2:13 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Happy New Year to you.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year. Happy New Year. I hope everyone had a nice holiday. Hopefully many of you were able to have some down time with family, with friends, return rested, recharged, hopefully relaxed, at least for the next few days.
A couple things at the top and then we’ll move to your questions. First, as we do welcome the new year, we also reflect on the events of the past year. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24th of last year, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed, maimed, and wounded, and many have been victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed by Russia and Russian-backed forces in Putin’s unprovoked, needless, and brutal war.
President Putin’s war has also displaced millions; there are now more than 5.9 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, and more than 7.8 million refugees from Ukraine have fled the country. The Kremlin has furthermore made life harder for families around the world by stymying essential food shipments from reaching developing countries and exacerbating volatility in the energy markets, which has affected supply chains and compounded inflation.
The Kremlin’s plans to splinter transatlantic unity have had the opposite effect. We look forward to Finland and Sweden joining an expanded NATO Alliance, which is stronger and more purposeful than ever. EU and NATO member states remain fully committed to standing with and supporting Ukraine. On December 29th, President Biden signed the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act that will provide $44.9 billion in emergency funds to support Ukraine and other partners, and to address the global impacts of the war.
While traditionally the holidays are a time of celebration and peace, Russia chose to ramp up its campaign to weaponize winter, subjecting the people of Ukraine to a barrage of missile and drone attacks on cities and critical infrastructure. But the Kremlin’s attempts to instill fear and hopelessness in the hearts of Ukrainians are failing. Amid the sounds of warning sirens and the uncertainty of daily life, the people of Ukraine honored their heroes and celebrated their successes on the battlefield. We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. As we have said, President Putin can choose to end this war today. We call on Russia to stop its attacks, to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, and to commit to peace in 2023.
Next and finally, we are pleased to announce that the Office of the Special Envoy for Critical and Emerging Technology begins operations today. Technology is increasingly central to geopolitical competition and to the future of national security, economic prosperity, and democracy. This administration has made historic investments in the industries of the future, as well as the infrastructure and supply chains that support them – from the CHIPS Act to the Biotechnology & Biomanufacturing Executive Order to the Inflation Reduction Act.
As part of our modernization agenda, the Secretary has established the envoy’s office because technology is an integral part of the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy. The department needs to bring additional technology policy experience, diplomatic leadership, and strategic direction to international technology competition. The office will provide a center of expertise to develop and coordinate international technology policy, and to engage foreign partners on emerging technologies that will be transformative to our societies and our economies – including biotechnology, advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and quantum information technology.
The Office of the Special Envoy will help the department fulfill its mission of working with allies and partners to ensure that technology is developed and used in ways that protect our common interests and uphold our shared values. It will work in close coordination with the various bureaus and offices across the department that are engaging on these and other technology topics that are central to our foreign policy.
Starting today, Dr. Seth Center will serve as the deputy envoy. He and the team will stand up and build out the office. Dr. Center has extensive experience working at the intersection of national security and technology policy in and out of government. As we work to bring a special envoy on board, the Office of the Special Envoy will report to Deputy Secretary Sherman through Ambassador at Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nate Fick. Ambassador Fick will oversee the office and will provide ambassador-level representation on critical and emerging technology issues.
So with that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. And Happy New Year to you.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: And to everyone else. Let’s just start with Ukraine, and this is going to be – I suppose you might call it a hypothetical because it assumes that the chaos up on the Hill right now will actually work itself out, and that there will be a new Speaker, and that it will be one of the Republican majority. And when you talk about how you are going to help Ukraine for quote/unquote, “as long as it takes,” are you confident that a new House will go along with that and that you’ll be able to do not only what you want to do but what you think is necessary?
MR PRICE: We are absolutely confident that our approach to Ukraine will continue to enjoy bipartisan support. We’ve seen illustrations of that time and again; we most recently saw it last month when Congress passed and the President signed into law the more than $44 billion in emergency supplemental funding that will go to Ukraine’s security assistance, to humanitarian assistance, to economic assistance, to helping Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their country, and to helping countries in the region who have been in a position to help those Ukrainians who have had to flee.
We have heard both from Democrats and Republicans in our engagements with the Hill that they see the imperative, they understand the imperative, of continuing to support the Ukrainian people both because of what is represents in the context of Russia and Ukraine but, as we’ve said, as we’ve heard from members on the Hill as well, this is in some ways even bigger than one country – important as Ukraine is and what it represents is. This is about the rules of the road, the principles of the global international order that have undergirded some eight decades of unprecedented levels of stability, of security, of prosperity the world over. If Russia is allowed to aggress against its peaceful neighbor in an unprovoked, unjustified, illegal way, not only will Russia believe that it has carte blanche to do so going forward, but countries around the world may come away with that same misimpression.
So it’s important to us, it’s important to Congress, that we continue to take this approach. Secretary Blinken last month had an opportunity to brief both houses of Congress along with some of his counterparts from the Defense Department, from the Intelligence Community and elsewhere. We provided an opportunity for all members, all senators, all House members, to hear about our approach. What we heard in turn was broad bipartisan support for that approach.
QUESTION: You’re – well, and also presumably, President Zelenskyy’s visit would have helped, right? But you’re not concerned at all that the stated interest of the new – of the incoming House majority in investigating the President’s son, including things that involve Ukraine, won’t dampen the – what you claim to be bipartisan enthusiasm?
MR PRICE: Look, I can’t speak to the oversight agenda of the incoming 118th Congress. I will leave that to them. What I can say is that we have heard from members of the 117th Congress, many of whom remain in the 118th Congress, of their broad support for the people of Ukraine, for the Government of Ukraine, and in turn their broad support for the approach we’ve taken.
QUESTION: Can I switch topics?
MR PRICE: Sure.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: A couple days before the new year, the opposition said they were dissolving the interim government headed by Juan Guaidó, who of course is recognized by the United States. Does the United States still recognize Juan Guaidó as legitimate interim president? What does this mean for assets such as Citgo and operations or – and assets controlled by the interim government? And does the United States have any response to President Maduro, who speaks of a potential opening to the United States?
MR PRICE: Well, Shaun, we continue to recognize what is the only remaining democratically elected institution in Venezuela today, and that’s the 2015 National Assembly. We and the region’s democracies will continue to support the efforts of the 2015 National Assembly and others to return democracy to Venezuela. Members of the National Assembly have the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people at heart. That has been at the heart of our approach as well. We support the Venezuelan people in their desire for a peaceful restoration of democracy through free and fair elections. We applaud efforts of the democratic opposition to restore democratic institutions and bring an end to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis even in the face of the Maduro regime’s continued repression, and we’ll continue to work with the international community to help address the Venezuelan crisis and to press for free and fair elections in Venezuela consistent with the wishes and desires of the Venezuelan people.
The Venezuelan people need – they want – a clear timeline for free and fair presidential and legislative elections. In that vein, we support the efforts of the Unitary Platform and the Venezuelan-led negotiation process as key drivers to – key drivers in the broader push to restore democracy, prosperity, and the rule of law in Venezuela.
When it comes to the assets that you referenced, our overall Venezuela-related sanctions and related restrictions remain in place. I understand that members of the National Assembly are discussing amongst themselves how they will oversee these overseas assets. We’re going to continue to have discussions with them on that front.
In terms of our approach to Nicolás Maduro, our approach has not changed. He is illegitimate. We support the 2015 National Assembly as the only remaining vestige of democracy in Venezuela.
Something on this?
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), Alhurra. I have two questions. The first question is what do you comment on the visit of the —
MR PRICE: I understand. Before we get to that, anything else on Venezuela?
QUESTION: A quick one.
MR PRICE: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Just you say that they’re discussing among themselves how to administer assets. I mean, is it – is there a sense there actually is still an interim government, there’s actually still an institution – even if you consider that to be legitimate in terms of free and fair elections, that there actually is a body, a government that can administer the assets?
MR PRICE: Well, there is an institution in the form of the 2015 National Assembly. Now, the 2015 National Assembly is going to have discussions amongst its members to determine precisely what that entity looks like. If there is one individual who personifies the 2015 National Assembly, who represents the 2015 National Assembly, whether that’s some sort of consultative body, whether it’s a group of people, these are discussions that the 2015 National Assembly will need to make, and we’ll remain in close contact with them as they make those decisions.
QUESTION: Just a final point. Maduro himself has said that he is open to a better relationship with the United States. Do you take that seriously? Do you – is the United States interested in engaging, in any way, to that end?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we have engaged when it comes to our core interests. We have engaged when it comes primarily to detained Americans, and we’ve been in the position to bring up several wrongfully detained American citizens from Venezuela over the past year, and in fact over the past month or so, late last year. But again, our approach to Nicolás Maduro is not changing. He is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela. We recognize the 2015 National Assembly.
We will continue to enforce our sanctions program against the Maduro regime. We will calibrate that sanctions program, as we’ve said before, based upon what we see from the Maduro regime in terms of advancing the prospect for the Venezuelan people achieving their democratic aspirations. There was positive movement late last year, as the unitary platform and the regime met in Mexico City. We, of course, we would like to see additional progress, because it would represent additional progress for the Venezuelan people as they seek to realize those aspirations.
QUESTION: Ned, follow-up —
MR PRICE: Anything else on Venezuela? Yes.
QUESTION: So you say you still recognize the National Assembly of 2015. What about your view of Guaidó? Do you consider him as the legitimate president of Venezuela, or your view on him has changed?
MR PRICE: Well, Juan Guaidó remains a member of the 2015 National Assembly, which we recognize – the 2015 National Assembly – because it is the last democratically elected institution in the country. We’ll coordinate – we’ll continue to coordinate with him as a member of the 2015 National Assembly and with other like-minded democratic actors in Venezuela to support the Venezuelan people in their aspirations of democracy, rule of law, and prosperity in their country.
QUESTION: So not as the president of the transition government, right?
MR PRICE: The 2015 National Assembly has renewed its mandate. It itself has made decisions. We respect and will respect the decisions that the 2015 National Assembly makes.
Anything else on Venezuela? Venezuela?
MR PRICE: No. Okay. I did call on you, so —
MR PRICE: It sounds like we’re moving there, so we’ll – yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Alhurra news channel. I have a question about your comment on the visit of the Israeli minister of security to al-Aqsa, especially since many Arab countries that have signed Arab accord denounced the visit. I have another question related to your comment on the political rapprochement between Turkey and the Syrian regime.
MR PRICE: Sure. So let me say broadly on the first question that the United States stands firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. We oppose any unilateral actions that undercut the historic status quo. They are unacceptable. The President has previously underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as has the Secretary. We have done so repeatedly with our Israeli partners; we have done so repeatedly with our Jordanian partners, whose special role as custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem we deeply appreciate. That is a message we will continue to reinforce.
QUESTION: The second question, please.
MR PRICE: Sure. And I’ll come back to that second question.
QUESTION: Okay. And look, you – of course, well, happy new year to everybody.
MR PRICE: Happy new year.
QUESTION: You constantly state the same statements and so on. But there is no action. If you continue to do this, this is what we will do. So what will you do if they continue to do this? I mean, Abbas just called on his ambassador to the UN to call for a Security Council meeting. For instance, would you support that? Would you support the Palestinian effort at the Security Council to pursue this issue?
MR PRICE: Said, look, we —
QUESTION: To reaffirm your position?
MR PRICE: We are going to take actions and we are going to use our voice in a way that serves to de-escalate tensions. That ultimately is what we want to see happen, a de-escalation of tensions. We all know that tensions within Israel, within the West Bank, have become inflamed, not only over recent days but of course in recent months. And we’ve pointed to that for many months now, including the unprecedented levels of violence that have claimed far too many lives, including those of children.
As I said before regarding this visit, we’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions that have the potential to exacerbate tensions, precisely because we want to see the opposite happen. We want to see tensions reduced; we want to see tensions diminished. The – we know that the exceedingly rare instances of previous high-profile visits to Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount have only exacerbated tensions. This is not an academic question. We have seen what has transpired in the past, and we continue, as I said before, to strongly support the longstanding, historic status quo at the site.
By the way, we also know and we took note of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing platform calls for preservation of the historic status quo with relation to the holy places. We expect him to follow through on that commitment. The Secretary has said very clearly before that it’s absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve that historic status quo at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, both in word and in practice. That’s what we’ll be watching for; that’s what we’ll be using our words to encourage.
QUESTION: Ned, just let me remind you – and if you’ll allow me a couple more questions on the Palestinian issue. If I may remind you, back in 2000 – September 2000, September 28th, as a matter of fact, 2000 – Ariel Sharon stormed Haram Sharif and launched one of the most violent episodes in Palestinian-Israeli history that went on for a very, very long time. We see the same thing happening again. I mean, Mr. Sharon went on to become prime minister at the time. Ben-Gvir may become the next prime minister.
You said you are going to judge these people by their actions. I think you said that, the Secretary of State said that, everybody said that in government. So that is the action. This is the action. How are you going to deal with this government?
MR PRICE: Well first, Said, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he is setting the policy of this government. We will be dealing directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We already have been dealing directly with senior representatives of the prime minister.
But your point is precisely the one I alluded to just a moment ago. This is not an academic question. We know the historic – historical analogies, the historical corollaries. And that’s why we’re deeply concerned. We’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions because – precisely because they have the potential to exacerbate tensions, or worse. And that’s why we can look back to 2000, we can look back to previous instances. It’s also why we call for the preservation of the historic status quo. It is a point we’ve made to our Israeli partners; it’s a point we’ve made to them as recently as recent hours. It’s a point they’ve also heard from their Arab neighbors, including the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, again, whose special role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites we deeply appreciate.
So this is a question we’ll continue to discuss with our Israeli partners, with other Arab partners, as well as part of a broader effort to de-escalate tensions that, unfortunately, have only sharpened in recent months.
QUESTION: So today the Israelis killed a 15-year-old boy, Palestinian boy, Adam Ayyad. Do you have any comment on that? I mean, this is daily occurrences.
MR PRICE: Said, this is, unfortunately, reflective of the dynamic I was just alluding to. We continue to be deeply concerned by that very intensifying violence in the West Bank. We re-emphasize the need for all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation, to de-escalate tensions. It’s vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent what would be an even greater loss of life, an even greater tragedy. The loss of a single life is a tragedy, but unfortunately the loss of – and the level of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has reached unprecedented levels over recent months. We’ve seen this sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including those of numerous children.
And we continue to emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians, as you know, deserve to have equal measures of security, of prosperity, of opportunity, and of dignity. That is at the heart of our approach. Our approach continues to be one that seeks to preserve the viability for a two-state solution. We will be quite clear in opposing any steps, any unilateral steps that set that two-state – the prospects for a two-state solution further back.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you —
QUESTION: Just to cut to the chase on this, you talk about how you’re opposed to any unilateral actions and that you support – or oppose any effort to change the status quo. So do you believe that this visit alters the status quo in any way?
MR PRICE: Look, Matt —
QUESTION: And do you not support it? Do you think that it was a bad idea? Would you prefer that it had not happened?
MR PRICE: This visit has the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence. As we’ve said, we’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions that have the potential to do that. So yes, we’re deeply concerned by this visit. Now, when it comes to the historic status quo, it’s not for me to define from here what the historic status quo is; it’s not for the United States to prescribe what the historic status quo is. That’s a question of history. It’s a question for —
QUESTION: Certainly you know what the historic status quo is?
MR PRICE: It’s a question for the parties themselves, including the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, whose role as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites, again, we deeply appreciate.
QUESTION: Do you know if the administration made it clear to this – to the prime minister or to this specific minister that this visit would not be appreciated, and would draw some kind of a negative response from (inaudible)?
MR PRICE: I am not aware that we’ve had any direct contact with this particular minister. But I can say that we have had conversations with our Israeli counterparts in the new government, including in recent hours.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last thing is you said that we are going to – this is a quote from you, I think, if my notes are correct – we are going to take actions and use our voice in a way as to reduce tensions. So what actions? This is a follow-up on kind of —
MR PRICE: So this – yeah.
QUESTION: Kind of a follow-up on Said’s question, because it sounds like you’re using your voice to say something, meh, something negative, but certainly there are no – there’s no consequence, at least from the U.S. position. I’m not saying there should be, but there doesn’t seem to be one. So what actions are you going to take?
MR PRICE: So this gets back to our broader approach. We want to put the parties back, ultimately, on a path that can lead them to move forward towards the prospects of a two-state solution. And I think you look at the track record of this administration over the past now two years, and you see that we have taken action that attempts to infuse a greater amount of opportunity, a greater amount, potentially one day, of optimism, especially when it comes to the Palestinian people and our re-engagement with the Palestinian people, including in the form of our humanitarian assistance, now providing about a billion dollars of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, working to provide them with additional opportunity, encouraging steps that do that, opposing steps that set back the prospects of a two-state solution.
But the other element of this is working to de-escalate tensions. In some cases, we’ve done that in the background, in a day-to-day fashion. That is what we’re doing right now. But you can go and think back only to May of 2021 now, where we worked intensively with Israelis, with our Arab partners, with our regional partners to bring an end to what had the potential to be one of the deadliest conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years. It turned out to be shorter in duration and to call victim to fewer lives because of the concerted efforts that the United States, together with our regional partners – including Egypt, including Qatar, including our Gulf partners – took to put an end to this conflict. That’s also part of the recipe.
We would like to be working on an affirmative agenda to bring additional levels of opportunity to Israelis and Palestinians, recognizing that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to have equal measures of security, of stability, of opportunity, of dignity. Unfortunately, in many cases, our role is working to prevent the exacerbation, the escalation of tensions, and that’s what we’re talking about today.
QUESTION: Can this administration —
QUESTION: Can your department define what does equal measures mean in this particular case, please?
MR PRICE: Said —
QUESTION: What is equal measures?
MR PRICE: Equal measures means —
QUESTION: I mean, how do you apply equal measures to Palestinians, who are under occupation, being targeted every day? I mean, you began by saying Mr. Putin could end this war now. The Israelis could end the occupation now.
MR PRICE: Equal measures of stability, of security, of prosperity, of opportunity, of dignity – these are only likely to come about as we’re well along on the path towards what we continue to view as a two-state solution, and the importance of a two-state solution. Our goal in the interim, Said, is to help set the conditions so that we can one day make advancements down that path. We are under no illusions that that is going to happen this week or next week or next month. It is our goal to take steps – incremental as they might be – and to encourage the sides to take steps – incremental as they might be – to keep the prospects of that end state alive. That’s what we’re focused on.
Anything else on this before – we’ll take one more question on this.
QUESTION: You mentioned that there’s been conversations with Israeli counterparts in recent hours. Can you give more detail on who that was with? Was it with the prime minister’s office? Did you explicitly raise this visit to the mosque, and were you reassured by the response?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to characterize what we’ve heard precisely from our Israeli partners, but I can confirm that we have had direct conversations today with representatives of the prime minister’s office regarding this visit, and the message we’ve conveyed is entirely consistent with the message I’ve conveyed to all of you.
Kylie, go ahead.
QUESTION: One on Israel, real quickly.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: The new foreign minister there, Cohen, said on Monday that Israel plans to talk less about Ukraine and then he had a conversation with Foreign Minister – Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, has not yet had a conversation with the Ukrainian foreign minister. So I’m just wondering what the Biden administration’s response is to that.
MR PRICE: Well, I would note it’s my understanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu did have a conversation with President Zelenskyy and, as prime minister – obviously, the prime minister is the pivotal player when it comes to Israel’s foreign policy. Look, we’re not going to speak to Israel’s policies, what those policies are or what they might be. Our position remains clear: Russia’s war against Ukraine is a violation of international law. It serves as a global threat to peace and security, and we’ll support Ukraine for as long as it takes. There are any number of countries, dozens of countries around the world, that are supporting Ukraine in different ways. I would note that Israel has supported Ukraine and the humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people. When we were in Israel last spring, the last time Secretary Blinken was there, we in fact were given a tour of a command center that the previous Israeli government had established to provide medical care to Ukrainians who were injured, who were affected by this violence. Israel has provided humanitarian funding as well. I am under the impression that approach is not going to change, but again, I would refer you to Israel to comment on that.
QUESTION: May I follow up, Ned?
QUESTION: One quick question on that. In terms of Israel potentially playing a role or seeking to play a role in conversations down the road between Russian and Ukraine, do you think that there’s room for them to do that with this new government?
MR PRICE: This is a question for Ukraine, primarily. Israel, of course, has a relationship with Ukraine. Israel has a relationship with Russia. Israel’s relationship with Russia looks different from the relationship the United States has with Russia. That’s okay. We are – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Just can you elaborate on that? How so, exactly?
MR PRICE: Well, obviously there are different interests that the Israelis have. I will let them speak to their interests and the details of their relationship with Russia. But we’ve consistently made the point that a number of countries around the world have engaged with the Russians in an effort to bring about an end to their illegal, unprovoked, unjustified war. There is nothing wrong with communication. We have communicated with our partners in the Russian Federation when it implicates our core interests.
What matters much more to us, rather than the fact of communication, is the nature of the messages that are being conveyed. And if Israel or any other country has the ability to help bring about an end to Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, that’s something we would welcome as long as the terms of that effort are acceptable to our Ukrainian partners. These are ultimately decisions for them and not for us, not for any other country.
QUESTION: May I follow up with –
QUESTION: Follow-up —
MR PRICE: Go ahead, Alex, and then – yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Israel in the past expressed its interest in sabotaging Iran’s nuclear plans. I was wondering, given Iran’s increasing efforts to supply Russia with drones – just in 48 hours Ukrainians shot down 90, near 90 Iranian-made drones – is it a subject of discussion between U.S. and Israel to stop their cooperation against Iranian-made drones?
And also, the administration expresses interest in creating – establishing extensive task force to figure out how the U.S. or Western materials are ending up in Iranian drone-making factory. Is this a subject to those phone calls between the U.S. and Israeli officials?
MR PRICE: We have absolutely had discussions with our Israeli partners regarding the threat presented by Iranian UAV technology and the proliferation of Iranian UAV technology to countries around the world, including to Russia. This has been the subject of conversations between senior State Department officials. It was a topic of conversation between Jake Sullivan and his counterpart at the White House just before the holidays. And as we’ve made clear, we have taken steps using our own authorities that seek to disrupt this proliferation network. We have designated Iranian individuals and entities. We’re continuing to look for targets that meet the – that would be satisfactory in terms of this – authorities that we have at our disposal. We’re looking to harmonize our approach with countries, allies and partners, around the world to see to it that we are taking a coordinated approach to disrupt this pipeline of technology from Iran to Russia and other malign actors.
QUESTION: And what is your assessment on why Russia is stepping up drone – and perhaps I should also ask how —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, what was the question?
QUESTION: Why is Russia stepping up its drone attacks during the past couple of days? What is your assessment on that?
MR PRICE: You would have to ask that question to Russia. What is clear to everyone is that President Putin’s war aims have been a failure. They have been a failure since the earliest days of this conflict. The advances that our Ukrainian partners have made in recent months and recent weeks have again put a spotlight on the failings that we’ve seen from the Russian Federation. Whether this is a case of pure barbarism and vindictiveness or something else, I’m not in a position to characterize that.
But what I can say is that the Russians are increasingly turning to critical infrastructure, to energy targets, to civilian targets, and that to us reeks of barbarism, desperation, and ultimately a failing strategy.
MR PRICE: Afghanistan? Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Happy New Year.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: As you – thank you. As you mentioned, unfortunately we didn’t celebrate it because of Afghan girl and Afghan women in Afghanistan. They are crying. Even if you watch the TV – now we are living in globalization, immediately we get news. Any update to bring or influence, as of course you guys have influences to Taliban? Any change? Because still the Taliban keep the commitment; they say this is Sharia law, they are not going to open the schools.
And number two, the second question: Pakistan announced that they are attack to Afghanistan because they said that Afghan Taliban encourage Pakistani Taliban to do something in their country. I don’t know if they attack in Afghanistan in this situation. It’s really crisis in Afghanistan (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Nazira, I don’t need to tell you now that we have seen repeated offenses on the part of the Afghan Taliban targeting the women, the girls, the people of Afghanistan repeatedly. Most recently it was on December 24th, on Christmas Eve, when the Taliban issued the edict barring humanitarian organizations from working with women, barring female employees of national and international nongovernmental organizations from the workplace. It was not lost on us that the Taliban announced this decision on December 24th; they may well have calculated that the United States and our partners around the world, many of our partners around the world, would have been distracted by the Christmas holiday, perhaps would have been slow in responding.
We wanted to be very clear and very swift in condemning this outrageous decision. It was that very day that Secretary Blinken, that Deputy Secretary Sherman, that Tom West, our special representative for Afghanistan, that Rina Amiri, our special envoy for Afghan women and girls, that Karen Decker, the head of our Afghan Affairs Unit, and others very clearly used their voices to condemn this move. It was just a couple days later when the G7, along with a number of other countries, put out a statement noting our collective grave concern about this reckless and this dangerous edict barring women from working with international NGOs.
This decision puts at risk millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for their very survival. We call on the Taliban to urgently reverse this harmful decision. We are monitoring the evolving situation very closely, the impacts that this edict has had and may potentially yet have, and we’re in constant contact with UN and NGO partners on the state of their operations in Afghanistan.
We know that women are central to humanitarian operations around the world. In Afghanistan in particular, only women have been able until now, at least, to reach some of the most vulnerable people inside Afghanistan. Women must work at NGOs. They must be in a position to do so, so that millions of Afghans can receive food, medicine, winterization materials, again for their very survival. They’re essential to the delivery of this assistance and to ensuring that other women, children, and other members of vulnerable group – vulnerable groups – excuse me – receive this assistance.
This ban is already significantly impeding humanitarian actors’ ability to deliver vital and lifesaving assistance to millions, and it’s actually forced some organizations to pause their operations. The Taliban continue to demonstrate their contempt for the welfare and the rights and freedoms of the Afghan people, particularly women and girls, and their disinterest in normal relations with the international community.
We are assessing the impact on this edict. We’re discussing options that will allow us to maintain a strong, principled position as the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan while also doing what we can to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating even further as a result of the difficult operating environment the Taliban have themselves created.
We are committed to helping to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people, who are the victims of the Taliban’s own harmful policies, and we are looking at what specific consequences can be labeled – can be levied against the Taliban to register our condemnation – again, doing so in coordination with allies and partners.
QUESTION: And Taliban didn’t pay attention. Practically, what is the next action of the United State?
MR PRICE: Well –
QUESTION: Because Taliban say we didn’t see anything and do agreement. We didn’t see anything about human right. That’s why they didn’t pay attention. They say we follow sharia law. They never change ideology. Taliban is kind of ideology. What will be your next action, United State and Europe?
MR PRICE: We are discussing those very specific consequences both internally and with allies and partners. We have said repeatedly that there will be a response from the United States. We’re going to continue to coordinate closely. We’ll share additional details on that when we have.
To your – to the broader point of your question, the Taliban have made commitments to the international community. But more importantly, they have made commitments to the Afghan people. Those are the commitments we care most about. Among the commitments the Taliban have made but have repeatedly broken when it comes to their own people is an emphasis on human rights, is an emphasis on forming a government that represents the people of Afghanistan, and a number of other steps that the Taliban have been unable or unwilling to fulfill.
As long as the Taliban is not able to fulfill these commitments, we will respond in a way that registers our strong condemnation while continuing to support the Afghan people. And we’re going to be very careful not to do anything that could further imperil the humanitarian well-being of the Afghan people.
When it comes to your first question, or your second question, on Pakistan, we’re aware of the recent statement by the Pakistani National Security Committee. The Pakistani people have suffered tremendously from terrorist attacks. Pakistan has a right to defend itself from terrorism.
And meanwhile, we continue, just as I said a moment ago, to call on the Taliban to uphold the very commitment they have made to see to it that Afghan soil is never again used as a launchpad for international terrorist attacks. These are among the very commitments that the Taliban have been unable or unwilling to fulfill to date.
QUESTION: So but, Ned, it’s been since this – since December 24th it’s been 10 days, 11 days, right? So by your own calculation, isn’t it – the Taliban will look to be – look to have been correct that there would be a slow international response if they announced this on Christmas eve.
MR PRICE: Matt, we —
QUESTION: So there’s nothing other than these collective statements of grave concern has actually been done —
MR PRICE: Which, in fact, is itself important because it very clearly signals the response from the United States. Many of our partners responded in close succession shortly after we did. The G7 issued a statement on December 28th along with several other countries, and I can assure you —
MR PRICE: I can assure you that we have been having detailed discussions with our partners, with international NGOs —
QUESTION: But nothing has actually been done other than this – other than this – the statement?
MR PRICE: There have been engagements on the part of the UN and Taliban officials as well. We want to make sure we understand the implications of this edict and how we can best respond to it if it is not in fact —
QUESTION: But —
MR PRICE: If it is not in fact overturned.
QUESTION: But the implications are that all these aid groups have pulled out.
MR PRICE: There are – Matt, there are a number of aid groups. I believe there is a coalition of 11 NGOs who have had to suspend their operation – operations. But other NGOs continue to operate.
We want to respond in a way that first and foremost protects the humanitarian interests of the Afghan people. That is what the Taliban is attempting to denigrate, attempting to attack. We want to make sure that in our response we register the strong condemnation that you’ve already heard for us – heard from us, while doing so in a way that doesn’t further imperil the humanitarian well-being of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the – Happy Near Year.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: I have two questions, South and North Korea issues. And the first question: North Korean Kim Jong-un has recently launched multiple missile and drone strikes. He also pointed to mass production of nuclear warheads and the use of nuclear weapons against the South Korea. Therefore South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol announced that South Korea and the United States are planning for a joint U.S. nuclear operations plan and the implementation to counter North Korea’s nuclear. What is the U.S. position on this?
MR PRICE: So in terms of extended deterrence, we are fully committed to our alliance with the ROK and providing extended deterrence through the full range of U.S. defense capabilities. The two presidents, President Yoon and President Biden, discussed this at their meeting in Cambodia late last year. They tasked their teams to plan for an effective coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including nuclear weapons use by the DPRK.
We take extended deterrence very seriously. There was a meeting of the Extended Deterrence Working Group between senior officials at the State Department. Some of our partners in the interagency with our ROK counterparts late last year were continuing to have discussions to see to it that extended deterrence is meaningful and that we can demonstrate both in word and in deed that our commitment to the security of the ROK and Japan as our treaty allies is ironclad.
QUESTION: So what are the differences between U.S. and South Korea? Any difference in positions between U.S. and South Korea?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that there are differences. I would refer you to our allies in the ROK to speak to their perspective on this. But when it comes to extended deterrence, we are on precisely the same page. That was very clear in the successful meeting of the Extended Deterrence Working Group that we had last September.
Our commitment to the ROK’s security, to the security of Japan as well, has been front and center in every one of our bilateral and trilateral engagements with our South Korean and Japanese allies, and that will continue to be the case.
QUESTION: One more. Kim Jong-un is choosing military confrontation rather than dialogue. How do you view the possibility of dialogue with North Korea?
MR PRICE: This is a better question for the DPRK. You are right in the sense that the DPRK regime has repeatedly appeared to embrace provocation over dialogue and diplomacy. We think that’s unfortunate. We think that is unwarranted. We think that is ultimately unwise for the DPRK.
We have made repeatedly clear that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We are prepared to engage in constructive, good-faith, principled dialogue towards what is our ultimate goal. That is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Now, of course I referred you to the DPRK on this question because they are the ones who have repeatedly refused to engage in that. Until and unless the DPRK’s approach changes, our approach will continue apace. We will continue to maintain pressure, to add additional pressure as warranted on the DPRK, and to signal both in word and in deed our commitment to the security of our treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific.
MR PRICE: So this was a phone call that the two had over the weekend. This was a phone call that primarily was to bid adieu to the outgoing ambassador, and to the new foreign minister it was a phone call really to set the stage for what will be their relationship going forward as counterparts. Secretary Blinken did have an opportunity to have a meeting with Qin Gang in his role as PRC ambassador to the United States last month, in December. Going forward, their relationship will be one of counterparts. And I – and we fully expect that Secretary Blinken will have a number of opportunities in the coming weeks and months to speak to Qin Gang as foreign minister, to see Qin Gang, we expect, in the PRC in the coming weeks as well.
QUESTION: Qin Gang despite – in his tweets he said he appreciates several candid, in-depth, and constructive meetings with Secretary Blinken. You mentioned one meeting; do you recall any other meetings between them?
MR PRICE: I do. They’ve had multiple opportunities to see one another in Washington here at the Department of State. Qin Gang is someone who has been to this building a number of times, he’s had a number of meetings with our deputy secretary, but he’s also had multiple meetings with the Secretary in addition to his meetings with White House and other officials here in Washington.
QUESTION: And lastly, Qin Gang is considered as more softspoken and less confrontational diplomat. Do you see his appointment as a positive sign for U.S.-China relations?
MR PRICE: Look, our approach to the PRC is predicated on our interests, and it is predicated on the knowledge that this is a relationship that is dominated by competition, a relationship where there will be and must be areas for constructive collaboration, but also one in which there will be profound disagreements and even areas that are more adversarial than not.
So rather than focus on who is in any particular position, we are focused on how we can manage this broad bilateral relationship – arguably the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world – constructively and responsively. It’s not only what is in our interest, but it is something that the rest of the world expects of us as well.
QUESTION: A follow-up on China?
QUESTION: I have questions on China.
MR PRICE: Okay, sure.
QUESTION: Thanks. Restrictions on people traveling from China to the U.S. go into effect in a couple of days. Chinese officials as recently as earlier today called this a political move not based on science. They are vowing to reciprocate. How do you respond?
MR PRICE: Well, this was and this is an approach that is based solely and exclusively on science. Ever since the earliest days of this administration, we have based these types of decisions – that are made, by the way, by the CDC in close consultation with this Department of State and others – but that are based on science, that are based on epidemiology, that are based on the very public health concerns that undergird them.
In this case, due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the PRC, and the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the PRC, we’re taking deliberate, proactive steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, and to be on alert for any potential COVID-19 variants emerging. These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and to decrease the chance for the entry of a novel variant of concern.
Other countries have been driven by the same concerns and have applied similar measures during the current surge of COVID cases in the PRC. As we’ve said, and Secretary Blinken said the last time he was here, we have offered the PRC vaccines and other COVID-19 support. The PRC has indicated publicly that it appreciates the offer, but doesn’t need the support. We continue to stand by that offer.
QUESTION: And a second question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: China continues to build up artificial islands in the South China Sea, and most recently there were satellite images of the Spratly Islands being built up further. Other than calling on China to respect international law, what is this administration doing or what can this administration do to prevent further build-up?
MR PRICE: So this is something – a concern that we have worked together with allies and partners, again, since the earliest days of this administration. It’s a concern that we’ve registered jointly in some cases with our allies in the Indo-Pacific. We issued a statement regarding our concerns vis-à-vis the Philippines just before the holidays. It’s also a concern that we share with many of our partners on the other side of the world, with our European allies and partners.
One of the elements that we spent a great deal of time doing in our first year in office, in 2021, was attempting to develop alignment with allies and partners regarding the various challenges that are posed by the PRC. We came into office at a time where there was relatively little alignment. We saw many of our closest allies and partners taking markedly different approaches to the PRC. We – because of, by dint of, the investment we made in trying and attempting to forge that alignment with partners in the Indo-Pacific and in Europe both, as well as places in between, we now arrive at the challenges and we now confront the challenges from the PRC from a much stronger position. So we have continued to register our concern. If there are practical steps that we can or that we need to take, we are in a position to do that much more effectively, now that we are bringing a large number of allies and partners along with us.
QUESTION: COVID and China.
MR PRICE: One – okay. Go ahead. Sure.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Obviously, you and other U.S. officials and the World Health Organization has repeatedly asked and pressured China to share more data about the COVID cases in the country right now. Is there anything the Biden administration can do to compel them to share that information? Because it’s obviously dangerous for the rest of the world, so will they face any cost if they don’t?
MR PRICE: Well, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where we are, and I understand that PRC officials are meeting with WHO officials today on this very question. This is ultimately a question for the World Health Organization, as the body that is in receipt or at least should be in receipt of much of this genomic and epidemiological data. It is not only in the rest of the world’s interest that the PRC does this because of the potential emergence of variants – something we’ve seen from other parts of the world before – but it’s also profoundly in the PRC’s interest to demonstrate that they are being transparent, that they’re being candid, that they are being forthcoming when it comes to the toll and the genetic makeup of the virus that is circulating inside the PRC.
As I said before, the pre-departure testing requirements that we’ve put in place are a result not only of the prevalence of COVID within the PRC but also the lack of sufficient transparency from the PRC. If the PRC wants to see countries do away with various requirements that have been put in place, there is a way to help bring that about, and that is with additional transparency.
QUESTION: And you think the WHO has sufficient tools to pressure China to share that information?
MR PRICE: Look, I will leave it to the WHO to speak to their engagement with the PRC. Long before this COVID surge in the PRC, we have consistently called for additional transparency from the PRC regarding COVID, including in the context of COVID origins. We think it is profoundly in the world’s interest but it’s also profoundly in the PRC’s interest that they do so as well.
QUESTION: But not preparing to do anything if they don’t, just to be clear, from the U.S.?
MR PRICE: Again, that is a hypothetical that we’re just not entertaining —
QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical. They aren’t sharing now.
MR PRICE: — that at the moment. These are ongoing conversations between the PRC and the WHO, and we’ll wait to see how those play out.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Happy New Year.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: As you aware, U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas was harassed by the Bangladesh (inaudible) supporter while he was visiting to the home of opposition activist Sajedul Islam Sumon to meet with the families of victims of enforced disappearances. Russia believes this incident is an expected result of the activity of the American diplomat, and over the holidays, from Moscow, Russian spokesperson characterized it as a turn to interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. So is not it then interference by the Russian? And what action has been taken by the Bangladesh Government for this organized incident? As we have heard, one of the personal staff of a ruling minister orchestrated this so-called demonstration against the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh.
MR PRICE: Look, I’m just not going to weigh in on what we have heard from Russia on this. As you know, we often don’t weigh in on propaganda. What I can say from our part is that we routinely meet with a variety of stakeholders across the political spectrum in every country in which the United States has a diplomatic presence, and, of course, that includes in Bangladesh.
The message that we’ve conveyed regarding what we’ve seen in recent months in Bangladesh has been one of concern, concern about reports of intimidation, of political violence in Bangladesh. We’ve called on the government to respect and protect the fundamental freedoms of expression, of association, and peaceful assembly for the people of Bangladesh. That’s something you’ve heard from me. It’s something you’ve heard from this department. It’s something you’ve heard from our ambassador in Bangladesh. We stand by those calls, and we’ll continue to issue them. It is what we do around the world.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Will you call for immediate release of the opposition leaders, as thousands – Bangladesh Government arrested thousands opposition leaders and activists, including the party secretary general? And, as you know, the party chairperson also is in house arrest for a long time.
MR PRICE: Well, we call on all parties in Bangladesh to respect the rule of law, to refrain from violence, from harassment, from intimidation. We call on the government to ensure that no party or candidate threatens, incites, or conducts violence against another party or candidate, and genuine elections require the ability of all candidates to engage voters free from violence, harassment, and intimidation. When it comes to reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, unjustified detention, we call on the government to investigate these reports thoroughly, transparently, impartially, and to hold the perpetrators to account.
QUESTION: Ned, there are some reports that U.S. is to take some initiatives, including mediation, for demarcation of the maritime jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Turkey, and south Cyprus in order to ensure the safe use of energy resources in the region. Do you have anything on that? Can you update us?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything specifically on efforts at demarcation. If we do, we can share those with you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy New Year, Ned.
MR PRICE: Happy New Year.
QUESTION: In his phone call with Eli Cohen, Secretary Blinken said that the Biden administration is likely to seek the EU to join the effort to up the sanctions on Iran. Do you have any details of this joint effort? Anything new or when this has started?
MR PRICE: Well, this goes back to what I was saying earlier in the briefing. We have consistently taken action using the authorities that are available to us to attempt to counteract the flow of and the provision of Iranian UAV technology to other countries around the world, including to Russia. Without forecasting what’s to come, I am confident that we will continue to take additional steps. We’re always looking for additional targets that meet the statutory requirements for our various authorities, and we’ll do what we can to hold Iran to account.
We’ve seen the same approach from many of our European allies as well. Each European country has its own unique authorities; the EU has its own unique authorities. It is our task to coordinate those authorities and, where we can, to harmonize those authorities. Sometimes we will take steps that are slightly different, but in all cases those steps will be complementary with one another.
QUESTION: But this is only about UAVs, just to clarify. It has nothing to do with nuclear or snapback mechanism, just UAVs.
MR PRICE: Well, we have used our authorities against Iran, as have our European allies, on – for a range of concerns: UAV technology, support to terrorism, support to proxies, human rights abuses, attempts to block the Iranian people from accessing the open internet. So we have used a range of authorities for a range of concerns, and that will continue.
QUESTION: And I have one more question. On New Year’s Eve, there were simultaneous organized tweets about Iran in 2023 and the future and the victory that’s going to belong to people. It was mentioned in those tweets. It was published by 60 important Iranian public figures who are somehow leading the opposition against the Islamic Republic, including Prince Reza Pahlavi. These tweets gave hope to people that, somehow, maybe a coalition against Islamic Republic can be formed. If this happens, can you tell us that you are going to support that coalition?
MR PRICE: Well, first and foremost this is a question for the people of Iran, how or if they want to organize themselves. What we have seen over the course of the now multiple months of protests by the Iranian people has been remarkable in many senses, in the sense that it has – it was – it has been sparked and in many ways carried by the women and girls of Iran, but also the fact that it has been organic, it has crossed ethnic lines, it has crossed geographic lines inside of Iran, and it has in a sense been leaderless. That has allowed these protesters to continue and to persist with their efforts in ways that previous movements in Iran have not been able to.
So this is a question for the people of Iran how they wish to organize themselves, what they wish to call for, what they see as their ultimate objective. It is our role and responsibility to support their freedom of expression, their freedom of assembly, every single other universal right and freedom that belongs to the Iranian people.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR PRICE: A follow-up and then I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. The new Israeli prime minister and his government are going to follow up on his previous old policy with regards to the nuclear talks, and he has said that they’re going to try their best to stop the revival of that agreement. Is the Biden administration now a little more maybe on the same page with the new Israeli Government, given that the talks have practically came to a standstill, during the last six months they’ve been at a standstill, and the fact that President Biden said during a midterm election campaign that the JCPOA is dead?
MR PRICE: So on the first part of your question, we’re always in intensive and constant discussion with Israel on Iran, including on Iran’s nuclear program. There is no greater supporter of Israel’s security than President Biden, and we remain ironclad – our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.
The point we’ve made is that the Iranians killed the opportunity for a swift return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. They most recently did so in September when they turned their backs on a deal that was by all accounts essentially finalized, ready to go. Since then the JCPOA just hasn’t been on the agenda. It hasn’t been on the agenda for months. It hasn’t been our focus. Since September especially, our focus has been on standing up, as I was telling your colleague, for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people and countering Iran’s deepening military partnership with Russia and its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
So even though the JCPOA hasn’t been on the agenda for months, what is very much alive is President Biden’s absolute commitment to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but we’ve always been clear we’re not going to remove options from the table, and we’re going to discuss all options with our partners, including, of course, Israel.
QUESTION: And Iran’s bringing – has been bringing this subject up at least during the last three, four weeks, at least – and at least once every week. Have you – have they communicated anything? Do you see them bringing the subject up as maybe something to overshadow what’s going on in – with the demonstrations? Or do you see any seriousness? Have you seen any indication of any seriousness?
MR PRICE: Well, look, the fact is that for months now we have only seen foot-dragging and empty promises by Iran. Nothing we have heard suggests that Iran has changed. We remain very skeptical of anything coming out of Tehran on this issue. We’ve also heard what, in some cases, is just purely fiction emanating from Iran. The JCPOA, as we’ve said, has not been our focus. Claims that we are presently engaged in talks to revive the JCPOA – that’s just false.
QUESTION: Keeping on Iran, the UK is reportedly set to label the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Can you broadly say whether that’s something the U.S. would support and whether there are there any concerns that designation might further derail the stalled talks?
MR PRICE: Well, we encourage our allies and partners to consider any applicable sanctions authorities, including whether the IRGC should be designated as a terrorist organization under their laws. As you know, in this country the IRGC remains designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization as a specially designated global terrorist organization.
MR PRICE: Well, that is really a question not for us. It may not even be a question for Ukraine. In fact, it probably is not one. It is really a question for Russia, because it is ultimately Russia that is going to have to make the decision regarding putting an end to the war that Russia itself started.
As I said in the statement at the top of this briefing, Russia could end this war today if it were to remove its troops from Ukraine. It could do so tomorrow. If Russia were to stop fighting, the war would end. If Ukraine were to stop fighting, Ukraine would end. Secretary Blinken made that point late last year. It remains as true as ever today.
We’ve heard from President Zelenskyy and some of his advisors their vision for a just peace. They have made very clear that what they seek is a just peace. We want to see that just and durable peace come into existence as well. But the point we’ve made since last year is that just as President Zelenskyy was presenting that vision of a just peace, there was a split screen. On one screen, it was President Zelenskyy speaking to the G20 about his vision for a just peace. On the other, it was additional Russian bombs and missiles raining down predominately on civilian targets, on energy targets, on infrastructure targets, on schools, on residential buildings, on playgrounds, on hospitals. That is what we have seen play out time and again over recent months.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR PRICE: Let me go to you, and then I’ll —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you tell us more about the new ambassador – U.S. Ambassador to Russia Tracy’s mission in Moscow? And Senator Schumer recently said that she will be tasked with standing up to Putin. Do you agree with this view? And when will she arrive to Moscow?
MR PRICE: So she was just confirmed late last year. I know that the ambassador very much looks forward to moving to her post in Moscow, where she will be an excellent steward of U.S. policy towards the Russian Federation. She obviously is no stranger to Moscow. She served as the deputy chief of mission there before. And she’s someone who knows the bilateral relationship as well, if not better than, anyone. So we look forward to having her in place.
We look forward to having her in place because it’s important that we have Senate-confirmed ambassadors in place representing the United States around the world, but it’s especially important in the case of Russia that we maintain channels of communication. We think channels of communication are important in times of tension. They’re vitally important in times of conflict such as now. So I know that in the coming days she’ll have an opportunity to settle in in Moscow and to begin leading the mission, as I know she’s eager to do.
QUESTION: Any meetings with Russian officials to preview, to discuss New START or irritants?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, late last year there was a planned meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Committee. We were very much looking forward to the meeting of the BCC. We are grateful to Egypt for hosting that meeting on Egyptian soil. But at the very last minute, unfortunately, Russia decided to cancel that engagement.
This goes back to what I was saying a moment ago. We believe that lines of communication and channels of communication are important. They are important especially so when it comes to issues of strategic stability. And we hope to see this rescheduled, but ultimately that’s going to be a question for Russia.
Alex and then —
QUESTION: Yeah, two questions. Going back to your opening statement, you said that we will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes, which is appreciated, but also it sounds like a borrowed talking point from last year. We heard French president yesterday say that France will stand with Ukraine until victory. Are you prepared to say the same by reflecting the U.S. policy towards Ukraine?
MR PRICE: That is our approach. We are going to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will continue to work with allies and partners to do that. We ultimately want to see an independent, sovereign, prosperous Ukraine with the means to defend itself. This is the end state that President Biden put forward in his op-ed late last year. It continues to be the end state that our approach is tailored to help bring about.
QUESTION: So U.S. will stand with Ukraine until victory?
MR PRICE: We want to see a Ukraine that is independent, that is sovereign, that is prosperous, and that has the ability to defend itself.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And lastly, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, when the Secretary brought the foreign ministers together here in this town, you were – expressed hopes that the ministers will meet again. And there were some hopes that they would also maybe sign some agreement until the end of the year. Do you have any disappointment on your end that the talks went nowhere? The ministers, in fact, hadn’t even met in December. And can you just give us sort of like bigger picture of what we should be raising for – are there concerns that talks will go nowhere and the sides are back to the confrontation again?
MR PRICE: Well, we continue to maintain our commitment to promoting a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. We continue to engage bilaterally with likeminded partners like the European Union and through international organizations like the OSCE to facilitate direct dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia to find solutions to all outstanding issues relating to or resulting from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
As you know, there were a couple of occasions where the Secretary himself had an opportunity to bring together his partners, his counterparts, from Armenia and Azerbaijan. We did so once here in Washington at Blair House late last year. We did so once in New York City on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September. We will continue to do what, in our estimation, has the best prospects of moving forward that vision of a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful South Caucasus region. We, of course, want to see the parties make progress themselves. It is not for us to prescribe what a comprehensive solution to this conflict looks like. That is the hard work that the parties themselves will have to do.
MR PRICE: We have been routinely engaged, and we will remain very much engaged, with the parties bilaterally, trilaterally, through the OSCE, through other partners as well, to help bring about that end state.
QUESTION: On Paul Whelan, after Brittney Griner’s release, you guys said it was your expectation that dialogue would continue to secure his release. So have those negotiations, those conversations between U.S. and Russian officials, actually happened at all in recent weeks?
MR PRICE: We have had direct conversations with Russian officials regarding Paul Whelan, who remains wrongfully detained and who we are determined to bring home to his family, to his loved ones, just as soon as we can. Our imperative is to see that outcome brought about swiftly, so it doesn’t do us any good to speak to the details of that. But we’ve said we are going to be committed, we’re going to be relentless, we’re going to be creative in doing everything we can to bring about Paul Whelan’s return to the United States, return to his family.
QUESTION: Any seriousness with which the Russians engaged in the dialogue?
MR PRICE: I’m just not prepared to characterize it at the moment, and again, don’t want to do – say anything that could jeopardize his return.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Especially that this will affect many people in the opposition and will affect negatively your friends in SDF forces and your – the war against terrorism.
MR PRICE: Well, as I understand it, this was a trilateral engagement involving Syria, Turkey, and the Russian Federation as well. Our policy, which is all I can speak to, is – has not changed. We do not support countries upgrading their relations or expressing support to rehabilitate the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. We urge states to carefully consider the Assad regime’s atrocious human rights record the past 12 years as it continues to inflict atrocities on the Syrian people and to deny access to lifesaving humanitarian aid. As the Syrian people continue to suffer through nearly a dozen years of war, our support for a Syrian-led political solution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 remains firm, and we’ll continue to work with allies, partners, and the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.
QUESTION: But did you talk with Turkey about this issue?
MR PRICE: We’ve made very clear to all of our allies and partners that now is not the time to normalize relations, now is not the time to upgrade relations, and countries should be mindful of the atrocious human rights record that the Assad regime has inflicted upon its people over the past 12 years.
Thank you all very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:31 p.m.)