2:18 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 —
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 —
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.