Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. I expect everyone had a chance to see the deputy secretary after the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council earlier today, but as you have likely heard, earlier today in Brussels, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman represented the United States at the NATO-Russia Council, where 30 sovereign NATO member nations spoke separately, but also as one.
As Deputy Secretary Sherman said, it was a very serious conversation, it was a direct conversation in Brussels today. The NATO Allies spoke in complete unity in support of a set of critical principles, including the fact that all countries must be able to choose their own foreign policy orientation; that sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct, they must be respected; that all nations are and must be free to choose their own partnerships and alliances.
The challenge posed by – the challenge posed to the Russian delegation today is to respond to what they heard from the United States, from NATO, from our European allies and partners, to de-escalate tensions, to choose the path of diplomacy, and to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue.
In today’s meeting, the NATO Allies offered their views on areas where NATO and Russia could potentially make progress together in a way that strengthens collective security for all of us – and indeed for the world. These include reciprocal actions around risk reduction and transparency, improved communication, and arms control.
The United States and our NATO Allies were united in our response to the Russian delegation, including when it comes to certain core Russian principles that, as we have made very clear, are simply non-starters.
Together, the United States and our NATO Allies made clear we will not allow anyone, as you have heard, to slam shut NATO’s so-called “Open Door,” a policy which has always been central to the NATO Alliance ever since its founding.
In Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meetings yesterday with our EU partners, she discussed our work together and with the G7 to prepare coordinated economic measures – measures that would exact a severe price for Russia’s economy and financial system – should Russia make that tragic mistake.
At the Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva on Monday, as you’ve heard, the United States raised several preliminary ideas for our countries to take reciprocal actions that would be in our collective security interests and that would also improve strategic stability.
Informed by the meetings we have held so far, as well as by tomorrow’s OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna, governments in all three diplomatic tracks – the bilateral track, the NATO track, the OSCE track – will reflect on this week’s discussions and determine appropriate next steps.
It is Russia, as you have heard, that has a stark choice to make: de-escalation and diplomacy, which of course remains our preferred course, or confrontation and consequences. We expect the Russian delegations at the SSD, at the NATO-Russia Council, and tomorrow at the OSCE will have to report back to President Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security, and knowing that we are sincere, and that we are steadfast when we say we prefer the course of diplomacy and dialogue.
We’ve already seen a significant effort by Moscow to make false claims about Europe, Ukraine, and the United States in an effort to excuse Russia’s behavior and potentially create a pretext for Russia to further invade Ukraine.
No one should be surprised if Russia spreads disinformation about commitments that have not been made, or if Moscow goes even further and instigates something as a pretext for further destabilizing activity. As you heard from the deputy this morning, we urge everyone not to fall for Moscow’s continuing disinformation.
With that, happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Hmm. Okay. Thank you for that recap. In an effort which I suspect will be entirely unsuccessful to prevent you from going over all of that again, has anything changed in the four hours since Deputy Secretary Sherman gave her news conference? Is there anything new that you can report to us, or is – are any questions that we ask now going to be answered by the same opening spiel you gave and her answers to the reporters at the press conference in Brussels?
MR PRICE: Well, I would say —
QUESTION: Is there anything new, or no? Can we move –
MR PRICE: I have a —
QUESTION: Can we move on to something else?
MR PRICE: You are – Matt, you are welcome to ask whatever you’d like.
QUESTION: I’ll let other – no, I’ll let other – I’ll let my colleagues go.
MR PRICE: Okay. Okay. Great, Missy.
QUESTION: Oh, hi.
MR PRICE: Hey.
QUESTION: Ned, I just want to clarify, following up on Matt’s question about the talks this morning —
MR PRICE: I didn’t realize there was a question associated with that.
QUESTION: — or the comment, or question —
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: So there was – the secretary general mentioned something about NATO countries saying that they were interested in potentially a reciprocal reopening of the missions in Moscow and Brussels. But then the deputy foreign minister from Russia made it sound like they were not interested in that. Is that – first of all, do you know what the state of play on that is? And is that – has the United States or is the United States planning to pursue that as a specific confidence-building measure or one of the proposals where there might be mutual agreement? And is there anything else you can tell us in addition to what Wendy Sherman said earlier about whether or not the Russians – what they indicated in terms of their openness to committing to anything beyond being at the OSCE meeting tomorrow?
MR PRICE: Well, Missy, to your first question, we have always been very clear that we believe dialogue, we believe diplomacy, we believe engagement is important. We believe it’s especially important when times – when tensions are high. This is certainly one of them. That’s why we support the secretary general’s statement that NATO Allies are interested in looking at the possibility of re-establishing respective NATO and Russian offices in Moscow and Brussels.
Regarding future NATO-Russia Council sessions, as proposed by the secretary general, it’s also our hope that Russia will choose the path of de-escalation and diplomacy and engage in further dialogue with NATO. But the point in all of this is that the NATO Alliance came together today. Russia had an opportunity to hear from the secretary general, from the 30 Allies. And we hope that Russia will choose to remain engaged in this diplomatic process. It’s not for us to say what the Russians will choose or will not choose. It is for us to say what our preference is, what we are prepared to do. We are very much prepared to continue to engage in diplomacy. That remains our very strong preference. It remains our strong preference because we’ve been clear about the alternative, and the alternative that we have spoken to, that our NATO Allies and partners have spoken to as well is one of a strong response with unprecedented consequences for the Russian economy and for the Russian Federation.
We hope that remains a hypothetical. In order for it to remain a hypothetical, what we will need to see are a couple things. We will need to see continued engagement, and I think you heard from representatives of the Russian Federation today that they found the meeting today useful. I think they made similar comments after the Strategic Stability Dialogue on Monday. We hope that is a signal that they will be willing to continue down this path. But the other point is that dialogue and diplomacy are important, but we also need to see progress. And progress can only take place meaningfully in the context of de-escalation. De-escalation is not something we have seen yet, and in fact, you’ve – we’ve all seen reports of exercises and live fire drills that seem to be moving in the other direction. So we hope to continue with dialogue and diplomacy, and we hope that that dialogue and diplomacy bears fruit.
QUESTION: If I could – just to press you since we were not in these actual sessions, am I correct to understand that the Russian side did not commit to any follow-on talks beyond the OSCE, be it the Russia-NATO venue, or some bilateral venue, or any other venue?
MR PRICE: Well, a couple things. So I think you heard – and I wouldn’t dare speak for the Russian Federation – but I think you heard from them today that they were going to undertake consultations back in Moscow, which we understand to be the case. The deputy did say, after her engagement with Foreign Minister Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday, that we would expect to have additional engagement with the Russian Federation in the coming days. We hope that engagement takes place, we hope this diplomatic track continues, but even more importantly, we hope it bears fruit.
QUESTION: Hi. Just to follow up on that —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — do you have any update on what form this follow-up engagement between the U.S. and Russia may have, take in the following days, when it will happen, if it will be at what level – the presidents, the secretaries, et cetera?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything I’m able to share at this point today, but what I can tell you about – what I can tell you about is the process to get there. And part of the process, a core element of the process was the engagement we had on Monday, was the engagement that NATO as an Alliance had today in Brussels. But just as importantly, if not in some ways even more importantly, was what has taken place before Monday in the weeks and months since November, but also what took place in the aftermath of Monday and before the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council today. And that is the concerted dialogue, consultation, coordination that we have undertaken with our NATO Allies, with European partners, with other multilateral organizations and bodies to include the G7, the EU, and other groupings of countries like the B9, and of course our engagements with the – with our Ukrainian partners as well. So what we learned on Monday, what we heard from the Russian delegation today in Brussels, we are comparing notes with all of those allies and partners as we figure out how best to continue down this path of dialogue and diplomacy, making clear that it remains our strong preference. We have made no bones about that, and we hope that in – that we will continue to see the Russians take part in that engagement.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: And then – sorry. If I may, what happens if there is no de-escalation, the troops remain at the border but no escalation either? They don’t invade Russia – Ukraine, sorry. Because you said for the sanctions to remain a hypothetical, you need progress and de-escalation. Does that mean that if the status quo remains, some part of the sanctions can be enacted?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been very clear that the package of measures that we have spoken to with our allies and partners, that package would be enacted in the event of additional Russian aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: But what happens if there’s a status quo?
MR PRICE: If there is a status quo, we will continue to engage in diplomacy and dialogue. But we’ve been very clear that that diplomacy and dialogue can only produce results if it takes place in the context of de-escalation. In all of this, our goal has not been to have talks for the sake of talks. Diplomacy, of course, is a means to an end. And the end we would like to see here are reciprocal measures that redound positively on our collective security – our collective security, meaning the security of the United States, of the transatlantic alliance, of NATO, of our European partners as well.
There are other areas, and Moscow has made clear they have their own purported concerns. It seems that they too would like to see certain steps taken, some of which we have made very clear are non-starters, others of which may not be. And so if we are to make progress, if we are to arrive at and take action on those reciprocal measures, that will need to take place in the context of de-escalation.
QUESTION: So okay, just let me get this straight. So thirteen and a half minutes in, the answer to my question, has anything changed since the deputy secretary spoke in Brussels, the answer is no. Right?
MR PRICE: But let me – let me – let me —
QUESTION: You – I’m sorry, but you could have —
MR PRICE: — let me ask —
QUESTION: You could have just said no, nothing is different, and you’d – and instead – I get why you want to do it, but —
MR PRICE: Matt, we won’t be put on the defensive for being transparent and having —
QUESTION: I’m not trying – I’m not trying to —
MR PRICE: — the deputy secretary go out there and give a long press conference and give three interviews.
QUESTION: I just asked a simple question: Has any —
MR PRICE: And the secretary general of NATO doing the same.
QUESTION: Has anything change —
MR PRICE: If the transparency is too much for you, we will – we can have that discussion.
QUESTION: You were all very transparent in Brussels. So has anything changed since then? That was a very easy question —
MR PRICE: The —
QUESTION: — I think to answer, and you could have just said no. But instead, you spent fourteen, thirteen and a half minutes —
MR PRICE: Matt, your colleagues are welcome to ask any question they would like.
QUESTION: Of course they are. I’m not —
MR PRICE: I am – I am happy to answer any question they would like.
QUESTION: I’m not going after them. I’m going after you.
MR PRICE: I am answering – I am answering the questions that your colleagues asked.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
MR PRICE: Okay. Would anyone else dare ask a question? Yes, Courtney?
QUESTION: Thanks. So, I mean, are the U.S., NATO, and the Russians even operating under the same common set of definitions on de-escalation right now? And what sort of timeline are we talking about? Francesco asked you about the status quo. I mean, it sounds as though a stalemate doesn’t necessarily trigger sanctions. So I’m reminded of Iran, where the window is narrowing. So how long are we talking about for a persistence of the status quo without consequences or change?
MR PRICE: Well, I would hasten to urge you not to make comparisons between those two challenges. They’re – the nature of them is very different. Iran is, day after day, making progress on its nuclear program in a way that need not be the case when it comes to Ukraine and Russia and what we’ve seen of Russian forces building up along Ukraine’s borders. It’s our goal in all of this to forestall any additional Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is our hope that we can make progress as quickly as possible, but I’ll make a couple points to temper that.
One, we are obviously coming at this with very little in common. And I think you have heard that over recent days. You probably knew that even before Monday because the Russians have been very public in the two treaties they have published about what it is that they seek, and it should have come to no – as no surprise to anyone, at least to any informed observer, that some of what they put forward was and is an absolute non-starter for us. So when you talk about a Venn diagram of overlapping areas that could potentially bear fruit, it takes some work to identify that, given the starting position.
Second, and this was especially the case in the context of the Strategic Stability Dialogue, issues of strategic stability, issues of arms control. These are issues that typically aren’t resolved in hours, days, or even weeks. These are issues that are complex, that involve multiple countries. Within our own system it involves multiple departments and agencies, and the same would be true of the Russian Federation. So we have to take into account the nature of some of the issues that we’re talking about.
But we’ve also been clear, and the Secretary, the way he put it was that progress can’t be achieved when there is a gun pointing at Ukraine’s head. And so again, we continue to believe that the sort of meaningful, reciprocal measures that would redound positively on our collective security and that the Russians would view as favorable to their positioning as well, those are elements that can only be achieved in the context of de-escalation. De-escalation could take place tomorrow. It could take place Friday. That is what we would like to see happen. It has not taken place yet, and in fact there are some indications that we’ve seen movement in the opposite direction.
But de-escalation is – when I was speaking to the more difficult, complex issues that we’re grappling with in the context of arms control and how that could take weeks or even longer – de-escalation is not something that should take weeks or even longer. It would take one individual in the Russian system giving an order, and us seeing that progress, us seeing that order translate into de-escalation on the ground.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Allow me to indulge because I have a few questions —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — on Iran and one on Yemen. On Iran, a European representative told Reuters that he believes that February 1st should be the cut day – and who was privy obviously to the negotiation in Vienna – and that should be the final date to achieve some kind of agreement. I know that you keep saying that the window is not open forever, so do you agree with this assessment, number one?
And second, the U.S. representative Rob Malley met with the GCC representative in Vienna, and I know again that you negotiate and you consult often with your Gulf allies. But what prompted this meeting to take place in Vienna? Is it something that – to do with the security arrangement that the GCC countries has demanded in the negotiation?
And finally on Iran, it seems that some reports indicate that the White House – and I believe the State Department, too – will resort to a new strategy closer to this time to say that the Trump administration is to be blamed for withdrawing from the agreement. That was reported today. I don’t know how accurate is this information. Maybe you can answer these questions.
MR PRICE: Sure. So let me take those in order. So first, on the timeframe, I would make a couple points. You’ve heard from us that the runway is short. The runway is very, very short. We are not talking about a protracted period of time that remains. We are talking about potentially weeks, not months.
Second, it is impossible for us, at least at this point, to point out a date on the calendar and say that is the deadline. And it is impossible for a simple reason. You’ve heard me say before, this is not a temporal clock that is ticking down. It is a clock that is based on a calendar that is based on technical assessments. And really, what we are looking at here is a very simple equation: When do the nonproliferation benefits afforded by the JCPOA – as finalized in 2015 and implemented in 2016 – when are they overcome by the advancements that Iran has made in its nuclear program since it began to break free from the limits that it previously subscribed to after the last administration left the JCPOA? That is an assessment that will be based on a whole series of inputs, what we can discern publicly and non-publicly regarding those advancements and their implications for things like Iran’s breakout time when it comes to acquiring enough fissile material needed to produce a nuclear weapon, if they were to move in that direction.
Remind me of your second question. Oh, the meeting with the GCC.
QUESTION: The GCC meeting.
MR PRICE: So, as you know, Rob Malley often meets with the GCC. Before the start of the – before the start of the seventh round, I believe it was, he took part in a virtual meeting with the members of the GCC to brief them on the status of our pursuit of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet both in person and virtually with representatives of the GCC when we were in New York City for the UN General Assembly in September, and Rob Malley and his team, in addition to others here in this building, are regularly updating our GCC partners on our progress.
When it comes to our GCC partners, you’ve also seen them issue statements and speak favorably of a potential return to compliance with the JCPOA. Of course, that wasn’t always the case, but you have heard from countries around the world, including in that region, that the re-imposition of verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program would be in our – would be to our advantage, and that’s precisely what we’re seeking to do.
When it comes to what you’ve read about the messaging strategy, I think I was actually quoted in that article, so I have a hard time distancing myself from it. But look, this is not a point we haven’t made before, and it was a point that was as obvious on January 21st as it is on – 2021 as it is on January 12th – 11th – 12th of 2022. That is that we inherited a situation that none of us would have wished for, a situation in which Iran had been galloping forward in its nuclear program, freed from the nuclear shackles to which it previously subscribed, with proxies that certainly were not cowed but in some ways had become even more brazen and aggressive, with Iran – I should say with the United States in some ways more isolated diplomatically than Iran because of the course that the previous administration had pursued.
I think if you ask anyone in this administration if we would have preferred to have entered into office on January 20th with Iran’s nuclear program verifiably and permanently constrained and Iran permanently barred from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon, the answer would be a resounding yes. If you, as I just mentioned, were to ask our GCC partners whether they would have preferred that, the statements that you have heard from them recently indicate that they would as well. You have heard statements from within the Israeli security and defense establishment that the nonproliferation benefits conveyed by the JCPOA also redounded positively on Israel’s security. You’ve heard similar statements from countries around the world – need not speak of the P5+1. Of course, we’re working now, this administration now is working very closely with them, both our European allies and our partners in this context, to see to it if we can arrive once again at a formula by which Iran is permanently and verifiably prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Sorry, I have just a follow-up, one question.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: But as you know, this agreement is limited by time. There’s a time limit of 10, 15 years.
MR PRICE: There is not —
QUESTION: I mean, are you kicking the road – the can down the road for the next administration to deal with it?
MR PRICE: No. This is not about kicking the can down the road because what is not time limited is the most important element of this, the fact that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. The inspections and the monitoring that goes along with this, that is not time limited. So this is not about kicking the can down the road. This is about permanently and verifiably ensuring that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Okay. And on Yemen just quickly, the government forces managed to get Shabwa from the hands of the Houthis, and it seems that they make an advance towards Marib. Do you think that this military advances – or successes, if you want to call them – can be translated in some kind of diplomatic gains while the U.S. push for more of a – a new push, if you wish, to get the Houthis back to negotiation?
MR PRICE: We have sought to underline a core point, that the Houthis cannot engage in a military offensive and expect to gain any leverage by that. It will not work for the United States, it will not work for our Saudi partners, it will not work for the UN special envoy and his team when it comes to this. All the continued Houthi offensives will do, whether it’s Marib or elsewhere, is aggravate the humanitarian emergency that is gripping the country of Yemen, that for some time, by many estimates, has been home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. So if the Houthis are under the misimpression that continued military advances, continued military offensives will do anything but isolate them and weaken their hand, they are sorely mistaken.
Affirmatively, we’ve been intensively engaged with the UN, with Yemeni and regional leaders to do all that we can to advance a durable and negotiated resolution that does the opposite of what the Houthis are doing right now – to bring an end to the conflict, to improve the humanitarian conditions of the Yemeni people, and to give them the space for them to collectively determine their own future. This is, in our estimation, at least, translated into important building blocks that have the potential to pave the way for what we hope is a cessation of hostilities and, ultimately, peace in Yemen.
Just to recap the state of play, our diplomatic engagement has helped build an unprecedented international and regional consensus on the need for an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and political resolution. This is the opposite of what the Houthis have done. As we have put a spotlight on the need for diplomacy and brought this coalition and constellation of countries and entities together, the Houthis and their own actions have only isolated them diplomatically. We’ve worked closely with the UN special envoy, Hans Grundberg, and other international partners to encourage a new and more inclusive UN-led peace process. Our special envoy, Tim Lenderking, is engaging with a range of Yemeni groups – and that includes women leaders, it includes civil society leaders – in an effort to promote a more inclusive peace process and to amplify precisely what we’ve heard from them, and those are calls for peace, for accountability, and for humanitarian relief.
And when it comes to humanitarian relief on the issue of Yemen, we remain one of the largest single donors to that humanitarian response. To date we’ve provided over $4 billion to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, and we are continuing to encourage the international community, just as the UN is doing, to do even more.
So we are working along all of these tracks. This is a challenge that we have prioritized since the earliest days of this administration. You saw that with the appointment of Tim Lenderking within the first several days of the administration as a tangible sign of the priority we attach to this.
MR PRICE: Rob is still in Vienna.
QUESTION: And they’re not planning to come back until the – whatever round this is is over.
MR PRICE: I suspect they will come back when there’s a break or when this round ends, but as you know, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Okay. And then you said several times that this is not a temporal clock, and yet you talk about – you say we’re talking about potentially weeks, not months. Now —
MR PRICE: Well, because it’s clear that the technical assessment within the course of weeks —
QUESTION: But that is a temporal clock, right? And you also talk about breakout time, which is temporal.
MR PRICE: I – so —
QUESTION: And – so I – so, I mean, there is a temporal clock aspect to this, maybe not in terms of seconds or minutes, but it’s certainly in terms of days and weeks, right?
MR PRICE: Well, it is – it is – it is temporal in the sense that it will be weeks and not months, but it is not temporal calendar-wise in the sense that it will be February 1st or February 4th or any other (inaudible) date.
QUESTION: All right. Well, but it is, if you’re talking about potentially weeks, not months (inaudible).
MR PRICE: Eventually, Matt, we will know precisely the date when the nonproliferation benefits have been so eroded.
QUESTION: All right. And then secondly – and on this whole thing about blaming the Trump administration for – this is – as you said, it’s not new, and I can go back to December 17th with a senior official who may or may not be in – currently in Vienna right now saying – really going after the Trump administration. But who is the audience for this? And what do you expect to get out of saying, well, this is all Trump’s fault? I mean, the Iranians know that it was Trump that withdrew. The Europeans knew that it was – know that it was Trump that withdrew.
MR PRICE: So —
QUESTION: So what exactly is the – if there is some new strategy.
MR PRICE: So I would take issue with the characterization of a blame game. This is not about assigning blame; this is about explaining how we got here. It is —
QUESTION: Well, fine, but where do you expect to get for that? What do you —
MR PRICE: It is about reminding the history and the context and the inheritance —
QUESTION: What do you expect to get from telling people what is pretty obvious to – yes, the previous administration withdrew from the deal —
MR PRICE: Matt, it may be obvious to you, it may be obvious to me, it may be obvious to others in this room that the Trump administration left a deal that was verifiably working, but it may not be obvious to people who aren’t as close observers. And that’s really my job —
QUESTION: Well, your – no, no, your —
MR PRICE: — is to explain to people who aren’t Matt Lees of the world, those unlucky souls —
QUESTION: Yeah, well, your line is that it was – your line is that it was verifiably working. Let’s stop it right there. Everybody knows the Trump administration left the deal. It’s your opinion that it was verifiably working or not.
MR PRICE: It’s not my opinion. It’s the opinion of the Intelligence Community, of this department under the Trump administration, and of the international – of the IAEA, of international weapons inspectors. So it’s not my opinion.
QUESTION: Well, hold on. No, no, it was the opinion of this building that the Iranians were complying with the agreement, but it was the opinion of a lot of other people that even compliance with the agreement didn’t do enough because – and that gets me to my last point; I’ll be really brief – is that you keep talking about how this is permanently – it permanently prevented Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but that is based entirely on whether Iran was going to stick with the NPT and its obligations under that, and whether this alleged fatwa was really going to be respected.
MR PRICE: We – to be clear, we’ve never relied on a fatwa to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. If they want to – if they want to put that forward, that’s up to them. What we’ve relied upon are scrupulously negotiated protocols, including the JCPOA, including the NPT, including the Additional Protocol, that speak to the fact that Iran, when it was in full compliance – as it was when the last administration pulled out – would be verifiably and permanently barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: But the problem is that there are a lot of people who don’t think that it did that. And in fact, in like five years, all of the restrictions that were imposed outside of the NPT would be lifted.
MR PRICE: That – that’s not true. And we can go through them chapter and verse, but let me just —
QUESTION: Well, let’s let —
MR PRICE: The top-line point is the most important restriction, that Iran can never obtain a nuclear weapon, is permanent, has no expiration date.
QUESTION: One more on Iran just —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: And I have a follow-up questions as well. Just wanted a specific response to – after a meeting with Rob Malley, the Russian ambassador to the IAEA said – tweeted, “The feeling is that the negotiations are moving forward.” Is that a characterization that you would agree with of what’s happening in Vienna, or are you more on the side of what the French Foreign Minister Le Drian said yesterday, which was there was progress in December, but things seem to have slowed down and it’s all moving too slowly”?
MR PRICE: We’re – we’re on the side of what we have said, that we have seen modest progress in recent weeks. Now, modest progress is better than no progress. Modest progress is not as good as significant progress. Modest progress is also not sufficient if we are going to be able to achieve what we sincerely and steadfastly seek to achieve, and that’s a mutual return to compliance. What we hope to see in Vienna going forward is more than modest, but that is up to the Iranians, the pace at which they want these negotiations, these indirect negotiations to proceed.
QUESTION: And just on North Korea, the sanctions that you’ve released today targeting North Koreans, including North Koreans based in China, and a Russian – and a Russian company. I guess firstly, why are there no Chinese or Chinese companies in this particular round of sanctions, given that these North Koreans are based in China? Presumably they are procuring Chinese material. And more broadly, do you think Russia and China are doing enough to enforce the UN sanctions that you say are breached by these launches?
MR PRICE: Well, just to review the bidding on this, today we and the Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on eight DPRK-linked individuals and entities pursuant to Executive Order 13382. The designations that we put forward targeted one DPRK individual, one Russian individual, and one Russian entity that together worked to procure multiple goods with ballistic missile applications for the DPRK. But to your question, the Department of the Treasury targeted five PRC and Russia-based representatives of a DPRK entity, and this entity is subordinate to the DPRK’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences, which is the target of UN designations. It’s also the target of previous U.S. designations from 2010 to – for its support of the DPRK’s weapons program.
When it comes to sanctions and designations that are in place, these are an important – these are important measures to constrain North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear program. And it’s important that the international community send a strong, unified message that the DPRK must halt provocations, it must abide by its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and engage in sustained and intensive negotiations.
Now, obviously we have not seen all of that. These UN – these UN Security Council resolutions, the U.S. designations and sanctions, they will remain in effect, and we urge all UN member states to fulfill their obligations under those resolutions.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: On the – I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. Is it accurate that the West has offered Iran to negotiate a temporary deal instead of returning to the JCPOA? And can you give Iran any guarantees that the next administration won’t withdraw from the deal? And I have another one on Syria, if you don’t mind.
MR PRICE: Look, we have been resolute in this. What we seek – at least at this point, and that – we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the clock, but what we continue to seek is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. We still believe that a mutual return to compliance is in America’s national security interests; we believe it’s in the interests of our allies and partners.
The President has been clear, and I think you saw this in a statement in October that emanated from our meeting with the European Quad, when President Biden got together with his counterparts in Rome, I believe it was, where we made clear that we are prepared to return to full compliance with the JCPOA and to stay in full compliance with the JCPOA as long as Iran does the same. There is no such thing as a guarantee in diplomacy and international affairs. We can speak for this administration, but this administration has been very clear, as you have seen in formal statements, that we are prepared to return to full compliance with the JCPOA and to stay in full compliance with the JCPOA as long as Iran does the same.
QUESTION: What about the temporary deal?
MR PRICE: We are focused at the moment on seeing if we can achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
QUESTION: And on Syria, U.S. senators and representatives from the two parties have sent a letter to the President yesterday asking the administration not to allow Arab countries to normalize their relations with the Syrian regime. Do you have anything on this letter?
MR PRICE: Well, this question has come up here several times, and we have been very clear that we are not encouraging, and in fact, we believe that the conduct that the Assad regime has demonstrated, including the atrocities it has inflicted on its own people – this is not the time for rehabilitation of the Assad regime. In some ways, this is a regime that cannot be rehabilitated, given what the Assad regime has inflicted on its own people.
QUESTION: But you are not preventing these Arab countries from normalizing with the regime and —
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: — admitting it to the Arab League again.
MR PRICE: This gets to what we’ve discussed in other contexts already in this briefing. Countries are free to choose their own foreign policy course. In the course of our own foreign policy, in the course of our diplomacy with countries – and this has come up in a number of settings, both public and private – we’ve made very clear that now is not the time to rehabilitate the Assad regime, given the atrocities they have inflicted.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up question on sanctions on the DPRK. There seems to be this flurry of hostile action to DPRK, so I’m just wondering if there is any change on U.S. engagement policy to DPRK. This is number one.
And secondly, the president of Republic of Korea emphasized the significance of declaration to end Korean War despite the recent ballistic missile test by DPRK. So is this end-of-war declaration still an option for the United States? Could you give us some update on the declaration, please?
MR PRICE: On your first question, I would strenuously object to the idea that these sanctions indicate anything other than a genuine effort to constrain North Korea’s – in this case, their ballistic missile programs, which are – run afoul of international UN Security Council resolutions and present a threat to – potentially to the United States, to our partners and allies in the region. This is about our ongoing efforts to prevent the advancement of the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, and to follow – and they follow the DPRK’s decision to launch six ballistic missiles since September of this year, including as recently as this week – again, all of which violated multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
When it comes to our DPRK policy, that remains unchanged. These steps, again, are about preventing threats to the United States, to our allies, and to our partners. Our commitment to the defense, to the security of our treaty allies Japan and South Korea, the commitment we have to the safety and security of Americans, including service members and others in the region, that is something that we are – that is sacrosanct to us.
QUESTION: What about the declaration to end the Korean War?
MR PRICE: We – when it comes to end-of-war declaration, look, we have been very clear that we seek dialogue, we seek diplomacy to bring about lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. We remain committed to that. We have made clear that we are willing, ready, and able to engage in that diplomacy in close coordination and consultation with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that: You said – you just said that the policy towards the DPRK remains unchanged to prevent threats to the U.S. and our allies, essentially. How is that policy working since their advances have been extraordinary? I mean, you inherited this, but these events just in the last year indicate SLBMs, the missile advances just this week and last week. So how was that preventing threats? Clearly the policy is not working to prevent threats; the threats are increasing. Is there a thought to changing the policy to try to get them to engage, to come up with some other way to get them to respond to the overtures from this administration?
MR PRICE: So I’d make a couple points. We continue to believe that if we are going to bring about a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, if we are going to bring about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – and that remains our goal – that the only effective way to do that, the only durable way to do that is through dialogue and diplomacy. I do not think that you will see that posture change, just because diplomacy in this case —
QUESTION: But there is no dialogue or diplomacy. How do you get them to engage?
MR PRICE: So we get them to engage by making clear exactly what our posture is, by making clear that the United States stands ready with our allies and partners to engage in diplomacy, just as you saw us do today. We continue to enact measures that put constraints on these WMD and ballistic missile programs, that hold proliferators and other bad actors accountable for their activity. We’ll continue to do that. But just because we are enacting measures that hold individuals and entities to account, that doesn’t mean that our belief in the importance and the value of diplomacy and dialogue is diminished. And in fact, what we’ve seen from the DPRK in recent days only underscores our belief that if we are going to make progress, that we will need to engage in that dialogue. And the offer stands.
QUESTION: Doesn’t the fact that they – that he has continued to expand his program – despite COVID, despite famine, despite sanctions – indicate that some rethinking has to be made? Do – the sanctions don’t seem to be deterring him at all.
MR PRICE: Well, it is our estimation that some rethinking will need to be done in Pyongyang. Again, this is – you said it yourself, Andrea. The DPRK is in what by many accounts is a dire humanitarian situation. There is COVID, there is deprivation, there is poverty. Of course, if these issues are to – if these are to – conditions are to improve, something will need to change. And it is our estimation, and it is our belief and the belief of our allies and partners, that the DPRK regime is inflicting tremendous hardship on their own people, that by diverting precious resources – that should be going to food, that should be going to basic – provision of basic services, that should be going to public health – to these ballistic missile and WMD programs, that is not something that is going to serve the interests of the people of the DPRK. It’s not something that serves their interests now. It’s not something that will serve their interests over the long term.
QUESTION: All right. Just to follow up, because you keep mentioning the sanctions to constrain, but you said yourself this was the sixth test this year and reportedly the second hypersonic test reportedly in less than a week. So I mean, I just don’t understand how you can say or how you could feel that these – this constraint policy is working.
MR PRICE: What I would say is that our policy on this is that diplomacy and dialogue is the only way we’re going to resolve this. It only in our mind underscores the urgent need for Pyongyang to engage in that dialogue. This is not a challenge that any administration would be able to solve in the course of several months. This is a challenge that has developed over the course of years, and in fact decades. It’s a challenge that, as you know, spans multiple administrations, and it goes back decades now, as I said.
Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to believe that serious and sustained diplomacy is the only way we’ll be able to make tangible progress towards that. So progress may be slow going. Obviously, this is a challenge that has proven difficult over the course of administrations, but again, we believe in utility, the potential utility of diplomacy, if we are going to make progress.
QUESTION: I’ve got two that are very – they’ll be very brief and they’re unrelated to any of this. They’re both about individual people. One, in Bahrain, I’ve asked about this case before, about the academic Abduljalil al-Singace, who’s now on a hunger strike. People have been calling for his release, including – I don’t know exactly if you’ve called for his release before, but you have been paying attention to this case. And I’m wondering if there’s anything new you have to say about that, one. And then there’s another individual case —
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that we have anything new, but if we do we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, in Israel, last night or yesterday there was an 80-year-old Palestinian American man who was pulled out of a car, apparently, allegedly, and beaten and killed, Omar Abdel Majid As’ad. He was an American citizen. Are you following this case? Have you said anything to the Israelis about it?
MR PRICE: We can confirm the death of the U.S. citizen, Omar As’ad, in a city near Ramallah. We have been in touch with Mr. As’ad’s family to express our condolences about this tragedy. We are providing, as you would expect, all appropriate consular assistance to the family at this time. We’ve also been in touch with the Government of Israel to seek clarification about this incident, and as you may have seen, the Israeli Defense Forces have indicated there’s an ongoing investigation into the matter. And we support a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident. Of course, out of respect for the family during this time, we have little more that we’re able to offer.
QUESTION: Okay. So just in terms of incidents that – like this, because this is an extreme incident but there are other – there have been less extreme incidents in the past, particularly as the Israelis are pushing harder and harder to get into the Visa Waiver Program, is this the kind of incident, is this the kind of thing that you guys would – that you’ll look at?
MR PRICE: There are stringent criteria that’s associated with admission into the Visa Waiver Program. It’s a decision that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, makes. So I would point to the criteria associated with that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Missy, final question?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Hopefully you didn’t say this – I didn’t miss it.
So the Russians said that they want the U.S. – or that they think – their understanding was the U.S. was going to come back with a written answer to the proposals that they put forward in those two documents. Is that correct?
And it just seemed to me like each side was putting the onus on the other to take the next step because NATO is saying – or the United States is saying, yeah, we expect the Russians to go back to Moscow and take a look at these ideas we’ve put on the table about the exercises and all of that. And the Russians are saying, we think the United States and NATO have to come back with these written answers or responses to our proposals.
So first of all, are you going to provide them written responses? And do you agree with my assessment?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve been clear all week, following the Strategic Stability Dialogue on Monday, that we do expect there will be additional engagement with the Russian Federation in the coming days. I know the Russian Federation has made various statements about what form and modality that will take. Again, there – we do expect there will be additional engagement.
It’s also no secret that it will require intensive consultations on the part of the Russian delegation with senior Russian officials up to and including President Putin. And I believe the Russian delegation itself alluded to that today. For our part, of course we’re doing – we’re consulting within – here at home. We – within the Executive Branch, of course, we’re briefing Congress as well. But just as importantly, we are working in close consultation with our Allies and partners, comparing notes from Monday, comparing notes from today. We will be comparing notes from what we hear tomorrow from the OSCE Permanent Council meeting.
So we are doing all of that to determine just what that next engagement will look like, what it will convey in terms of substance. But the bottom line for us is that continued engagement, continued diplomacy and dialogue, would be a good thing. We hope the Russians will continue to engage. But above and beyond all that, we hope that turns into meaningful progress. And it can only turn into meaningful progress in the context of de-escalation and not escalation.
QUESTION: But will you guys provide the written answers? That’s my question. That’s —
MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to go into the form, the modality, that that engagement may take. But we are committed to continued dialogue and diplomacy and hope it can produce results.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:08 p.m.)