Home Health Department Press Briefing – May 2, 2022

Department Press Briefing – May 2, 2022

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2:32 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday. As you can see, we have a special guest with us today. It’s always a good day when we have someone here at the podium to – someone else here at the podium to answer your questions. We have with us Dr. Michael Carpenter. He is our ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He will provide some opening remarks and then take a few of your questions, and then we’ll continue on with the press briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Great. Thank you so much, Ned, and good to be with you all. I wanted to spend a little bit of time today talking about some indications we have concerning Russia’s political intentions in Ukraine, particularly in the south and east.

First I want to start out by saying just how inspired we all are by the courage of the Ukrainian people in defending their homes, their neighborhoods, their cities, and indeed their country. We have seen they have repelled attacks, particularly on the northern reached of Kyiv, and pushed Russian troops back across the border. And their heroism at battle has been commendable.

And indeed, they have won the battle of Kyiv and Russia has lost, but that of course has come at a huge cost in terms of both human – the human toll – and also the humanitarian toll. What we are seeing right now is that Russia’s forces are regrouping and refocusing their effort on Ukraine’s south and east, and as we look at Russian planning it is also being refocused on Ukraine’s south and east.

And I want to share with you all something that I spoke about at the OSCE’s Permanent Council recently, which is that we have information that Russia’s initial planning including – included a plan for a forced capitulation of Ukraine’s democratically elected government as well as dissolution of local government structures. And that plan, to the best of our information, included plans not just for a new government in Ukraine but also for a new constitution.

So what I would say is that although Ukraine won the battle of Kyiv, we’re now seeing that Russia’s playbook is being tailored for what it plans to do in the south and east of Ukraine. And so I would highlight for you reports that we have seen of abductions of mayors and other local officials. We have received reports of enforced disappearances of a range of folks to include school directors, journalists, local activists, municipal officials. There have been reports of plans to impose a Russian school curriculum in the south and east. I think you’ve probably seen reports that Russia plans to force the local population to use the ruble. More recently, there have been reports as well that Russian forces have cut off internet and some cellular phone access in these regions in order to disable the flow of reliable information. And then finally, there is this phenomenon of the replacement of local municipal governments with these groups that are loyal to Moscow.

And in addition to this – and this is something that I’d like to highlight – we believe that the Kremlin may try to hold sham referenda to try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy. And this is straight out of the Kremlin’s playbook. They organized these sham referenda, as you all know, in Crimea, in Luhansk, in Donetsk, and in other places. And when it calls – what the Kremlin playbook calls for is delegitimizing, as I said, the democratically elected leaders and imposing fake people’s councils essentially made up of the Kremlin’s puppets and proxies. Again, this is something that we’ve seen in the past, and we’re looking very closely to see whether the Kremlin might try to orchestrate something like this in the near future.

So just as Russia engineered these quasi-statelets, the Donetsk “people’s republic” and the Luhansk “people’s republic,” now we believe that the Kremlin may be trying to organize a Kherson “people’s republic” in the Kherson oblast of southern Ukraine.

And here’s something that I also would like to highlight. According to the most recent reports, we believe that Russia will try to annex the Donetsk “people’s republic” and Luhansk “people’s republic,” in quotes, so-called, to Russia. The reports state that Russia has plans to engineer referenda on joining Russia sometime in mid-May, and that Moscow is considering a similar plan for Kherson.

Now, the international community, including the OSCE, where I work as ambassador, has been very clear that such referenda, such sham referenda, fabricated votes, will not be considered legitimate, nor will any attempts to annex additional Ukrainian territory. But we have to act. We have to act with a sense of urgency. And if you’ll allow me, I’ll say a few things that we’re doing at the OSCE in this regard.

We are exposing Russia’s actions, doing it here in Washington at the podium every day, my colleagues are. We’re doing it at the OSCE. We’re doing it in other multilateral fora. We are standing with Ukraine. We are isolating Russia diplomatically, which is the case at the OSCE. We are working to – overtime and leaving no stone unturned to try to get humanitarian assistance to the populations in need across Ukraine. And we’re working, in fact, at the OSCE on the ground to provide some humanitarian relief as well as calling for a humanitarian pause and an end to this monstrous war of choice that Russia has waged on Ukraine.

So that’s what I’ve got, and I’m happy to take a few questions.

MR PRICE: Great, start with a few questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Ambassador, speaking of Kherson, you mentioned Russia’s political intentions. We have also seen pictures of how Russian troops are declaring victory and then installing the statues of Lenin. Why are they doing this?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, look, I’m not going to speak to the political mythology that Russian forces are trying to impose on democratic Ukraine. But I think it speaks volumes that we have seen this sort of effort underway. And it jives certainly with the propaganda that we have heard from Moscow.

MR PRICE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can you detail how specific are those reports and what is the source? Is this intelligence? And do you have any response planned to react to that, any more sanctions?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So we think the reports are highly credible. For reasons I’m sure you all can appreciate, I won’t get into specific sources and methods. But we have every reason to believe that these reports are highly credible. And I can’t – by the way, I’ll just follow up on that. I cannot speak to whether Russia will be able to execute on its planning, but this is the planning that we are seeing.

MR PRICE: Simon.

QUESTION: There’re some reports that Russia, President Putin might formally declare war with Ukraine. I wonder if you have any sense whether that’s possible and what that might mean for some of these plans. Would that give them any extra ability to conduct the kind of things you’re talking about?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Look, I know there’s speculation that a formal declaration of war would allow Russia to engage in mass mobilization. But I can’t speak to their intentions.

MR PRICE: Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry for being late and forgetting my phone, having to leave. But on the reports that you’re talking about, about Donetsk and Luhansk and annexation, what can the OSCE actually do about this? We’ve already seen Abkhazia, South Ossetia. We’ve already seen Crimea.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, I think as the Secretary – yeah.

QUESTION: You can come out and say, “Oh, well, we oppose this” all you want to. But the reality on the ground is that both those two places – part of Georgia, you would argue – are essentially not part of Georgia. And even though they’re not recognized by anyone other than Nicaragua and Belarus, maybe, what actually can you do?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, part of what we’re trying to do is to expose Russia’s intentions. And as the Secretary said some time ago, unfortunately we have been more right than wrong in exposing what we believe may be coming next. And so that is part of what we are trying to do here, but of course, this all falls into the larger strategy of dealing with Russia’s revanchism and imposing costs and degrading their war machine.

QUESTION: Okay. But then, Crimea – I mean, this is stuff that you don’t have to warn about. It’s stuff that’s already actually happened. And you and others can say we don’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and yet it is, de facto. Right?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: We do not recognize Russia’s attempted annexation —

QUESTION: No, I know you don’t. But —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: — and I would just remind you of the Welles Declaration, which held for many, many decades as a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Baltics.

QUESTION: I get that. But I’m just wondering – the OSCE seems to be completely toothless here. It can’t really do anything.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, the OSCE – that’s a separate question. The OSCE is a consensual organization, but it has engaged – first of all, it has a field presence in Ukraine. The project coordinator’s office does exist inside Ukraine and assists with the disbursement of humanitarian relief. We have invoked something called the Moscow mechanism, which is an accountability tool for documenting human rights abuses, war crimes, and possible crimes against humanity. And we speak out, and we isolate Russia and Belarus diplomatically, as I said at the outset. So we’re going to continue to do that. But the OSCE is not the perfect forum. It doesn’t allow us to accomplish every goal. But we use it to the extent that we can.

MR PRICE: Vivian.

QUESTION: Two questions, Ambassador. Vivian Salama from The Wall Street Journal. On the question if war crimes, I’m wondering what the OSCE’s role has been. And in particular, we’re talking about the southeastern part of the country, where we’re hearing reports about mobile crematorium and other ways that Russia is trying to basically hide some of its tracks – allegedly hide some of its tracks – in terms of what’s been going on there. And so what effort are you making to collect with your – with our allies, partners any kind of evidence and investigate and possibly prosecute down the line in conjunction with the UN and the International Criminal Court, and whether or not that’s being complicated by efforts to hide, cover it up?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the OSCE in early March invoked something that I just referred to called the Moscow mechanism, the U.S. together with 44 other participating states. And as a result of that we were able to deploy a fact-finding team that collected evidence on violations of human rights, on war crimes, and on possible crimes against humanity. That team then released a report a couple of a weeks ago which, in fact, stated unequivocally that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.

Now, I’m not an international lawyer, but my understanding is that those crimes then get prosecuted at the individual level. And so it is now incumbent on that fact-finding team and other similar accountability mechanisms to collect the evidence, preserve the evidence, and then eventually build cases so that everybody at all levels of the chain of command is held accountable.

QUESTION: The other question I wanted to ask you is there’s been discussion about replacing Ukraine’s weapons with sort of NATO-grade weapons, and I’m wondering if OSCE is also kind of working in conjunction with NATO to be able to kind of phase out some of the more Soviet-era weapons and security systems that Ukraine has, to give them sort of a – overall like a post-Soviet arsenal that they can fight this war.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah, this is not something that the OSCE is involved in. The OSCE does have a political-military dimension, but it’s primarily focused on military transparency and confidence- and security-building.

MR PRICE: Said and then Michele.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Thank you, Ambassador. Quick question – we’ve heard the Secretary of Defense and I believe the Secretary of State talk about we weakened Russia, a weakening Russia. And we’ve – we heard the strategic defeat for Russia. When did that – what will that look like? Is that going to (inaudible)? I have another —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: So I believed the Secretary of Defense referred to strategic as the goal, and of degrading Russia’s war machine so that it cannot prosecute this monstrous of a campaign against its neighbors in the future. And that does remain very much part of one of our goals.

MR PRICE: Michele.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up. Do you expect the Russian president on May 9 – a week from today – to make some sort of an announcement that goals have been achieved and victory – much like, let’s say President George W. Bush did, I think 2003?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: I can’t anticipate what President Putin’s going to do on May 9th. I know that so far the military campaign has been an abject failure, and the monstrosity and the barbarity of Russia’s assault is plain for all to see.

MR PRICE: Michele.

QUESTION: Yes. Does the OSCE – you were saying – do they still have monitors in Ukraine? Are they able to document some of these things you’re talking about, the abductions, taking people out of Ukraine and forcing them into Russia? Do you have any sense of the scale of that?

And then secondly, have you seen any indications that the Russians are stirring up trouble in any of these other frozen conflicts where the OSCE does have monitors, whether Transnistria or Nagorno-Karabakh or any of these other frozen conflicts?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yeah. So on your first question, the OSCE did have a several-hundred-person-strong special monitoring mission in Ukraine that was deployed primarily around the line of contact, and that monitoring mission did exist until a few weeks ago when it was evacuated, at first temporarily, but then Russia vetoed the mandate, essentially, of the SMM or the monitoring mission. And so that mission in now in a wind-down process.

As far as some of the other protracted conflicts on Russia’s periphery, of course, we watch very carefully. There were some unexplained explosions in Transnistria just last week, and we continue to look very carefully. And it is, in fact, part of the OSCE mandate to monitor the security situation in and around Transnistria in Moldova. And of course, we watch Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as well.

MR PRICE: A few more questions. Yes.

QUESTION: As you well know, today Georgia has quite horrible situation in terms (inaudible) violations in the occupied territories of Georgia, and the role of OSCE has always been so important for us. Against in this background, Georgia has repeatedly heard calls about the opening of second front as – and that now might be the time for Georgia to retake the occupied territories by military force. How acceptable do you think are such statements and calls?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: We think that the Georgian Government has behaved very responsibly when it comes to its own territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, and we have, of course, been steadfast supporters of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. At this moment there is an EU monitoring mission on the ground in Georgia, as you’re well aware. And the OSCE also participates in something called incident response and prevention mechanisms on the administrative boundary lines of both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, and so we continue to monitor the situation.

MR PRICE: Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador, when will the United States embassy resume the work in Kyiv? Is it soon as possible?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, the Secretary has said that we intend to go back into Ukraine. I think there’s already temporary visits occurring right now. But on a more permanent basis in the near future, I can’t speak to the time.

MR PRICE: Jenny.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Ambassador. To follow-up on Michele’s question, you’ve spoken to filtration camps in the past. Do you have an estimate of how many Ukrainians have been forcibly moved through these camps? And is there anything the OSCE is doing to try to track – once they are taken out of Ukraine – what happens to these people?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes. So we have exposed this brutal practice, or at least the reports of it. We have information from the Mariupol mayor’s office that there are something like four of these filtration camps in and around Mariupol. I would expect there might be more in the south and east of Ukraine. Of course, this would be in violation of international humanitarian law, and a war crime if people were forcibly being displaced from Ukraine to Russia. So the OSCE’s human rights monitoring mechanism will continue to look at this.

Of course, there’s an issue of access, right? I mean, those – that’s a – an active war zone right now. And so access is limited. But we’re going to continue to look at this, absolutely.

MR PRICE: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can you – you spoke a little bit about this when you were asked about – in one of your briefings a couple of weeks ago, but do you have anything more about those reports on children —

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Can you repeat? I didn’t hear the first part.

QUESTION: You spoke about this a couple of weeks ago in a briefing that you did. Do you have any more about reports about enforced adoption of children, Ukrainian children, in the context of these filtration camps? And also, you followed up a little bit on the President’s opinion that he believes that Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine. I know this is a long process in terms of a legal process, but you did comment a little bit on, again, what you believed might attribute to genocide. Can you comment at all on the length or the timing of this process?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Well, so to the first part of your question I would just say that if women and children and elderly and other individuals are being displaced forcibly, as I said earlier, that would be a war crime and it would just be appalling as a completely uncivilized endeavor. And so yes, it needs to be tracked very closely and documentation needs to be done to ensure that there is accountability for such actions in the future. I can’t speak to numbers, I can’t speak to specifics, because the information is at this point quite limited.

And then remind me of the second part of your question? On genocide, yes.

So I think I’ll let my previous comments on this stand. I have nothing to add to that.

MR PRICE: Take a final question?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Yes.

QUESTION: Is there an indication PRC’s helping Russia on the ground in Ukraine?

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: No. I don’t think we have any indications at the current time that the PRC is endeavoring to help Russia with its military campaign in Ukraine. But obviously, we’ll watch.

MR PRICE: Thank you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER: Thanks so much.

MR PRICE: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: All right. I don’t have anything else at the top. Ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Ned. Welcome back from the weekend; hope you had a good one.

MR PRICE: You as well.

QUESTION: Two things really briefly on Ukraine – and I’ve got two other subjects, but I’ll let everyone else finish before. But just don’t forget that I’ve got these two other non-Ukraine-related —

MR PRICE: We will come back to you.

QUESTION: At the end. First of all, on the question that was just asked about the embassy and diplomats going back into Ukraine, are they going in every day? Since – have they been going in every day to Lviv, sorry, since Tuesday? And is there a timeline that you can offer about the reopening of the embassy?

MR PRICE: For just about a week now, our diplomats have been making day trips into Lviv from Poland where they are currently based. It is not every day, but it has been consistent. As some of you may have seen, they were in Lviv today. Our chargé even did some public appearances, did some media appearances as well. But they have been able to take advantage of these sporadic trips into Lviv to meet with their counterparts from the ministry of foreign affairs, to meet with civil society, to meet with other important stakeholders, and they will continue to do that.

Now, of course, we want to ladder up to having a regular presence in Kyiv. Every single day, we’re monitoring the security situation on the ground ot determine when we’ll be able to do that. The only answer I can give you right now as to the question of when is: as soon as possible. I think it is fair to say, as you heard from our chargé today, that that will be within the coming weeks, but it will depend on a regular assessment of the security situation and our ability to operate safely and responsibly from Kyiv.

QUESTION: Right. And as you know, there’s been quite a lot of interest in the idea of Marine guards, would they go to – would there be – or would there be, whether they are the fully dressed and uniformed Marine guard detachment that is at most but not all embassies – when that happens, the “as soon as possible” happens, will – would – they would obviously be going in with security. So how does that fit with the idea that there aren’t going to be any U.S. troops, soldiers on the ground in Ukraine?

MR PRICE: What I can tell you is that our diplomats will return to Kyiv just as soon as it is safe and responsible and appropriate for them to do so. There are obviously details that go into that question of safety and responsible – responsibility in terms of any return to Kyiv. As you know, we don’t comment on our security practices. That will be the case here, but our diplomats will be back on the ground in Kyiv just as – as it is safe for them to do so.

QUESTION: On the second one, and I’m just – I’m wondering if you – you’re not directly involved in this, but I’m sure you have seen the comments that Foreign Minister Lavrov made in an interview with Italian media about anti-Semitism. I’m wondering if you have any comments on that.

MR PRICE: We, of course, have seen those despicable comments. We also saw a number of responses from other world leaders. The one that stuck out to me, stuck out to many of us here, was the response from Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid. He is, of course, someone who speaks with a great deal of authority on these matters. It would be impossible to improve upon the response that he offered. As he said, the foreign minister’s “remarks are both an unforgivable and outrageous statement as well as a terrible historical error.” He went on to note that “Jews did not murder themselves in the Holocaust. The lowest level of racism against Jews is to accuse Jews themselves of anti-Semitism.”

This statement from Foreign Minister Lavrov – it was the lowest form of racism, it was the lowest form of propaganda, it was the lowest form of insidious lies. And I think with it and other not only statements but conduct from the Kremlin, its top officials, its personnel – including its personnel in Ukraine – the Kremlin is consistently proving that there is no floor when it comes to just how low they can stoop. And this, I think, is just the latest example of that.

Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Ned, to follow up on the answer I got regarding the strategic defeat, now, unless I misunderstood what the ambassador said – but it dealt with degrading, I guess, Russia’s capability of making arms and so on like this, depleting their weapons. Is that – something akin to that? But Russia makes its own weapons. I mean, they seem to have, like, an endless source of weapons and so on if they choose to.

MR PRICE: So coming back to your question and to the answer that the ambassador gave, he accurately noted – and I think I’ve said this before – but I have been surprised at the level of surprise that we’ve heard in response to Secretary Austin’s comment. But as the ambassador noted, what Secretary Austin was referring to was a strategic failure on the part of the Kremlin and the Russians here. And we are two months into the Kremlin’s war effort in Ukraine. I think it is clear to everyone, or it should be clear to everyone who is looking at this impartially, the elements of the strategic failure that has already come to pass.

Moscow had several objectives in mind when it went into Ukraine on February 24th. It sought to subjugate Ukraine, to enhance Russian power, to divide the West. On each of those fronts, you have seen Moscow fail in its objectives. The Ukrainian people have demonstrated that Moscow will not be able to take Ukraine by force; that Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence will outlast this military objective. You have seen that rather than enhance Russian power, Russia’s power in the region and beyond is significantly diluted, and it is diluted because of something you referred to, Said. Those are the export controls but also the economic sanctions that we have placed on Moscow. It’s diluted because of the diplomatic isolation, the pariah status that President Putin’s war campaign in Ukraine has bestowed upon him.

To your specific question, yes, Moscow does have a defense industry. It is a defense industry that is not wholly self-reliant. It is reliant on key inputs and products from the international community, including from the West. That is precisely what our export controls are designed to choke off. Because of that, Moscow’s high tech, its defense sectors, its aerospace sector, its energy exploration sector – a number of strategic sectors that Moscow would need for its regional and ambitions beyond the region – have been and are being starved.

And as I said before, Russia is now a pariah. It is a pariah in terms of the response we’ve seen from the international community. You look at any number of votes at the UN, for example, we’re 141 countries, the vast majority of the world – world’s countries have come together to condemn President Putin’s behavior, to what we’re seeing from countries around the world, many of whom have relationships with Russia. And just today, made mention of the response that we’ve heard from Foreign Minister Lapid regarding what Foreign Minister Lavrov had to say.

So this is a strategic failure for Moscow. The ingredients of that are already evident. Every day we’re seeing more evidence of it. And the strategy we have will be to continue to empower our Ukrainian partners – to empower them with security assistance, to support their economic needs, to support the humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people – just as we continue to apply significant and really unprecedented amounts of pressure on Russia in terms of our sanctions, in terms of our export controls, in terms of the diplomatic isolation that we in turn are applying with, again, dozens of countries around the world.

Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I have two questions on North Korea, Russia, and China. Regarding Russia, North Koreans support Russia’s war in Ukraine. If North Korea and China engaged in military cooperation with Russia, the war is sure to escalate. What kind of efforts is the United States pursuing to prevent China and North Korea from cooperating with Russia? And I have a follow-up —

MR PRICE: Sure. Well, that is obviously a hypothetical at this point. You just asked – one of your colleagues just asked Ambassador Carpenter about any support that we are seeing the PRC provide to Russia’s war effort. As we said a number of weeks ago, we had indications that Russia was seeking that support. In response, we made very clear that we would watch closely any reaction from the PRC. If in fact the PRC aided Russia’s war effort in any way – with weapons helping it to offset in a systemic way the losses it is enduring from the response of the international community – that there would be strong consequences from not only the United States, but from our allies and partners around the world.

As the ambassador just made clear again, we have in fact been watching closely, and we have not detected any shift, but any shift would incur those consequences.

QUESTION: Second question: Recently Russian President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared the use of nuclear weapons. How would you analyze the impact of this on the Korean Peninsula? And does the United States recognize North Korea as a nuclear power state?

MR PRICE: Well, of course we’re concerned about the rhetoric that has emerged from some corners of the Russian Federation. The loose talk of the use of any weapon of mass destruction, it is the height of irresponsibility. Russia as a nuclear power has a solemn obligation to act responsibly. Russia as early as – as recently, I should say, as this year, again, reaffirmed a maxim that’s been around since the days of the Cold War by underscoring what we heard from UN Security Council: that a nuclear war must never be fought and cannot be won. That’s something that Russia affirmed, has affirmed consistently over the course of decades. It was affirmed after President Biden’s summit, meeting with President Putin in June of last year. The UN Security Council put it out again this year. Now, we have seen contradictory statements. We have heard other Russian officials downplay any potential use of weapons of mass destruction. Regardless, it is, as I said before, the height of irresponsibility for anyone to engage in such loose talk, but especially coming from a nuclear power like Russia.

It is dangerous not only in the context of Ukraine, but it is also dangerous for the diluting effect that such talk could have on the global nonprolifation norm. It is our goal, along with other responsible nuclear powers and a broader set of stakeholders, to see to it that the nonproliferation norm, including those norms that are enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are instead protected, that they are fortified. And that’s why we’re speaking out very clearly in response to these reckless comments from the Russians.

Yes, Francesco.

QUESTION: Following up on Simon’s questions on May 9, do you have anything to add on your assessment on whether Russia may or may not declare formally war and what that would mean for Ukraine and for its partners? And more broadly, what are your expectations or concerns on what may be said or happen on that day?

MR PRICE: Again, we are not going to preview what the Russians may seek to do on the so-called Victory Day on May 9th.

QUESTION: You previewed what they’re going to do everywhere else. Since December you’ve been previewing —

MR PRICE: Well, I appreciate you acknowledging that now, but –

QUESTION: Well, no. I’m not saying that your previews were always correct, but I’m saying that you’ve been – you’ve made no – you haven’t been shy about previewing –

MR PRICE: If we have something specific to share, we will. What I can say is that I think everyone, including, I assume, many of you in this room, have good reason to believe that the Russians will do everything they can to use the date in terms of their propaganda effort. We’ve seen the Russians really double down on their propaganda efforts, probably – almost certainly – as a means to distract from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine, the strategic failure that we’ve seen this military campaign result in in terms of Russia’s economy, its standing in the international community, its position on the world stage.

And so I think it is safe to assume that that will continue. I’ve seen the speculation that Russia may formally declare war. I suppose I would add that that would be a great irony if Moscow used the occasion of Victory Day to declare war, which in itself would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they’re not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives. But I am quite confident that we’ll be hearing more from Moscow in the leadup to May 9th. I am quite confident you’ll be hearing more from the United States, from our partners, including our NATO partners, in the leadup to May 9th as well.

Yes, Vivian.

QUESTION: Ned, two questions, please. Despite the limited visibility that we have in Mariupol, especially at the steel plant, do you have any indication that Russia will allow more civilians to be evacuated? And also, is the U.S. working behind the scenes at all to facilitate some of those negotiations along with – I know the UN is taking the lead. That’s my first question. I have another one on Moldova.

MR PRICE: Well, we do welcome the reports that have emerged in recent hours that some civilians have been able to evacuate Mariupol, and we encourage continued efforts to allow civilians to depart Mariupol and other cities under siege. We are in communication with the international humanitarian organizations involved in this effort. We will remain in close coordination and communication with them. We will do that because we know that humanitarian corridors are absolutely critical to evacuating citizens and providing urgently needed humanitarian aid. That includes food. It includes medicine. It includes water and other needed supplies, needed by those who are besieged, who are at this very moment seeking to escape harm’s way.

People need to be let out. Humanitarian supplies need to be let in. We want to make sure that the limited humanitarian access we’ve seen in recent hours is not fleeting. Doing so would demonstrate that there may be a genuine humanitarian intent behind this evacuation and not just another craven attempt on the part of the Kremlin to change the narrative to achieve a PR victory. We want this humanitarian access to be sustained, to be sustained until everyone who is trapped in Mariupol, everyone who is trapped in other cities that are under siege because of this Russian assault, is able to flee to safety.

QUESTION: The second one on Moldova, really quickly. You did address it about 10 days ago. The situation there hasn’t quite stabilized yet. At what point is U.S. aid and also those renewed relations that we now – or the engagements that we now have with the Moldovan Government at risk if the situation continues as is?

MR PRICE: Well, our relationship with the Moldovan Government is not at risk. And I think, if anything, you have seen us redouble our partnership with Chişinău in recent weeks. As you know, Secretary Blinken was there just a few weeks ago. We had an excellent set of bilateral meetings with his counterpart as well as with the Moldovan leadership. We restarted our strategic dialogue with Moldova just last month – it was the first time in several years that we had held a meeting of our – of this strategic dialogue – precisely because of the urgency of this moment, of the imperative of demonstrating our commitment to the government, to the people of Moldova, to its sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity and its constitutionally enshrined neutrality as well.

Over the course of our relationship with Moldova, independent Moldova, the United States has supported the Moldovan people with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support. In recent weeks alone, we have provided tens of millions of additional dollars in humanitarian assistance. Moldova has opened its doors to those fleeing violence across the border in Ukraine; it has done so generously. And the United States will continue to stand by the people and Government of Moldova as it does so.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I change topics?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Let’s take a couple more questions. Jenny.

QUESTION: Okay. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation this weekend to Kyiv. Did any embassy officials or Diplomatic Security agents accompany this congressional delegation on that trip?

MR PRICE: Well, let me just say generally about the speaker’s visit, it sends a clear message that the United States stands with Ukraine. It underscores the strong bipartisan commitment of the American people to supporting the brave people of Ukraine who are standing up the Kremlin’s brutality.

This delegation underscored that we will continue to work with our allies and partners to maintain support for Ukraine and to do everything we can, as I was saying before, to put pressure on Russia, to strengthen Ukraine’s position at the – on the battlefield, and to ensure that Ukraine emerges victorious.

We were in close coordination with the speaker and her office in advance of this visit. Of course, I’m not going to comment on security arrangements, but anytime the individual who is third in line to the presidency travels into a place like Ukraine going into Kyiv, of course security is of paramount importance to us.

Yes, one more.

QUESTION: Russia? Yeah. Russia’s spy plane reportedly violated airspaces of Denmark and Sweden over the weekend. I wonder if you have any reaction given the fact that Denmark is a member of NATO. And one more question on this: another part of the war going on, which is on cyberspace. Over the weekend, we heard the DDoS attacks against Romania and Moldova. Any reaction from the State Department?

MR PRICE: So on the first I would refer you to the Department of Defense. I’m aware there have been a number of routine intercepts of Russian aircraft, but the Department of Defense would be able to provide more of a comment on that.

I don’t have anything specific to offer in terms of reported DDoS attacks against our partners in Europe. We do know, however, that Moscow’s playbook is quite long. Cyber attacks are certainly part of that playbook. We know that they have used these tactics against countries in the region. We spoke openly of cyber attacks against Ukraine in the hours and the days leading up to the start of the invasion, including DDoS attacks against Ukrainian systems. So it’s something we continue to watch very closely.

Said.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Back with me on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Last week Matt asked you about the new Israeli rules on foreigners visiting West Bank, which is – which stirred quite an outrage and restricts the Palestinians mainly – schools, colleges, and so on. If you have any position on that.

MR PRICE: We’re aware of the new procedures for foreigners to enter and reside in the West Bank that were recently published by Israel’s COGAT and they’re due to go into effect, as we understand. We continue to study them. We are engaging with Israeli counterparts to understand their applications and any implications of them.

QUESTION: But they go into effect on the 22nd of this month. So you’re still studying them?

QUESTION: Does that mean —

MR PRICE: We are still studying them. Correct.

QUESTION: The exact same answer I got —

MR PRICE: You were —

QUESTION: — offline last week. So really, there hasn’t been, like, since – I think I asked on Wednesday, maybe Thursday.

QUESTION: It was on Tuesday.

QUESTION: So really, there hasn’t been any more deep dive into what this actually means?

MR PRICE: You asked less than a week ago. They are due to go into effect. We are taking a close look at them.

QUESTION: But you’re taking since February.

MR PRICE: And we will —

QUESTION: You guys have been aware of them for over a month.

MR PRICE: We will – if we have – if —

QUESTION: There has been serious concern about this, as particularly as it relates to Israel’s application or attempts to get into the Visa Waiver Program —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: — because people who have —

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: — actually looked at —

MR PRICE: When it comes —

QUESTION: Let me finish. People who have actually read it are concerned that this will give the Israelis a way to deny entry to Palestinian Americans before they actually present themselves in Israel – in other words, that they have to apply here to the embassy and the embassy can turn them down, and that under some kind of technicality that the Israelis could then say they haven’t actually been denied entry because they never actually got to Israel to present themselves in person. So that’s the specific question.

Now, please try to get an answer to what it is that you guys think about this.

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: And on a tangential issue —

MR PRICE: Do you want me to speak to the Visa Waiver Program or do you want to go on with your soliloquy?

QUESTION: Well, yes. Yeah, you go ahead – you go ahead —

MR PRICE: When it comes to the Visa Waiver Program, we continue to work with our Israeli partners and with our Israeli counterparts towards fulfilling the program requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals upon arrival. As you know, this is something that we work with the Department of Homeland Security. The Secretary of State, along with his Homeland Security counterpart, will have authority over this, and we’re continuing to work closely with our Israeli partners on it.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s also the exact same answer I got last week, which was more than five days ago, so —

MR PRICE: And I imagine that will be the answer until there’s a – potentially a different answer.

QUESTION: Well, you know what, if I don’t do a quote/unquote “soliloquy,” I’m never going to get an answer to this question, at least not one on camera, on the record.

Anyway, tangentially to this issue – and Said has been asking about this – but these six human rights groups that were declared terrorist organizations. So two members – two senior members – of two of these groups have been denied exit from Israel, one of whom is an American citizen. The other one has a valid U.S. visa. They were trying to get to Mexico for a meeting of the World Social Forum, which I imagine that you might be aware of, but they can’t get out. Now, I know that you don’t – you probably won’t have a lot to say about a U.S. visa holder because they’re not an American citizen, but there is one American citizen, and I’m just wondering – this is Sahar Francis. Do you have anything to say about the Israelis (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: You’re right, Matt, we don’t. As you know, visa records are confidential, so we’re not in a position to comment on any individual visa holders. As we discussed with Said last week, we have made clear to our Israeli Government and Palestinian Authority counterparts that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank, in Israel must be able to continue their important work. We value the monitoring of human rights violations and abuses that these types of independent NGOs undertake in places like Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel, and elsewhere around the world, and we strongly believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsive and responsible governance and democratic governance. And so that’s why it’s important that we continue to monitor those conditions, and we absolutely will with the help of our partners in civil society.

QUESTION: Okay. And on – then on the – on the actual – on the U.S. citizen, the U.S. passport holder, Ubai Aboudi, the executive director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development?

MR PRICE: Again, Matt, as you know, we’re not in a position to speak from the podium to actions as it relates to a particular American citizen.

QUESTION: Well, how about just denying American citizens the ability to leave? I mean, it’s one thing to not allow them in. It’s another to not let them leave, isn’t it?

MR PRICE: Matt, I can’t speak to a specific American citizen in this case.

Said.

QUESTION: Well, just to remind you that this actually – it’s people like us, like myself, like my brothers and so on, that go in and they are asked as they enter whether they own property, where they own their property, where they go and so on. Awful stuff. These are good, solid, taxpaying citizens of this country.

I have another question for you on the king of Jordan. He is on a private visit to the United States. Will there be any meeting by the – with the Secretary of State on the issues that are ongoing, whether on Al-Aqsa Mosque —

MR PRICE: Typically when world leaders travel here on private visits, we don’t speak to the schedule. Typically if it is a private visit, there won’t be any interaction. I don’t have any meetings to preview.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Ned, do you have any comment on The New York Times story on the death of the Egyptian economist Ayman Hadhoud?

MR PRICE: We are deeply disturbed by reports surrounding the death in custody of Egyptian researcher Ayman Hadhoud and allegations of his torture while in detention. The circumstances of his detention, his treatment, of his death we think require a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation without delay. We have made clear with – including with our Egyptian partners that human rights are a priority. We have urged the Egyptian Government to make progress on protecting human rights in virtually every session, whether it’s over the phone, whether it’s face to face.

We have raised the issue of human rights. We raise the issue broadly. We also raise specific cases, and just as we express our disturbance when there are significant and shocking setbacks, as in this case, we also do welcome when there are positive steps, and we do welcome reports of Egypt’s release last week and over the weekend of dozens of political detainees and journalists. We strongly support additional releases and pardons. As we know, as we’ve said before, that progress on human rights, it will lead to progress in our bilateral relationship. That is true in the case of Egypt; it is true in every bilateral relationship we have.

QUESTION: And one more on Iran. Reuters has quoted Western officials saying that they have largely lost hope the Iran nuclear deal can be resurrected. Do you share the same assessment?

MR PRICE: It continues to be the case that we believe a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in our national security interests. It is in our national security interest primarily because it would reimpose the permanent, the verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program. It would put a box back on Iran’s nuclear program, a program that has been in many ways unshackled since 2018 and a program that has galloped forward in ways that are unacceptable to us, they are unacceptable to our partners around the world, and it is something that we seek to change.

We will continue to forge ahead with efforts, with dialogue via the – via our partners, including the European Union, to seek to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA for as long as we determine that a mutual return to compliance would be in our interests. Again, at this point, it would still be in our interests. If and when we reached the point where the nonproliferation benefits of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA would not overcome the progress that Iran has achieved in its nuclear program in the past three or so years, that’s when we’ll reassess and pursue an alternative course.

QUESTION: There’s reporting that Enrique Mora is offering to go to Tehran to break that deadlock, and Iran has not responded. Do you have any more detail you can provide on that?

MR PRICE: I would need to refer you to Mr. Mora’s office, but we are in close contact with him, the EU coordinator. We – he does continue to convey messages back and forth. We do support his efforts to bring these negotiations to a conclusion.

Yes.

QUESTION: President Biden confirmed to CBS today that Austin Tice’s parents are meeting with the President. Does this signify any change or update in his case, or – and/or is it because Debra Tice was recognized at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? And can you give us an update on the assessment of his case?

MR PRICE: It’s a testament to the fact that the case of Austin Tice, who has spent nearly a quarter of his life in detention – he celebrated his 40th birthday this past year. This August he will mark a solemn occasion of his 10th anniversary in custody. It is a testament to the fact that achieving a successful resolution to this case, reuniting Austin with his family, with his parents, Debra and Marc, that is a priority of ours. It has been a priority of ours.

There is no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens who are detained around the world. And of course, the case of Austin Tice is one that has attracted, with good reason, the focus, the attention of the world. He is someone who traveled the world, including into Syria, to do nothing more than to spread reporting, to spread the truth. And he has been in detention, he has been away from his family for far too long. We’re doing everything we can to see that come to a successful conclusion.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Will the Tices meet with Secretary Blinken or Roger Carstens or anyone at the State Department?

MR PRICE: The State Department is regularly in touch with the Tices. We do have, through our SPEHA office, regular contact with them. The Secretary has had an occasion to meet them, including quite recently had an opportunity to sit down Debra Tice.

QUESTION: Another follow-up on that.

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: We know that the prisoner exchange that resulted in the freedom of Trevor Reed came after months of intense talks. Obviously the diplomatic relationship with Syria is a bit different. Can the Tice family hope for a similar happy outcome given that – circumstances?

MR PRICE: As we were – the point – I made a couple points in response to the release of Trevor Reed. One is that you didn’t hear us share the details of those consultations before he was released. We do believe that we can best and most effectively achieve potentially successful outcomes if we do have space to conduct private conversations.

A second point: We of course don’t have, I would say, normal – fully normal relations with Moscow at this time, and yet we were able to have a discreet, focused set of discussions regarding the effort to free Trevor Reed that ultimately were successful. When it comes to our efforts to free Americans, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, he will go anywhere, he will talk to anyone if it means that we’re able to come home with an American, to reunite that American with her or his family. That is true in the case of Austin Tice. It is true in the case of Paul Whelan. It is true in the case of the Americans who are detained in Iran and Americans who are detained around the world.

Yes.

QUESTION: Ned, on press freedom, the U.S. Government assessed that the Russian intelligence was behind the recent attack against Nobel Peace Prize laureate – actual winner, Muratov. Ahead of the Press Freedom Day, I want to give you a chance to put that into context in terms of the state of press freedom in Russia.

And secondly, to South Caucasus, there was a Memorandum of Understanding signed today between the U.S. and Armenia. Can you talk about the significance of nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and the South Caucasus countries?

And also, I’ve seen several MOUs between the U.S, Poland, and several other countries. What is the process behind that, and who approached whom in terms of the —

MR PRICE: The process behind what?

QUESTION: The signature of – signing this Memorandum of Understanding.

MR PRICE: Got it.

QUESTION: Or is it – the process behind that. Thank you.

MR PRICE: So as you alluded to, there was a bilateral meeting today between the Secretary and his Armenian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mirzoyan, here at the Department of State. This will launch the U.S.-Armenia Strategic Dialogue. We will have a readout of this session later today. But what I can tell you now is that the Secretary committed to further strengthening bilateral relations in line with our shared democratic values and continuing cooperation on Armenia’s reform agenda.

During the meeting, as you alluded to, the Secretary and his foreign minister counterpart, they did sign a nuclear cooperation Memorandum of Understanding, paving the way for increased cooperation on civil nuclear matters as Armenia looks to diversify its energy supply. They also discussed Armenia’s progress in implementing democratic rule of law and anti-corruption reforms as well as a broader dialogue about relations between Armenia and its neighbors.

This will lead into tomorrow’s Strategic Dialogue. That Strategic Dialogue will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Armenian diplomatic relations. It underscores our shared commitment to strengthening bilateral ties and a bilateral relationship that is both broad and deep and that will be broader and deeper at the conclusion of this Strategic Dialogue.

When it comes to press freedom in Russia – and you’ll hear more from us tomorrow, we’re currently on the eve of World Press Freedom Day and so I do expect you will hear from Secretary Blinken tomorrow on World Press Freedom Day – but it is difficult to identify a country where we have seen more setbacks, more destruction to the principle of press freedom and freedom of information than in Russia over the past year, and especially in Russia over the past few weeks as the Kremlin has seemingly gone into overdrive in its efforts to hide from its own people the toll of this war, the opposition to this war, the fact that this war is not going to – according to plan, or at least not going to the plan that the Kremlin put forward.

We have seen journalists thrown in jail. We have seen journalists intimidated. We have seen news outlets in Russia be shut down. We have seen news outlets in Russia be essentially forced to close. And on top of that, we have seen the toll of Russia’s assault on Ukraine; of course, principally, in the first instance, on the Ukrainian people. But journalists, reporters have also paid the price. And just late last week, of course, we lost a journalist with RFL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who was killed in a Russian strike on a residential apartment building outside of Kyiv. She, of course, was not the first journalist to have lost her life in this conflict. Many more journalists have been injured. A journalist who should be in this briefing room right here today was injured as a result of Russia’s aggression as well. So this is something we’ll be speaking to in more detail tomorrow, I can assure you.

Final question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) because I’ve got – I have one more.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right. Let me go there and then we’ll come back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. I want to follow up on the report about Mora reaching out to Tehran. The Wall Street Journal report also says that Western diplomats have said that if Iran comes back with a demand for a U.S. concession or another issue, Washington would be willing to consider it. It sounds like there is a message here from Washington to Mora to take to Tehran if he goes. And is there any more room for concession to Iran? And what other possible issues within the framework of the JCPOA would Washington be willing to talk about?

MR PRICE: I think there was a slight misimpression, at least in the way it was conveyed. But what we have said is that, one, we’re not going to negotiate in public. At the same time, we have made clear that we are focused on the JCPOA, on the nuclear agreement. If Iran wants to seek – wants to put issues on the table that are outside the confines of the JCPOA, Iran will of course have to be in a position to make concessions on those issues. That’s just the very nature of any negotiation.

But what we are focused on is the JCPOA, testing the proposition as to whether we can achieve a mutual return to compliance. We’ll continue down that path as long as we deem that a potential return to compliance would be in our interest.

Yes.

QUESTION: I asked Jalina about this on Friday. She said she was just learning of it in real time, which is fair enough, so she didn’t have an answer. But this has to do with the situation in Nepal – happened on Friday – with the assault of at least one, possibly two or three U.S. embassy staff who were trying to help a father and a daughter in a child abduction case. What can you tell me about that? Because I understand that the embassy has filed a formal complaint with the Nepalese home ministry about this.

MR PRICE: Well, Jalina spoke on Friday to the child custody case —

QUESTION: No, she said she was aware of it. I’m not actually asking about that right now. I’m asking about an assault on U.S. personnel.

MR PRICE: We’ve been in touch with our posts in Nepal. There’s nothing that we can share publicly on any alleged assault. But when it comes to this case, we’re aware of reports of alleged child abduction in Nepal involving U.S. citizens. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance, as we do in these cases. Our highest priority is the welfare of our citizens overseas, and we recognize that international child custody cases are by their very nature complex, they’re difficult. But we’re committed to doing all we can to resolving these challenging cases.

MR PRICE: Ned, that’s exactly what she said to me on Friday. Are you telling me that since Friday, you guys haven’t found anything else out? And why are you calling it an alleged assault? There’s video of this assault that’s out there on the internet.

MR PRICE: Matt, I am conveying to you what has been conveyed to us from our team.

QUESTION: Okay, well, can I just make – then can you retry? Because I’d like to find out, especially if there were serious injuries to American personnel in this. And then secondly, do you have anything – on the case itself, what are you guys doing to help?

MR PRICE: Matt, you’ve asked —

QUESTION: There was a court order again this morning in Chicago – judge issued a restraining order on this. So what are you doing?

MR PRICE: You —

QUESTION: And – okay, go ahead.

MR PRICE: You’ve asked a number of questions today about what we’re doing the cases of specific Americans. We’re obviously limited in what we can say in the – in terms of the specifics, especially from here, but it is our —

QUESTION: Because of why?

MR PRICE: Because of privacy considerations.

QUESTION: Okay. So here is the Privacy Act waiver that they have signed. All right? And I’m happy to provide this to you, but I know that you – I know that you have it. So let’s not go through this song and dance, okay? Well, most of the time when I complain about this, I don’t actually have the document, but now I do.

So I would like to get a straight answer about what you guys are doing, and also while – and also find out what exactly happened to U.S. embassy personnel who were assaulted, which is – you can see online – while they were attempting to assist in this case. Thank you.

MR PRICE: We’re in touch with the embassy today. It was conveyed to us that there’s nothing additional we can share publicly at this time. If that changes, if —

QUESTION: Does that mean that the privacy – oh wait, are you talking about the assault or are you taking about the case?

MR PRICE: I am talking —

QUESTION: Because if you’re just going to say – because I have the Privacy Act waiver right here signed. And if you’re going to say, well, that doesn’t matter, well, then – then what does the Privacy Act Waiver mean? You guys can just keep anything secret.

MR PRICE: I’m not saying that. I was referring to the to the alleged assault.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PRICE: Said, final question.

QUESTION: Sorry, Ned. Final question. Can you clarify for us Sahar Francis is not disallowed from entering the United States of America?

MR PRICE: Again —

QUESTION: Is she allowed or not allowed re-entry into the United States?

MR PRICE: Visa records are private and confidential. There’s nothing I can say from here on the specifics of any particular visa record.

Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:36 p.m.)

 

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