Update on Special Immigrant Visa Processing

9 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The Department of State remains committed to processing Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from Afghan partners as expeditiously as possible.  We have increased staffing, streamlined individual processing steps, made technological improvements, and surged additional staff to support third-country embassies and consulates processing these visa applications following the suspension of operations at Embassy Kabul.  As a result, we are processing more initial applications than ever, and we are prioritizing SIV applicants for visa interview at any third-country immigrant visa processing post where applicants can travel and appear.

Through a recent court filing, the Executive Branch is seeking the flexibility to allocate our resources not on burdensome litigation reporting requirements but, instead, on processing of SIV cases and transparent reporting to Congress on our performance.  We continue to believe that is in the best interest of our Afghan partners seeking SIV status.  We look forward to continuing to share information with stakeholders and the public on our ongoing work to fulfill our commitment to our Afghan partners.

On the Transition Timeline in Mali

9 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States acknowledges the announcement by Mali’s transition government of a 24-month transition timetable starting in March 2022. We urge the Malian transition government to make sustained, tangible action toward holding elections, including detailed benchmarks and the early adoption of the electoral law. Transparent and inclusive processes that respect diverse perspectives and fundamental freedoms are critical to building a strong foundation for the future.

We welcome the commitment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to continued engagement with Malian authorities to support efforts to restore constitutional rule. We encourage Mali and ECOWAS to reach agreement in particular on a robust monitoring mechanism with tangible benchmarks for the remainder of the transition.

The United States reiterates our commitment to support transition processes to foster a future of accountable democratic governance for the Malian people.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the Situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza

7 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States is committed to advancing human rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and, importantly, dignity.  Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms is important in its own right and as a means of preserving and advancing the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution.

As we have stated repeatedly, we firmly oppose the open-ended and vaguely defined nature of the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, which represents a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace.  The report of the Commission, released today, does nothing to alleviate our concerns.  While the United States believes the HRC plays a crucial role in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms globally, this COI and report do not advance this goal.

Israel is the only country subject to a standing agenda item at the HRC and has received disproportionate focus at the HRC compared to human rights situations elsewhere in the world.  While no country is above scrutiny, the existence of this COI in its current form is a continuation of a longstanding pattern of unfairly singling out Israel. We reengaged with and later re-joined the HRC in part to be in a better position to address its flaws, including this one, and we will continue to seek reforms.

The United States remains deeply committed to helping achieve peace for both Israelis and Palestinians and will support actions in the UN that bring the parties together to advance prospects for peace.

Department Press Briefing – June 6, 2022

7 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:18 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Hello.

MR PRICE: Happy Monday. A few things at the top and then we will turn to your questions.

I’m sure you all have seen the reports of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs summoning your colleagues to, quote, “explain to them the consequences of their government’s hostile line in the media sphere.” Let’s be clear: The Kremlin is engaged in a full assault on media freedom, access to information, and the truth.

I think everyone here in this room knows the censorship and difficulties your colleagues who work in Russia have experienced, so I don’t need to lay it out in exacting detail. Suffice it to say the Russians continue to make a false equivalency.

The Russian Government fundamentally and willfully disregards what it means to have a free press, as evidenced by them blocking or banning nearly every independent Russian outlet seeking to report inside their country.

Threatening professional journalists for simply trying to do their jobs and seeking to seal off Russia’s population from any foreign information illustrates the flimsiness and the fragility of the Russian Government’s narrative.

I also want to be clear about this: The United States continues to issue visas to qualified Russian journalists, and we have not revoked the Foreign Press Center credentials of any Russian journalists working in the United States.

As noted in the statement from the Secretary last month, the Treasury Department designated Russia-1, Channel One, and NTV, all of which are directly or indirectly state-owned and state-controlled media within Russia, and the revenues from which support President Putin’s war. Many other both independent and state-linked entities remained unsanctioned.

The U.S. Government continues to engage with Russian media outlets because we believe it is vital for the people of Russia to have access to information. For example, our Ambassador to the Russian Federation John Sullivan, his interview with the TASS state news agency was just published this morning. We also support access to the internet and media by all people, including people in Russia, even as we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Moscow’s efforts to mislead the people of Russia and the world and to suppress the truth about what they are doing in Ukraine continues, including by making it illegal to use the word “war” in connection with Putin’s full-scale invasion or war on Ukraine.

There is no other word except for censorship.

Next I’d like to briefly preview the upcoming 9th Summit of the Americas, which the United States is excited to host this week in Los Angeles, California. From June 6th through the 10th, under the theme “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” heads of state and government officials from throughout the Western Hemisphere will come together to discuss and advance solutions to our most pressing challenges, such as areas – spanning areas such as health and resilience, climate change, democracy, digital transformation, and equitable economic recovery.

Hosting this event again 28 years after we hosted the inaugural summit in Miami in 1994 makes clear our deep and historical – historic commitment to the people of the Western Hemisphere and the commitment of the United States Government to implement President Biden’s values-driven global infrastructure initiative announced at the Carbis Bay G7 Summit in 2021.

In addition to the summit’s formal, leader-level proceedings, the United States is striving to make this 9th Summit of the Americas the most inclusive and accessible to date. Three stakeholder forums – for civil society, youth, and CEOs – will foster dialogue between national leaders and people, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses of the Americas. We will also engage in direct dialogues with these stakeholders on the margins of the summit, including with citizens from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, as we work to realize a more equitable, democratic, and prosperous hemisphere. The United States is excited to invite and amplify diverse voices into the hemispheric dialogue, including the voices of the Los Angeles diasporic communities, during our time in a city with some of the deepest cultural, economic, and historic ties to the region.

And finally, before I turn to your questions, I just want to note the personnel transition in our office, in my office. On Friday, we had the task of saying goodbye to Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter, a longtime colleague of mine, someone whose contributions across the department I greatly value and appreciate. And today we have the happy task of welcoming Vedant Patel. Many of you will know Vedant or at least know him by reputation. Vedant comes to us having been an assistant press secretary at the White House. We served together on the transition prior to that. Prior – previously, Vedant has also worked on the Hill as well. I know I’m confident all of you will enjoy working with Vedant, and we’ll be sure to arrange introductions as appropriate in the coming days.

So with that, happy to turn your questions.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned, and welcome. Really briefly —

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: — on the Summit of the Americas, and in terms of the Secretary’s schedule there.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Is he going to be meeting some of these, I guess, civil society members from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela?

MR PRICE: He has a full schedule. We released a statement this morning indicating some of the elements that he will take part in, in addition to the fact that he will be accompanying President Biden to many of his bilateral engagements and engagements with government leaders. The Secretary will indeed be taking part in engagements with civil society. Tomorrow evening, for example, he’ll be taking part in an event predicated on media freedom. This falls within the bucket of democratic governance and civil society with the region. There will be other opportunities for him to meet not only with civil society stakeholders, but stakeholders from the private sector in addition to his engagement with government counterparts.

QUESTION: And then related to this, how disappointing is it or how much of a blow is it to the summit itself, to the administration’s hemispheric diplomatic efforts, that the Mexican president is not going to be there? I mean, Mexico is arguably – well, not arguably, it is the only country that borders the U.S. directly other than Canada. So how disappointed are you that he won’t be there? And what does that meant for the chances of success or failure of any kind of initiative coming out of – hemispheric initiative coming out?

MR PRICE: Well, as we’ve said, this is a summit that will bring together thousands of individuals, both government individuals and private citizens as well as representatives of the private sector, from across the hemisphere. Of course, Mexico is an important hemispheric player. We are very gratified that the Secretary’s counterpart, Foreign Secretary Ebrard, will be in attendance. We will have a number of opportunities to engage with our Mexican counterparts in the context of the summit this week and we look forward to those engagements.

QUESTION: Right, but it’s a summit, and Ebrard, as wonderful as he is as foreign secretary, I’m sure – at least I guess he is – is not the head of state. So isn’t that a – is it a disappointment that you’re not having your – that the leader of Mexico is not going to be there?

MR PRICE: We have certainly heard from President López Obrador today. We understand his position on this. As I said before, we look forward to engaging with Foreign Secretary Ebrard. The fact is that Mexico is an important partner across a range of issues. You mentioned one of them, migration. There are a number of other issues, from COVID to a sustainable, equitable, inclusive economic recovery, to the climate crisis we’re confronting, in addition to the issue of regional and hemispheric migration.

We will have an opportunity to meet with Foreign Secretary Ebrard and to speak with him in the context of the summit, but Mexico – we are gratified to have a relationship with Mexico that is broad and deep, meaning that we have had and we will continue to have a number of occasions to engage with our Mexican neighbors, not only at this summit but in future engagements in the days and weeks ahead.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, just to – not to beat a dead horse on that, but AMLO basically said, quote, “There can’t be a Summit of…Americas if not all countries of the American continent are taking part.” So what is your response to that?

MR PRICE: Well, as the host of the summit, we do have wide discretion in terms of invitations. We greatly value the diversity of opinions that we’ve heard from our neighbors in the hemisphere about participation in the summit, what that should look like, what that should not look like. In recent weeks, senior officials, including Secretary Blinken, have been in constant contact or near-constant contact, I should say, with our counterparts through the hemisphere – throughout the hemisphere. Secretary Blinken has spoken on a number of occasions to Foreign Secretary Ebrard to hear Mexico’s perspective on this question. We have also heard the perspectives of other neighbors in the hemisphere.

We, again, recognize and respect the position of our allies in supporting – in support of inclusive dialogue. We also note, as I have, that non-governmental representatives will be in attendance from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from Nicaragua. Participants from those three countries have registered to take part in stakeholder events.

QUESTION: Just – I mean, where do you think this incident leaves U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations? Can you say that it’s completely unscathed?

MR PRICE: We have a broad and deep relationship with Mexico. We will be able to explore and to delve into elements of that relationship with our Mexican neighbors this week in Los Angeles. We will have engagements with our Mexican neighbors in the coming days and weeks beyond that. So certainly there are diversity of opinions when it comes to who should be invited to the Summit of the Americas. The United States, as I mentioned before, as the convener of this particular summit has broad discretion. We have done our best to incorporate the viewpoints of the hemisphere. When it comes to our Mexican partners, we look forward to engaging with the foreign secretary.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Yeah, media at the White House just confirmed today that those three countries weren’t invited. Does that mean that until the end, possible, potential invitation of one of them or three of them was on the table? And what made the balance go on the side of not inviting them?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you that we were in discussions with our hemispheric neighbors until very recent hours. And, in fact, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak most recently with Foreign Secretary Ebrard last night. We have been in regular contact with other neighbors throughout the hemisphere; we’ve been in contact with civil society stakeholders; we’ve been in regular contact with Congress as well.

When it comes to the participation and the issues that have been at the fore, I think it is unfortunately notable that one of the key elements of this summit is democratic governance. And these three countries are not exemplars, to put it mildly, of democratic governance. In recent days alone, the Cuban regime has tried two artists on charges that actually criminalize the freedom of speech and artistic expression in Cuba. Diplomats and the press were barred entry to their trials. We’re anxiously awaiting the verdicts.

But again, these most recent – this most recent suppression of freedom of expression is a hallmark of what we have seen from this Cuban regime over the course of years, but especially since the protest of July 11th last year. Since those protests, this is a regime that has not countenanced peaceful opposition. Of course, we’ve seen these two ongoing trials. We’re awaiting the verdict in these cases.

But these are not isolated incidents. We have seen this regime arrest, detain, hold without charge, hold incommunicado, individuals who were doing nothing but expressing the universal right that they have to assemble peacefully, to express their views, and views that did not happen to correspond with the views of the Cuban regime for that supposed offense. They have been detained. They have been deprived of their liberty. They have been deprived of rights that should be universal.

The same, of course, could be said of what has happened in Nicaragua, where we’ve seen an increasingly constricted space for civil society, and of course, Venezuela under the Maduro regime, a regime that we don’t recognize and we continue, of course, to recognize the leadership of interim President Juan Guaidó.

QUESTION: Do you mean that absent these most recent steps by Cuba, an invitation at some level could have been possible? Or were you sharing some more precise demands on something to do on democracy, et cetera?

MR PRICE: I’m not saying that. I am saying that the challenges that these three regimes pose to some of the central tenets of the Summit of the Americas that is to be held this week, those challenges were just insurmountable when you talk about bringing together a summit where democratic governance, democratic values, is on the agenda.

Now, of course we have worked closely, we have listened carefully, to other countries, to important stakeholders in the region. Many of our neighbors have voiced their opinions, their good faith opinions about what a Summit of the Americas should look like in terms of representation. We will continue to have an opportunity to discuss the issues that are at the heart of this summit with those partners, and we’ll have an opportunity to discuss the issues that are at the heart of the summit with civil society representatives, including the civil society representatives that will be in attendance, or at least that have registered, from these three countries – Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. A very quick question. Will Guaidó be represented? Will he attend? Will he be represented in the summit?

MR PRICE: We expect that representatives of the interim government of Juan Guidó will participate in the summit.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just one final point.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, you certainly cannot wish these countries away. I mean, are you – you’ve had some sort of animosity with Cuba for 60 years and so on. You cannot just wish them away. Why not include them in these discussions? I mean, I asked you this on (inaudible) the other day. I mean, you don’t want just the countries that you agree with. You want countries that you disagree with in the summit.

MR PRICE: Well, Said, our policy towards each of these countries – Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba – is predicated on one thing, and that is furthering or advancing the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people, the Venezuelan people, and the Nicaraguan people. Of course we can’t just wish the challenges, the profound challenges to democratic governance, away in any of these three countries. That is not what we have done. But as I said before, in recent weeks in at least one of these cases, in all three in one way or another, the challenge to democratic governance has only been underlined by the actions of these regimes.

When it comes to our approach to all three countries, we have taken steps, including steps in recent weeks with at least a couple of these countries, that at least in our estimation seek to advance the democratic aspirations, the aspirations of these three peoples to live in a more freer, more open society. We have taken concrete steps. We will continue to do what we can to advance the cause of liberty, to advance the cause of democracy, that these three peoples so desire.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Can we go to Russia unless —

MR PRICE: Anything else on the summit? Sure, I’ll take two quick summit questions. Sure.

QUESTION: My question is foreign policy advisor – Foreign Policy advisor to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev —

MR PRICE: We’ll come to other regions in a moment. Anything else on the Summit of the Americas? All right. Let’s go – sorry, Kylie. We’ll – and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just back to your opener, then. I’m just wondering if you can explain to us if there will be any costs for Russia if they do, in fact, kick out these Western journalists that they are now threatening, and if the – if you guys at the State Department found out about these retaliatory steps that they are considering directly, or if you found out about them in the same way that the journalists did from the Kremlin?

MR PRICE: My understanding is that we found out the same way all of you did when your colleagues were summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and essentially read a riot act that was a litany of false equivalence.

Look, Russia has already suffered devastating reputational costs, and of course, any effort to further suppress or constrict the ability of independent journalists to operate freely inside Russia will incur further reputational costs for Moscow, as if those costs needed to be underlined any further.

But I think what we’ve seen is that regardless of the steps that Russia attempts to take, their efforts to fully suppress, to fully clamp down on truthful information is going to be – those efforts are going to be futile. And we have already seen that. We have seen even senior Russian Government officials express and air their grievances, their profound disagreements, with the policy choices of the Kremlin, most notably the choice that the Kremlin has taken to wage a brutal war against Ukraine, to air those disagreements publicly. In the earliest days of this war of choice, this unjustified war, we saw thousands, tens of thousands of individuals across dozens of Russian cities peacefully take to the streets. Many of them were detained, many of them were arrested, for doing nothing more than, again, exercising what should be the universal right to freedom of assembly.

And so the point is that even as Russia tries to put forward these false arguments, these lies to justify their – what is a clear and apparent effort to intimidate independent journalists, Russia will not be able to fully suppress the dissent even within their own system to this brutal war against Ukraine. There could be no means of doing that because we know that opposition to this conflict is so widespread even inside of Russia, where, unfortunately, the Russian people are fed a steady diet of lies and propaganda and disinformation. But even the Kremlin’s efforts to clamp down on the organs of information and even their efforts to intimate reporters have failed, and information continues to make its way through what is undoubtedly a very constricted information environment.

QUESTION: And just a quick question. Do you know what prompted this? I mean, obviously we’ve seen them increasingly clamp down on news outlets and good information, but was there a specific incident? Do you think it’s the sanctions from May that you guys put on to three Russian-controlled news agencies? Do you have any idea?

MR PRICE: It’s difficult to say and I wouldn’t want to venture a guess. I believe the Russian Federation has publicly attributed it to the designations that we enacted against Russian-backed or Russian Government entities. These are entities that had been primary sources of foreign revenue for the Kremlin to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, a key driver in terms of foreign funding for the Kremlin, or at least a significant source of foreign investment.

Of course, in justifying what is unjustifiable – because it is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate independent journalists – we have seen this false equivalence, putting on the same plane your colleagues, your colleagues whom you know to be independent-minded, impartial, doing what they can under a very difficult operating environment, to uncover and to report the truth, to what are propaganda arms of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. How many senior Russian Government officials are you aware of who have voiced their opposition and disagreement to their policy?

MR PRICE: I believe I said that some senior Russian Government officials have.

QUESTION: Yeah. How many?

MR PRICE: We have seen certainly former —

QUESTION: One?

MR PRICE: Former Russian Government officials go —

QUESTION: That was one.

MR PRICE: — go on state TV even. We’ve seen a senior official in Geneva also —

QUESTION: Well, I mean senior official. He was like the number three or four guy. I’m not saying there aren’t any. I’m just wondering – you seem to say that, like, there’s some big groundswell of opposition within —

MR PRICE: No, I pointed to you —

QUESTION: — senior government officials —

MR PRICE: — pointed to examples.

QUESTION: But okay. Well, a former official going on television, this guy who’s the analysist who was widely pointed to, and then the one guy in Geneva?

MR PRICE: And Matt, I think what you have seen from thousands of people, tens of thousands of people take to the streets —

QUESTION: But I get —

MR PRICE: It is not confined to two people, of course.

QUESTION: Well, fine, but you said senior Russian Government officials. So I just want to make sure I understand who.

QUESTION: Right, right. Yes, Alex.

QUESTION: A follow-up before you shut this on how they treat their own reporters. We have the latest example of Andrei Soldatov. He is known for his coverage of Russian security service, a very well-known journalist. He got – basically, he learned that he is on the wanted list, and also his bank accounts got frozen this morning. How do you read that news? First of all, them being able to freeze a bank account of their own reporter and at the same time put him on a wanted list? Secondly, can I get a reaction to the mere fact that this is basically another example of their litany of, let’s say, attacks over their own journalists?

MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with the specific case your raised. If we have a specific comment, we’ll offer it, but what you describe certainly sounds in the vein of what appears to be a concerted campaign on the part of the Kremlin to intimidate independent journalists. The Russian Government, the Kremlin has a long track record of pursuing those who have attempted to put a spotlight on it, including its security services. And of course, history is unfortunately riddled with examples of independent journalists and truth-tellers whose reporting has been suppressed, or in some cases, much worse has befallen them. And there are even recent examples of what appears to be very clear examples of the Russian Government pursuing and subjecting even to intimidation and to violence those who would attempt to expose corruption, malfeasance, wrongdoing on the part of the Russian Government.

Anything – yes.

QUESTION: On Russia still.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: So how does the U.S. view Russia’s renewed bombing of Kyiv? Is this President Putin sending a message to the West about the arms that it’s sending to Ukraine to now, or the return to a broader military objective than the Donbas? And does the renewed bombing campaign of Kyiv change operations at Embassy Kyiv at all?

MR PRICE: Well, there have been a number of examples of Russia’s brutality where we have had to question whether there was any military objective undergirding it, or whether it was just an attempt to terrorize the population of Ukraine, including the civilian population of Ukraine, and targeting sites on the outskirts of Ukraine could clearly fall into that category.

The attacks that we’ve seen in recent days, however, of course, are not limited to the capital. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv noted that Russia’s bombardment hit a historic Orthodox monument in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a sacred site in Ukraine that had served as a refuge, a place of refuge for fleeing civilians since the brutal war in Ukraine began. These attacks have been senseless, what appear to be senseless affronts to Ukraine’s people, to Ukraine’s government as well.

The ongoing violence continues to take the form of attacks that have injured or killed civilians, destroyed civilian infrastructure, and that follows previous strikes that have hit civilian hospitals, schools, religious sites, the infamous strike on a theater in Mariupol, a busy railway station of civilians attempting to flee for their lives. There have been clear examples of Russia’s brutality that amount to war crimes, and we have made public our assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in the context of this campaign.

Not only do we continue to stand with our Ukrainian partners to provide them the security assistance that they have put to extraordinary effect to defend their freedom, to defend their democracy, to defend their country, but we have also provided our Ukrainian partners with economic support, with humanitarian support, and we’ve continued at the same time to impose those significant costs – the costs that we promised well before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24th that you’ve seen in the form of financial sanctions and export controls.

QUESTION: Do the attacks on Kyiv specifically – do they alter plans for operations at Embassy Kyiv, or none – there’s —

MR PRICE: There’s been no change in our posture. As you know, we resumed embassy operations at Embassy Kyiv last month. Since then, our team at the embassy has continued to engage with Ukrainian officials, to engage with the Ukrainian people, including representatives of civil society as well.

QUESTION: Russia and Serbia?

MR PRICE: Sure, Russia and Serbia.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov decision to cancel a planned visit to Serbia after three countries – Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bulgaria – decided to close their air space to Lavrov’s airplane? Moscow has made a condemnation and also a senior Russian official even threatened to – these three countries with a missile strike.

MR PRICE: Well, these were sovereign decisions regarding the airspace of these three sovereign countries. It reflects Europe’s commitment to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked, for its unjustified aggression in Ukraine. We urge Serbia to focus on its stated goal of EU membership, including aligning its foreign and security policies with the rest of Europe.

Kylie.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can you comment – I’m sorry – can you comment on Serbia president’s decision to host Lavrov and also Serbia’s refusal to implement EU sanctions against Russia?

MR PRICE: Well, to your question, we have consistently urged Serbia to take steps that advance its European path, including diversifying its energy sources, to reduce energy dependence on the Russian Federation, and aligning its foreign and security policies with the EU. We have sought and we continue to seek to be a partner to Serbia to assist in its efforts to enhance its energy security for the long term.

QUESTION: How —

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Kylie?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: How —

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: How will – I’m sorry – how will U.S. and NATO ensure, like, these three countries are protected from the threats from Russia? Thank you.

MR PRICE: These three countries that closed their airspace? Well – is that what you mean? Well, all three countries are NATO members, and the commitment to Article Five on the part of all three is ironclad. Of course, we marked Montenegro’s fifth anniversary of NATO membership just yesterday, and North Macedonia’s second anniversary in March.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just on the food crisis, can you just bring us up to date on efforts to get grain out of Ukraine? It’s been a few weeks now since Blinken made his plea to the UN for countries to get on board, so where are you guys at? Are there routes out of the country that have been identified and are up and running at this time?

MR PRICE: We have continued to be in very close dialogue and communication with key partners in this effort – with our European allies, with Turkey in terms of its efforts, and with the UN. And just last week, a UN delegation briefed the United States, including senior members of our team here, on efforts to coordinate maritime security on the Black Sea. Of course, we don’t comment on the details of these private discussions, but this has been a priority topic of discussion with our counterparts at the UN. We’ll continue that close coordination with the UN delegation and with the Government of Ukraine on ways to mitigate impacts of global food insecurity from President Putin’s war in Ukraine.

This is a war that not only has brutalized, and in many ways terrorized, the people of Ukraine, but it has put at risk food security around the world. There are approximately 84 merchant ships, some laden with wheat and corn, and about 450 seafarers are trapped at Ukrainian ports. Not only is there grain aboard these vessels, but there are about 22 million tons of grain sitting in silos near the ports that also needs to move out to make room for the newly harvested grain. In addition, Russia has actually taken aim at ships at sea. They have taken aim at grain silos. They are continuing to effectively implement what amounts to a blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

So we are having conversations, of course, with Ukraine in the first instance, but also with important allies and partners coming out of the Secretary’s engagements in New York last month, where he led the session at the UN Security Council, and also in the General Assembly. That was billed as a call to action. We feel that we were successful in bringing together much of the world to focus on this problem. The challenge is now clearly in sight, and we are working closely with countries in the region to help to facilitate the export of Ukraine’s grain and other foodstuffs. But we’re also working with countries who have been impacted by Russia’s blockading of the ports, Russia’s targeting of vessels containing wheat and other foodstuffs. We’ll continue to keep the focus on this.

Janne.

QUESTION: Do you have estimation for when that dialogue will lead to movement of the grain?

MR PRICE: This is something that we are working on every single day, so I can’t put a date on it, but it is among our highest priorities here. As you know, the Secretary later today will actually convene a group of stakeholders from the NGO community and also from the private sector together with Secretary Vilsack. When it comes to the challenge of Russia’s war against Ukraine, this has been a – among our highest priorities, because the impacts of Russia’s action are not only confined to what they’re doing inside Ukraine, but countries around the world, including countries in Africa – both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa – have really borne the brunt of this. Ukraine, until Russia’s invasion, was a breadbasket for the world – exports of wheat, exports of fertilizer.

Russia too has the potential to export its wheat, its fertilizer, its other foodstuffs. We have been very deliberate and careful in designing our sanctions policy. Contrary to what the Russian Federation is putting forward, there are very clear and delineated carveouts in our sanctions policy to ensure that we are doing absolutely – to ensure that we aren’t doing anything that would limit or otherwise constrict Russia’s ability to export food and fertilizer.

QUESTION: Ned, just super quickly on Kylie’s question. Lavrov’s going to Turkey on Wednesday. Is that, like, a big meeting that you guys are also following, and would you expect maybe, like, a breakthrough after that on the grain issue?

MR PRICE: I don’t know if we should expect breakthroughs. Of course we’ll be watching closely. We’ll be talking with our Turkish allies in the aftermath of that visit. Again, we are supporting all diplomatic efforts that are carefully and closely coordinated with Ukraine – nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine – that have the potential to increase Ukrainian exports of food and fertilizer to the global marketplace.

QUESTION: And just so – when you say we shouldn’t expect breakthroughs, so you don’t necessarily see this, like, meeting over there as, like, unlocking anything or, like, leading to results. You mean to say that this is still going to be a long haul; it’s going to take more than that.

MR PRICE: This is a challenge that has built up since February 24th when Russia began its war on Ukraine. You have referred to a meeting between two countries, Russia and Turkey, neither of which, of course, is Ukraine. So I am confident that one meeting alone won’t be able to solve this challenge. This will be a challenge that will, of course, need to involve Ukraine at the center of anything that we collectively do to facilitate the export of Ukrainian food and fertilizer.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on —

QUESTION: Can we ask one more on Russia, please? On – one more, please.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: The new sanctions —

QUESTION: These locations, you know, not —

MR PRICE: We’ll do two more on Russia/Ukraine, and then I promise we’ll move on. I’ll come right back to you, Janne; sorry. Alex, you’ve already had one, so let me just, for equity, go back. Michele.

QUESTION: Yeah, the new sanctions that Russia impose today on U.S. personalities and secretaries.

MR PRICE: I don’t have a reaction other than the fact that I think it highlights the asymmetry between our countries. Of course, the United States is a banking center; it’s a financial center. It is a country where citizens from the world seek to travel to, where citizens from the world seek to educate themselves and their families. So of course there’s always going to be an inherent asymmetry between the steps that the Russian Federation puts forward and what we, together with our allies and partners, do in response to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on North Korea and China. North Korea fired eight ballistic missiles yesterday. What actions did United States take immediately in response to North Korea’s missile launch?

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, and they can share details of the live-fire exercises that they conducted in the aftermath of the most recent provocations. But as you’ve likely heard, we did condemn the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches. These launches are in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. They pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and to the international community more broadly. As you’ve heard from us before, we do remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK. We call on them to engage in dialogue. At the same time, we have an ironclad commitment to our allies in the ROK in Japan. And not only is our deputy secretary of state in Seoul at this very moment, where she will have an opportunity to engage bilaterally with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts, but also trilaterally, underscoring the importance of trilateral engagement and coordination.

It also happens that our Special Envoy for the DPRK Sung Kim is also in South Korea, and he too has been in touch with his trilateral counterparts – his South Korean, his Japanese counterparts. He was in immediate or near-immediate contact with them in the aftermath of the most recent provocations. That coordination will continue, but just as importantly, that shared resolve to confront this challenge and to find ways to advance what is our overarching objective, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, that will remain front and center in our trilateral agenda.

QUESTION: But China said – China noted that North Korea fires missiles because the United States did not engage in dialogue within North Korea. What is the U.S. position on China’s claims of responsibility to the United States for North Korea’s missile provocations?

MR PRICE: Well, I won’t comment on the PRC’s characterization of our policy, but I’ll make very clear what our policy is. Our policy is to seek dialogue, to seek engagement with the DPRK. Any country that puts the responsibility on us for the lack of dialogue, the lack of engagement, is either ill-informed or is propagating falsehoods. And the fact is that we have made clear for months now, since the earliest days of this administration, that we believe that diplomacy and dialogue provides the most effective means by which to promote our shared objective, a shared objective that emanated from a comprehensive policy review that we conducted last year, where we determined that our goal, a goal we now share with our trilateral allies, is the complete denuclearization of the DPRK.

We believe we can achieve that most effectively through diplomacy and dialogue, which we have consistently offered. We have made clear both publicly and privately to the DPRK that we harbor no hostile intent towards the regime. Much to the contrary, it would be far preferable if we were able to engage in that diplomacy and dialogue.

QUESTION: But this issue goes to UN Security Council resolutions. But if China and Russia will veto, so how are you going to be responsible for this again, repeated these issues all the time, China and Russia’s vetoes. How are you going to respond to this?

MR PRICE: Well, we have called on members of the international community, certainly members of the UN Security Council’s permanent five, to be responsible stakeholders in the UN Security Council as a preeminent forum for addressing threats to international peace and security.

When it comes to security in North Asia, in this particular region, there is no greater threat to international peace and security. So it is incumbent on all members of the international community to enact and to continue to abide by international sanctions. It is profoundly disappointing, as you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield late last month, that certain members of the P5 have not fulfilled the obligations that they have as members of the P5 – again, an organization that is charged with being the preeminent forum to discuss threats to international peace and security. But all the while, we will continue to promote accountability. There are other means by which we can promote that accountability. We have our own authorities. Our partners and allies have authorities that we can coordinate just as we work on defense and deterrence together with our partners in the region.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Could we follow-up upon North Korea?

MR PRICE: One more on North Korea and then we’ll move on.

QUESTION: Then Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Just following up on Janne’s point on China and Russia, how can the U.S. respond if the DPRK were to conduct a nuclear test? Would you be – would unilateral actions be the only option left to the U.S., given China and Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council?

MR PRICE: Unilateral actions are never going to be the most attractive or even the most effective response, and that is especially the case because we are gratified that we have close allies in the form of Japan and the ROK bilaterally, trilaterally. There are a number of allies and partners of ours, not only in the Indo-Pacific but around the world, who understand and appreciate the threat that’s posed by the DPRK’s WMD programs – that is to say, its nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missiles program.

So we remain concerned that the DPRK could seek a seventh nuclear test in the coming days. It’s a concern we’ve warned about for some time. I can assure you that it is a contingency we have planned for, and it has been a concerted topic of discussion with allies and partners.

Yes.

QUESTION: And then just quickly, after last month’s vote, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that the U.S. would continue to seek unity and compromise at the UN with regard to the DPRK. Given that China, Russia were the only two who vetoed, has the ambassador engaged directly with China and Russia how to move forward —

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to her team for that. We do engage regularly our partners in New York on this. But for any particular conversations, I need to refer you to her.

Afghanistan? Nazira.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. As you know, Taliban establishing a good relationship with India. Indian officials visited the Taliban in Kabul, and they agreed to train some personal security people, maybe army, police or something else. Do you have any comment on that? Although Pakistan and Indian relationship is worse. They don’t have any good relation. Taliban, they get two part. One go to India and the other one maybe there. (Inaudible.)

MR PRICE: Well, there are a number of countries around the world that have a discrete set of interests in Afghanistan and who predicate their engagement with the Taliban on those interests. We too have interests when it comes to Afghanistan. We’ve spoken to many of them. It is human rights, respecting the basic and fundamental human rights of all of Afghanistan’s citizens, including its women and girls, its minorities; ensuring safe passage for those who wish to depart the country – of course, that includes for U.S. citizens, for LPRs, for those who have worked on behalf of the United States Government over the years as well.

It is inclusive governance and doing what we can to support the formation of a government that represents the Afghan people, including their aspirations; the counter-terrorism commitments that the Taliban has committed itself to, both publicly and privately, including vis-à-vis al-Qaida, but also ISIS-K; and of course the idea that no legitimate entity should hold hostages, and in the case of Afghanistan, Mark Frerichs continues to be on our mind. We’ve made very clear that for our relationship to improve whatsoever with the Taliban, we’ll be looking very carefully at their actions towards Mark Frerichs, who has been in custody for far too long.

India similarly has a set of interests when it comes to the Taliban. Different countries will engage with the Taliban in different ways. We have a team on the ground in Doha that is responsible for, as appropriate, engaging with the Taliban on our set of interests just as other countries do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes. Let me move around. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev scheduled to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried at the State Department. What issues will be discussed?

MR PRICE: Well, as you alluded to, Assistant Secretary Donfried will meet with the Foreign Policy Advisor Hajiyev in Washington today. The advisor is also having meetings with several other administration officials, including our National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Assistant Secretary Donfried will convey to Mr. Hajiyev the U.S. interest in facilitating direct engagement between Azerbaijan and Armenia, including our role as a Minsk Group co-chair and our support for recent EU efforts to bring both countries together. This is something that Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity to engage with the leaders of these two countries on in recent days and recent weeks. It continues to be something we wish to promote.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can I follow up —

MR PRICE: Let me move around, Alex. Just let me try and – yes.

QUESTION: Appreciate it, Ned. Thank you. Is there a change in your position on the sale of F-16s to Turkey?

MR PRICE: We have – we continue to discuss with our NATO Ally how we can work together as Allies. Of course, we don’t speak to any transactions that have not been notified to Congress. Turkey has made no secret of its desire to invest more heavily in the F-16 program. That’s not something that we’re in a position to speak to publicly.

QUESTION: And then the SDF commander in Syria, Mazloum Abdi, he says that in the event of Turkish invasion into northeast Syria, they will allow Assad regime’s air defense to protect the region’s skies. Do you have a position on that?

MR PRICE: Well, our position is one that you’ve heard for some time now, ever since this hypothetical, ever since this potential operation was first raised. We have emphasized that we remain deeply concerned about discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria, and in particular, its potential impact on the civilian population there. We have continued to call for the maintenance of existing ceasefire lines. We would condemn any escalation beyond those lines. It’s crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect those ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and to work towards a political solution to the conflict.

I’ve previously made the point that we expect Turkey to live up to the commitments that it made in October of 2019, including the commitment to halt offensive operations in northeast Syria. Any new escalation beyond those existing ceasefire lines could prove to be especially costly setbacks – costly setbacks to our collective efforts to counter Daesh, the efforts of the counter-ISIS coalition, but also to our efforts to promote political stability within Syria.

QUESTION: If I may, Ned, in the previous administration, before the last Turkish invasion into northeast Syria, the administration was calling on Turkey the same things that you’re calling Turkey, and that didn’t work, obviously. Are you optimistic that this time there will be anything different?

MR PRICE: Look, I want to be optimistic about it. I don’t want to be pessimistic about it. What we can do is to make very clear where the United States of America stands on this. This is something that we have had an opportunity to discuss, including at senior levels, with our Turkish allies. We’ve made very clear to them our concerns with any renewed offensive in northern Syria.

Said.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you. On the Palestinian-Israeli issue, Ned, yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the ’67 war. That’s 55 years of occupation for the Palestinians that they had to endure and still endure. I think over a period of 24 hours, four Palestinians were killed. They held a three-year-old child and they made him take off his t-shirt at a checkpoint. The whole world saw that.

So my question to you – I mean, I know you don’t want to express any optimism or pessimism – how long this should – this thing should go on? I mean, hasn’t – is it time for this occupation to end? I mean, morally speaking, how much should this military occupation go on, generation after generation?

MR PRICE: Said, our goal from the first day of this administration has been to do everything that we can to promote and to advance a two-state solution precisely because a two-state solution, we believe and successive American administrations have believed, is the most effective means by which to secure Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, but also to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in dignity and security and peace in a country of their own. This has been at the heart of our policy. We have spoken out against steps that have the potential to be setbacks towards the prospect of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So can you tell us at least one thing that you have done to bring this solution, this two-state solution, a bit closer in the last six months?

MR PRICE: Said, we have also been clear that we are not on the cusp, unfortunately, of a two-state solution. We’re likely not even on the cusp of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to discuss the contours of a two-state solution. Our goal since the very start has been to set the stage to create an environment in which diplomacy, including diplomacy toward – between Israelis and Palestinians is more likely to be effective. And I can point to a number of steps that we have taken, including the resumption of humanitarian funding for the Palestinian people, including the resumption of contact between the United States and the Palestinian leadership. That is something that unfortunately had taken a hit in the last administration. We think it was profoundly counterproductive to the prospects of stability in the region, to the prospect ultimately of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: And the last administration, they closed the consulate that was open for so many – for a long, long time. And you have not taken any steps to reopening that.

But I know you don’t like me to cite figures and numbers, but I’m going to tell you a couple of figures. Since the beginning of the year, 14 Palestinian kids – children – have been killed by the Israelis. Over the past 55 years, 1.5 million Palestinians have been imprisoned, most of them unfairly – most of them unfairly. Including administrative detentions. Can you at least tell your allies, the Israelis, that they should end this practice of administrative detention?

MR PRICE: Said, we’ve been very clear where we stand. We believe Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of stability, of security, of freedom, and importantly of dignity. That is really at the heart of our efforts to set the stage for a two-state solution. It’s been at the heart of everything we have attempted to do in the region.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi. There was a Washington Post story saying that the PRC is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia for the exclusive use of its military. That’s supposed to be a ground station for the BeiDou navigation technology. Do you have any comment about that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on the specific story you reference, but it is consistent with credible reporting we’ve seen from the PRC – that the PRC is engaged in a significant ongoing construction project at Ream Naval Base. As we’ve said, an exclusive PRC military presence at Ream could threaten Cambodia’s autonomy and undermine regional security as well. We and countries in the region have expressed concerns about the lack of transparency on the intent, the nature, the scope of this project, as well as the role that the PRC military is playing in its construction and in its post-construction use of the facility.

The Cambodian people, neighboring countries, ASEAN, and the region more broadly would benefit from more transparency. We’ve made a very similar point in terms of the Pacific and the Pacific Island nations. We have seen the PRC attempt to put forward a series of shadowy, opaque deals that they would like to see signed in the dead of night with no input or transparency, and even limited visibility on the part of the governments in question. So this has been a pattern on the part of the PRC.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. What’s the date on that guidance you just read?

MR PRICE: Sixth of June, 2022.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Does it give any metadata? (Laughter.) When did you first start raising your concerns about the Chinese construction at Ream?

MR PRICE: It was last year, I can tell you.

QUESTION: Was it more like two years ago? Maybe it was before – before your time.

MR PRICE: I wasn’t here two years ago, but I can tell you this administration has been consistent in that.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, is there something that has happened new other than this just one report that has increased your concern?

MR PRICE: I will tell you, Matt, we – I am happy to take any and all questions that people throw my way. Your colleague asked me a question about —

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that. I’m just wondering —

MR PRICE: — concern of Ream Naval Base, so —

QUESTION: No, I just want to know if there’s any – why – is the concern greater than it was, like, a year ago?

MR PRICE: I don’t – I can’t tell you why The Washington Post wrote that report.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you that. I’m asking you about your response to the question, which is that – like, has the concern increased for some reason?

MR PRICE: Our concern certainly has not abated.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PRICE: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just one thing on the Summit of Americas. You said representatives of Guaidó will participate. So you guys don’t expect him to show up?

MR PRICE: We will have more details on the mechanics and the specifics of participation, I am sure, in the coming days.

QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, is he coming or not?

MR PRICE: We will have more details on all of that as the week unfolds.

QUESTION: Are these representatives participating in person or virtually?

MR PRICE: It’s a different way of asking the same question, and I will give you the same answer. We will —

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, are the participants coming in person, or are they going to be in a laptop screen?

MR PRICE: I can understand the interest you have in this, and we will have —

QUESTION: Yes, it’s tomorrow. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: We will have answers for you throughout the course of the week. Yes.

QUESTION: Ahead of the Security Council vote on cross-border operations for Syria next month, how concerned is the U.S. that Russia will dismantle what remains of that cross-border mechanism? And is there any dialogue with the Russians at the UN right now on this?

MR PRICE: So I would need to refer you to my colleagues at the UN to speak to their engagement on this. But as you know, Linda Thomas-Greenfield was just in the region late last week. She went there to put a spotlight on the indispensability of this remaining border crossing. It is a border crossing that facilitates much needed, desperately needed humanitarian support for the Syrian people.

We – the United States believes, and many of our allies and partners around the world believe, that we should not allow the profound differences we have with Russia or any other country to stand in the way of humanitarian assistance to make it to the people of Syria. This is not something that should be treated as a bargaining chip. This is not something that should be used for political favor or advantage. This is about lives. This is about livelihoods. This is about the ability of millions of Syrians who are at grave risk of food insecurity to continue to subsist and to live.

QUESTION: But just to follow up, how would you describe contingency planning for if they succeed in shutting it down?

MR PRICE: Our focus right now is on a reauthorization of the border crossing. I wouldn’t want to get into contingency planning.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just a more general question on nuclear threats, because the IAEA chief pointed to evidence that both North Korea and Iran are making great strides in this arena. Now, you’ve outlined the administration’s strategy for diplomacy, but taken as a whole is any of this a wakeup call that it’s time maybe for a recalibration?

MR PRICE: For a recalibration of?

QUESTION: Of your strategy.

MR PRICE: Of our strategy towards the DPRK and Iran?

QUESTION: On nonproliferation.

MR PRICE: Look, we have a strategy towards both countries. Obviously, they’re very different countries entailing very different strategies.

When it comes to the DPRK – we have already talked about this to some extent during the briefing – our objective is to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe we can achieve that most effectively through dialogue and diplomacy. We are doing what we can to signal very clearly to the DPRK regime that we are ready, willing, and able to engage in that dialogue and diplomacy.

Now, it is no secret as we’ve already talked about in the course of this briefing that the DPRK appears to be in a period of provocation. This has tended to be cyclical. We’ve seen periods of provocation; we’ve seen periods of engagement. It is very clear at the moment that we are in the former. We are doing what we can to give way to a period that is marked more by the latter.

When it comes to Iran, look, the unfortunate reality is that Iran’s nuclear program was in a box. It was in a confined box until May of 2018, when the decision was made on the part of the previous administration to essentially give Iran a get out of nuclear jail free card. And since then Iran has been in a position to advance its nuclear program in ways that would have been prohibited under the JCPOA and to do so in the context – in a context where we have not had the stringent verification and monitoring regime that the JCPOA affords us.

So in one sense we know a very credible solution to the challenge we face with Iran’s nuclear program, and that’s the JCPOA. Now, it remains a very big question mark as to whether we will get there. Regardless of whether there is a JCPOA or not, President Biden has committed that Iran will never be in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon. If we are in a position to mutually return to compliance with the JCPOA, that will be the vehicle by which we fulfil that commitment, but we are equally determined and we are engaging with allies and partners around the world in the absence of a JCPOA to ensure that even in the case that we are unable to get there that Iran will not be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Rich, there.

QUESTION: One more on the summit.

MR PRICE: Let me please go to Iran. We’ve covered Summit of America pretty extensively, I think.

QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, there appears to be two major delegations coming to visit the United States, the commerce minister in the middle of this month and the investment minister at the end. Are those precursors to a meeting with MBS, or is there any more detail you can provide on a potential meeting there?

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to provide any more detail on potential presidential travel. As you know, the White House has said that they are working on a visit to the Middle East. He has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Bennett of Israel to travel to Israel in the coming weeks, and we may have more to say, or I should say the White House I expect will have more to say on that front at the appropriate time.

What we are doing with Saudi Arabia is precisely what we are doing with countries around the world, and that is forging a relationship that first and foremost advances U.S. interest. Just as the President was recently in Japan and South Korea engaging with the leaders of ASEAN, he’ll be at the Summit of the Americas this week. Our engagements with countries around the world are predicated on the idea that these relationships need to serve American interests and to be consistent with American values.

I think over the course of the past 16 months we have been in a position to forge a relationship with Saudi Arabia that does that. And you saw another piece of evidence just last week when it was announced by the UN another extension, or I should say an extension, a two-month extension, to the humanitarian truce in Yemen. This, of course, would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Special Envoy Lenderking under the direction of Secretary Blinken and President Biden, but of course the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, but also the support of our Saudi partners. We have also worked and Saudi Arabia has done quite a bit to mend regional divides – the exchange of ambassadors with Lebanon, healing rifts within the Gulf as well.

And of course, we have common interests in terms of the threats that Saudi Arabia faces, has faced, from Yemen. There are – these are not only threats to the kingdom and to Saudi Arabia’s citizenry, but there are 70,000 Americans who live in the kingdom who have been put at risk by the spate of hundreds of cross-border attacks that we have seen in recent months.

So we are working with our Saudi partners on all of these common interests. We can do all of that while keeping human rights at the center of our foreign policy.

QUESTION: Just one quick question on U.S.-Saudi relations?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: I think it was last year that Blinken continued to say that the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia needs to be recalibrated, and you reiterate that as well. Has that process of recalibration concluded, or are you guys still in the process of recalibrating the relationship?

MR PRICE: Well, in some ways our relationships with countries around the world is like our efforts here at home; we’re always striving for a more perfect union. We’re always striving for a more perfect relationship. The same could be true of countries around the world. I think what we’ve seen over the course of the past 16 months with our Saudi partners, compared to where we were in January of last year to where we are now just a few days after the humanitarian truce was extended in Yemen, speaks to the progress that we’ve seen. It’s a relationship that is now on steady footing. It’s a relationship that allows us to advance, to protect, to promote our interests, just as we have continued to put values – values we share with countries around the world – front and center in that.

QUESTION: So it’s on more steady footing now than it was last year at this time?

MR PRICE: I think that is safe to say.

Yes. Let me – yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Taiwan.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Taiwan’s opposition party leader, Eric Chu, is in Washington right now. Is there any plan that a State Department official will meet him here in the State Department?

MR PRICE: I am not aware of any planned meetings, but we will let you know if we have anything to read out.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, going back to Iran, now that the first day of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting has opened, I guess you can talk more about the report on Iran. The director general said that Iran has a considerable amount of enriched uranium and it could be only weeks before it could have enough fissile material for a bomb. Is that the same timeline you’re looking at, the Biden administration is looking at, for calling it quits with the negotiations should Iran not do anything to revive the talks?

MR PRICE: We share a great deal of information with the IAEA. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. The assessment that you heard from the director general today is largely consistent with our own assessments. The fact is that when the JCPOA was implemented, when it was fully in effect, the breakout time was about 12 months. It was about a year. In the course of the past two years, that breakout time – or I should say since May of 2018; I suppose that’s three years now, four years now – that breakout time has dwindled significantly. We are now no longer talking about months, unfortunately, but we are talking about weeks or less.

The time frame for potentially resuming – mutually resuming compliance with the JCPOA, again, isn’t based on a date on the wall. It is not based on a – whether it’s a week or a month from now. It is based on assessments that are ever evolving. These assessments are updated based on every piece of relevant information. And as long as a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA conveys nonproliferation benefits that the status quo does not, we will pursue a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

As I said, the breakout time that we have now is quite short. The prospect of a mutual return to compliance would still prolong that breakout time fairly significantly if we were successful in negotiating a mutual return to that. That remains a big question mark. We’ll have to see what the coming period – where that leads us.

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like you’re actually going to wait until Iran is at the threshold of becoming a nuclear state.

MR PRICE: We are not waiting for anything. We are every day engaging with our allies and partners in this effort. And again, as long as it is in the national security interests of the United States, we will continue to pursue a mutual return to compliance. But either way, as I said before, President Biden has a commitment. He has made a solemn commitment that Iran will never be in a position to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about your —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Let —

QUESTION: Your phrase you said – because I haven’t heard it before. Maybe I have and I’ve just forgotten about it, but this idea that you said – in response to a question a few questions ago, you said the last administration essentially gave Iran a “get out of nuclear jail free card.” Is that new? I don’t remember hearing that before.

MR PRICE: I don’t recall having said that before, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So is it – so can I just drill down into that a little bit? Is it your – is the administration’s position that the JCPOA was, in fact, a nuclear jail?

MR PRICE: It put Iran’s nuclear program —

QUESTION: So it wasn’t a nuclear jail?

MR PRICE: It confined it. It put it in a box.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s an interesting way to try and get the Iranians – describe it – to describe it, to get the Iranians back into it. You’re saying come on into the cell, guys.

MR PRICE: My job here is to —

QUESTION: Fair enough.

MR PRICE: — explain what we’re trying to do for U.S. national security interests.

QUESTION: Fair enough, I just wanted – I just – okay. And then the “free” part of it, is it also this administration’s position that the Iranians paid no price at all?

MR PRICE: I think you may be reading a bit too much into a comment that was maybe a bit too flip, but —

QUESTION: Oh, okay. All right. Well, I just wanted to – because sometimes – remember we had “sanctions hygiene” that was – and I just want to make sure that I understand where you’re coming —

MR PRICE: Yeah. All right. We have gone on for quite a while. I’ll take a quick —

QUESTION: I have one on Iran and one on Lebanon. What was the purpose of Special Envoy Malley’s visit last week to the Central Command in Florida?

MR PRICE: The special envoy routinely engages with members of the interagency. He works closely with leadership across the government. He in fact leads an interagency team. That team actually includes a senior military advisor. And so he went to CENTCOM to meet with the CENTCOM commander as part of that regular work.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon, do you have any comment on the increased tension between Israel and Lebanon over the off-shore drilling in a disputed area? And are you planning to send Mr. Amos Hochstein to Beirut and Israel on this question?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any travel to announce or to preview at this time, but as you’ve heard from us before, the Israel-Lebanon maritime border, that’s a decision for both Israel and Lebanon to make. We believe that a deal is possible if both sides negotiate in good faith and realize the benefit to both countries. To that end, we do strongly support efforts to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

Alex, last question.

QUESTION: Ned, thank you so much. Two questions on Russia-Ukraine. You also owe me an Azerbaijan follow-up.

MR PRICE: I owe you a what? Sorry.

QUESTION: An Azerbaijan follow-up.

MR PRICE: Ah. Sounds like three questions. Okay.

QUESTION: So Sunday’s strikes on Kyiv. Ukraine demands new sanctions in response to Sunday’s strikes. It’s the first time in weeks. And also characterizes missile attack on Kyiv as an act of terrorism. Do you share that characterization? Was it an act of terrorism?

And secondly, you mentioned Ambassador Sullivan’s interview. He was quoted today as saying Russia should not close its embassy in the U.S. I get the sentiment that when ambassador talked about that, this is two-way road. But I wonder how comfortable you are in terms of seeing Russian diplomats wandering around, feeling they are part of international community just as normal after everything they have done on Ukraine, just pick up from where they left off.

MR PRICE: Well, I would dispute somewhat that characterization. Not only is Moscow’s economy in shambles, we’ve seen sky-high inflation; we have seen estimates that the Kremlin – that the Russian economy will contract by between 11 and 15 percent this year; more than a thousand multinational companies have fled the Russian marketplace. But Russia is diplomatically isolated in a way that it never has been before. You should ask Moscow how it plans to vote in terms of the next Human Rights Council meeting, just to give you one example. This is a country that is now, in many ways, a pariah on the international stage. We have seen countries distance themselves from Moscow. This is not only confined to private sector companies.

So that said, the ambassador’s point is a completely valid one and one we believe in. We believe that lines of communication, lines of dialogue, are always important, but they are especially important at – during times of increased tension or, in this case, even conflict or war. We want to see those lines preserved. It’s why we have been very vocal in speaking out against the unjustified steps that the Russian Government had taken vis-à-vis our diplomatic presence in Moscow. Our goal is to see those lines of communication maintained.

QUESTION: And on Sunday’s strike, isn’t it – was it an act of terrorism, as Ukraine wants ?

MR PRICE: You can attach any number of labels to it. What we are doing is working with our Ukrainian partners to provide them with the support they need – security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance – just as we impose costs on the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: And lastly, you mentioned direct engagement on Azerbaijan/Armenia. The Secretary, in fact, offered his help with border efforts. Other than just bringing both sides together, what does that mean in practice? Do you have different maps, or what are you offering that – if Brussels does not —

MR PRICE: During a recent engagement, the Secretary did allude to support for those efforts. It includes border demarcation efforts, ways that we can help Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to make progress in terms of this conflict.

Thank you all very much.

Secretary Blinken’s Travel to Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas

6 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Los Angeles, where, together with President Biden and Vice President Harris, he will attend the U.S.-hosted Ninth Summit of the Americas from June 7-10. The Secretary will meet with heads of state and other leaders from North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean to discuss building a democratic, sustainable, and resilient future.  The Secretary will participate in a workshop on social inclusion and the economic contributions of migrants with mayors from across the Hemisphere, lead a conversation with journalism students on press freedom that will include launching a new network for digital communicators in the Hemisphere, highlight efforts to strengthen democratic governance at the Civil Society Forum, and underscore our shared goals towards a digital transformation at the CEO Summit.  At the Young Americas Forum he will tour an entrepreneurs’ expo with young business owners from across the hemisphere.

The United States is hosting the Summit of the Americas for the first time since its inaugural meeting in 1994.

Invocation of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism to Investigate Mounting Reports of Human Rights Abuses and International Humanitarian Law Violations by Russia in Ukraine

3 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

With Ukraine’s assent, the United States and 44 other countries have invoked the OSCE Moscow Mechanism a second time since the start of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine to investigate reports of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by Russian forces in Ukraine. This action will establish an expert mission to build upon the first Moscow Mechanism report, released April 13. That report focused on grave concerns regarding the humanitarian and human rights situation in Ukraine caused by Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war, with the support of Belarus. That report found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by Russian forces” and evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia.

The second expert mission will continue and update the first mission’s impartial work to establish facts and circumstances surrounding possible contraventions of OSCE commitments and abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine. The expert mission will prepare a new report that will be shared with all OSCE participating States and relevant accountability mechanisms, including national, regional, and international courts and tribunals, as appropriate. The United States and our partners will continue our efforts to hold Russia’s forces accountable for all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, they commit in Ukraine.

Department Press Briefing – June 2, 2022

3 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

2:17 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Quite a crowd today. You have picked a good day to turn up at the State Department, and I say that because we have a special guest, as you can see. It is my pleasure to introduce Rashad Hussain. Ambassador-at-Large Hussain is our ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He’s here today to offer some additional remarks on the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report, and then he will look forward to taking your questions.

So without further ado, Ambassador Hussain.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Thanks so much, Ned. Good afternoon, everyone. Today we released the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. This comprehensive resource is an indispensable part of our efforts to advance human rights globally. The stories of so many people and the persecution that they face is brought to life in the pages documenting the state of international religious freedom in the report.

The report clearly shows that governments and civil society must collaborate to address deteriorating conditions around the world. During the past year, we have seen increased repression by authoritarian governments and the politicized use of blasphemy, apostasy, and conversion laws, including against Christian communities. We’re also witnessing rising societal violence against communities around the world. We’re seeing increasing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attacks from Europe to South Asia.

As the Secretary highlighted in his remarks, we remain concerned about members of religious minority groups in countries around the world, including in Afghanistan, Burma, the People’s Republic of China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam. The concerning trend lines in these countries underscore that much work remains to be done.

Yet there is also reason for optimism. We are seeing the progress that is possible when civil society, a coalition of activists, and multilateral bodies work with government, and many – in many cases when they push and when they challenge governments to live up to their obligations. And the Secretary earlier today highlighted just a few positive examples in Morocco, Iraq, Taiwan, and Timor-Leste.

I look forward to the honest, frank conversations with my foreign counterparts and civil society interlocutors that will stem from the release of today’s report. We need those conversations to generate and sustain continued progress.

I’d like to thank those of you who are joining us in person and those that are joining virtually for covering the release of this report, and for your interest to these important issues. Your advocacy is critical to continued progress.

And with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE: Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’ve got a kind of a semi – there you go. I can see him now. That’s important.

This report covers obviously last year, not this year. But since you brought it up upstairs, you talked a little bit about Ukraine.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: And I had something that I’m not even sure is within your remit, but I’m wondering that if we look at this year, particularly since February but also since January, basically, if you have – your office has any concerns about the role that the Russian Orthodox Church has been playing not just in Russia as it relates to the war in Ukraine but also in Ukraine itself.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Following their unprovoked and unjustified invasion, Russia has targeted religious minorities in Ukraine. The Kremlin seeks to create division, as you alluded to, within the Orthodox Church and has targeted religious minorities and even damaged religious sites within Ukraine.

We’ve been in communication with the top religious authorities in the Ukraine. I recently actually just met with the Ecumenical Patriarch when I was in Riyadh. And the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world with their courage. They’ve used, actually, some places of worship to host refugees. They have been doing phenomenal work – the faith-based communities have – at the border.

And so we will continue as a part of our economic and security and humanitarian assistance to do everything that we can to support the courageous people of Ukraine, and that includes the religious communities that are there.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I was less focused on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church than I was on the Russian Orthodox Church, and particularly – in particular, the patriarch, who you may have seen the reports today that the EU had him on their sanctions list – this is Patriarch Kirill, I believe his name is – and then removed him because of objections from Hungary. But I’m wondering if the United States has similar concerns about the role that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church – not the Ukrainian Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox Church – has.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Of course, yeah. And as I mentioned, the malign influence efforts that they continue to engage in in Ukraine and elsewhere continue to be of deep concern, and we will continue to be in touch with our counterparts in the Ukraine and other parts of the world regarding the concerns that you mentioned.

QUESTION: Okay, I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to belabor this, but you’re talking about the church itself, not the Kremlin per se? I guess one of the —

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: — that you’re talking about. Thank you.

MR PRICE: Shaun.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions that are somewhat unrelated, if you don’t mind.

In China and Tibet, the reincarnation issue – that’s been something that’s gotten a lot of attention recently. What are the – what’s the trajectory that you see there? I mean, do you see any – do you find that there is more adamance on the part of Beijing perhaps to try to force a reincarnation process for the next Dalai Lama? How is the U.S. reacting to that? Do you find – is there a stance that the U.S. has ahead of whenever the reincarnation issue comes to (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama remain unknown since his 1995 abduction by PRC authorities, and actually, May 17th will mark the 27th anniversary of his disappearance. And we are concerned that the PRC continues to deny members of the Tibetan community access to the Dalai Lama – the Dalai Lama-designated Panchen Lama, the second most revered figure in Tibetan Buddhism – and instead continues to promote a state-selected proxy.

So we would urge the PRC authorities to account for the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and well-being immediately and to allow him to fully exercise his human rights and fundamental freedoms in line with the PRC’s international commitment.

I actually had a chance to attend an event here in Washington a couple of months ago commemorating the disappearance of the Panchen Lama and at that time as well worked with some of our civil society partners to urge China to end their interference in the succession.

QUESTION: Could I just ask – if you don’t mind, just something related – unrelated to that? You mentioned and the Secretary as well briefly mentioned India in the remarks. Obviously, India can be quite sensitive about criticism. I know you’re not designating CPCs at this point, but the recommendations from the Commission on International Religious Freedom – how is that decision coming to bear with India? And does the United States actually raise these issues with India despite – in addition to comments (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely, and you heard the Secretary’s remarks today. The remarks spoke for themselves. We continue to raise these issues regularly with our Indian counterparts. USCIRF is an important partner, and as we collect our data for our report we take their recommendations into account as well. We are concerned with targeting of a number of religious communities in India, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu dalits, and indigenous communities as well. I welcome the opportunity myself to even visit there and continue our discussions, and we continue to encourage the government to condemn violence that we’re seeing and hold those who engage in violence against minorities communities accountable.

MR PRICE: Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Should freedom of religion also cover freedom from religion? And the reason I ask this is because atheists in some Islamic countries and societies could be stoned to death and ostracized. Do you have any comment on that?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, when we look at the legal obligations that countries around the world have adopted as part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it’s for freedom of religion or belief. It’s for freedom of thought and conscience and religion, if you look at the ICCPR Article 18, for example. And we speak regularly with our counterparts, including in the countries that you mentioned, to urge them to uphold this freedom. A constant principle that we hear or a constant refrain that you may be familiar with in Arabic is La ikraha fid-deen, that there is no compulsion in religion, and so that is a principle that we share and that we continue to raise with our counterparts around the world.

MR PRICE: Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. There is many religious peoples in prison in China and North Korea right now. How is the United States getting involved in North Korea and China, where there is no religion and the oppression of religious peoples?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, China continues to be one of the worst abusers of religious freedom in the world. They have engaged in genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs. They also continue their repression, as I spoke about, of Tibetan Buddhists, but also Protestants, Catholics, the Falun Gong, Hui Muslims.

We’ve taken a number of steps. China has been designated as a CPC since 1999. I alluded to the genocide determination. Congress passed and the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Act. As you recall, we decided not to send any diplomatic representation to the Olympics. We’ve implemented a series of financial sanctions, a number of visa restrictions as well.

And with regard to North Korea, we note there that the government continues to execute, torture, arrest, and abuse individuals that are engaged in religious activity, and there’s tens of thousands of political prisoners that are being held because of their religious beliefs, which are highlighted in our report. I’d urge you take a look at that. And we’re continuing to work with the international community to respond to what North Korea is doing as well.

MR PRICE: Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Ambassador Hussain, let me ask about the tools that you have or you might want to see in your toolkit to move the needles. When I look at the report on Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, I see a continuation of same problems. What I also see is some quiet diplomacy going behind the scene – ambassadors meetings with officials. Are there other tools that you would like to see when you try to move the needle in those countries? One of them also used to be the Secretary’s Special Watch List. When should we expect them coming? Thank you so much.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. So just like we do every year, we’re releasing the report today, and then consistent with our obligation under the International Religious Freedom Act, we’ll release the CPC and Special Watch List determinations before the end of the year. But for now, we’re – clearly laid out the latest state of religious freedom, including for the countries that you mentioned in our report.

With regard to tools, we are doing our best to use all the tools at our disposal to address these restrictions. We raise individual cases. I do that routinely with ambassadors here in the United States, in our travels overseas. We raise cases of individuals that are being held in prison and being persecuted because of their religious beliefs. We oppose policies and laws that are on the books, such as apostasy laws and blasphemy laws that are used often to restrict religious freedom.

Our report in and of itself is a unique document. It’s over 2,500 pages this year. It meticulously goes through the condition with regard to religious freedom in countries around the world. And we believe that highlighting the status of religious freedom country by country, something that is not done anywhere else in the world, raises the profile of the issues and the cases.

We’re also working within multilateral institutions, including at the UN, at the Human Rights Council. We formed a very powerful International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance that now has 35 countries, and it enables us to come together on a weekly basis to discuss some of the difficult trendlines that we’re seeing around the world. And then of course, there’s sanctions and visa restrictions and other tools.

So you mentioned the toolbox. There’s a number of toolkits. We try to apply them in the most appropriate way in each situation to make progress on these issues.

MR PRICE: Let’s take a couple final questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. So we heard Secretary Blinken’s speech this morning when he talks about religious freedom in many parts of the world. Countries like Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and others are in CPC countries. But even after witnessing worst-ever situation of religious freedom in India, this country is still out of red list. So what is preventing State Department to include world largest democracy in CPC countries?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Well, I think the Secretary’s statement today speaks for itself. In India, we’re concerned that some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people in places of worship. And as I mentioned earlier in the briefing, there’s a number of religious communities that are being targeted.

With regard to the criteria that we assess when we’re making these determinations, we’re looking at countries that either engage in or tolerate or allow severe restrictions on religious freedom, and for the CPC designation, both of those factors are present. And so today we’ve issued our meticulous assessment of the current situation, and over the next six months, we’ll be making our determinations for all countries as to which of them should be included on the lists that we did.

QUESTION: The Secretary – excuse me – also spoke about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: So have you ever talked about this in – whenever you engage with the Pakistani authorities?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah.

QUESTION: I remember you recently met with Pakistani Ambassador (inaudible) in Washington (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. In fact, for a number of years at the UN, there was a resolution passed with regard to so-called defamation of religion, and Pakistan was one of the leading advocates. And our concern with that resolution is that it is an instrument that gives support or sanction to blasphemy laws, and we work with a number of countries around the world, including OIC countries, including Pakistan – Pakistan was a close partner on this – to eliminate the use of that resolution and move towards the Istanbul process, which we continue to seek to energize today.

Now, there is a number of troubling blasphemy cases that continue today and those are cases that we continue to raise, and I raise them regularly with the ambassador here. And we’re – of course, we urge the Pakistani Government, as we have seen in some cases when there’s been mob violence, the government condemning them and actually offering support for investigations in those cases. Those are positive steps, but much work remains, and we continue to be in dialogue with our Pakistani partners about that.

MR PRICE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you. My question is about Georgia. What are the main challenges the country is facing today in regards of religious freedom? And I wonder if you find any attempts of Russian church to increase its influence. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, I’d refer you to the report and – but the short answer is yes, we are concerned about the influence of the Russian church, as I mentioned, and we urge the government to not only cease engaging in any actions which may restrict religious freedom, but to also take actions when there is societal violence and threats to religious communities, as we’ve seen in a number of places around the world. We’ll continue to use the whole range of tools that I mentioned to address this concern.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: On Hong Kong, there was the arrest of the cardinal in Hong Kong in mid-May. Are there concerns that forms of Chinese religious intolerance are going to be exported to Hong Kong in the future? Do you foresee, for example, greater control over Hong Kong religious institutions in the near future?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: We did express in a statement our concerns about the arrest, and we condemn it. And we are concerned, I would say more broadly, about transnational repression, so the efforts to which China is going to to oppress religious minorities not just in their country, but minority groups that are elsewhere. We’ve seen that with the Uyghurs; we’ve seen that with other communities as well. So yes, it continues to be a concern and something that our office is watching very closely.

MR PRICE: Sir.

QUESTION: On Syria, your report points out that after the Turkish incursion into northwest Syria, members of minority groups have faced execution, extortion, kidnapping, and destruction of religious shrines. As far as – you guys looked at the issues there. As far as you know, is that because – do these things happen because Turkey allows the armed groups to carry out these acts, or is it because Turkey does not have control over the armed groups there? And is it safe to assume that if Turkey attacks other areas of northern Syria, the same fate will await the other minorities there?

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. Well, we would encourage the government to not only ensure that they’re refraining from taking any actions that would result in increased hostilities, but they are also taking steps to ensure that groups that might do so are held accountable and they’re taking steps to present – to prevent any of the types of atrocities that you mentioned.

MR PRICE: Thank you. We’ll do a final – Michel, final question in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Secretary Blinken in his statement mentioned Saudi Arabia. Can you elaborate on that? And we didn’t hear anything about Iran from you or from the Secretary.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Yeah. With regard to Saudi Arabia, we are concerned about the religious freedom situation there. Saudi Arabia has been designated as a CPC country since 2004. They continue to criminalize blasphemy and apostacy and discriminate against the Shia population within the justice system, the educational system, in employment. I just recently came back from Riyadh. The Secretary mentioned that we are seeing some signs of progress. At the conference that I attended, there was representation, which I think was unprecedented, from a number of major religious communities and from some of their top leaders, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, and there was other Christian leadership there, Jewish leadership, Hindu and Sikh community leaders as well. So we are seeing some positive developments, but Saudi Arabia remains a CPC, as does Iran.

Iran has been a CPC for the past 20 years. They are one – they have one of the worst records on religious freedom. I’d urge you to take a look at the detailed reporting on Iran in our report. Iran continues to target minority groups, Bahá’ís, Christians, non-Shia Muslims. And we have implemented a series of sanctions and support actions at the UN to condemn Iran and their human rights record, and we strongly support the mandate of the UN special rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses there.

MR PRICE: Ambassador Hussain, thank you very much. Thank you to your team as well. We hope you’ll come back next year.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ned.

QUESTION: Or come back before then.

MR PRICE: Any day in between.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: All right.

MR PRICE: Any day you’re here is a good day for me.

QUESTION: Maybe ahead of the ministerial.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Absolutely.

MR PRICE: We’ll find opportunities.

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Good. Great to see you all. Thank you so much.

MR PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: I know we’ve had an extended topper, but if you will indulge me, I have just a couple additional items at the top, before we get to your questions.

First, President Kais Saied’s June 1st decrees dismissing 57 judges and amending the rules governing the provincial – Provisional Supreme Judicial Council – they follow an alarming pattern of steps that have undermined Tunisia’s independent democratic institutions. We have consistently communicated to Tunisian officials the importance of checks and balances in a democratic system. We continue to urge the Tunisian Government to pursue an inclusive and transparent reform process with input from civil society and diverse political voices to strengthen the legitimacy of reform efforts.

Next, today we welcome the announcement by the UN special envoy extending the truce in Yemen by an additional two months to August 2nd. This extension brings further relief and hope to millions of Yemenis. This is a pivotal moment for Yemen. Yemen has the opportunity to continue this progress and choose peace instead of war, suffering, and destruction. And we also very much appreciate Saudi Arabia’s commitment to ending the conflict in Yemen and we thank the Governments of Oman, Jordan, and Egypt for their support in helping secure the truce extension.

We hope the parties to the conflict will seize the opportunity to take further steps to ease the suffering of Yemenis, including urgently opening roads to Taiz city. Most importantly, we hope the parties use this opportunity to begin an inclusive, comprehensive, UN-led peace process. We know that only a durable political agreement and permanent end to the fighting can bring true relief to Yemenis.

As the President said today, ending the war in Yemen has been a priority of this administration from the very start. The United States will remain engaged in this process over the coming weeks and months. The Secretary reiterated that the United States remains committed to an inclusive, durable resolution to the conflict that alleviates the suffering of the Yemeni people, empowers them to determine their future without foreign interference, and addresses their calls for justice and accountability.

Next, as you saw from the Secretary’s statement, yesterday marked the beginning of Pride Month. This is a moment to celebrate the progress we have made and reflect on what more needs to be done to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the globe and here at home.

The Department of State is working tirelessly to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to understand and address the issues impacting their lives.

We’re implementing the President’s February 4th Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons around the world through American diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance.

This is also a moment to acknowledge the enormous challenges facing the LGBTQI+ community globally. In many such communities, LGBTQI+ persons face discrimination, violence, and persecution for being who they are and for loving whomever they choose to love. We will continue to stand with likeminded governments, the private sector, and LGBTQI+ activists and organizations and their allies that are working hard to build just and equitable societies globally.

Here at the Department of State, we are committed to ensuring all LGBTQI+ persons are affirmed and celebrated, and that the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are respected today, this month, and throughout the year.

We know that countries are stronger when people – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics – are fully recognized as free and equal members of their society.

With that, Happy Pride Month, and I look forward to taking your questions.

QUESTION: Happy Pride Month. I have a Russia sanctions question, but it really isn’t quite worthy of being the lead-off question, so I’ll defer, unless – as long as before we leave the topic of Russia and Ukraine I can get back to it.

MR PRICE: Promise to come back to you. Daphne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russia regularly fires missiles from its territory at cities in eastern Ukraine. Does the U.S. believe that international law gives Ukraine the right to respond in self-defense? And if so, why is the U.S. denying Ukraine the right to respond with U.S. weapons?

MR PRICE: Everything we have provided to our Ukrainian partners, everything our allies and partners around the globe have provided to our collective Ukrainian partners, has a singular goal in mind, and that is self-defense. That is to say, this is security assistance that will permit and in fact has enabled our Ukrainian partners to defend their democracy, defend their freedom, their sovereignty, their independence, to defend their country. This is what it has always been about, and we’ve seen that our Ukrainian partners, as I alluded to a moment ago, have been in a position to put this equipment to extraordinary – extraordinarily good use.

We are now nearly 100 days into Russia’s war against Ukraine. There were those in the Kremlin who thought this war would be over within 100 hours, who thought that Moscow would essentially be in charge, in control of Ukraine, at least on a de facto basis, within several days. That, of course, is not the case. Our Ukrainian partners have won the battle of Kyiv; they have forced Russia to narrow its objectives and its war aims. Of course, the battle is now ranging in the south and the east. There is tremendous violence that the Russian Federation is inflicting on the Ukrainian people, including Ukrainian forces but also Ukrainian civilians, in the Donbas at this moment.

But we will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves. You’ve heard about the package we put forward yesterday, an additional $700 million in presidential drawdown authority, bringing our total security assistance to $4.6 billion since February 24th alone, to $5.3 billion since the start of the administration. And that is just what the United States has done. There are dozens of countries around the world, including the some 40 countries that Secretary Austin and the Pentagon regularly convene, that have provided their own forms of security assistance to Ukraine as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you even remember what her question was? Because you didn’t answer it at all. (Laughter.)

MR PRICE: Daphne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, to follow up and clarify, Ambassador Brink held her first press conference in Kyiv and was asked about whether Ukraine had promised not to use the newly announced rocket systems on targets in Russia. She said the range itself is going to be up to the Ukrainian forces. So just to clarify, is the U.S. position or expectation that the systems not be used on targets in Russia? And why is that the expectation of the U.S.? Does Ukraine not have the right to respond to Russia’s —

MR PRICE: Ukraine absolutely has the right to respond to Russia’s aggression. The fact is that there are Russian forces inside sovereign Ukrainian territory. They have been there in some ways since 2014, but certainly on an expanded basis since February 24th of this year. Ukraine has every right, just as every country does, to defend its territory. That’s precisely why we are providing this security assistance.

Now, it is true that we have received assurances from our Ukrainian partners that they won’t use this weaponry to fire on targets inside of Russia. The fact is, the reality is – and it’s a sad reality – that Russia’s forces are on the ground inside Ukraine at locations that in some places are quite distant from the Russian border. So at every step of the way, when it was for the battle of Kyiv, when it has now shifted to the south and the east, we have provided our Ukrainian partners precisely with what they have requested and when they have requested it to take on the dynamics of the battlefield that they are encountering at this very moment.

QUESTION: So the question initially was: Does Ukraine have the right to respond to Russian attacks on Ukrainian soil that are launched from Russian territory?

MR PRICE: Russia – excuse me. Ukraine has the right to defend itself.

QUESTION: But not with – but not with your missiles?

MR PRICE: We have received assurances that the systems that we announced yesterday won’t be used against Russian targets on Russian territory, but they can be used to —

QUESTION: Even if those targets are where attacks into Ukraine are being launched from?

MR PRICE: As I said before, unfortunately – the unfortunate case is that Russia’s forces are in many places located inside sovereign Ukrainian territory at quite a distance from the Russian border.

QUESTION: In some cases they’re not. So the – and so I think it was a pretty specific question: Does Ukraine have the right to retaliate, to defend itself, against Russian attacks that are launched from inside Russian territory?

MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. We are providing Ukraine with precisely what it needs to fulfill that self-defense mission.

Alex.

QUESTION: Continuing what Matt said to you, could they strike Russian territory? I mean, that – to be the devil’s advocate, if the Russians are striking Ukraine, isn’t it fair that the Ukrainians can strike Russian territory with the same weapons?

MR PRICE: Ukraine has every right to defend itself. I’ll make one additional point. Our goal in all of this is to do everything we can to bring this war to an end, to diminish the violence and to put an end to a conflict that was needless to begin with. So we want to do everything we can to strengthen the hand of our Ukrainian partners both on the battlefield but also at the negotiating table. That’s why we are providing them this security assistance. That’s why we are, including with the tranche of additional sanctions we announced today, continuing to hold the Russian Federation to account.

But we also want to be careful to ensure that we are not doing anything or the international community is not doing anything that would needlessly prolong this conflict. Right now there is only one country that is prolonging this conflict, and of course that’s Russia. If Ukraine stopped fighting today, there would be no sovereign, independent country of Ukraine tomorrow. If Russia stopped fighting today, there would be no war today. That is what it boils down to.

What we are trying to do is to strengthen the ability of our Ukrainian partners to defend themselves, to defend their freedom, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their country on the battlefield as we strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. One is on the M270 launchers that the UK needed U.S.’s permission before providing it to the – to Ukraine. The announcement came last night, but it was not fully clear whether or not they have your green light. I know that the Secretary had a phone call with his British counterpart this morning. Do they have your green light?

And separately, you mentioned 100 days that’s approaching. Is it fair for us to expect Russia’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the time we reach 100 days?

MR PRICE: So on your first question, Alex, I will leave it to our allies and partners to speak to their specific contributions to Ukraine’s defensive security needs. What I can say is that dozens of countries around the world have provided needed security assistance. In cases where the commitment is U.S. origin, the Secretary of State has himself signed off on an expedited basis on authorization to transfer U.S. origin equipment to Ukraine when those requests have come in, but I’m not going to speak for other countries in terms of their contributions.

In terms of the state sponsor of terrorism list, the point we have made is that – and you saw this again today – we are going to pull every appropriate lever to see to it that we are holding Russia to account, just as we continue to provide significant assistance to our Ukrainian partners: security assistance, economic assistance, and humanitarian assistance as well.

The state sponsor of terrorism statute is a statute. It is defined by Congress; it is written into law. What we are doing with all of the authorities that are available to us, many of which are written into law by Congress, is taking a close look at that law, taking a close look at the facts on the ground, determining whether the facts are, in fact, correspondent with the law. And if we think any such measure would be effective, we would enact it.

But I will make one additional point: With the financial sanctions that we have imposed on Russia, with the export controls that we have imposed on Russia, we have had an enormous effect on the Russian economy, on the Russian financial system. We have isolated Russia diplomatically and politically in a way that no single designation could do. The cumulative toll of every measure we have put in place has been extraordinarily biting on the Russian economy, and if you take a look at the latest facts and figures, the World Bank projects that Russian GDP will contract by about 11 percent in 2022. Inflation has been soaring, with analysts estimating that inflation above 20 percent for Russia in 2022. Our export controls have been biting. We are choking off Russia’s ability to access needed inputs for key strategic sectors – technology, energy, aerospace, defense – the types of sectors that Russia will need to continue to prosecute this war in Ukraine and to continue, for that matter, to potentially even threaten other neighbors. So the cumulative effect of what we’ve done has really been quite tremendous.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.

MR PRICE: Oh, before we go on elsewhere, I —

QUESTION: Oh, yeah, no, this kind of ties into that.

MR PRICE: Okay.

QUESTION: It’s a sanctions question. Does – I’m just starting to wonder a little bit about these – among the people who were sanctioned today by you guys is your Russian foreign ministry counterpart, who had not been sanctioned before. Was this something that you, like, wanted to do since they sanctioned you, so you wanted to get back at her? I’m just – the reason why I ask this is because when you go after spokespeople, like the Russians have gone – went after Jen, they went after Kirby, they went after you, you guys went after Peskov, and now you’ve gone after Maria Zakharova, right?

Well, as you said at the time that you were sanctioned, this has zero impact on you. It’s not like you were going to go to Sochi on vacation or to somewhere – Moscow. And I’m sure that your counterpart at the Russian foreign ministry, she – I don’t know, but maybe she’s – she might be more upset about the fact that you revealed her age in the notice, the Treasury notice, than any possible sanctions implication. What is the point of going after spokespeople like this?

MR PRICE: Let me make a couple points. One, I can assure you this was not personal. What I will say is that this individual was sanctioned not because of her specific role, but because she is a senior figure in the Russian Government. We have gone after, as you know, a number of senior figures in the Russian Government, and the spokeperson was included in this latest round.

Two, I would dispute the premise of your question when you talk about symmetry. Yes, I was, shall we say, unfazed when I was sanctioned by the Russians, when I was more recently banned from traveling to Russia, for a couple reasons. I have no particular desire to go there, certainly don’t have assets within the Russian economy. I think that is true of my other counterparts and colleagues that have been sanctioned. But —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Well, I would not say that. There is not exactly symmetry between the United States and Russia when it comes to the allure of this country, when it comes to the strength of our financial system and the centrality of our financial system. I think it is far more likely – hopefully this is a noncontroversial statement – that a financial transaction would touch a United States entity or touch the United States before it would touch a Russian entity or the Russian Federation.

So the fact of the United States designating someone in Russia is in many ways far more biting than what the Russians would do to us. We are the United States of America. Russia, of course, is a country that is far —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, you can wave the flag all you want, which is fine, but they’re going to wave their flag, too. And I just – I just – I don’t – I’m not quite understanding the point of sanctioning spokespeople.

MR PRICE: We are sanctioning senior members of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: But you know what, Russia has —

QUESTION: Did she have assets in (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to speak to her particular assets. Yes.

QUESTION: Russia has been coveted by the West. It was attacked by the West. When you say that —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, repeat that one more time?

QUESTION: No, I said that Russia has been coveted by the West, has been attacked by the West, more than – I mean, if we go back to France, by Europe, let’s put it that way. So it must have some sort of certain sense of allure, to use your word.

MR PRICE: Russia – explain what you mean by “Russia has been attacked by the West.”

QUESTION: You were saying that we have a different country, it’s got a lot more attractive things, and so on. That’s how I understood what you said to me. But Russia has – is a great country, and it has been attacked by the West, the West has tried to conquer, to —

MR PRICE: Said, are you referring to the measures we have imposed to hold Russia accountable for its unprovoked war in Ukraine as the United States or the international community attacking Russia? If so, I – we would, of course, dispute the premise of that.

QUESTION: Okay, fine, I take that back. Let me just ask you on the sanctions. Now, the sanctions that you impose on officials, they are on officials. Most of these officials have no, let’s say, bank accounts in the West. They have no bank accounts in America. They have – so the sanctions you impose really hurt businessmen, the people that you tried to sort of nurture over the past 30 years and establish relations with and so on, and have some sort of a business exchange environment, not these officials. I don’t think Zakharova has any bank accounts in – anywhere. I mean, I assume she doesn’t.

MR PRICE: Said, if you look at the most recent tranche of sanctions, what we announced today, I think you will get a flavor for those individuals we are holding accountable for the Russian Government’s actions in Ukraine. The Treasury Department targeted prominent Russian Government officials and business leaders, the luxury properties of oligarchs and cronies and elites, luxury asset management and service companies key to the Russian attempts to evade sanctions. The Department of State went after additional Russian oligarchs and elites close to President Putin. The Department of Commerce imposed additional export controls.

So I am not – again, I think I would dispute the premise of your question that we are pursuing those that we need to be reaching out to. We are pursuing those who are in many ways either directly or indirectly complicit in or culpable for the Russian Government’s aggression inside Ukraine.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll close out —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Actually, I just wanted to ask, the question that Matt asked to the ambassador about Patriarch Kirill. Does the United States have any concerns about that, that the EU not sanction him at the behest apparently of Orbán? I know the United States, as far as I am aware, doesn’t have sanctions on the patriarch. Is there a reason why he hasn’t been targeted by the United States yet?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to our European allies to speak to their specific sanctions packages. We certainly applaud the advancement of the most recent sanctions package. Just as we did today, our European allies – in this case, the EU – has been working on their next tranche of sanctions. We have always said that our sanctions need not be identical. And oftentimes, they are not identical, but what they are is complementary. And we have taken actions that complement actions that our European allies have taken and vice versa with, again, the cumulative goal of having a significant bite, not only on senior Russian Government officials but oligarchs, cronies, elites who are in the inner circle of the Kremlin.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Really appreciate. I have a question on China and North Korea. I have still jetlag. I’m sorry, so I feel like I wake up right now. And China said that – Chinese Government has said that opposed sanction – new sanctions even if North Korea conduct a nuclear test. How do you comment on what China has said and – but done about North Korea protect?

MR PRICE: That we – I’m sorry. Repeat the last part of that question.

QUESTION: Yeah. How would you comment on what China has said and done about North Korea protect.

MR PRICE: We think it is important, especially in the aftermath of the most recent ballistic missile launches, that the international community, including the UN system, make very clear a statement of accountability and hold the DPRK to account for its nuclear weapons program, for its ballistic missile programs, both of which are profoundly destabilizing, represent a threat to international peace and security. Of course, the UN Security Council is the world’s preeminent forum to uphold international peace and security, and I think what Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, when she addressed this late last month on May 26th, was that we are beyond disappointed that the council has not been able to unify in opposition to the unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs that the DPRK has demonstrated all too frequently in recent weeks and recent months.

We encourage all member-states to fully implement existing resolutions and we’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to uphold the sanctions on the DPRK. This is very much in line with what the Secretary laid out in his remarks on our approach to the PRC last week. The same stakes are at play. What we seek to do is to reinforce and preserve and protect the rules-based international order – the rules-based international order, including the idea that no country can engage in, should be able to engage in, provocation or pose a potential threat to its neighbors.

The DPRK’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear weapons program, is a clear threat to our treaty allies, the ROK and Japan. It is a clear threat to American citizens and American servicemembers in the region. And we’ll continue to work with our treaty allies, Japan and the ROK, along with allies and partners around the world, including those within the UN system, to hold the DPRK to account.

QUESTION: Special – excuse me, Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim’s visit to South Korea, as you know that. He will be discussing this further North Korea’s nuclear test. Is – what is there – his – purpose of his visit this week?

MR PRICE: Well, our Special Representative for the DPRK Ambassador Sung Kim is currently in Seoul. He’ll be there for the next couple days. While there, he will meet with Japanese Director General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs Takehiro. And he’ll also participate in a trilateral meeting hosted by the – hosted by his ROK counterpart.

This is really part and parcel of our bilateral efforts, again, with Japan and the ROK, but also in furtherance of our trilateral efforts. As we have emphasized, the importance of working trilaterally with our treaty allies to hold the DPRK to account, and more broadly, to seek to bring about and to push forward what is our collective goal, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s a goal we share with Japan; it’s a goal we share with the ROK. And together, in a trilateral format, we’ll continue to discuss ways that we can push forward with that overarching objective.

QUESTION: Ned, on North Korea, did you guys have any thoughts on North Korea taking over the chairmanship of the Conference on Disarmament today?

MR PRICE: It is – certainly, North Korea has been far from a responsible actor when it comes to matters of nonproliferation. In fact, North Korea has been profoundly destabilizing vis-à-vis the global nonproliferation norm.

QUESTION: Well, so does that at all raise any questions about the utility of this organization?

MR PRICE: It certainly calls into question – it certainly calls that into question when you have a regime like the DPRK in a senior leadership post, a regime that has done as much as any other government around the world to erode the nonproliferation norm.

QUESTION: So does that mean that the administration is reconsidering its membership in the —

MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcement —

QUESTION: — ahead of the COD —

MR PRICE: Don’t have any announcement to make at the moment.

Yes.

QUESTION: I don’t know whether you saw the story about the Chinese jets buzzing Canadian aircraft that were enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK. Has the U.S. also seen an increase in these types of Chinese provocative actions directed at U.S. aircraft or ships that were contributing to this mission of enforcing UN sanctions against the DPRK? And does the U.S. believe that the increase in these provocations, if they have been detected, is timed to overlap with any particular actions that have been taken by the U.S. or the UN in the past?

MR PRICE: Well, I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any particular trendlines when it comes to any potential PRC provocations against our forces, our ships, our vessels. We have spoken of PRC’s provocative military activity in the region, of course most recently in – its military activity near Taiwan. We’ve called this activity destabilizing. We’re concerned because it risks miscalculation; it undermines regional peace and stability as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Sir, (inaudible) media reports suggest that al-Qaida and ISIS are getting stronger in Afghanistan and even providing advice and support to the Taliban groups. Sir, is it a concern for U.S.?

MR PRICE: Excuse me, the media report said that ISIS and —

QUESTION: Al-Qaida are getting stronger in Afghanistan.

MR PRICE: And the last part of your question was – are providing support to?

QUESTION: Advice and support to Taliban.

MR PRICE: I don’t have a comment on that particular report. I would note, of course, that the Taliban and ISIS-K are, in many ways, sworn enemies. The Taliban has made public and private commitments to keep groups like ISIS-K at bay. Certainly, we have a commitment as well when it comes to threats to the American people, threat to – threats to the homeland. Even though we no longer have a military presence inside of Afghanistan, we’re remaining vigilant to potential threats that may emerge from Afghanistan, and we again call on the Taliban to live up to the commitments it has made, the counterterrorism commitments it has made, not to allow such groups to operate with impunity on Afghan soil.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Patricia from SPC. Summit of Americas. Next week, the Brazilian delegation is arriving in Los Angeles for the summit and also for the bilateral meeting between President Biden and President Bolsonaro. For United States, what are the main topics to be discussed in a diplomatic level? Is there – are there other meetings being discussed between Secretary Blinken and the Brazilian minister of foreign affairs? And if yes, what are the topics to be discussed, and how do you describe the diplomatic relations between two countries nowadays? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thank you. So we’ll have more details on Secretary Blinken’s schedule. I assume the White House will have more details on President Biden’s schedule as the summit approaches next week. What I can say is that this summit will focus on the opportunities and challenges that are front and center for the Americas. It includes economic prosperity, climate change, the migration crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. So of course, in our bilateral engagements, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss each of those with our counterparts, in this case Brazil. We have plenty to discuss in the realm of our economic ties, regional migration, health, climate as well. Food security is another issue that I’m sure will be a topic of discussion at the Summit of the Americas, and, of course, democratic governance and human rights will be the backdrop of this summit as well. So as the summit approaches, we’ll have more on individual engagements.

Nick.

QUESTION: Thanks. On the summit, there are reports the administration is considering inviting (inaudible) representative from Cuba to the summit. I was wondering if you could expand on that. And more broadly, what’s the State Department doing to prevent countries like Mexico from boycotting the summit?

MR PRICE: I am confident that we will have robust representation from throughout the Americas at the summit. I am also confident that the voices of people throughout the Americas will be reflected at the summit. Not only does the summit – not only will the summit include official government, representatives from government; it will include representatives from civil society and the private sector as well.

We have been in close contact with many of our partners throughout the region. Again, without reading out those discussions, we are confident that the summit will represent – the countries will be representative of the opportunities and the challenges that we face together as partners in the Americas.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. On Bangladesh, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Momen provided a list of questions to the Bangladeshi-controlled media reporters to ask the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh. In an open statement, he said nearly 100,000 U.S. citizens go missing, extrajudicial killing going on in the U.S. as U.S. security forces have killed over a thousand citizen – mostly African American and Hispanic – each year, America do not have the faith in their election process, and he also criticized the blocking Russian media, RT TV, here in the U.S.

Foreign minister circulated this message a day after the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas spoke on the U.S. priorities of human rights, democracy, and media freedom, and he said that they want free and fair elections in Bangladesh. What you would say about this authoritarian regime foreign minister remarks? And one more on Bangladesh.

MR PRICE: Well, we have a robust partnership with Bangladesh. As part of that partnership, we’re in a position to raise a number of issues, a number of shared interests, but also concerns. And we do regularly raise human rights issues with the Government of Bangladesh. We do that publicly, as I’ve done before, but we also do it privately. We urge for the strengthening of democratic processes and political institutions, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, workers’ rights and safety, and the protection of refugees as well.

We have worked with the Government of Bangladesh to strengthen these rights and protections. We have provided more than $8 billion in assistance to Bangladesh since its independence. In 2021 alone, USAID provided over $300 million to improve the lives of people in Bangladesh through programs that expand food security, economic opportunity; improve health and education; but also promote democracy and good governance, as well as protection for the environment and increased resilience to climate change.

So we’ll continue to have those conversations with our Bangladeshi partners.

QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Countrywide protest going on against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her recent remarks on dropping opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and the microcredit pioneer – Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus into the river from Padma Bridge. She claimed that Muhammad Yunus uses U.S. influence to stop the World Bank funding for the bridge construction, so they should punish – get punishment like this. She wants to drop them from the Padma Bridge to the river – into the river. See, she openly remarks, and countrywide protest going on. And ruling party (inaudible) alongside of the law enforcers agency the attacking of the peaceful demonstration. So what is your comment on this?

MR PRICE: As we do around the world, our comment is that the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the right of individuals everywhere to protest peacefully – that is a universal right. It applies equally to the people of Bangladesh as it does to those anywhere around the world. We call on governments around the world, we call on security services, security forces, civil forces as well to respect that right, to allow for individuals to assemble peacefully to make their voices heard.

Yes.

QUESTION: I have one on Yemen and then follow – or not a follow-up, separate on Horn of Africa. On Yemen, we’ve seen the ceasefire was extended for, I guess, 60 days. In Secretary Blinken’s statement welcoming the extension, he mentioned the need to reopen roads to Taiz. He did not mention, but you guys have repeatedly spoken about the need to access the Safer tank. What – and there was a statement, I guess a joint statement, a couple days ago between you – the U.S. and the Dutch on the need for more funds in the event that there’s an emergency offloading operation. What leverage does the U.S. have now to push for those two things as the ceasefire hopefully continues?

MR PRICE: Well, we are at a point now, months into the ceasefire, with the prospect of two more months with the extension that was announced today, where Yemenis have now had an opportunity to see the benefits that greater levels of stability, greater levels of security, the greater benefits that peace can provide. This is the first time in seven years since the conflict started in 2015 where Yemenis have been able to enjoy greater mobility – mobility in terms of within Yemen but also the flights that have now taken place to Amman, to Cairo as well, but the humanitarian relief that has also been able to flow into Yemen given the ceasefire that has now been in place.

The UN has been working, we have been working assiduously with the UN to, in the first instance, extend the truce which was announced today, but also to take advantage of that truce to flow in humanitarian assistance that has been missing from large parts of Yemen for far too long. So rather than describe it as leverage, I think we can make the point that the benefits of peace, the benefits of stability, the benefits of security, and ultimately the benefits of a ceasefire are becoming clear to the people of Yemen, but they’re, we hope, also becoming clear to the Houthis as well.

We continue to support the work of Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy, who’s worked very closely with the parties; very much appreciate the efforts of our partners in the region, including the Saudis, for the role they have played in extending the ceasefire that was announced today as well.

QUESTION: And also, on the Horn of Africa, in yesterday’s statement announcing the appointment of Ambassador Hammer as the new special envoy, the statement – the latter part of the statement mentioned Ethiopia but failed to mention Sudan or Somalia. And after so much time and diplomacy has been exerted from the State Department on Sudan, and then I guess a couple weeks ago the decision to redeploy troops to Somalia to fight back or combat terrorism – is there a reason Sudan and/or Somalia were omitted and it was strictly limited to Ethiopia?

MR PRICE: We are absolutely committed to continued robust diplomatic engagement with the Horn of Africa. That includes with Somalia; that includes with Sudan. What we know is that there has been tremendous challenge presented by the violence – the conflict in Ethiopia, a conflict that, with the help of U.S. engagement, including the efforts of outgoing Special Envoy David Satterfield, we have been able to diminish, to certainly bring down in terms of the levels of intensity and, just as we have in Yemen, to restore humanitarian access with additional food convoys, truck convoys that have been able to reach populations in Tigray who have not been able to benefit from humanitarian access for far too long.

So this will remain a priority for us. It’s going to be a priority for Special Envoy Satterfield in the remaining time he has in the post, and when Ambassador Hammer takes on the job in the near term, he’ll be focused on that as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) How come Sudan and – more so Sudan and even Somalia weren’t mentioned? It was strictly Ethiopia.

MR PRICE: We are very much engaged on the challenge that’s been presented by the setbacks we’ve seen in Sudan. Molly Phee, other senior officials have traveled there recently. We’re engaging with senior Sudanese officials, military and civilian, civil society as well to try to set Sudan back on the path to democracy.

Yes.

QUESTION: Iain Marlow from Bloomberg. I’m just wondering if I could get a quick question on Turkey. What signs do you see, if any, that Turkey’s president is willing to dial back opposition to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications?

MR PRICE: I will let the Turkish Government speak to their position on this. As you know, the NATO secretary general was here yesterday. He and Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to speak to a range of issues as it pertains to the NATO Alliance. One of those issues was the upcoming summit and the candidacies of Sweden and Finland to join the NATO Alliance, something we remain confident that can be completed swiftly. We are in discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re also in discussions with our Swedish and Finnish partners. Of course, yesterday there were extended discussions with the NATO secretary general on this topic as well. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey or between the United States and Sweden and Finland, for that matter. But as a member of the Alliance, as an Ally and partner to the countries in question, we are engaging as appropriate to see to it that the consensus, the widespread consensus within the Alliance for a swift accession of both Sweden and Finland, is something that we can realize in short order.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, at press conference yesterday here in the State Department, NATO secretary general has said that he will be hosting a meeting in a few days with senior officials from Turkey, Sweden, and Finland. I wonder if Washington is planning a similar meeting, any official from Washington is going to meet with officials from these countries.

MR PRICE: Again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and any of these countries. This is an issue between these countries, Turkey, and of course, NATO being at the center of it. I am not aware that we will have any official representation at that meeting, but we’ll continue to support our Allies and our partners through this process.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Iran, (inaudible) the U.S. will seek a formal resolution rebuking the country at the Board of Governors meeting next week. And I think we all know how that’s going to go over with Tehran. What do you anticipate will be the repercussions, the impact on those already admittedly dim negotiations to return to the JCPOA?

MR PRICE: Well, just more broadly, we’ve made clear – and we’ve spoken to this in recent days – but our very serious concerns that Iran has failed to credibly respond to the IAEA’s questions regarding potential undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. And we’re continuing to work closely with the IAEA, with the director general, as well as with allies and partners on the Board of Governors as the agency pursues its investigations into the safeguard issues in Iran.

As you alluded to, we are currently consulting closely on the reports recently issued by the director general in advance of the Board of Governors meeting next week, and we can confirm that we plan to join the UK, France, and Germany in seeking a resolution focused on the need for Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA. It is essential that Iran does fully comply with its legally binding obligations under the NPT and separately with its comprehensive safeguard agreement with the IAEA without further delay. The IAEA, its director general has our full support in carrying out its critical verification and monitoring responsibilities in Iran. As far as any anticipated reaction from Iran, look, far be it from me to try and predict what they might do. Our message is what Iran needs to do. Iran needs to comply with the IAEA in answering these outstanding questions regarding its obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguard agreement.

Yes.

QUESTION: Back to Turkey. You expressed concern over a possible operation in northeast Syria and said that you expect Turkey to live up to its October 2019 commitments in the joint statement. But it’s increasingly looking like Turkey won’t. Will the U.S. impose any consequences should Turkey invade?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to get ahead of where we are. Obviously, no such operation has started. We’ve voiced our concerns. Setting aside potential consequences from the United States, we know there would be consequences to the broader strategic environment. One of the reasons we are urging Turkey not to move forward with any such operation that jeopardizes existing ceasefire lines is the risk that it could undermine the significant gains that the counter-ISIS coalition, the Coalition against Daesh, has accomplished in recent months and recent years.

At the same time, we know that a renewed violence beyond the existing ceasefire lines has the potential to set back what UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calls for in terms of a political resolution to the ongoing crisis in Syria. So we’re concerned on those two fronts. We’re continuing to have discussions with our Turkish allies. We’re doing that in Turkey. We’re also doing that from Washington as well.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I – yes, thank you. Very quick couple questions on the Palestinian issue. First, Axios report that the Pentagon is – had planned to lower the rank of the security coordinator from a lieutenant general to a colonel, and that the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Secretary of State counseled against that, that he spoke with Secretary Austin. Can you share any information on this with us? Is that true? Do you oppose it a —

MR PRICE: The Department of Defense is in the midst of a global posture review, so I would need to refer you to the Department of Defense to speak to any proposed moves in that regard. Look, leaving aside any particular position, as an administration we believe in the need to re-establish and to continue ties with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority as well, across multiple realms.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you – yesterday the Israelis shot another female journalist, 31 years old, Ghufran Warasneh. She was leaving her camp of Arroub in the – in the – north of Hebron, Al-Khalil, and she was shot. The Israeli army claimed that she had a knife. There was nothing shown, it was not proven, and so on. Then they attacked her funeral procession and so on.

I mean, it’s – this is becoming so redundant in a very sad way, week after week after week. And obviously, the Israelis have no value for Palestinian life, journalist or otherwise. What is your comment on this?

MR PRICE: We have urged all parties to work to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions and that undercut efforts to advance what needs to be the goal, and that’s a negotiated two-state solution. We are deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem that has led to the loss of life. We condemn all violence. We call for calm. We urge all to refrain from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions.

As you know, Secretary Blinken has had an opportunity in recent days to speak to Abu Mazen, to speak to President Abbas, to speak to Foreign Minister Lapid as well. That message calling for calm, calling for de-escalation, is one that we and he have reiterated in those conversations.

QUESTION: Yet 62 Palestinians have been killed, executed – extrajudicial execution – since the beginning of the year. That’s like 13 a month, Ned. I mean, should – shouldn’t you call on the Israelis not to practice that kind of practice, just to kill people because they can kill them?

MR PRICE: I am not in a position to confirm what you just said, but again, we have called —

QUESTION: The figure does not matter. I mean, they have killed a lot people since the beginning of the year.

MR PRICE: — and urged all parties to exercise restraint, to maintain calm, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that undercut the prospects of advancing a negotiated two-state solution.

Yes – sure.

QUESTION: Okay, one last Israeli question, I’m sorry, about the exercise, the military exercises that were just concluded in Cyprus between the Israelis on Cyprus soil. And it is supposed to emulate – or that’s what the Israelis are saying – mimic a situation where the Israelis could conceivably attack southern Lebanon. I mean, that’s what they said, that’s what they told their people, and so on.

Do – how do you view these exercises?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. I think the Department of Defense may be in a position to offer comment.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Taiwan, about the one-on-one economic framework between U.S. and Taiwan, there is backlash from China. What is your comment? Why Chinese (inaudible) – isn’t happy with this framework, economic framework?

MR PRICE: Well, you’re referring to the fact that yesterday we did announce the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade. This initiative is held under the auspices of AIT here in – AIT in Taipei and TECRO here in Washington. And we intend to explore ways we can deepen our economic and trade relationship and deliver concrete outcomes for our workers and businesses. In the days and weeks ahead, we will and we do intend to move quickly to develop a roadmap for possible negotiations, followed by in-person meetings in Washington, D.C.

This is a broad framework. The areas of the initiative include trade facilitation, regulatory practices, agricultural trade through science and risk-based decision making, anti-corruption, supporting and enhancing our small and medium-sized enterprises, outcomes on digital trade, labor rights, the environment, standards, state-owned enterprises, and non-market policies and practices.

I can’t speak to the PRC’s reaction. What I can say is that everything we do in the context of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan is done pursuant to our longstanding “one China” policy, which of course is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China joint communiques, and the Six Assurances as well.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Going back to Africa. The Secretary met yesterday with the DRC foreign minister. In their brief comments, the Secretary praised the African efforts to defuse the situation with the DRC and Rwanda, I presume it’s – what he was alluding to in the eastern – or the eastern DRC. Could you elaborate a little bit of what the U.S. is looking for? And is there any diplomacy on the part of the United States in terms of trying to calm down the situation there?

MR PRICE: Well, there is, and you saw an element of it yesterday. We are concerned about the rising tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. We urge both sides to exercise restraint and to engage in immediate dialogue to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. We support the continuation of the Nairobi Process and we encourage countries in the region to work together to advance peace and security in the eastern DRC. M23, for its part, must terminate their offensive and immediately cease attacks on vulnerable populations. We continue to urge the group and all non-state armed groups operating in the region, in eastern DRC, to cease violence against civilians, to disband, to lay down their arms. The people of eastern Congo have suffered violence and displacement for far too long. We appreciate MONUSCO’s efforts in support of the armed forces of the DRC to protect civilians. Just as the Secretary was yesterday, we’re going to remain engaged on this challenge to try to de-escalate tensions.

A couple final questions. Daphne.

QUESTION: Let’s stay on Africa. Eritrean forces shelled a town in north Ethiopia over the weekend, according to UN documents and regional forces, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring at least 18 people. Does the U.S. have a reaction to that, and is Washington looking at imposing further sanctions on Eritrea over its role in the conflict?

MR PRICE: Well, as you know, the President signed an executive order last year that gives us some degree of latitude to hold accountable those who pose a threat to peace and stability in Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. We have already exercised a degree of that authority against actors in Eritrea. They have played a profoundly destabilizing role. I don’t have a comment on that particular operation. If we do, I’ll follow up.

But we have managed to achieve, in close coordination with our partners in the region and the Ethiopian Government and authorities in Tigray, what has been a humanitarian truce. Our goal is to see that truce extended not only in furtherance of peace and stability, but also in furtherance of expanded humanitarian access for people in Tigray that have been denied it for far too long. We would condemn anyone who seeks to undo that progress, and we’ll be working together with our partners on the ground to try to preserve that.

Yes, Joseph.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Back on Iran. For the JCPOA talks, Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israeli officials have offered or presented a new idea which – for – now the talks are seemingly frozen, for Iran to get economic sanctions, or to have economic sanctions lifted under a new deal but removing the sunset clauses. Can you speak to that at all? Apparently Israel’s national security advisor raised this during his meetings – was it this week or last week – in Washington.

MR PRICE: I’m not in a position to speak to any specific proposals, but what I can speak to is the level of coordination we’ve had with our Israeli partners on a range of issues, including the threat that Iran poses, including the threat that its nuclear program poses to the region and potentially beyond. It was just this week, I believe, just yesterday that the National Security Advisor led a delegation that entailed individuals from the State Department, from the Intelligence Community, and from the White House, to meet with his counterpart, Israeli National Security Advisor Hulata, to discuss a range of issues, including the challenges that Iran poses.

When it comes to Israel, we see eye to eye on the big picture, and the big picture, of course, is that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. If there are additional developments in the context of Vienna, we’ll continue to keep our Israeli partners fully informed of any such developments. If there continues to be no progress, we’ll continue to consult closely with them on the appropriate next steps to see to it that we can fulfill President Biden’s solemn commitment that Iran is never able to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Is the administration looking to strictly go back to the 2015 deal, or are you – or is the administration now looking at maybe alternatives to reaching the deal but in a different version?

MR PRICE: Right now, we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would be in our national security interest, precisely because it would be a far preferable alternative to the present. The challenge that everyone in this room is familiar with is that Iran in recent years, since 2018, has been in a position to gallop forward with its nuclear program in ways that are deeply concerning, even alarming, reaching a point where its breakout time – that is the time it would take Iran to acquire enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, should it choose to pursue the path of weaponization – is now far too short. And we want to see that breakout time extended. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is the best way to do that.

QUESTION: Ned, I’m sorry, on the —

QUESTION: Including the – the same deal, including the same sunset clause?

MR PRICE: We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in our national security interest. There will come a day when that will no longer be the case, and that will be a technical calculation based on the advancements that Iran is making and the assurances that the 2015 nuclear deal affords, in terms of the requirements that it imposes on Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Perhaps let’s save the sunset clause issue for another time – some of those sunset clauses have already sunsetted.

MR PRICE: Well, it’s —

QUESTION: So – all right. So anyway – but in terms of the IAEA resolution, what changed since when you were opposed to bringing this to the Board of Governors before, almost the very same allegations? Are your concerns now so severe that you think that it’s worth the risk of Iran blowing up whatever is left of the JCPOA talks?

MR PRICE: Matt, even in recent days here in this briefing room, you’ve and others have asked me about recent IAEA reports, reports that, while not yet public, seem to contain additional fodder for concern, for deep concern about the unanswered questions regarding the – Iran’s commitments under its comprehensive safeguard agreement and also pursuant to the NPT.

So right now, over the course of the past year or so, we’ve worked very closely with the IAEA. The IAEA has been in a position to visit Iran, to have inspectors there in an effort to get answers. Of course, they have not been able to acquire all of those answers. We know that Iran has been deceitful in the past. Iran certainly has not been fully transparent. That continues to be the case. So as the IAEA has been in a position to acquire additional information, we have worked very closely with our partners on the Board of Governors, and right now we feel, given the concerns we have, given the information that the IAEA has put forward, that an appropriate recourse would be the one we have talked about, that – our joint resolution that we plan to file with the UK, France, and Germany.

QUESTION: Well, if you’re so concerned or if you believe that Iran has been deceitful in the past, at least as it relates to its NPT obligations, why on Earth would you trust them with a nuclear negotiation, to get back into a nuclear deal with them?

MR PRICE: Precisely because the JCPOA has the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated. This is about a couple things. It’s about putting Iran’s nuclear program back into a box, putting back those strict limits in terms of what Iran could be able to do with its nuclear program. But on top of that, layering this verification and monitoring program so that the IAEA can be in a position that they haven’t been in a position in for some time – to determine precisely what Iran is doing, to ensure that Iran is living up to the commitment that it previously made under the JCPOA that was implemented in 2016. And if we get there again, which of course is a big “if”, to see to it that just as Iran was abiding by the JCPOA prior to the last administration’s decision to abandon it, that Iran would be abiding by it once again.

QUESTION: Concerns about the NPT go back well before that. So I don’t understand why you’re okay – you don’t trust them and you accuse them of being deceitful on one, and yet you’re perfectly willing to trust them and get into a deal with them on the other.

MR PRICE: Our position is firm that whether or not there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, the IAEA’s outstanding questions need to be answered.

QUESTION: Right. Well, they weren’t before, remember? The PMDs were never – basically you told Amano the case is closed, so close the case and that’s what happened.

MR PRICE: Matt, if only we had such a relationship with any international organization, certainly not with the IAEA.

QUESTION: Can I change – I just want to get – I want to give you the opportunity to respond on the record now to this allegation that was made in the New York Times story about Haiti, that – the allegation was that the United States conspired with France to topple President Aristide back in 2004, in part because President Aristide wanted to – was demanding reparations from France.

MR PRICE: This is an allegation that I now understand has been floating around for some time. It is also an allegation that is incorrect. There was no such collaboration in 2004 to sideline or to oust President Aristide. Ambassador James Foley, who was then our ambassador to Haiti, published an op-ed not all that long ago in response to these allegations. Ambassador Foley wrote, quote, “In particular, the assertion the United States collaborated with France to mount a coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a claim made by French – by former French officials, is not true.” We have consistently said that President Aristide was not removed because of his call for reparations.

Thank you all very much.

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

# # #

Welcoming the Resumption of Flights Between Sana’a, Yemen and Cairo, Egypt

2 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States welcomes today’s flight between Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt, which enables more Yemenis to seek medical care, pursue educational opportunities, and see loved ones from across Egypt’s diverse Yemeni diaspora community.  The United States appreciates the Government of Egypt’s efforts to facilitate these flights, along with the Governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia.  The United States reiterates its strong support for the efforts of UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg, and our collective work has resulted in the most significant progress toward peace in years.

While we are encouraged by the resumption of flights from Sana’a and expanded flow of fuel into northern Yemen, there is much more work needed to improve the freedom of movement of people and goods inside Yemen, particularly to the city of Taiz, where hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have suffered for far too long.

The truce has provided tangible relief to Yemenis, improving the lives of millions, demonstrating the benefits of peace, and giving hope that an end to this conflict is possible.  The United States urges all parties to seize this pivotal moment, listen to the demands of the people, maintain support for the truce, and build towards a comprehensive peace process.

Department Press Briefing – May 31, 2022

1 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

WASHINGTON, D.C.

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: The freezing room.

MR PRICE: It is very cold here in today. Hot outside and cold in here.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes, yes. Well, I hope everyone was able to have some time this weekend to perhaps disconnect and focus on what’s important. Before I turn to your questions, just one element at the top today.

As we approach the hundredth day of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we remain concerned about steps Russia is taking to attempt to institutionalize control over sovereign Ukrainian territory, particularly in Ukraine’s Kherson region.

The Kremlin is probably weighing a few approaches: from recognizing a so-called “people’s republic” as Russia forcibly did in Donetsk and Luhansk, to an attempted annexation just as Russia did in Crimea. It’s a predictable part of the Russian playbook, which is why we are continuing to sound the alarm now, particularly following Russian President Putin’s unilateral decree that would fast-track the issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens. Russia used similar tactics in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2019.

In Kherson specifically, multiple reports indicate Russian forces have forcibly removed legitimate Ukrainian Government officials and installed illegitimate pro-Russian proxies. One such proxy, quote/unquote, “governor” was installed in April. In May, another pro-Russia proxy, quote/unquote, “official” publicly stated an intent to appeal to Russia to incorporate the Kherson region by the end of the year. Russia has also forced Kherson residents to adopt the Russian ruble over the legitimate Ukrainian currency, according to multiple accounts.

As of late April, Russia likely controlled at least 25 broadcasting towers in Ukrainian areas under Russian military control, including in the Kherson region, and was airing pro‑Russia media channels probably to weaken anti-Russian sentiment and public resistance.

This month, Russian officials have increased visits to Kherson, including a visit by Russia’s deputy prime minister in mid-May during which he publicly stated that Moscow believed Kherson has, quote, “a decent place in our Russian family.” This followed a trip by the head of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, who said Russia would remain in Kherson “forever.”

The Kremlin has also indicated it could attempt a sham referendum to create a Kherson, quote/unquote, “people’s republic” – even though it lacks any popular or legal legitimacy to do so. Before Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, only about 20 percent of Kherson residents said they viewed Russia warmly, but that support has probably deteriorated since the invasion. Russia is almost certainly failing to gain legitimacy for proxy governments in newly seized territories in Ukraine, as protests persist, and residents refuse to cooperate.

Russia’s initial objectives of controlling large swaths of Ukraine has been nothing short of a complete failure. The Kremlin probably views that forcibly holding Kherson would provide Russia a land bridge to Crimea as well as gaining some kind of so-called victory in an attempt to justify Russia – to Russia’s domestic audiences the thousands of lives Putin’s war of choice has destroyed.

We will continue to spotlight Russia’s territorial designs in Ukraine as well as its ongoing aggression just as we hold to account those who facilitate it, including with additional punitive economic measures. We must also continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the face of the Kremlin’s brutality. And we will have more on all of that in the coming days.

Matt.

QUESTION: Would you like to preview that —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — more in the coming days?

MR PRICE: You know I’m not in the habit of —

QUESTION: Well —

MR PRICE: — previewing from the podium, but I appreciate the invitation.

QUESTION: When you say – when you say “in the comings days,” like this week obviously, yes?

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Or coming days meaning like the next —

QUESTION: Or today?

MR PRICE: Well, it’s – so as not to get drawn into a – into a game of definitions, I will leave it at what I said, but add the context that’s – on a couple fronts. Number one, you know that due to the commitment of the United States Congress – the bipartisan commitment of the United States Congress – we now have over $40 billion; and a good portion of that is earmarked for security assistance for our Ukrainian partners.

To date, since the invasion began on February 24th, we have provided our Ukrainian partners with some $3.8 billion in security assistance, well over $4 billion since the course of – during the course of this administration. And now that we have significant additional financial resources for security assistance, I imagine you’ll be hearing from us before too long about additional security assistance as those conversations with senior levels of the Ukrainian Government have been ongoing.

As you know, Secretary Blinken recently had an opportunity to speak to Foreign Minister Kuleba. It is often during those phone calls that among the various topics they discuss is an assessment of Ukraine’s security needs. Kuleba – Foreign Minister Kuleba often passes along the latest requirements and the needs of our Ukrainian partners. We, in turn, then determine what we have in our stocks, what our allies and partners around the world might have in their stocks, and how together we can work to facilitate the provision of weapons systems that are needed and appropriate on the Ukrainian battlefield. And as you know, Secretary Austin is involved in an effort, the contact group that the Pentagon has initiated with many of our partners to help with that.

QUESTION: Well, so the strategy that you believe the Russians are following in terms of territory, is there anything – is there – does that make – change at all your calculus of what kind of weapons to give to the Ukrainians or —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — is that more just of a tactical and strategic thing?

MR PRICE: Well, what has changed our assessment of the Ukrainian needs are a couple things. First, it is the course of this conflict. And in the early days, we and our Ukrainian partners in the first instance, of course, were focused on the battle for Kyiv – the battle for Kyiv that our Ukrainian partners of course ultimately won. During the course of that phase of the war, there was a heavy emphasis, as you might expect, on anti-armor, on anti‑air systems that ultimately helped enable our Ukrainian partners to emerge victorious from the battle of Kyiv.

QUESTION: Sorry, I don’t want to interrupt, but I don’t want you to – the entire history of it is not something I’m —

MR PRICE: No, no.

QUESTION: I’m looking for —

MR PRICE: It’s one data point.

QUESTION: — have you changed – has – have you changed your calculus about what would be most effective and useful for the Ukrainians like, say, in the last week or two?

MR PRICE: So that was admittedly a very long sentence. The next sentence was going to make the point that as the conflict has shifted to the east and to the south, we of course have changed our assessment; and the needs that our Ukrainian partners have put forward have shifted as well. And so, their top priority in more recent weeks was surging artillery systems and munitions to the front lines. Over the course of the last two presidential drawdown authorities, there have been 108 Howitzer artillery systems. During the course of this phase of the conflict, those systems are already being used on the ground.

So, all that to say as Russia’s tactics on the battlefield have shifted, the needs of our Ukrainian partners have shifted, and in turn we and our partners have adapted to the realities of the ground and provided our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to be effective.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Yes, so not only has the conflict shifted in the east and the south, but in the very last days and weeks Russia seems to be advancing more and more in Donbas. What is your view on that, and do you believe that whatever you will be announcing before too long is capable to help Ukrainians reverse that dynamics on the battlefield?

MR PRICE: Well, it is of course no secret that the Russians have significant firepower. We have been very clear all along that even as our Ukrainian partners have demonstrated remarkable effectiveness that has been in many ways enabled by their commitment and grit, and bravery and tenacity, and of course the security assistance that the United States and our partners around the world have provided, that they would be met with an aggressive force that the Russians continue to field on sovereign Ukrainian territory, that the Russian forces continue to inflict from the ground, from the air, from the skies, and even from the seas.

And so, no one has been under any illusions that the war, the course of the war, the trajectory of Ukrainian success would be perfectly linear. But what we are confident in is the fact that our Ukrainian partners will continue to have what they need to mount an effective defense against Russia’s aggression. And we remain confident in the most important point, and that is that when this is over, what will continue to be the case is that Ukraine will be democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous. And the United States will continue to partner with our Ukrainian partners during each and every phase of this conflict. The nature of that partnership will shift as we provide our Ukrainian partners precisely what they need to be effective. We’ve already shifted given the tactical realities on the battlefield. I have a feeling that we will continue and am confident we will continue to be nimble as the battle moves forward.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, so in terms of providing what they need, they’ve been asking for long-range weapons, and the President over the weekend said Washington was not willing to send them systems that can hit Russia, hit inside Russia. But then they actually do have some systems that have the capability of hitting inside Russia. So, could you clarify, like, what exactly the U.S. policy is there? Where do you guys draw the line?

MR PRICE: Well, we continue to consider a range of systems that have the potential to be effective on the battlefield for our Ukrainian partners, but the point the President made is that we won’t be sending long-range rockets for use beyond the battlefield in Ukraine.

The core point is this: It is Russia that is and has attacked Ukraine. It is Russia that is starting – that has started this war. It is Russian forces that are inside sovereign Ukrainian territory. And these are the forces that our Ukrainian partners are fighting back against. This is not a battle of aggression for our Ukrainian partners. This is about self-defense for them. This is about preserving their country, their freedom, their democracy, their prosperity and independence. And so every element of our security assistance has been geared towards that goal, and that is the goal of self-defense; it’s the goal of, in many ways, self-preservation for our Ukrainian partners.

So it is no secret – and I just made the case – that as the battle has shifted its dynamics, we have also shifted the type of assistance, the security assistance that our Ukrainian partners – that we are providing to them, in large part because they have asked us for the various systems that are going to be more effective in places like the Donbas, where the battle and the fight is quite different from what they encountered around the battle of Kyiv.

QUESTION: But, I mean, the whole idea of self-defense can also be pretty subjective, and so do you guys have, like, a clear criteria or benchmark for Ukrainians where and at what stages, like, these systems that you send them can be used or should be used, shouldn’t be used?

MR PRICE: There is nothing —

QUESTION: You guys are stepping into, like, gray area here.

MR PRICE: There is nothing subjective or even gray about the notion that Russian forces are inside sovereign Ukrainian territory, taking aim, killing Ukrainian defenders, but also civilians – men, women, and children. There is nothing subjective about that whatsoever. What we are providing our Ukrainian partners, what we have provided them and what we’ll continue to provide them, is designed to enable their efforts to defend their country, to defend their freedom, their independence, and their democracy.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m going to assume that you’re not going to answer this. So, I’ll move on to just one – (laughter) – yeah – one other thing —

QUESTION: Good assumption.

QUESTION: — yeah, one other thing on Ukraine. So there seems to be some growing divergence between some Western European nations like France and Germany and Washington and UK on the long-term goals of the war. The first group seems to suggest that arming Ukraine with such heavy weapons could prolong the war and perhaps, like, Russia shouldn’t be fully antagonized. I mean, what is U.S. response to that kind of thinking? And after three months and the week, do you fully believe that Ukraine is 100 percent able to win this war and you’re going to support them for as long as you want? This is related to the whole territorial – potentially territorial concessions debate that started last week.

MR PRICE: So, I will just make the point that there have been many eulogies written prematurely when it comes to the unity of the international community in support of Ukraine. We heard this prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th; we have heard this at a regular cadence ever since. At every step, the alliance and the system of partnerships that the United States has been indispensable in forging in the months that preceded Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also since the earliest days of this administration – they have defied those expectations. And I’m not surprised that we continue to hear those eulogies once again, but I am confident and I know that they are premature.

We are united with our allies and partners – in this case, with our NATO Allies, with the some 30 additional allies and partners across four continents that have come together to provide security assistance for our Ukrainian partners, but also to hold Russia to account. And we’re united in that goal. We want to see – and we are confident we will see – a Ukraine that continues to be, when this is all said and done, democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous. That is our goal. We will continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to wage that campaign of self-defense effectively.

I have a hard time understanding the argument that this is about – or this could potentially possibly antagonize Russia, when again, it is Russia that started this war. It is Russia that is on sovereign Ukrainian territory. It is Russia that is raining down missiles and shells and shrapnel and bullets on Ukrainian defenders, but also innocent civilians. So, the argument that Russia could somehow be antagonized doesn’t seem to have much credibility.

There is one country, similarly, that has within its hands the possibility of seeing an end to this war tomorrow, and that, too, is Russia. How and when this war comes to a close, that of course will be a matter for the Ukrainian Government to ultimately decide. The Ukrainian Government has been clear, just as we have, that this will need to be ended diplomatically through dialogue, through engagement. We are under the assessment that Russia is not yet at the point where it is ready to engage in good faith, to engage constructively towards what has to be the objective. That is, in the first instance, diminution of the violence, and ultimately an end to this war.

So, in the meantime, we are going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners, including with the security assistance so that they continue to prosecute the mission of defending their country, their freedom, their democracy, just as we continue to hold Russia to account, including with financial sanctions and export controls and other measures.

Said.

QUESTION: You said that —

QUESTION: Hold on a second. You actually said – I’ve been meaning to ask you this for – this is very brief – when you keep talking about these – all these countries across four continents, you’re counting Australia as a continent and not part of Asia, right?

MR PRICE: I believe that’s the case, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So when you talk about, then, Asia – presumably this is North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. What Asian countries are actually contributing weapons? Or are you talking about, like, they’ve – some, like Japan and South Korea, have imposed sanctions?

MR PRICE: There are – there’s a broad coalition of countries that have come together to provide security assistance and to hold Russia to account.

QUESTION: So both. And Australia as a continent, not a country?

MR PRICE: I will leave it to these individual countries to discuss their contributions.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PRICE: But certainly, several of our Asian allies have been stalwart members of this campaign.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Ned, you said that only one country can bring this war to an end. You also said when all this is said and done, and so on. I want to ask you about – what is in it for Russia? I mean diplomatically. I mean, of course everybody wants to see the war end and the conflict (inaudible) and so on. But what are you willing to give the Russians in exchange – you and those in coalition? Would you, let’s say, give a commitment that Ukraine could never become a member of NATO, that you will look at the Russian points of concern, the security demands or whatever, that were made back in December, and all these things?

MR PRICE: Said, I think that is a question that may rest on a faulty premise. I don’t believe it is for us to have to answer what a country that is waging a war of choice, a war of aggression, an unnecessary – a needless war should get in return for waging that war.

QUESTION: So just so I understand you properly, you’re saying that Russia should end the war and then we can talk about other issues, if they are there. Is that what you’re saying?

MR PRICE: That wasn’t my point. My point was that this needs to come to a close. It can only come to a close through dialogue and diplomacy. So, there needs to be that diplomatic process. It is currently our assessment that Russia, at the present moment, is not inclined to engage in dialogue and diplomacy that could, in the near term, lead to a diminution of violence and an end to this war.

That is why we are using the tools at our disposal – including our security assistance, including our broader support for the Ukrainian Government and for the Ukrainian people, and the measures that we have on the other side of the ledger to hold Russia to account – to change those dynamics, to change Moscow’s calculus, to induce it to the negotiating table so that together with our Ukrainian partners they can determine how best to chart that path leading to a diminishment of the violence and ultimately to an end to this war.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I follow up on a question that Humeyra had moved on. In terms of why administration says what it says, when it comes to the long-range weapons, Medvedev said all weekend that if any of our cities like get under attack Russian army forces will strike back, not only to Kyiv but also to quote/unquote “criminal decision-making centers.” Do you – first, do you consider Moscow a criminal decision-making center, given the fact that Russia has been striking on Ukrainian cities for 100 days? And secondly, why don’t you recognize Ukraine’s right to strike back? Because so many analysts, military experts believe that Ukraine possessing those weapons actually will help them to combat Russia, not being defensive.

MR PRICE: So, I’m not aware that we’ve used the term criminal – sorry what was the term? “Criminal decision-making center”?

QUESTION: “Decision-making center.”

MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we’ve used that specific term. But we have put forward our assessment that Russia’s forces have committed war crimes – in other words, they have committed criminal acts on the battlefield, so there is at least some element there that we will continue to pursue justice and accountability for what not only Russia’s forces have done but all those in the decision-making apparatus, those who are responsible for these crimes against humanity, the atrocities, the war crimes that have taken place.

Second, what has always been at stake here is Ukraine’s right to exist. We heard a number of arguments that were entirely specious, leading up to Moscow’s February 24th invasion. We heard about purported security concerns; we heard about concerns over what they stated to be NATO’s aggressive nature, claiming a defensive alliance was anything but. In the end, what this came down to was we think President Putin’s belief that Ukraine has no right to exist as a sovereign, independent, democratic, and free country. And so that is what our support, that is what the support of many of the world’s countries, dozens of the world’s countries, has been all about, is making sure that Ukraine will continue to be and to exist and to be precisely what President Putin has sought to deny it, and that is its independence, its sovereignty, its democratic identity, and its prosperity.

So, our assistance to Ukraine has been focused in the area of self-defense. This has been a war of aggression on the part of one country, and that’s Russia. This has been a war of self-defense on the part of our Ukrainian partners.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Then how do you view Foreign Minister Lavrov visit to Saudi Arabia and Turkey? And what do you expect them to hear from your allies in the region?

MR PRICE: When it comes to his visit with our GCC partners, we have held extensive discussions with our GCC partners about the importance of international support for Ukraine, as it defends its sovereignty, as it defends its independence. We have conveyed to our partners – we’ve had many opportunities to discuss the need for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and the cessation of Putin’s war of choice in conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

We understand that the GCC plans to push for an end to the conflict and the restoration of the flow of agricultural goods out of Ukraine to ease food prices and shortages and our Gulf partners understand the very acute, the very real implications, and far-reaching implications of President Putin’s war against Ukraine. In many ways, some of our partners in the Gulf, some of our partners in North Africa, and far beyond have been on the frontlines or a frontline of this conflict, because they have been affected by the acute rise in food and commodity prices that is affecting their people and their governments as well.

Similarly, when it comes to foreign minister Lavrov’s travel to Turkey, we understand and we certainly support the diplomatic efforts that our Turkish allies are forging in an effort to bring this war to a close, in the first instance diminish the violence, and also to find ways to facilitate the export of Ukrainian foodstuffs, including Ukrainian wheat. That is also something we support. I understand this visit is not going to be for several days, and we’ll defer to our Turkish counterparts to comment on it.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Turkey, over the weekend Erdoğan said the military operation in Syria could happen suddenly. Does the U.S. have any indications that a Turkish operation is imminent? And what sort of assurances I guess are you offering Kurdish partners, if any?

MR PRICE: What kind of assurances are we offering —

QUESTION: Kurdish – our Kurdish partners in Syria.

MR PRICE: Well, we said this last week when this proposal was first raised, but we remain deeply concerned about discussions of potential increased military activity in northern Syria, and in particular, its impact on the civilian population there. We continue, as we’ve said before, to support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines. We would condemn any escalation that has the potential to jeopardize that. We believe it is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones, principally to enhance stability in Syria and to work towards a political solution to the conflict. We believe that any effort to do otherwise could be counterproductive to our goals to bring about an end to the broader conflict in Syria, but also the tremendous progress that we’ve made together, including with our Kurdish partners, in the effort against ISIS that has achieved such important steps in recent years.

We do expect Turkey to live up to the October 2019 joint statement, including to halt offensive operations in northeastern Syria. And we recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns on its border. But again, we are concerned that any new offensive would further undermine regional stability and would put at risk those hard-won gains in the campaign against ISIS.

Yes.

QUESTION: So Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was unable to eke an omnibus deal with the Pacific Island countries during his recent visit. The subsequent statement that was released by China’s embassy to the U.S. was absent a discussion of security cooperation between China and the Pacific Island countries he visited, including cooperation on data networks and cybersecurity that was reportedly part of China’s original communique leaked before Foreign Minister Wang’s trip. Do you have any reaction to these developments, both the lack of a deal and the Chinese embassy’s subsequent statement?

MR PRICE: Well, we’ll leave it to the parties involved to offer their assessment of what happened. We, of course, have all seen the reports that have emanated from the region and with Pacific Island nations expressing concern about signing on to the PRC’s proposal. We’ve made this point before, and the Secretary even made it in his speech on our approach to the People’s Republic of China last week, and that is this: Each nation will make its own sovereign decisions. We together with our allies and partners, including those in the region, have made our concerns clear about the PRC’s shadowy, unspecified deals with little regional consultations. We are committed to continue deepening our relationship with our Pacific Island partners and in the Indo-Pacific, including working together to deliver for our people.

I’d make one final point – and as this has been reported out, we’ve seen reports of regional and international media being blocked or encountering significant obstacles when attempting to cover the foreign minister visit to the region and the PRC so-called cooperation proposals. In Samoa, for example, the media were not allowed to question either the Samoan prime minister or Foreign Minister Wang during the visit. In Fiji, Fujian and Australian reporters covering the visit highlighted on social media a kerfuffle ahead of the meeting with the PIF secretary general, as PRC officials attempted unsuccessfully to block their entrance. In the Solomon Islands, there were calls to boycott the press conference due to the restrictions that the PRC imposed.

When we talk about these opaque, shadowy deals, I think you need only look at what many of your counterparts and colleagues around the world have reported about the PRC’s efforts to obscure these very deals themselves, to – to even go so far as to prevent officials in the region from facing reporters in their own country, and of course, preventing the PRC foreign minister from having to answer to independent media who would ask the sorts of tough questions that he would surely get.

MR PRICE: Is kerfuffle – that’s a technical diplomatic term, right?

MR PRICE: This was a term that was taken from a tweet.

Yes. Let me move around. Yes, Gitte.

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. The IAEA’s latest report on Iran is out and it’s been leaked, and it doesn’t look good for Iran. Talks about the – more violations and of course not clarifying things from the past for the IAEA. Last week at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rob Malley was asked if the U.S. was going to support a censure of Iran at next week’s Board of Governors meeting. Has a decision – well, Rob said that the U.S. was consulting with the European allies. Has a decision been made yet?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a decision to announce today, but what I can say is this: we fully support the IAEA director general, the efforts of the IAEA as a whole to engage Iran on the need to provide the necessary cooperation in order to resolve the open safeguards issues in Iran. Just as the IAEA is concerned, we share those concerns. We have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. And as we previously said, Iran must fully cooperate with the IAEA without further delay.

Because this report is not public, we’re not in a position to comment more fully. But we will continue to work closely with allies and partners and the Board of Governors of the IAEA to ensure that the board takes appropriate action in response to the director general’s reporting. These unresolved safeguard issues, I think it is worth noting, relate to legal obligations under the MPT-required safeguards agreements with the IAEA. That of course is separate from Iran’s JCPOA nuclear-related commitments. It remains our goal to see to it that Iran is once again bound by those JCPOA related nuclear commitments. And that is why we are proceeding with determining whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: Ned, have you —

MR PRICE: Let met – let me let Gitte ask a follow-up.

QUESTION: And a question about inside of Iran. Since last week when a tall building collapsed – and, so far, about 40 corpses have been pulled out – demonstrations – people have been demonstrating and by now there are dozens of cities following suit with the people of Abadan. There’s a number of slogans and chants that keep being repeated in different demonstrations every now and then, but one stands out that is being repeated again and was repeated yesterday, the translation of which is: our enemy is right here; they lie that it is America. Do you have any comments, any messages to the Iranian people who are chanting this slogan, that are saying their own establishment is lying to them and that America is not the Iranian people’s enemy?

MR PRICE: We have spoken very clearly about the ongoing protests in Iran. We have also in the past spoken directly to the people of Iran. Last year when we first addressed what were then – what started as protests over water shortages and of course evolved from there, we sent a very clear message to the Iranian people that remains true today. It was a message of the fact that we stand with you, we stand with the Iranian people who are trying to make their voices heard, and that we call on the Iranian Government to respect the right of the Iranian people to peaceful protest, and not to repress what are their fundamental demands.

This is a message that of course applies not only to the people of Iran – the right to peaceful assembly, the right to peaceful protest, the right to freedom of expression. These are universal rights that apply equally to the Iranian people as they do to any other people around the world. We will continue to stand for those rights with those people, voicing those rights who are doing so peacefully consistent with their rights.

QUESTION: Ned, sorry, the safeguard concerns that you mentioned just now, the – these are longstanding concerns. They’re not new in this new report. If you support the BOG, as I like to call it, the Board of Governors taking responsible action to do this, why have you opposed it and even blocked it – action from the —

MR PRICE: The —

QUESTION: — Board of Governors in the past when these – when these shortcomings – these concerns have been raised?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have been very clear that we believe that the concerns of the IAEA have to be resolved and they have to be resolved swiftly. Again, we have full faith and confidence in the IAEA. We support the important mission that it is doing inside of Iran. The decisions of the Board of Governors, those are the decisions of the Board of Governors. We consult closely with our fellow members of the board, but again, we fully – we fully support the need to resolve these issues.

QUESTION: But Ned, last November there was a push to get the board to take up this question – these questions and concerns about safeguards, and you guys stopped it.

MR PRICE: Matt, I’m —

QUESTION: Why all of a sudden are you saying now it’s time for the board to take action?

MR PRICE: We have always said —

QUESTION: Or are you going to oppose it again?

MR PRICE: We have always said that outstanding safeguards issue, including the ones that we’ve referenced today, need to be resolved. We are not under any illusions about the Iranian Government and what they have —

QUESTION: Okay. But why have you – why have you opposed them – the board dealing with it in the past?

MR PRICE: Matt, we have – we have found ways to —

QUESTION: Are you saying you haven’t opposed it in the past?

MR PRICE: We – I am not speaking to behind – to closed-door conversations. We have done what we believe together with our IAEA partners to be most effective in confronting Iran’s nuclear activities, including what is very clearly its past nuclear deception, just as we work with the IAEA to determine whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

QUESTION: But if it would – if it had been effective, presumably it wouldn’t be an issue anymore.

MR PRICE: Matt, as you said yourself —

QUESTION: So, it hasn’t been – it hasn’t been —

MR PRICE: As you said yourself, these are issues that date back years.

QUESTION: No, I’m just talking about since last year. I mean, yes, they do go back years, but when you had a chance to take it up, when the board had a chance to take it up, you guys were opposed to it.

MR PRICE: And as you know, the board meets regularly, and we find ways to —

QUESTION: And so why – why did you oppose it in November and you’re not opposing it now?

MR PRICE: I am not speaking to our posture or our stance towards any previous board of governors’ resolutions or attempts. We work very closely as a partner with the IAEA to support its activities and ultimately to see to it that its concerns regarding Iran’s past nuclear activities are fully addressed.

I’ll move around. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR PRICE: Staying on Iran for one moment? Sure, Michel.

QUESTION: Iran foreign ministry spokesman has said today on Vienna talks that the reason for the current pause in the talks is because the U.S. has not responded to Iran and Europe’s initiatives. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR PRICE: I saw that comment. I think anyone who speaks either to our European allies or to representatives of this government will of course hear otherwise. We and our European allies have made very clear we are prepared to immediately conclude and to implement the deal negotiated in Vienna for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, but it is ultimately up to Iran to decide to drop demands that go beyond the JCPOA, and to engage in good faith. That is a choice that only Tehran will be able to make.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, several weeks back you said, or you suggested, that the deal was within reach.

MR PRICE: The deal is absolutely still within reach. Of course.

QUESTION: So is it still the same? Is it far?

MR PRICE: It unfortunately, Said, has not changed. It is still within reach if Iran makes that political decision to engage in good faith and to focus on the JCPOA itself.

Yes.

QUESTION: Same topic, but asking about – specifically about that IAEA report that now indicates that there – Iran has enough enriched material for a nuclear weapon. Now, if that’s the case, when is it time to either pull the plug on those negotiations or at the very least shake up the strategy? And we did hear from Special Envoy Malley last week that being at the table doesn’t mean that the administration is waiting, but given these indicators of progress, can the administration say it has a successful strategy or measure of curbing Iran’s progress?

MR PRICE: The pursuit of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA will continue to be our policy goal, as long as it is in our national interest to do so. And that statement is a direct response to the first part of your question. Because yes, Iran’s breakout time has been reduced to a point with which we are uncomfortable. Our allies and partners around the world are also uncomfortable with it. When the JCPOA was negotiated and ultimately implemented in January of 2016, that breakout time was 12 months. Since Iran has been in a position to distance itself from the strict limitations that the JCPOA imposed, that breakout time has dwindled to a matter of months, and more recently to a matter of weeks or potentially even less.

So, it is of course a concern for us. Going back to Said’s question, a deal is within reach. A deal would be within reach, if Iran committed to negotiating in good faith and to focusing squarely on what should be the focus of discussions in Vienna, and that is the nuclear agreement itself. Were that to be the case, the breakout time that is now, to us at least, unacceptably short would be significantly lengthened. And that is our – that is our goal: to see to it that we put Iran’s nuclear program back in a box; to see to it that some of the advancements that Iran has been able to make in recent years are reversed; and to ultimately, most importantly, ensure that Iran is once again verifiably and permanently prohibited from and unable to acquire or produce a nuclear weapon.

As long as we assess – as we do now, that the deal that is essentially on the table, the technical agreement that is essentially on the table, the – as long as we assess that its nonproliferation benefits outweigh the gains that Iran has been able to make in recent years in its nuclear program, we will continue to pursue that deal because pursuing it is ultimately in our national interest.

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR PRICE: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue, Ned, The Times of Israel reported that you guys have shelved, once and for all, the reopening of the consulate in East Jerusalem and instead you’re looking at maybe appointing Mr. Hady Amr as a special envoy with an office here and frequent trips. Can you comment on that?

MR PRICE: I don’t have any personnel announcements to preview. What I can say is that at least part of your question or part of the premise you put forward is not accurate. We remain committed to opening a consulate in Jerusalem. We continue to believe it can be an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people. We’re continuing to discuss this with our Israeli and our Palestinian partners, and we’ll continue to consult with members of Congress as well. Meanwhile, at this very moment, we have a dedicated team of colleagues working in Jerusalem, in our Palestinian Affairs Office, focused on engagement with and outreach to the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: So, what is the holdup? Why can’t you reopen the consulate? What is holding you back?

MR PRICE: There are a number of steps that have to go into the reopening of any diplomatic facility. As you know, there are some, shall we say, unique sensitivities to this particular facility, but as I said before, we are —

QUESTION: Sorry to interrupt, but that facility was open for like 160 years, Ned.

MR PRICE: Understood.

QUESTION: It was there for a very, very long time.

MR PRICE: And we are working through the issue with our Palestinian and Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Ned, can I just make sure I understand one thing? At the very beginning, when you said you – we remain committed to opening or reopening a —

MR PRICE: Reopening.

QUESTION: Okay. So, it is still – what you’re looking at is reopening. It’s not opening a new consulate; it is reopening the former one?

MR PRICE: To Said’s point – to Said’s point, we previously had a facility there, yes.

QUESTION: I have a couple more questions. Over the weekend there was a lot of violence inflicted against the Palestinians, but – however you term it. Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, suggested that they should outlaw far-right groups that rioted in Jerusalem. Do you support that premise?

MR PRICE: That’s a decision for the Israeli Government to make. Just as we have a system of designations within our own countries when it – in our own country when it comes to foreign terrorist organizations and SDGTs and other authorities, that is for the Israeli Government to decide. What I will say is that we condemn incitement to violence and racism, in all of its forms. We remain concerned by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of its rhetoric among violent right-wing extremists. We —

QUESTION: But you – sorry. You took them off the terror list.

MR PRICE: They remain designated as an SGDT. That does not prevent us from continuing to hold accountable and to do what is necessary when it comes to members of that group. We urge all parties to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions that – and rhetoric that escalate tensions, including in Jerusalem.

QUESTION: And on the investigation of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, also The Times of Israel reporting that you guys will not conduct anything on your own, you urge the Israelis to do so. I know that my colleague, Ali Samoudi, sent you a letter today explaining what happened – he was hit along with Shireen Abu Akleh – and basically explaining – because he copied me – on what happened and why they don’t trust the Israelis. I mean, this journalist has been hit something like – this particular journalist, Ali Samoudi, was hit like four or five or maybe six times. So, they don’t really trust any investigation by the Israelis. What should happen, in your view, to really see the transparent investigations that you talk about so much is conducted properly and that those – the perpetrators will be brought to justice?

MR PRICE: Well, I can tell you what we have urged of our Israeli partners, and Secretary Blinken even over the weekend had another opportunity to reinforce this message with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lapid. As he told Foreign Minister Lapid, we urge the Israeli Government to swiftly conclude their investigation into the killing of the Shireen Abu Akleh. We expect full accountability for those responsible for her killing, and to your question, Said, we have urged that the sides share their evidence with each other to facilitate that investigation. And we continue to call on all sides to maintain calm and to prevent further escalation.

QUESTION: What would you say to my colleague, Ali Samoudi, who sent you a letter today explaining what happened? What would you say to assure him that he can continue to conduct his job as a journalist? I mean, he’s been doing this for a very long time.

MR PRICE: Certainly appreciate his perspective and the time he took to offer his recollection and his thoughts on the incident that tragically took the life of Shireen Abu Akleh. We, whether it is —

QUESTION: And it injured him big time.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry? And, of course, injured him as well. We, as you’ve heard from us not only in recent days but going back to World Press Freedom Day earlier this month and throughout the course of this administration – we stand with journalists around the world who are doing their jobs in situations that sometimes are unfortunately dangerous, where they are often in a position of putting themselves in dangerous situations to do a job, to fulfill a task that is indispensable. And the role of journalists, like him, the role of journalists around the world, is in fact an indispensable role.

We will continue with our engagement with other governments, whether they are close friends, whether they are counterparts across the spectrum, to reinforce what should be the inviolable principle of media freedom and the idea that journalists and their ability to do their jobs must not be impeded in any way or in any form.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, do you still – does the United States still believe that the issues between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey will be resolved swiftly after the talks between the three of them last week didn’t particularly yield to a lot of progress?

MR PRICE: We have had a number of discussions, including last week, when the Secretary had an opportunity to meet his Finnish counterpart. As you know, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg will be here tomorrow. Presumably, this will also be a topic of that bilateral engagement.

Nothing has changed our assessment that – or nothing has shifted our confidence in the idea that NATO accession for Swinland* – excuse me – Finland and Sweden has broad support within the NATO Alliance and that it can be fulfilled swiftly.

QUESTION: And by swiftly, do you mean – is it U.S. preference that this would be resolved before the NATO summit in end June?

MR PRICE: I’m not going to put a timeframe on it. Of course, swiftly means swiftly. We want to see these two applicants in the NATO Alliance just as soon as that process can be managed.

QUESTION: And you have made a point of saying – you and others in the administration have made a point of saying this is not a bilateral issue with – between the United States and Turkey, but if this keeps dragging on for many months and beyond the summit, would the U.S. be more willing to get more involved? And that is not a hypothetical, because it is very likely to happen.

MR PRICE: Well, so this is not a bilateral issue. This is an issue, at this moment, between Turkey and Finland and Sweden and, of course, senior NATO officials, including the Secretary General also have a role to play in it. Our point is that we will continue to have consultations with our Turkish partners, of course with our Swedish and Finnish partners as well —

QUESTION: But I guess what I’m trying to say – yeah, you guys have said and Jake Sullivan also said like we’re willing to – we’re ready to do whatever is necessary to facilitate this. So what is that?

MR PRICE: We will continue to have consultations with our NATO counterparts, with our allies, with our ally Turkey, with our partners, Finland and Sweden, who will, we think, soon be considered allies as well. So we will continue to engage in that dialogue, but ultimately this is not an issue between the United States and Turkey; this is an issue between those three countries.

QUESTION: If you would indulge me with one more question, going back on the Palestine issue, last Thursday 62 congressman and 19 senators sent a letter to Secretary Blinken demanding or asking that he intervene on behalf of the demolition of Masafer Yatta. You have any reaction to that?

MR PRICE: Our reaction to that is what our message has consistently been. We continue to urge all sides to avoid steps that have the potential to inflame tensions, that have the potential to set back the cause of a two-state solution.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, can I get your reaction to EU’s partial oil ban? Was it enough, in your opinion, less than enough, more than enough? And separately, Gazprom has decided to halt gas deliveries to two more countries this week, Denmark and Netherlands, which I think will hit the number five, so we’re at Poland, Bulgaria, and Finland that were cut off previously. Your reaction to that as well? And I have another —

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — question on energy afterwards.

MR PRICE: Well, the two parts of your question are actually very related. It is incumbent upon countries around the world to lessen their dependent on Russian energy, precisely so that Moscow can no longer be in a position to attempt to weaponize energy flows the way it has sought to do not only with Ukraine but with a number of other European countries as well. To the announcement from the EU within recent hours, that is part and parcel of that, and for that reason we welcome the EU’s proposed ban on Russian oil, and of course the EU would need to speak to any details.

As you know, we have already taken strong action in that regard. President Biden put forward an executive order to ban the import of Russian oil, gas, LNG, and coal. That will further and has further deprived President Putin of the economic resources he would otherwise need to prosecute this war in Ukraine. On May 8th, earlier this month, the entire G7 committed to phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil. And we know that there is broad support, as we saw again today from the EU, among our allies and partners for cutting off the strength of Russia’s war machine, and that is Russia’s energy market. We are united in our purpose to keep the pressure on President Putin and all of those who are responsible for waging this war. And we applaud the steps by our European allies and partners to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and natural gas by diversifying their sources of energy and reducing consumption, in line with our shared climate goals.

As you know, there is a near-term component to this, and the EU took an important step on that near-term path, but then there’s also a longer-term path that has more to do – less to do with the day-to-day and more to do with trends over time and the broader need to lessen our reliance on Russian energy and fossil fuels more broadly, and that’s something that a joint US-EU task force is outlining in terms of specific steps.

Yes.

QUESTION: Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova are now at the crossroads on the path toward a Western choice. You know that all three countries are awaiting the EU decision on the official candidate status. Your position as our key strategic partner is extremely important here. How likely do you believe these three countries are to reach this major milestone at this juncture?

MR PRICE: Well, these are questions for those three countries and for the EU, but I think you know in the case of all three of those countries, the United States – as a partner, as a strategic partner as it were, strongly supports the European aspirations, the European ambitions of these three countries. We have stood with them as they have gone down that path from independence to where they are now; and we will continue to stand by them as they continue down that path.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Yesterday, five to six rockets landed on – they were targeted at Ayn al-Asad base in Iraq, and they landed near U.S. troops where they are stationed. Do you have a reaction to that, or do you know who is behind it? And I have two more questions if that’s okay.

MR PRICE: Well, I would refer you to the Government of Iraq and to the Department of Defense for details, but I can confirm that an attack took place last night against an Iraqi base that houses international coalition advisors. We understand that there was no damage, nor were there any casualties. But I’d need to refer you to the Government of Iraq for more details.

QUESTION: And then on the – Iraq’s political impasse, there is a new initiative by the IKR president to get the parties to some sort of agreement on the candidacy for the – Iraq’s presidency. Is that something that the U.S. supports, and how can the U.S. help the process there?

MR PRICE: We will – I will let you know if we have anything to say on that specific proposal. But we do believe it’s important to move forward with the process so that the needs and the aspirations of the Iraqi people can be fulfilled just as quickly and effectively as possible.

QUESTION: And then last one on Baghdad and Erbil relations. What’s the department’s view on Baghdad’s attempts to limit Kurdistan Region’s oil sales and limiting Kurdistan Region’s authorities in managing its own energy sector?

MR PRICE: We have urged Baghdad and Erbil, the Iraqi Government, and our Kurdish partners to work together constructively to resolve any differences, and that remains the case here.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, Ned, do you have any comment on the re-election of the speaker of the house for the seventh time?

MR PRICE: I don’t have a specific comment beyond what we said last week, and that is the process of government formation needs to continue so that there is a durable, effective government in place that can enact the necessary reforms to unlock what the Lebanese people have been missing for far too long. In some ways, that is about resources with the IMF loan guarantees that have been discussed, but this is also about providing the Lebanese people with a durable, representative government that can fulfill their humanitarian needs that have gone unmet for far too long. So, that is a process we continue to support. It is a process that needs to move swiftly so that we can make progress, so that Lebanon can make progress on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: I wanted to go back to what you said at the very top about the absorption – possible absorption of Kherson. I think early May, Ambassador Carpenter was here warning about that and – but then he said that this sham referendum, or the attempt to annex Donbas into Russia, would happen in mid-May. Do you have any indications why that hasn’t happened yet?

And also, separately, I wanted to ask about – there was – it has been reported in the Polish press that there is an agreement to make U.S. forces’ presence there permanent ahead of the NATO summit. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I missed – U.S. forces where?

QUESTION: In Poland.

MR PRICE: In Poland.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: So, when it comes to Kherson, you’re right; we have been concerned for some time about the possibility of a sham referendum conducted in Kherson. The message we reiterated today is the fact that this is a well-worn part of the Russian Government’s playbook. We are not saying that it definitively will hold a referendum there. There are other options that could be under consideration, including, as I said before, to create a so-called Kherson people’s republic despite lacking any legitimacy or popular mandate to do so.

I can’t speak to why the Russians have or have not taken certain steps beyond making the point that we have noted that we have – when we have made public parts of our understanding of Russia’s playbook previously, they have been forced to adapt, and in some cases they have changed their plans as a result of the United States and our partners and allies around the world shining a spotlight on our concerns. Whether that happened here, I couldn’t say, but what I can say is we do remain concerned that the Russian Government will take certain steps – whether it’s a referendum, whether it’s the declaration of a so-called people’s republic, whether it is another means by which to impose the Kremlin’s will on the people of the Kherson region. That continues to be a concern of ours.

Final question?

QUESTION: I have one more.

QUESTION: The second question?

MR PRICE: Oh, the —

QUESTION: Sorry, unrelated.

MR PRICE: Final – yes, second question?

QUESTION: I asked about the reports that —

MR PRICE: Oh, on Poland, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PRICE: I don’t have any announcements. Those are decisions that we make on a national level and when it comes to the basing of NATO forces together as a NATO Alliance.

Yes.

QUESTION: So, about ten days – or maybe it was a little longer than that ago – The New York Times ran a very, very lengthy story about Haiti, and basically the misery they’ve been going through. Anyway, I’m not going to ask you to get into the historical background going back to the 1700s about this, but in – part of that story made – there were allegations that the United States had essentially conspired with France to oust Aristide, in part because he was demanding reparations for the French. This was under the Bush administration, obviously, in 2004.

What do you make of those allegations?

MR PRICE: I would need to go back on that. Obviously, this is quite dated. But what I can say now is that —

QUESTION: Which is quite dated, the story or 2004?

MR PRICE: No, the 2004 element of a —

QUESTION: It’s not that long ago.

MR PRICE: Well, I –

QUESTION: I mean, you might have been in grade school, but some of us were actually – (laughter) – working.

MR PRICE: I – we will get back to you if we have anything to say on that particular. historical allegation. But what I can say more recently is that since President Moïse’s assassination, we’ve continuously called on all Haitian stakeholders to reach agreement on a unified way forward towards free and fair elections when those conditions permit. And we continue to work with all current Haitian officials, including Prime Minister Henry, to address Haiti’s most critical needs, including security, post-disaster reconstruction and recovery, and COVID-19 vaccinations.

QUESTION: All right. Well, I would appreciate it if there could be – if someone could get an answer about whether or not you agree or disagree with the assertion, the allegation – including from a former French ambassador to Haiti – that this is, in fact, was the case – that you guys, that the Bush administration worked with the French to get rid of Aristide in part because he was demanding those reparations. Thank you.

MR PRICE: We will let you – we will let you know.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:22 p.m.)

# # #

Transitions in the Office of the Spokesperson

1 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

For the past 15 months, I have been fortunate to work alongside extraordinarily talented and committed public servants. Today, I have the bittersweet task of saying goodbye to two members of my team and announcing an important addition.

Next month, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter and Deputy Spokesperson J.T. Ice will transition out of their respective roles. Jalina, who was appointed to the position in January 2021, has made important contributions across the institution, and her passion and enthusiasm have helped convey to audiences at home and around the world the values that animate this Administration’s foreign policy. J.T., a career Foreign Service Officer who has served in the position since 2020, is transitioning to his next assignment in the Department. He was indispensable as I assumed my role last year, and I have relied on his experience and counsel every day since.

As we say goodbye to Jalina and J.T., I look forward to welcoming Vedant Patel as the Department’s incoming Principal Deputy Spokesperson. Vedant has distinguished himself as an Assistant Press Secretary and Spokesperson at the White House since Day One of the Administration. Among his prior roles, he served with me on the Biden-Harris Transition and as a communications aide on Capitol Hill. Vedant’s White House colleagues know him to be immensely talented and unfailingly collegial, and I look forward to introducing him to the Department, where I am confident he will develop the same reputation.

I thank Jalina and J.T. for their service and welcome Vedant to the Department.