Department Press Briefing – January 24, 2023
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:30 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: All right, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Tuesday. One item at the top and then I’ll take your questions.
Secretary Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi convened this morning a meeting of G7 foreign ministers, Ukraine’s foreign minister, key European partners, and multilateral institutions to reaffirm our collective support for Ukraine and its energy sector, which remains under a brutal assault by Russia’s missile and drone strikes. Since October, the Department of State has been leading efforts with the rotating G7 – with the rotating G7 Presidency to coordinate and accelerate the delivery of critical energy infrastructure equipment from our allies and partners to Ukraine.
This group of foreign ministers last met November 29th of last year on the margins of the NATO Ministerial, where the Secretary announced over $53 million in U.S. emergency support for Ukraine’s electricity grid. Since then, the United States has delivered two plane loads of critical equipment, with another delivery scheduled soon. Further efforts include procuring high-voltage autotransformers and industrial-scale mobile gas turbine generators to support essential public services.
In today’s meeting, the Secretary highlighted the newest $125 million package we announced on January 18th, which will also be used to procure autotransformers and other priority grid equipment. Since the start of the war, the United States has provided $270 million in assistance to help repair, maintain, and strengthen Ukraine’s power sector in the face of continued attacks. The Secretary applauded the tremendous efforts by our allies and partners to coordinate complicated logistics, procurement, and delivery of critical equipment to help Ukraine repair its electricity system and maintain energy sector resilience.
The group also condemned Russia’s continuing brutal attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its cruel consequences for Ukrainian civilians. The Secretary and partners also emphasized the importance of continuing to provide air defense systems, which have helped Ukraine defend effectively against Russian attacks.
The group reinforced its commitment to stand with Ukraine as long as it takes and discussed the importance of this G7+ coordination mechanism beyond emergency response, to include long-term reconstruction towards a modern, distributed, clean, and efficient Ukrainian energy system fully integrated with Europe. The Secretary committed to continuing State Department leadership, in partnership with Japan, to convene and coordinate the G7+ group at the leadership and working levels going forward.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks, Ned. Sorry I missed the very top. I’m assuming you didn’t mention anything about tanks in your opening, no?
MR PRICE: I do not believe the word “tank” was in my topper, no.
QUESTION: Okay, well, then let me do it now. So it appears that you guys are ready to sign off or approve the transfer of Abrams tanks, and so I’m just wondering what you can say about that.
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, I know how much I tend to frustrate you when I do this. So I will just be clear and frank that if you’re looking for me to say something different from what I said yesterday, you’re not going to find it today. What I can tell you is that this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Ukrainian partners. We in turn have conversations with our European partners, other allies and partners, some 50 around the world who are providing much needed security assistance to Ukraine.
I know there has been a lot of focus on one particular capability over the past few days; there was extended discussion of it yesterday. But I also think it’s important in the context of that discussion that we not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The amount of security assistance that the United States and allies and partners around the world has – have provided to Ukraine, it is in a sense staggering, not only the sheer amount measured in dollars but the capabilities that we have provided as well, capabilities that match Ukraine’s needs, match the timing of those needs, and in some cases have put us in a position to provide our Ukrainian partners with new capabilities or capabilities that they previously did not have.
When it comes to tanks, these are capabilities that the United States has helped provide our Ukrainian partners over the course of many months now. We’ve worked with European partners to source and ultimately to provide former Soviet-made tanks, former – tanks that were produced by the Russian Federation itself to provide tanks as well, not to mention the Bradley Fighting Vehicles, the heavy armored vehicles that the United States and many of our allies, including Germany, have in the past provided.
We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements from other allies, other partners. We’re not going to preview anything else we may have to say. But needless to say, this is an ongoing conversation and it is a conversation that allows us to be responsive to the needs of our Ukrainian partners.
QUESTION: But it is correct, is it not, that you would like to see Germany in particular give tanks to Ukraine, either itself or by giving the okay for Poland to send these Leopard tanks to Ukraine? Is that not correct?
QUESTION: Matt, you’ve heard me say this enough that I think you have a sense. We are not prescriptive in terms of —
QUESTION: I’m not saying that.
MR PRICE: — in terms of —
QUESTION: I’m just —
MR PRICE: — in terms of what other allies and partners should provide. This is a sovereign decision on the part of every sovereign government around the world.
QUESTION: Yes, and you (inaudible), right?
MR PRICE: We would like to see countries around the world step up, and in some cases continue to step up, to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need. In some cases that’s providing them with replenishments of capabilities that our Ukrainian partners have had, whether they’re long had it or whether it is a more recent addition to their arsenal, or in some cases we’ve been in a position to provide new capabilities. This is a sovereign decision for each government to make.
QUESTION: Then I’ll – I’ll take a last stab at it then, though. Would you be willing to do what the Germans would like you to do in order for the Germans then to send additional materiel to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: These are conversations that we’re having with the Ukrainians, that we’re having with the Germans. We will leave private conversations, diplomatic conversations, to those channels. What matters most to us is that we continue to maintain the level of coordination, the level of consultation with Ukraine, and in turn with our allies and partners around the world, that has enabled us to provide our Ukrainian partners with billions of dollars worth of equipment that they need when they need it to take on the threat that they’re facing at that very moment.
QUESTION: On the question of tanks, do you believe that the choice of what U.S. heavy weapons to send to Ukraine is a diplomatic issue or one that’s best left to the U.S. military?
MR PRICE: This is a conversation that not only do we have with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies and partners, but it’s a conversation that we have with other departments and agencies in this government. Now, of course when it comes to military know-how, tactical battlefield knowledge, no one is going to have more than that – more of that than the Department of Defense. It is the Department of Defense that – especially when it comes to the USAI program, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative – is sourcing much of this. So this is a conversation where they bring that expertise and knowledge to bear.
But there are diplomatic elements to this. We have relations with senior Ukrainian officials through political channels, whether that’s the Secretary’s frequent engagements with the foreign minister, others in this building working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the Office of the President. So we take all of those conversations that we’re having with Ukraine, that we’re having with allies and partners, and share that of course with colleagues across the Executive Branch to arrive at what is – what we’re in a position to provide and how we can provide it.
QUESTION: Just on —
QUESTION: If she’s – are you done?
QUESTION: I was going to ask about corruption, but —
QUESTION: No, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: — you can finish on this.
MR PRICE: Is it the same topic, before we move on?
QUESTION: Yeah, on the Leopards, because we’re a little bit confused. I think Der Spiegel said that Germany will provide Leopards to Ukraine.
MR PRICE: I have seen various reports of this all citing anonymous German officials. I will let our German allies speak to any announcements that they are prepared to make when they are prepared to make it.
QUESTION: And also Bloomberg reported that they are going to announce tomorrow that they are allowing Poland to send in Leopard tanks.
MR PRICE: Again, all of the reports I’ve seen – feel free to correct me – point to anonymous sources and not German leaders who would need to be in a position to make any such announcement themselves.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: May I follow up on this?
MR PRICE: Okay, Alex.
QUESTION: No new comments since yesterday doesn’t mean no progress since yesterday, right? (Laughter.) Just trying differently.
MR PRICE: It’s – I commend you for how you’ve gone about the question. (Laughter.)
We’ve – it’s fair to say that we’re always discussing these issues with allies and partners. Just because we’re in the same public place doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t made progress on any given issue. I’m not speaking particularly to this issue but across the board.
QUESTION: You know that Poland officially requested already from Germany. Do you welcome Poland’s step that Poland has taken, or what is your position on Polish side?
MR PRICE: Our position is that this is a question for our German allies, for our Polish allies. Just as when allies request permission from the United States to re-export U.S.-origin material, that’s a question for us and them. This is a question for, in this case, our German allies and our Polish allies.
QUESTION: Yeah, and last, your White House colleague just told us that – she has cited DOD officials – just told us that the tanks have never been off the table.
MR PRICE: That’s fair. We have not taken capabilities off the table. Again, this is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, when they need it, where they need it.
Yes, in the – yeah.
QUESTION: The New York Times earlier reported a story that Ukraine has suspended 10 of its military officials for some sort of corruption. Is the U.S. making sure that all the aid that has been given and billions of dollars is going to the right people and they’re not building themselves some things?
MR PRICE: We absolutely are. We take extraordinarily seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all forms of U.S. assistance that we are delivering to Ukraine. We’re actively engaged with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability. There are challenges associated with the current environment in which our Ukrainian partners are in the midst of a brutal attack by the Russian Federation. But we take this commitment seriously nonetheless, and we’re still able to take steps to ensure that accountability.
We have teams in Kyiv, we have teams back here in Washington, who are working literally around the clock to support our Ukrainian partners. And a key focus is to ensure safeguards, both for the accountability of weaponry as well as adherence to the laws of war, are built into all assistance efforts as we help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity against this ongoing aggression.
We’ll continue to work to ensure the assistance we provide is subject to that oversight – the security assistance, the humanitarian assistance, the economic assistance – and when it comes to that security assistance to ensure that everything we provide is in compliance with our Leahy Laws, international humanitarian law, and other applicable requirements, and of course consistent with respect for human rights and democratic values that we share with our Ukrainian partners. This is a robust system of oversight and accountability. We thank Congress for providing us with additional resources to see to it that we’re able to conduct this oversight, and this is a conversation that we are regularly engaged in with our Congressional overseers as well.
When it comes to the actions that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners in recent hours, this stems from a desire we’ve heard very clearly from the people of Ukraine over the course of many years now, going back to 2014; it was certainly a key element of President Zelenskyy’s platform when he was running for his current office in 2019. The Ukrainian people have been very clear about their desire for good governance and transparency.
And in this case, we welcome quick and decisive actions by President Zelenskyy as well as vigilance by Ukrainian civil society and media to counter corruption, to ensure effective monitoring and accountability of public procurement, and to hold those in positions of public trust to account when they fail to meet the obligations and the responsibilities that are entrusted to them.
Just as the people of Ukraine want to see good governance, want to see anti-corruption, want to see the rule of law, we support all of these things, as well as Ukraine’s commitment to transparency and accountability, and we saw an example of that in recent hours. We’ll continue to stand with Ukraine as it works to implement these important anti-corruption reforms.
QUESTION: Same topic, one question?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Russian Ambassador in D.C. Anatoly Antonov met with the new chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow Lynne Tracy here at his residence. Do you have any readout on what kind of discussions —
MR PRICE: We – this is not the type of a meeting that we would typically formally read out, but I can confirm that Ambassador Tracy did meet with Russian Ambassador Antonov. This was an opportunity for her to have a discussion with her counterpart here in D.C. As you know, Ambassador Tracy was confirmed – overwhelming confirmed – by the Senate on a bipartisan basis late last year. We expect Ambassador Tracy will be departing for the Russian Federation, where she will present her credentials in the coming days. We expect her to be in place later this month. She’s currently in the process of having consultations with desks and individuals here in Washington, and in this case she had an opportunity to have a discussion with Ambassador Antonov.
QUESTION: Ned, this meeting suggests that they’re all, like – diplomatic channels are on with Russia and that you are – you’re being engaging with Russia. Obviously, the Ukraine is the most important thing to discuss with them. So what you see that – what kind of demands Russia have to stop this war? I mean, obviously, they are saying something. They want this, and you can – they can stop this war. I mean, what kind of demands they are making to stop this whatever’s happening in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, let me say this. I’m not going to speak to what Ambassador Tracy discussed with Ambassador Antonov, but I can pretty clear about what she didn’t discuss: didn’t discuss any form of a negotiated settlement over Russia’s brutal war with Ukraine. That’s not for us to do. It is not for us to do in Washington. It is for our Ukrainian partners to do with, as appropriate, our support. And we stand ready to support them, if and when the time comes for meaningful dialogue and diplomacy. We know that our Ukrainian partners are for that. We’ve heard a pretty well articulated vision for a just and durable peace that President Zelenskyy presented to the world last November and has since rearticulated, as have other members of his government.
Setting that issue aside, because it’s not an issue for us to discuss with Russia, we have been clear about a desire to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. We have an embassy in Moscow. It’s under duress because of the pressure and the limitations that the Kremlin has imposed on it. But because – I mentioned Ambassador Antonov a moment ago – the Russians have an embassy here, we have the ability to pick up a phone in – when that is warranted and appropriate, as Secretary Blinken has done, as Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has done, as the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others have done.
So there are open channels of communication. We use these channels to convey where we are on issues that are of the upmost priority to us. In our case, it’s been on wrongfully detained American citizens; it has been on the costs and consequences of potential Russian escalation – at worst the use of a nuclear weapon, other weapons of mass destruction – but other issues that are of primary bilateral importance to the United States.
Anything else on this?
QUESTION: Just more on the corruption?
MR PRICE: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: Going back to the question about the resignation of the deputy defense minister in Ukraine, does the U.S. – was any U.S. support to the armed forces of Ukraine meddled with by this deputy defense minister or anyone in his office?
MR PRICE: We are not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in what we’ve heard about in recent hours.
QUESTION: And are you undertaking a review to make sure that that was the case?
MR PRICE: We are always engaged in rigorous oversight and accountability. As of right now, we are certainly not aware that any U.S. assistance was involved in the allegations that we’ve heard about from our Ukrainian partners. But this is an ongoing effort. Day in, day out, teams in Kyiv, teams back here are working to ensure that our support, the tremendous amount of support that we’re providing – security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance – it is going to its intended objectives.
Anything else on Russia, Ukraine before we move on?
QUESTION: On Russia.
MR PRICE: Let me — yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: NATO. Finland’s foreign minister has suggested that Finland might try and join NATO alone, and then he backtracked later in comments to Reuters, I believe. It’s that something that – Finland joining NATO alone – is that something that the U.S. would support? Do you have any comment on that? Is that a bad idea?
MR PRICE: What we would support is Finland and NATO – excuse me – Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the earliest opportunity. I spoke at some lengths to this yesterday. They are ready. These are countries with advanced militaries, militaries that have exercised with the United States and those of other NATO Allies. These are advanced democracies, countries —
QUESTION: And them joining separately?
MR PRICE: Again, we’re not going to comment on a hypothetical. What we believe is that Finland and Sweden are ready to join the Alliance. It’s not only the view of the Executive Branch; it’s the view of the Legislative Branch as well. You saw that in the swift accession process and the Senate’s ratification of the treaty last year. This is a point we’ve made very clearly, repeatedly, in public, in private, to all of our partners, including to our Turkish allies in this case, and it’s a point that we’ll continue to make.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement —
QUESTION: The question is whether you think that they should join together or whether one could join before another one really. There are —
MR PRICE: The discussion —
QUESTION: And it’s not a hypothetical. It’s —
MR PRICE: Well, it is a hypothetical, because as your colleague mentioned, it —
QUESTION: It’s a hypothetical if they’ll ever get in in the first place. But the question is whether the U.S. thinks that they should go in together or whether Finland —
MR PRICE: This has always been —
QUESTION: — and/or Sweden should go in first.
MR PRICE: This has always been a conversation about Finland and Sweden – and – joining NATO.
QUESTION: That – fine, Ned. It’s just what —
MR PRICE: That is precisely – that is —
QUESTION: It’s what the administration thinks is the best – is best for the Alliance, right? Is it – do you guys think that it’ll be better for them to join together or do you have no objection to the idea of Finland going first?
MR PRICE: Of course we want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been a discussion about Finland and Sweden, two countries —
QUESTION: Ned, that is not the question.
QUESTION: All right. Well, no. So you don’t have anything to say about the idea that one could join before the other?
MR PRICE: It’s just a question that we’re not entertaining. We want to see Finland and Sweden join the Alliance. This has always been —
QUESTION: Well, you might not be entertaining it, but other people are.
MR PRICE: I’m actually not aware that they are. There was a insinuation that was quickly taken off the table. So I’m just not aware that that is a live question right now. We want to see both countries —
QUESTION: All right. So your idea is that they will both join – or your preference is that they both join together?
MR PRICE: Of course.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Change topic?
QUESTION: Can I just —
MR PRICE: Okay. Let me – same topic? Same topic?
QUESTION: But the – Türkiye has indefinitely delayed conversations, that trilateral conversations today, so do you – are you in touch with your – with the Turkish officials about this issue right now?
MR PRICE: I’ve seen statements, including statements from the Swedish prime minister, that the latest consultations – the next rounds of consultations I should say – haven’t been canceled. They have been postponed. It’s an opportunity for Finland and Sweden and Türkiye to take stock of where they are. We obviously want to see those consultations continue and we want to see those consultations culminate in Finland and Sweden joining the Alliance, bringing an Alliance of 28, an Alliance that is more purposeful, more united than at any time during the Cold War – bringing that Alliance to 30.
QUESTION: I have another question on this issue, because this all started with this Quran burning thing in Sweden, in Stockholm. And you said yesterday maybe a private individual, a provocateur might be behind this. Do you – are you reflecting these allegations that maybe Moscow has a hand in this incident?
MR PRICE: I wasn’t attempting to suggest that. What I was suggesting – and we’ve seen similar suggestions from our Swedish partners on this – is the fact that individuals who are taking part in these activities may, in some cases, not want to see Sweden join NATO, may want to disrupt the Transatlantic Alliance. The fact is that there are individuals who are taking advantage of the robust, established, deep-seated democratic principles that Sweden holds dear – in this case, Sweden holds dear – to engage in an activity that is vile, is repugnant, is reprehensible.
I’m not speaking to the motives, the particular motives at play in the latest incident, but just as you’ve heard from our Swedish partners, there is of course the concern that provocateurs, those who may not want to see Sweden join NATO, are engaging in some of these activities, and may want to see disruption in the transatlantic community or in the Atlantic community, the Euroatlantic community.
Yes, still on NATO?
QUESTION: Just one, a quick one on Sweden.
MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So I brought the trilateral memorandum that Sweden and Finland have signed with the presence of the United States President as well, Joe Biden, back in June 2022. So after (inaudible) – I’m not going to read out the whole thing, but —
MR PRICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: — Sweden commits to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated groups as well. So what you’re looking at, coming from developments from Stockholm, that the PKK are running wild and they’re sabotaging, clearly, because they’re saying no to NATO. And these are hurting Sweden’s chances. And Sweden’s chances are hurting Finland’s chances. And Finland even came out today saying that we might even try our chances separately.
So can the United States, can you give a message to Ankara from here, right here, right now, that Sweden, including Article 5, has completed and fulfilled all the tasks in that trilateral memorandum? Because the – Ankara is saying that that’s not the case, that’s far from being the case.
MR PRICE: You referred to it as a trilateral memorandum. It is a trilateral memorandum; it is a trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. These are ultimately questions that will need to be resolved between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden. We were proud to be there present for the signing of this memorandum, but ultimately we are not a party to it.
What I can say is that Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfill the commitments they made under the trilateral memorandum with Türkiye that, as you mention, they signed on the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid, including substantially strengthening their bilateral cooperation with Türkiye on key security concerns.
But just as you’ve heard from our Swedish, our Finnish partners, there are ongoing discussions between Türkiye, Finland, Sweden. The NATO secretary general has at times been engaged in this as well. These are questions for those three countries. This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, or the United States and any other country. These are ultimately questions that will have to be adjudicated between those three countries.
QUESTION: The question was – because you obviously keep saying from the podium that Sweden is ready to join NATO, because that is interpreted and translated as a statement that, okay, they’ve done it all; they completed all the tasks in that memorandum. Because that’s why I’m saying, can you say to Ankara right here, right now, that they completed – including Article 5, that they prevented all PKK activities and they’ve been eradicated from the face of the Earth, especially on Swedish soil?
MR PRICE: What I can point to is the concrete steps that Finland and Sweden have taken. When we say that Finland and Sweden are ready to join NATO, it’s a reference to the rigorous membership requirements that apply to any aspirant country. You can take a look at the North Atlantic charter for more information on precisely what aspirant countries must fulfill if they are deemed to be ready to join NATO. In our assessment, Finland and Sweden have fulfilled those requirements; they are ready to join NATO.
But one of the great strengths of NATO is that we act as an alliance. We act by consensus, by unified consensus. And so ultimately this is a question that Türkiye will need to determine for itself when it comes to the requirements that it believes Finland and Sweden need to fulfill. We believe Finland and Sweden are ready to be members. We are supporting their candidacies. We are supporting their desire to join the world’s strongest defensive alliance.
Okay, anything else on NATO?
QUESTION: On Sweden?
MR PRICE: On NATO?
MR PRICE: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So just to be clear, are you not trying to – are you not going to try to convince Türkiye to drop its objections? Because you make it seem like it’s purely a trilateral issue, or bilateral issue. So are you just staying hands-off?
And if I may go back to the tanks issue, do you still maintain that there is – the provision of German Leopards is not related or contingent on the Abrams, that there’s no deal between the countries on tanks?
MR PRICE: So on your first question, which was —
QUESTION: Are you going to try to convince —
MR PRICE: Oh, right, yes. You made the distinction – you said we were – asked if we were “hands-off.” I think there’s a difference between not making this or seeking to make this a bilateral issue – because it is not a bilateral issue – versus being entirely hands-off. We have been very clear in public, we’ve been very clear in private about our views on the question of Finland and Sweden’s candidacies for NATO membership. I’ve been very clear today. We believe they are ready, we believe they should be added to the world’s strongest defensive alliance at the earliest possible opportunity.
When it comes to the Leopards, look, this is a question for Germany. We’re not going to get ahead of any potential announcements Germany might make. We are – just as I was alluding to a moment ago in the context of NATO, we seek to engage in good-faith coordination, consultation not only with Ukraine, but all of the countries that are contributing much-needed security assistance to Germany to see to it that we’re providing as much as we can, as swiftly as we can, and as effectively as we can.
If there are steps that we can take to see to it that Ukraine acquires quantities or capabilities that it needs, we’ve demonstrated before that we’re prepared to do that. You’ve seen us do this when it comes to the S-300 early on in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. We facilitated Slovakia’s passage of the S-300 system to Ukraine; we in turn backfilled it. We’ve been able to do the same with other capabilities. We’re always having conversations with our allies and partners about what more we can do, in many cases together, to get our Ukrainian partners what they need.
Anything else on this, on Finland? Yeah.
QUESTION: On Sweden. The prime minister said today that he wants to get back to a functioning dialogue on NATO membership. I know you said you don’t want to make this a bilateral issue, but what can the U.S. do to help Finland and Sweden return to a functioning dialogue?
MR PRICE: Well, ultimately the question of the pace, the tenor, the content of these talks are going to have to be a question for Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye. We can continue to voice our support for their candidacies. We can continue to engage in public and in private with Türkiye and with other relevant countries to make very clear that we believe these two countries are ready, that they are prepared, and that they should be admitted to the Alliance at the first possible opportunity.
But again, this is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Türkiye, as much as some might like to turn it into one. We are cognizant of the fact that this is a decision that Türkiye will have to make in dialogue, in discussion with Finland and Sweden and, as appropriate, with Secretary General Stoltenberg.
QUESTION: Ned, last question on that. Will you – sir, will you condemn the burning of Quran or do you think this is a matter of freedom of speech?
MR PRICE: So we can do two things at once. We can make very clear that an action like this is reprehensible, it’s disgusting, it’s vile, it’s repugnant, even as we uphold the principles that allow something like this to be able to happen. The fact is – and I mentioned this yesterday – in our own democracy, we have seen actions that we might term lawful but awful. I think this would fall within that category. I want to be very clear that no one in this administration is voicing any degree of support whatsoever for this vile action that took place. Quite the contrary. But we’re also very quick to add that Sweden is a vibrant democracy, and the reason something like this could happen in a country like Sweden is precisely because of its democratic character, precisely because Sweden upholds freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. And when you provide people those freedoms, when you safeguard those freedoms, sometimes they make terrible decisions; they do awful things.
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: If you would. But let me comment on this burning of the Quran. Do you believe that your condemnation would deter any lunatic from burning the Quran?
MR PRICE: I – if only – if only our condemnation would have that effect, Said?
MR PRICE: Okay.
QUESTION: — issue. I don’t think the condemnation would deter some crazy guy from doing that. But let me ask you about a couple of things on the Palestinian issue. I asked you yesterday on the Human Rights Watch report. I wonder if you had had a – if you’ve had a chance to take a look at it, and what is your comment?
MR PRICE: I have. This report pertains to the COGAT procedures – the COGAT procedures that went into effect in October of last year. These are procedures that impact the entry, study, work, and/or the residency of potentially thousands of people to and in the West Bank. As you know, Said, because we’ve talked about this, we reviewed the pilot procedures published by Israel’s COGAT in September. We have noted the improvements in some of the regulations from the original draft that was published in February of last year. We remain concerned, however, about the adverse impact many procedures could have on Palestinian civil society, on tourism, investment, and academic and health care institutions, as well as on U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals by restricting and unduly burdening travel and family unification.
We expect that Israeli authorities will work to ensure both enhanced transparency in the West Bank entry process and the fair treatment of all U.S. citizens and all other foreign nationals traveling to Israel and the West Bank.
We, along with other stakeholders, will closely monitor and continue to engage the Government of Israel on the implementation of these guidelines during the trial period. We’ll continue to engage with Israel and the PA to ensure that civil society and humanitarian organizations based in the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israel have the space to carry out their important work. This was really at the center of the Human Rights Watch report that you mentioned.
We strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible, responsive, and democratic governance around the world.
QUESTION: And a couple more issues on the plans in – the Arab press and the Israeli press are both reporting that Israel is planning a – like a – to accelerate the demolishing of – the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C and in other areas. Do you have a comment on that?
MR PRICE: Our comment on this is – remains the fact that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-step – two-state solution. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, and demolitions.
QUESTION: And finally, on UNRWA. UNRWA is urging or appealing to you and to the Europeans and to the Arab donors and so on because it’s in dire need for about $1.3 billion. Are you – I know that the United States have accelerated its donations to UNRWA, but have you this year, this —
MR PRICE: What was your question?
QUESTION: Are there any plans to sort of increase the fund that —
MR PRICE: So you’re correct. Not only have we accelerated our funding of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, but we in fact resumed it under this administration as part of our early efforts to re-engage with the Palestinian Authority but also with, importantly, the Palestinian people.
UNRWA is one vehicle through which we’ve done that. We’ve provided hundreds of millions of dollars for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people through UNRWA, and I do expect we’ll be in a position to continue to do that with additional announcements going forward.
QUESTION: Ned, on the — I guess, do you have any comments on the Israeli-Jordanian summit, and did the U.S. play any role to decrease the tension between the two personalities?
MR PRICE: Between the two personalities?
QUESTION: Yeah. Between the king and the prime minister.
MR PRICE: We of course are aware of the visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to Jordan. It is something that we welcome. We have spoken of our firm belief, the fact that we stand firmly for preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, and we’ve affirmed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as Custodian of Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. We’ve consistently underscored the need to preserve that historic status quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as you’ve heard recently from the Secretary as well.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: Briefly, the shootings that we’ve had in the United States. The Chinese foreign ministry today asked its citizens to exercise greater precautions in the United States because Asian and Asian Americans have been targeted or have been involved quite a bit in these shootings. Does the U.S. have any – any take on that, whether it’s appropriate for China to be encouraging greater caution in the United States?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to weigh in on what would, in effect, be a consular message from the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We of course follow our own guidelines and protocols when it comes to the consular messages and the security alerts that we issue to our citizens around the world, and we appreciate the space that countries around the world provide for us to do so.
I am also hesitant to comment on these particular incidents. Of course there are active law enforcement investigations to determine the motives behind the killers, the shooters in each of these cases, so I’m just not going to wade into that.
Yes, in the back. Yeah, Guita.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Special Envoy Rob Malley has said that the U.S. has been pushing China not to buy oil from Iran. Would you shed some light on that, please, and what the Chinese response may have been?
MR PRICE: Sure, Guita. So we have been clear and consistent about the need for countries around the world to enforce sanctions that are on the books and, as appropriate, to increase pressure on the Iranian regime in response to its intransigence. We are regularly and robustly engaged with the day-to-day business of enforcing our sanctions, including with regular and effective communications with allies and partners about those attempting to evade our sanctions.
As Iran’s largest oil customer, the PRC remains a top focus for our sanctions enforcement. We regularly engage with the PRC and other countries to discourage them from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that – from taking steps vis-à-vis Iran that have the potential to undermine U.S. sanctions. We don’t preview potential sanctions actions, but we continue to monitor Iran’s oil exports and to engage Iran’s trading partners about the possibility of exposure to U.S. sanctions.
And that possibility of exposure is not just an academic question or a hypothetical. We, during the course of this administration, have levied multiple tranches of designations targeting Iran’s illicit petroleum and petrochemical trade over the past year or so. Some of these have included PRC-based entities or actors. In September of last year, for example, we sanctioned two PRC-based entities for operating crude oil storage facilities for Iranian petroleum products and a shipping company that had transported Iranian petroleum products, along with affiliated entities in other countries. In June of last year, 2022, we sanctioned a network of Iranian petrochemical producers and front companies in the PRC, UAE, and Iran.
These are just two examples of the accountability steps we’ve taken – those who would seek to circumvent U.S. and in some cases international sanctions imposed as a result of Iran’s own behavior. Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and well beyond – it’s of course clear they are not in our interest, but they are also not in the interest of the PRC or any other country around the world.
And so we think it’s important that we work together even when we have profound differences across multiple fronts, as is the case with the PRC, that we work together to see to it that sanctions are very clearly and rigorously enforced.
QUESTION: One more question, please. Okay, since these suppressions in Iran of the demonstrators, you’ve been saying, everybody at the State Department has been saying, that the focus is not on JCPOA but supporting the demonstrators and those seeking their fundamental rights. It seems like Senator Ted Cruz is not accepting, does – is not believing you, the State Department on this, and says that the Biden administration is obsessed with reviving the JCPOA. Any comments?
MR PRICE: I don’t know how we could possibly be much clearer in terms of where we are now, and in this case where we are not. I’ll repeat it: the JCPOA has not been on the agenda for months. What has been on the agenda is our support to the brave Iranians who are taking to the streets to – and in doing so, expressing their universal rights. What has been on the agenda is seeking to condemn and counter Iran provision of security assistance to Russia, security assistance that in turn has targeted civilians in Ukraine. And what has been on the agenda are efforts that we continue to undertake to see to it that our wrongfully detained citizens are released.
The JCPOA has not been on the agenda because the Iranians have consistently turned their back on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. They did so last September when an agreement was essentially on the table, when the other participants in the P5+1 had essentially agreed to it, and all it would have taken was an Iranian determination to move forward with it. They chose not to; they chose to renege on commitments. This was a pattern that we’d seen from Iran. So even while we believe that a diplomatic solution to the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program is by far the most preferable option, a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA has just not been on the table. It’s not something we’re seeking.
QUESTION: You mentioned the detainees, Ned – sorry – any updates on that?
MR PRICE: The only update I have is that it is an issue that we are prioritizing in everything we do. We have means by which to convey messages to the Iranian regime. We have made very clear to them since the earliest days of this administration the priority we attach to the safety and security of these Americans and the fact that these Americans should be released. These Americans are being held as political pawns. This is an abhorrent practice. It’s a practice that Iran has long engaged in. It’s a practice that we seek to put an end to with these American citizens.
QUESTION: President Biden and the Vice President both had raised voice for the people of Kashmir when they were running in elections. And today, Rahul Gandhi of congress has also said that if his party comes into power the autonomy issue and the self-determination issue for Kashmir will be his first priority. And of course, Pakistan and India, this is one of the major issue. Is there going to be a time when we will see a just resolution to this issue, or is this issue going to continue to linger on?
MR PRICE: This is a question for India and Pakistan. We had an opportunity to speak about this yesterday, made clear that we support constructive engagement between our two partners – in this case India and Pakistan. But ultimately, the character, the tenor, the details of that engagement is a question for them.
QUESTION: On Pakistan —
QUESTION: One more —
MR PRICE: One more, sure. Go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: On the – Russia and Pakistan. A few days ago, Russia said that it’s nearing a deal to sell oil to Pakistan, which of course traditionally hasn’t been a major importer of Russian oil but has some very serious economic problems. Does the United States have a stance on that – on this? Has there been any dialogue with Pakistan about whether to move forward or not?
MR PRICE: Well, our approach to this is – has been laid out in the price cap mechanism that we worked out with other countries around the world, including the G7. And the virtue of the price cap is that it allows energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine.
We have made the point that we have very intentionally not sanctioned Russian oil. Instead, it’s now subject to the price cap. So we have encouraged countries to take advantage of that, even those countries that have not formally signed on to the price cap, so that they can acquire oil in some cases at a steep discount from what they would otherwise acquire from, in this case, Russia.
We have been very clear that now is not the time to increase economic activity with Russia. But we understand the imperative of keeping global energy markets well resourced, well supplied, and the price cap, we believe, provides a mechanism to do that.
QUESTION: One on China?
MR PRICE: Let me move around. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask regarding Ms. Julie Turner, nominee for special envoy on North Korea human rights issues. Can you add some more details about her career and competence as a diplomat? And also what’s the reason for nominating her two years after the inauguration of Biden administration?
MR PRICE: Sure. So first, let me just say that we congratulate Julie Turner on her nomination as the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, and we look forward to the Senate confirming her, we hope, swiftly. She is uniquely qualified for this position, having worked for nearly two decades on North Korean human rights and other regional issues in the State Department and at the National Security Council staff. There are few people with the depth of knowledge, experience, and relationships that she brings to bear on North Korean human rights issues.
This administration, as you know, is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. And for decades the United States has championed efforts to improve respect for human rights and dignity of North Koreans and we’ll continue to promote accountability for the DPRK Government, for its egregious human rights records, including through the appointment of the special envoy for North Korean human rights.
Even has this position has been vacant – and of course, it’s a position that wasn’t filled by the previous administration, so it’s been some time since we’ve had a Senate-confirmed individual in this position – State Department officials at all levels, from the Secretary on down, have been actively engaged on issues of North Korean human rights. This engagement has included working with the international community to raise awareness of these issues and introducing resolutions in multilateral bodies, documenting violations and abuses through our annually Congressionally mandated reports, and supporting efforts to increase the flow of information into, out of, and through the DPRK.
Julie Turner’s appointment reflects our priority in addressing the DPRK’s deplorable human rights situation.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on that.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: So by nominating her, the administration doesn’t plan to elevate its focus on North Korea human rights abuses?
MR PRICE: She will be the special envoy for North Korea human rights issues, of course. She will fulfill a position that, as I mentioned before, was vacant for the entirety of the last administration, hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed individual in place for a number of years now. I would add, however, that even in the absence of a Senate-confirmed individual in this role, it’s been a focus of ours. We are very pleased to see Julie Turner’s nomination and, again, we hope that she is swiftly confirmed by the Senate so she can be in place formally in this role before long.
QUESTION: And if I could just ask one quick question about the letter from Congressman McCaul to the Secretary yesterday. A lot of questions related to the documents found in the President’s former office in the Penn Biden Center. I’m wondering if you have any update for us as to if the department knows if any of those documents are State Department documents, because that’s one the questions in this letter. And if you don’t yet know that, if you expect that you’ll be getting any update from the IC or from DOJ on the content of those documents.
MR PRICE: So first, on the letter we received yesterday, let me just add that we’ve had productive, constructive engagement with the 117th Congress, with the last Congress. We had thousands of engagements on that Congress’s priorities and importantly on the priorities that matter most to the American people. This is what we certainly hope and expect to have with this Congress, with the 118th Congress.
Chairman McCaul, as you know, was in the building earlier this month. It was, from our vantage point, a very useful, constructive meeting. In the aftermath of that meeting, we’ve received multiple letters from his committee, and we’ve made initial responses to several of those letters. We’ve done so quickly. We’re actively engaged with the committee on multiple fronts, wanting to be responsive to their interests.
Regarding the letter that was transmitted yesterday, we’re going to coordinate with the Executive Branch and consult with the committee, as is standard in all of these cases. These are discussions that we’ll have internally and that we’ll have with the committee going forward.
On the question of the documents themselves, I’m just not in a position to go beyond what you’ve heard from me before, and now from the Secretary before. He – just as the President was, he was surprised that there were any government records found in the Penn Biden Center. Obviously, there’s an ongoing DOJ review. We’re going to let that review play out.
QUESTION: And just one more question. There’s a lot of questions in this letter. Some of them pertain to the Secretary’s life before he was the Secretary of State. So is there a plan for a personal lawyer for the Secretary to be responding to some of those?
MR PRICE: These are precisely the kinds of questions that we are going to discuss internally and then we’re also going to discuss with the committee. We’re going to have those discussions before we say anything publicly on that front.
QUESTION: Yes. You said twice in the last week or so that China is no longer a major source of fentanyl coming into the United States. Joe Biden, President Biden’s, top official working on the overdose crisis through said just this past weekend that it’s still a major source of a components of fentanyl flowing into the United States. I know you’ve mentioned those when you were talking about the subject, but isn’t that a bit of a distinction without a difference to say – to commend China for restricting the flow of fentanyl itself when it’s still distributing all the components needed to make fentanyl, is still a major source of that?
MR PRICE: I think it’s a distinction that I laid out very clearly yesterday, when I was last asked about this. Made the point that the PRC scheduled fentanyl and related substances as a class in 2019, but we continue to see the PRC-origin precursor chemicals used in illicit fentanyl production. Don’t want to discount – and in fact, I pointed out earlier this week, yesterday I believe it was – that we have a concerted focus on fentanyl at this department because it is a leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 49. The Secretary is determined to see to it that we are doing everything that we can from the equities of this department to be responsive to addressing this challenge, working with countries around the world, working with our partners in the Executive Branch to see to it that there’s no stern – stone unturned. And when we travel around the world, this is an issue that he routinely raises.
When it comes to the PRC, of course it’s a complex, multifaceted relationship. One of those facets is the potential for deeper cooperation in some areas. We would like to see that. We would like to see greater cooperation between the United States and the PRC on fentanyl, specifically on these precursor elements that, as you alluded to, do still make their way to third countries and ultimately form the basis of so much of the fentanyl that arrives in the United States and kills our citizens.
This is not a challenge that affects Americans alone – far from it. That’s why it is incumbent on countries like ours – in this case, the United States and the PRC – to work together where we can – and we believe we can, in this case – to take on a challenge that is such a threat to our citizens and citizens of the world. This is precisely what the rest of the world, what the international community expects of the United States and the PRC, to do everything we possibly can to tackle a challenge like this.
QUESTION: You did say yesterday also that there hasn’t been much engagement on this issue in recent months. And now you’re saying that it’s a top priority, of course, and that the Secretary mentions it often. So does that mean that the PRC are the ones that are holding up that engagement, are the ones not engaging on the issue?
MR PRICE: I didn’t intend to suggest – and I don’t think I did – that there hasn’t been a priority in this building. The point I made is that engagement on these issues has been limited in recent months. We’re actively seeking to engage the PRC to accelerate the engagement on this particular issue with them in that bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: Thanks. Also on China and the allegations that the U.S. has communicated with China, that state-owned companies are supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine through non-lethal and economic means, the White House said today that it’s not clear whether the Chinese Government knows about this activity. I wanted to ask how much of the onus is on the Chinese Government that – given these are state-owned companies to monitor their activity and know what they’re doing? And could they still face repercussions?
MR PRICE: So let me make the point that this is something that we have been closely monitoring since even before Russia’s – the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine in February of last year. We’ve been very clear with the PRC of the implications of providing materiel to support Russia’s war against Ukraine.
I’m not in a position to confirm some of the accounts you’ve read, but we would be concerned if we were to see not only the PRC itself engaging in this, but Chinese companies, PRC companies doing this. Obviously there is close synergy, cooperation, coordination between the PRC Government and companies operating in and out of the PRC. And in all of our conversations, we have emphasized to our PRC counterparts the importance of – that we attach to this and to the need to – our ongoing monitoring of this. I suspect it’s something that we’ll discuss in the coming days, when the Secretary has an opportunity to travel to Beijing.
Let me take a couple more questions. Yes. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. There was an incident today in Ankara, Türkiye. A Voice of America reporter was harassed by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party today. And one of the members he also said on Twitter that her permanent duty on – in foreign media outlet VOA, which is a prominent propaganda tool for the U.S., are revealing of her true intention. Do you have any reaction or comment to this?
MR PRICE: I’m not immediately familiar with this incident, so I would need to look into it. What I can say is, as a general matter, is that we support freedom of the press, the ability of journalists and reporters to conduct their indispensable work free of harassment, free of threats, free of violence around the world. It’s a principle that applies to countries around the world. So we’ll have to look into that.
QUESTION: I have a follow up on that.
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: This is not the first time VOA reporters, especially in Türkiye, are being harassed. And VOA Turkish website is still blocked in Türkiye since I believe June 2022. Is there an ongoing conversation between Ankara and Washington about this U.S. public broadcaster position in Türkiye?
MR PRICE: What I can say is that in our engagements with our Turkish allies we raise issues that are of mutual concerns, issues that are a concern to us as well. We talk quite a bit about security issues, about diplomatic issues, economic issues, but also issues of human rights and civil liberties. Those are a staple of our conversations with our Turkish allies. We emphasize the universality of universal rights. One of those universal rights is the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in this case freedom of the press as fundamentally important.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Follow-up on North Korea. When it come to the North Korean issue, I think Ambassador Sung Kim is still concurrently serving as special representative for the DPRK. If you are seriously looking for the diplomatic path with DPRK, why don’t you guys just appoint a full-time special representative for DPRK?
MR PRICE: When it comes to Sung Kim, who is serving concurrently as our special envoy to the DPRK and as our bilateral ambassador to Indonesia, he is an extraordinary talent. There is – there’s few people, if anyone, who has his level and depth of knowledge when it comes to the issues that are at play with the DPRK. He’s been involved with this for many years. We want to make sure that we’re leveraging that experience, that knowledge, that expertise as well.
Now, there’s a very practical issue at play. We’ve made very clear that we seek to engage directly with the DPRK to see if we can arrive at practical, pragmatic steps we can take towards what is our ultimate objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK, unfortunately, has demonstrated no interest or willingness or ability to engage with us on these questions. So it may be a different story were there active diplomacy ongoing with the DPRK, were there active dialogue ongoing.
In the absence of that, Sung Kim has been very focused on working with our Japanese allies, on our South Korean allies, other allies in the Indo-Pacific, other allies and partners around the world. That is a significant amount of work, and if we are to arrive at a position where it does make sense to have an individual singularly focused as special envoy for the DPRK, we can cross that bridge, but right now Sung Kim has been doing a really tremendous job as our ambassador and as our special envoy.
Take – yes, go ahead. Final question or so.
QUESTION: Thank you. Reportedly, House Speaker McCarthy has planned to visit Taiwan in the spring this year. So as we remember, last year after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China conducted a large-scale military exercises along Taiwan. So my question is: What would be the State Department position on Speaker McCarthy’s potential trip to Taiwan?
MR PRICE: I’m not aware that the Speaker’s office has announced any planned travel; would have to refer you to the Speaker’s office. Of course, Congress – and we made this point last summer as well – is a co-equal, independent branch of government. They are going to make their own decisions when it comes to every issue under the sun, and that includes potential travel.
Now, what concerned us last summer and what has concerned us throughout this administration with Beijing’s approach to cross-strait issues is the apparent desire on the part of the PRC to undermine the longstanding status quo that has really held up decades of stability, peace across the Taiwan Strait. We do not want to see that eroded. Our concern is that in the aftermath of Speaker Pelosi’s visit, the PRC used that as a pretext to accelerate what it had already been doing, trying to create a new normal, trying to undermine the status quo that, far from undermining, we seek to preserve.
That continues to be our concern going forward. Just as we discuss issues of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in meeting with our PRC officials, we also discuss cross-strait issues, and in all of those discussions we emphasize the priority the international community attaches to peace and stability across the strait and to upholding rather than diluting the status quo that has really been at the crux of that.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Follow-up question to the North Korean human rights ambassador. Why the – was the ambassador post appointed at this time after being vacant for six years? Dialogue with North Korea remained disconnected. What message does it send to North Korea? What do you think?
MR PRICE: Well, I can’t comment on those six years. Of course, four of those years were in the last administration, when the position went unfilled for the entire time. What I can say is that this administration has prioritized and put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that includes in the context of the DPRK. Secretary Blinken, senior officials in our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in our Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor as well, have worked fervently to do everything we can to raise awareness, to work with allies and partners, to shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses that are ongoing in the DPRK. We’re very pleased now that we have a nominee who will be able to do this day in, day out upon her confirmation by the Senate, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly on that.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Let me follow up on Secretary’s recent calls to South Caucasus. He urged Azerbaijan’s Aliyev to redouble his efforts on peace negotiations, and he also welcomed Pashinyan’s – Prime Minister Pashinyan’s – commitment. Is it your impression that the ball is on Azerbaijani side? And in that case, may I get your reaction to – actually, the Secretary’s take on how he envisions the process moving forward? What is his conclusion?
MR PRICE: Well, we don’t go into it with a conclusion. We go into it hoping to see direct dialogue – direct dialogue leading to a resolution of the issues that have long divided Armenia and Azerbaijan – and through that dialogue, hopefully reaching a lasting peace. We’re continuing to engage in direct discussions with Armenia and Azerbaijan. We’re doing that bilaterally; we’re doing that with partners; we’re doing that through multilateral institutions. We’ve had an occasion to do that trilaterally a couple times last year as well. We are going to do what is most effective to bring about a resolution to these very thorny issues.
QUESTION: But does the Secretary have clear understanding of where the negotiation process is stalled at this point?
MR PRICE: We have a good sense of the state of play. We have various concerns. Let me just state, on the topic of those concerns, our concerns regarding the Lachin corridor. We are concerned that the situation there is worsening; the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been a focus of not only the Secretary but others in this building. Ongoing obstruction of normal commercial and private travel along the Lachin corridor is causing shortages of food, fuel, and medicine for the residents who depend on the corridor for those very basic supplies. Periodic disruptions to natural gas and other basic utilities exacerbate the worsening humanitarian situation. We call for the full restoration of free movement through the corridor, including commercial and private travel. We believe we need a solution to this impasse that will ensure the safety and well-being of the population living in the area, and we believe the way forward is, as I said before, through negotiations. We remain committed to supporting a lasting peace.
QUESTION: He also raised human rights —
MR PRICE: I need to move on, Alex.
QUESTION: Just very —
MR PRICE: I’m sorry, I need to move on. Yes, go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to go back to the meeting that was hosted this – co-hosted this morning between the Secretary and foreign minister – the Japanese foreign minister on the energy sector in Ukraine. There are a lot of other issues that are going on in Ukraine. There’s no water. A lot of other utilities are damaged as well as the energy infrastructure. Are there plans also to include some – try to address some of that within the international community, within this cohort of G7 that came together this morning?
MR PRICE: So the basic answer is yes. I would add, though, that some of the challenges that you alluded to – water, for example – is a consequence of Russia’s targeting of energy infrastructure. If you don’t have energy, you can’t purify, you can’t dispense, you can’t see to it that water is distributed to the civilian population that so needs it. And so really, many of the humanitarian predicaments that our Ukrainian partners face, the root of that is what Russia has sought to do to the civilian energy infrastructure.
Participants today had an opportunity to hear directly from Foreign Minister Kuleba of their needs. Among the needs that he put forward was a call for additional air-defense assets. Those air-defense assets of course can protect electricity and energy infrastructure just as they can protect other forms of critical infrastructure, including water, as you alluded to.
Other participants laid out what they are in the process of providing. Secretary Blinken noted what we already had announced – the fact that we’ve had two planeloads travel to Ukraine in recent weeks; the fact that we expect additional supplies to arrive in the coming days. And he really put an emphasis on how we can continue to leverage this group of foreign ministers, the G7 plus a number of other countries, to in the first instance keep this group going, providing Ukraine what we have and what we can in the form of assistance for their energy infrastructure, but also as we effect the shift from emergency response to long-term reconstruction.
We have demonstrated an ability to help our Ukrainian partners with that emergency response, and the resilience that we’ve seen from our Ukrainian partners turning the lights back on, being in a position to turn those lights back on within hours or even minutes of these deadly strikes I think speaks to not only the Ukrainian resourcefulness but also the determination of countries around the world to provide that. But we’re also thinking about the longer term, how we can make Ukraine’s – help Ukraine’s energy infrastructure to be stronger, more resilient, green; how we can see to it that it is integrated with that of Europe as well.
QUESTION: And then can I – can I have a follow-up on – also on Ukraine? The designation of the Wagner Group as its power within the military, or the Russian military organization, rises – how – could you speak for a few minutes about how – or for a second about how you think – what you think the impact of that will be? Will that be helpful, and how soon?
MR PRICE: Sure. So I will limit my comments today because we spoke to it yesterday at some length, and I expect we’ll have more to say later this week. But suffice to say we have a number of authorities that we’ve already levied against the Wagner Group to attempt to counter some of its nefarious activities around the world. It is a primary export of chaos, of instability, of violence. We see that in Ukraine, but we also see that in other parts of the world, including in Africa.
The announcement that you heard that we would label the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization provides us with another tool. It will leave senior officials and employees of the Wagner Group susceptible to visa bans. For example, it will allow our law enforcement entities to work with law enforcement counterparts around the world to counter the Wagner Group’s activities from that angle.
But again, we are going to use every appropriate and relevant authority we have to try to counter, to try to neutralize what this group is attempting to do around the world.
Thanks very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:43 p.m.)
1. an Alliance of 32 upon Sweden and Finland’s accession ↑