August 9, 2022

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Department Press Briefing – May 31, 2022 – United States Department of State

41 min read

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

WASHINGTON, D.C.

MR PRICE: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: The freezing room.

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

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt.

QUESTION: Would you like to preview that —

MR PRICE: I —

QUESTION: — more in the coming days?

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

QUESTION: Well —

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

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

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: Or coming days meaning like the next —

QUESTION: Or today?

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: Well —

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

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

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

MR PRICE: No, no.

QUESTION: I’m looking for —

MR PRICE: It’s one data point.

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

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

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

Francesco.

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

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

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

Humeyra.

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

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: There is nothing —

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

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

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

QUESTION: Good assumption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Said.

QUESTION: You said that —

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

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

Yes, Said.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

QUESTION: “Decision-making center.”

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

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

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

Yes, Michel.

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

MR PRICE: What kind of assurances are we offering —

QUESTION: Kurdish – our Kurdish partners in Syria.

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Let me move around. Yes, Gitte.

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

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

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

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: Ned, have you —

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

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: The —

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

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

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

MR PRICE: Matt, I’m —

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

MR PRICE: We have always said —

QUESTION: Or are you going to oppose it again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: Matt, as you said yourself —

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll move around. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: On Iran.

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I change topics?

MR PRICE: Yes, sure.

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

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

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

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

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

MR PRICE: Understood.

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

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

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

MR PRICE: Reopening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: And it injured him big time.

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

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

Humeyra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

MR PRICE: Well —

QUESTION: — question on energy afterwards.

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

Yes, please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

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

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

Yes.

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

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

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

QUESTION: In Poland.

MR PRICE: In Poland.

QUESTION: Yeah.

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

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

Final question?

QUESTION: I have one more.

QUESTION: The second question?

MR PRICE: Oh, the —

QUESTION: Sorry, unrelated.

MR PRICE: Final – yes, second question?

QUESTION: I asked about the reports that —

MR PRICE: Oh, on Poland, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

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

Yes.

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

What do you make of those allegations?

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

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

MR PRICE: No, the 2004 element of a —

QUESTION: It’s not that long ago.

MR PRICE: Well, I –

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

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

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

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

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

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

# # #

More from: Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

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