leaf traveled to Ramallah, to meet at – including at senior levels with the Palestinian leadership. Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in the past couple weeks to speak to President Abbas. President Biden, when he travels to Bethlehem in the coming weeks, will have an opportunity, I would expect, to meet with the leadership of the PA. This does nothing to our – what remains our objective of opening – excuse me, reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. As you know, we’ve recently taken some steps, including changes to the reporting structure, so that our diplomats in Jerusalem can report back directly to State Department headquarters. We are taking steps to see to it that we can continue to engage constructively with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Has the concern now shifted from the collapse of the government to any steps, either on the consulate or maybe JCPOA, would bolster a potential Netanyahu return to power?
MR PRICE: As I said before, our relationship with Israel does not depend on who sits in the prime minister’s chair. We certainly don’t take steps or avoid steps, for that matter, based on any potential political developments in Israel. We are confident in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel such that we can pursue U.S. national interests and we can pursue the many interests we share together with our Israeli partners as partners. That’s what we’ll continue to do in advance of the President’s travel and in the aftermath of it as well.
QUESTION: Sir, on Ukraine, I know the State Department confirmed the death of U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski. I was wondering if the department could confirm some details that have been circulating in reporting that he was a Army veteran and that he was killed by a landmine. Can you provide any additional confirmation of those details?
MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to provide any additional details. We did, in fact, confirm his death, but in terms of any of the specifics of his death, that is just not something I can weigh in on, in part out of respect for the family during this difficult time.
QUESTION: And then on the captured Americans in Ukraine, I would like to follow up on a comment by my colleague, NBC’s Keir Simmons, with Dmitry Peskov saying that they are not subject to the Geneva Convention. I know that the Biden administration weighed in on this today, but what is your response to Peskov saying that those Americans are not subject to the Geneva Convention and it can’t be applied for, quote, “soldiers of fortune”?
MR PRICE: Well, let me start with the issue broadly and just note that we are working hard to learn more about reports of Americans who may be in Russian custody or in the custody of Russian proxy forces. We have been in touch with Russian authorities regarding U.S. citizens who may have been captured while fighting in Ukraine. As I mentioned, last week – late last week, we’ve also been in touch with our Ukrainian partners, with the ICRC, with other countries, as well as with the families of Americans who have been reported missing in Ukraine.
We have both publicly as well as privately called on the Russian Government and its proxies to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of all individuals, including those captured fighting in Ukraine. We expect – and in fact, international law and the law of war expects and requires – that all those who have been captured on the battlefield be treated humanely and with respect and consistent with the laws of war.
We once again should take this opportunity to reiterate to Americans the inherent dangers of traveling to Ukraine. For weeks now we have been urging Americans not to travel to Ukraine because of the attendant dangers that Russia’s aggression inside Ukraine poses to U.S. citizens who may be there. Our message to U.S. citizens who are in Ukraine is that they should depart immediately using any commercial or other privately available transportation means. We understand certainly that there are Americans across this country – millions of Americans across this country – who feel motivated to support the righteous and the noble cause of the Ukrainian people. There are ways to do that that work to the direct benefit of the Ukrainian people, ways that are safe, ways that are helpful and constructive. We have many of those ways on our website.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up —
QUESTION: A quick follow-up with that. Do we know – does the U.S. Government know where these Americans are, and has the Kremlin even confirmed that they have been captured or know where they are?
MR PRICE: We have no additional details beyond what’s been reported in the media, including by some of your own media organizations. As I said, we’ve been in direct contact with Russian authorities. We have not been provided, either by Russian authorities or by Russian proxy forces or any other entity, with additional details of the whereabouts of these Americans. We are pursuing every channel, every opportunity we have, to learn more and to support their families, especially in this difficult hour.
QUESTION: Ned —
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Ned —
QUESTION: Can you —
MR PRICE: Let me —
QUESTION: One follow-up?
QUESTION: Well, he’ll understand because this has to do with the death, and I just want to know one thing. I realize there are privacy concerns you can’t take. Can you at least say when you – when you learned of this man’s death? And – because it’s a bit odd that the local newspaper obituary from which this news came and which you have now confirmed was published on June 1st.
MR PRICE: Yes, my understanding is that we —
QUESTION: Is that right?
MR PRICE: — is that we learned of this individual’s death several weeks ago. It is not standard procedures to formally announce when an American has been killed.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, I get that.
MR PRICE: But —
QUESTION: But before the obit or after his death on May (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that we learned of it before June 1st.
QUESTION: Ned, on the same point —
QUESTION: Can I follow up on —
QUESTION: The Russians claim there are 450 Americans fighting with the Ukrainians. Do you have – can you confirm that figure or is that too inflated? Do you have any way of knowing how many Americans are fighting alongside the Ukrainians?
MR PRICE: We don’t have any means to corroborate that figure. I would just note that we often encourage Americans and all others to take anything the Kremlin says with a grain of salt. But in terms of that specific piece of information, it’s not something I can confirm or refute.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you in a position to be a little bit more specific on who in the Russian Government you are in touch with? Because Medvedev said over the weekend that “We don’t have any with the United States…They are at zero on the Kelvin scale.” Okay?
MR PRICE: Well, I think our embassy officials in Moscow would be surprised to hear that, because we do have an embassy in Moscow that continues to function. As I said before in a different context, it functions under severe constraints. But we have worked hard despite the onerous and unnecessary restrictions that the Russians have imposed on our embassy operations to maintain a fully functioning – or I should say a functioning embassy compound. Ambassador Sullivan is here in Washington attending the Chiefs of Mission Conference, but he will soon be returning to Moscow to lead the small but very capable team at Embassy Moscow. The embassy does regularly take part in exchanges and have discussions with their counterparts in the ministry of foreign affairs or elsewhere within the Russian Government.
One of the issues that the embassy does regularly discuss with their Russian counterparts is the status of Americans who are detained in Russia, the status of our embassy as well, to try to preserve what we believe is a critical outpost. We have done everything we can to preserve lines of communication between the Russian Government and the United States. We have done that at great effort not because we are at an especially rosy time in terms of our relationship, but we believe that during times of conflict, during times of crisis, that channels of communication, including the channel that our embassy affords, is especially vital and is especially important. And it’s been a valuable one for us to pass precisely these types of messages.
QUESTION: Just while we’re on Russia-Ukraine, Project DYNAMO, an independent organization, just put out a press release saying that John Spor, who’s an American nuclear scientist who was stuck in Ukraine and was being hunted by Russian forces in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine, is now being taken out of the country by Project DYNAMO. Is the State Department in touch with this organization about this, what they’re calling a rescue effort?
MR PRICE: I’m not familiar – immediately familiar with the particulars of this case. It sounds like the press release was just issued. If we have anything to add, we’ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: And just generally speaking, due to the lack of U.S. military presence on the ground in Ukraine, do you guys support these independent organizations’ efforts to get Americans out if they need on-the-ground assistance that can be provided?
MR PRICE: Whether this is – whether it is the efforts of private Americans, private American organizations, our guidance remains: Americans should not travel to Ukraine. Traveling to Ukraine brings with it significant and profound dangers, including some of the dangers we’ve already talked about during the course of this briefing. So whether for individuals or organizations, that guidance is constant.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the captured Americans. Russia says that they’re – that they were captured by the forces of some of these breakaway statelets. So is the U.S. working with Russia about their release, and is that working out in working with Russia, or is there some need to negotiate with others about the status and what’s going to happen? In other words, is Russia acting as sort of the force behind these proxy forces? Is that working out?
MR PRICE: It’s difficult for us to say at this point. As I noted before, we have been in contact with Russian authorities regarding the reports of detained Americans. We have not received any formal or official response. The only response we’ve seen has been the response that Russian officials have made in public interviews. So we just don’t have anything from that private engagement.
MR PRICE: I would refer you to the Department of Defense. They may have more for you. But we have seen not only in recent days but over the course of many weeks and months that Iran has engaged in maritime activity that is unsafe, that is unprofessional, that puts sailors at risk. It is something that we have condemned. It is something that we have urged Iran not to engage in.
QUESTION: Also, we are seeing some efforts from U.S. allies in the region that you’re trying to persuade Biden to change the course, to come up with a new strategy toward Iran. I want to specifically ask about Biden’s trip to region. How much of this trip is about Iran? And can you give us more detail if any meetings are planned regarding Iran?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that there will be a meeting specifically focused on Iran. This trip, I should also add – hasten to add, is a few weeks away still, and of course it’s a White House trip, so I’ll defer ultimately to the White House to speak to it.
But I will say it’s my strong suspicion, and I think you’ve heard this from the White House, that Iran will be a topic of conversation naturally during at least a couple of these stops. When the President is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli officials, when he is in Jeddah meeting with members of the GCC+3, as well as taking part in bilateral meetings with Saudi officials, that of course the threat that Iran poses in its many manifestations – not only its nuclear program but its ballistic missile program, its support for regional proxies, its support for terrorist groups – the full panoply of malign influence and threats that Iran poses I would imagine will be a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: Okay. And one – another one about the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog about Fordow and Iran starting to use more than 100 IR-6 centrifuges. Anything about that? Any updates about the nuclear talks?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve seen these reports. We remain concerned that Iran continues to deploy advanced centrifuges well beyond the limits of what’s prescribed in the JCPOA. We are seeking a full return to implementation of the JCPOA precisely because we believe that Iran’s nuclear activities, including the centrifuge component manufacturing that you referred to, should be strictly limited and strictly monitored by the IAEA.
And of course, the JCPOA carried with it the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever peacefully negotiated. The fact is – and we’ve made this point on a number of occasions – Iran’s program in different ways has now far exceeded the limits that the JCPOA imposed. It is spinning cascades of advanced centrifuges that are not allowed under the deal. Its fissile material breakout time has been dramatically reduced from about a year to what is now – what can now be measured in weeks or even less.
We are deeply concerned by the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. It’s precisely why we want to see those strict limits, that verification and monitoring regime reimposed on Iran.
QUESTION: But you still believe that returning to JCPOA is going to be within U.S. interest, even though you describe all of these concerns?
MR PRICE: Well, all of these concerns exist when the JCPOA is not being fully implemented. If we were to fully implement, if Iran were to fully implement the JCPOA, many of the concern that you just alluded to, that I just alluded to, would be taken off the table, because they would not be permitted. And the IAEA would have the wherewithal to be able to inspect, to have real-time monitoring, to alert the international community if Iran surpassed those limits. That is not the case now, and that’s what gives us such great concern.
QUESTION: But it is the case that’s still not permitted under the JCPOA. None of —
MR PRICE: And Iran is not fully compliant with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: I know.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: But I mean, it’s not the case that they are now allowed to do these kinds of things.
MR PRICE: Iran has distanced itself from the strict limits that the JCPOA imposed after the last administration decided to walk away from the JCPOA when Iran, by the way, was fully implementing and in strict compliance with the JCPOA, as confirmed by the IAEA.
Anything else on Iran or the Middle East? Nazira.
And the other question about the Taliban leadership’s travel sanction. Are they allowed to travel to so many countries? People concerned, especially human rights organizations.
MR PRICE: Two questions. Let me take the first one first.
Of course, we all saw these horrifying reports over the weekend. We – as you heard from several of our senior officials, we’ve condemned the recent attacks that have killed and harmed civilians in Afghanistan. This includes the cowardly attack that we saw this weekend against the Sikh community in Kabul that claimed innocent lives, including the life of a Sikh worshipper.
This is part of a – what can only be described as a concerning trend against members of religious minority groups in Afghanistan. We know that, as is the case around the world, Afghanistan’s diversity is one of its greatest assets; it should be viewed as such. And a threat to any minority group in Afghanistan is a threat to the identity, the heterogenous identity of Afghanistan itself.
Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, Special Representative for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, our Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, they all put out statements yesterday expressing our condolences to the families of the victims in this cowardly attack.
But again, this was more than one attack. What we are seeing here appears to be a pattern on the part of terrorists, on the part of extremists, who are striking at the heart of Afghanistan’s pluralistic identity, who are striking against Hindus and Sikhs, and we must – those perpetrators must be held accountable, and members of all minority groups should be protected.
In terms of the travel of senior Taliban officials, this is something that’s been discussed at the UN in recent days. And in line with the Security Council’s ongoing consideration of the situation in Afghanistan and council actions in support of the Afghan people, the council, as you may know, removed from the 1988 travel ban exemption list two individuals who oversee education policy for the Taliban. With this step, this list now has 13 individuals on it. So in other words, these individuals who are responsible for the Taliban’s education policy are no longer exempted from the inability of senior Taliban officials to travel beyond Afghanistan’s borders.
We proposed that the Security Council take this step to signal to the Taliban in no uncertain terms that its decision to prohibit girls from obtaining secondary education has consequences, including very practical consequences like this. Through press statements, the council has expressed deep concerns regarding the erosion of the respect for human rights in Afghanistan, including for the rights of women, girls, other minority groups in Afghanistan.
So we will continue to coordinate very closely with our partners at the UN and other stakeholders to hold to account those who are responsible, not only for the violent attacks that we’ve seen inside Afghanistan but for all those who would seek to erode the rights and protections that are afforded to Afghanistan’s minorities.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR PRICE: Yes, sir.
MR PRICE: We – what we have sought to see is – we have stood with the Tunisian people in defending democracy and protecting human rights, including the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly. This is what is stipulated by Tunisia’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well. We continue to call for a swift return to constitutional governance, including the seating of a new parliament. We believe that doing so is necessary to restore widespread confidence in Tunisia’s democratic institutions.
QUESTION: Going back to the two Americans killed while fighting for Ukraine, can you say if the State Department is providing consular services to any others, despite these two – I mean, beyond those two particular cases?
MR PRICE: Any consular services in what regard?
QUESTION: For Americans killed while fighting in Ukraine.
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we are aware of confirmed reports of other Americans who have been – who have died while fighting in Ukraine.
QUESTION: And for your stance towards Russia, have you communicated that you will hold them accountable if anything befalls the two captured Americans in the hands of their proxies? Is that a stance the department has?
MR PRICE: We have made very clear to the Russian Federation that we have – and just as importantly, the international community has – the full expectation that anyone who is in their custody or the custody of proxy forces who fall under Russian control, their health, their safety, their well-being is the responsibility of the Russian Federation. We’ve made a very similar point when it comes to – this is a different context – but to Americans who are detained in Russia, and also to Russians who are detained in Russia as well. We recently made this point very clear, that anyone who is in Russian custody – but this would also apply to those individuals who are in the custody of groups that are under Russian control – that their safety, their well-being is the responsibility of the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two short questions on Russia and Ukraine. Firstly, you mentioned atrocity crimes. It was reported in the topper. When you first announced that this group will cooperate with Ukraine from this podium, you told they will work outside of Ukraine. I heard a discussion that they might return to the country. Was the final decision approved already, and what about the terms?
And secondly, the Secretary Yellen told yesterday that United States is in talks with allies to further restrict Moscow energy revenue by imposing a price cap – or as she told, price exception – on oil, on Russian oil. Any comments on that? Are you in the State Department a part of these discussions, these talks? And which countries are import already?
MR PRICE: On your second question, I will just say briefly that we are looking for all appropriate ways to hold the Russian Government responsible for the war that it is waging in Ukraine, for the violence and brutality that it’s waging against the people of Ukraine. We are looking for ways to ensure that accountability, including with sanctions, and to limit the revenue that the Russian Government and key Russian decision makers are able to accrue, just as we work with the international community to see to it that we preserve the supply of global energy on energy markets.
When it comes to our support for the Ukrainian prosecutor general, you recall that last month we announced the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group. This is a group that constituted by the United States and as well as our EU and UK partners. It calls on the expertise and the experience of many of our nongovernmental partners as well. And while much of this work does take place outside of Ukraine, some of this work does take place inside of Ukraine as well. Part of the idea of the ACA is to see to it that the – that the experience of these groups and of these individuals is brought to bear for Ukraine’s prosecutors who are building cases, who are collecting evidence, who are preserving evidence as well.
And in fact, the ACA had its first formal meeting in Kyiv on June 16th with the lead implementing partners from the United States, from the EU, from the UK. And our – the ACA’s lead advisor, Ambassador Clint Williamson, who himself was a former ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, who’s now at Arizona State University, also participated in the AG and the ambassador’s meeting at the border with the prosecutor general that I mentioned at the top.
So there is activity that is taking place inside Ukraine, but there’s a lot of support that takes place virtually and in third countries as well.
QUESTION: Ned, thanks so much. Ned, on Russian aggression, Putin last week hinted that neighboring countries might face Ukraine’s fate if they turned against him for the invasion. Now, if you sit in Azerbaijan, Georgia, or Kazakhstan, you might scratch you head and think about whether or not the U.S. will help me in case Russia does more conflict? Can you explicitly state that the U.S. will not leave those countries alone if Russia does what it says it does?
MR PRICE: Well, I think we’ve sent a very clear signal with the support that we have provided to Ukraine, support that totals more than $5 billion in security assistance since the start of Russia’s invasion on February 24th, the way in which that the United States has rallied the international community, how dozens of countries across multiple continents have come together to provide not only the security assistance that Ukraine needs, but also the economic assistance and the humanitarian assistance for the Ukrainian people, just as we have imposed an unprecedented set of economic and financial measures, as well as the export controls that we’ve spoken to, on the Russian Federation.
So that is a clear signal of the resolve we have. It is a clear signal that Russian aggression against sovereign, independent countries will not be tolerated by the United States. It won’t be tolerated by our international partners as well.
QUESTION: Candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, prospective for Georgia – as you know, this is the – sorry – recommendation of the European Commission, and now all three countries are waiting for June 24, when decision of the European Union will be announced. Do you think that Georgia also deserves to be supported on its way? I understand that this question does not concern you directly, however, your position on the Western perspective of Georgia and on this path is extremely important for us.
MR PRICE: Well, on the question broadly, we maintain our longstanding commitment to a Europe that is whole, that is free, and that is at peace, and we support the further integration of Ukraine and Moldova and Georgia as well with their European neighbors. When it comes to Ukraine and Moldova (inaudible) European Union.
For all of these countries, though, these are countries that over the course of now decades have expressed a desire for a closer relationship, closer proximity with the West. The United States has worked with all three of these countries to help them develop their democratic institutions, to help them develop their system of checks and balances; to help them develop their economies that are integrated with Europe and with the West; and we will continue to stand by them going forward.
The details of the accession processes and timelines, those, of course, are a decision for the EU and its member states, and so I would need to refer you to the EU for any specifics of that process.
Excuse me. Michel.
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve had an opportunity to speak about food security quite a bit recently, including when Secretary Blinken convened a number of his fellow ministers – about 40 ministers – in New York last month at the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council. This was a challenge that in some ways predates the Russian aggression, but there – certainly it is a challenge that has been compounded by what we call the three Cs: by COVID, by climate change, and now by conflict. And the fact is —
QUESTION: That was four Cs.
MR PRICE: I was counting climate change as one, but yes, thank you, Matt, if you want to be literal about it.
The – and, unfortunately, it is that final C, conflict, that has had an outsized implication for not only the region but also for much of the world. The fact is that Russia’s forces have attacked, they have taken offline grain silos. They are attacking Ukraine’s farmers. They are leaving Ukraine’s wheat fields and its other plots of arable land unusable. There is – there has been an effort to pursue Ukrainian ships at sea that have been carrying grain. And, of course, there is an ongoing blockade with ships now stuck in port that have some 20, 25 million tons of grain that countries around the world, including in the region but also well beyond the region, including in Africa and, as we heard recently at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, is needed in the Western Hemisphere as well.
So we’ve produced a global action plan that focuses on five lines of effort. First, we provided billions of dollars – more than $2.5 billion – in food security and other humanitarian assistance. In addition, the President last month signed the emergency supplemental request that provides more than $5 billion – $5.5 billion – in additional aid for food security around the world.
Second, we’re working with other countries to mitigate the global fertilizer shortage. President Biden recently announced a $500 million investment to increase domestic fertilizer production. We’re working with countries around the world to increase their own domestic levels of fertilizer production as well.
Third, we’re boosting agricultural capacity and resilience through the Feed the Future initiative, and this is a program that has been longstanding but is aimed at achieving greater longer-term resilience to food security, knowing that even if we are able to address the acute near-term crisis, that this will be a long-term challenge that we’ll need to address together.
Fourth, we’re taking measures to cushion the macroeconomic shocks of this crisis on the most vulnerable populations. We’re working with international financial institutions, international lending institutions, with international partners on this.
And fifth, we’re keeping the issue high on our diplomatic agenda. As I already alluded to, Secretary Blinken during the U.S. presidency at the UN, he thought food security deserved to be the headliner, deserved to be high on the agenda or the highest agenda item, and it was for that reason. And I will – I would expect that in the coming couple days we’ll have more to say about travel that the Secretary will be undertaking to advance this goal to see to it that we can address the near-term acute crisis and also the longer-term implications not only of COVID and climate change, but of course, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its attendant implications for global food security.
QUESTION: Should we expect solutions from the (inaudible) meeting?
MR PRICE: I don’t think any single meeting will be able to produce a solution. Of course, there are a number of countries, the United States included, that are looking at near-term practical steps we can take vis-à-vis the grain that is stuck in Ukraine’s ports. That’s something that we’ve worked on with the UN and Secretary-General Guterres. It’s something that our Turkish allies have been very engaged in. We’re supporting their efforts to see to it that Ukraine’s grain is to be released. Of course, it could be released tomorrow if Vladimir Putin were to authorize it, if he were to authorize what would be a purely humanitarian gesture that could save untold lives around the world, but that is something that he has not yet done.
I think the goal at the session at the UN – and the Germans have already spoken publicly to a session that Foreign Minister Baerbock is convening later this week in Berlin – but the goal of sessions like these is to continue to put a spotlight on the acute challenge we face to bring together countries that have potential food supplies, fertilizer supplies with those who need it as well as countries who have resources, whether it is food, whether it is funding or other resources to offer to give them an opportunity to make those connections.
Let me move around. Yes.
QUESTION: Move to PRC, China. Give us your comments about China’s claim of successful anti-ballistic missile interceptor test on Sunday as well as recent launch of domestically designed aircraft carrier.
Secondly, does the United States see the Taiwan Strait as international water?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, I just don’t have anything to offer on these announcements that we’ve seen from – excuse me – that we’ve seen from the PRC.
On the second question, we made clear last week, I believe it was, that the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway. That means that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation, overflight, are guaranteed under international law. The world has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and we consider this central to the security and the prosperity of the broader Indo-Pacific region. We’re concerned by China’s aggressive rhetoric, its increasing pressure and intimidation regarding Taiwan, and we’ll continue, as we have said before, to fly, to sail, and to operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: Two follow-up, actually, Mr. Price. So one, we have – as the war in Ukraine, it rages on, we might be more and more Americans being stranded, killed, or captured in Ukraine. And is there a discussion within the department to take some steps to stop the flow of American foreign fighters to Ukraine other than just issuing an advisory – travel advisories?
MR PRICE: At this point, we continue our efforts to encourage, to urge, to recommend, to do whatever we can to impart to Americans, well-meaning Americans, that they should not travel to Ukraine. They should not travel there because of the attendant dangers, but also because of the challenge you alluded to. We only recently were able to resume limited operations at our embassy in Kyiv. We are not able to provide the same level of services for American citizens who may be in Ukraine. That is part of the reason why before the February 24th start of this phase of Russians – Russia’s invasion, we encouraged Americans to depart Ukraine, and we are now doing everything we can to urge Americans not to travel there.
QUESTION: Also a follow-up to the – reopening up the consulate in Jerusalem. Why does reopening take so long? Like, what is the obstacle there? It’s just reopening the building. Like, transferring the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem did not take that long. What is preventing you from reopening the embassy?
MR PRICE: Obviously, these are complex issues. These are issues that we need to coordinate with the Government of Israel as well, but it’s an issue that we are committed to and we’re continuing to discuss that with our Israeli partners, with our Palestinian partners.
QUESTION: Why should you coordinate with the Israelis while you are opening a consulate for Palestinians?
MR PRICE: Because this will be in Jerusalem.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that France, a major European —
QUESTION: So wait a minute, again, but you – Jerusalem, as far as your policy is concerned, is divided.
MR PRICE: Well, that’s why I said we’re consulting with Israel —
QUESTION: You would not acknowledge that Israel —
MR PRICE: We’re consulting with Israelis and Palestinians.
QUESTION: Yeah, I was asking, are you concerned that France, a major European ally, goes through a rare political crisis with President Macron maybe being incapacitated in taking actions for a long time in the middle of a war in Europe, in international crisis?
MR PRICE: President Macron was just re-elected. He has – well, I’ll leave it to French voters to assess the results of those elections. But no, we know, just as I’ve said in other contexts during these briefings, that France is an ally of the United States. We have every bit of confidence that we will continue to work very closely with the Macron government going forward on the challenge that Russia presents and the other shared challenges that we face as allies.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Gustavo Petro is a leftist, so that was – that is the first leftist in – I think in Colombian history. He’s a former rebel. Last year we had also leftist candidates win the presidency in Chile, Peru, Honduras. We’ll probably have Lula da Silva coming back and so on. In your view, is that a repudiation of U.S. policy toward the – South America?
MR PRICE: These are the sovereign decisions of voters within sovereign countries. I don’t think it is in any way a reflection of American policy. I think the point that we heard repeatedly during the Summit of the Americas and something that applies equally to all countries across the globe is the challenge that all of our countries face, and that is seeing to it that our fellow democracies can deliver for our people. And I think whether it’s Colombia, whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s Israel, whether it’s France, whether it’s anywhere around the road – around the world where we have free and fair democratic elections, people are expressing their viewpoints based on unique circumstances.
But again, what unites, I think, much of what we’ve seen is a desire on the part of people around the world, especially in the midst of COVID, especially in the midst of the implications of climate change, especially in the midst of the economic recovery that we are seeking to advance, that people are looking for representatives who are able to deliver on those democratic promises.
Secretary Blinken, as you know, spoke to President-elect Petro last night and they had a very good conversation. They spoke about a number of issues, some of those issues that do implicate very – that are very real issues for people in both of our countries: public health, COVID, climate change and the environmental degradation that we’ve seen, the shared democratic values that unite both of our countries.
So whether it is the new government – or the incoming government, I should say – in Colombia, whether it is a partner around the world, we’ll be able to pursue our shared values and our shared interests.
QUESTION: I have a quick clarification question. Sorry to kind of switch gears here. But back on the American citizen killed in Ukraine, I know you said you don’t want to provide specific details due to the family’s privacy, but can the State Department confirm that he was killed in combat specifically?
MR PRICE: We have confirmed his death, but we have not confirmed details – specific details.
QUESTION: Were you able to confirm that it was combat-related?
MR PRICE: I’m not able to confirm any specific details.
QUESTION: Just, Ned, super-quickly on Finland, Sweden, and NATO since next week is NATO summit. So it looks like the – this agreement between – well, Turkey saying no to Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids, that whole disagreement is not being resolved quickly. The U.S. has been saying that they would like to see these two countries join NATO relatively quickly, and the Turks yesterday said the summit next week is not a deadline. So is it also U.S. understanding now that you’re not – that the summit is not going to be a deadline and this sort of, like, disagreement may well expand beyond that? Or are you still hoping that this would be resolved by then?
MR PRICE: I don’t believe we’ve ever put a firm deadline on it. Of course —
QUESTION: But I mean, would you like this to continue for months?
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: I mean, from the very beginning you guys said that —
MR PRICE: We —
QUESTION: — you would hope to wrap this up fairly quickly given the war in Ukraine.
MR PRICE: No, of course. Of course, we would like it to be concluded swiftly, but this is a process that requires consensus by all of the NATO Allies. Of course, the Finns and the Swedes and the Turks have been engaged in discussions, tripartite discussions, bilateral discussions. We’ve heard from them. We’ve heard them characterize these discussions publicly as constructive and ongoing. We are not a party to these talks, but we’re lending support to our partners Finland and Sweden. We’ve also had an opportunity to discuss the issue broadly with Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and other Turkish officials.
I’ll do quick final questions.
QUESTION: And if you could, are there any other meeting – any other meeting between the Secretary and the foreign minister or president next week in Madrid?
MR PRICE: We haven’t announced anything yet. If there will be, we’ll announce it in due course.
Yes, final – I’ll go to you. I don’t believe you’ve had a chance today.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m Gabby. I’m with Jewish Insider.
MR PRICE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: So my question is about there was a ban on kosher and halal slaughter in Belgium that was recently defeated, and my understanding is that American diplomats played a pretty big role in working with legislators there to vote that bill down. I’m wondering if there’s anything you could share about America’s involvement in that process.
MR PRICE: I am not immediately familiar with the details, but we’ll see if we can get you any details after this.
All right, thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:20 p.m.)
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