Department Press Briefing – January 31, 2022
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:25 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. As a gift to all of you, I don’t have anything at the top – (laughter) – so happy to start with your questions.
QUESTION: Is that a gift or is that like a curse?
MR PRICE: Time will tell.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: What exactly do you think you accomplished at this Security Council meeting?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, you heard from our Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She had an opportunity in the session —
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. You don’t need to go through everything that she said and everything that everyone – I just – what did – what does the administration think it accomplished by bringing this to the Security Council?
MR PRICE: Well, can I give a slight preamble and then —
QUESTION: Well, yeah, as long as you —
MR PRICE: And then I will —
QUESTION: As long as you don’t repeat everything that was said in an hours-long meeting.
MR PRICE: I will come to your question.
MR PRICE: But I think it is important because not everyone is the famed Matt Lee, diplomatic reporter extraordinaire. And I think the context here is important because the UN Security Council, as we know, under the UN Charter has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to international peace and security and takes the lead in examining instances of aggression. And that is precisely what we are seeing here. And you have heard that from us over the past couple months. You have heard that from our allies and partners. You heard that from members of the Security Council today.
The point today, Matt, to come to your question, was to continue to shine a spotlight on what we are seeing and to demonstrate to the international community, to demonstrate to the Russian Federation, that the world is united in the viewpoint that aggression, violations of core tenets of the rules-based international order, that these elements must not be allowed to be conducted with impunity.
We heard a good deal of consensus from the Security Council. We heard from many of the speakers today that this situation, the situation and the crisis on the border that Russia has needlessly precipitated, should be resolved diplomatically. That is the point that we have been emphasizing all along. Diplomacy and dialogue remains our preferred course. But there was a resounding call from the Security Council this morning that Russia should avail itself of that course.
We heard from the Russian Federation, as we’ve heard from Moscow before, that they have no plans to invade Ukraine. But as we’ve consistently said, we’ll be looking for deeds. We’ll be looking for concrete signs of de-escalation. We and the members of the Security Council will, even as we look for those concrete signs of de-escalation and those deeds, will hold them to those words. We’re continuing to monitor their actions. You heard that from us in the council this morning. You’ve heard that from any number of allies and partners around the world.
So this was the first time, despite dozens and dozens of private engagements, about 180 engagements in recent weeks alone, but this was the first time that the Security Council took up this question in an open session, and we thought that was important. We thought it was important that they do so in that venue and with that level of exposition so that the world could hear it and the Russian Federation could hear it.
QUESTION: Okay, but I’m just trying to – because it just sounds like the same thing going back and forth between both sides. And when you say that the Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to international peace and security, did the Security Council actually do anything?
MR PRICE: Matt, this was not about a resolution. It was not about a vote. This was about an exposition of the facts.
QUESTION: And hasn’t there been expositions after expositions after expositions of this going back months now?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are not – we are not —
QUESTION: You yourself get up here every single day and talk about – or whenever you get up here, I’m just saying – I mean, just when you’re briefing, you get up here and you talk about the G7, you talk about the EU, you talk about NATO, you talk about any number of international fora that —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — where this stuff has actually come out and been agreed on. And when you say —
MR PRICE: Matt, we are not going to apologize for engaging in robust diplomacy.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MR PRICE: For bringing this to every conceivable fora and appropriate fora.
QUESTION: But when you say – okay, fine.
MR PRICE: And for continuing to be transparent with our concerns.
QUESTION: Okay, but that’s —
MR PRICE: If the criticism is that we are engaging too robustly in diplomacy, that we’re being too transparent, that we’re being too consistent in what we’re saying, that is criticism that we will accept if that’s a criticism you want to lodge.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m not criticizing at all. I’m just curious as to when you say the world is united in opposing Russian aggression, but – and you say that because of what happened in the Security Council today, then that’s just flat wrong because the world isn’t united. There were two members of the council that vetoed, wielding members of the council that didn’t even want to have this meeting in the first place.
MR PRICE: Well, I —
QUESTION: So when you talk about – when you talk – I’m just wondering, what do you think? How do you think you have advanced the cause, or your cause, the cause of the United States, of Europe, of NATO, in countering Russian aggression with this meeting?
MR PRICE: So you raised two countries. I think one country we can explain their —
QUESTION: They’re pretty big countries, Ned.
MR PRICE: We – you can explain their opposition pretty easily.
QUESTION: One of them has got more people in it than any other.
MR PRICE: The country that is behind this aggression, the country that is behind this buildup, the country that has consistently engaged in disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda in an effort to obfuscate the facts. So we can – we can explain that country’s vote.
But I assume you’re also referring to the PRC. A couple facts. One is that the PRC frequently does side and vote with Russia on the Security Council. That did not come as a surprise. We also understand, I think as you alluded to, that their objection today was more of an objection to the format than a dismissal of the subject. And we know that this is a matter of concern for the PRC. Secretary Blinken discussed it with Foreign Minister Wang when they connected last week.
But I’d make a couple other points. One, we often hear from the PRC very forceful – very forceful support for territorial integrity and the concept of sovereignty. That is a refrain of the PRC in New York, in Beijing, and around the world.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one thing about that? And when they talk about that, they’re talking about Tibet. They’re talking Hong Kong. They’re talking about —
MR PRICE: These —
QUESTION: – all things that you actually disagree with.
MR PRICE: These principles – the principle of sovereignty, the principle of territorial integrity – these are principles that are universal. They have universal applicability. So —
QUESTION: So then you do believe that the PRC has territorial sovereignty over Hong Kong and Tibet?
MR PRICE: If any country believes in the concept of sovereignty, this —
QUESTION: It should be China? Is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: This is an episode that has the potential to undermine that core tenet, that core tenet of the rules-based international order.
MR PRICE: Two, there, of course, are a lot of issues where we don’t see eye to eye with our PRC counterparts. But I think where we do see eye to eye – and you saw from the PRC’s remarks their support for diplomacy, for dialogue, their support for a diplomatic resolution – I think it speaks to the fact it is no one’s interest – not in our interest, of course, not in NATO’s interest, not in our European allies’ and partners’ interest, and not in the PRC’s interest – to see a potentially destabilizing conflict emerge in the European continent. It would impact the PRC’s interests all over the world as well.
So we know how the PRC tends to operate, including in the UN Security Council. We’re clear-eyed about that. But we also know that Russian aggression, a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, it would be a matter of great import and presumably a matter of great concern for the PRC as well.
QUESTION: Ned, just following up on those. So after today, do you guys have a concrete plan to keep the Security Council’s attention on this issue? Like, Russia will hold the presidency in February. Do you guys have any plans to call further meetings on the situation?
MR PRICE: I’ll defer to my colleagues up in New York to speak to the next steps. But I think what you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield today is that she has been intently focused on this, and you heard from her yesterday on television as well. She has been intently focused on this with our allies and partners in New York but also with the Russian delegation in New York. So whether it is within the UN Security Council context, whether it’s within the UN context more broadly in New York, the answer to your question, broadly speaking, is yes. We will continue to keep the focus on this, as I was referring to Matt, across all appropriate fora, the UN being one of them.
QUESTION: Okay, I have a couple of others. So last week Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman made a comment about the potential timing of a potential Russian invasion, and she was speaking in reference to the Olympics. She said given the timing and the Olympics starting soon, she said President Xi wouldn’t be excited if Putin chose to invade. Now surely you will say I’m not in Vladimir Putin’s brain and I don’t speak for him, but certainly the U.S. has an assessment on this. Is it now the U.S. assessment that Putin will wait until after the Olympics? Can you talk a little bit towards that end?
MR PRICE: So there is not much I’m in a position to say here beyond a couple broad points. And you heard this from Secretary Austin, you heard this from Chairman Milley last week: We don’t believe that Vladimir Putin has made a firm decision. The other point is that only one person can make that decision. So if Putin hasn’t made a decision, that decision to move forward or not has yet been made. It is our goal in all of this to attempt to influence Moscow’s decision making and Moscow’s calculus, because even as we’ve made very clear that our preferred course is dialogue and diplomacy, we have continued to make prudent preparations vis-à-vis the other path, and that is defense and deterrence.
And so it is up to us and to our partners and allies to make very clear the costs that – the costs that would befall the Russian Federation if renewed invasion were to go forward. We’ve been very clear about that – again, to Matt’s question, perhaps too clear in the words of some. But that’s what we’ve been engaged in all along. Even as we continue to prefer the path of dialogue and diplomacy, we’re continuing to, with our partners and allies, prepare with defense and deterrence.
QUESTION: Right. And the final thing is about just an update, whether you have an update on the number of Americans – in Ukraine.
MR PRICE: Sure. So as you know – and we’ve discussed this in the context both of Ukraine and other countries – but you well know by now that we typically don’t provide numbers of U.S. citizens living in or traveling to another country. And we don’t do that for all the reasons that are very familiar to you by now. United States citizens are not required to register when they travel overseas. Those that do opt to register, most of them presumably do not de-register when they leave a country.
When it comes to the registration of individuals in our so-called STEP system, we are also not in a position to verify individuals who sign up. And in fact, we know from previous experiences that international organizations, third-country nationals, many people who aren’t U.S. citizens do sign up for various reasons.
Now, having said all that, our embassies do compile estimates of U.S. citizens in their countries for – time to time – for contingency planning purposes. And as you know, our embassy in Kyiv has been engaged in robust contingency planning together with officials here at the department and across the interagency for some time now. These estimates are based on the best available information specific to that country, pulling on all available inputs. But even then, we are not in a position to call any particular figure authoritative or comprehensive.
But I will say that for Ukraine, in October – which I’ll come to; that’s noteworthy – the estimate was that there were 6,600 U.S. citizens residing in Ukraine. And that is in addition to American tourists and visitors who may have been there at the time.
Now, we reached that estimate, as I said, based on all of the inputs that were available to us. And that includes data from our Ukrainian Government partners, interactions with American organizations in Ukraine like the chamber of commerce, exchange programs and international schools, and the number of people applying for U.S. citizen services such as passports at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
So as you will see, those inputs are instructive but they are not necessarily dispositive when it comes to a firm, accurate, comprehensive number. But that is the estimate we were able to arrive at last October, 6,600.
Now, our embassy also estimated – again, in October, before Russia’s military buildup began – that at any given time, any given point in time, there could be 16,000 U.S. citizens – U.S. citizen tourists and visitors in Ukraine.
Now, this was back in October. And ever since, as you know, we have been urging U.S. citizens not to travel to Ukraine. And in fact, those warnings began that very month, in October 2021, October of last year. It was in the first instance a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and epidemiological conditions in Ukraine, and of course more recently due to the increased threat from Russia.
And so while we estimated at the time there could be 16,000 tourists and visitors, our best assessment is that that number is much, much lower now. And we do not believe this figure to be an accurate reflection of where we are now, since many of those American tourists, many of those visitors presumably would have departed the country, never intended to stay more than a few days, a couple weeks, or have heeded our concerted messaging, including in recent weeks, that American citizens should strongly consider departing the country, that they should avail themselves of the plentiful commercial options that are available both due to COVID, but of course more recently and more acutely, due to the risk of a Russian invasion.
QUESTION: Right. One final one for me is, like, are you guys doing any – undertaking any effort to reach out to these people, like the 6,600?
MR PRICE: The answer to that is unequivocally yes. We have as a matter of course – this happens all around the world but especially in places where the situation has the potential to destabilize quite rapidly, which of course is the situation in Ukraine – we have been regularly messaging American citizens, sending out notices, urging them as we have done in recent days and even in recent hours to strongly consider availing themselves of the available commercial options and departing the country now.
We have been issuing that message for some time now. We will continue to urge American citizens who – despite months of warnings that Americans should not travel to Ukraine, despite a more recent campaign to educate American citizens who for whatever reason remain in Ukraine – that they should leave. We will continue to be very clear through every channel we can to convey that message to American citizens, whether it’s social media, whether it’s on our website, whether it is through engagement with reporters like all of you. We have engaged with diaspora reporters as well, again, availing ourselves of every appropriate channel to convey in strong terms the guidance that Americans should strongly consider leaving Ukraine at this time using available options.
QUESTION: But wait, Ned, when you talk about 6,600, does that include U.S. Government personnel?
MR PRICE: These are private U.S. citizens.
QUESTION: Oh, private. Okay. And then you said that you think that the number of 16,000 potentially at any one time would have decreased significantly over the last four months. Do you also think that the 6,600 would have decreased significantly or no, do you not have —
MR PRICE: So the difference between those two numbers is the 16,000 are visitors and tourists, so presumably people —
QUESTION: Right, but do you think that some of the – some are – some kind of percentage of the 6,600 who were living there permanently or residing there —
MR PRICE: It’s – the —
QUESTION: — have also left since October?
MR PRICE: So the short answer is that we don’t have a way of knowing, but if you take your question on the basis of human nature rather than any sort of consular knowledge, I think the short answer is probably that a greater percentage of the visitors and tourists that were there in October are no longer there, that that 16,000 number is lower. When it comes to the 6,600 figure, again, we don’t have perfect insight into it but many of these individuals are likely to be dual U.S.-Ukrainian citizens, many of whom consider Ukraine to be home. The decision to leave for them may be more difficult than it would be for someone who was there for a business opportunity or there for tourism purposes, for example.
QUESTION: So tomorrow Secretary Blinken will talk to Foreign Minister Lavrov. Could you share your expectation about this call? I know that before previous engagements you guys have said we’re not expecting any breakthrough, but this time you have shared your written response, they have studied it; everyone knows the other side’s concerns, threats, stakes. So what do you expect tomorrow? Is it a make-or-break dialogue, or is it not? Are you just trying to push the can – can of the dialogue down the road to earn time?
MR PRICE: I would characterize it as the next step, as the next step in the path of diplomacy and dialogue. And the opportunity for the Secretary and foreign minister to speak was something that the two individuals agreed to in Geneva the other week. During that session, as you later heard from us, we told the Russian Federation that our written response would be forthcoming imminently, and then it was agreed that at a date to be determined, the foreign minister and the Secretary of State would have an opportunity to engage. And so that date has now arrived; it will be tomorrow morning.
You have heard from the Kremlin what to us is the key fact and the key reaction, and that is that it is and has been on the desk of Vladimir Putin – and this goes back to Humeyra’s question. There is only one individual who from the Russian side can determine what Moscow does or does not do. His reaction, his response is the response that matters most to us. We will have to see what the foreign minister has to say in terms of conveying the official position or any initial reactions from the Kremlin to our written response, but that’s precisely why the Secretary is engaging in this conversation, to hear initial reactions and, again, to share our concerns and to continue discussions around issues where there may be the potential for reciprocal progress – reciprocal in terms of improving and addressing the security concerns of the United States, those we share with our European allies and partners, but then, too, determining if there are ways within the Venn diagram of issues that all of us believe may be viable to determine if there are ways to address some of Moscow’s stated concerns as well.
QUESTION: Precisely. President Macron just talked again today to President Putin – second time in like four days. Isn’t it more effective to just talk to President Putin and keep the other parts of the government, since you say that is the only one who can decide anything?
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, we haven’t shut the door on engagement with President Putin; and quite to the contrary, the President was asked about this at his press conference, and he said he would be amenable to another conversation with President Putin. But we are fortunate to have a Secretary of State who is deeply engaged on this, and the next conversation will be at that level.
QUESTION: Ned, I just wanted to ask you, if President Zelenskyy keeps saying that you guys are exaggerating and sowing panic and so on, if the Ukrainian ambassador today, Oksana Markarova, said basically the same thing – so why all this drumbeat? I mean, if they’re – if the Ukrainians are saying, look, you’re exaggerating, there is no imminent war and so on, but you keep saying that it is really imminent, could you at least clarify this discrepancy, this dichotomy?
MR PRICE: Said, you heard from the Ukrainian ambassador yesterday the level of coordination between our two countries, the fact that we see eye to eye on many key issues. Our point in all of this – and I think this speaks to what we’ve heard from some of our Ukrainian partners – this is not about panic. To the contrary, this is about prudent preparation. Everything you have heard from us is in the vein of prudent preparation, whether that is in terms of fulfilling the Ukrainian Government request for significant amounts of defensive security assistance, which we’ve done to the tune of $650 million last year – more than any administration has previously done; whether it is in terms of authorizing, as our Ukrainian partners have applauded, other NATO Allies to provide U.S. origin equipment to the Ukrainians; whether it is what we have done in the context of NATO, both the contingency planning and the pledge to reinforce and reassure NATO’s eastern flank.
None of this an effort to sow panic, to make an invasion more likely. And to the contrary, all of this is an effort to deter an invasion and, should Vladimir Putin determine to go forward regardless, to ensure that defenses are appropriately reinforced.
QUESTION: Ned, are you still sending your arms and equipment to Ukraine, or it stopped?
MR PRICE: So we announced a couple weeks ago now that the President in December authorized an additional drawdown of $200 million. Several deliveries of that tranche of defensive security assistance has been delivered to Ukraine, and there are more deliveries associated with that drawdown that will continue.
QUESTION: Two questions.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: On sanctions and on a possible new ambassador nomination to Ukraine, would you be able to confirm that Ambassador Bridget Brink is top choice for the nomination to be ambassador to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: I am not in a position to confirm that. As you know, nominations emanate from the White House. But the Secretary was asked about this when he was in Kyiv the other day and he did note that we expect a nomination to be forthcoming shortly.
QUESTION: Second, on sanctions, last Friday during the press conference, President Zelenskyy asked publicly why the U.S. and partners are talking about possible sanctions in case Russia invade – why after, why not now, he asked. Would you be able to elaborate on that?
MR PRICE: Sure. So – and this gets to the point I was just making – our overriding goal in all of this is to resolve this crisis that Moscow has precipitated through dialogue and diplomacy. Our goal is to see to it that we need not enact sanctions because that means that the Russians won’t have moved forward with aggression. Our goal here is deterrence. And a key point in all of this is that our sanctions – any sanctions package – would lose its deterrent effect if it were to be put in place in advance of an invasion, in advance of additional Russian aggression. That’s one point.
Number two, we have heard from – we have heard the question as to why we don’t be more specific about the sanctions that we are preparing and have prepared with our allies and partners, and that is equally simple. It is not in our interest to telegraph our moves, to allow the Russian Federation to take steps that would mitigate the impact of these sanctions. Part of the deterrent effect of these sanctions is the fact that we have been very clear that these sanctions will be unprecedented in terms of their scope, in terms of their scale, what they are and can inflict on the Russian Federation; that they go after sectors that have strategic importance to the Russian Federation. And these are measures that were intentionally not pursued in 2014 because of their implications on the Russian Federation.
So, of course, these are not elements and these are not tools that we take lightly, but this would not be anything – further Russian aggression would not be anything that we would seek to discount, that we would seek to minimize. And so that is why you have heard us speak to the strength of the sanctions that would befall in a manner that is swift, strong, and sudden.
Third point: Even as we put these measures in place – these measures that are designed to have a deterrent effect – we are moving forward across a range of actions to – in the vein of defense and deterrence. I’ve already spoken of the defensive security assistance that we are providing to Ukraine, the authorization for third countries to provide U.S. origin equipment to Ukraine. We’ve spoken of the economic assistance and support that we are looking with the support of Congress to provide Ukraine. We have spoken of what we are doing with NATO to reinforce and to reassure NATO’s eastern flank. Those are just some of the areas in which well in advance of any potential Russian aggression, be it an invasion or something else from Moscow’s playbook, we are moving full speed ahead – full speed ahead to make sure that even as we continue to prefer this course of diplomacy and dialogue, we are ready with a path of defense and deterrence if that’s a path we have to go down.
QUESTION: One more question on sanctions. So you mentioned Congress. There is an effort, bipartisan effort in Congress to pass a new Russian sanction bill. The only contestant issue is – seems like Nord Stream 2, sanctions on Nord Stream 2. Does administration support this effort for new sanctions bill? And do you have any new position on Nord Stream 2?
MR PRICE: So I will defer to Congress as this specific legislation moves through the process. You heard from Toria Nuland yesterday that we’ve been in regular touch with the Hill on this legislation. We continue to be in close touch with them on everything pertaining to Russia and Ukraine, but as this legislation moves through the process, I will defer to our counterparts on the Hill. And beyond what we’ve said last week, that in the event of a Russian invasion, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward one way or another, that continues to be our position. That will be our position.
QUESTION: Ned, at the UN today, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said that the United States believes that Russia moved 5,000 troops into Belarus and the United States has information and evidence that they believe that Russia is moving 30,000 troops to the Ukrainian border within a matter of days – it said early February. A U.S. official since said that this is – comes from recently declassified U.S. intelligence. Can you just get a little bit more information about how the United States knows this without getting into sources and methods? As you know, the U.S. does not have a flawless record when it comes to giving intelligence at the Security Council. Was just wondering if you could give us a little bit more background information on this.
MR PRICE: So the short answer is that I’m not in a position to offer further detail on the information that we have released precisely, as you stated, because some of it does come from information that we’ve been able to appropriately declassify with adequate protection for sources and methods. So the amount of additional detail we can offer is limited.
What I will say, though, is that we have since the earliest days of this crisis that Moscow has needlessly provoked been extraordinarily transparent, and I think your question speaks to the fact that we are not in some ways following the normal formula in how we talk about these things because we thought it was important early on to be clear and candid and consistent with the American people, but also with the international community, including our allies and partners in Europe, but also the Russian Federation, to let them know and to leave no mistake that we had taken note of what we initially called their unusual military movements and what we have since come to recognize as potential preparations for large-scale action against Ukraine.
The Secretary spoke to this in November, the concerns that we had at that time. And since then, we have been in a position to release additional detail to expose what the Russians had and are doing. And you’ve also seen our allies and partners do that as well. Our British counterparts, of course, released some information, the – that was —
QUESTION: It was U.S.-derived information, though, that the British released.
MR PRICE: We have an incredibly close intelligence-sharing relationship with the United Kingdom. It is true that we share an extraordinary amount of information with them. But the British Government did release information pointing to what was characterized and what we assessed as well to be preparations to install Kremlin loyalists in the event that the – in the event of Russian aggression.
So that speaks to the fact that it is not just the United States Government sharing these concerns. And we have heard this from other governments that have declassified information, but also from allies and partners around the world that have spoken not always in the – in terms of declassified information but in terms that clearly are informed by information that is available to us collectively through all channels, whether that is information that is nonpublic. But again, John, much of this is information that is crystal clear to the casual observer.
The movement of 100,000 troops, the preparations that the Russian Federation is undertaking, you need not be sitting in Langley, Virginia to know the import and to know what that – what that suggests. And whether it’s commercial satellite imagery, whether it is social media, whether it is what the Russian Government itself is saying even as it attempts to explain away the movement of 100,000 troops and tens of thousands of troops into Belarus using whatever explanation is the explanation du jour, these things can’t be disguised. These things can’t be obfuscated.
And so we are going to extraordinary lengths to shine a spotlight on them in the vein, again, of prudent preparation, prudent preparation for what we know the Russian Federation has done in the past, including in 2014, and what we are deeply concerned they may seek to do going forward.
QUESTION: Are you feeling a credibility squeeze at all? Just because obviously this is being contested by the Russians, but the intelligence is also being questioned by the Ukrainians as well. So while neither are in Langley, they’re clearly on different sides of this conflict.
MR PRICE: John, we are sharing information, sharing intelligence, with our Ukrainian partners. We do that as a routine matter with our European allies as well. I do not think that aside from a dissonant perspective in Moscow, a perspective that relies on propaganda, disinformation – aside from that perspective, I don’t think you hear doubt about what the Russians are capable of and the concern that their military movements have engendered around the world.
QUESTION: Ned, what is the track record of Langley, Virginia when you talk about this? I mean, why do you – and I would also say when John really brings up – the last time the U.S. and the British tag-teamed on an intelligence – on intelligence reporting, do you remember? I’m old enough to remember what happened after that.
MR PRICE: Matt, if —
QUESTION: And so what – go ahead, you can answer that.
MR PRICE: No, please.
QUESTION: Then I’ll go back to Langley because I’d like to know. I mean, how did they do on predicting Afghanistan and what would happen after the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you know, I know as someone who used to work there, that —
MR PRICE: — intelligence, it is – it is intelligence analysis. Analysis is based on the best available inputs. And the number of challenges that our Intelligence Community has approached with precision in a way that has allowed policymakers to make informed decisions that have saved American lives, have advanced American interests, have forestalled crises and challenges around the world. They are far greater than the episodes you may be referring to.
QUESTION: Greater than the Iraq War? They’re greater than what happened in Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: I’m speaking to greater in terms of the number over time and the totality of the experience both before 2003 and after 2003. I don’t speak for any institution but the State Department, but I can say as a historical matter you have heard from Intelligence Community leaders and American leaders in the ensuing years of steps that have taken place and corrective measures that were put into place after 2003.
But clearly, Matt, this is not analogous, and anyone who would seek to claim that clear indications of Russians amassing forces along Ukraine borders – Ukraine’s borders, inside Belarus, the disinformation that they’re taking part in, their own contingency planning that is ongoing now – all of that speaks to the great concern we have, not only the concern we have but that our allies and partners around the world share.
QUESTION: Understandable. But when you get things so catastrophically wrong in very high-profile cases, it – there’s – it stands to reason that people are going to question the analysis even when there are such obvious signs of something potentially imminent happening.
MR PRICE: Matt, I think you just said it. There are obvious signs here for concern. If – perhaps you’re hearing things I have not, but I have not heard a informed observer or set of observers question why there is a need to be concerned over 100,000 Russian troops encircling Ukraine – on from Russia, within Belarus, for the clear propaganda disinformation that is emanating from Moscow that we have exposed here from the Department of State and the U.S. Government has done as well. If anyone not in Moscow wants to offer innocuous explanations for all of this – ignoring the history, ignoring what we’re seeing with our own very eyes – I think that would be a very difficult, difficult argument to make.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations with Minsk over this buildup in Belarus? And I know you said last week that if an invasion was launched from Belarus there would be consequences for the Belarusian Government, but what leverage do you actually have given Lukashenka has not been deterred by any sanctions that we’ve seen even in the past year?
MR PRICE: Well, we have been very clear, including to Belarusian authorities directly, that if it allows its territory to be used for an attack on Ukraine, it would face a swift and decisive response from the United States and our allies and partners. You’re right that the regime in Minsk is subject already to U.S. and international sanctions, but this would be of a categorically different question. And we’ve spoken of the unprecedented nature of sanctions and other economic measures that would befall the Russian Federation in the event of an invasion. Were Belarus – what should be a sovereign, independent country – if that country were to support such an invasion, our response would also be swift and decisive.
QUESTION: And is there an active diplomatic channel between State and Minsk or with the embassy there over this?
MR PRICE: We still have an embassy there. We have diplomats who are stationed there. We have Ambassador Julie Fisher who is in Vilnius. So we are still engaged diplomatically.
QUESTION: One last question on this thing. There were reports over the weekend, including today from a particular division within Russia’s armed forces, that some troops have pulled back from the border areas – a couple of thousand, according to the southern division. Have you seen any indications that some troops have actually departed?
MR PRICE: I am not immediately familiar with those reports. If we have anything to add on those reports, we will let you know. But I will say – and you heard this again from Toria Nuland yesterday – we have consistently called for de-escalation, for genuine indications of de-escalation. And we have, broadly speaking, not seen that.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you. First of all, there was a call today between Secretary Blinken and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Can you confirm this? The Palestinians are saying that they discussed among many issues the issue of the consulate and the reopening of the consulate. Could you confirm that to us? And then I have a couple of others.
MR PRICE: I can confirm that the Secretary did have a call earlier today with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As you know, Said, we have prioritized re-engagement with the Palestinian people and Palestinian Authority. This was an opportunity for the Secretary, who has spoken to President Abbas on a number of occasions already, to continue those conversations. We’ll have a written readout, but there was a discussion of the broad relationship as well as the need to improve quality of life for the Palestinian people in tangible ways, something that the United States and our international partners have supported in different ways.
They also discussed the need for reform within the Palestinian Authority, and Secretary Blinken made the point that he consistently has and the point that really undergirds our approach here, that – our belief that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live with equal measures of security, freedom, prosperity, and crucially, dignity. And that has really been at the center of our approach to the challenge.
QUESTION: Is that essentially the readout that’s going to come out?
MR PRICE: It may sound similar to that.
QUESTION: Okay, but on the consulate question, that didn’t come up?
MR PRICE: I just don’t have anything to add.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Yeah. All right. And by the way, there was – or Amnesty International said that they are issuing a report tomorrow, a 212-page report that calls Israel an apartheid state and so on. Do you have any comment on that, very quickly? Have you read the report? Have you seen it? Have you seen a synopsis of it?
MR PRICE: I understand, as you indicated, that the report has not been released, so we’ll reserve official comments until we have an opportunity to see it. But as you know, Said, that is not language that we have used nor would we ever use.
QUESTION: If you’ll allow me – I’m sorry, and I appreciate the indulgence of my colleagues – Israel is set to destroy a Palestinian neighborhood reservoir that they use for drinking water. Are you aware of this issue? Would you call on the Israelis to sort of – to step back on such a decision?
MR PRICE: We are aware of the issue. You have heard us say, and it applies equally here, that we believe it is Israel – critical for Israel and the PA to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Ned, on —
QUESTION: And my final question – I’m sorry – but just on the American citizen Omar Assad who died in Israeli custody. Today they turned in the report, I believe. Have – did they share it with you? Did they share the findings with you? And do you have any comment? Are you asking for – to conduct your own investigation into it?
MR PRICE: So as of earlier today, we had not yet seen a final report from the Israeli Government. You have heard me say this before, but we continue to support an investigation that is thorough and comprehensive into the circumstances of the incident, and we welcome receiving additional information as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Can you at least confirm that you’ve gotten a letter from Senator Baldwin about this very case?
MR PRICE: I will need to check on that.
QUESTION: Matt —
QUESTION: Because he was a resident of – when he was in the States, resident of Wisconsin.
MR PRICE: I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: I have a couple of quick questions, please.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: President Biden just announced that he will notify Congress of his intent to designate Qatar as a major non-NATO ally. What’s the importance of this? And is Qatar playing any role with Iran to free the American hostages there or in bridging the gap between the two countries to rejoin the JCPOA?
MR PRICE: So on your question, the announcement that you referenced takes place in the context of the visit of the Amir to the White House. This visit makes the Amir the first head of state to visit in this calendar year, in 2022, and the first Gulf leader to visit Washington during this administration. And I think that speaks to the bond we have with Qatar. It is a relationship that has never been stronger, thanks in large part to our extraordinary partnership across any number of challenges.
And late last year, we spent a great deal of time, including from this podium, speaking to the partnership and cooperation we have with Qatar – and we still have with Qatar – in the context of Afghanistan and Qatar’s extraordinary support hosting individuals who had been evacuated from Afghanistan, and still continuing to play an important role in our ongoing efforts to relocate individuals from Afghanistan, whether they’re American citizens, U.S. citizens, whether they’re lawful permanent residents, or whether they are Afghans to whom we have a special commitment. Of course, the relationship extends well beyond, including in the security realm, which speaks to the announcement that you just referenced.
When it comes to Iran, I don’t have anything to add in terms of a role – a Qatari role there beyond stating what you’ve heard from us before, and that is the release of the Americans and third-country nationals who are being unjustly detained in Iran is a top priority for the United States. It is a priority that we raise in no uncertain terms at every possible opportunity. It’s something that Special Envoy Malley, Ambassador Carstens, their full teams are focused on as we continue negotiations in Vienna with the JCPOA.
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything specific on that. You know, Michel, our – where we fall in terms of the Assad regime and the atrocities that the regime has perpetrated against its own people. We continue to believe that now is not the time for normalization. Now continues to be the time for accountability for the atrocities of the regime.
QUESTION: And my last one on Lebanon. The United States, as reports said, plans to reroute $67 million of military assistance for Lebanon’s armed forces to support members of the military, and you – you sent a notification to the Congress. Is it accurate? And do you have anything on this?
MR PRICE: I can confirm that the administration has notified Congress of the intent to provide additional support for the Lebanese Armed Forces as they respond to a wide range of security, economic, and public health challenges currently facing the country. We want to ensure that the Lebanese Armed Forces is able to carry out its duties and functions, including the ability to defend Lebanon’s territorial integrity, provide internal security, and preserve stability.
Since 2006, U.S. investments of more than $2.5 billion in the Lebanese Armed Forces have enabled the Lebanese military to contribute to the degradation of the – of ISIS in Lebanon, to carry out operations against al-Qaida, and to expand control over Lebanese territory along its border with Syria. Over the last two years, moreover, the Lebanese Armed Forces have also been at the forefront of responding to the various crises that are affecting the state of Lebanon and the Lebanese people, as demonstrated in its support of the emergency response to the Beirut port blast in August of 2020 and, of course, to its response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Lebanon as well.
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more specific? How much additional assistance is going to the Lebanese military?
MR PRICE: We’re —
QUESTION: Because my understanding of it is that you’re moving 67 million from the military to the military.
QUESTION: Yeah, it’s not additional. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: It’s not additional, and in fact, it really means kind of nothing because it’s – you’re just – well, explain.
MR PRICE: We’re – I’m not in a position to provide additional details at this time. We’re continuing to have consultations with the Hill on this, but as soon as we have more additional detail to provide, I’ll —
QUESTION: Can I —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: One more on that region, and I know that you tweeted about this last night, but I just – in terms of this – the Houthi missile – attempted missile attack on the UAE, one, do you have any reason to believe that it was specifically timed to the visit of the Israeli president?
And secondly, what is it going to take for you guys to step up your pressure on the Houthis? And I’m not just talking about with a paper designation of – an FTO designation, but what do they have to do before you realize that – or before you take action, significant action, against them and their – and the people who they serve as proxies for?
MR PRICE: Well, I would be interested in hearing your definition of significant action and how that compares to the actions that we’ve consistently taken in terms of designations, in terms of interdictions, in terms of working with the international community to shine a spotlight on the Houthis’ conduct to ensure accountability for their continued attacks, including their continued attacks against our partners in the region. That includes Saudi Arabia but also the UAE, and you referenced the attack over the weekend.
In terms of motivation, I can’t point to a motivation specifically beyond the fact that, of course, this was not the first time that the UAE and Abu Dhabi has endured an attempted Houthi attack. This is a challenge that we are very focused on. We are very focused on it in terms of providing support that our partners, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, need to defend themselves against these types of terrorist attacks, but also pursuing those Houthi leaders with appropriate authorities and tools that will hold them accountable, will constrain their ability to engage in this type of reprehensible behavior; and that even as we do all that, seeking with the Saudis, with other regional partners, of course with the UN special envoy to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Yemen. This is a conflict that the Houthis have been able to leverage to their advantage. And the sooner we can find a means by which to bring about a diplomatic solution here in Yemen, we will be better positioned across all these challenges.
QUESTION: Why do you think the Houthis have managed to leverage it to their advantage?
MR PRICE: Well, the vacuum that has existed, the power vacuum that in some ways has existed in Yemen since 2015 has —
QUESTION: Do you think that U.S. policy has played any role in the – what you’re saying now, that this is a conflict that the Houthis have managed to leverage to their advantage?
MR PRICE: What I can tell you is that U.S. policy now is focused on finding a diplomatic solution to this, not only to bring about greater levels of stability and security in Yemen, but also to put an end to or to alleviate the humanitarian emergency that is afflicting millions of Yemenis. Sixteen million Yemenis, I believe, are suffering from food insecurity at the moment. Part of that is due to longstanding factors, but part of that is due to what we are seeing on the ground in terms of these Houthi offenses.
So for us, this is a question of international peace and security. It’s a question of grave humanitarian concern. And it’s a question that we’re intently focused on diplomatically.
QUESTION: Any update on (inaudible) the Houthis on the list of terrorists?
MR PRICE: We discussed it last week, the – we discussed it in this room, I should say, last week. The President has noted that it is a tool that is under review. I don’t have any update to add to that.
A very quick final question, Conor.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Over the weekend North Korea launched its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017. With each launch that we’ve seen this year, the seventh now, you guys have issued the same statement condemning it, calling on them to talk, saying that you’re ironclad with your allies. Are you increasingly alarmed at all about these – this spate of missile launches now?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve made no secret about our concern, the concern that we have for what we’ve seen emanate from the DPRK. It’s a concern we share with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, Japan and South Korea, in addition to our allies and partners around the globe. Of course, the DPRK’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program, this is a challenge that is longstanding. It is a challenge that has vexed successive administrations. We have developed an approach that, at its center, seeks to find a diplomatic means by which to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
It’s a challenge and an approach that we continue to speak about with our allies, including especially our allies in the region. But even as we seek to find ways to address this challenge diplomatically, we’re moving forward with different steps to hold the DPRK responsible and accountable. And this month alone we imposed sanctions on eight DPRK-linked individuals and entities. These are individuals and entities that supported the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile-related programs. We are continuing to discuss this challenge in the UN as well.
QUESTION: Just one last one, then, on Burkina Faso. We’re a week out from the military seizing power. Would you now at this point in time call it a coup? And if not, why not is a coup assessment underway?
MR PRICE: Well, we are evaluating the impact of these actions on our engagement with – and our engagement in the country and our engagement with authorities in Burkina Faso. It’s too soon for us to get into the specifics of that. But we have called for restraint by all actors as we carefully review the events on the ground for any potential impact on our assistance. What I can say now is that we have paused most assistance for the Government of Burkina Faso as we continue to monitor the situation.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)