Mar 7, 2023

Department of State Daily Press Briefing 3/06/23 Transcript

Department of State Daily Press Briefing 3/06/23 Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsNed PriceDepartment of State Daily Press Briefing 3/06/23 Transcript

Department of State Daily Press Briefing 3/06/23. Read the transcript here.

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Ned Price (00:04):

Good afternoon. Welcome back to all of those who are traveling with Secretary Blinken. Welcome to The Week, to everyone else. I have one announcement at the top and then I will turn to your questions. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have stated, the United States welcomes the historic announcement that bilateral discussions between the Republic of Korea and Japan to resolve sensitive historical issues have concluded. We encourage the ROK in Japan to build on this step to continue to advance their bilateral relations. The Republic of Korea and Japan are two of our most important allies in the Indo-Pacific and globally. And stronger ties between them, advance our own shared goals.

The tri-lateral relationship between the United States, the ROK and Japan is central to that shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, which is why we have invested so much time and so much focus on this critical partnership. Specifically, we have had roughly 25 senior level tri-lateral engagements with Japan and the ROK over the course of this administration. This includes engagements from Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, special representative for the DPRK, Sung Kim, and of course from President Biden himself. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our tri-lateral partnership to help bring about a safer and more prosperous world. With that, Matt.

Matt (01:27):

Great. Happy Monday.

Ned Price (01:29):

Happy Monday.

Matt (01:31):

Two things. First, really briefly, do you have anything to add to the statement that your White House colleague just read about the Americans who’ve been kidnapped in Mexico?

Ned Price (01:40):

I will admit, I didn’t see the full extent of her own statement, but I expect she noted that we are closely following the kidnapping of four US citizens in Matamoros on March 3rd, the FBI working very closely with other federal partners and Mexican law enforcement agencies to investigate this. I’m sure you saw the FBI put out a reward for their safe return. We’re standing ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We do also remind Americans about the existing travel guidance when it comes to this particular part of Mexico. The travel advisory for Tamaulipas state remains at level four, do not travel. We encourage Americans to heed that advice.

Matt (02:25):

Okay, so essentially, no, you don’t have anything to add, but thank you. But do you-

Ned Price (02:30):

I’m always glad to hear consistence.

Matt (02:31):

Well, there was a question about whether all four were US citizens or not. Has that been confirmed now to your-

Ned Price (02:39):

We are aware of the kidnapping of four US citizens. That’s our understanding.

Matt (02:43):

All right. And then separate from that, and going back to the Secretary’s trip, I just wanted to know, and I’m not really expecting anything here, but just shot in the…

Ned Price (02:53):

Always a good approach.

Matt (02:55):

Shot in the dark here. I’m just wondering, after his 10 minute or less than 10 minute exchange with Foreign Minister Lavrov, if there has been any follow up to that or any conversation at a notable level between you guys and the Russians, or if he left that exchange, that encounter, would the idea that there might be in the near future?

Ned Price (03:21):

Well, we’ve always had the idea that we are prepared and ready to engage when our interests are implicated, when the interests of our partners and allies around the world are implicated. That’s precisely why this wasn’t the first conversation between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov. It wasn’t even the first since the start of Russia’s full scale invasion against Ukraine in February of last year.

Matt (03:43):

Well, it was the second.

Ned Price (03:44):

It was the second. It was the second but we have demonstrated, and two makes this a consistent pattern, we’ve also made it clear both in deed and we’ve made it clear in word that we are ready to engage when it is in our interests to do so, when it’s in the interests of our allies and partners around the world to do so. The Secretary was clear about the three priorities that he raised with Foreign Minister Lavrov in that meeting. We’ve also been clear that we wouldn’t expect one particular, one specific meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov would lead to a resolution of the issues that he raised, and that of course is putting it very mildly. We remain prepared, ready to engage if it is in our interest.

As you know, we do have lines of communication. We have an embassy in Moscow. The Russians have an embassy here. There are other channels from within the State Department, from within other departments and entities within the executive branch. We are going to continue to do what is most effective to advance our interests. We thought that last week because Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov were in the same room, they were in the same place, it was an opportunity for the Secretary to convey very directly without any room for misinterpretation the areas that matter a great deal to us. Whether the Russians will in turn act on that in any way, the jury is still out. Again, we harbor no illusions that single brief encounter would change their position, but it’s important for us to advocate and to advocate effectively for our interests.

Speaker 1 (05:27):

Can I [inaudible 00:05:29]?

Ned Price (05:28):


Speaker 1 (05:29):

Has the Secretary seen the now infamous clip on the social media in which Lavrov claims that the war was launched by the West against him, his country, and that he’s out there to stop it? First of all, what was the Secretary’s reaction? Was it reflecting their reaction that we have seen from the audience?

Ned Price (05:47):

I think, Alex, you can’t watch that clip, you couldn’t have been in the room and heard Foreign Minister Lavrov make those remarks and not to have the same reaction that apparently everyone else in that room had. For those who haven’t seen the clip, the room breaks into what can be described as probably uproarious laughter at a statement from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia was attacked and that was the genesis of the full scale invasion of Ukraine. We’ve heard similar statements, outlandish statements like this from Russia before. I think it is clear from the reaction in that room, the fact that the world is under no illusion about how this started, about who is responsible and perhaps most importantly of all, who could end it if Russia sought to seek an end to this war today, tomorrow.

Speaker 1 (06:40):

I’m just wondering if there’s any second thought after seeing Lavrov is denying even basic truth.

Ned Price (06:47):

Alex, we’ve observed Foreign Minister Lavrov over the course of the past year. I think the Secretary has used the term that the Foreign Minister has an adversarial relationship with the truth. We didn’t engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov because we necessarily trust what he has to say or what he has said, for that matter. We engaged with Foreign Minister Lavrov just as we’ve engaged through other channels and through other counterparts because it’s in our interests to do so. And again, we are clear-eyed about the potential for any sort of near term change in the Russian posture on this. The point of this brief encounter was not to seek to affect a reversal in the near term over these core issues that matter a great deal to us and to the rest of the world, but it’s in our interest to engage in diplomacy and to make clear where the United States stands.

Speaker 1 (07:41):

[inaudible 00:07:42].

Matt (07:42):

Quickly, if you’re prepared to comment on that bit with the laughter. What’s your response to the fact that for those of us who were there, that at the beginning of his address at which this thing happened, he actually got a round of applause from that same audience when he talked about how NATO and the West were encroaching on Russia and going and raising tensions because they’re getting closer. So if you’re going to talk about the laughter at that one bit, I’m just wondering what you make of the applause.

Ned Price (08:17):

Well, to say I was prepared to respond to it. He asked a question and I answered it. Not that this was a-

Matt (08:24):

I don’t know. I’m not suggesting it was pre-cooked or anything but you did respond to that. So I’m just wondering if you have any concerns at all that that very same audience also seem to be sympathetic for Mr. Lavrov earlier.

Ned Price (08:37):

Matt, there are misperceptions, and we do our best to counter the misperceptions that are out there, whether they are about the United States, whether they are about our Ukrainian partners, whether they’re about NATO. And we make clear at every opportunity we have, that NATO is a defensive alliance, pure and simple. NATO has never threatened anyone. That in turn, doesn’t oppose a threat to members of NATO. NATO has expanded as a result of Russian aggression and it is incumbent on NATO, on the member states as a defensive alliance to take prudent steps in response to what they’re seeing from Russia’s very own actions.

The Secretary, almost every opportunity he gets makes the point that President Putin, who I think has done a great deal to not only unite NATO, NATO is now stronger, it is more purposeful, it is more determined, but more broadly than that, President Putin has precipitated just about everything he has sought to prevent, and this goes back to 2014. Whether you look at popular opinion of NATO and a place like Ukraine, whether you look at the Wales commitments that resulted from President Putin’s aggressive action in Eastern Ukraine, his attempts to seize Crimea in 2014, the increase in defense spending that we’ve seen in the aftermath of Wales and now in the aspirations of two additional European countries to join the world’s strongest defensive alliance.

Matt (10:19):

Okay, fair enough. But you seem to be pleased by the fact that people laughed at him when he made this statement about [inaudible 00:10:27]-

Ned Price (10:26):

Matt, I was simply responding to a question.

Matt (10:30):

I know, but I get that. So I’m asking you another question. I mean, does it not cause you any concern that the same audience was receptive to his argument that you reject, obviously, but I mean, we’re talking about an audience of highly educated people in India, non-aligned country with which you are working to increase opposition to the Russian action or the Russian War in Ukraine, and yet they seemed sympathetic not to the idea that Russia was attacked, but that somehow Russia was provoked or is threatened. Is that not a cause concern?

Ned Price (11:06):

I think I told you at the outset that we have our work cut out for us. It is a task that we have, that NATO has and that our allies and partners more broadly have to combat misinformation, to combat disinformation. We know that Russia is sowing disinformation, is sowing lies about the strategic intent of NATO. We believe the best antidote to disinformation and misinformation is information. That’s why we get up here in brief every day. It’s why the Secretary brings reporters with him everywhere he travels. That’s why we do press avails in when he’s traveling, especially within our emerging partners. All of that is part and parcel of it.

Matt (11:45):

Would you say the same about China?

Ned Price (11:47):

Would I say what about China?

Matt (11:49):

About promoting disinformation? Trying to-

Ned Price (11:51):

I would.

Matt (11:52):

Okay. Just you would, that’s it?

Ned Price (11:57):

Of course, we have seen Russia and the PRC pedal misinformation and disinformation, yes. Saeed.

Sayed (12:03):

Yeah. Thank you. [inaudible 00:12:05] you diplomacy and I know that the new American Ambassador Lynne Tracy only submitted her credentials a couple of months ago and so on. So if she met with Russian officials and so on, but has Ambassador Antonov been meeting with anyone in the State Department? Has he met with the Secretary of State or the Undersecretary of State or the Deputy?

Ned Price (12:28):

It wouldn’t be within protocol for the Russian Ambassador to meet with the Secretary of State. That’s not his natural counterpart. But yes, without going into details of these engagements, Ambassador Antonov has had contact, including recent contact, including in-person contact with appropriate State Department officials.

Sayed (12:44):

I asked this because I think last month he said he has not met with any American officials in a very, very long time.

Ned Price (12:51):

It may not be to the extent and the cadence of that engagement may not be to his liking, but lines of communication remain open. That is of critical importance to us, and Ambassador Antonov is one element when it comes to those lines of communication.

Sayed (13:08):

And one quick follow up, Secretary Austin said from Jordan yesterday that the fall of Bakhmut is not going to change the course of the war. Can you comment on this? I mean, are you guys now prepared that Bakhmut all but has fallen?

Ned Price (13:22):

I’m not prepared to offer that assessment. Of course, our Ukrainian partners in the first instance are going to have the best tactical battlefield update. Our colleagues at the Department of Defense may speak to that as well. But the sentiment that Secretary Austin was putting forward is exactly right as you might expect. This is a conflict that… A war, an invasion, I should say, whose contours were set in place on February 24th, February 25th, and the days that followed of last year. It was very clear from the earliest hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Ned Price (14:00):

… that whenever this ended, it would end in a strategic failure for Russia. That’s because the Ukrainians made very clear in the earliest hours of this conflict that the goals that President Putin sought to pursue, the fall of Ukraine, the fall of its government, the subjugation of its people, the erasure of its identity, essentially the subjugation of the country itself would not be in the cards. And so yes, we have been very clear that there are going to be tough days ahead. Fighting, while it has lulled somewhat during the winter months, it has continued to rage, especially in the east, especially in the South. There have been incremental gains by both sides. We expect that dynamic to continue. The only reason a town like Bakhmut, which I believe as Secretary Austin said, holds very little strategic import is in the news, is in the headlines, is because the Russians have nothing else to point to over the course of more than 12 months of a brutal invasion of their own brutal aggression.

Were the Russians, had they had any sort of success in this effort, the fall or the fact that a place like Bakhmut is being contested wouldn’t even register halfway around the world. The fact that it is, the fact that people are focused on it is because the Russians have nothing to point to during the course of their 12 months of brutal aggression against the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are, as they have across the country, making a valiant effort. The broader strategic tide of this invasion we think is set in stone. This will be a strategic failure for Russia. The Ukrainians have demonstrated that they are in a position not only to withstand advancing Russian forces, but to take back territory that has been rested away from them. That won’t change. Jenny?

Jenny (16:19):

Thank you. I’m sorry, regarding the South Korea and the Japan make a decision on historic registrations. Many Koreans still do not agree on the solution of history between South Korea and Japan, and this is because of Japan has not formally apologized. How do you view on this?

Ned Price (16:47):

Well, first and foremost, we’ve heartily welcomed the announcement between these two allies of ours, Japan and the ROK. These issues of history are difficult, they’re complex, they’re complicated, but both President Yune, Prime Minister Kishida have demonstrated bold vision. They have demonstrated courageous leadership by taking this step forward. The United States is an ally to both of these countries. We have a rock solid bilateral relationship with both Japan and the ROK. We have sought from the earliest moments of this administration to deepen and to advance the trilateral relationship. And I spoke a moment ago to some of the metrics that speak to that, some 25 trilateral engagements, several on the part of Secretary Blinken and his ministerial counterparts, several on the part of Deputy Secretary Sherman and her counterparts, some Kim in his counterparts in person over the phone as well, of course with the leader level engagements that President Biden has taken part in as well.

And we’re doing that because the trilateral relationship is critical to a vision we share with both countries for a free and open Indo-Pacific. You can talk about it in terms of specific issues, in terms of the importance of trilateral cooperation on the challenges that are posed by the DPRK, but it’s also in some ways broader than that. And these are countries with whom we share interests, we share values. And at the crux of both those interests and those values is that very same vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. So we very much welcome the step forward that Japan and the ROK announced today and the United States is going to continue to be a partner to do what we can to help these countries as they continue to take additional steps.

Jenny (18:54):

Do you think Japan should be apologized to a victims of the new government?

Ned Price (19:00):

These are not questions for the United States to answer. These are discussions that Japan and the ROK, our dear allies are having between themselves. That is the appropriate forum for these questions.

Jenny (19:20):

One more. National security of the [inaudible 00:19:20] and the secretary bring our meeting today. Why did the National Security Advisor Kim sudden visit to US and what topic will they be talking about?

Ned Price (19:35):

I don’t know that it was a sudden visit. I think this visit has been on the books for some time. Of course it does come on a historic day in the context of our relationship with the ROK and with Japan as well. They’ll discuss a number of issues. They’re going to discuss how our two countries can continue to work together collaboratively to support our partners in Ukraine to ensure our country’s economic security and economic prosperity. The secretary, of course, will welcome the announcement between the ROK and Japan that we’ve been speaking to, and he will reinforce our commitment to extended deterrents in the face of the DPRK threat. I do expect that we’ll have additional details after the meeting today and we’ll be sure to share that.

Jenny (20:21):

They’re going to talking about the semiconductor law or-

Ned Price (20:26):

We’ll have additional details after the meeting and we’ll be sure to share those. Leon, did you have a follow up?

Leon (20:32):

I did, but you answered before. [inaudible 00:20:35] answer, but-

Ned Price (20:38):

We’ll move forward then. Shannon?

Shannon (20:39):

Thank you. Turkey reportedly summoned Ambassador Flake to express our discontent over General Millie’s visit to Syria over the weekend. Do you have any comment on this and do you feel that any unease on Turkey’s part is merited here?

Ned Price (20:53):

We can confirm that Ambassador Flake did go to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs today for meetings and for discussions. Of course, when it comes to General Millie’s visit, we’d refer you to the Department of Defense. However, it’s our understanding that General Millie met only with US troops while in Syria. It was only an interaction with American service members. Follow up on that?

Speaker 2 (21:17):

What we just said, he was only there to meet with the US officials that is disputed by media that is close to the SDF by [inaudible 00:21:26] and they’re saying that he did indeed meet with Mazu Mati, the head of the SDF. So can you please put it into context for me? Because we know that the United States and Master was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to give an explanation by the Turkish State Agency. So the US Army chief travels to area controlled by the YPGPKK and they are headed, the SDF is headed by someone who we all know comes from PKK ranks and he ordered the killings of Turkish and Kurdish as well as native soldiers. So just the optics of it, the US Army Chief just doesn’t pop up anywhere around the world. So what is really the explanation for the visit?

Ned Price (22:08):

The US Army chief, and again, I’m not the Pentagon spokesperson, so I’m not going to wade too far into this, but the US Army chief does pop up around the world to visit with US service members. That’s what he did in this context. Our service members are deployed in Syria in service of a goal that we share with Turkey as well as with our other allies as well as with all members of the global coalition to defeat ISIS. Our service members in Syria serve one function and only one function. That is to see to it that the enduring defeat of ISIS is cemented and that ISIS is enabled to regain a pivotal foothold that they once had in places like Syria, in places like Iraq. This is a goal that serves our interests. It serves Turkey’s interests. It serves the interests of every single member of the global coalition to defeat ISIS. There are now dozens of countries around the world that are part of this mission.

So no, it is not unusual for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to visit with US service members who are deployed. In many cases, deployed in harm’s way potentially and making sacrifices on behalf of their fellow Americans, but also on behalf of people around the world.

Speaker 2 (23:22):

If he’s made the travel all the way there and you made it really clear that he only met with US officials. So if there’s no problem with the fact that he can be seen in the same photograph with SDF officials, why didn’t that happen? So he wasn’t welcomed by the SDF there in that area that is controlled by the [inaudible 00:23:40].

Ned Price (23:40):

These are questions for the Department of Defense. It’s our understanding that he met only with US troops while in Syria.

Sayed (23:45):

So just to follow this, that area where he visited on the area under the control of that Democratic Turkish forces and so on, you still consider that to be part of Syria? Correct? Part of Syria that you recognize?

Ned Price (24:03):


Sayed (24:04):

Did the head of the chairman get a visa to go there, from Syria? It’s an honest question.

Ned Price (24:13):

Sorry, if that’s a serious question, I would encourage you-

Sayed (24:15):

It is a serious question-

Ned Price (24:16):

… talk to the Department of Defense.

Sayed (24:17):

If that area, if you still recognize that area as being part of Syria, the top military leader in the United States of America. He goes there in and out without consulting, without government, without doing anything. Correct?

Ned Price (24:35):

I would refer you to the Department of Defense if that is in fact a serious question. Yes.

Speaker 3 (24:39):

Oh, thanks so much. Secretary Blinken is meeting Lithuanian foreign minister today. What would you say, at least in principle, what are the most important points of this meeting?

Ned Price (24:46):

So we will have a fairly robust readout coming out of this meeting with our Lithuanian counterparts, but Lithuania is a critical ally of the United States. We share goals of course and interests as members of NATO. We share a number of economic interests. Lithuania for its part has demonstrated tremendous leadership and beyond that resilience in the face of the campaign of coercion that Lithuania has endured and of course with [inaudible 00:25:20] from the DRC over the course of the past year. So we’ll have a pretty robust readout to offer in the aftermath of this meeting. But it’s important for Secretary Blinken to sit down with his Lithuanian counterpart to discuss these shared interests, to discuss the values that unite our two countries and really to commit Lithuania for the leadership and resilience that it has demonstrated across the board. Yeah, Leon, go ahead. Yeah.

Leon (25:46):

No, I was wondering Secretary’s also meeting senior Israeli official today, and this comes after the trip of the head of the IAEA in Tehran and we came back and said there was progress in the negotiations of cameras and so forth. So what is the US assessment of Grossi’s trip to Iran and where do you stand on potentially introducing a resolution or not during this council of meetings in Vienna?

Ned Price (26:18):

Sure. So first on the visit of the director general to Tehran over the weekend, we welcome and appreciate the efforts of the IAEA Director General Grossi to engage on the importance of resolving long-standing questions related to Iran’s safeguards, obligations, and on other matters related to its nuclear program. In the joint statement that was announced on March 4th between Iran and the IAEA, Iran committed to take important steps and expressed a readiness to provide long overdue cooperation with the agency on the outstanding safeguards issues.

We expect, most importantly, Iran to take prompt and concrete action in line with the joint statement. Too many times in the past we’ve seen Iran issue vague promises only never to follow through. We in the IAEA Board of Governors have been clear that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA fully and without delay and we look forward to additional reporting from the IAEA in the coming weeks on the steps taken by Iran. When it comes to the meaning of the Board of Governors, of course Iran will be a topic at the Board of Governors. We’re engaged with our European allies. We’re also engaged with the IAEA itself on the most effective means by which to see to it that Iran is held to the commitments that it is made. Yes. Go ahead.

Speaker 3 (27:39):

I have a question on the Americans kidnapped in Mexico. The Mexican president said that they have information that the Americans crossed the border to buy medicines in Mexico, and then they were detained after a confrontation between groups. I’ve seen other reporting that said a US official said that they had traveled to the border city for medical procedures

Speaker 3 (28:00):

Citing receipts found. Can you just clarify confirming either the Mexican president’s comments? Or what can you tell us of what’s been circulating?

Ned Price (28:08):

I’ve seen these same reports. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to confirm any of them. In part because this is an active investigation. The FBI is working very closely with Mexican counterparts in an effort to safely recover these Americans. So we wouldn’t want to get ahead of that investigation to the extent we do know details, but details are also quite scant at this time.

Speaker 3 (28:29):

But you wouldn’t refute what the Mexican president-

Ned Price (28:32):

I’m just not going to weigh in. I’ve seen those same reports.

Speaker 3 (28:35):

And then one quick follow up, I know you said you don’t want to say too much, but is the State Department aware of a video that’s been circulating online, showing a white van with people getting put into the van? There’s been a lot of photos and videos circulating online. I’m just wondering if authorities are at least looking into that, if you can confirm whether those are authentic leads in this incident?

Ned Price (28:59):

These are questions about an ongoing law enforcement investigation. Certainly we’re not going to comment on any active leads. I believe the FBI has issued a statement where they have put out some details of the vehicle in which these individuals were traveling. But again, we’ll have to refer to the FBI on those questions. Yes.

Speaker 4 (29:16):

I just want a couple more just following up on that. If there’s any more information that you have or who carried this out, what is being done to get them home safely and does this put more pressure to label cartels terrorist groups if this indeed is an act by the cartels?

Ned Price (29:29):

So these are questions, again, that are about an ongoing investigation and especially when an on ongoing investigation has the ultimate goal of safely recovering Americans who have been abducted, we don’t want to say anything or do anything that could impair the ability of our counterparts in the FBI or other departments and agencies to safely carry out their mission. On top of that, information is scant at this point. So we’re just not going to weigh in. Yes, in the back.

Speaker 5 (30:04):

Thanks so much. I want to follow up on the announcement between ROK and Japan. The US has emphasized the importance of trilateral relationship among US, ROK, Japan many times. And on this historical forced labor issue specifically, what kind of advice did the US give to ROK before this announcement? What kind of role did the US play in this announcement?

Ned Price (30:26):

The United States has played the role of ally. The United States has played the role of partner to both countries. These are decisions that Japan and the ROK have had to make and will have to make themselves. Of course, we are going to play whatever role we can to be most helpful. As helpful as we can to our treaty allies. But these are decisions that the countries themselves have had to decide to pursue.

And when it comes to the decision that was announced today, it is something that we heartedly commit because we welcome the advancement of the bilateral relationship between the ROK and Japan. But it’s also critically important to us that the trilateral relationship between Japan, between the ROK and the United States, is as deep and effective and seamless as it possibly can be, not only for the core challenge that is the DPRK and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but also for the shared vision our three countries have, of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Kylie.

Speaker 6 (31:33):

Staying in the region.

Ned Price (31:33):


Speaker 6 (31:34):

There’s a Financial Times report that Speaker McCarthy has been convinced by the Taiwan Government to actually meet with their president in California instead of Taiwan due to concerns about a Chinese aggressive response to that visit. Has the State Department been involved in discussions about planning of that meeting between the two?

Ned Price (31:56):

So first, I’m not aware of any confirmed travel on the part of President Tsai to the United States. I’m specifically not aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any travel. So I would need to refer you to President Tsai’s office, to Speaker McCarthy’s office for any additional details beyond that.

Speaker 6 (32:17):

But just from a policy and planning perspective, would this department be involved in those conversations?

Ned Price (32:27):

Congress is an independent, co-equal branch of government. Members of Congress, the Speaker of the House, in a case like this, is going to decide for himself, for herself the meeting, the nature of the meetings that he or she wishes to make. Now, of course, in the conduct of, and the actual travel of a foreign dignitary to the United States, there would be a role to play for the Department of State. But of course I’m not aware of any confirmed travel, nor am I aware that our Taiwanese partners have announced any intention to travel.

Speaker 6 (33:06):

And just while we’re on the subject of travel and China, after the canceled visit to Beijing last month for the Secretary of State, you guys said that you would look to planning another visit when the conditions were conducive to that visit, I believe. Are we any closer to getting that on the calendar?

Ned Price (33:26):

What we said in the aftermath of that postponement, we pointed to the meeting between President Biden and President Xi in the meeting they had in Bali in November of last year where there was an expansive agenda on the table. It was an agenda that had different elements, but the crux of that agenda was the priority we place, both of our country’s place, in seeking to see to it that competition doesn’t veer into conflict in our shared efforts to build a floor on the relationship and ultimately to establish guardrails to see to it that areas that are potentially conflictual don’t actually verge into the realm of conflict.

We made the point in the aftermath of the decision to postpone the visit that a visit in the aftermath of the high altitude surveillance balloon wouldn’t be conducive to an agenda along those lines. We still have lines of communication with our PRC counterparts. We wish we had more and in some ways deeper lines of communication with our PRC counterparts. But the Secretary, when the time is right, when the conditions are in fact conducive to a meeting with his counterparts in the PRC, is prepared to travel. This is a decision that we are going to discuss internally within the department and across the executive branch. But also I expect there will continue to be conversations between the United States and our PRC counterparts on this.

Speaker 6 (35:09):

So conditions aren’t conducive right now?

Ned Price (35:11):

We haven’t announced any plans for the Secretary to travel in the near term. Simon.

Speaker 7 (35:19):

I wanted to ask about Tunisia. You touched on it last week in regard to the political situation, but there’s a separate issue. The World Bank has today said that they’re… Or yesterday, I think, in a note, said they’re going to pause future work with Tunisia over the president’s statements regarding migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. I wondered if… I don’t think you’ve spoken on that particular issue, the president’s comment and also the country’s crackdown on migrants. I wondered if you had any comment on that and whether we could expect any kind of pause or disruption to US aid arrangements to Tunisia.

Ned Price (36:04):

Well, as you heard from the World Bank, we too are deeply concerned by President Saied’s remarks regarding migration from Sub-Saharan Africa to Tunisia and reports of arbitrary arrests of migrants in recent weeks. These remarks are not in keeping with Tunisia’s long history of generosity and hosting and protecting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. And we’re disturbed by reports of violence against these very migrants.

We urge Tunisian authorities to meet their obligations under international law to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. And we encourage Tunisian authorities to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations to facilitate the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin. Alex.

Speaker 8 (36:50):

Thanks, Ned. And moving to the caucus, if you don’t mind. Wondering if you have anything to say about latest casualties from last night in Nagorno-Karabakh territory?

Ned Price (37:01):

We’re following reports of a shooting incident on March 5th inside Nagorno-Karabakh, which killed five individuals, we understand. We offer our condolences to the families of those injured and killed. There can be no military solution to conflict and the use of force to resolve disputes is never acceptable. The only way to sustain peace at is the negotiating table and the use of force undermines negotiations. A senior advisor for Caucasus Negotiations, Lou Bono, is in the region to stress the only way forward is through direct dialogue and diplomacy, and as the Secretary has emphasized, the United States is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations.

Speaker 8 (37:39):

Any sense of its timing and also its implications for, as you said, the senior advisors in region, its implications for the negotiation process?

Ned Price (37:46):

It’s implications for?

Speaker 8 (37:48):

For the peace process.

Ned Price (37:49):

The implication implication for us is the imperative of continued direct dialogue and discussion between the parties themselves. This is imperative on the part of the parties. We have played the role of partner to both countries facilitating on a trilateral basis, engagement between the foreign ministers and at the leader level as well. We are prepared whether bilaterally, trilaterally, multilaterally to continue to be a partner in furtherance of efforts to secure a lasting peace.

Speaker 8 (38:22):

On that point, Azeris heard last week from Lavrov directly when he was traveling in the region, that basically, it’s better way to solve the problem if they stick with Russian mediating efforts. Something that was reflected by actually his spokesperson later on as well. So I’ll give you a chance to make your case why the Western mediation you think is the way to go.

Ned Price (38:45):

This is a question for the parties themselves and we are not going to put ourselves against any other offer of mediation. And in fact, we’re not a mediator. We are a partner to the two countries. I think we have demonstrated both in word and in deed the nature of our relationship with the two countries, our ability to bring the two countries together, our willingness and readiness to help bring about additional progress in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

We are not doing this as a means by which to compete with Moscow. We are doing this in an effort to bring about the settlement and resolution of a long-standing dispute between these two countries. And unfortunately, a dispute that has consistently taken lives, just as it did on March 5th. Our interest here is in peace and security. It’s in the interests of the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. Said.

Sayed (39:43):

Thank you. Going to the Palestinian issues, very quickly, Hussein Sheik, he’s the Executive Director of the PLO told the Israelii newspaper, The Times of Israel, that Israel has not fulfilled the Aqaba Promises to transfer withheld PA funds. Are you aware of that? Are you aware of this report and do you have any comments?

Ned Price (40:10):

Said, I’ve seen that report. We’d have to refer you to the parties themselves. Generally, our point has always been that we and our regional partners will continue to work with the parties to advance the commitments made in Aqaba. Resulting from Aqaba was a public statement that spelled out commitments on the part of the parties. I’m not aware that the commitment that you referenced was actually in the communique from Aqaba.

Sayed (40:36):

Okay. Are you satisfied with Israel’s fulfillment of all the elements that came in the communique of Aqaba?

Ned Price (40:44):

What’s most important to us, Said, is that the parties fulfill the commitments they’ve made. I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to render a verdict on whether their work is complete. This is an incomplete project because tensions do remain high. The situation on the ground remains tenuous. And so especially as that’s the case, it’s imperative that the parties adhere to the commitments that they made to one another. The commitments that they made to the United States, to Jordan, to Egypt as well. These commitments are important in and of themselves, but if and when implemented, these are important commitments that can help to deescalate tensions, that can help to restore the overriding sense of calm that we and our partners in Egypt, Jordan, and throughout the region would like to see return.

Sayed (41:31):

Okay, but going back to the settler attacks last Sunday, Sunday, the 26th of February, while it was shown all over the world and so on, settler violence continues, almost every day and most of the time with the protection of the Israeli army. So I don’t know, all these communiques and all these talks and so on that you talk with Israelis or the Palestinians and so on, has not

Sayed (42:00):

Seen at least till now a whole week has elapsed to really impact or to stop Israeli army giving cover to the sector violence? Do you have any comment on that?

Ned Price (42:12):

Sayed, we believe it’s critical that both parties refrain from unilateral steps that serve only to exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance and negotiate a two-state solution. We’ve been unequivocal in condemning any and all forms of violence. We are agnostic as to the perpetrator. Violence is never appropriate. It is never acceptable. We condemn it regardless of who’s behind it.

Sayed (42:37):

Is this an issue that you will be discussing this afternoon with Minister Ron Dermer?

Ned Price (42:43):

Minister Dermer and the National Security Advisor have a portfolio of regional security issues. I expect the secretary and the team will have a discussion, a broad discussion with their Israeli counterparts on the central regional security issues. Of course, at the top of that list is a challenge that is posed by Iran, it’s nuclear program, but also the broader set of threats that Iran poses to the region. We’ll have more to say in the aftermath of that meeting.

Sayed (43:12):

And lastly, I want to ask about the whereabouts of Envoy Hady Amr. Is he still there? Is he back here?

Ned Price (43:20):

Hady Amr was in the region last week. He was in the West Bank last week. I’d have to check to see if he’s returned, but we’ll let you know. Yeah, Gita.

Gita (43:27):

Thanks. To pick up on the reference to Iran, I have a question about the school poisoning. It has spread it hasn’t stopped and more and more the students are being poisoned. The government is not doing anything about it. One thing that they seem to be doing is preventing the medical profession from giving the parents access to their kids’ lab results or even preventing them from seeing their kids while they’re being treated. Some officials say this is just stress related and some others are saying that the girls are doing this themselves. They are doing what everybody’s calling chemical attack. Would you support or even initiate a call for international investigation?

Ned Price (44:21):

So Gita first, these reports of continued poisoning of school girls across Iran, they are unconscionable. These poisonings need to be stopped immediately. Women and girls in Iran and women and girls everywhere for that matter, have a universal human right. It is the universal right to education. It’s essential to advancing economic security, prosperity, realizing their potential, whether that’s in Iran or anywhere else. There must be accountability for those responsible for what is happening. To your question, if these poisonings were found to be related to women and girls participation in protests, than it would be within the mandate of the UN’s independent international fact finding mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran to investigate. Our thoughts do remain with all of those who are suffering from this.

And to the other element of your question, we are alarmed by what we’ve seen on the part of Iranian authorities, the reported arrests of a prominent journalist, Ali Pourtabatabaei for investigating the poisonings. We’re also alarmed by reports that Iranian authorities have intimidated parents, that they have intimidated medical professionals into silence. The entire world is greatly concerned about these poisonings. Iranian authorities should cease suppressing the media and allow them to do their jobs. The same is true for medical professionals. The same is true for parents who are attempting merely to care for their children. There must be accountability for these poisonings and most importantly, they must come to an end.

Gita (46:02):

Well, the fact-finding mission’s mandate is long. How about, I don’t know the WHO or the International Red Cross. Would it be possible? Would you call for that? Do you think that’s something that would be more credible than the government itself doing the investigation?

Ned Price (46:22):

So I’m not going to speak for any other organization that may or may not have a role in this, but there is a fact finding mechanism within the UN itself. There was a fact finding mechanism within the auspices of an existing UN body. If it is determined that there was a motive at play and an effort to suppress the ambitions, the abilities of women and girls in Iran, we do think it would be appropriate for that particular body to within their mandate to investigate.

Matt (47:03):

How do you determine the motive? I mean, presumably you don’t trust any Iranian investigation, so how do you get to the point where you can say that, okay, this now falls within the purview of the…

Ned Price (47:17):

So the world, Matt, is watching very closely and we are even in the midst of Iranian attempts to intimidate and to suppress information that is reaching the rest of the world. We’ve been able to see these reports, we’ve been able to see video, we’ve been able to hear firsthand accounts. I think it will become clear to the world what is or what is not happening. If that information continues to emanate from Iran, we’ll continue to watch very closely and we’ll continue to call for what’s appropriate and effective.

Matt (47:49):

Based on what’s come out so far, you have not been able to assign motive.

Ned Price (47:53):

That’s right.

Matt (47:54):

What makes you think that? I mean, this has been going on for some time now.

Ned Price (47:58):

That’s right.

Matt (47:59):

So you’re confident that without an international investigation or an international fact finding mission or something like that, that could get inside Iran and look to see what a motive might be or was, is, you can determine that anyway?

Ned Price (48:17):

We’ve been able to see with our own eyes through news reports, through reports that are emanating from Iran, video footage of this as well. I suspect we’ll continue to learn more about this if these unfortunately continue, we want to do what is most effective, what we think will help to address that will come to the aid of women and girls who’s been subjected to this. Most importantly, these reported poisonings need to come to an end.

Speaker 9 (48:49):

It’s also been reported about these [inaudible 00:48:50] of secret jails in Iran where they torture those girls they arrested. Do you have any comments on that?

Ned Price (48:57):

Well, we’ve seen these reports of attempted suppression on the part of those who are reporting on this. We’ve seen reports as well that those who may have been subjected to what is afflicting these girls in Iran may also have been intimidated and the subject of repression themselves. Of course, all of this is greatly concerning for us. Yes.

Speaker 10 (49:19):

The foreign ministry, Iran spokesman today said his country still exchanging message with Washington and he express commitment to diplomacy, as he said, to resolve the differences and nuclear negotiation issue. Can you confirm that about the message and what’s your comment? How do you read it?

Ned Price (49:54):

I haven’t seen the full context of these remarks, but what I can tell you is that we have heard plenty of misleading statements and outright lies from Iranian officials over the course of weeks now. The JCPOA is not on the agenda and has not been on the agenda for some time. What has been on the agenda are three primary topics, the violence and the repression, the efforts on the part of the Iranian regime to suppress its own people, Iran’s provision of UAV technology to Russia and then of course Iran’s continued practice of wrongfully detaining Americans in Iran. We have means by which to make our positions and to make clear the priority we attach to each of those issues, but we’re just not going to speak to the particular channels. Yes.

Speaker 10 (50:48):

So you’re denying that you’re exchanging messages with Iran with respect to the nuclear negotiation?

Ned Price (50:56):

The JCPOA is not on the agenda. Yes.

Speaker 11 (50:59):

I also want to follow up on South Korea’s agreement about the wartime labor issue. In the wake of this agreement, Japanese government said it would start a process to lift restriction on the same conductor material export to ROK. So do you support this movement as you seek a stronger supply chain among US allies?

Ned Price (51:23):

These are questions for the governments of the ROK and Japan themselves. We support any effort that seeks to improve and to advance the relationship between our allies, the ROK and Japan. Because that in turn supports the tri-lateral relationship that we have cultivated and we have focused on to such a great detail over the course of this administration I should say, for Secretary Blinken himself, this is something that has been a focus of his for even longer than that. When he was Deputy Secretary of State in the final two years of the Obama Biden administration, this was a priority of his to cultivate and seek to support better relations between these two treaty allies. We have come a ways from where we were 10 years ago. Today’s step is a very positive development, one we hardily commend and we hope to see our treaty allies continue to build on this going forward. Yeah.

Speaker 12 (52:23):

Just a question from Russia. Thank you. The United States refused to issue visas to Russian diplomats who were heading to New York this week for an event at the United Nations. Do you have any comment here?

Ned Price (52:35):

I don’t. If we have anything to offer on that, we will.

Speaker 12 (52:39):

Okay. And one more question the New START Treaty, as you know, expires in less than three years, should Washington and Moscow fail to agree on extension in February 2026, are there any contingency planning you’re doing now for this scenario or are you planning anything for this case?

Ned Price (53:02):

I think your question gets far ahead of where we are, and I say that because Moscow has announced its purported suspension of implementation of the New START agreement. Even before that happened, we found that Moscow was in technical non-compliance with the New START Treaty. So before we start talking about what happens in 2026 and a potential renewal of the New START Treaty, we want to focus on bringing Moscow back into compliance with the treaty. It is in the interest of the American people. It is in the interest of the people of Russia. It’s in the interest of people around the world to see to it that the two countries that possess the largest number of nuclear weapons engage in responsible behavior and part of being a responsible nuclear power is engaging in arms control. It’s engaging in talks about strategic stability just as the United States and the Soviet Union did over the course of the Cold War.

Over the course of the Cold War, we had mechanisms in place to mitigate against the possibility that there would be a nuclear exchange. Ultimately, these efforts were successful in that there was not a nuclear exchange between nuclear powers during the Cold War. Now, the responsibility we have as nuclear powers, the United States and Russia is just as great. It’s incumbent upon countries that seek to be responsible stakeholders in the international community to act responsibly. We have consistently acted responsibly. Late last year, we thought we would soon be meeting with our Russian counterparts in Cairo for a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission to discuss issues of New START implementation and compliance. Russia unfortunately pulled out of that engagement.

Earlier this year we thought there would be a meeting of the BCC. Russia unfortunately pulled out of that, and that is what ultimately led us to render Russia not in technical compliance with the New START agreement, but there is a very uncomplicated way for Russia to come back into compliance. It needs to take part in inspections. That’s something that can happen fairly quickly and it’s something that we hope Moscow does for the sake of its citizens, for the sake of our citizens, for the sake of people around the world.

Speaker 12 (55:21):

Last question on Syria. On General Millers travel to Syria, did the US notify Russia in any way about the travel?

Ned Price (55:29):

This is a question for DOD I couldn’t say.

Speaker 12 (55:31):


Ned Price (55:32):

Okay. Thanks everyone.

Journalists (55:33):

Thank you.

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