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Urgent not edited: US State Department on the Ukraine Russia Threat & UAE Attack

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Due to the serious nature of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, eTurboNews is providing a raw transcript of the just concluded press conference at the US State Department

US State Department Press Briefing, Monday 24 January 2022,
Unedited Raw version

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington DC, 2:39 p.m. EST 24 Jan 2022

MR PRICE: Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone. Just one item at the top and then we’ll take your questions.

The United States condemns the overnight attack by the Houthis on the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which resulted in civilian injuries in Saudi Arabia and follows a similar Houthi incursion last week that killed three civilians in Abu Dhabi. We reaffirm our commitment to help strengthen the defense of our Saudi and Emirati partners.

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These attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as recent airstrikes in Yemen that killed civilians, represent a troubling escalation that only exacerbates the suffering of the Yemeni people.

We call on all parties to the conflict to commit to a ceasefire, abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including those related to protection of all civilians, and participate fully in an inclusive UN-led peace process.

The Yemeni people urgently need a diplomatic solution to the conflict, a diplomatic solution that improves their lives and allows them to collectively determine their own future.

With that, I’m happy to turn to your questions. Yes? Well, I’ll start back there, as I promised. Please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on this issue, so —

MR PRICE: Okay. Great.

QUESTION: Bear with me, please. Today’s Houthis’ attack on the UAE is the thirteenth one in the last 10 days. So these attacks have been accelerated lately. Are we going to see now the same acceleration in the consideration process by the Biden – by the administration to enlist the Houthis on the terrorist attack?

MR PRICE: To – sorry, I —

QUESTION: To enlist them back on the terrorist attack?

MR PRICE: Oh, to list them.

QUESTION: So this acceleration would be resulted in the same acceleration in the consideration process that’s been taken care by the Biden administration regarding putting them back on the terrorist attack?

MR PRICE: So your question is about the status of the Houthis and a potential redesignation. Well, as you know, the President spoke to this last week when he spoke to the nation in his press conference last Wednesday. He said that the question of the redesignation, potential redesignation of Ansarallah, the name for the Houthi movement, is under consideration. And so I’m not in a position to discuss any potential steps that might be considered.

Here’s what I will say, though. We will continue to work with our partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help them defend against these deplorable Houthi attacks. As the last data I saw indicated, with the help of the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been able to prevent about 90 percent of these incoming attacks from Yemen, from the Houthis. Of course, our goal, our collective goal, will to get – to get that to be 100 percent. But we are still – we will continue to stand by our partners on this.

We are also, and we have, continuing to hold to account Houthi leaders for this reprehensible conduct. We have issued sanctions on key leaders and designations on key leaders in recent months. And we will continue to call upon all appropriate tools in our toolkit to hold these Houthis, those Houthi leaders responsible for these attacks accountable. We will not relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that are threatening civilians and regional stability, perpetuating the conflict, committing human rights abuses, or violating international humanitarian law, or exacerbating the very grave humanitarian crisis by – according to most accounts, is the most profound humanitarian crisis on the face of the Earth.

But this is a complex consideration, and we spoke to this consideration in the earliest days of the administration, about a year ago now, when we talked about the initial decision vis-à-vis the Houthis because in making that determination and in coming to that original decision, we listened to a number of stakeholders. We heard warnings from the UN. We listened to concerns from humanitarian groups. We listened to bipartisan members of Congress who were opposed to the last administration’s decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, then an STDT because primarily, that blanket determination could conceivably have an impact on our ability to deliver and to provide much-needed humanitarian relief to the citizens of Yemen.

It could also impact access to basic commodities like food and fuel. And so we heard those concerns loud and clear, and we know that about 90 percent of essential commodities in Yemen are imported by private businesses. And out of an abundance of caution, the suppliers of these – these suppliers and financial institutions may cease that activity, which is important to the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people.

So we heard those concerns loud and clear. We are taking a close look at the appropriate response, but what we will continue to do, no question about it, is to stand with the UAE, stand with Saudi Arabia, and to hold to account Houthi leaders responsible for these terrorist attacks.

QUESTION: Yeah, Ned, just a follow-up, two more points on this issue: USA also has said in previous statements – from the State Department I believe, and the White House – that it would support UAE in defending its territories. So how does this support is going to unfold in practical terms? That’s one. Two, is the U.S. going to help in prohibiting the flow of arms and financial support to the Houthis, given the fact that they are supported and backed by Iran?

MR PRICE: So to your first question, we work extensively with our Emirati partners, just as we do with our Saudi partners, to provide them with what they need to help defend themselves against these types of attacks. We will continue to do that. We will continue to work with them in different ways to help them fortify themselves against these attacks.

And your second question about —

QUESTION: Yeah. Is the U.S. going to help in prohibiting the flow of arms and financial support to the Houthis, given the fact that they are supported by Iran?

MR PRICE: Absolutely. And we have been hard at work on that, not only in this administration but over successive administrations. You have heard our partners in the Department of Defense speak to seizures at sea, for example, of weapons that have been bound for Yemen and for the Houthis. You have seen us shine a bright spotlight on the level of support that Iran and Iran-backed groups are providing to the Houthis. You have heard us speak to the destabilizing role that Iran and its proxies are playing across the region, and that certainly includes in Yemen, and that certainly includes Iran’s support for the Houthi movement in Yemen.

QUESTION: The question is: Are you going to stop the flow of arms physically? I mean, are you going (inaudible) the force of arms? I mean, I think that’s the premise of the question.

MR PRICE: Well, and my answer to that was yes, we are going to continue to do everything we can to stop the flow of arms, of assistance, of —

QUESTION: So we’re likely to see, like, American air raids to stop the flow of arms?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: We’re likely to see attacks intended to stop the flow of arms by American forces?

MR PRICE: You have seen consistent action by the part of this administration and previous administrations to stop the flow of arms, to stop the flow of supplies to the Houthis, and that certainly includes what the Iranians have provided.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Ned, on Russia. So there is going to be –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: — a call with the Europeans about (inaudible) —

MR PRICE: Well, sorry, let’s close out – let’s close out Yemen, and then we’ll come to Russia.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: The Houthis have claimed that they were targeting the U.S. air base in UAE yesterday, and the U.S. military has said that they fired Patriots that intercepted their missiles. Will there be any U.S. reaction to the Houthis, and especially that they are targeting the U.S. forces in the UAE?

MR PRICE: We will continue to hold the Houthis to account for these terrorist attacks. We will do that in different ways. We have used a number of tools already, and I suspect you will see us continue to do that in the days and weeks ahead.

Yemen, still?

QUESTION: One more on Yemen.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. reached any different conclusion about what the impact on aid delivery would be with a designation? And if not, why entertain the idea?

MR PRICE: Well, we are engaging with some of those same stakeholders I mentioned before to continue to hear their viewpoints, to garner their perspectives. Certainly some of the concerns we heard about a year ago would still apply. The question is whether we can – whether a redesignation would be to – would be in the interests of the United States, would be in our security interests, would be in the security interests of our partners in the region, and would be in the interests we have in seeing an end to the conflict and the humanitarian emergency in Yemen.

So it was a difficult – it’s a difficult set of factors we’re weighing, but as the President said, we are considering – we are considering the decision.

Anything else on Yemen? Humeyra.

QUESTION: Okay. Take two. On Russia, so there is going to be a call with Europeans this afternoon with President Biden. I was wondering – this was asked in the White House briefing as well, but if you could shed light a little bit on what the administration hopes to achieve through this call. And we’ve heard President Biden last week publicly acknowledge the cracks within NATO Alliance as well as with the Europeans on how to – how exactly to respond. Has there been any improvement since then with the Europeans? Are you closer to being on the same page? And is there any reason for us to expect that after this call you will be sort of more on the same page on how to respond to minor incursion, or major incursion, whatever that may be?

MR PRICE: Okay. Humeyra, as you know, we were in Europe last week. We were in Kyiv. We then went to Berlin, where in addition to meeting with our German allies the Secretary had an opportunity to meet with the so-called European Quad. Before that, we were in Europe the previous month where we had an opportunity to meet with our NATO Allies, with the OSCE. In the intervening weeks, the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, not to mention the President and the National Security Advisor and many others were on the phone constantly with allies and partners to discuss this Russian aggression and the response.

And I want to take issue with the premise of your question because in all of those engagements – the in-person engagements, the conversations, the video conferences – in every single one of those engagements, we have heard, and you in turn have heard from not only us but from our European allies and partners, individual allies, NATO, the OSCE, the G7, the European Union, the European Council – you have heard the same message: If any Russian forces move across the border, that’s a renewed invasion; it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response on the part of the United States and on the part of our allies.

So there is no ambiguity about that. There is no ambiguity. There is no daylight. We know that. And importantly, the Russian Federation knows that.

QUESTION: Right. So the – okay, thank you. There is quite a bit of daylight, but I’m not going to entertain that for too long. I was – I’m wondering, can you shed a little bit of light on what you guys want to achieve with this particular meeting? And then I’m going to go on to the non-paper.

MR PRICE: Well, let me come back to your flippant remark – and maybe it was just intended to be a flippant remark, but I couldn’t resist.

QUESTION: No, it’s just that, I mean, the President has said that there are differences of opinion, and this has been something that we’ve been experiencing. We’ve been seeing what —

MR PRICE: What you have heard from the President, what you have heard from the Secretary, what you have heard from the National Security Advisor, what you have heard from others is that in the event of Russian aggression against Ukraine, there will be a response. It will be swift; it will be severe. In the event of an incursion, it will be unprecedented in terms of the steps we are prepared to take.

And you can say that there is daylight, but I hope you also take a look and listen to the statements that have emanated from European capitals, the statements that have emanated from NATO, from the OSCE, from the G7, from the European Commission, from the United States, from our allies standing next to Secretary Blinken, whether that was Foreign Minister Baerbock, whether it was other allies and partners with whom we have met in recent weeks and over the past two months.

So one can claim there is daylight; but certainly, if you take a look at the volume and the material that is prominently within the public record, I think that would belie that assertion.

QUESTION: Are you guys going to be sending this non-paper, like, this week? Can you talk a little bit about the technicalities of that, what it would entail?

MR PRICE: So as the Secretary said on Friday, we do expect to be in a position to send a written response this week. Before we do that, and what we are doing right now – and this gets to your earlier question about the engagement with our European allies and partners – what we have been doing, as you know and as you’ve seen, is constant coordination and consultation with our allies and partners on the other side of the Atlantic.

We’ve been doing this in terms of the unprecedented, swift, strong, severe, united response that Russia would endure in the event of further aggression, but we’ve also been doing it in the context of the written response that we will provide to the Russian Federation, just as we’ve been doing it in response to what we’ve been saying about areas where there may be the potential for progress on reciprocal steps that could enhance our collective security. And by collective security, I mean the security of the transatlantic community but also potentially address some of the concerns that Russia has put forward.

So as we consider the next step in our engagement – and that is, in fact, the provision of a written response to the Russian Federation – we are sharing those ideas with our – and we have shared those ideas with our European allies and partners. We are taking their feedback. We are incorporating that feedback into the written response. And when we’re prepared to transmit it, we will. I do expect that will be this week.

Francesco.

QUESTION: Ned, so you’ve said there’s no daylight on the response, and we will see that. But there is clearly – and it’s public out there – daylight on the characterization of the threat. The European, French, and others, Mr. Borrell, seem to be pretty annoyed by the alarming tone in Washington about an imminent threat, and they’re – they have been saying we don’t have to get a nervous breakdown, we have to calm down, and we don’t see that so imminent threat as the U.S. says. Do you still say there’s – there is an imminent threat of invasion? Why there is this difference between you and the Europeans?

MR PRICE: Francesco, we don’t see the difference you refer to.

QUESTION: They’re saying it. They’re publicly saying that the —

MR PRICE: What we do see and what you can see too are the statements. And the statements – the statement that, for example, came from the European Commission that said in strikingly similar if not – if not identical language to the statement that emanated from the G7 in NATO regarding the consequences that would befall the Russian Federation in the event of such aggression against Ukraine. It has – this has not been the United States alone making this case. We have been speaking as a chorus with our European allies and partners, with multilateral institutions and bodies like NATO and the OSCE and the G7. And again, if you take a look at the language – and you won’t be surprised to hear this was not unintentional – you will see strikingly similar language across our allies and partners and across these multilateral institutions.

When it comes to what the Russians have planned, it is clear as day that anyone can see the massive buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders. We have been very clear about our concerns when it comes to other forms of aggression and provocations that the Russians might seek to take and have already taken. But there is only one person who knows what the Russian Federation has in store for Ukraine, and that’s Vladimir Putin.

Our goal has been to deter and to defend against any such plans, just as we are ready to continue down the path of diplomacy and dialogue. You have seen us continue down that path of diplomacy and dialogue in a sincere and steadfast way over recent weeks. The Secretary’s travel to Geneva ultimately last week was just the latest step in that process that has also involved the Deputy Secretary in her meetings with the Russian Federation at the Strategic Stability Dialogue, the meetings at the NATO-Russia Council, the engagement in the context of the OSCE, and other allies have also been engaging the Russian Federation to this end.

So to be very clear, we are prepared to continue down this path. This path can only be successful if it takes place in the context of de-escalation. But just because we are ready and engaged in the process and path of diplomacy and dialogue doesn’t mean we aren’t preparing with defense and deterrence. We are doing both at the same time precisely because we are ready for either choice that Vladimir Putin makes.

QUESTION: And do you consider there’s an imminent threat of attack, that the attack could be imminent, immediate, as the Europeans say you are telling them, according to your intelligence?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been clear about this in any number of venues, including in the consular advisory we issued last night. The threat that we are seeing that is clear not only to us but clear to any casual observer given what is taking place along Ukraine’s borders, what is taking place within what should be sovereign Belarusian territory, it is a cause for great concern. And so we are taking prudent steps. We, of course, are sharing information and intelligence with our allies that speaks to our concern and also speaks to the fact that the Russians certainly seem to be poised to be able to undertake aggressive action against Ukraine at any moment.

QUESTION: But to follow up on Francesco’s point —

QUESTION: And just one last one. Should we expect a new encounter or meeting or virtual meeting between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov after the recent response?

MR PRICE: Well, you heard from the Foreign Minister last week. You also heard from the Secretary last week that we will provide a written response. We are open to additional engagements, in-person engagements, should it be – should it prove useful if we think it could be constructive, if we think it should be the next element as we pursue the path of dialogue and diplomacy. So we’re open to it.

Rosiland.

QUESTION: Following on Francesco’s questions, a few minutes ago the Pentagon spokesperson said, and I’m roughly quoting here, that if NATO should activate the NRF, all told the number of forces that the Secretary Mr. Austin has placed on heightened alert comes up to about 8,500 personnel. In that – in that scope, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told NPR this morning that he thought that any talk of having U.S. forces forward deployed as an additional deterrent should have been done before now. Why has it come to this weekend that the Biden administration is deciding to put U.S. forces in a forward deployed position as part of NATO to basically send a message to Vladimir Putin?

MR PRICE: Well, let me make a couple points. First, I am going to defer to my colleague and my predecessor to speak to the plans that the Pentagon is working on, but the President has been very clear about the consequences that would befall the Russian Federation if Russia were to move forward with additional aggression against Ukraine. We’ve spoken of the economic and financial consequences that Russia would endure that would in many ways be unprecedented, measures that we very pointedly opted not to take in the aftermath of 2014. We have spoken of the additional levels of defensive security assistance that we would be prepared to provide to our Ukrainian partners, above and beyond the $650 million that we have provided to Kyiv within last year alone. That is more security assistance than has ever been provided in a single year to our partners in Ukraine.

But the President has also been clear that if the Russians were to go forward, that we would reinforce the so-called eastern flank of NATO. But even as we have said that, we have never ruled out the option of providing additional assistance in advance of a potential invasion. And so there are a number of consequences that we have spelled out that the Russian Federation would endure. There are a number of steps that we are taking now in terms of our defensive security assistance to Ukraine, in terms of the deterrent messaging that we’re putting forward about the consequences that would befall the Russian Federation, and now what you’re hearing from my colleague at the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Following on that, have these discussions about whether to use U.S. troops – has that been part of the ongoing response within the Biden administration before these reports became publicly known this weekend? Was that an active part of the discussion on how to deal with the Russian aggression?

MR PRICE: I would say generally, without speaking to internal deliberations, that something like this typically would not become public if it were just introduced. We had been considering a number of steps, and you’re hearing the Pentagon speak publicly to it today. The fact that they are speaking publicly to it today suggests that it is not a new ingredient as we consider a response to what we’re seeing now.

QUESTION: Is this designed to make the Russians perhaps rethink the deployment of additional troops inside Belarus and trying to beef up its presence in the southern part of Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Our goal in all of this is to both defend and deter. So we are taking a number of steps in the defense of Ukraine, including by providing defensive security assistance, but taking a number of steps to deter what the Russian Federation and what Vladimir Putin specifically may have in mind. So to your question, yes.

QUESTION: And then one more: The U.S. Ambassador to the UN gave a briefing earlier today, and the question came up what sorts of conversations has she been having with other members on the Security Council about this situation, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield even allowed that she has been talking with her Russian counterpart. What has she been charged with saying to Ambassador Nebenzya about the threat that the U.S. sees to Ukraine’s sovereignty? And why hasn’t the U.S. pushed for a Security Council meeting on this matter before Russia takes over the presidency next Tuesday?

MR PRICE: Well, I think you also heard from the Ambassador that she has been very engaged with her counterparts on the Security Council and her broader set of counterparts at the UN. She did acknowledge that she’s been in touch with her Russian counterpart, but I can assure you – and I think as you also heard from her – that her Russian counterpart is not the only counterpart she is speaking with. And I would expect you would hear from her that her engagement with our allies, including those on the Security Council, and our partners has been much more extensive than has her engagement been with her Russian counterpart on the Security Council.

But in terms of the message, the message that the Russians have been hearing from us has been clear and it also has been consistent. It has been clear and consistent in public; it’s been clear and consistent in private. First and foremost, we prefer the path of diplomacy and dialogue. We believe it’s the only responsible way to pursue a de-escalation and to put an end to Russian ongoing aggression against Ukraine and what – any other plans that the Russian Federation may have in store. They’ve have also heard – and they’ve heard this in our private engagements, but also very publicly as well – that just as we are prepared for dialogue and diplomacy, we are pursuing defense and deterrence, and we’ve spoken to that extensively already today. But the Russians know, because they have heard it from us directly, that we are prepared to engage. They know that there are some issues where we think that dialogue and diplomacy may redound positively on our collective security, the collective security of the transatlantic community, and it could help respond to some of the concerns that the Russian Federation has made.

But they have also heard from us, and this is just as important, that there are other areas, including NATO’s “Open Door” policy, where there is no trade space. Absolutely none. And so across all of our engagements, whether it is the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, those messages have been clear and consistent.

Said.

QUESTION: Ned, I want to change topics.

MR PRICE: Anything else on – okay, I see there may be a couple other questions. Ben.

QUESTION: Yes, the partial evacuation of the embassy clearly shows that you are concerned about the safety of Americans in Ukraine. And you’ve also made it very clear what would happen if Russia were to invade. Will you take this opportunity now also to warn Russia against harming any Americans and say what the consequence would be if they did?

MR PRICE: So let me take that question and make clear that we have no higher priority than the safety and security of Americans around the world. And last night you heard us speak to the prudent steps we are taking in the context of our diplomatic community in Kyiv, knowing that the Russians have this large military buildup, that they could well be poised to take significant aggressive action at any moment. And so the authorized departure of non-emergency employees of our embassy and the ordered departure of dependents is part and parcel of and reflective of the paramount priority we attach to the safety and security of the American people.

I don’t want to go into private discussions, but we have made it abundantly clear to the Russians the priority we attach to the safety and security of the American people. They know that that is our highest priority. They know that we go to extraordinary lengths to protect their safety and security. And I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: In terms of the numbers of people, of Americans inside Ukraine, yesterday I know the State Department wouldn’t be drawn on exact numbers. But is that because you don’t know how many or you just won’t say how many Americans are inside Ukraine?

MR PRICE: Our goal always is to provide you with timely and accurate information, and right now we do not have an – a count that we consider to be accurate of the number of Americans, private Americans, who are resident in Ukraine, and I’ll tell you why. You’ve heard this in the context of Afghanistan, but when Americans travel overseas they, of course, are not required to register with the embassy in country. We always encourage Americans to register when they’re traveling abroad with our so-called STEP system, but I think as many of you can attest, when you travel overseas you may not always do that. And some of you probably have never done that.

Similarly, when Americans depart the country, they would need to deregister themselves. And so given that many may not register in the first place, I think it is a safe assumption that many – those who actually do register may not remove themselves from that tally of American citizens who may be resident in a foreign country.

The other point is that even when people do register, the State Department is not in a position to independently verify that a person who has signed up in STEP, the so-called STEP system, is actually an American citizen. So there are a number – for a number of reasons, the tally – we just don’t have an accurate tally at the moment.

When we have messaged with the American people in – private American citizen community in Kyiv, in Ukraine in recent days, we have encouraged them to fill out a form that will help us acquire greater granularity on the size of the American – private American citizen community in Ukraine. But that’s just not something that we have right now.

QUESTION: And one more. You mentioned Afghanistan. I wonder if there – is there anything from Afghanistan that you learned about identifying and rescuing Americans inside a war zone that you think can be applied here?

MR PRICE: Well, these are obviously not analogous situations, and so I would hate to suggest otherwise. Our primary charge is to keep the U.S. citizen community informed of safety and security developments. That is what we did most recently yesterday evening when we issued the updated Travel Advisory and accompanying Media Note to keep them informed of safety and security developments. And that can include information on commercial travel options.

We have done this because, as the President has said, military action by Russia could come at any time. And we all know and we have all seen indications that that is the case, given the large-scale military buildup. We’ve also been clear that we won’t be in a position to evacuate U.S. citizens, private U.S. citizens, in such a contingency. And so that is why we have encouraged private U.S. citizens who may be in Ukraine to plan accordingly, including by availing themselves of commercial options should they choose to leave the country. Even though we are reducing the size of our embassy footprint, the embassy is there to assist American citizens in this. We are in a – we have the ability to provide, for example, repatriation loans for any Americans who seek to avail themselves of those commercial options to return to the United States.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on the —

QUESTION: If you don’t mind.

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: First, what do you want to achieve from the meeting with – that Biden is having with the – with European leaders? Presumably it’s building on Mr. Blinken’s meeting this morning. So what do you want to achieve from that?

Two, in the meeting this morning that Mr. Blinken had with the European Council, did he get questions about the U.S. decision to start downsizing the embassy? Because some Europeans are not on the same page, and as Francesco was saying, we’re suggesting that the rhetoric needed to be dialed down a bit, that there wasn’t any difference in security to suggest an imminent attack. So what do you expect to achieve, and what did Mr. Blinken hear about the American approach?

MR PRICE: So as you alluded to, Barbara, the Secretary did take part earlier today in the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council. He was invited by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell. To give you a flavor of that, the Secretary briefed his counterparts on his visit last week to Kyiv, to Berlin, and to Geneva. As part of the effort, we have spoken to – to de-escalate the tension that’s been caused by Russia’s unprovoked military buildup and its continued aggression against Ukraine.

In the engagement this morning, the Secretary emphasized that we will continue to coordinate closely with the EU and its member states in addition to the other multilateral institutions we’ve already mentioned. That’s NATO, that’s the OSCE, and with individual allies and partners. And in the course of this meeting, the Secretary demonstrated that by briefing them on the engagements last week, of course including the engagement with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

You saw that shortly after the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov concluded on Friday, the Secretary also had a chance to speak to his Ukrainian counterpart to back-brief him on those discussions, and that’s a practice we’ve undertaken in the course of all of our engagements – with our European allies, our European partners, of course including our Ukrainian partners, because we are operating by the maxim of nothing about them without them. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Nothing about Europe without Europe. Nothing about NATO without NATO.

So the Secretary’s participation in the meeting today was another opportunity in another venue for us to do just that. The President, of course, has been deeply engaged in this as well. You saw that he convened his team, both in person and virtually, at Camp David over the weekend to discuss this. So it should not come as a surprise that the President will have an opportunity to speak to his counterpart on these very issues with that same – with that same maxim in mind.

When it comes to the decision that we made last night, I just want to reiterate the core point, and that is that this is about one criterion and one criterion alone, and that is the safety and security of our team on the ground in Ukraine. And it was a prudent step when it came to the ordered departure of dependents. It was a prudent step when it came to the authorized departure of nonessential employees.

But let me also be clear that that decision says nothing about our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and to its territorial integrity. Our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. The embassy continues to operate and the chargé, of course, remains in Ukraine. The fact that we’re taking prudent precautions for the sake of and the safety of U.S. citizens in no way undermines our support for or commitment to Ukraine. You’ve seen that support take any number of forms.

Of course, the Secretary was just in Kyiv last week, where you heard him reiterate these messages next to President Zelenskyy, next to Foreign Minister Kuleba. We have continued to provide defensive security assistance. The first delivery of the additional tranche of $200 million that was authorized in December arrived in Kyiv overnight Friday into Saturday. We will continue to provide defensive security assistance to our partners, and we will continue to signal in no uncertain terms the enduring commitment we have to the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of our partner Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PRICE: Please.

QUESTION: Because you said again it’s the prudent step, but the Ukrainian Government clearly opposed this move and the foreign ministry today called it excessively cautious. Is there a sense in the administration that this could have created a panic within Ukraine at a time when that’s exactly what Russia is trying to do by stoking instability in the country?

MR PRICE: This is about one thing and one thing only, and it —

QUESTION: Have you considered the panic that it could have created?

MR PRICE: I’m sorry. Did we what?

QUESTION: Did you consider the panic that it could have created?

MR PRICE: What we considered is the safety and security of the American people. And this is a decision that only the United States Government can make because it is a priority that we attach to the safety and security of, in this case, our colleagues and their families as well. This says nothing to our unwavering, unrelenting support for our Ukrainian partners. It is about one thing and one thing only: the very narrow safety and security considerations of our colleagues.

QUESTION: But this combined with the Pentagon’s announcement today about putting 8,500 troops on standby, in addition to the very public posturing on Friday with the arrival of the new lethal aid, it does seem like you are escalating your pressure here on Russia in some way. Do you reject that? Do you think that your posture has changed at all?

MR PRICE: This is about defense and deterrence. What we are concerned about is the possibility of Russian aggression. That is not about defense. That is not about deterrence. That’s about offensive operations against a sovereign country, a sovereign country that is a close partner of the United States. So to equate these two things is deeply inaccurate, and it also is precisely what we are hearing out of Moscow. These are qualitatively different elements and different steps that we are taking. Were the Russians to de-escalate, you would not see precisely the same set of moves from our Ukrainian partners, from NATO, from the United States.

Here’s the broader point, and you’ve heard the Secretary make this point repeatedly. He actually in the meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday made this directly, made this point directly to the Foreign Minister. And he said the United States genuinely does not understand Russia’s strategic posturing here because across the years and in the context of this escalation, Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation has precipitated everything that it has sought to prevent. And you’ve heard the Secretary speak to the increasing support for NATO membership among Ukrainians since 2014, levels of support that have just about doubled. You have heard us and NATO as an alliance speak to the reassurance initiatives that were precipitated precisely by Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine in 2014.

So the Russians may well complain and may well take note and point to these efforts towards defense and deterrence, but it is their aggression that has precipitated precisely what it is we are hearing and seeing them point to.

And here’s the other concern, and we have made no bones about this: our concern that the Russians, as they did in 2014, may be seeking to manufacture a pretext for additional aggression against Ukraine. If you wanted to do that, this is in some ways what it would look like. That is what has concerned us for some time. It is why we have spoken to not only that concern broadly but why we have put forward information in our possession specifically that speaks to the steps that the Russian Federation may be taking towards this end.

QUESTION: Can I just have one more, please?

QUESTION: Ned —

MR PRICE: Let me just let Conor finish.

QUESTION: No, that’s okay. Just one last question specifically on the question of NATO’s unity. The Ukrainian foreign minister again said that Germany is undermining unity in the Alliance, in part because they’re blocking Estonia from transferring weapons, they won’t provide weapons themselves, the comments from their naval chief over the weekend – or last week. Do you have any response to that, this idea that Germany is not doing enough within the Alliance to support a unified front?

MR PRICE: The Secretary had a chance to meet not only with Chancellor Scholz but also with Foreign Minister Baerbock last week in Berlin, and the foreign minister was actually asked this question standing right next to the Secretary. And she spoke to precisely what Germany is doing, the important contributions that Germany is making to Ukraine. I will leave it to Germany to speak to those important contributions. But to be clear, there is no daylight among our allies and our partners about the serious consequences that would befall the Russian Federation if it were to go forward.

QUESTION: What would de-escalation look like?

QUESTION: Just one thing on Ukraine, one final thing on Ukraine.

QUESTION: Would de-escalation – what would de-escalation look like? I mean, do they have the – now, it is alleged that they have 100,000 troops in their own territory along the border. So de-escalation would look like maybe if they withdrew 25,000 troops? I mean, what would de-escalation look like?

MR PRICE: It could include that. I’m not going to be prescriptive.

QUESTION: Is there, like, a figure you would like to see?

MR PRICE: Look, I’m not going to be prescriptive about that. I think de-escalation can take many forms. It can take the form of what we’re seeing and what we have seen along Ukraine’s borders. It can take the form of what we are seeing in terms of Russian activity in what should be another sovereign country, Belarus. It could take the form of what we are hearing from the Russian Federation. De-escalation can take many forms.

It can take many forms as an initial step, and that is what we would like to see with the end goal in mind of seeing Russian forces return to their permanent barracks, to cease this and put an end and reverse this buildup along Ukraine’s borders, to cease with the aggressive rhetoric. De-escalation can take many forms. We would welcome any of it.

QUESTION: So only – only if Russian forces are back in their barracks at all times will be – it will be considered de-escalation?

MR PRICE: No. My point is that there are many forms de-escalation can take. There’s also a continuum. We would welcome, at least as an initial step, any form of de-escalation.

QUESTION: Ned —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, are you aware of the meeting that will be held in Paris on Wednesday between Ukrainian and Russian officials, and do you expect any breakthrough?

MR PRICE: Yeah, so I do not expect any American involvement in that. Let’s see. As you know, we’re consulting with allies and partners, including Ukraine, to determine the next steps, and we are in communication with the Russian Federation as well, as we’ve said. We do believe that diplomacy is the best path forward, and we’re prepared to support dialogue and diplomacy that serves to de-escalate tensions. So we are supportive of those efforts that are undertaken on the part of the Russian Federation in good faith.

QUESTION: Have you seen the tweets of your Ukrainian counterpart, spokesperson? He tweeted while we were in the briefing. I’ll read super-quickly: “There are 129 diplomatic missions in Ukraine. Of these, only four have declared the departure of the family members of personnel: U.S., UK, Australia and Germany. The rest, including EU, OSCE, COE, NATO, and UN, have not expressed their intention to follow such premature steps.” Do you have a response to that?

MR PRICE: I don’t.

QUESTION: We hear that they are —

MR PRICE: I don’t have a response to that. My only comment would be what you’ve heard me say before. This is based on one criterion and one criterion alone. It’s a priority we attach to the safety and security of our colleagues in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay. I have an Iran question – sorry.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Yes.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on the evacuation. I am from Ukrainian media —

MR PRICE: Ah, welcome.

QUESTION: — and I want to make it clear that United States did not evacuate the diplomats even during the worst day over the last eight years. And Kyiv is far enough from Russian border. Does it mean that from your knowledge and from your intelligence, our capital – Ukrainian capital is targeted and it is the main target of Russian invasion?

MR PRICE: Well, look, of course, I’m not going to speak to any intelligence, but as we have said, including in our announcement last night, we are doing this as a prudent step because of continued Russian efforts to de-stabilize the country and to undermine the security of Ukrainian citizens and others visiting or residing in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And United States officials have repeatedly mentioned – and so you are – that you don’t give up on diplomatic efforts on Russia. Could you please clarify? You have already mentioned about security – a collective security. What precisely do you mean? Where is there room for negotiation with Russia? And what is the subject of compromise?

MR PRICE: So we have consistently said that we are willing to engage in dialogue and diplomacy, and we have engaged in dialogue and diplomacy with the Russian Federation knowing, of course, that the Russians have published their two treaties. There are certain elements in those treaties, as you have heard us say repeatedly, that are absolutely non-starters, including NATO’s so-called “Open Door” policy.

But there are other areas that – where dialogue and diplomacy could help improve our collective security, transatlantic security. I would make the point that even before this Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s borders started, we had already undertaken two convenings of the Strategic Stability Dialogue, the venue that Deputy Secretary Sherman utilized the other week to meet with her Russian counterpart to discuss some of these issues. And the fact that the so-called SSD started after the summit between President Putin and President Biden in June speaks to the fact that we do believe there are issues when it comes to arms control, for example, where we can potentially have fruitful discussions with the Russians that could address our security concerns, meaning those in the United States and our allies and partners, and could also be responsive to some of the concerns that the Russians have said. So specifically we’ve spoken to the placement of missiles in Europe, options for strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons, other arms control measures, and those designed to increase transparency and stability.

The key point in that is that any steps that we would take would not be concessions. They would need to be on a reciprocal basis, meaning that the Russians would also have to do something that would help improve our security – our security posture.

The final point on this: All of this has been and will continue to be conducted with thorough and full consultation with our allies and partners, and that includes Ukraine. When the Secretary met with President Zelenskyy, when he met with President Kuleba – or Foreign Minister Kuleba, when he spoke to Foreign Minister Kuleba on Friday after meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we are in the practice of being fully transparent with our Ukrainian partners about the issues that are being discussed and the progress of those engagements.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) to the Palestinian issue?

MR PRICE: Anything else on Russia-Ukraine? Ben, one –

QUESTION: Yes. The Secretary was going to raise Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed in his discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov. Is there any update? Do you think the current situation is going to make it better or worse for their situation?

MR PRICE: That’s really up to the Russian Federation. I can confirm, as the Secretary said before the meeting, that he did raise the cases of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, both of whom traveled to Russia as tourists and who have been held unjustly for far too long, made the point that it is long past time to see them returned safely to their families. And we’ll continue to work on that.

Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. One more on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Does the Biden administration recognize or acknowledge that any incursion or invasion by Russia against Ukraine could trigger a dominos effect on so many issues? I’ll name some examples: China against Taiwan; Iran and its proxies; North Korea and its ballistic missiles against South Korean and Japan; Venezuela, Cuba, and their authoritarian suppression tactics and moves.

So Ned, the whole world is watching what the U.S. is going to do to stop Russia. How do you comment on this?

MR PRICE: What was the last part? How do we what?

QUESTION: How do you comment on this? Is the Biden administration aware of how critical the whole world is watching? Just like what happened in Afghanistan, and then some reports are saying that Russia are taking a page of what happened in Afghanistan and moving against Ukraine – or could move – so now if they did that, all of this dominos effect could happen.

MR PRICE: Well, before I get to your broader question, I do want to address the last part of your question, and that is Afghanistan.

I have a hard time understanding how it is that putting an end to a 20-year military commitment where the United States spent billions upon billions of dollars every year, where thousands of American troops – at one point tens of thousands of American troops – were stationed; where there was a NATO commitment, where thousands of NATO troops were stationed for many years, taking casualties, enduring the loss of life with an open-ended military commitment – how were we – were that still to be the case, how we would be better strategically positioned to take on what we’re seeing now from the Russian Federation.

The President was clear when he made his announcement that we would be putting an end to our military engagement in Afghanistan, that part of the reason that we were doing so was not only to prevent another generation of American service members or NATO service members from fighting and potentially dying in Afghanistan, but to allow us to focus on the threats and the opportunities of the 21st century. And so as we take on this Russian aggression, as we seek to engage on this path of defense and deterrence, that is precisely what we are doing.

So I just wanted to address the point about Afghanistan.

QUESTION: But Ned, I think the point is the administration (inaudible) turned its back on its allies there, many people saw it as such; maybe allies are concerned that that might happen now.

MR PRICE: First of all, the United States has not turned its back on Afghanistan. You have seen us consistently partner with and demonstrate our enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and we’ve done that any number of ways. I need not run through them right now because we view this consistently.

So anyone who is taking any lesson other than the fact that the United States felt it was time to put an end to what had been an open-ended military commitment where thousands upon thousands of American troops have fought and thousands had died, and the same for NATO as well, sapped the United States and our NATO partners of billions upon billions – trillions over the course of 20 years; anyone who would take any lesson from that other than the fact that the United States is positioning itself to take on the threats and opportunities that we face now, while we continue to partner with and support the people of Afghanistan, that would be mistaken analysis.

But to your question, though, we have thought about that. And that is precisely why the Secretary delivered a speech in Berlin last week that was really on this very question, to make the point that what we are seeing Russia attempt and undertake against Ukraine is important in its own right, of course. Ukraine is a close partner; we have close friends in the Ukrainian people. But in some ways, this is as important as Ukraine is, even bigger than the question of a conflict, a Russian-produced conflict, between Russia and Ukraine. This is about what should be the inviolable rules of the so-called rules-based international order, what should be the inviolable rules that for the past 70 years, since the conclusion of World War II, has protected and really allowed unprecedented levels of security, of stability, of prosperity. That includes in the – in Europe, but it also includes in areas well beyond that.

And of course, you hear us talk about the rules-based international order not only in the case of Europe and what Russia is doing to undermine it, but in other regions too, notably the Indo-Pacific, where we have similar concerns about what certain countries have also sought to do to undermine, to erode that rules-based international order. So it is not lost on us that the Russians and the implications of what they’re doing, as important as they are for Ukraine, go well beyond Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ned, I have two questions on Iran and Kuwait.

QUESTION: Ned, could I ask —

MR PRICE: Sure, I’ll come back to you. Said.

QUESTION: You called on me like three times, or twice.

MR PRICE: Said, you’ve already asked a —

QUESTION: It’s okay. No, I understand.

MR PRICE: You’ve already asked a question during this briefing.

QUESTION: I understand. I want to change topics, though. I want to ask you about the Palestinian-American who died in Israeli custody on the 12th of January. Now, I know that you called on the Israelis that you wanted to see what were the circumstances and so on. First of all, did they respond to you? I mean, that could be any one of my brothers.

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, what was the last part?

QUESTION: I mean, that could be – nevermind. I’m just saying, did they respond to you?

MR PRICE: So we have not yet seen a final report from the Israeli Government. We continue to support a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the incident. We welcome receiving additional information from the Israeli Government as soon as possible. We are deeply concerned by media reports of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Assad, an American citizen, who was found dead after the Israeli military detained him. As we’ve said previously, we’ve been in close contact with his family to offer our condolences, to provide consular services. We were represented at the wake of Mr. Assad as well.

QUESTION: Well, he died while being handcuffed and gagged and so on. And what kind of – do they – do you give them a time limit? Do you trust the Israelis to do their own investigation in this case?

MR PRICE: As I said, Said, we welcome receiving that information as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a very – another quick question. There are reports that there are 17 Palestinian journalists who are detained today. Is that something that you would raise with Israelis to look into what are the circumstances of their imprisonment?

MR PRICE: We’re aware of the reports that you cited. As we do around the world, we support independent journalists and media organizations, and you’ve heard us speak before of the indispensability of their reporting, especially in areas where tensions are high or conflict may erupt. We believe that respect for human rights, for fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.

QUESTION: And finally, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations last week spoke out and highlighted the settler violence and aggression against the Palestinians. Yet we have seen only increase in the violence over the past few days. Is that something that you would raise or you are too busy with issues like Ukraine and Iran and all these things – I mean, understandably so?

MR PRICE: Said, we’re a large government. We’re a large department. Not to use an overused metaphor, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. When it comes to the issue you raised, you’ve heard us speak to this. You cited some comments recently. The State Department has previously commented on this as well. We believe it is critical for all parties to refrain from steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This includes violence against civilians and settler violence.

QUESTION: Ned, can I ask something about Iran (inaudible)?

MR PRICE: So two Iran questions. Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Iran’s foreign minister on Monday said they’re ready to consider direct talks with the United States if it – if they feel they can get a good deal with guarantees. Either way, has there been any communication on this? And are you guys considering having direct talks with them?

MR PRICE: Humeyra, as you know, we are prepared to meet directly. We have consistently held the position that it would be much more productive to engage with Iran directly on both JCPOA negotiations and on other issues. This extends to bilateral as well as multilateral formats. Meeting directly would enable more efficient communication, which is urgently needed to swiftly reach an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

We’ve made this point before, but given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advancements, time is running very short until the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA conveyed as initially drafted and implemented in – drafted in 2015 and implemented in 2016 are outweighed by the nuclear advancements that Iran has made. So we are seeking to conduct this diplomacy urgently, and we’ve been consistently very clear that being able to engage directly would serve those purposes.

QUESTION: Given your position just now and what they said, should we expect this to happen soon? Is there any reason why this could happen soon? Has there been any communication indirectly about making this happen soon?

MR PRICE: You would have to ask officials in Tehran. We – this is not the first time we’ve made this point. We have made this point consistently up until now. The Iranians have insisted on the indirect format in Vienna. We have long noted the fact that indirect talks, especially on an issue of this complexity and of this importance, is a hindrance. So our position has been clear. I would direct you to authorities in Iran.

QUESTION: My final thing on this. We’ve had an interview with Special Envoy Malley yesterday, who said it would be hard to imagine for U.S. to clinch a deal with Iran unless U.S. hostages are released. I just want to push you a little bit on why the administration isn’t willing to say outright that they won’t rejoin JCPOA unless American citizens are released.

MR PRICE: Well, what the Special Envoy said is that it is, quote, “very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran.”

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PRICE: This is a point he has made repeatedly before, so this is – should not be news. It also, I can tell you, is not news to the Iranians. They have heard this position indirectly from us before as well.

But the Special Envoy also made the point that these issues are operating on separate tracks, and they’re operating on separate tracks for a very simple reason: A mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is at best an uncertain proposition. We want to see these Americans who have been held against their will for years on end, away from their families, returned as soon as possible. It would not serve our purposes, it would not serve their interests, to tie their fates to a proposition that I said before is uncertain at best. So that is why it certainly colors our interactions, but these are operating on separate tracks.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question?

QUESTION: But Ned, the way that you tell it, it looks – it is very much like a precondition.

MR PRICE: Again, it is not the case that there is any direct or explicit linkage precisely because a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is at best an uncertain proposition. We want the return of these Americans to be a certain proposition, and so we are keeping these issues separate.

Yes. Sorry.

QUESTION: Kuwait’s foreign minister visited Beirut on Saturday and delivered confidence-building proposals to Lebanon and a message coordinated with the Gulf states, and he is visiting Washington this week. Are you aware of the proposals? And is there any link between his visits to Beirut and Washington?

MR PRICE: Well, I do expect when the Secretary meets with his Kuwaiti counterpart on Wednesday that they will have an opportunity to discuss Lebanon. It is something that the United States, together with our partners – including our partners in the Gulf, the French, and others – we’ve been very, very focused on. So I think we’ll have more to say in the aftermath of the bilateral meeting on Wednesday.

Yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for our colleague Tracy Wilkinson on Honduras. Rival factions in its congress may derail Thursday’s inauguration of the new president, whom the State Department was quick to embrace. Vice President Harris is scheduled to travel for the inauguration. Is the U.S. doing anything to defuse that crisis?

MR PRICE: Well, what I’ll say is that the selection of the new provisional leadership at the Honduran National Congress is a sovereign decision of Honduras. We look forward to deepening our work together with the incoming Castro administration and Hondurans from across the political spectrum to advance our shared interests. We call on political actors to remain calm, to engage in dialogue, to refrain from violence and provocative rhetoric, and we urge their supporters to express themselves peacefully while respecting the rule of law.

As you know, Vice President Harris has already had an opportunity to be in touch with President-elect Castro to congratulate her on her historic victory as Honduras’s first woman president. In that conversation last month they discussed their shared interest in working together to address the root causes of migration, to promote inclusive economic opportunity for the people of Honduras, to improve – to combat corruption, to reduce security threats, and to improve access to health and education.

QUESTION: One on Turkey for my VOA colleague.

MR PRICE: Sure. Do you have a – was there a follow-up, Conor?

QUESTION: No, its another question, so go ahead, Barbara.

QUESTION: So if you don’t mind, the – my VOA colleague wondered if there’s any reaction from the State Department to two cases regarding restrictions on free expression in Turkey. One is last Saturday: a well-known Turkish journalist was jailed for insulting President Erdogan. Today the state agency – the state has fined the TV channel for which she works. The second case is a famous musician who is getting threats by Islamists and nationalist groups for something she wrote a while ago, and President Erdogan threatened to silence her during Friday prayers, saying, quote, “It is our duty to cut those tongues,” un-quote.

Do you have any reaction to these cases?

MR PRICE: Well, this applies in Turkey but it is universal in its application as well, and that is the fact that we believe freedom of expression strengthens democracy and it needs to be protected even when it involves speech some may find controversial or some may find uncomfortable. We’re aware of and we’re disappointed by the attention and arrest of Sedef Kabaş, one of the cases you referenced, and those principles apply equally to Turkey as they do to any other country.

QUESTION: Burkina Faso. The military has taken to TV to declare that they’re in power. The president’s office denied that, but the president hasn’t been seen. Are you aware of what’s unfolding? Is there a coup? Have you begun an assessment of whether or not there is one?

MR PRICE: Well, we’re aware of reports that the president of Burkina Faso has been detained by members of the country’s military. Our embassy team in Ouagadougou is monitoring the situation and maintains communication with international partners as well as with officials from President Kaboré’s government. We call for the immediate release of President Kaboré and other government officials, and for members of the security forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership. We urge all sides in this fluid situation to remain calm and to seek dialogue as a means to resolve grievances. We – our embassy in Ouagadougou has advised U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso that a mandatory curfew has been implemented by local authorities and U.S. citizens are advised to take shelter, avoid large crowds, and to monitor local media for updates.

QUESTION: The U.S. provides a significant amount of aid to Burkina Faso. Are you undertaking a coup assessment?

MR PRICE: So this is an evolving situation. It’s a situation that remains fluid. It has continued to develop even within recent hours, so it’s too soon to characterize, at least officially for us, the nature of ongoing developments. We have called for restraint by all actors as we carefully review the events on the ground for any potential impact on our assistance.

QUESTION: Iran, very quick follow-up. AFP just reported that – are attributed to high-level American officials as saying they would like to see direct talks with Iran. Can you confirm that? Do you want direct talks with Iran on —

MR PRICE: I thought we just discussed this for five minutes with Humeyra.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR PRICE: Yup. We do.

QUESTION: I must have missed it. Okay, sorry.

MR PRICE: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: So what is hoped to be achieved by direct talks instead of what’s going on in Vienna now?

MR PRICE: Well, we just had a rather lengthy exchange on this, so I would refer you to that.

A couple final questions. Yes, please? Yes?

QUESTION: Is there any update you can give on the ISIS jailbreak in northern Syria, either in terms of coalition support and the number of escapees? And then just what is the – what does it say about the SDF’s ability to secure the facilities, and do you see this as an intelligence failure on the part of the coalition?

MR PRICE: Well, as you probably saw, we issued a statement on this over the weekend, and we condemned the ISIS attack last week on the Hasakah detention center in northeast Syria, which we understand to have been an attempt to free detained ISIS fighters. We commend the SDF for their swift response and continued commitment to the fight against ISIS, and this attack in our mind highlights the importance of and the need to fully fund the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’s initiatives to improve and secure humane detention of ISIS fighters, including by strengthening detention facility security.

To us is also underscores the urgent need for countries of origin to repatriate, rehabilitate, reintegrate, and prosecute – where appropriate – their nationals detained in northeast Syria. We remain committed to the enduring global defeat of ISIS, working by, with, and through the coalition and our local partners. But beyond that, for tactical developments on the ground, I need to refer you to DOD.

Ben?

QUESTION: Last night, State Department said that if there is an invasion of Ukraine, that the U.S. would be unable to evacuate its citizens. I wondered if you could just explain why, why that would be.

MR PRICE: Ben, this is – this has historically always been the case. The – our primary charge is to provide updates and developments and to ensure communication to the private American citizen community in any country, including when we undertake something like ordered departure or authorized departure. I know the recent experience of Afghanistan may color the sense that some people have about this, but Afghanistan, for reasons that we all know well, was unique. It was something that the United States Government had not done before.

And as you have heard us say in the context of Ethiopia, Ukraine, and other countries, our charge is to continue to provide informational updates to the American citizen community, to provide them services, including repatriation loans should they need to avail themselves of commercial options. Those commercial options, of course, still exist in the case of Ukraine. That is why last night’s advisory urged Americans to consider availing themselves of those commercial options, and the embassy stands ready to assist in those efforts.

Thank you all.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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