State Department spokesman Ned Price got defensive with multiple reporters Wednesday when he faced questions about President Joe Biden’s claim that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine.
Biden said Tuesday that the atrocities being committed by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine constitute a “genocide”. Reporters pressed Price on whether or not the State Department and Secretary of State Antony Blinken agrees, and whether it is problematic for the president to be making such a claim publicly before the government has time to thoroughly investigate the issue.
The State Department spokesman was initially asked if Biden’s view is the view of the government as a whole. Price did not explicitly say yes or no, but implied that the State Department is still working to make that determination with international partners. He pointed out that the U.S. government did recently determine that Russia has committed war crimes in the conflict, but said in this case it will be the task of international attorneys to determine if the threshold for genocide is being met.
Price was then grilled on why the U.S. was able to independently make the determination on war crimes but won’t do so for genocide. Price snapped back, asking whether it would be “satisfactory if we started our own duplicitous effort” instead of supporting the ongoing international efforts already underway. (RELATED: Biden Says Putin Committing ‘Genocide’ In Ukraine)
Attention turned to Biden’s remarks. Price was asked point blank if Biden made the claim of genocide “prematurely,” and if the president is “at risk of undermining” the legal process Price had been referring to.
The spokesman did not directly address either question. “What the president is doing is putting a very public spotlight on the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine right now,” Price said. He added that he hopes global attention will remain on the issue and that Biden is doing what he can to ensure that.
“It is much less important what you call it rather than how you respond to it,” he added. Price closed the line of questioning by refusing to answer a yes or no question of whether the president’s position is the position of the U.S. government.
The genocide remarks are not the first that Biden has made potentially prematurely, prompting the White House or State Department to walk back or clarify. Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being a war criminal before the State Department had made that determination, and seemed to call for regime change in Russia in a recent speech.