Department Press Briefing – January 27, 2023

27 Jan

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:20 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everyone. Before we get started, I wanted to offer some comments on the news out of Jerusalem. This event just unfolded before I came down, and we are still gathering information, but the public reporting states that a gunman opened fire near a synagogue in Jerusalem. This is absolutely horrific. Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to those killed and injured in this heinous act of violence. We condemn this apparent terrorist attack in the strongest terms. Our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad, and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners. And our thoughts are with the Israeli people in light of this horrific attack.

With that, Shaun, I don’t know if you want to start us off.

QUESTION: Sure. Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The – I know it’s just unfolding. It seems to be quite a few people killed. You said that you’ve been in contact with the Israelis, not you personally but the State Department. What’s the messaging? Is there a sense that this could accelerate the cycle of violence? What’s the sense of what is happening now and what you’re expecting and what you’re fearing in the —

MR PATEL: As it relates to this specific incident, Shaun, we’re just working to unearth as much information as we can, as this just happened. But broadly, of course we’ve been in touch with our Israeli partners on a number of issues over the course of the past days, and I’m sure that we will talk about a lot of these issues or at least the Secretary will in the lead-up to his trip this weekend also.

QUESTION: Can I just —

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question?

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead. But just to reframe —

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does it affect the Secretary’s —

MR PATEL: I’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Does it affect the Secretary’s trip at all either in terms of – presuming he’s still going ahead —

MR PATEL: I have no changes —

QUESTION: — but in terms of what —

MR PATEL: — in the schedule to announce, and nor would I expect any changes for the trip at this time.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Just – I know you guys are still collecting information, but is there any indication that this shooting is at all related to frustrations that came as a result of the raid that happened in the West Bank earlier this week?

MR PATEL: I don’t want to speculate or get into hypotheticals, Kylie. As I said, this just – this just happened before I came down. And so our thoughts are with the Israeli people. We stand with the Israeli people in solidarity. And we’re working directly with our Israeli partners to assess as much as we can about what happened and continue to offer our direct support.

Said.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Kylie’s. Actually, that was —

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask that question. So you don’t find any connection between the deaths of Palestinians over the past 27 days – 30 Palestinians have been killed and most recently yesterday, which we talked about at length here – you don’t find any connection between these kinds of events? Because if they are related, then we are likely to see more of these incidents. Do you agree with that?

MR PATEL: Said, we have – first, first, I want to reiterate again that this just transpired, and we’re working to unearth as much information as we can. And we’re in direct talks and in close touch with our Israeli partners about that. But broadly Said, I want to be very clear about this, we have been consistent and clear, as recently as yesterday from both myself and Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf, from Ned earlier in the week, from the Secretary as often as he is asked about this, about condemnation of any kind of violence against civilians and the need broadly – again, not talking specifically about this situation Said because it just happened, but the need broadly for steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.

QUESTION: But at least generally in theory, you will agree, no doubt, that violence begets violence anywhere, correct?

MR PATEL: Said, of course, we condemn any kind of violence against civilians.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just – a couple more questions on this issue. It seems there are reports in the Israeli media that Abbas tried with the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan when he was there last to actually arrange for a meeting with the new prime minister, Netanyahu, and apparently the idea was not either taken seriously in terms of pursuit on behalf of the National Security Advisor with the Israelis. Do you have any information on that?

MR PATEL: What I would say about that, Said, is I would let the White House and the National Security Council comment on any of NSA Sullivan’s trip to Israel and the West Bank. As you saw, they read out that trip pretty extensively.

In regards to the Secretary’s trip, I don’t want to get ahead of that process beyond what we’ve said, but I know that he is looking forward to holding meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah with senior officials to discuss a range of the key issues that a number of State Department officials, including myself and others, have talked about extensively this week.

QUESTION: And lastly, there is going to be a meeting between Palestinian Americans and the Secretary of State today. Can you give us an update on what are they likely to discuss, how was this meeting arranged and so on, if you have information on that.

MR PATEL: Said, what I – I will speak broadly about this because I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that has not transpired. But of course, this department engages with members of civil society both as it relates to Palestinian Americans, Jewish Americans, Israeli Americans. We take part in that quite regularly. But I will see if we have a specific update about today’s engagement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Anything else on this, Alex, or are we —

QUESTION: In the region, but not necessarily Israel.

MR PATEL: Okay. Let me — go ahead. On the region or —

QUESTION: On the region.

MR PATEL: Okay. I’ll —

QUESTION: On Israel. Israel, actually.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Archbishop Desmond —

MR PATEL: I’ll come to you after that, Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Archbishop Desmond Tutu died a year ago – a little over a year ago. His last published article was an admonition to this administration entitled, “Joe Biden should end the U.S. pretense over Israel’s, quote, ‘secret’ nuclear weapons.” “The cover-up has to stop,” read the headline. And with it, he called for the U.S. to use laws to cut off funding to human rights abusers, citing Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians as well as nuclear proliferators.

Tutu, of course, headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He ended the piece, “There are a few truths more critical to face than a nuclear weapons arsenal in the hands of an apartheid government.” Will you here today acknowledge the obvious truth that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal, or will you continue with this “cover-up,” as the archbishop referred to it?

MR PATEL: What I will say is that we recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians. And we also mourn the innocent – loss of innocent lives and regret injuries to civilians. But I don’t have any specific comment to offer on what you asked.

QUESTION: Israel has had nuclear weapons for decades, and you can’t acknowledge that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal?

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: You expect us to believe what you’re saying from that podium, and you can’t acknowledge the empirical reality of Israel’s nuclear weapons?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: My question is about same region, different attack, in Iran against Azerbaijani embassy this morning.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I’ve seen your – well, Ned’s statement on that. Give us – help us a little bit to put it in the context, because this is not the first time the Azeri diplomatic mission is under attack by Iran’s – Iran-related, let’s say, groups. You have spoken behind this podium and you mentioned that Iran is becoming more and more dangerous in the region. Is it getting bolder, more provocative, and is there anything we can learn from this – today’s attacks in terms of Iran’s danger in the region?

MR PATEL: Alex, I want to be very careful about attaching causation or anything like that as it relates to the attack at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, as we are still figuring out exactly what happened, and motive and all of those things still remain to be unearthed. So I want to be very careful about that, Alex.

But broadly, what I want to say is that we express our condolences to the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the families of those hurt and killed in the attack of Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran. The U.S. condemns any form of violence and is committed to ensuring the safety and security of foreign diplomatic missions.

While, as I said, the details of this incident are still emerging, what we are doing is we are calling on the Iranian authorities to investigate and to hold those responsible for the attack, hold them accountable. We note that Azerbaijani missions in several other countries have also experienced security issues in recent months, and we reiterate our support for the safety and security of all diplomatic missions. We also would remind the Government of Iran of its responsibility under the Geneva Convention to protect foreign diplomats in Iran.

QUESTION: The reason why I’m asking that because we just have learned that DOJ charged three men in murder attempt here in the States. Iran is proving to be capable to even hire Azerbaijani nationals even – not only at home, even abroad, even here in the United States. Do you feel that – do you feel that – I’ll now go back to my first question – that the threat that we are seeing basing from Iran is becoming much more aggressive, much more bolder, and is there any implication to the (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: Alex, we broadly – first on the piece about the Department of Justice, I will let – refer you to the Department of Justice to speak to that. Jake Sullivan from the White House just put out a statement on that as well, and I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond that.

But broadly speaking, we have not parsed our words as it relates to Iran’s deeply destabilizing and deeply malign activities not just in the region but across the world more broadly. We have seen that take form in Ukraine through its provision of UAV technologies to the Russian Federation for them to wreck havoc on Ukrainian infrastructure. We have seen it take form in a number of other instances as well.

So as the United States, we’ll continue to take steps to hold the Iranian regime accountable, to – we’ll do so in close coordination and contact with our allies and partners across the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions on Mexico.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one is related to the press release that you, the State Department, put out yesterday about a call between the Secretary and the minister of foreign affairs of Mexico. The press release only said that they dealt with fentanyl and the fight that both countries are dealing against the trafficking of this substance. Can you provide more information on what exactly was discussed – operations, collaboration with China? What exactly was the nature of the conversation?

MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into specific diplomatic discussions and certainly don’t have more to offer beyond the readout of the call that we put out – the Secretary’s opportunity to chat with Foreign Minister Ebrard. What I would say though of course is that addressing fentanyl is a important priority for Secretary Blinken. And of course Mexico is an important partner on a lot of these priorities, not just as it relates to the illicit fentanyl trade but also a number of other priorities between the United States and Mexico as well – security cooperations, trade cooperations. And in addition to of course speaking to Foreign Minister Ebrard about that, the Secretary had the opportunity to discuss some of this in person at the North American Leaders’ Summit earlier as well. But I don’t have anything specific to add beyond that.

QUESTION: And the second question I have is you may be aware that there have been some harassment incidents against tourists in Cancun, which is one of the top ports in the world for American tourists. Do you have any reports of any violence directed specifically to – against American citizens there by taxi drivers?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific advice to offer from this podium. But of course any American citizen traveling abroad to any country, we would encourage them to not only enroll in our Smart Traveler program but to make sure to check the State Department’s website for specific guidance as it relates to not just the country that they are visiting broadly – in this case, Mexico – but also a specific region that they might be visiting in that country as well.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Broadly the region – Latin America.

MR PATEL: Of course.

QUESTION: Peru. President Boluarte today moved ahead elections to 2023. That was of course at least in part a demand of protesters who wanted the elections pushed forward. Does the United States have a view on this step, whether it could help de-escalate tensions? How do you see things going forward in Peru?

MR PATEL: Sure, Shaun. So our understanding was that this was a call as part of a national truce. And we, frankly, support continued efforts for open avenues of dialogue with relevant actors and groups around the country, and we continue to call for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence. This of course is an internal Peruvian democratic process and one that we support. We support the internal democratic processes of Peru.

QUESTION: Just briefly on that, some of the violence we’ve seen in recent months – I think there have been calls for – from some sides for accountability and that. How do you see the violence in the recent months? Do you think that there’s been enough of an investigation or would you like to see more?

MR PATEL: Well, Shaun, we remain concerned about the violent demonstrations. We also recognize the right of peaceful assembly, and we call for calm and dialogue, as I said. And we also support the Peruvian Government’s commitment to investigate all deaths related to the protests in an effort to ensure that its security forces uphold law and order consistent with human rights and Peruvian laws as well. And we also remain committed to helping Peru strengthen its democratic institutions and will work with regional governments and the Organization of American States to assist Peru in these efforts as well.

QUESTION: Can I do a Syria question?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: The World Food Program has warned that hunger related to Syria in Syria has reached record levels, and – because of the collapse of the financial and economic system. But it’s also exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the United States of America, especially the Caesar law or the (inaudible). Are there any plans to lift these laws or these sanctions any time soon in view of what might happen in Syria?

MR PATEL: There are not, Said. The United States, I will say, is the leading donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, including Syrian refugees and their host communities. Our humanitarian aid includes funding for early recovery programs implemented by independent and impartial humanitarian agencies on the basis of need. These programs ensure Syrians in need have more sustainable access to basic services for themselves and their families.

As it relates to sanctions, though, Said, the United States will continue to hold Assad and his regime to account for their atrocities against the Syrian people, some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Our sanctions, including the ones under the Caesar Act, as you noted, remain in full force and are an important tool to press for accountability for the Assad regime. We condemn in the strongest possible terms any use of chemical weapons anywhere by anyone under any circumstances.

QUESTION: But these sanctions are really hurting the average Syrian more than anyone. And it may usher in a new wave of refugees leaving the country.

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t want to get into a speculative debate. But what I will say is reiterate that we are the leading donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, and we will continue to use the tools in our arsenal to hold the Assad regime accountable for its actions against the Syrian people.

QUESTION: On Syria?

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two very different questions, one on Russia. I saw your statement about the closing of the Helsinki Commission or whatever in Russia. And I wanted to know why put that statement out now? What are you guys going to do about that? How can you support Russian civil society in those circumstances?

And then separately on Haiti, I just wonder if you can give us any update on the situation around the airport there and about U.S. personnel.

MR PATEL: First, on your first question, I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond the statement that we put out. But if you’ll give me the opportunity, I will reiterate that in the recent days the Kremlin has struck more blows against independent civil society and media. On January 25th, a Moscow court ruled to close the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization and something that was the inspiration for citizens’ groups monitoring human rights in the Europe/Eurasia region and around the world. This crackdown on independent civil society and media creates a climate of impunity that enables the Kremlin’s aggression against its neighbors. And can you repeat your question about Haiti?

QUESTION: I just wanted to know if you – if the situation has eased around the airport, if there are any U.S. officials still in Haiti, because I understand that the situation around the airport forced them to move some of their meetings yesterday.

MR PATEL: So we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing lawlessness associated with armed gangs and condemn, in the strongest terms, the violent gang activity that led to the death of several members of the Haitian National Police on January 20th and January 25th. As it relates to U.S. officials, a group of U.S. Government officials who were in Haiti for a previously scheduled visit moved the location of some of their scheduled meetings out of an abundance for caution before continuing with their schedule.

We have accounted for all U.S. personnel. We understand that the airport is functioning normally and airlines are operating normally scheduled flights. The Haitian National Police continue to fully cooperate with us and maintain their presence around the U.S. embassy and housing compounds as well.

QUESTION: And any status of Henry, the prime – the leader of – or de facto leader of Haiti?

MR PATEL: I will refer you to the Haitian authorities to speak about that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask about semiconductor export control, Netherlands and Japan?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: I think along with the United States, Japan and Netherlands are planning to agree on new Chinese semiconductor declarations. What is your reaction, or do you have anything for this new agreement?

MR PATEL: I will let those two countries speak specifically to their own announcements that they’ve announced today. Both Japan and the Netherlands are important partners to the United States on a number of issues, including in the trade and technology space as well. But I will let them speak to this specific announcement today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. A couple questions on Ukraine and Russia.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: IAEA reported, as you know, a blast they heard near Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Russia, of course, rejects it, as usual, but do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Can you repeat the first part?

QUESTION: The blast that – explosions that IAEA reported near Zaporizhzhia power plant.

MR PATEL: Sure. So I have not seen that reporting, Alex. We of course continue to monitor very closely the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. I’ve said this a number of times from this podium, and I will say it again: Any kind of violent and volatile activity close to a nuclear power plant is not only reckless, it is unsafe. But I don’t have any specifics on this to offer.

QUESTION: That’s fair. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Wagner, we have seen congressional legislation – the HARM Act was introduced recently on Wednesday, actually, urging the administration to go even further with a FTO designation, which will provide you with more tools. Is there any change on your end? I know we have discussed it before, but I’m just wondering, given this latest development, if you are reconsidering your position.

MR PATEL: I have no updates or change or new policy to offer, Alex, beyond what was announced earlier this week as it relates to the Wagner Group. But I think an important perspective to have as it relates to this conversation is: What are the tangible impacts of the designations and the actions that we undertake, and what impact are they having on the group’s ability to operate? And I think we were very clear about that earlier this week when we announced these new package of sanctions.

To reiterate, we, along with Treasury, took actions against individuals and entities linked to the Kremlin-backed paramilitary group and its head, Mr. Prigozhin. This action supports our ultimate goal, which is to degrade Moscow’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine, to promote accountability for those responsible for Russia’s war of aggression and associated abuses, and to place further pressure on Russia’s defense sector.

QUESTION: And last, this is on behalf of my colleagues in Spain, in Madrid at La Razón. They’re asking – as you know, Spanish police recently arrested a man involved into their bomb case last year. There were speculations that Russian GRU was behind it, but the police didn’t mention anything based on his early comments of Russian involvement. I’m just wondering if there’s any back-and-forth, any communication between you guys and Spanish Government on this. And what is your assessment of the latest —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific update to offer on this, Alex, beyond – we mentioned this a little bit earlier in the week. We thank the Spanish authorities and law enforcement for their persistent investigation into this matter and would refer to the Government of Spain for information regarding the information, investigation, and arrest.

QUESTION: But the suspect did mention that he was targeting Spanish Government’s support for Ukraine. I’m just wondering if the department’s concerned that there might be more and more terror attacks through Europe, particularly in the countries that are supporting Ukraine.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any kind of causation or preview to offer as it relates to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the Russian embassy.

MR PATEL: Can I come back – I’ll come back to you right after that, okay?

QUESTION: So – yeah, so Russia.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to Israel. The Israeli author Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son, has talked about the U.S. – the Israeli context as on the one hand you have Netanyahu, who will not acknowledge that Israel drove out Palestinians in 1948; and now you have people on the right wing in Israel calling for another expulsion of Palestinians that Netanyahu claims never happened. Will you call on Israel to acknowledge the past expulsions and condemn the Israeli right wing, which is calling for other expulsions?

MR PATEL: What I would say is I would echo what Secretary Blinken has said a number of times in that our engagement with the new Israeli Government will be rooted in the policies it pursues, not in personalities. And I don’t have anything else to offer on this right —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about personalities.

MR PATEL: I understand.

QUESTION: It doesn’t matter if I like Netanyahu or you like Netanyahu. Israel should acknowledge the past expulsions of Palestinians. You condemn ethnic cleansing in other situations.

MR PATEL: I understand your question and I don’t have any additional comments to offer on that.

QUESTION: Can I have an answer next time?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Russian embassy. They issued a statement yesterday calling your sanctions frivolous because they have come – they have become sort of a knee-jerk reaction to everything, and that your naming the deputy prime minister and others as connected to the Wagner Group is ridiculous. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: What I would say, Said, is if our sanctions were frivolous, then why are we seeing Russian GDP shrink? Why are we seeing Russian – why are we seeing multinational corporations, American ones and others, choose to leave doing business in Russia? Why are we seeing Russia further isolated than ever before because of its unlawful and its unjust aggression in Ukraine and its very blatant infringement on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty?

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: All right, everybody. Thank you today. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:46 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – January 26, 2023

27 Jan

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:08 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon everybody. Happy Thursday. I have a few things at the top, and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

Today, we are announcing the designation of former President of Panama Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal for his involvement in significant corruption. Specifically, Martinelli accepted bribes in exchange for improperly awarding government contracts during his tenure. This designation renders Martinelli and his immediate family members, including his two sons Luis Enrique and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares, ineligible for entry into the United States. Such acts of public corruption diminish confidence in governance, reduce resources available for schools, hospitals, roads, and other government services. And this was a public designation made under Section 7031(c).

I’m also pleased to highlight today’s announcement by President Biden, the decision to extend Deferred Enforced Departure for Hong Kong residents for another two years. This extension provides Hong Kongers who are concerned about returning to Hong Kong with temporary safe haven in this country. The U.S. will continue to defer the enforced departure of eligible Hong Kong residents who are physically president – present in the United States as of January 26th for a period of up to two years.

The U.S. reaffirms its solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s steady assault on the rights and freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Basic Law and the Sino Joint Declaration, a binding international agreement. This decision to extend Deferred Enforced Departure and expand to include those who have arrived in the U.S. since August 2021 complements steps being taken by our allies and partners – including the UK, Canada, and Australia – to provide options to those who fear returning to Hong Kong.

This announcement was made necessary by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities’ continued and repeated attacks on the protected rights and freedoms cherished by people in Hong Kong. We strongly urge Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to restore Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law, stop draconian application of colonial-era laws and national security apparatus, and allow people in Hong Kong to exercise rights and freedoms and participate meaningfully in their own governance.

We again call on the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained or imprisoned solely for exercising their rights and freedoms.

And lastly, as I’m sure you all saw, Russia launched yet more missiles and Iranian-made Shahed drones across Ukraine last night, followed by another strike of missiles this morning. On behalf of the United States, I want to extend my sympathy to all those who were hurt and condolences to the families of those killed across Ukraine.

Russia remains bent on causing death and destruction despite its ongoing strategic failures, and Iran’s transfer of these lethal weapons continues to help Russia in its brutal war. These tactics will not diminish Ukraine’s determination to resist. The U.S. will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and our allies and partners have made the same quite clear.

We stand in unity and resolve with Ukraine as they defend their country and seek to build the bright, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for which the people of Ukraine have sacrificed so much.

And with that, I am happy to take your questions. Matt, if you want to start.

QUESTION: Great. Yes. We all set?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m good.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You sure?

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah?

MR PATEL: We’re great.

QUESTION: Okay. You don’t want to raise it up a little bit?

MR PATEL: No, no, no. I’m good.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: I should have done that before. But go ahead.

QUESTION: So I am going to presume that you don’t have a whole lot to add to what Assistant Secretary Leaf said on – earlier today, but I’m just wondering in – since 11:30, since she spoke, have there been any contacts between the Secretary and/or other very high-level officials here in the – either the Israelis or the Palestinians about what happened in Jenin as it – and as it – as that might relate to the Secretary’s upcoming trip?

MR PATEL: Sure, Matt. So I don’t have any specific engagements to read out for the Secretary or anything to preview there. But as Assistant Secretary Leaf noted on this very call that you’re referring to, the department has been working the phones and in touch with both our immediate U.S. State Department counterparts – this – over the course of the morning – but as well as others in the region.

Specifically, if you’ll give me the opportunity, Matt, we are aware of the reports that today in Jenin at least 10 Palestinians, including militants and at least one civilian, were killed and over 20 injured during an Israeli Defense Force counterterrorism operation against a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell.

We recognize the very real security challenges facing Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians. We also regret the loss of innocent lives and injuries to civilians and are deeply concerned by the escalating cycle of violence in the West Bank. I want to underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, to prevent further loss of civilian life, and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: Okay. And it remains the case that you do not believe that the Palestinian decision or announcement that they are going to suspend all security cooperation with Israel and also take this incident and refer it to the UN, the ICC, and others, other places, that you still think that’s a bad idea, correct?

MR PATEL: That’s correct, Matt. As we’ve made clear, and the assistant secretary touched on this earlier today, we believe that there is an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate, and in fact this should be an opportunity to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank. And as it relates to the UN, we just don’t believe that this multilateral fora is appropriate for this, and this is something that the two sides should work together on. And again, we believe that this should be – we should be deepening our security cooperation.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, recognizing that you don’t know exactly what happened – an investigation, an Israeli investigation, is underway. But recognizing that you don’t know, I wanted to go back to a question that I asked Ned last year or even 18 months ago. If you don’t think that the Palestinians should go to the UN or to the ICC or to any other international forum, where do they go?

MR PATEL: We believe that this is something that the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority should be engaging on together in dialogue with one another. Of course the United States has made quite clear that we continue to believe that steps should not be taken to incite tension, to exasperate the situation, and that both Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely. And we continue and have made this clear pretty consistently that we believe that steps that would – could potentially undermine a future two-state solution are also not helpful to this process.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – well, whether or not their grievance or grievances are legitimate or not, where exactly are the Palestinians supposed to take them? Do they – if you don’t think that they can go or should go to the UN or to the ICC or to another international forum, where do they take them to? Where do you think they should be allowed to take them or that they should take them to? To the Israelis themselves?

MR PATEL: Our belief is that this is something that should be engaged on through dialogue, through diplomacy between the Israelis, between the Palestinian Authority. And of course the United States has made its opinion on this very clear.

QUESTION: Well, you haven’t made your opinion very clear. So you think that this should – that the Palestinians should take their complaints, their grievances, to the Israeli court system?

MR PATEL: I’m not just speaking about the court system specifically, Matt. I’m saying that —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, where?

MR PATEL: This is something that we think that should be addressed through dialogue and diplomacy between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, and we’ve said that quite consistently.

QUESTION: May I follow?

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: So what is the status of the Palestinians in the West Bank? What is their status?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What is the status of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, including Jenin, including the camp of Jenin, and everywhere else in the West Bank? How do you designate them? What kind of designations do you give the Palestinians in the West Bank?

MR PATEL: That they reside in that – those territories.

QUESTION: They reside in that – they’re totally independent of the rest of the world, as if it were a different planet. Are they occupied, for instance? Do you – do you subscribe to the fact that they are under a military occupation?

MR PATEL: Said, let me – let me —

QUESTION: It’s a simple question. Are they under occupation?

MR PATEL: Said, let me say a couple of things to the point that I believe —

QUESTION: Vedant, are they occupied or are they not occupied? What is the status that you give the Palestinians right at this moment? What kind of status do they have?

MR PATEL: Said, the recent period has seen a sharp and —

QUESTION: I’m not talking about a recent period. I am saying about legally, how do you designate the Palestinians in the West Bank? What is their status?

MR PATEL: Said, I understand the question you’re asking, and I – as we’ve said previously, it is vital for both sides to take action to prevent even greater loss, and we condemn any violence, escalation, or provocation. We have made quite clear – and I spoke to this in addressing Matt’s question – that we believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: Now, who guarantees that equality? Who will guarantee that Palestinians and Israelis can actually have the same equal measures, as you keep repeating? It’s not the Palestinians that keep going day after day into Israeli villages and towns and so on and attack them during night raids, killing their people. You just basically recited the Israeli story that they are nine militants killed and one civilian, as if you were sure of that fact, even before an investigation went on.

Where should the Palestinians go for protection? I’ve asked this question many times in this room. How should the Palestinians be protected?

MR PATEL: Said, we have been very clear and we believe that there is an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.

QUESTION: Right. But you know that we have seen Israel, as the governing authority, as the military authority, it can conduct raids anytime it wants to against any Palestinian place. We have not seen any Palestinians attack Israeli villages, for instance. So how is that equal measure? How do you guarantee it? I mean, I get lost in understanding what you’re saying in equal measures for both.

MR PATEL: Said, we recognize the very real security challenges facing both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and condemn terrorist groups planning and carrying out attacks against innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: We also, again, underscore the urgent need for all parties to de-escalate to prevent further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank and the region broadly.

QUESTION: And I have a couple more; just please indulge me. If they are occupied, if you agree that the Palestinians are under occupation, is collective punishment a war crime for any captive people, for any people under occupation?

MR PATEL: Said —

QUESTION: Is it your view that collective punishment is a war crime?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just – I think I’ve spoken to this pretty extensively, and what I’m just going to reiterate again is that we believe that there’s an urgent need for all parties to de-escalate and to work together to improve the security situation.

QUESTION: Can you call on the Israelis to de-escalate? Do they listen to you when you tell them to de-escalate and not to attack —

MR PATEL: Said, we have —

QUESTION: — innocent Palestinians day-in and day-out?

MR PATEL: Said, we have consistently called on both sides to de-escalate, and we have consistently spoken about our – the need for both Palestinians and Israelis to equally —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PATEL: — deserve to live safely and securely.

QUESTION: And if they don’t listen to you, where should they go? Just to follow on where Matt began, where should the Palestinians go?

MR PATEL: Again, Said, we continue to believe that this is something that can be discussed through dialogue and diplomacy between both parties.

Okay. Humeyra.

QUESTION: Still on Israel, Vedant. So recently, there have been, like, some meetings about the Negev Summit, which is also another, like – what should we call it? – like, alliance or, like, conference umbrella that actually does not have any representation for the Palestinians. I’m wondering how this rising escalation of violence would impact the future of Abraham Accords. It’s been – Washington has been trying to get on board more countries to that, some important Arab allies. Are you not at all worried that – what’s happening there and the behavior of, like, Israel’s new right-wing government? They might be put off and have second thoughts about that.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Humeyra. First, we can – as I said, we reiterate and believe that this is an urgent opportunity for all parties to de-escalate and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.

On the Negev process specifically, as you know, earlier this month senior officials from the United States concluded two days of productive meetings of the Negev Forum in Abu Dhabi. This was a significant meeting of six working groups with around 150 officials representing the different countries of the Negev Forum. This was the largest gathering of Israeli and Arab government officials since the Madrid process, and we believe that these meetings represent an important step in the advancements of the goals of the Negev Forum, which was launched in March of 2022. And we thank the UAE for hosting this important gathering.

QUESTION: Did they actually talk about any of the Palestinian issues in any of those working groups?

MR PATEL: The working groups sought to develop clear and pragmatic steps to bolster regional integration and cooperation. They discussed a variety of specific proposals, which, over the coming weeks and months, will be further refined and discussed in these various capitals.

QUESTION: But anything to improve the livelihoods of the Palestinians at all?

MR PATEL: That is something that we, of course, think is integral to this process, as I have said previously, that we continue to believe that both Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live freely, safely, and securely.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up —

MR PATEL: Shaun.

QUESTION: — on the violence today and the Secretary’s trip. Is there any metric that the Secretary wants from his talks with the Israelis and Palestinians? Does he want some sort of agreement? Obviously, not major agreement, but anything about a ceasefire or anything about ending the violence? What – is it more just he’s going to urge things, or is there actually something he’s looking for in terms of commitments to get on the ground?

MR PATEL: So I will not get ahead of the Secretary’s trip, but you saw Assistant Secretary Leaf speak to this a little bit in the call earlier today. And this, of course, this broader trip to Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank is also about consulting with our partners on a range of bilateral, regional, and global priorities, including the advancements of efforts that will promote human rights, democratic norms, values, and other things that are integral to our foreign policy, as well as, of course, deepening and expanding our economic partnerships, expanding and promoting regional security, stability, and prosperity, including through mechanisms like the Negev Forum that I just spoke to Humeyra’s question about.

Anything else on the region before we move.

QUESTION: Military?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S.-Israel wrapped up their biggest joint military drills this week. Is this a sign that the U.S. is preparing for a reality without JCPOA?

MR PATEL: So we have been quite clear for quite some time that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda because of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime killed the opportunity for a swift return to full implementation of the JCPOA in September when they turned their backs on the deal that was on the table. And since September, our focus has been on standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Iranian people and countering Iran’s deepening partnerships with Russia and its support of Russia’s barbaric and unjust war in Ukraine.

On the specific piece about joint exercises, I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to that specifically.

QUESTION: Do you name JCPOA a dead deal?

MR PATEL: Look, we have been very clear from the beginning – President Biden has been clear about this, that he is absolutely committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. And we still believe that diplomacy is the best way to ensure, on a sustainable and verifiable basis, that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. But as of now, as we’ve said previously, we don’t see a deal coming together anytime soon.

You had your hand up.

QUESTION: Talking about standing up for Iranian people, my question is about GL D-2s. It’s been few months that you issued the general license which let companies – private tech entities – to help Iranians to bypass the governmental internet shutdown. Is the Biden administration funding or financially supporting in any way the Iranians inside Iran to have access to internet – this is including Starlink — if you are funding – buying the satellite dishes, if you are helping any partners to send the dishes inside Iran, or no?

MR PATEL: So we spoke about this a little bit a number of months ago when the GL-2 licenses were brought on board. These decisions – ultimately the implementation, the deployment of them are private sector decisions. The United States’s role in bringing that license about was for the easier access of information and the flow of information between – not just between Iranians but between Iranians and the outside world. But no, the United States is not involved in the way that you’ve described.

QUESTION: Because in the case of Ukraine, we have a big governmental funding going from United States to Ukraine. Why this is not the case for Iranians, that they really need help regarding Starlink or free internet?

MR PATEL: For – so let me say a couple of things. These situations – these circumstances are a little bit apples and oranges. Perhaps they are not even apples and oranges; they are two very different situations. In the case of Ukraine, we have the Russian Federation unlawfully, unjustly infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of another country, that of Ukraine. And you are correct, the United States has done – has taken a number of steps through security assistance, through economic assistance, through sanctions and export controls on the Russian Federation, and has taken – and has done a number of things in regards to that.

In the context of Iran, we also have taken a number of steps. The steps are different because the circumstances are different. We have, even as recently as Monday, taken actions and made designations to individuals and entities to further hold the Iranian regime account for its atrocious human rights violations on its own people. I’m certainly not going to preview any actions, but together with our allies and partners we’ll continue to have those discussions on a bilateral basis, through multilateral fora, and take the appropriate steps necessary to continue to support the Iranian people.

Anything else on the region before we move away? Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Verdant. Happy Thursday. I want to start with Russia-Ukraine. I want to start with the Wagner decision today. As a result of today’s designation, you made it clear that the assets in the U.S. have been frozen. Do you have an estimated number, how much funding do they have and have been frozen? And also, is the administration considering further steps, such as to seize it and to allocate that amount for Ukraine’s reconstruction?

MR PATEL: Alex, I will let our colleagues at the Treasury Department speak to specific – any specific asset number or any appropriate next steps on forfeiture or seizure or things like that. But I do want to use the opportunity to reiterate that this action supports our goal, which is to degrade Moscow’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine, to promote accountability for those responsible for Russia’s war of aggression and associated abuses, and to place further pressure on Russia’s defense sector. We are steadfast in our resolve against Russia’s aggression and other destabilizing behaviors worldwide, and today’s designation will further impede the Kremlin’s ability to arm its war machine that is entangled in a war of aggression against Ukraine and which has caused unconscionable death and destruction.

The Wagner Group’s pattern of serious criminal behavior includes violent harassment of journalists and aid workers among others, rape and sexual assault in the Central African Republic, as well as rape and killing in Mali. They are a deeply destabilizing entity, and today’s action was another step in degrading their capacity.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. I also want to ask you about American companies operating – well, they are still present in Russian market. It appears there are over 300 companies that are still there. They might not necessarily violating U.S. sanctions, but they are paying taxes there and also exposing American business investors to all kinds of risks. This administration has in the past come up with advisories on business risks in different regions – Cambodia, Sudan, and some other countries.

My question is – as you know, we are approaching to a one year’s anniversary of Russian invasion. Are you planning to do the same vis-à-vis American business in Russian market? And if so, are you willing to cooperate with civil society organizations and other groups that have been advocating for that?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Alex. First, I would also note that Russians – Russia’s brutal war has also led to a number of American corporations choosing to leave Russia and choosing to cease doing business in Russia as a result of its aggression and as a result of its very clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It is very clear that Russia is not a place where companies want to invest, and we will continue to see businesses and individuals fleeing the Russian Federation.

Specifically, though, Alex, the decision to suspend or exit or operate is ultimately up to individual companies and legitimate commercial actors and investors are rationally assessing the various risks associated with doing business in Russia. I don’t have any memo or action to preview or business guidance to preview for you, but as we have long done, we are encouraging U.S. organizations and their personnel operating in the region to join the U.S. department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council, which is managed by Diplomatic Security. This is a free resource that’s available to all U.S. incorporated organizations operating outside of the United States, including, of course, corporate actors. And it issues ongoing assessments of the situation in Ukraine, highlights safety concerns, security concerns, logistical information, and other things as well.

QUESTION: Is the department in touch with advocacy groups who have been advocating for such guidance?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific NGO or nonprofit engagements to preview, but this is, of course, something we’re paying very close attention to.

QUESTION: And perhaps it’s also best time to ask about the U.S. ambassador just arrived in Moscow. What do you expect from her in the days and weeks ahead? I know I’ve asked this question before, but it’s relevant now.

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. I don’t have any specific updates to offer you. You are correct; Ambassador Tracy has arrived in Moscow, and we expect her to present her credentials in the coming days. But as we have previously said, there of course are issues of bilateral relation between the United States and the Russian Federation, and I know Ambassador Tracy is eager to continue working on these issues that will expand U.S. interest in a variety of areas.

Let me work the room a little bit. Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: On Iraq? Iraq.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Leah, ABC News. So yesterday, Ned Price said for decades the U.S. was not in a position to be a partner to African countries, but Russia was, but that that dynamic has gone away entirely. And this morning, Prigozhin wrote in a letter that he has contracts with presidents in African countries, and he claims if he pulls out those fighter – pulls out his fighters, those countries would cease to exist. So what does the department say to those African countries who have contracts with Prigozhin or other Russian entities who do feel their country would be in danger without that support?

MR PATEL: We have clearly seen that the Wagner Group, when they operate in a country, they take very destabilizing, very harmful actions – actions that are a threat to the stability in a specific country, but also the regional stability more broadly. And that was in part why the United States took the designations that it took today. And we’ll continue to take steps and assess the situation and work closely with our allies and partners to hold the Wagner Group accountable.

I will also say that as it relates to deepening our cooperation in the African continent, I would point no further than the most recent African Leaders Summit that was held in December, where you saw countries from all across the continent represented here, where the Secretary or President Biden had the opportunity to hold bilateral engagements with many representatives of these countries. You saw last year the Secretary of State, USAID Administration Power, the UN ambassador take important trips to the region. Secretary Yellen is in the region now; Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield just returned from the region or is still there.

So this is a continent that of course we’re continuing to place an important emphasis on, and one where we look to deepening our deep diplomatic ties with.

QUESTION: Could the U.S. – would the U.S. take action against any countries that do work with Prigozhin, Wagner, or any of their affiliated groups?

MR PATEL: Of course I will refer to our Treasury colleagues to speak to the specific ins and outs of the designations that are being made today. But I would reiterate that we’ve been quite clear that countries that partner with Prigozhin and Wagner are not – do not end up in a better place afterwards.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Thank you. Circling back to the latest slate of attacks from Russia on Ukraine that you denounced at the top of the briefing – of course, we’ve seen this kind of violence before, but it comes right on the heels of those high-profile tank announcements. Does the U.S. assess that those strikes are retaliatory – retaliatory, rather, in any way, or that perhaps reducing the profile of these announcements might dissuade Russia from these strikes?

MR PATEL: We have been very clear over the course of this conflict that we will support our Ukrainian partners with the appropriate security assistance and security apparatus that the status and – of – on the battlefield and the tides and turns of the conflict requires. And that continues to be the case.

Ultimate, it is Russia here that is being the aggressor. It is Russia taking the unlawful, unjust actions that are infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. As the President, the Secretary, and others have made quite clear, we will continue to support Ukraine, our Ukrainian partners in their efforts to defend themselves.

Anything else on Russia-Ukraine before we move away?

QUESTION: This is sort of on the Russia-Ukraine situation.

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: On the Wagner Group.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Burkina Faso – I wondered if you have anything to say about Burkina Faso asking French troops to withdraw. Obviously, to a certain extent it’s bilateral, but to the extent that there have been allegations that Burkina Faso is moving closer to the Wagner Group – I believe the Ghanaian president said that publicly when he was here in Washington. Do you have any comment on the – on the move to boot out the French troops and whether this indicates a greater relationship with the Wagner Group by authorities in Burkina Faso?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a – I don’t want to be speculative or offer a shot-in-the-dark assessment. But we’ve been very clear, and as I said just now, that countries that deepen their cooperation with the Wagner Group do not end up in a stronger position. And in fact, it’s quite the opposite: Countries that partner closely with Prigozhin and the Wagner Group find themselves susceptible to deeply destabilizing activities, activities that are destabilizing to not just their own country but also the region more broadly. But I can check if we’ve got anything further to add on Burkina broadly.

Yes, Shaun.

QUESTION: Something else – something else in the region.

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I guess it’s a couple days old, but Rwanda-DR Congo, the tensions there. Has there been any U.S. diplomacy involved in – involved there in this past week? How do you see things going? And specifically, the Qataris have been trying to organize a summit apparently between the DRC and Rwanda. Do you have any – has the U.S. been involved in that at all and has the Secretary called the Qataris?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific – specific calls or new engagements for the Secretary to read out, but I believe Ned spoke about this earlier in the week, and we of course are continuing to track the fighting that erupted among the M23 and the Congolese security forces and several armed groups on Monday. We’re also aware of Rwandan forces firing on DRC military aircraft on Monday as it was landing, and we welcome the swift investigation on this.

We, of course, continue to believe that all actors to support and abide by commitments to the regional mediation efforts led by Angola and the East African Community, and we urge all actors to seize this opportunity to achieve peace. But I’ll check if we have anything additional to share.

Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a question about some of the comments that Under Secretary Nuland made today at a hearing in Congress. She said that Congress would look more favorably to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye if the Turkish parliament approved the NATO applications of Sweden and Finland. But we know very well that long before that application of those two countries, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez and a few others in Congress pledged that they’re going to do everything in their power to block the sale from taking place. So how is this supposed to be interpreted by the Turkish parliament as a friendly advice by Ms. Nuland when a few congressmen are creating an unfriendly or perhaps, let’s say, a hostile environment and holding the sale hostage? Can you please weigh in on that?

MR PATEL: Yeah. I will – I will reiterate what we’ve said previously. First, on the specifics of arms sales, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of that until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. Of course, we are seeing members of Congress make their opinions quite clear and quite vocal about this process, and that of course – they have every right to do that.

On NATO accession specifically for Sweden and Finland, we have been very clear about that and I will be clear about that again. We believe that they are ready to join NATO. They are already NATO partners. Their security forces are ready. Their security apparatuses are ready. They are countries that we and NATO both have partnered closely with, and that is why you saw our Congress ratify this process swiftly. It’s why you saw President Biden and Secretary Blinken be enthusiastic about this accession process. And we’re going to continue to push for that process to move forward.

QUESTION: If I can have a follow-up on that. I obviously know all of the points you just made, but I’m seeing – perhaps it’s a personal assessment, you can say, or there’s actually a shift in the U.S. narrative. Because now it’s getting to a point where it’s going to a place – okay, if you’re not approving the – if you’re not ratifying the applications, then you’re not getting the F-16s because President Biden said in June 2022 that there’s not going to be any quid pro quo, and that those two things are separate. Obviously that was the U.S. assessment. So now —

MR PATEL: That still is the U.S. assessment. That still is the U.S. assessment.

QUESTION: — the under secretary’s comment is basically like a clear-cut message to Ankara that, well, they’re going to look more favorably if you approve the ratification. But you’ve got the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair and a few others that are saying that no matter what the circumstances, we’re going to try and block the sale. So how is this supposed to be a message to not only the ruling party, but also opposition parties, that you’re going to get the F-16s if you approve the applications? Because that doesn’t seem to be the case unless you can remove some of those roadblocks.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. I did not catch Under Secretary Nuland’s hearing today, so I don’t want to speak about something that I haven’t had a chance to see myself. But what I will say broadly, though, is we have been very clear – the Executive Branch, President Biden, this department have been very clear on F-16s. He’s been clear about this process and made his comments quite public.

On the specifics of the sale, though, we’re just not going to get ahead of that process till the formal congressional notifications have happened. Of course, Congress is an actor here and they have made their opinions quite vocal, and we welcome those, but we have also been clear about our continued support for Türkiye, our important NATO Ally, and their security operability within the NATO system and – though that is something that we’re going to continue to be clear-eyed out – about as well.

QUESTION: You said those two things should be separate as the State Department —

MR PATEL: They continue to be separate. We’ve – there is no quid pro quo. These two items continue to be separate.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Michel.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One of the suspects that the top prosecutor released yesterday is a U.S. citizen who left Lebanon, coming to the U.S. Did the U.S. Government coordinate with the Lebanese authorities in the departure or regarding his departure?

MR PATEL: So I’m aware of your – the reports that we’re seeing that a U.S. citizen was released by Lebanese authorities. I don’t have specific updates for you, due to privacy considerations, but I will note that we generally offer and provide appropriate consular services to American citizens while they are abroad.

QUESTION: And some Lebanese considered the release of all the suspects a blow for the investigation. Do you agree with this assessment?

MR PATEL: So I will refer you to Lebanese authorities on the specifics, but I want to use the opportunity to reiterate what we have said before – we and our partners in the international community – which is that since this explosion, we continue to urge Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into the horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut. The victims of the August 2020 port explosion and their families deserve justice, and those responsible must be held accountable.

QUESTION: And finally, is the U.S. ready to set forth any move at the UN Security Council to launch an international investigation in the – into the blast?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update or change in policy to offer, Michel. I think, again, we are at the place of urging Lebanese authorities to complete a swift and transparent investigation into this explosion.

Ian.

QUESTION: Just had a couple questions on China.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first one is Secretary Blinken was obviously up on the Hill this morning briefing lawmakers. I’m wondering if there’s anything additional you might be able to provide in terms of what the message was and whether it was about the trip he’s taking to the PRC in February.

MR PATEL: I don’t have specific engagements to offer, Ian. Obviously, we engage with Congress on a number of issues, and the Secretary himself engages with leaders in Congress on a number of issues. Of course, as you know, he is intending to travel to the PRC at some point soon, and of course engagements with Congress relating to that would be appropriate. But I don’t have any specific readouts to offer.

QUESTION: Okay. Just on the trip itself, I mean, obviously, we’ve seen reports that Senator McCarthy is likely to make a visit to Taiwan in the coming months. And I’m just wondering: What will the Secretary’s message be to officials in Beijing about that visit? I mean, obviously, we saw the fallout from Pelosi’s visit over the summer. The Chinese have said previously that they would respond to any further visit of the same kind. So I’m just wondering – this will be the – one of the most high-level visits to China in years, and it will be the highest-level one ahead of – presumably ahead of any visit by McCarthy to Taiwan, so I’m wondering what that message will be to China on McCarthy’s potential visit.

MR PATEL: So I will let the Speaker’s office speak to any travel that may or may not coming down – be coming down the pike. I certainly don’t want to get ahead of that, and I also am not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s own trip. We, of course, I’m sure, will have more to talk about as that date gets closer, but I don’t want to get ahead of that process as well.

In the back. And then I’ll come to you, I promise.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Shashank Mattoo from The Hindustan Times. Vedant, last weeks, Xi Jinping held a meeting from the PLA headquarters in Beijing with the PLA troops stationed on the India-China border. He inspected their combat readiness, he asked about border patrol, he asked them to persist in their efforts, he asked them to make new contributions. This is, of course, a border that has seen tensions over the last two years. What would – how would you read it, and how – what would be your take on the larger dynamic that’s still ongoing on the India-China border? And then I have a follow-up after.

MR PATEL: I will have to get back – actually, I will have to get back to you on the specific developments that you just mentioned, but we are closely monitoring the situation broadly on – regarding the border clashes and are glad to hear at least in December that both sides to – have appeared to have disengaged. But we’ll check if we’ve got any specific updates for you.

QUESTION: Sorry, you’re saying that both sides disengaged in December?

MR PATEL: You’re speaking about the situation with India, correct?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you suggesting that both sides disengaged in December?

MR PATEL: No, I was speaking previously that they had. But we’ll check if we have an update for you.

QUESTION: My second question: Next week, the national security advisors of India and U.S. are meeting for the first initiative on critical and emerging technologies. I know that’s a process that’s shepherded by NSC, but given the history of India-U.S. relations, where technology denial has been a part of that past, would you like to speak broadly about the future of technology cooperation between India and U.S., especially in critical and emerging technologies?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that India is a important partner of choice for the United States in a number of spaces. That includes trade cooperation. It of course includes security cooperation. It also includes technological cooperation as well. So I don’t want to get too ahead of the process or get ahead of any specific meetings that might be coming down the pike, but this is of course of great importance to us.

QUESTION: Just one final question. After the formation of the new government in Nepal, China has been asking the Nepal Government to sign up for the Global Security Initiative. What’s your take on GSI and what would you – what’s your message to governments in South Asia which are feeling the Chinese heed to sign up for GSI?

MR PATEL: I’m going to have to check back on that, and we can make sure that someone follows up with you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Iraq and Kurdistan. The legal decision came as the Iraqi Government simply decided to send 260 million to the Kurdistan Regional Government as payments. As you know, the Iraqi federal supreme court, ruling against releasing payments by the federal government to the Kurdistan region. KRG completely rejects and all political party they are very, very angry, including Kurdish leadership, President Masoud Barzani. How you can help both side to find a solution? I know stability of Iraq is very important for the United States.

MR PATEL: Absolutely. And what I would say broadly that the United States wants to see a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. And we want to see an Iraq that provides security, jobs, electricity, water, and healthcare for all of its citizens. I will also note that President Biden understands the importance of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, and the importance of the United States to Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, for security needs and how critical it is to the regional security and the security of not just Iraq but also the Middle East as well.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about the withdrawal of a presidential nominee?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: On Sarah Margon, you probably heard that she withdrew from contention because, I guess, the position of Senator Jim Risch from Idaho that she’s critical of Israel. Do you have any comment on that withdrawal?

MR PATEL: I would say that Sarah Margon is someone who is deeply experienced and deeply accomplished in her field. This was a decision that she made personally, but of course she is somebody who has deep experience in the works of democracy, of human rights and issues that are very, very important to this department and this administration. But of course she made the decision to withdraw her nomination.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back. Let me work the —

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this topic.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you know, she – her nomination wasn’t considered because of a Tweet she put out there. What is the department reaction to the fact that the Senate – one Senator – right after a very important nominee that was supposed to lead the very important department of this – bureau of this department, just because of a Tweet?

MR PATEL: Alex, I’m not going to speculate or get into reasoning or anything, but I want to reiterate again that Sarah is someone who is deeply experienced, deeply knowledgeable in her field. She’s a subject‑matter expert, no doubt one of the most renowned experts in these areas that I outlined of democracy, of human rights, of labor issues. And of course, she made the – what I’m sure was a tough decision to withdraw her own candidacy.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: According to the reports from South Korea, ROK Foreign Minister Park is planning to visit to United States and talk with Secretary Blinken. Can you confirm on this report, and what would be the possible agenda?

MR PATEL: I of course would let our Republic of Korea partners speak to their own travel. I don’t have any meetings or anything to read out. But I of course will use this opportunity to note that we have a deep relationship with the Republic of Korea. The Secretary has an – has had the opportunity to engage with the foreign minister on a number of occasions in bilateral settings, in multilateral settings. And we of course would look forward to any future opportunity to do that as well, but I don’t have any specifics to offer.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: One final question, Alex, and then —

QUESTION: Thanks so much. This might be —

MR PATEL: — we’ll call it a day.

QUESTION: — last minute for you, but Russian foreign minister, you probably have seen, issued a sharp statement today criticizing the EU for sending a civilian monitoring mission to Azerbaijan-Armenian border – something we discussed with Ned yesterday. They used pretty undiplomatic language. They blamed them on pursuing confrontation policy in the region, of bringing geopolitical confrontation. My question is, first off, your reaction to that statement. And secondly more broadly, how does the department view Russia’s role in the region? Is it truly a peacemaker or a troublemaker?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things, Alex. First, the U.S. is committed to Armenia‑Azerbaijan peace negotiations. We welcome efforts by partners, including the European Union, to build confidence in the region and to ensure an environment conducive to direct dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We continue to work closely with all our partners directly and with partners in the region as well when effective.

Specifically, about Russia’s role, the U.S. was not involved in the November 20 ceasefire brokered by Russia between Armenia and Azerbaijan that resulted in the deployment of Russian peacekeepers, so I just wouldn’t have anything additional to offer on that. But of course, as you know, Alex, this is something that is deeply important to the Secretary, something he’s paid – played close attention to and been deeply engaged on.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:57 p.m.)

# # #

  1. …exacerbate…
  2. …paid…

Department Press Briefing – January 19, 2023

20 Jan

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:05 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Thursday. So as you can see, we have a special guest joining us today to talk about our new Welcome Corps program that we launched this morning. So with me I have Assistant Secretary Julieta Noyes from our Bureau of Populations, Refugee, and Migration. She has some thoughts she’d like to share with you at the top and then has time for a couple of questions, and then we will continue on with the rest of the briefing.

So Assistant Secretary —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL: — the floor is yours.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thanks, Vedant. Hey, everybody.

QUESTION: Hello.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: It’s great to be here. I am here today to share an exciting development in the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, through which the United States has long welcomed newcomers in search of safety and freedom.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps, a private sponsorship initiative that will create new opportunities for private Americans to directly sponsor refugees from around the world who are here fleeing conflict, fleeing persecution, and to help these refugees settle in their communities. The Welcome Corps invites Americans to do what we do best – welcoming newcomers, being good guides, neighbors, and friends.

Welcoming refugees reflects our values as a nation, and local communities have long been at the heart of our resettlement program. Just in the past year, individual Americans and community groups around the country have opened their arms to Afghans, Ukrainians, and refugees from around the world fleeing conflict and persecution.

The Welcome Corps is the boldest innovation in the U.S. refugee resettlement in four decades, and it reflects the Biden administration’s commitment to expand community engagement as we rebuild our refugee program. It’s designed to strengthen and expand our country’s capacity to resettle refugees by harnessing the energy of private sponsors from all walks of life – including community volunteers, faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges, universities, and more.

Private sponsors will help refugees find housing and employment, enroll their kids in school, enroll the adults in English classes, and connect with other essential services, including those that are funded by federal programs.

The Welcome Corps is distinct from other sponsorship programs, like Uniting for Ukraine, in that private sponsors will support refugees who are being permanently resettled in the United States and help them integrate as thriving members of their new communities.

Private sponsors in the Welcome Corps will receive training and support from resettlement experts and become part of a nationwide community of people engaged in this work.

We’re launching the Welcome Corps in two phases. In the first phase, groups of five or more Americans or legal permanent residents can apply to form a private sponsor group. When certified, they will be matched with a refugee who is already approved for resettlement in the United States.

In the second phase, which will launch around the middle of this year, groups can identify and refer to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program the refugees they would like to sponsor. If approved and certified, they will then sponsor the resettlement of these specific refugees.

Our goal in 2023 is to mobilize 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsors, and help resettle at least 5,000 refugees. Time and again, we’ve seen the generosity and the welcoming spirit of the American people. If more than 10,000 sponsors join the Welcome Corps this year, we will make every effort to pair them with refugees in need.

We at the State Department are excited to launch the Welcome Corps as part of our broader effort to rebuild, expand, and modernize the refugee resettlement program. We look forward to engaging with individuals and communities around the world who wish to participate.

And I would just say something on a personal level. My own parents arrived in this country as refugees, before the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program was created. And the people who helped them were ordinary, everyday Americans., and they still tell stories about how they were welcomed to this country. So, I see this as an offshoot of the historic traditions in our countries of welcoming newcomers.

Anyway, for more information on the Welcome Corps, I invite Americans who wish to be involved in this fulfilling effort to visit our new website welcomecorps.org to learn more about how to join this program.

And with that, I am happy to answer any questions.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Matt, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Thank you, Assistant Secretary. I have two – one extremely brief. Why is it groups of five or more? I mean, why can’t an individual – and I can think of several off the top of my head who are fabulously wealthy – who might be able to do this just on their own. So why is it limited to groups of five or more?

And then secondly, much more broadly, this administration has tried to make up for the reduction in admissions from the previous administration, but it has not yet come even close. And the first – for the first quarter of this fiscal year, the numbers are quite low. Why is that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Okay. So to go to your first question, why five or more, and you mentioned that wealthy people could do it.

QUESTION: Well, even moderately wealthy people can —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Because it’s not about money, Matt. It’s about commitment. It’s about the community. It’s about bringing people together and forming a group so that the refugees have more than one person that they can refer to and can work with. And it’s our view – it’s a lot of work involved in sponsoring a refugee – finding schools, helping them find affordable housing, getting their kids signed up for school, helping them find jobs, showing them where the pharmacy is, what bus to take. It’s a lot more than what the average American can do, and so we think that providing a group of five or more Americans is more likely to be successful, and it gives more resources to the incoming refugees – and creates greater connections with the community.

In terms of the numbers, you’re right; we are still working to build the numbers up in order to get to the President’s ambitious targets of 125,000 refugees admitted per year. We are doing that in a variety of ways. The launch of the Welcome Corps is one initiative, but we’re doing a lot of work with our traditional resettlement agency partners to try and speed up processing while maintaining the integrity and the security of the program and not in any way changing the requirements. Refugees are the most vetted individuals to enter this country.

So, we’re speeding up the processing. We are amplifying, expanding the ways that people can be referred for refugee resettlement in the United States – Welcome Corps and maybe the private individuals nominating refugees to come in this way, but we’re also expanding NGO referrals. We are asking our partners at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to expand the number of referrals they send us.

We’re also looking to clear out our backlog of cases. We are doing hiring. Our resettlement agency partners are doing hiring. So, there’s a lot of work going on.

While the numbers of people admitted, of refugees admitted in the first quarter, were not where we could like them to be, admissions of refugees is actually a lagging indicator. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service conducted over 20,000 interviews of refugees overseas. We expect that those people should be hitting our country within the next few months, and we expect and I am confident that you will see an increase in the number of refugees arriving in the months ahead.

MR PATEL: And Said, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you for doing this. Along the same lines but particular to Syrian refugees. And can you give us the status of Syrian refugees, figures and numbers? It went from a high of 16,000 in 2016 to as low as 4,000 during the past administration. And in 2020, I think this – last year was maybe 4,000 refugees. How are they admitted? Do they have to go through a third country? Can they leave directly from Syria, from embattled areas in Syria and so on?

And related to it, you opposed the re-allowing of Syrian refugees now back into Syria, or the United States —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Oh, the involuntary return.

QUESTION: Yeah, did not agree to it because they say conditions are not – are not ripe for them to return. So give us your take on that. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: So it’s a great question and it’s one that’s close to my heart. In November I visited Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan that hosts tens of thousands of Syrians. Look, the situation in Syria is terrible, and we don’t believe that conditions are right in Syria for people to be able to return safely, voluntarily, with dignity, and sustainably. It’s just not – it’s just not safe for people to return, and people – Syrians who have left the country don’t want to return voluntarily to Syria.

So, we’re looking for new solutions for them and working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t an effort that just the United States is undertaking. Other countries also are resettling refugees. So we are looking for avenues to find more durable solutions for these refugees, whether it is helping them to integrate in the countries where they have fled in search of safety, providing programs and assistance to them where they currently are. But then for those people who are the most vulnerable and face the greatest danger if they were to return to their own country, we’re looking for solutions like resettlement.

And we are confident that with all of the changes and all of the growth that we’re making to the refugee admissions program – whether it’s the Welcome Corps or the other initiatives that I talked about, we will be creating the conditions to bring refugees from vulnerable situations all over the world, whether it’s Syrians or Rohingya who are currently in Bangladesh or other people who need to flee to safety and to find solutions for them – again, working with our partners around the world, because this isn’t a burden or a responsibility that the United States is taking on alone.

But thanks for that question.

MR PATEL: Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. You probably saw that the rates of irregular border crossing in Europe reached an all-time high since 2016 last year. The – is there other programs or is there coordination with the EU for any refugees who would want – who could come to a European country but who could come to America instead, particularly in countries in Europe that are inundated with refugees? Is there more coordination to get more of them to come to the States through this particular program? And I’m sure that you can talk about the other programs as well, but more specifically this one.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We talk regularly with our partners in Europe and around the world with like-minded countries around the world to try and coordinate to find solutions to work together. It’s our view and the view of our partners – and I do talk regularly with the EU and with partners over there – it’s our view that this is a responsibility that democracies and that countries that love freedom and uphold human rights need to all work together. I mean, we faced a terrible milestone this past year when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that more than 100 million people are now forcibly displaced around the world. That’s over 1 percent of the world’s population. There has never been a higher number of forcibly displaced people.

So, we need to pursue all kinds of durable solutions, whether it is creating the conditions so that people can return to their home countries safely, voluntarily, with dignity – and that’s always the preferred solution, for people to be able to go home, but only when it’s safe – but also looking for initiatives and providing support and assistance to help people integrate where they happen to be. The resettlement solution is the most dramatic; it is also by far the smallest. Less than 1 percent of refugees around the world ultimately are resettled to third countries, and that – we really only use that solution for the most vulnerable: people who are fleeing religious persecution or human trafficking or who have been victims of torture.

So, it really is kind of the in extremis solution but it is one that that we take happily and voluntarily in the United States and that many of our partners do as well. So we’re working on all of those solutions at the same time, but I’m really happy that today we’re announcing the Welcome Corps as part of our solution for – and part of our means of bringing about resettlement here in the United States and tapping into Americans who have such a long, long history, as a nation of immigrants, of welcoming newcomers and making things better. And again, my own family history is proof of that.

MR PATEL: Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: Thank you, Vedant. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: We’ll work — I’ll get to you when we work the room. Thank you.

QUESTION: No, I want to know are there any protections for Americans? You are selling access to the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NOYES: We’re not selling access, and there are protections.

QUESTION: Yes, you are. The second – in the second aspect, you say private families —

MR PATEL: I will call on you when we work the room and I work through the briefing.

QUESTION: No, it won’t matter. You’re not going to have the answer. But I have what I need. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Matt, if you want to kick us off, you’re welcome anytime.

QUESTION: Yeah, so – yeah. Do you – just – I’m wondering if you’ve managed to find anything out about this report or this FSB claim that they’ve arrested an American citizen in Russia for espionage.

MR PATEL: So a couple of things, Matt. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We are aware of these unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen – unconfirmed – unconfirmed reports of an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia.

Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of U.S. citizens in Russia. Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the embassy of the trials, sentencings, or movement of U.S. citizens. We’re looking into this matter and we’ll continue to monitor. The Embassy in Moscow continues to engage with Russian authorities to ensure timely consular notifications and access to all U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, apart from whether or not there has been an espionage investigation, are you aware of any additional Americans having been detained for any reason in Russia by the Russians?

MR PATEL: I’m not —

QUESTION: Apart from this —

MR PATEL: I am not, but as you know, this is a number that fluctuates. And I will see if we have a more specific update for you. But I am not aware.

QUESTION: Can we stay on the subject of —

MR PATEL: Sure. Yeah, we can stay in the region. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. It’s funny you should mention timely notifications. The Russian national Anatoly Legkodymov was arrested yesterday in Miami, and the Russian embassy is saying that you didn’t guys follow an appropriate consular notification in his case. Why is that?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of that specific case. I would obviously refer you to local authorities in Miami as well on the specifics surrounding that, but I’m happy to check to see if there’s specific —

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t have anything?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates for you on that right now, but I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Okay. And one additional thing. Do you have any updates that you can publicly share on a potential swap, prisoner swap, between the United States and Russia? Anything new on that subject matter?

MR PATEL: Are you talking about as it relates to a specific case, or just generally?

QUESTION: No, no – I’m talking about – I’m referring to cases like that have been mentioned in the past. I’m not talking about Legkodymov or the case that Matt has referred to. I’m talking about past cases.

MR PATEL: Look, as it relates to wrongful detainees, wrongful detainee American citizens – not just in Russia, but in other countries also – this is a top priority for this Secretary and this President, and it’s something that this department continues to be deeply engaged on. Of course, we’re not going to offer specifics as it relates to those engagements, but this continues to be a top priority, and I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Said, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yes. Can I switch topics?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to go to the Palestinian issue.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Yedoith, the Israeli newspaper Yedoith, said that Ambassador Nides is going to announce or announced that the visa waiver for the Israelis is tied to how Israel treats and receives Palestinian Americans. Do you have any comment on that? Can you confirm that’s – what he’s saying, that’s what he’s telling the Israelis?

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t have any announcement to preview or to get ahead of. But what I would reiterate – and I think you saw the ambassador speak to this – is that we, of course, support steps in our bilateral relationship with Israel that would be beneficial for U.S. and Israeli citizens. One such step would be working together toward Israel fulfilling the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program. Secretary Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with Secretary Blinken, may designate countries for participation in the Visa Waiver Program if the country meets the established criteria.

At this time, Israel does not meet all of the Visa Waiver Program eligibility requirements. The U.S. Government is continuing to work with Israel towards fulfilling those requirements, such as, for example, extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals, including Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans to travel to and through Israel. And this includes Americans on the Palestinian population registry as well.

QUESTION: And related to that, so just to clarify, you’re saying that it is conditioned, really, to allowing Palestinian Americans to travel to the West Bank through Tel Aviv, for instance, through Ben Gurion Airport, right?

MR PATEL: The reciprocal issue that I mentioned continues to be one of the issues that still needs fulfillment, as it requires to – as it relates to the Visa Waiver Program eligibility.

QUESTION: Okay. Another thing. Palestinian Authority President Abbas told the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – so that’s what the Palestinians are saying – that he’s calling on the Biden administration to pressure Israel to quit its aggressive policies in the last few months – over the last couple of months, and so on. Have you received, like, an official request from the Palestinians that you ought to be doing that, or are you having that as part of your policy from here on forward?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic engagements to read out to you, Said. But our colleagues at the White House and the NSC just put out a readout on National Security Advisor Sullivan’s travels, and just to reiterate some of the things they – that they underscored is that – underscoring the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, as well as discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the region, including the threat posed by Iran, and progress and deepening normalization between Israel and other Arab countries. But I don’t have any other updates to offer.

QUESTION: Quick follow-up on this?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Stay in the region?

QUESTION: Yeah, they also discussed Ukraine, and the increase in defense partnership between Russia and Iran and its implications for security in the Middle East. Can you explain the most implications that the U.S. fear it would impact the region in light of this increase in cooperation between Iran and Russia, please?

MR PATEL: Well, this is a position that we have long held, that Iran’s destabilizing actions – most recently we’ve seen those precipitate as the provision of UAVs and other kinds of security assistance to Russia for use in Ukraine – is deeply destabilizing. It’s troubling not just for the world but also has immediate impacts on Israel and Israel’s neighbors, as well as other countries in the region as well.

Guita, go.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On – on Iran. But go ahead.

MR PATEL: Oh, sorry. Let me go to Guita and then I’ll come to you, Michel. Sorry. Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you. Speaking of the – Iran’s destabilizing activities, I want to go back to yesterday’s subject. The EU Parliament yesterday approved and today issued a resolution for the – to sanction human rights abusers in Iran in general, and also the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group – and I want to focus on this. Does the State Department think it’s a good idea for the EU to also designate the IRGC, just like the U.S. has?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to that, Guita. First, we are aware of the European Parliament’s resolution. The United States position on the IRGC has been quite clear. It is an entity that is subject to perhaps the most U.S. sanctions of any entity on the planet. We have also specifically sanctioned many IRGC leaders individually for their involvement in terrorism and human rights abuses. Ultimately though, Guita, it is up to each country – or in this case, up to the EU, EU blocs of countries – to determine what is applicable under their governing systems and their legal systems, and what is in their best interests.

As you know, we’ve applauded the EU’s recent designations of IRGC officials and entities for their involvement in the provision of drones to Russia, which are being used to fuel Russia’s infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty and used – being used to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. But beyond that, I don’t have anything additional to offer.

QUESTION: Well, it’s clearly – it is – yes, it’s – it depends on their laws and regulations and everything. It’s their decision. But the NSC tells us that the White House supports the designation and even encourages the EU to use all the authorities that they may have to designate the IRGC. So, does the State Department think differently from the NSC?

MR PATEL: I would have to refer you to our White House and NSC colleagues to clarify any comment that they gave you. But I would reiterate just what I said, which is that the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear. We have taken a number of steps, and have – as I said, it is an organization that is subject to perhaps some of the most U.S. sanctions. And ultimately, it is up to the EU bloc of countries to determine what kind of apparatus is most applicable or makes the most sense for the system that they have and what is in their best interest.

Michel.

QUESTION: Vedant, you continuously say that you consult with allies and partners on everything. It can’t be that this subject is an exception. What does the State Department, what has the State Department advised or talked about to the EU?

MR PATEL: We, of course, consult with our allies and partners on a number of issues, including – of course, our united approach when it comes to the Iranian regime’s malign and destabilizing activities. Of course, a lot of those discussions are private and will remain private, but again, the United States position on the IRGC is quite clear.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this, how do you see the impact of this possible designation on reviving the nuclear deal given the role of the Europeans through the negotiations?

MR PATEL: We have been clear for quite some time that the JCPOA is not on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda largely because the Iranians killed any possibility of it being on the agenda.

Michel.

QUESTION: He did ask my question, but I have another question on the Arab summit in Abu Dhabi.

MR PATEL: Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the summit, and do you know why Saudi Arabia and Kuwait didn’t attend?

MR PATEL: I would let other countries speak to their own multilateral and bilateral engagements and participation at any summit. We’re aware of the reports of a meeting in Abu Dhabi between several regional states, but obviously the United States was not a participant. But don’t have anything additional to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: In the back, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, about – it is true that this administration is considering withdrawing the $15 million reward that was issued for the capture of Nicolas Maduro?

MR PATEL: I am not aware or am not here to offer any new change in policy. Our sanctions policy on Venezuela remains unchanged. We will continue to implement and enforce our Venezuela sanctions in support of a return to democracy in Venezuela.

QUESTION: On Colombia, really quick, on the extradition of the brother of Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba to the United States. The senator says that neither she or – nor her brother have anything to do with drug trafficking, that this is just political persecution, she said. I would like to know, what do you think about these arguments?

MR PATEL: I am not aware of this specific request. I will let our Department of Justice colleagues speak specifically about any extradition requests that have come in specifically. But broadly speaking, of course we have an important working relationship with Colombia. The Secretary had the opportunity to visit the region – I believe it was in the late fall of last year – and we look forward to continuing engagements with them.

QUESTION: I have a last one on Cuba. Since United States is having contact with the Cuban regime, is this administration thinking in withdraw Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism?

MR PATEL: I have no change in policy to announce. I addressed this a little bit last week; the engagements that you’re referring to were specifically related to some security dialogues, regional security dialogues. I don’t have any other updates to offer beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to stay in the same region.

MR PATEL: Of course.

QUESTION: A little bit farther – Peru. I wonder if you have any concerns with the developments in Peru now with the demonstrations ongoing. There’s another big one for today. There were more deaths also this morning, two more. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting really any better. What is your position on that for the United States?

MR PATEL: Of course we remain concerned about the violent demonstrations. We also recognize the right of peaceful assembly, but most importantly we call for calm dialogue and for all parties to exercise restraint and nonviolence. We also welcome the Peruvian Government’s stated efforts to dialogue peacefully with the relevant actors and groups around the country. We also support the Peruvian Government’s efforts and commitment to investigate all deaths related to the protests.

Specifically. also, Leon, since you’ve asked the question, I want to also make sure that folks know that the U.S. embassy in Lima is in direct contact with a small number of U.S. citizens who do not wish to leave and are sheltering in place. And the Travel Advisory for Peru is at Level 3, which is “reconsider travel.” And we continue to recommend that U.S. citizens reconsider all travel to Peru at this time.

Go ahead. Actually, before I go to you, anything else in the region before we move around? Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. If you remember, I asked you last week about the sanctions on the CAATSA against Türkiye, and if a country like Türkiye was under sanctions, I ask if this country can buy the F-16. Because if I remember well, you sanctioned them and you cancelled the contract for F-35. Correct? So what changed and you want to give to Türkiye the F-16s? And also, tell us if Türkiye is still under sanctions.

MR PATEL: Specifically, I believe I answered your question last week, but to reiterate —

QUESTION: No, no, you took my question and they sent me an answer from your office.

MR PATEL: Understood. So, specifically on – as it relates to CAATSA, of course we make those assessments and any provisions of sales are made on a case-by-case basis. I don’t have any other specifics to offer right now.

But on F-16s, President Biden said last June, as a general matter, that we should sell Türkiye F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, we decline to comment until there is a formal notification process with Congress. Broadly speaking, though, the U.S. strongly values its partnerships with our NATO Ally Türkiye, and the U.S. and Türkiye have longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties, and Türkiye’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority for this administration.

QUESTION: I – can I follow up, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Because your people sent me an answer, and I thank you for that; also, they sent an answer to my colleagues. In your answer, you say that the sale of F-16s to Türkiye is not prohibited by these CAATSA sanctions provided Türkiye’s Presidency of Defense – it’s a company called SSB – is not a party to the transaction. You need to explain to us what is going on, because I think the Turks, they will change the name of the company to buy the F-16s, and as you understand, this is a fraud.

MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to get ahead of the process or —

QUESTION: Can you take the question, at least, because it’s very serious?

MR PATEL: — get into hypotheticals. As I’ve said, I would reiterate what Ned, the Secretary, what President Biden have said previously, which is that we should sell Türkiye the F-16 jets and modernize their fleet as well. However, when it comes to specific arms transfers, I’m just not going to get ahead of that process until formal notifications have happened to Congress.

Said.

QUESTION: Just on this point, the foreign minister, the Turkish foreign minister, said – I think today or late last night – that the F-16 sale is completely independent of whatever plans they have for northern Syria; whether they invade or not invade northern Syria, it should be independent of any NATO admission to Sweden and Finland – and so on. Is that your understanding of this deal, or is this deal conditioned on, let’s say, Türkiye refraining from attacking Syria and going along with the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to offer parallels or connections here. As it relates to the F-16s, we’ve been quite clear, but – and as it relates to incursions into Syria, we’ve also been quite clear. Ned spoke about this as recently as yesterday, in which – of course, we are very sensitive and want to make sure that any actions that happen in Syria do not degrade the important work that has happened over the recent years to degrade ISIS and their operability in the region.

I’m going to work the room a little bit because I already called on you. Dylan, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question about the Welcome Corps.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Hoping – I was hoping to ask the assistant secretary, but maybe you can answer as well. There’s a handful of organizations – about half a dozen – that the Welcome Corps is working with – NGOs and nonprofits that it’s working with to carry out the new policy and this new program. One of them is called the Church World Service. It’s a nonprofit that has advocated for things like abolishing ICE, it’s campaigned to defund the Border Patrol – various policies and priorities that the administration has said it stands against, it opposes. So, I’m just curious kind of what was the vetting process for the organizations that State is partnering with for this new program, and if you have any idea why this particular organization was chosen when there are others that were presumably available.

MR PATEL: Well, Dylan, the assessment on the – to take a little bit of a step back, the department is working with a consortium of nonprofit organizations with expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees into U.S. communities to support the Welcome Corps program. This consortium that I just mentioned will manage and oversee a process for vetting and certifying these private sponsors that want to welcome refugees. And it is specifically that metric that I just offered – expertise in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees – that I’m sure the assessment was made of who would be part of that consortium. And specifically, it is a reflection of that metric alone, and not some sort of linkage to any policy position, the ones that you described or otherwise.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry, I just want to take another stab at the potential prisoner swap issue.

MR PATEL: I answered your question.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I know. It’s a bit different.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: As you know, U.S. citizen Taylor Dudley was released by Russia several days ago. He returned here, as far as I understand, as a result of Bill Richardson – Bill Richardson’s effort, not as a result of a government-to-government negotiations. That’s my take; I might be wrong.

I wanted to know if this case changes – in any way, your thinking about the prisoner exchange issue. Do you think tri-actor, something like that, might be the preferable way to do this, judging by what Governor Richardson had been able to do, or not?

MR PATEL: So when it comes to the release of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, whether it be in the case of Trevor Reed, whether it be in the case of Brittney Griner, whether it be in the still-unresolved case that we continue to be fighting for regularly when it comes to Paul Whelan, there are channels that exist, there are channels that have been laid out by the two presidents, President Biden and President Putin, to have these discussions that are ongoing. And we continue to believe that those channels are the best avenues for these decisions and these things to come to a conclusion, as we have seen in the case of Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner as well.

QUESTION: Is that —

MR PATEL: Go ahead. I’m going to work the room a little bit. I called on you already. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you. You spoke somewhat generally earlier when you said that the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities regarding all U.S. citizens. I just wondered if you could say any more about this specific alleged case, about what the embassy, what the State Department is doing. Has the embassy reached out to – officially to try to confirm details about this individual, to request access if they are indeed in custody?

MR PATEL: You’re talking about the case that Matt raised at the beginning?

QUESTION: Yes, yes, off the top.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Sure, sure.

QUESTION: And what other efforts are ongoing and what sort of reception has the State Department and the embassy gotten.

MR PATEL: So again, we are aware of these unconfirmed reports that an investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia is taking place, but we continue to try and get as much information as we can. And I unfortunately don’t have additional specifics beyond that. But to reiterate, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is engaging with Russian authorities to ensure timely notifications, and to ensure access to all citizens – and broadly we are looking into this matter and will closely monitor the situation and get as much information as we can.

QUESTION: Have the Russian authorities responded at all at this point?

MR PATEL: I’m just not in a place to offer the specific tit-for-tat engagements, but this is something that we’re monitoring closely and we are engaging directly with the Russian authorities on this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Camilla.

QUESTION: Just on Afghanistan, 78 people have been reported dead due to conditions, harsh winter conditions in Afghanistan. Do you have any update on the talks between this department and the Taliban at all, anything that’s – whether these talks are still ongoing? That’s my question.

MR PATEL: So, I hadn’t seen that report, but I will see if we have any updates to offer on that. I will note we have over the past – since the Taliban takeover in August of 2021 provided more than 1.1 billion in U.S. humanitarian assistance. I will see if there’s a specific breakout for that as it relates to weatherization or for things that could help with the extreme cold or anything like that.

But broadly speaking, Camilla, I don’t have any updates to offer, but you saw the Secretary speak to this not just in his end-of-the-year press conference, but also – I believe, earlier this week as well. The Taliban’s policies towards women and girls are an affront to human rights, and as long as the Taliban repress women and girls, the Taliban’s relations with the international community are going to suffer. We’ve been quite clear, the Secretary’s been quite clear, to earn legitimacy and credibility, actions are going to need to speak loudly and they will need to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms to all Afghans, not just occasionally.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: I want to ask about Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Ask about —

QUESTION: Vietnam.

MR PATEL: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. A few days ago, Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc resigned in the middle of his term, which was reported to be surprising and unprecedented in its political history. Do you think it could have any diplomatic impact on U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship or Indo-Pacific region?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things on that. So we are aware of the reports of President Phuc’s resignation, and to state broadly, Vietnam is a valued partner of the United States and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of our comprehensive partnership later in 2023. We are confident that the positive momentum in our bilateral relationship will continue following a robust series of senior-level engagements in this past year, which included President Biden meeting with Prime Minister Minh Chinh at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in D.C. in May, as well as at the summit in Phnom Penh in November.

I would reiterate again that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership has never been stronger, and we have moved from a history of conflict and division to comprehensive partnership that spans political, security, economic, and people-to-people ties as well.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just want to ask what the U.S. thinks about Medvedev’s rhetoric and comments, the latest being, “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war.” And we’ve heard, like, this kind of really apocalyptic rhetoric from him repeatedly. Does the U.S. think he does speak for Putin, or, like, what is the U.S. assessment on —

MR PATEL: Well, I’m not going to parse who speaks for who in the Russian Federation. But to echo what you said, Humeyra, this is not the first time that we’ve seen such kind of rhetoric from Russia broadly. And candidly, we think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is not only dangerous, it is reckless. It adds to the risk of miscalculation and, candidly, it should be avoided – and we will not indulge on it. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Go ahead, Camilla.

QUESTION: In a similar vein, do you have – do you want to comment at all on the Iranian foreign minister’s comment that Iran does not see Crimea as a Russian territory, that they see Crimea and other annexed territories in Ukraine as Ukrainian? Do you welcome that comment from Iran?

MR PATEL: Well, this is another situation when it comes to the Iranian regime that actions should speak louder than words. We would agree that Crimea is Ukraine, and all the other annexed territories are Ukraine, also. But what we would not agree with is the deadly provision of UAVs that Iran has done to Russia so that Russia can carry out strikes on Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure in the middle of winter, all for their war that is illegal, unjust, and a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:48 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – January 13, 2023

13 Jan

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

2:04 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday the 13th to those that celebrate that.

QUESTION: Well, what do you have in store for us?

MR PATEL: So it’s a Friday the 13th in January, so I really don’t know what that actually is evocative of.

I have one brief thing at the top. So I want to address the possibly imminent execution of Iranian-British dual national Ali-Reza Akbari. The United States echoes the British Government’s strong call for Iran not to proceed with this execution and to release Mr. Akbari immediately. The charges against Ali-Reza Akbari and his sentencing to execution were politically motivated. His execution would be unconscionable.

We are greatly disturbed by the reports that Mr. Akbari was drugged, tortured while in custody, interrogated for thousands of hours, and forced to make false concessions.

More broadly, Iran’s practices of arbitrary and unjust detentions, forced confessions, and politically-motivated executions are completely unacceptable and must end.

With that, Matt, if you want to kick us off.

QUESTION: Sure, well, let’s just start with that. I mean, other than this public call, are you able to do anything about this?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview, Matt, but as we’ve said previously, we have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable. We have done so and taken action at various intervals over the past number of months, whether it be sanctions, whether it be designations of entities and individuals, doing so in robust in close coordination with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: But you would concede that those haven’t worked?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, I – what I would say is that the actions that we have taken have had an effect. They’ve had an effect in the sense that —

QUESTION: Well, they haven’t stopped the repression or these executions.

MR PATEL: I’m not trying to make the case that they have done that, but they have had an impact in further isolating the Iranian regime and making them more of a pariah on the national stage.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I just have one other which is completely unrelated.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: And that is – and I realize you guys have been looking for this and you may not have an answer – but do you have any more details on this agreement that the Secretary is going to sign this afternoon between NASA and Japan?

MR PATEL: Sure, Matt, let me share what I do have.

QUESTION: You do?

MR PATEL: It is largely similar to what Ned said today – yesterday – in that today Secretary —

QUESTION: Well, okay. That was almost nothing, so —

MR PATEL: If you’ll allow me, Secretary Blinken and the Japanese foreign minister will sign an agreement at NASA this afternoon that will build on our decades of cooperation and exploration and the use of outer space. This agreement underscores the commitment of the U.S. and Japan to safe and responsible outer space activities in Earth’s orbit, on the moon, and beyond. The U.S. and Japan are two of the original signatories of the Artemis Accords demonstrating our outstanding commitment to sustainable and transparent outer space exploration.

Now, to your specific question yesterday on the signing of this and its potential impact on forthcoming Artemis missions and the makeup of a crew and so on and so forth, I will let our NASA colleagues speak to that. I just don’t have any information on that piece of it.

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thank you.

MR PATEL: Great. Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Happy Friday. Just before I dive into my questions, to follow up with what Matt asked and based on your response, you wouldn’t say that you have exhausted your options, right? I mean there are still tools in your toolkit, just you haven’t used them yet.

MR PATEL: There are always tools in our toolkit, and I certainly wasn’t trying to make the case that we have exhausted our options. We continue to have tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and you’ve seen this administration take action from this department, from the Treasury Department, from other entities within the Executive Branch. We have done what we can to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ll continue to do so through this government but also in close coordination with our allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Is sanctioning the supreme leader for gross human rights violations on the table?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to – I’m not going to talk about what’s on or off the table. What I am going to say is that we have taken action, we continue to have tools at our disposal, and we’ll continue to do what we can and do it in close coordination with our allies and partners to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its egregious human rights violations, for its killing of its own people.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to Russia, the Secretary yesterday mentioned —

MR PATEL: Actually, can I – can we stay on the subject, and then I’ll come back to you.

Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. The European Parliament – members of the European Parliament are more and more calling for the EU to designate the IRGC was a terrorist group. Britain, the UK, is also – agrees with this. In addition, a member of the UK Parliament today, for example, called even for more actions, like recalling ambassadors from – or at least the UK ambassador for Iran – to Iran, expelling Iranian diplomats, completely stopping the JCPOA talks, snapback, and similar actions in this line. Does the Biden administration agree with the above actions in downgrading diplomatic relations or is it of the camp that thinks at least one channel of communication needs to stay open?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things, Guita. First and foremost, we have designated the IRGC, and that is because we continue to believe that the Iranian regime and largely through the IRGC it has taken part in malign and destabilizing activities, not just in the immediate region, but the world more broadly – activities that are harmful to not just the United States regional and national security but those of our allies and partners. I will leave it to other entities to speak to their own determinations and the own designations that they make within their own foreign policy.

Similarly, we’ll leave it to other countries to make their own determinations on their diplomatic relations with Iran and anything like that. But what I would say specifically to your question about the JCPOA, Guita, is that for some time – and this is not something new that I’ve said – the JCPOA is not on the agenda right now.

QUESTION: Yeah —

MR PATEL: Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple questions. China has suspended visas to South Korea and Japan. On the other hand, there are reports that China and the United States will increase flights between the two countries. How do you view about China’s differences – different situations?

MR PATEL: Are you speaking in the context of COVID-19 or in public health?

QUESTION: Yes, COVID-19.

MR PATEL: Understood. So I will – I am not going to speak to the public health measures that another country takes. What I will say is that the United States has always made its decisions – and our colleagues at the CDC can speak to this more greatly – on – they have based their decisions in science. And as you saw in December, in late December, we issued a mandatory testing requirement for flights originating from the PRC.

I don’t have anything else to preview in terms of the increase of flights or anything like that, but what I will say, Janne, again is that our decision making has been rooted in the science, rooted in transmission, in the prevalence of various variants, and I will let the CDC speak to those.

QUESTION: So do you think the South Korean Government response to COVID-19 based on scientific grounds was justified?

MR PATEL: Again, I will let other countries speak to their own public health measures. My understanding of the South Korean effort was that it was a similar testing requirement much like the one that the United States imposed, but again, I will let other countries speak to their own public health measures.

QUESTION: Lastly – lastly, what is the State Department position on the South Korean wants their own nuclear armament?

MR PATEL: Well, I think you saw President Yoon speak to this earlier this week, Janne. To take a little bit of a step back, the United States and the Republic of Korea continue to pursue what we view as a shared objective, which is a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And the Yoon administration has been very clear that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program and that it is working closely with the United States through existing extended deterrence mechanisms, and in fact, it is the DPRK that is pursuing an unlawful nuclear arsenal, raising nuclear tensions in the region, and taking part in destabilizing actions. So the U.S. is going to continue to work with the ROK and we’ll continue to work together to strengthen these extended deterrence programs in the face of the DPRK’s destabilizing actions.

QUESTION: So yesterday Pentagon and White House saying they want to be denuclearization – complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. So is it same page —

MR PATEL: That continues to be our goal, and the Yoon administration has been very clear that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Going back to you, Alex. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The Secretary yesterday met with Ambassador Tracy prior to her departure to Russia. Just wondering how does the Secretary envision her mandate, her role during the next couple of months and weeks. This is not the business as usual – or I should say diplomacy as usual – with Russia, right?

MR PATEL: Of course. Of course, and I spoke to this a little bit when Ambassador Tracy was confirmed by the Senate. Look, Alex, Russia is a country that we have bilateral relationships with, and I know that Ambassador Tracy for – once she gets to Moscow she looks forward to doing what she can to be an advocate for the issues that are important to the United States, and there are issues within the bilateral relationship that require the lines of communication to remain open. And we would like those lines of communications to remain open. That is equally true in quote/unquote “normal” times, but also true – and perhaps more important – in times of conflict like right now.

QUESTION: Ukraine has —

QUESTION: To confirm she’s getting there today, tomorrow —

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific date. I don’t have a specific date, but I have – am sure she intends to get there very soon. I can check if we’ve got a specific, but I’m sure our embassy will be in touch on that also.

QUESTION: Staying on diplomacy, Ukraine has claimed that Russians are trying to reach out to European countries for some unfavorable deal on behalf of Ukraine. What is the confidence level that Russia will not succeed in undermining European, trans-Eurasian unity?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I don’t understand your question.

QUESTION: Russians are sending out their diplomats to European countries and trying to fish some sort of, like, unfavorable deal. That’s based on Ukrainian intelligence assessment. What is your confidence level that they will not succeed in undermining your unity?

MR PATEL: Well, we have been in lockstep with our allies and partners since the genesis of this in February of last year. Over the course and over the varying turns of this conflict, you have seen through the various multilateral fora and otherwise the United States and its allies and partners be in unison about Russia’s unjust, its barbaric, its unlawful infringement on Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. You have also seen our allies and partners, including those in Europe, play an – a vital role in supporting our Ukrainian partners through security assistance, through humanitarian assistance, through other measures, and I have no doubt that that will continue.

QUESTION: Thank you. My last one on this: May I get your assessment on what’s going on in eastern Ukraine during the past 24 hours and how much this was a subject to today’s phone call between the Secretary and his counterpart?

MR PATEL: I don’t have – and I assume you’re speaking about Soledar? Yes. I don’t have any additional – anything additional to offer about Secretary Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Kuleba. But what I would say is that we’ve seen those same reports, just as we’ve seen the same reports from Russia and just as we’ve seen Ukrainian reports that refute – that say that the fighting continues.

Broadly speaking, though, Alex, I don’t want to get into specific battlefield assessments. But to widen the aperture, it is clear that Russia’s months-long campaign appears to have come at extreme and tremendous loss of personnel. Thousands of Russian unprepared and poorly equipped conscripts have been killed, and the Kremlin itself has acknowledged that its decision to attack Soledar has come at a high price. So we are going to continue to consult closely with our Ukrainian partners and assess the situation.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Switching topics?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay, the Palestinian issue. There was a report today in The Washington Times about the haunt – how Palestinian children are and haunted by the nightly raids by the Israeli occupation army. I wonder if you saw this.

MR PATEL: I’ve seen —

QUESTION: And if you have any comment on that.

MR PATEL: I saw the article, Said. And what I would – what I would say to that is I would point you back to what President Biden said last summer on his visit to Israel, and that he made quite clear that we continue to support a two-state solution. And the President noted that the two states living side by side remains the best way to ensure the future of equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

QUESTION: Well, this is great, but in the interim the Palestinian children continue to be targeted and haunted. I mean, since the beginning of the year, 10 Palestinians have been killed – 10 in the last 13 days, including one today – 13 – and dozens more injured. What can you do besides, I mean, talk about the two-state solution and so on? What can you do to provide protection for the Palestinians and Palestinian children? They are mainly — largely innocent.

MR PATEL: Said, we have been very vocal, not just from this briefing room but in the various other engagements that the Secretary and other senior officials have done from this department, about our continued support for a two-state solution and our opposition to policies that endanger its viability. This includes – and we have – continue to have a deep support for the equal administration of justice for all of those who live in Israel.

QUESTION: Well, your envoy to the Palestinians, Mr. Hady Amr, was just there like a day or two ago. What does he tell the Palestinians and the Israelis in this regard? What is the message? I mean, he was meeting with all – I don’t know if he met with any Israelis. But I mean, it – obviously that the Israelis greeted him with accelerated aggression against innocent Palestinians.

MR PATEL: Said, whenever we engage with both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, we continue to be very clear that we have a continued support for a two-state solution and opposition to policies that are going to endanger its viability. You have seen the Secretary speak to this; you have seen the President speak to this; it’s something Ned and I have been – have made quite clear as well.

QUESTION: If you would just bear with me.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The Palestinians are warning that Israel’s extremist policies and your ambiguity towards these extremist policies just put the whole thing in peril. Are you ambiguous towards this government and its conduct thus far – the Israeli Government?

MR PATEL: We – I don’t believe we’ve been ambiguous at all, Said. As we’ve said repeatedly from the beginning, we look forward to working with Israel to advance the interests and values that have long been at the heart of our bilateral relationship. I will also point you back to what Secretary Blinken said in December, that our engagement and our judgment with the new Israeli Government will be rooted in the policies they pursue, not based on personalities. And again we have been clear, and I have just said now again that we’ve been very clear, about our continued support for a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.

QUESTION: And lastly, I know maybe this is not your area or doesn’t really fall under the auspices of the State Department, but Harvard nullified a fellowship for the former head of Human Rights Watch, Mr. Ken Roth, because he criticized Israel. You certainly would have a position if Harvard denied the fellowship for someone because he criticized China, the human rights violations in China and elsewhere. Do you have any comment on this?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to – I’m not aware of this. I’m just hearing of this now. And obviously Harvard is a private institution, so I just don’t have anything to offer there.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any comment on this report by The Wall Street Journal that the Biden administration is preparing to seek congressional approval, it says, for a 20 billion sale of new F-16 jet fighters to Türkiye along with a separate sale of next-generation F-35 warplanes to Greece? Any comment on this?

MR PATEL: As a matter of policy, the department is not going to comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. But what I would say is that Türkiye and Greece both are vital, vital NATO Allies and we have a history of, of course, supporting their security apparatuses. But I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here.

QUESTION: And what about —

QUESTION: Do you have sanctions against Türkiye under CAATSA? Do you still have sanctions against Türkiye? Can you check?

MR PATEL: I would have to double-check, and we can – we can come back to you.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The same article said that Türkiye foreign minister is expected to visit Washington next week. Do you have any announcement about that and a potential meeting?

MR PATEL: As I just said, Türkiye is a vital and important NATO Ally, and Ned referenced this yesterday. We will have more to offer on the schedule in the forthcoming days, but I just don’t have anything to preview at this moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Going off the announcement today that the government expects to begin taking extraordinary measures to avoid breaching the debt ceiling, I was wondering if you could address how defaulting on that might impact the State Department’s operations and also the roiling of the global economy in general. What kind of ripple effect would that cause?

MR PATEL: Well, on the impacts of the economy, I will let my colleagues at the White House and other agencies speak to that. We of course – what I would say broadly, and speaking more specifically about our engagements with Congress, is that we engage with them on a variety of issues. I don’t have a specific assessment to offer on these negotiations. But we engage with Congress on a number of issues. We’ve done so in the 117th Congress and we’ll look forward to doing so with this Congress as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Another topic, if I may. Just a couple days ago, and effigy of the Türkish president was hanged across the city hall in the Swedish capital. Even the Swedish prime minister said that it’s extremely serious and a sabotage of their NATO application. From the same podium yesterday, your colleague Ned Price said that Sweden is ready to join NATO. This is what the United States believes. But don’t you think that with the recent developments that Sweden has still some distance to cover when it comes to eliminating terrorism on its soil?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple things, and I will echo what Ned said yesterday, is that of course Türkiye is facing a very complex security environment. And as we’ve said before, Türkiye is one of our NATO Allies that faces the most terrorist attacks. On this specific incident, I’m not familiar, so I’m going to – it obviously is deeply troubling. But what I would say is I would echo what Ned said, that we of course look forward to the accession of both Sweden and Finland to NATO, and we’re going to let that process continue to work its way out.

QUESTION: And I have a follow-up on that.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Because I want to learn what the United States believes at this moment because it sounds like, obviously, to the international audience that – as if Türkiye is blocking it for some kind of entertainment. But as you say, even the Swedish Government is acknowledging that they have not completed on their homework. What do you think on that? Because they still say that it’s extremely serious and there are terrorist activities on their soil, in their capital. What’s the United States position? Like, are they ready to join right now or do they still have some tasks to complete before they can join?

MR PATEL: Our assessment is that we would want Sweden and Finland to join NATO as soon as possible. But of course the United States is just one of the member nations, and this is a process that needs to be worked through, and we’ll let that process work itself out.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Cuba?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s a high-level delegation that’s going to be visiting Cuba soon, U.S. delegation. Does that indicate that maybe relations with Cuba is becoming more normalized or we’re on the cusp of normalized relations with Cuba?

MR PATEL: Are you speaking about the law enforcement —

QUESTION: Law enforcement, international law and all that stuff.

MR PATEL: Yeah, sure, sure.

QUESTION: But I’m sure that they will probably discuss —

MR PATEL: Said, let me – if you’ll let me offer some broader thoughts. So to – for those that might be tracking, U.S. and Cuban officials will meet as part of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue in Havana next week to discuss topics of bilateral interest on international law enforcement matters, increased international law enforcement cooperation, and this is an opportunity to enable the U.S. to better protect U.S. citizens and bring transnational criminals to justice.

The Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security will co-chair the dialogue for the United States. And broadly speaking, Said, to your question, improved law enforcement coordination between the United States and Cuba is in the best interest in the United States and the Cuban people. And during the dialogue, the U.S. and Cuba will address topics of bilateral interest.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: I have human rights-related questions involving Azerbaijan and then Georgia as well. Both you and Ned recently addressed recent arrests of leading activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and politician Tofig Yagublu in Azerbaijan. We’re receiving conflicting reports, but mostly all of them are about their health situation, which is worsening. My question is: Ned yesterday was talking about new initiative, and he said we’re going to use every possible tool that we have to get both the prisoners out of jail. I know they are not subject to a new initiative. But Assistant Secretary Donfried called Azerbaijan two days ago. Did she raise these cases?

MR PATEL: This is an issue that we continue to be deeply engaged on and raise directly. The U.S. remains strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we again in this case urge the government to respect its citizens’ rights, including the right to express views peacefully. I don’t have a specific call readout to offer for you, Alex, but as I said, this is something that we are paying very close attention to, and I will echo what Ned said when this was first raised, is that we are deeply troubled by these arrests and we urge authorities to release them expeditiously.

QUESTION: Thank you. And to Georgia, Ukraine upheld —

MR PATEL: I’ll come to you after, Leon.

Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Former President Saakashvili – now Ukraine asked the Georgian Government to transfer him for medical treatment to Ukraine. Does the United States Government support this idea?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update to offer on this since we last spoke about it. We continue to be deeply concerned and pay close attention to this situation, especially the state of his health.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just have —

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Leon.

QUESTION: I had a follow-up on the question on Cuba.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So you said that this meeting on law enforcement issues is in the best interest of the United States. Would you consider that it would be now in the best interests of the United States to actually normalize relations with Cuba?

And then second, so there’s this meeting on law enforcement issues, criminality, transnational, etc., but the United States still has Cuba on the supporting terrorism list, on its list of supporting – states supporting terrorism. How do you justify having that meeting in Cuba while the country is still on your official list of sponsoring terrorism?

MR PATEL: Can you repeat the second part of your question, Leon? Sorry.

QUESTION: Basically how do you justify having this kind of meeting on specifically law enforcement issues in general while at the same time keeping the country on the terrorism list?

MR PATEL: Well, Leon, there continue to be, obviously, concerns and human rights concerns that exist. But I would say broadly, to widen the aperture a little bit, Leon, following the large-scale protests that we saw last summer, President Biden directed the department to act in two primary areas. The first was to promote accountability for human rights abuses, for which we have announced previously several rounds of sanctions targeting those individuals and entities with direct ties to human rights violations.

Specifically within the context of these – this dialogue, let me see if I have some more information for you. But as I said, engaging in these talks underscores our commitment to pursuing constructive discussions with the Government of Cuba where appropriate to advance U.S. interests.

Our belief is, is that establishing and increasing channels for law enforcement cooperation to better address transnational threats is not at the expense of the serious human rights concerns that we continue to have. And we’ve integrated these human rights concerns and protections into all of our interactions with the Cuban Government.

QUESTION: Vedant, isn’t the real answer that this administration does not agree with the previous administration’s determination to put Cuba back on the SSOT list, and that you’ve been looking for a way to take them off since —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any —

QUESTION: — coming into office —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any update to offer that —

QUESTION: — and therefore, that a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate, given what you believe is —

MR PATEL: Oh, a law enforcement dialogue is not inappropriate for a variety of reasons, including the ones that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Well, how many do you have with Iran? None.

MR PATEL: Those are slightly different circumstances.

QUESTION: How many do you – well, but in terms of the SSOT. Anyway, I want to just check to make sure that there are no updates on the special counsel, the documents, and Secretary Blinken, right? Nothing?

MR PATEL: I have no updates to offer beyond what Ned said yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up, if I may. As a general policy, do you sell weapons to any country that is under CAATSA sanctions?

MR PATEL: Sorry, can you repeat your question?

QUESTION: I’m asking that as a general policy – I’m not asking about Türkiye, okay – as a general policy, do you sell weapons – planes, boats anything – to any country that is under CAATSA sanctions?

MR PATEL: What I would say broadly – and I will check specifically if there is a specific framework or definition to offer – is that we of course support the security apparatuses of a number of countries. But broadly speaking, as it relates to this specific situation – I know you’re not asking that at this time, but you did previously – we’re just not going to get ahead of the process that we have in place as it relates to congressional notifications.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Have a good weekend.

MR PATEL: Have a great weekend, everybody, a great long weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)

# # #

1. …confession.

 

Turkish Court Upholds Conviction of Osman Kavala

29 Dec

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

The United States is deeply troubled and disappointed by a Turkish court’s decision to uphold the conviction of Osman Kavala today.  As we have said before, his unjust conviction is inconsistent with respect for human rights and the rule of law.  We again call on Turkey to release Osman Kavala, in keeping with European Court of Human Rights rulings, as well as to free all others arbitrarily incarcerated. The people of Turkey deserve to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of retribution. 

Department Press Briefing – December 16, 2022

16 Dec

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:02 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday to those that celebrate. I have one quick thing and then I’m happy to dive right into your questions.

So today Secretary Blinken inaugurated the new Office of China Coordination, informally known as China House.

We launched China House because we recognize that the scale, scope, and stakes of strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China requires us to think, collaborate, and act in new ways.

It will be integrated department-wide – it’ll be an integrated, department-wide center empowered to lead in the development and implementation of China policy.

China House is a key part of Secretary Blinken’s modernization agenda that will help our diplomats meet the challenge of the 21st century.

And with that, I’m happy to turn to your questions. John, I don’t know if you want to kick us off today?

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll try.

MR PATEL: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The President of the United States was asked about Patriots going to Ukraine and he said something along the lines of wait a few minutes. And so I’m wondering if you do have any kind of update for us of whether or not that has been approved and is going through.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. I don’t have any new security assistance packages to speak to today, but both President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been pretty clear about this, that the United States will support – continue to support – Ukraine for as long as it takes, alongside our allies and partners, as the people of Ukraine defend their country from Russia’s aggression.

In recent weeks, I will also note that our assistance has included equipment to help Ukraine counter Russia’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, including two NASAMS, which Ukraine has reported to be quite effective, as well as missiles for the HAWK air defense systems, which have been donated by our allies and partners. And we’re going to continue to work with Ukraine with security assistance for as long as it takes.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m just back from months in Ukraine. And I’m wondering if the United States still has a policy of not wanting Ukraine to use U.S.-supplied munitions to respond to these attacks by hitting Russian launch sites on the other side of the border in Russia. Is that still policy? And if so, how is that still policy? Does that not deny Ukraine the ability to defend itself under international law?

MR PATEL: First of all, welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Welcome back. But more broadly, we have been very clear over the course of this conflict that the security assistance that we have provided is meant to be used for Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity and to defend its sovereignty and used to defend the territories that belong to Ukraine that are within its own recognized borders. And that continues to be our policy.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Jonathan’s question?

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: There were – I think last week or the week before, there were incidents where actually, inside Russia, bases and places, were struck by missiles. Was that done by, like, the U.S. approval of Ukraine doing that?

MR PATEL: Said, our —

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Said, our answer on that is the same as it was last week and the – I think it might have been the week prior, actually. It’s still no one has reported – taken responsibility for those strikes. But broadly speaking, we’re going to continue to do everything in our power to support Ukraine and to support Ukrainian efforts to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

QUESTION: Okay, so that includes strikes of places in Russia that may be the source of missiles and so on?

MR PATEL: That is – that is not what I am saying, Said. As I – we have been quite clear over the course of this conflict, we are supporting Ukrainian efforts to defend their territorial integrity and to defend their sovereignty, and to defend the territory that Russia has illegally invaded and illegally occupied that belongs to Ukraine.

Leon.

QUESTION: Yeah – sorry, different topic. I have a question on Elon Musk. He’s getting backlash for having suspended – Twitter suspended several accounts of American journalists. What message do you think that sends to the world that in the United States one would suppress journalist accounts?

MR PATEL: So let me say a couple of things. First, social media companies make their own independent decisions about content moderation, and I’m not going to comment on their specific private actions. But what I will say is that this department’s support for free speech and freedom of the press is well documented, and it is certainly difficult to square how these removals are consistent with promoting free exchange. But again, social media companies make their own independent decisions on content moderation, and I’m just not going to speak to those actions.

QUESTION: By the way, they suspended me without explanation.

MR PATEL: Again, Said —

QUESTION: Last week.

MR PATEL: — our support for free speech and freedom of the press is well documented.

Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. The Mexican foreign minister is meeting the Secretary today. Next week, the administration is set to lift Title 42. December 21st a surge of migrants is expected on the border. Is this going to be a key topic of discussion between the foreign minister and the Secretary today?

MR PATEL: So let me offer some thoughts about what the Secretary and the foreign minister are going to talk about today. First, the Secretary congratulated Foreign Secretary Ebrard on the bicentennial of our bilateral relations and noted the upcoming North American Leaders’ Summit and offered it as an opportunity to once again showcase the historic relationship between the United States and Mexico. They also discussed the close partnership between the U.S. and Mexico on various bilateral and multilateral issues as well as progress being made together in achieving shared regional goals on security, humane migration management, and protection and other economic competitiveness issues. He also spoke to the foreign secretary about continuing support for Haiti and safeguarding democratic institutions in Peru. And he also noted the importance of resolving trade disputes to bolster regional competitiveness and strengthen economic integration in North America.

On your specific question about Title 42, I am sure our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security and the White House can speak more broadly about the measures that they’re going to be implementing in place for a humane management and – of migration at the border, but broadly, and I think Ned and I both touched on this earlier in this week, we have since the beginning of this administration viewed migration as a regional and hemispheric challenge and one that we will continue to work through with our partners and allies in the region and of course including Mexico.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. A couple of questions. Before that, I want to follow up on Patriots as well. You said that you have no announcement for today. The day is not over yet. Can we still expect in the coming hours some announcement from the administration on this?

MR PATEL: I —

QUESTION: And what is your – second part of this question, what is your response to Moscow’s – Kremlin’s warning about potential consequences if Washington does pursue with that plan?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, again, I don’t have any new security assistance packages to speak to. I’m just not going to get ahead of that process. But what I would say to Moscow’s comments is that the only provocative measures that have been taken over the course of this entire conflict are being made by Russia. Russia is the aggressor in this situation, and let’s not forget that. It also would be important for me to remind you, Alex, that the U.S. is not now nor has it ever been at war with Russia. And we’ve been doing exactly what President Biden told President Putin – would do is that if Russia attacked Ukraine, we would provide security assistance and help Ukraine defend itself and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. We’ve also taken steps to hold the Russian Federation to account through sanctions, through export controls, and other measures, a tranche of which we announced yesterday.

I will also note that with Moscow saying that – offering a list of what it considers lawful targets, that among the list of its lawful targets also includes civilian infrastructure in cities across Ukraine, where they’ve targeted apartment buildings, shopping malls, hospitals, playgrounds, museums, maternity wards. Over the nine months of this conflict, Russia has struck more than 200 targets related to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, threatening to freeze, to starve, and force Ukrainian civilians from their homes in the midst of winter. So, again, I don’t have any new security assistance to announce, but we will do everything we can to continue to support the Ukrainian people.

QUESTION: And staying on that energy issue, Ned tweeted today that the first shipment of any emergency repair equipment already arrived. Do you have a timeline – was the second – when should we expect second one (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a timeline to preview, but again would reiterate that an initial tranche of that equipment from the initial announced 53 million in electric grid support has arrived. More of course will come to help Ukraine rebuild the backbone of their power transmission system, which is of course critical to keeping the lights on and homes warm throughout the winter. Us in close coordination with our National Labs and the Department of Energy and the interagency will continue to identify equipment that can be used and can be sent from the U.S. to support these efforts, and we’ll continue this work. But I don’t have any other specifics to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you. And last, I want to bring Azerbaijan to this picture. So Azerbaijan decided to respond to Ukraine’s request and to send some generators, equipment to address energy issue. Apparently Russians are uneasy about that. We heard from TASS news agency quoting the foreign minister that apparently they don’t consider that as humanitarian effort or humanitarian help. Where do you draw that line and what is your reaction to Russians discouraging other countries helping Ukrainians at the time of need?

MR PATEL: What I would say broadly on this, Alex, is over the course of this conflict, of course the United States has played a role in offering humanitarian assistance and economic assistance to our Ukrainian partners, but other countries have stepped up to do so as well. I can’t speak to the specific reporting on the gas generators, but what I would say is that we would continue to welcome the support from our allies and partners and countries around the world to help Ukraine bolster its energy grid, make it more robust so that it can withstand the constant targeting of the energy infrastructure that we’re seeing by Russia.

Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. So today is – today marks the third month since Mahsa Amini was murdered in Iran, and the U.S. has shown that it stood by the Iranian people, whether by unilateral actions or taking the case to the United Nation and kicking Iran out of the Commission of Status of Women. Now, do you think tools that – there are enough tools left in the U.S. toolbox – because the killing has not stopped – to be used to be – to work effectively to stop the killing by the regime? And do – does the U.S. State Department has any plan to modernize its approach to Iran like, let’s say, create an Iran house?

And then I have two other nuclear question to follow.

MR PATEL: Sure. Let me say a couple things. First and foremost, we are gravely concerned that authorities reportedly continue to kill more of their own people in an effort to suppress peaceful protests, protests that we’re seeing being led by women, girls, and the youth of Iran. We also continue to remain deeply concerned about reports of mass arrests, sham trials, and now death sentences being handed down to protesters and carried out as well, as well as the very clear state-sponsored violence against women that we’re seeing across Iran. To be very clear, the eyes of the world are upon Iran right now – and human rights – inflicted by Iran’s government on its own people must not go without consequence.

And to your question about the tools we have in our tool belt, just because we use a tool once does not mean that it goes away or that we no longer have it at our disposal. And I will note that at various junctures since the death of Mahsa Amini, the United States has taken forceful action to address the human rights violations being made by the Iranian regime, whether it be sanctioning security apparatuses, whether it be sanctioning specific individuals, whether it be designating entities within Iran, whether it be bringing licenses available so that the Iranian people can have greater access to the free flow of information.

We’ve had those tools at our disposal. We’ve taken action with those tools and we’ll continue to do so. I’m not going to preview any set of actions from here, but we continue to believe that these tools that we have not only will hold the Iranian regime accountable but will help the Iranian people as well in their efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the nuclear, Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli designate prime minister, in an interview with Al Arabiya English said in the past his government did operations to roll back Iran’s nuclear program without telling U.S.A. because a) U.S.A. would have disapproved or posted or leaked it to the media. Now in the coming week he’s going to be the prime minister, and so how do you evaluate what he says with your approach or the Biden administration approach that diplomacy is still the best path to resolve or to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things on that. First and foremost, the exact composition of – and makeup of the upcoming Israeli Government is still to be determined, so I’m just not going to get ahead of that process. As Secretary Blinken made clear in his speech to J Street, we look forward to working with the Israeli Government and we’ll do so rooted in the policies that they pursue.

Specifically on Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, the President and the Secretary have been very clear that – since the beginning of this administration that we’ll do everything in our power to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. But specifically – and you’ve seen Ned and others speak to this – we have been clear also that the JCPOA is not our focus right now, and we candidly remain very skeptical of anything coming out of Tehran on this issue, whether it be issues relating to the IAEA or other things. So again, I’m just not going to get ahead or get beyond the process on this right now.

QUESTION: And the last one.

MR PATEL: Go ahead. And we’re going to need to work the room a little, but go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, sure. So on Monday, the United Nations Security Council will have a regular meeting on the UNSCR 2231, which was – which endorsed the JCPOA. Now, you from this podium and other colleagues have said that Iran is in breach of this United Nations Security Council resolution by selling drones to Ukraine. What is U.S. policy, or how are you going to go forward on that day with the report that’s coming up?

MR PATEL:  Well, a report is not public yet, so I’m certainly not going to get ahead of that process, and – nor am I going to get into internal UN deliberations. But as I’ve previously said, as others, that Russia’s acquisition of UAVs from Iran, it very seriously contravenes UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which places restrictions on transfers of missile-related technology to or from Iran. And specifically, when we spoke about the transfer of these UAVs, it was because of the type and the range that these UAVs have.

This resolution, I’ll remind you, was adopted in July of 2015. It established these critical restrictions. All council members, including Russia, voted for it. Russia was involved in negotiating its provisions. And Iran provided Russia with these drones, which Moscow is now using to wreak havoc on Ukrainian people. This is in clear violation of Resolution 2231, and there is no doubt that the transfer occurred without the advance case-by-case approval by the council, which is how it should have unfolded. But again, I’m just not going to get ahead of the UN internal deliberations on this.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you. This is Ryo Kiyomiya from Asahi newspaper. This morning Japan released its new national security document, and Secretary Blinken has already issued a comment. And Japan says it aims to procure U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles. So does State Department support Japan’s purchase of Tomahawks? And will the U.S. plan to share its intelligence and the surveillance capability to Japan in order to use such missiles?

MR PATEL:  Let me say a couple of things. First, as you saw Secretary Blinken speak to, the United States of America and this department welcomes Japan’s new national security strategy, national defense strategy, and defense buildup program. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made clear, including in our very own National Security Strategy, our alliances and partnerships are our most important strategic asset. And Japan’s new documents reshape the ability of our alliance to promote peace and protect the rules-based world order, not just in the Indo-Pacific but around the world as well.

As a matter of policy, though, I’m just not going to comment on arms sales or any transfers of security assets, potential or otherwise, before they go through the formal congressional notification process.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  So is U.S. open to revise the current guidelines for U.S.-Japan defense cooperation following the release of Japan’s new security –

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any new announcement to make here. But I would just reiterate that we applaud Japan’s commitment to modernize our alliance through increased investment in enhanced roles, missions, and capabilities and a closer defense cooperation.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  My question is on the same topic. I’d like to know if Japan’s announcement on the new national security strategy investing in counterstrike capabilities against missile attacks from North Korea and China, if the U.S. welcoming decision by Japan is echoing the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying last month that China playing a constructive role in restraining North Korea. So my question is: Is the U.S., in a way, pressuring China to use the leverage it has on North Korea? And with the Japan’s new announcement, how will the U.S. posture within the region change in countering North Korea?

MR PATEL:  Let me say a couple of things. And I think I speak to this late last week as well. When President Biden and President Xi had the opportunity to meet on the margins of the G20, they discussed – President Biden raised concerns about the DPRK’s provocative behavior and noted that all members of the international community, including the PRC, have a vested interest in acting responsibly.

Beyond that, I don’t have any specific updates to offer. I would just, again, note that we welcome Japan’s new national security strategy. And as President Biden and the Secretary have been clear, these kinds of alliances and partnerships are one of our most strategic assets, and we look forward to continuing to work with our Japanese partners on this.

QUESTION:  And —

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room a little bit.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you. Two quick questions on the Palestinian issue.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Yesterday the United Nations Committee on Economic and Financial Questions adopted in the Second Committee a draft resolution titled “Permanent Sovereignty of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and…the Arab Population in the Occupied Syrian Golan over their Natural Resources.” 157 countries voted for it. The United States voted against it, along with (inaudible) and the Marshall Islands and a couple of other countries.

Why would the United States have voted against such a thing? I mean, you always are calling for a two-state solution and so on.

MR PATEL:  Well, Said, we have been quite clear that we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity and democracy, and we can’t stress this enough. This is a foundational view of this administration and this will always be our approach to the region.

I’m going to get back to you specifically on this vote to see if we have any more to offer, but —

QUESTION: Please do, because I don’t believe that you would oppose Palestinian in drilling for water on their own land, do you?

MR PATEL: Again, Said, I’m just going to have to – I’m going to have to get back to you on this, on this specific measure.

QUESTION: Okay. Another question on the upcoming Israeli Government. Yesterday, in an interview with NPR, the coming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Ben-Gvir, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and he said that he would be responsible for the policies and so on – in other words, cutting off any debate, including major opposition in the United States of America. Would that be satisfactory to you, that – to have someone like Ben-Gvir in the government, to have someone like (inaudible) in the government, if the prime minister of Israel would assume responsibility for all decisions? Would that be fine with you?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to comment on hypotheticals or speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition when it hasn’t formally been set in stone yet. But what I will say is that we believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral actions that will incite tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, and that continues to be our belief and policy on this.

QUESTION: If I may, I just want to rephrase my question. He’s basically saying that it’s okay – and he will – I mean, he’s the designated prime minister; he forms the government – Ben-Gvir, to have him responsible for the police, which will be responsible for the Palestinians. Would that be okay with you, as long as the final decision-maker is Benjamin Netanyahu?

MR PATEL: Said, again, I’m just not going to speculate on the exact composition of the next governing coalition. It would be inappropriate for us to do so.

Dylan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s been a busy couple weeks for China. We’ve seen, just recently, President Xi visited Saudi Arabia at a time when the U.S.-Saudi relationship has gotten a little more tense. China’s reportedly trying to increase Russian energy imports and strengthen economic ties. Xi talked about buying oil in Chinese currency, which would obviously undermine the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency. You guys have repeatedly said that countries don’t have to choose between the U.S. and China. Secretary Blinken said this yesterday, in fact. Is that still a tenable position in your eyes, given how much China seems to be encroaching further and further on U.S. interests, especially recently?

MR PATEL: That continues to be our policy, and you’ve seen us make this quite clear with countries recently, including in the context of the African Leaders Summit, as you mentioned. We, the United States, have a relationship with China, and so do many of our allies and partners around the world. And it’s not for us to say what a bilateral relationship between any two other countries should necessarily look like. And what we have always tried to do is offer countries a choice, and to offer and put very clearly on the table what the comparative advantage of a partnership and engagement with the United States could and would look like. And we’ve continued to do that, quite literally.

QUESTION: So the Secretary of Defense says that China’s influence on Africa, for example, is a destabilizing threat. Is that – do you guys disagree with that or view it differently?

MR PATEL: I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to Secretary Austin’s comments. But in speaking to this very similar question yesterday, you saw the Secretary be quite clear. The African Leaders Summit is about – was about one region and one region only, and it was about Africa, and it was about the United States deepening its engagement and deepening its partnerships with countries across the African continent and putting out there very clearly the comparative advantage to what a partnership with the United States could look like.

Goyal, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, please.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One, how dangerous is TikTok as far this building is concerned? And number two, Secretary and Indian foreign minister have met, of course, many times, and I’m sure they must have discussed Ukraine war and Russia’s attack on the war and on what is going beyond nine months. How seriously Secretary is thinking when Prime Minister Modi said end the war to President Putin?

MR PATEL: Well, we would take the prime minister at his word, and we welcomed those comments when they took place. Ultimately, though, other countries will make their own decisions on its engagements with both – when it comes to Russia. But we continue to coordinate with allies and partners to mitigate the impact of Putin’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, and especially as it’s related to its impacts on energy markets as well.

QUESTION: And sir – sorry – you think India has a role to play to stop the war as far as Russia’s still going on and innocent people are being killed by a superpower to a tiny country?

MR PATEL: Any country that is interested in engaging in a peace or interested in ending this war would need to so in close coordination and partnership with our Ukrainian partners. This – we will continue doing everything we can to support them and that this needs to come to a conclusion on their terms.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. On China House, could you please share more details about it? It’s reported that this team is going to have 60 to 70 experts and from China desk to China House. What is the main difference?

MR PATEL: So to widen the aperture a little bit, the staffing patterns will be adjusted to meet the various needs. I will note that the China desk was already the largest single country desk at the State Department, and with this new iteration of China House it will include an even larger but integrated team and draw from across organizations to address the scale and scope and the relation – the challenges posed.

To speak more broadly, I think Secretary Blinken has said it best, that the scale and scope of the challenge posed by the PRC will test U.S. diplomacy like we’ve not seen before, and that is the genesis of the China House: a fully integrated team with expertise from across the department that is going to serve really as a matrix or a clearinghouse of ideas to work on China policy, to work on policy that touches all corners of this building. And what it’s going to do is it will – it’ll equip and empower work being done across the department and have it be coordinated in a singular way.

QUESTION: And in the statement this morning, you said, “China House will ensure the U.S. Government is able to responsibly manage our competition with … PRC.” It didn’t mention anything about cooperation with China. So is this office mainly created to confront China?

MR PATEL: Pardon me. What?

QUESTION: Is this office created mainly to confront China?

MR PATEL: This office was created to serve as a clearinghouse of sorts, as a matrix, with inputs from all over the department to work on issues relating to the PRC. And that work formally launched today in this iteration of China House, and we look forward to having more to share on this in the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Is the —

Kylie, go ahead. I need to work the room a little bit.

QUESTION: Quick question, just following up while we’re on China —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — and given the conversations on TikTok on the Hill. Is TikTok allowed on a U.S. diplomats’ phone, and is that app something that you guys are reviewing at all in this building?

MR PATEL: I would have to check the specifics, but it is my understanding that it is not an – a cleared app for U.S. government devices. But I would have to check on specifics, and we can get back to you on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then I’m sorry I came in late; has Peru come up at all?

MR PATEL: It has not. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So there are reports that there are about 300 tourists who are stuck in Machu Picchu, obviously after the president of Peru was ousted, and there are all these protests and the railways aren’t running right now. Are any of those tourists Americans that the State Department knows of, and what are you doing to support them if they are?

MR PATEL: So the – I don’t know the specifics of that report. I’m happy to check and see if the makeup of that group includes any Americans and we can get back to you on that. But broadly speaking, the U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates have no greater priority than the safety and security of our citizens overseas. The embassy of Peru issued multiple alerts since December 7th, and we’ll continue to evaluate the security situation and provide updates to U.S. citizens as appropriate. But I’ll have to check on that specific situation.

QUESTION: That would be great, thanks.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Earlier today, DPRK has announced it has successfully tested a solid-fueled rocket motor which enables to bolster its ICBM capability. Do you have anything to comment on that?

MR PATEL: I have not seen that – the – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Regarding the – today’s announcement by DPRK to test successfully its solid-fueled rocket motor.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. I don’t have anything specific to offer on that reporting, but what I will say is that we have been very clear over the course of this administration and have condemned numerous provocations by the DPRK, including various ballistic missile launches, including ICBM missile tests. And we continue to call on the international community to aid in holding the DPRK accountable, and we also believe that these actions are irresponsible, they’re increasingly dangerous, and they are destabilizing not just for the broader region but the world as well.

Shannon, in the back.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the meeting the White House announced earlier this week that they’d be having with Russian officials over the case – Paul Whelan’s case and trying to win his freedom. I know there’s a very limited amount you can say about it, but can you confirm that meeting took place? And is there anything you can read out? Was it productive? And also, we saw today Brittney Griner breaking her silence, releasing her first statement since coming back to the U.S. and she said that she’s committed to doing everything she can to help free Paul Whelan. Of course, there is a limited role that people outside the department are welcome to play. I wondered if you could say anything to what you saw her role being going forward, if there’s anything productive that U.S. citizens outside of the State Department can do to either draw attention to these cases or to play a productive role.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, on the specific meeting, we are not going to provide details on the meetings that we have over sensitive channels to discuss the release of wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. But as President Biden said directly to the Whelan family – and U.S. senior officials are working on this case, and we have said directly to Paul, we have not forgotten about him and we’ll continue to pursue every avenue for his release.

And on that same subject, I will let Brittney Griner’s representatives speak specifically to any questions about her, but what I’ll note is that there are channels where we discuss prisoner issues, and they have proven effective in multiple cases. And we are confident that they will be effective once again.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Shifting to South Caucasus, a couple of questions. On Nagorno‑Karabakh problem, has anyone in this building been in touch with either Baku or Yerevan this week this week to sort things out? We still keep hearing different narratives.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific calls or readouts to offer, but let me offer this, Alex. The closure of the Lachin Corridor has potentially severe humanitarian implications and, quite candidly, sets back the peace process. We’re pleased that natural gas to Nagorno-Karabakh has been restored. Disruptions to energy infrastructure could precipitate a humanitarian crisis, as I said. And we call on the restoration of free movement through the corridor as soon as possible, and the way forward to this is through negotiations.

QUESTION: And does the administration believe that the sides are still interested in signing a peace agreement by the end of the year?

MR PATEL: I wouldn’t assign a timeline to it, Alex, but this is something that, as you – you’ve covered this issue quite closely. This is something that you know that the Secretary has a great interest in and has paid very close attention to, other senior leaders across the department have as well, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on and get to cross the finish line.

QUESTION: And two more on the human rights —

MR PATEL: I’m going to – got – I’m going to let John go, and then we probably need to wrap up, guys.

QUESTION: Yeah, back to Ukraine.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The chief of the general’s staff – Ukrainian general’s staff said in an interview to – I think it was the Economist – that he’s concerned that the Russians are preparing to launch a winter offensive in February. I’m wondering if this is something that the United States has also been tracking and whether or not the United States has communicated to Russia its – any kind of warning against doing so.

MR PATEL: So I’m certainly not going to get into intelligent assessments or anything like that from here, but to broaden the aperture a little bit, no one wants peace more than Ukraine. And President Zelenskyy has outlined the principles on which a just peace should rest, and that includes an end to the targeted missile barrages and the withdrawal of Russian forces. And Russia continues to be the sole obstacle to peace and the sole obstacle to this process. Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, again, demonstrate that President Putin has no interest in meaningful diplomacy. But I’m just not going to get into any other intelligence information from here.

Let’s go – one final question and then we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: Last on – on China, the U.S. embassy and consulates in China have suspended most of the service because of COVID. I’m just wondering if you have a timeframe when the service will resume?

MR PATEL: Let me check – so Ambassador Burns and other mission officials are working closely on this, and they’re working to ensure the safety and health and the wellbeing of American citizens in the PRC. The U.S. mission in China continues normal operations and consular services, but I’m happy to check and see if there is a more specific update for you.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – December 14, 2022

14 Dec

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:03 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Hey, everybody. Good afternoon. Thanks so much for joining us today, and for those of you joining us on the phone thanks again. I have one very brief thing at the top, and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

So, first, today’s successful vote by the UN Economic and Social Council to remove Iran from the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women sends an unmistakable message of support from around the world to the brave people of Iran. The U.S. is proud to have worked with our partners to remove Iran from a body whose values and mission the current Iranian regime fails to uphold. The United States reiterates our unwavering support for the people of Iran.

And with that, I’m happy to start taking your questions. Operator, will you please repeat instructions on how to ask questions?

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1, then 0 on your phone. Press 1, then 0 only one time, as a second time will remove you from the question and answer queue. Once again, for your questions, please press 1, then 0.

MR PATEL: Let’s first go to the line of Jenny Hansler with CNN.

OPERATOR: Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant, thanks for doing the briefing. Two questions, one on these – FSB agent that was arrested in Estonia. Does State have any information or comments on that?

And then the Ukrainians said they returned an American in a prisoner swap today. Do you have any information on this person’s identity or anything else you can share? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Sure. I’ll take your second question first. We can confirm that a U.S. citizen who was released by Russian forces in Ukraine has now departed Russian-controlled territory, but due to privacy considerations, we don’t have any additional information to offer at the moment. And give me one second on your first question.

I’m so sorry about that. I was dealing with some technical difficulties that I guess comes with the territory when you brief on the phone. So as the Department of Justice stated yesterday in their press release on – Jenny, on your question about authorities arresting an FSB officer, the coordinated Department of Justice and Commerce enforcement actions demonstrate our vigilance in uncovering Russian tactics to illicitly acquire the items they need to keep their brutal war going. We thank our international partners for their cooperation in disrupting the networks that enable the Russian Government to continue its unjust war in Ukraine. And for anything further, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and the Government of Estonia.

Next, why don’t we go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News Agency.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Happy Wednesday. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Awesome. So three quick questions, Vedant. We have seen reports that Kyiv was again under attack this morning. Russia is obviously still using Iranian Shahed drones. Can you please update us on Russia-Iran cooperation on this sphere? Are you observing any new transfer between the two?

Secondly, there – Moscow reports that U.S. is moving to impose sanctions on Vladimir Potanin, one of the – Russia’s wealthiest men, but not his company. Are you in a position to either confirm or deny those reports?

And lastly, a separate topic. We are seeing increasing congressional concern over former military personnel who had received waivers to pursue jobs with foreign governments known to have, to put it mildly, histories of human rights abuses and political oppression. There are – several letters were direct addressed Secretary from the Hill. Do you have any comment on that? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Sure, Alex. Thanks so much for your question. So first, on the increasing cooperation between Iran and Russia, I don’t have any updates to offer you, but I’ll reiterate what I and our colleagues across the interagency have said previously, that Iran is providing Russia with drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine, and in exchange Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support that is transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership. So let me be clear: This partnership poses a threat not just to Ukraine but to Iran’s neighbors in the region, and we have shared our information with our partners in the Middle East and the Gulf but also our partners around the world as well.

On your second question, I’m just not going to get ahead of our process. As you know, we do not and will not preview sanctions, Alex. But what I will say is that you needn’t look further than the trajectory of Russia’s unjust and illegal infringement on Ukrainian territory and sovereignty to know that the United States will continue to use the tools in its tool belt to hold the Russian Federation accountable. And that, of course, includes the use of sanctions and export controls and other measures to hold the Russian Federation accountable.

Let’s next go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya News.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for doing this. I want to ask you about the African summit. You know that many of the countries that are participating in this summit are accused of either corruption or gross human rights violation. How can you verify that the money that the President announced will be spent in a transparent way and it’s not going to be diverted to the pockets of those in government? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nadia. So the African Leaders Summit is an opportunity to advance our most pressing issues, both regionally and globally, with leaders from across the African continent, and we took an inclusive approach toward invitations in close coordination with the African Union. And our approach creates an opportunity for the President, Secretary Blinken, the Vice President, and other U.S. Government leaders to make progress on important U.S.‑Africa policy through engagement. And the President’s approach to foreign policy is rooted in values, values like promoting respect for human rights. It’s also rooted in engagement and engaging with our partners and allies directly, and this summit is an opportunity to do just that.

It’s also an opportunity to promote the respect for human rights and the values enshrined in the UN Charter, which are at the core of the principles of the administration’s foreign policy. Human rights will always be on the agenda for President Biden and Secretary Blinken, and they will not shy away from raising these issues with any foreign leader in the world, including here over the course of this summit.

Let’s next go to the line of Nick Kalman.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) today that the administration is considering expanding an asylum program for Venezuelans and expanding it to include Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans to alleviate the surge of migrants at the border, particularly Nicaraguans. Is there anything you can expand on about that?

MR PATEL: Hey, Nick. I don’t have any new policy or process to announce today, and of course, our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security would be the ones to speak about any new such program. But what I will use this opportunity to say is that this – the Biden administration has always viewed migration as a hemispheric challenge, as a regional challenge, as a challenge that goes beyond the scope of just the United States, and we have attempted to address and work on these challenges in that context and we look forward to continuing to do so.

Let’s next go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Two quick issues. First, the Israelis once again this year banned Palestinian Christians from Gaza to go to Bethlehem. I wonder if you’re aware of these topics and if you have brought it up with the Israelis to allow – there’s only, like, a thousand Christians remaining in Gaza. That’s one.

And second, the other day, on Monday, Ned basically called on the Israelis to assume responsibility for the killing of the teenager, Jana Zakarneh. I wonder if you have any more information on this issue. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So on your first question, we are aware of these reports and would refer you to the Government of Israel on the specifics of it. But what I will say is that we understand the very real security threats Israel faces. We also have been very clear with our Israeli partners and Israeli authorities on the need to enhance transparency of entry processes and to facilitate legitimate travel to and from Gaza. The U.S. continues to believe Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity and democracy.

And on the second part of your question, Said, I don’t have any updates for you beyond what Ned spoke about earlier this week. Just to reiterate, we expressed our condolences to the family, and this is a tragic incident and we understand that the IDF is undertaking a review of what happened. And as Ned said earlier in the week, we hope to see accountability in this case. This recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including the impact that it’s had on numerous children, which we continue to be deeply concerned about this kind of intensifying violence.

Let’s go to the line of Marcin Wrona with TVN.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thanks for calling on me. I would like to ask you about what U.S. media has been talking about for the past two days, which is sending Patriot batteries to Ukraine. Where are you on this? Is there anything new? Can you confirm this? And what would be the time frame if this really happens?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been clear that the United States will continue to prioritize sending air-defense systems to Ukraine to help defend itself from Russia’s aggression. But I don’t have anything to announce or preview today. I will note that in recent weeks our assistance has included equipment to help Ukraine counter Russia’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, including two NASAMS which Ukraine has reported have been quite effective, as well as missiles for the HAWK air-defense systems that has been donated by our allies and partners.

Let me be clear that we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance for as long as it takes, but again, I don’t have anything new to preview at this moment.

QUESTION: Vedant, let me just follow up. Are Patriots at all on the table?

MR PATEL: I will again reiterate what I have just said, which is that we have been clear that we will continue to prioritize sending air-defense systems to Ukraine to help defend itself from Russia’s aggression.

Next, why don’t we go to the line of John Hudson with The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks, Vedant. I just wanted to ask – this has been made public, but Bernie Sanders pulled his Yemen war powers resolution legislation and said that he’s working with the administration for a compromise. Can you give any window into what the compromise is and what the administration’s concerns were about the legislation in general?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to this, John. First, I’m not going to get into any specific conversations that we’ve had with members of Congress, but what I will note is that all of us – including Senator Sanders – want to see an end to this war, and the administration looks forward to working with him and other members of Congress on seeing that through. And we look forward to coordinating closely with Congress as it relates to our overall Yemen policy, to which we remain deeply committed to advancing a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict.

Thanks in part to the administration’s concerted diplomacy, Yemen is currently experiencing the longest period of calm since the war began eight years ago. Intensive negotiations between the conflict parties are ongoing, and we remain deeply hopeful about prospects for a new agreement and a comprehensive peace process. Only a Yemeni-Yemeni political agreement can reverse the dire humanitarian crisis facing Yemen. And U.S. diplomacy in support of these UN-led efforts in Yemen continues unabated.

Let’s next go to the line of Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Thanks, hi there. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, so thank you for taking my questions, quick questions on the North Korean human rights issues. It has been reported that North Korea recently publicly executed young teenagers. The reason is that they watched South Korean movies. What action is the United States taking against the North Korea’s continued violation of human rights?

Secondly, when will the North Korean human rights ambassador be nominated? Thank you very much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Janne. Let me answer your second question first. I have no specific personnel announcements to make at the moment, but what I will say is that this is something that this administration unequivocally has remained deeply engaged on across a variety of personnel. As you know, Special Representative Sung Kim, Assistant Secretary Dan Krittenbrink, the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, others, remain deeply engaged on the DPRK and the challenges that they pose not just in their region, but the broader implications across the world. And so this is something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to and work collaboratively on with our allies and partners.

As it relates to human rights, we remain very concerned about the human rights situation in the DPRK, and the U.S. is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. The DPRK continues to exploit its own citizens, it continues to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful nuclear and ballistic weapons program. The DPRK is among the most repressive authoritarian states in the world, and its human rights situation is deplorable. And we’re going to continue to work with the international community to raise awareness, highlight abuses and violations, and increase access to independent information, and promote respect for human rights in the DPRK.

Let’s next go to the line of Mushfiqul Fazal with Just News.

QUESTION: Thank you, Patel. On Bangladesh – can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. On Bangladesh, U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh, Ambassador Peter Haas, has faced obstruction by the pro-regime supporters while he was visiting a victim Sajedul Islam family this morning. And he – then he rushed to the foreign ministry and met with the foreign minister and expressed his concern. And as you know, Bangladesh – the regime, is very much attacking on opposition, thousands of oppositions activists, including the top leadership that is in jail. And this is the – the second attack. First attack, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat was attacked in August 6th, 2018, same, pro-government activists. So what is your comment on that, and how a country like USA is involving with the social activities and facing harassment by the pro-government people? So what is your comment on that?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. The U.S. is committed to taking actions consistent with its values and recognizes the respect for human rights as a prerequisite for global peace, security, and prosperity. And as a key element of our bilateral relationship, we raise human rights with our Bangladeshi counterparts when we have concerns about developments that erode space for independent media, civil society, and free and fair elections.

As it relates to the specific meeting that you mentioned, the U.S. ambassador and embassy staff concluded a meeting early on December 14th to – due to security concerns. And we have raised our concerns about this matter at the highest levels of the Bangladeshi Government.

Let’s next go to the line of Eunjong Cho with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for taking my question. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yup, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great, thank you. The U.S. continues to emphasize that China needs to play a role in restraining North Korea. So to facilitate more active Chinese involvement, will the U.S. consider sanctioning Chinese banks and financial institutions? And relatedly, when calling for constructive Chinese role, what specific role does the U.S. expect China to play and use its leverage on North Korea?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to this. First and foremost, as I said previously to a different question, we do not preview our sanctions. But what I will say about the role that the PRC can play as it relates to the DPRK is one that we spoke about when President Biden had the opportunity to meet with President Xi on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali. And in that meeting, President Biden raised concerns directly about the DPRK’s provocative behavior, and noted that all members of the international community – including the PRC – have an interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly.

The PRC has a responsibility to make clear to the DPRK that Pyongyang should not engage in unlawful nuclear or ballistic missile tests. And we continue to be open to engaging with the PRC to manage the very real threat that is posed by the DPRK. Our viewpoint is that we must limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction program. And our goal remains the same, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we remain prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy to make tangible steps towards that process. And together with the international community, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue.

Let’s go to the line of Joshua Keating.

QUESTION:  Hi. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL:  Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, yes. I have a question about Haiti. I’m curious if there are any updates on the topic of armed intervention in Haiti, whether the U.S. is still pushing for a UN resolution in that, whether it’s in negotiations with other countries in the region about supplying their own troops for such an intervention. Where are we at on the topic of kinetic intervention in Haiti?

MR PATEL:  Thanks so much for your question. I don’t have any updates to offer at this time, but what I – I would reiterate what we have said previously on this, which is that there is a broad international consensus regarding the need to promote improved security conditions in Haiti. And that conversation continues to be ongoing with our allies and partners and other countries. I’m not going to get ahead of those ongoing discussions, but at the United Nations and across the U.S. Government, negotiations continue with partners and other council members to set defined and specific parameters for a mission and find the most effective means to support, enable, and resource it.

Let’s next go to the line of Begum Ersoz.

QUESTION:  Hi. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL:  Yup. Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for doing this. So the Turkish court sentenced Istanbul’s opposition mayor today, Ekrem İmamoğlu, to two years and seven months in prison on a charge of insulting public officials; the court also imposed a political ban on him, and he’s seen as a potential challenger to President Erdoğan in the upcoming election.

The ruling would need to be upheld by higher court. So any reaction or comment on this? Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thanks so much for your question. The department is deeply troubled and disappointed by today’s sentencing of the Istanbul mayor to two years and seven months in prison based on insult laws that aim to restrict his exercise of free expression. This unjust sentence is inconsistent with respect for human rights, with respect to fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and we remain gravely concerned by the continued indictment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey and their prolonged pretrial detention.

The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is fundamental to any healthy democracy, and we continue to urge Turkey to respect these fundamental freedoms and to bring this case to a swift and just resolution.

Let’s next go to the line of Dilge Timotin.

QUESTION:  Hi. I was here for the same question, actually, that Begum asked about Turkey. But thank you very much.

MR PATEL:  Okay. Thank you. Thanks for joining us today, everybody. Really appreciate it. And thanks for joining today’s press briefing.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)

# # #

 

Department Press Briefing – December 9, 2022

10 Dec

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:02 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. I have two things off the top and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

So first, some bittersweet news for all of us here at the Department. Secretary Blinken announced today that Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Brian McKeon, would soon be leaving government service.

The Secretary issued a statement, which I would refer all of you to on the Department’s website, but of note is his and our – all of ours – deep admiration for Deputy Secretary McKeon’s nearly four decades of public service across all three branches of government.

Over the course of working together for twenty years, Secretary Blinken said he has come to rely on Deputy Secretary McKeon “as a colleague and friend whose integrity, intellectual rigor, and selflessness embody the highest values of public service.”

Preceding the Secretary’s public announcement, the deputy secretary wrote to the State Department workforce this morning to inform them first of his decision. He told us all that he is rooting for us as we continue to implement U.S. foreign policy and address the global challenges of the 21st century.

Among his many tangible impacts on the building and the workforce, I know that ushering in paid internships and advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s DEIA goals were among some of his proudest accomplishments here at the Department.

We will miss Brian around the halls of the State Department very much, but wish him well as he spends some much-deserved time with his family.

I also wanted to note that as we recognize International Anti-Corruption day today, and on the eve of Human Rights Day, the U.S. is promoting accountability and using a range of tools, including the Global Magnitsky sanctions and the Department of State’s Section 7031(c) visa restriction authority, to impose consequences on dozens of corrupt actors and individuals and entities connected to human rights abuses and violations in 17 countries.

Today’s corruption designations respond to systemic corruption and democratic backsliding, including as a root cause of migration in Central America; actors who participated in misappropriation of state funds; and abuse of public positions for personal gain in Haiti, exacerbating the current crisis.

In support of the promotion and protection of human rights, our designations include the Russian Federation officials and proxies who have perpetrated Russia’s illegal and deadly war against Ukraine. These designations also aim to deter abuses by the PRC, including arbitrary detention of members of religious minority groups in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and forced labor in the PRC’s fishing industry, which is the first Global Magnitsky designation addressing serious human rights abuses in the context of forced labor. The designations were also targets of – also target the DPRK in response to its actions restricting freedom of movement, mistreating those seeking to flee the DPRK, and exploiting laborers to generate revenue for the state.

We also condemn the Iranian Government’s use of excessive force against protestors, which reflects the systemic abuse the people of Iran have endured for decades. Today we are proud to respond to these egregious acts together with our allies in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Matt, if you want to kick us off.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything to start with that I think that you’ll have an answer to so —

MR PATEL: Sorry.

QUESTION: I’ll defer to —

MR PATEL: Shaun.

QUESTION: Sure. Can I start with Ukraine?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Actually – perhaps people want to talk about the prisoner swap, but could I ask you if you have any reaction – there was a sentence today of an opposition politician in Russia who spoke about the atrocities in Bucha, Mr. Yashin. Does the United States have any comment on the sentence?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any specific comments to offer on those comments, but what I would say is that since the beginning of this conflict, we have seen members of Russian forces partake in a variety of atrocities, and some of these have been outlined in, actually, a recent report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And what I would say is that the U.S. is committed to holding those responsible to account, no matter how long it takes, and we’re doing that through a variety of mechanisms. We’re doing any – everything we can to support those who are compiling evidence to investigate and prosecute those responsible for atrocities, we’re working through the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, and we’re working closely with Ukraine and our partners to ensure accountability for those who perpetrated atrocities as well as for those who ordered them as well.

QUESTION: Sure. Can I please move on to another part?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The – President Putin today – I believe he’s in Kyrgyzstan – he made a couple of comments that drew some attention, one saying that more prisoner swaps were possible. Is there any reaction to that? How do you see those remarks? I know the Secretary himself has said that the U.S. wants to release Paul Whelan, but do you see any hope in President Putin’s remarks?

MR PATEL: This – you’ve seen Secretary Blinken and President Biden speak to this directly over the course of the past 24 hours. We have no greater priority than ensuring the safe release of Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad, and that of course includes Paul Whelan who is still wrongfully detained in Russia. And this is something that we are going to continue to work on. It’s something that this department continues to be engaged on tirelessly. And it – of course it is our hope that we’re able to bring Paul home very soon.

QUESTION: I have some questions on other things, but if anybody else has something on —

MR PATEL: Anything else on the region before we move?

QUESTION: On Russia.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Yes. Ukraine, according to Russia, put rocket launchers at nuclear power plant. Is that – do you have – can you confirm that information? Also, what is your reaction?

MR PATEL: Sorry. I didn’t hear the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Ukraine claims that Russia put rocket launchers at the nuclear power plant.

MR PATEL: Well, look, Alex. In dating back to the summer, we have been quite clear that armed conflict such – so close to a nuclear power plant is dangerous. I don’t have anything to offer on those specific reports, but in a broad sense, such kind of activity potentially happening anywhere near a nuclear power plant is of course unsafe and potentially destabilizing for what is already a targeted energy infrastructure that we’re seeing in Ukraine.

Will?

QUESTION: Any updates on Brittney Griner or her condition or what the State Department is – she’s – the State Department is interacting with her? And what’s next?

MR PATEL: Sure. Well, let me offer some things that I’m able to. So the U.S. welcomes the release of Brittney Griner for detention – from detention in Russia. I believe you saw Special Envoy Carstens tweet about this late last night, but we can confirm that Brittney Griner arrived at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas earlier today and was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center for routine evaluation. We are now focused on ensuring that Brittney and her family’s well-being are prioritized and that all available assistance can be offered to them through an appropriate manner. But due to privacy reasons and of course out of respect to Brittney and Cherelle, I’m just not going to get into any other specifics.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. So your colleague at the White House National Security Council, John Kirby, talked about Iran’s cooperation with Russia on the drones and advanced technology. He said both are in breach of the United Nations Security Council 2231. I was wondering what emergency measure are you considering to stop this because it’s killing Ukrainians?

And also, on the same topic, what emergency measures are you considering in regards to stopping – stop killing of the Iranians by the regime, as you mentioned in your opening statement? Because when it comes to 2231, Russia has a veto power and could veto it. So I was wondering if there’s an actual emergency measure that United States is considering, both stop killing of the Ukrainians by the Iranians or – and the Iranian regime killing its own people?

MR PATEL: Sure. So let me try to answer this in two parts. First, I’m echoing what Admiral Kirby and others have said today. It is – continues to become clear that Iran has become Russia’s top military backer. And you’ve seen us speak to this over the course of the past few months, but since August, Iran has transferred several hundred UAVs to Russia and Russia has been using these UAVs to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and kill Ukrainian civilians. And Russia has been using Iranian UAVs to strike Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, depriving millions of Ukrainians of light, heat, and critical services.

In terms of holding both regimes accountable, we continue to have a number of tools available in our tool set. First, I would note that today we are imposing costs on the actors involved on the transfer of Iranian UAVs to Russia, for use in Iran. We designated three Russia-based entities that have been at the forefront of the acquisition and usage of Iranian UAVs. This includes Russian aerospace forces, the intended beneficiary of the Russia-Iran agreement on transferring UAVs, as well as Russia’s 924th State Center for Unmanned Aviation, which sent personnel to Iran to train on Iranian UAVs.

Specifically about the broader situation in Iran and the crackdown on protests, you have seen this administration speak in unison about the – just the dire concern and condemnation of the activities that we’re seeing take place all across Iran, including the most recent escalation of and execution of one of the protestors. And over the course of this, we have continued to have tools at our disposal to hold the regime accountable, whether it be additional sanctions and other measures, and will continue to have tools at our tool belt and continue to consult with our allies and partners to hold the Iranian regime accountable.

Nadia.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, I asked Karine at the White House briefing about an American Iranian hostage. His name is Emad Shargi. And she referred me, actually, to the State Department. So here I am. I’m going to ask you the question. There are four American Iranian hostages, and – according to Hostage Aid – just allow me to mention their names. I’m sure you know them. But in addition to Emad Shargi, there is Siamak Namazi, there is Morad Tahbaz, and there’s Shahab Dalili. These – the families of these hostages are complaining that they are unable to have an audience with a senior official, whether at the White House or the State Department. Some say that your practices are discrimination because they’re dual citizen. Can you explain till now why these families are unable to see any senior official to raise their profile and to secure their release?

MR PATEL: Sure. Nadia, I am not at liberty to speak to any potential scheduling issues or getting a meeting on the calendar, but what I can say and what I would echo is you saw the Secretary speak to this, to this question specifically about detained American citizens who still remain detained in Iran. And that is that this is something that we’re going to continue to work tirelessly towards.

As I said, we have no greater priority than ensuring the safety of American citizens who are wrongfully detained in countries around the world, whether that be Iran, whether that be Russia. And this is something that this administration is going to work towards tirelessly, and you have seen us work towards tirelessly, and that’s something we will do regardless of whatever the state of relations happen to be with that country and regardless of what else might be going on around the world.

So this is – those individuals continue to be in our thoughts, and it’s something that this administration is continuing to work towards.

QUESTION: So would you say that American citizens and dual citizens – whether Americans, Iranians, or somebody else – are treated the same? Because also there is another complaint that the family of Austin Tice have been met by senior officials while the family of Majd Kamalmaz, who is also a Syrian American, has not.

MR PATEL: Those individuals that you listed, Nadia, we designate them, we have designated them, as wrongfully detained and we continue to work around the clock to try and ensure their release and try to make sure that they can come home safely. We view them as American citizens. They’re viewed as American citizens within this building and by the work that many across this administration and the interagency are doing around the clock to not just bring them home but to bring other Americans who are wrongfully detained home as well.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Palestinian issue?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Okay. Today marked the 35th anniversary of the Palestinian Intifada, and in the last 35 years hardly a day went by without the Israeli army, an occupation army, killing Palestinians. Yesterday, they killed five, and so on. And the Palestinians are not any closer to the goals that you state as being your goals, which is a Palestinian state to live in dignity, and so on. They are not any closer to these goals.

So I have a simple question to you. Obviously, the Israeli occupation army is intent on continuing killing Palestinians day after day. Would the United States take the novel idea of providing international protection for the Palestinian people, craft some sort of a formula? Because obviously, no one is protecting the Palestinians.

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t have any new policy to announce, but what I would say is that – and you’ve seen us speak to this quite regularly – that we continue to be deeply concerned by the intensifying violence in the West Bank, especially in recent months, and we reiterate the need for all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation, and it is vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life.

And you are correct; the recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including impacts on numerous children. And we continue to emphasize with the Israelis and the Palestinians that they both deserve to have equal measure of security, of stability, of justice, of dignity and democracy.

QUESTION: You know those last words that you just said – justice, democracy, dignity, and all these things – they’re all fine and lofty, but they really ring hollow, with all due respect, because obviously the Israelis are not listening to you. There has to be some sort of a tangible measure, something that you can measure and say to the Israelis if you continue to do this, this is what I’m going to do, which is – you are unwilling to do.

MR PATEL: Said —

QUESTION: Why not? Why not a suggestion? Why not maybe look into some way to provide protections for the Palestinians?

MR PATEL: Said, what I – I would echo what you saw Secretary Blinken speak to about this – this past weekend in which he talked about some of these very issues, in which he said and reiterated that the U.S. is committed not just to a two-state solution but to a – committed to preserving a horizon of hope. And that – and to us, that means unequivocally opposing any acts that undermine the prospect of a two-state solution, including incitement to violence or the use of arms. And we will always condemn acts of terrorism and violence, especially when it harms civilians, especially when it harms children. And as I just said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis alike must enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and dignity as well.

QUESTION: One more question on Israel. The UN a couple of days ago urged Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal. Are you aware of that request – that —

MR PATEL: Are you talking about the database?

QUESTION: Is it something that you support? Is it something that the United States would support?

MR PATEL: So the U.S. opposes the creation of this database that you’re referring to and continues to oppose any work to update it. We have not provided and will not provide any information to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on this database, and our position has been repeatedly made clear in public statements as well as in meetings that we’ve had directly with the Office of the High Commissioner.

I’m going to work the room, Alex, since we got to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russia. Quick questions on Russia. So Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said today that the United States is not ready to negotiate security guarantees for Russia. Do you have any comments on this?

And I have two more.

MR PATEL: Well, what I would say to that is that Russia could end this war now, and it has always been up to Russia about ending this war. If you look back, President Zelenskyy had outlined some building blocks for a just peace, and the Russian Federation responded with a barrage of missiles.

So ultimately, this has always been up to Russia, who has had the opportunity to end this war and end this conflict, its unjust war and its illegal and barbaric infringement on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. And so that has always been up to the Russian Federation.

QUESTION: And also, Ryabkov urged the United States to fully resume visa issuance at the embassy in Moscow. Is the U.S. ready to do this in like – in the nearest future? Are there any problems?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates or specific new measures to announce as it relates to – visa issuance (inaudible).

I’m going to work the room a little bit – got two already. Dylan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Russia and Brittney Griner. You guys throughout the year – almost a year that Brittney Griner was detained – constantly mentioned Paul Whelan alongside Brittney Griner, making sure to bring attention to both cases. Obviously, when push came to shove, it seems you were only able to secure the release of Griner. So why was it Brittney Griner and not Paul Whelan that was released, if you were only able to get one of them?

MR PATEL: Well, Dylan, I think you saw the President of the United States and the Secretary of State and the White House press secretary answer this same question, but I will humor you again that we have been very clear and Secretary Blinken had been very clear, even when he came down to this room to speak about the substantive proposal that had been made to the Russian Federation for the release of both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the way the Russian Federation has been categorizing Paul’s case, that was not possible. And it became very clear to us that it was either to bring Brittney home or to bring no American citizen home, and so we made the difficult decision to do so. But as we’ve said yesterday, as I’ve said at the top of this briefing to Shaun’s question, we’re going to continue to work tirelessly to bring Paul home and do everything we can to ensure his safety and to make sure that he can get home as soon as he can.

I will also echo something that the Secretary said in his press conference earlier this week: When Trevor Reed was released in April, it was our strongest desire that Brittney and Paul could have been on the plane home with him back then. And yesterday, when Brittney was on her way home, it was our strongest desire that Paul could have been on the plane with her on his way home too. But this is something that we’re going to continue to work towards, and it’s something that we are going to continue to prioritize, and it’s something we’ve continued to remain engaged on.

QUESTION: One quick follow-up.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Does it concern you – there’s been some criticism of the administration along the lines of trading such a high-value weapons dealer for one U.S. citizen might set a precedent that incentivizes states like Russia to nab Americans for committing no offenses or very minor offenses. Does that concern you at all, the precedent that sets?

MR PATEL: Well, you – the important word in your question you had at the beginning, and it was a U.S. citizen. And there is no higher priority for this administration than the safety and security of American citizens who are wrongfully detained or being held hostage abroad. This was, of course, a tough decision. The President had a tough decision to make.

On the individual in question, Viktor Bout, he had served a number of years in U.S. prison facilities after being convicted with due process. He was scheduled for release in 2029 and was part of this arrangement so that we could bring Brittney home safely and securely.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Vedant, thank you. So we know that Chinese President Xi is in Saudi Arabia, and they have signed a strategic partnership agreement and several other cooperation memoranda on many issues, including defense, energy, and technology. Do you still believe that the administration has a leverage on the – on Saudi Arabia given the fact that you are reviewing relations with Riyadh?

MR PATEL: We have long said – and I’ve said this, Ned has said this, the Secretary of State has said this – we of course continue to have a multiplicity of interests as it relates to our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

On your specific question, I would defer to Saudi Arabia and the PRC to speak to any specific details or contours around a deal. But we have a relationship with both of those countries and as do many of our allies and partners, and it’s not for us to comment on bilateral relationships between any two countries when we are not a party to them.

But the point that we have made consistently over the course of this administration is that we are not telling countries around the world to choose between the United States and the PRC. We’re not telling countries around the world to choose between the United States and any other country. What we seek to do and our goal is to give countries around the world options and make the choice of the United States and what we collectively as a country can bring to the table – the most attractive option available across the spectrum. And that relates to, of course, the multiplicity of interests I just mentioned, whether those be security interests, trade interests, economic interests, and a variety of other things as well.

QUESTION: But isn’t there like a concern within the administration that China is now engaged in the Gulf more than ever and that will eventually undermine the U.S. interests in the region?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that the United States remains deeply committed to security in the Middle East and the Gulf region. And our comparative advantage in doing that is our ability to build coalitions, our partnerships, our ability to integrate defensive structures – all of those things are unmatched. From counterterrorism to promoting freedom of navigation and confronting threats in the region, there is just no comparison to the value that the United States can provide, and that’s something we believe quite strongly.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So the meeting wasn’t just bilateral – there was a meeting between the Saudis and the Chinese – there was a meeting between the GCC countries and the Chinese – there was a meeting, a third meeting between the Arab League and the Chinese. So do you see this like a new alliance being formed in the Middle East?

MR PATEL: Nadia, what I would reiterate again is that we are not telling countries around the world to choose between the United States and any other country. As you note – I think you were on that trip – President Biden and Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to visit that region earlier this year, and – where they met with a number of these same entities as well. And what this is about and what I would say is that our goal, again, is to give countries an option and to put on the table what a partnership with the United States can look like and our deep experience doing the things that I just laid out – whether it be building coalitions, integrating defensive structures, and other things.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Syria?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: There was a call between the director of the CIA, Bill Burns, and his Turkish counterpart. Apparently it – they talked about the strike that came too close to U.S. forces and so on. But did they also discuss – or are you having separate discussions and so on with the Turks – on their threat to attack Syria, the northern Syria? And have you gotten anywhere in tempering their decision?

MR PATEL: I will let our colleagues at the CIA speak to any potential calls. But what I would say to the broader point of your question – and Secretary Blinken spoke about this earlier this week as well – was that we continue to make clear, both privately and publicly, that we strongly oppose military action, including a land incursion that would further destabilize the lives of communities in Syria and risk the progress that has been made against ISIS, and that all parties should immediately de-escalate. Escalation along the Turkish-Syrian border is dangerous. It is a threat to the safety of civilians as well as, possibly, U.S. personnel also.

You had your hand up in the back? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Regarding yesterday’s videoconference with the Chinese special representative for DPRK, are you seeing this talk as, one, the resumption of diplomatic conversation brought by U.S.-China summit last month? And are you feeling any change about China’s posture toward DPRK?

MR PATEL: So we put out a readout yesterday on Special Representative Kim’s call with his counterpart within the PRC. But what I would – I would reiterate what we laid out in that call, which was the purpose of it was to discuss the DPRK’s increasingly destabilizing and escalatory behavior. The special representative also expressed concern about the DPRK’s unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches carried out this year, including eight ICBMs. He strongly condemned these missile launches and reiterated that each of them are a UN Security Council resolution violation. He also reiterated that the United States goal here continues to be the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And as we have said previously, we remain ready to meet with the DPRK and engage without preconditions.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is about Japan and Australia’s 2+2 foreign and defense ministers’ meeting in Tokyo held today. And they agreed to deepen security cooperation and boost their trilateral cooperation with the U.S. So first, what is U.S. reaction to the outcome of this 2+2? And second Australian Defense Minister Marles said they’d like to involve Japan in cooperation, with focus for some specific capabilities like hypersonics. So what would be the State Department’s position on Japan’s involvement with AUKUS for specific capabilities?

MR PATEL: On the first part of your question, I will let the two countries speak specifically to the 2+2. That obviously was not an event that we were a part of. But what I would note is that both the Republic of Korea and Japan are important allies and partners – not just in the region but also around the world – and they are key partners that share our commitment to a – not just a rules-based Indo-Pacific but a rules-based order of the world as well. I know that the Secretary has had the opportunity to engage with his counterparts from both of those countries over the past few months, and we look forward to continuing to maintain and engage robust and strong relationships there.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. In the area of science diplomacy, I wonder – I have two questions.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One is about this month. Are there any announcements of partnerships or renewal of scientific agreements for cooperation to be announced this month? And then looking ahead to 2023, is there anything that we can plan forward to cover in terms of announcements or partnerships that will be formed and possibly discussed, meetings, that sort of thing?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific events or new policies to preview for you. But this of course is an issue we continue to remain deeply engaged on and can see if we have any specifics that we can share with you after the fact.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have a question about the Magnitsky sanctions. Azerbaijan happens to lead the human rights abuses portion of it. Mr. Alimardanov was designated for involvement of gross human rights violations in 2015 and 2016, but might – some might see it in the country as justice delayed, as you can imagine. So I have a question about actually what’s going on today. But before we go there, can you help us please put it in the context? What does that mean in practice, being designated to the – to this – in this list?

MR PATEL: Sure. Give me one second. So as I said at the top of the briefing, the announcement is a sweeping action against corrupt actors and those connected to human rights abuses and violations worldwide. These actions impose consequences on actors across the globe who engage in corruption and violate or abuse human rights. This is a broad designation – it’s a series of broad designations that we’ve made that has impacted 65 individuals – more than 65 individuals and entities and – in 17 countries.

What was – you had a second question?

QUESTION: Today, the leading activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has got arrested once again, third time in a year. He is accused of hooliganism and contempt of court. His case is so public, that the accusations against him are so sham, people – everybody, anybody you ask in the country – will argue that this is a trumped-up case. Do you have any reaction? Do you know – have you heard about this case?

MR PATEL: We are deeply troubled by the arrest and detention of Mr. Hajiyev on the eve of Human Rights Day, and we – we urge the authorities to release him expeditiously. The U.S. remains strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we again urge the government to respect their citizens’ rights, including their right to express their views peacefully.

QUESTION: This is the latest case to (inaudible) of arrests happened in the country this year. Some argue that the conventional wisdom is that U.S. is so much involved in toward energy cooperation, peacemaking, that’s why it turned blind eyes against – on human rights. What is your reaction to that? And is the topic being discussed when, like yesterday, Assistant Secretary Donfried called Azerbaijan foreign minister?

MR PATEL: From the very beginning of this administration, since we’ve come into office, we have placed human rights at the center of much of our foreign policy and as we engage with countries around the world, and that’s something that we will intend to continue to do.

One more in the back. Oh, then I’ll come to you, Shaun, after that. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Does the U.S. consider all detained Americans in Russia to be wrongfully detained, all of them?

MR PATEL: We’ve never said that. That – absolutely that – we’ve never – I don’t know, are you trying to – are you saying that we’ve said that previously?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m just – I’m just asking because, for example, in the case of Marc Fogel, we have never heard whether he was wrongfully detained or not. And —

MR PATEL: American citizens who are detained in any country, our posture continues to be that they need to be (inaudible) consistent and regular consular access. That is in line with the bilateral relationship that we have. But of course, that there is a designation beyond that of American citizens who are wrongfully detained, and we’re continuing to work around the clock to ensure and work towards their release safely and securely as well.

Shaun.

QUESTION: I should have pursued this earlier, but your response to Said’s question about the database – the Secretary in his speech at J Street had previously said that the United States opposes settlement activities. Will you just explain a bit more why the U.S. opposes the database and any updates to it?

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So the – our view is, is that this database only serves to reinforce an anti-Israeli bias that too often finds traction in UN venues. And also this database poses a genuine threat to companies doing business or considering business operations in the region, and then that’s why we’ve opposed the creation of this database and continue to oppose any work to update it. And we’ve not provided the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ office any information and we will not be, and our position has been quite clear previously as well.

QUESTION: Sure. So there’s no issue with U.S. businesses necessarily doing – operating in settlements or having some – from the – from the State Department’s perspective, even though you oppose the expansion of settlements?

MR PATEL: Again, what I would just reiterate is that our opposition to this database is because that it poses a genuine threat to companies doing business or considering business opportunities in the region. We of course have – in many scenarios leave it up to the private sector to determine where they’ll be conducting operations.

QUESTION: Well, then why not —

QUESTION: Russia-Ukraine?

QUESTION: Why not leave it up to, leave it up to them now?

MR PATEL: What do you mean?

QUESTION: Well, them just being put on some list doesn’t mean that they can’t go there.

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I don’t have anything additional to offer here. But we’ve opposed the creation of this database in large part because it reinforces the anti-Israeli bias that has too often found traction here in UN venues. And again, we believe that there is genuine threat to companies doing business or considering business opportunities in the region.

QUESTION: You believe that there is a – you mean you believe that the database poses a threat?

MR PATEL: Correct. Yes. We believe that the database poses a threat, a genuine threat, to companies doing business or considering business —

QUESTION: Could you explain how? I mean, I understand – I’m not sure I agree, but I understand your argument that it contributes to anti-Israel bias, to anti-Israel activity. But I don’t understand how it poses a threat to private sector companies.

MR PATEL: Well, the inclusion, being included, on a potential database could lead to the potential targeting of – I don’t want to speculate about what the potential activities could happen. But those are the kinds of things that are of great concern and could potentially be a genuine threat to companies doing business or considering business in the region.

QUESTION: Well, what’s the threat?

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I don’t have any —

QUESTION: Well, if I sell widgets, and I want to go and sell widgets in the West Bank, and I want to make money doing it, I’m going to advertise it so people are going to know that I’m doing it anyway. So – I don’t understand what —

MR PATEL: That is you choosing —

QUESTION: So what’s – well, right. But what’s the —

MR PATEL: That is you choosing to advertise in the region as opposed to being listed within a UN database.

QUESTION: Well, what is the threat – so no, there should be no directories of any businesses doing —

MR PATEL: That is certainly not – that’s —

QUESTION: Of any company doing business —

MR PATEL: That is certainly not what we’re trying to say. What I am saying is that the creation of this specific database poses a threat, a genuine threat, to companies doing business or considering business opportunities in the region.

QUESTION: But do you think that companies ought to operate freely with no restrictions whatsoever in the occupied West Bank settlements, in the settlements in the occupied West Bank?

MR PATEL: Said, I —

QUESTION: Without any recourse?

MR PATEL: Said, I don’t have any new policy or different assessment to offer today.

QUESTION: I’m saying, then, do you – you guys have a position? I mean, do you have – is it okay for companies to operate in Israeli settlements that is in land taken from the Palestinians and at the expense of the Palestinians?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m happy to check if we have anything more specific to offer on this. But I think I’ve answered your question exhaustively.

One more from Alex and then we’ll have to wrap.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Senate Foreign Affairs Committee this week passed a resolution recognizing Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. I was wondering, I know the State Department is still working on this, but if it’s going to change the calculus on your end?

MR PATEL: So I spoke to this a little bit when – in answering Shaun’s question about Bucha. But what I would just reiterate again is that over the course of this conflict, we of course have seen members of Russian forces and – take part in a number of atrocities. And what the United States is going to continue to do is we’re going to continue playing our part in holding those to account no matter how long it takes. And as I said, we’re doing that through a number of mechanisms – as I said, the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, as well as supporting those who are compiling evidence and investigating and prosecuting those responsible as well.

QUESTION: But where are we at in terms of the definition of genocide? I know that the State Department has been still working on that. Are we approaching the end of —

MR PATEL: I don’t have a metric or a fine point to put on it for you, Alex. But what I would say is just I would reiterate these lines of efforts that we have been taking part in to ensure that the atrocities that have been committed – that we’re able to help in the information and the data and the evidence-gathering and play our part in ensuring that those who perpetrated these are held accountable and the victims are able to have some justice as well.

QUESTION: Just so – just to make sure I understand you clearly, so are you in a position to clarify the State Department is still working on its definition of genocide?

MR PATEL: That is – as I said, I don’t have any update for you.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you. Have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:43 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – November 16, 2022

17 Nov

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

2:20 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon. Sorry about the technical difficulties. I don’t have anything off the top today. So Humeyra, if you want to start us off.

QUESTION: Okay, Vedant. Thanks. So I want to ask a little bit about yesterday’s events. We have a White House statement that basically says: we haven’t seen anything that would make us doubt what the Poles are saying. But we have Zelenskyy saying he has no doubt that it wasn’t a Ukrainian air defense missile. Why such a big discrepancy?

MR PATEL: So Humeyra, I would echo what our colleagues from the National Security Council said, which is that we have full confidence in the Polish Government’s investigation of the explosion near their border with Ukraine, and we commend them for the professional and deliberate manner in which they are conducting it. And as the NSC said, we have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.

As it relates to President Zelenskyy’s comments, we’ve seen those, we’re aware of his comments, and we’re going to continue to convey information to our Ukrainian partners as the facts on the ground and more information comes to light. But like I said, we don’t have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.

QUESTION: Right. So Secretary yesterday had a call with his Ukrainian counterpart. Was there any pushback there from him saying that, like, we think this is coming – this is Russian-fired? What was that conversation like? I’m asking because today we have this massive —

MR PATEL: Sure. Sure. So Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Kuleba last night, and the crux of that call was to continue to show our support to the Ukrainian people, but also exchange information. As part of these ongoing engagements with our partners, Secretary Blinken also spoke with Foreign Minister Rau of Poland, President Biden had the opportunity to speak with President Duda, and President Zelenskyy also had been in touch with President Duda to clarify facts as well.

To widen the aperture here a little bit, Humeyra, I think one important thing to be very mindful is that wherever the final conclusions may land, it is clear that ultimately the party responsible for this tragic incident is Russia. We are having this conversation because of Russia’s unjust and — and its barbaric assault on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. And specifically, we’re having today’s conversation because Russia launched a barrage of missiles on Ukraine specifically targeted towards civilian and energy infrastructure. And so, like I said, we’re continuing to engage with our Polish partners and our allies in the region, but again, we’ve not seen anything to contradict what President Duda had been saying.

QUESTION: Right, but are you guys a little bit surprised or confused by what’s coming out of Ukraine and Zelenskyy?

MR PATEL: Again, we’re aware of President Zelenskyy’s comments and we’re going to continue to convey information to our Ukrainian partners. But we do not have any information that would contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.

QUESTION: Just one last thing on this. When Secretary was speaking with his Ukrainian and Polish counterpart yesterday, was there any urge of calm and more measured public statements in any of those calls? Because the initial sentiment right after this happened – obviously, nobody knew anything – but was panic. So was there any urging from Secretary Blinken that, like – to take the temperature down?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into specifics of the conversations beyond what we read out. But I think you’ve seen, across the interagency, us speak in unison about the need to get to the bottom of the facts and a need to get all the information out there. And that’s what I indicated to you all yesterday when you asked about this, and I would reiterate again that we don’t want to get ahead of the work that is taking place, the investigation, and we remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts. But we have seen nothing to contradict what President Duda’s preliminary assessment was.

Jenny.

QUESTION: Have there been any conversations with Russian officials in the wake of this missile attack? General Milley said he was unable to get in contact with his Russian counterpart. So has anyone from this building been able to get in contact with the – them?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific conversations to read out with Russian officials.

QUESTION: Is that something that you’re seeking out at all to have a conversation around this?

MR PATEL: I think the broader concern here, Jenny, is, like I said, is that we are having this conversation in light because Russia decided to unleash a barrage of missiles on Ukrainian territory with the direct intent to target civilian infrastructure. And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners as they defend their territorial integrity and their sovereignty. And as it – as it relates to the events in Poland yesterday, we’re going to continue to engage with our Polish partners. As the President said yesterday in Asia, we’ve agreed to offer support throughout this whole process, and we’re going to continue to do that and remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts.

QUESTION: But Milley also said he sees there could be potentially a political solution environment between Russia and Ukraine right now to discuss diplomacy. Does the U.S. State Department agree with that assessment?

MR PATEL: Well, you’ve seen even President Zelenskyy speak about the need for this conflict to resolve through diplomacy and through negotiations and discussions. But we have not seen any kind of concerted effort from the Russian Federation to do so. And so the part that we’re going to play is that we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through security assistance, through humanitarian assistance, and we’re going to continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its actions, which we’ve done so through sanctions and export controls and other measures as well.

Alex.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant. I want to go back to your exchange with Humeyra. You said we have nothing to contradict President Duda’s comments. Is there any particular quote or comment that you’re referring to? I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.

MR PATEL:  Sure. So you saw clearly President Duda offered a preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that, unfortunately, landed in Poland. And what I was offering to Humeyra is that we have seen nothing that contradicts those preliminary assessments.

QUESTION:  But you also have nothing to contradict what President Zelenskyy said, right? He said: I have no doubt that I was – it was not our rocket.

MR PATEL:  Alex, we have seen President Zelenskyy’s comments and we are continuing to engage with our Ukrainian partners and convey information to them. That was in the large part of the crux of Secretary Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Kuleba yesterday – is to convey information and to have that discussion. But as I said before, we do not have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings here.

QUESTION:  We have these two – on this occasion, like, two contradicting statements from two neighboring countries. This doesn’t look good. I mean, it does create an impression that some side, in this case the West, is being part a cover-up. Can you just explicitly say if you are – are not going to at any point be part of any cover-up in this case?

MR PATEL:  Alex, I think you’re trying to categorize something that’s not there. I will let President Zelenskyy and our Ukrainian partners speak for himself and themselves. We’ve seen those comments and we continue to engage with them directly as it relates to conveying information and offering information and facts as we – as those come to light in conjunction with our Polish partners. But again, we have not seen anything to contradict President Duda’s preliminary assessment on this, which was that this explosion was most likely caused by the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.

But again, I would be remiss not to again reiterate that we are having this conversation because on – back in February, Russia decided to unjustly and illegally invade Ukrainian territory and assault Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine has every right to defend itself. And specifically in the actions of this week, we’re talking about this because Russia decided to unleash a barrage of missiles on Ukraine, directly targeting civilian and energy infrastructure.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. Iran continues detaining children, 43 of them, based on New York Times. When does the U.S. plan to request the UN Human Rights Council convene to condemn Iran’s actions, especially children and killing of more than 300 demonstrators?

MR PATEL:  So a couple of things. First and foremost, we continue to be deeply concerned about the reports of mass arrests and sham trials – and now death sentences – for protestors. For over two months since these protests have began, security authorities have killed hundreds of peaceful protestors, who are outraged – as we are outraged – by the death of Mahsa Amini. Many of these have been women and girls, and the bravery of Iran’s women and girls are – continue to be the face of these protests. And the violent crackdown and their resilience is an inspiration to the world.

Specifically on the UN, on – later this month on November 24th, the UN Human Rights Council will hold an urgently warranted special session to address the worsening human rights condition in Iran, especially as it relates to women, girls, and children. The U.S. strongly supports this call for a special session, which was requested by our German partners and our partners in Iceland. And the world is watching in horror as the Iranian regime continues to violently crack down on peaceful protestors by its citizens.

I will echo what Secretary Blinken said in September, which was that the Iranian Government needs to end its state-sponsored violence against women and to allow peaceful protest. The U.S. is going to continue to voice our support for human rights and our support for the Iranian people.

QUESTION:  An unanswered question about the drones and missile attacks of Iraqi Kurdistan and targeting civilian camps of Iranian Kurds over there. Personally, I visited over there couple of times – no any military activities over there. And what’s your plan and how will be your respond to stop this kind of attack by Iranian regime? Because it’s targeting Iraqi Kurdistan as your partner, whole of Iraq, and happened couple of times.

MR PATEL:  Sure. So —

QUESTION:  And why I’m asking this question? Because Iraqi sky is under your control, and you are powerful country. And you have a technology, you have a stronger army, and —

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  — technology. Please.

MR PATEL:  So you’ve seen us speak to this a number of times before. And what I would say as it relates to Iran and the continued malign and destabilizing activities that Iran takes part in, not just in its immediate region but in the world more broadly, we have a number of tools at our disposal to continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ve done that. You’ve seen the State Department and the Treasury Department do that as recently as today and as recently as this week.

But specifically on the attacks in Iraq, you saw we put out a statement on this very subject earlier this week, in which that we strongly condemn Iran’s continued missile and drone attacks against the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. And we call on Iran to stop these attacks and to refrain from further threats against Iraq’s territorial integrity. And we stand with our partner’s, the Government of Iraq’s, objective to preserve the country’s security, stability, and sovereignty.

QUESTION: But your ally and your partner believe statement is not work – you should do something.

MR PATEL: Like I said, we continue to have a number of tools at our toolbelt to hold Iran accountable. I’m not going to read them out from here, but we’ll continue to do what is in our power to hold the Iranian regime accountable.

Shannon, you had your hand up before?

QUESTION: Yes, is —

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran, just quickly

MR PATEL: Oh, let me do that and then I’ll come back to you. Go ahead, Humeyra. Yeah.

QUESTION: You just said for over two months since these protests have begun, security forces have killed hundreds of peaceful protesters. I heard you right?

MR PATEL: Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Is that an independent U.S. assessment?

MR PATEL: I will see what – the cite we have on that, but I believe that we’ve previously cited credible human rights organizations in the region who have been operating, who have been offering that statistic, but I will see if we have more specifics.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Shannon.

QUESTION: Looking ahead to further engagement with China next year with the Secretary traveling there, wanted to ask you on the outlook of North Korea. Do you think that – or does the department think, rather, that China can step up and be a partner in countering North Korea as it moves toward what we anticipate will be a nuclear test and continues to fire missiles regularly?

MR PATEL: So in the bilateral meeting that President Biden had with President Xi, he raised concerns about the DPRK’s provocative behavior and noted that all members of the international community, including the PRC, have a vested interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly. And the PRC has a responsibility to make clear to the DPRK that Pyongyang should not engage in unlawful and destabilizing nuclear or ballistic missile tests. President Biden raised that directly. And we continue to be open to engaging with the PRC to manage the threat posed by the DPRK not just in the region, but the threat that they pose more broadly.

Our belief continues to be that we must limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missiles program and its weapons of mass destruction program. And our goal continues to be, quite clearly, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we remain prepared to be engaged in sustained dialogue and serious diplomacy towards making that progress, whether that be with the PRC or other partners in the region, like our partners in the Republic of Korea and Japan who have also – we’ve been engaging quite closely on this. So, yeah.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. My question is on Mexico.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans participated in massive pro‑democracy demonstrations across the country in defense of the independent electoral institute. What is the State Department’s position regarding these demonstrations?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So we are aware of the “Don’t Touch the National Electoral Institute” protests throughout Mexico that took place this past weekend, as you mentioned, and our viewpoint is this: is that independent institutions free of political influence are a cornerstone of democracy. And nonpartisan electoral institutions in particular ensure that all voices are heard in fundamental, democratic processes. But I don’t have anything other specific to offer.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the same note. Senator Bob Menendez, the president of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, said this week that he expects that the Biden administration will ramp up its efforts to support Mexico’s democratic institutions. What is your reaction to this and to the senator’s concerns?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview or to share that are coming down the pike. What I would say is that Mexico is an important regional partner on a number of issues, but as – again, as it relates to these protests, we’re aware of them and our viewpoint is that independent institutions that are free of political influence are a cornerstone to democracy. But I don’t have anything else to offer.

QUESTION: But you understand the senator’s concerns, right?

MR PATEL: Again, I have not seen the senator’s comments and I don’t want to get ahead of any potential American action or anything like that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Him, then I will work the room. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan finally backed out of his allegations on the United States. In his recent interview, he said he no longer blamed the U.S. administration for removing him from power. What are your thoughts on this?

MR PATEL: So let’s take a little bit of a step back. The U.S. values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. That remains unchanged. And we don’t have a position on one political candidate of a party versus another. We support peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles. And ultimately, we will not let propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation get in the way of any bilateral relationship, including our valued bilateral partner with Pakistan.

QUESTION: What would you say about his recent statement, like – he is, like – he backed out.

MR PATEL: As we’ve previously said, there has – there is not and there has never been a truth to these allegations, but I don’t have anything additional to offer.

QUESTION: So in that interview, he also termed his Moscow visit as embarrassment. He said that it was embarrassing to visit Moscow on the day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Earlier, the statement was totally different. He was saying that it was in the national interests of Pakistan; that’s why he visited Moscow. So again, he’s backing out his previous statement, so any thoughts, your comment?

MR PATEL: I really don’t have anything else to offer on Foreign Minister – or former Prime Minister Khan’s comments on that.

QUESTION: His recent statements suggest that he’s trying to reconnect with the United States. And is there any recent contact with former Prime Minister Imran Khan or his party members? Because there were rumors that Ambassador – U.S. ambassador in Islamabad met with the leadership – with his party leadership in Islamabad.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific meetings or calls to read out, but to the front part of your question, again, the U.S. values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan. It has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to our interests not just in the region, but also the world more broadly.

QUESTION: And one last question, sir. The UN session – there was voting in UN – United States General Assembly and your close partner India was absent. Apart from India, there were, like, a total of 75 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, even Israel, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka were absent from the voting. I mean, what’s the reason United States not able to get these countries to vote against Russia?

MR PATEL: I will let our mission in New York speak more in detail about any potential resolution vote, but what I’ll say is this: is that since the first days of Russia’s unjustified and barbaric and unprovoked war against Ukraine, we have had continuous communications with our Indian counterparts about what we can do together to hold Russia accountable and to impose consequences for its brutal war. The Secretary had the opportunity to host External Affairs Minister Jaishankar here a number of months ago. They also had a bilateral engagement on the margins of the ASEAN summit as well. And although we may sometimes vary on our policy approaches, we – the United States and India – share a commitment to upholding the rule-based international order that respects territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to Poland and Ukraine.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Did Ukraine offer you through diplomatic channels anything to back the claims by President Zelenskyy that it was a Russian missile?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any other specific details to offer from readouts of calls that we’ve had with our Ukrainian partners. I will again reiterate what I’ve said to your colleagues in the room, which is that we are aware of these comments, but ultimately, as we’ve said before, we don’t have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.

But again, I think the important thing to remember here is that these actions – these follow-on actions are all a result of Russia’s unjust and barbaric war in Ukraine, and specifically these – the events in Poland are a result of Russia’s barrage of missiles on Ukraine, on Ukrainian territory, with a direct attempt to hit civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure, which is appalling; we condemn it, and just another example of Russia’s barbaric actions.

QUESTION: What is the U.S. engagement in the investigation on the ground in Poland? And also, are there any measures that could be undertaken to prevent such accidents in the future if that was an accident?

MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to get ahead of the work that is ongoing as it relates to the investigation. We remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts. As you saw, President Biden spoke to this yesterday. He, as the United States, agreed to offer our support. These processes are ongoing and we continue to remain in close touch with our Polish and NATO partners as well.

QUESTION: Do you know what agencies are helping Poland?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get ahead of this ongoing investigation. And as we have said and as our colleagues at the National Security have said, we’ll continue to assess and share any new information transparently as it comes to light.

Shannon.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Actually, it’s the same topic.

MR PATEL: Let me go to Shannon then I’ll work the room. You got a couple questions already, Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: President Zelenskyy is saying that Ukraine should be allowed to participate in that ongoing election. Is that something the U.S. would support?

MR PATEL: You mean ongoing investigation?

QUESTION: Yeah, ongoing investigation. Pardon me.

MR PATEL: So I will let our Polish partners speak specifically to the ins and outs of what’s happening specifically on the ground. But again, what I will say is that we do not want to get ahead of this work and we remain in close touch with our Polish partners, of course our Ukrainian partners, and NATO as well as this process continues to unfold.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to follow up on the bilats today between President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Rishi Sunak. So does the U.S. trust Rishi Sunak to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol issue with the EU? And is – would you say that there is now a better understanding of the UK perspective on the issue?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any specifics to offer about that bilateral meeting beyond the readout that the White House offered. But what I can say is that the U.S. is grateful for the extraordinary collaboration that we have with our ally, the United Kingdom, particularly as we work together hand in hand to address a number of issues in a number of areas of common interest, and that partnership and that collaboration of course transcends any one particular government in the United Kingdom.

I know that President Biden had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Sunak when his government was first formed. I know that they were pleased to be able to meet in person on the margins of the G20, and Secretary Blinken himself has had a number of direct engagements with his counterpart, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, at a number of instances as well, and this is a relationship we’re incredibly grateful for.

Jenny.

QUESTION: On Haiti, the convoy was attacked the other day. Has the U.S. attributed who was behind that attack?

MR PATEL: We don’t have any additional updates to offer beyond what we read out when this event took place, but just to reiterate some of that information again, on November 14th armed individuals fired shots at a convoy that was made up of Haitian National Police vehicles, U.S. embassy vehicles, Haitian commercial vehicles during the morning. No embassy personnel were injured, and don’t have additional information beyond that at this time.

QUESTION: And is the U.S. any closer to finding a nation to lead this potential task force to Haiti under the auspices of the UN?

MR PATEL: This work continues to be ongoing, and we continue to work directly with not just our – the Government of Haiti but also other allies and partners as well. I mean, as you saw, last week through actions from the Treasury Department and the State Department, we have continued to hold those accountable who have been the cause for some of the humanitarian suffering that we’re seeing in Haiti. As you know, a U.S.-Canada joint operation played a role in delivering vital security-related equipment. That equipment specifically played an integral role in the Haitian National Police’s ability to end gang coalition control of the port of Varreux fuel terminal, which took place last week. You saw the Secretary speak a little bit about this in Münster. And so these work – this work and our efforts to support Haiti are ongoing and we continue to engage through bilateral relationships that we have, but also in multilateral fora, on steps forward.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. My Ukraine question actually has been addressed. Shifting to South Caucasus if you don’t mind.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have anything for me on Ambassador Reeker’s upcoming trip to the region? He’s going to go there next week, as he said to —

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of specific travel for Ambassador Reeker, Alex, but I can check with the bureau and see if we can get back to you and have any metrics to offer.

QUESTION: Anything on the Secretary’s – thanks so much. Anything on the Secretary’s phone calls to Baku and Yerevan last two days? He urged the sides to schedule further talks as agreed in Washington. Do you know at what level he wants the sides to meet next time? And also, is there any deadline?

MR PATEL: I don’t know if there’s any deadline. What I will say is that the Secretary’s continued engagement on this is a direct result of the United States commitment to promoting a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. I don’t think I have anything more to offer beyond those readouts, but this is something that of course this entire building and Secretary Blinken are paying close attention to and, ultimately, we believe that direct dialogue is key to resolving this issue and it’s why we continue to remain very deeply engaged on this.

QUESTION: To Turkey? Turkey is pushing Russia and Ukraine to – for peace talks, like trying to mediate them. Are you on the table to, like – is United States also a part of the negotiations?

MR PATEL: Well, you have seen even President Zelenskyy speak to the fact that an end to this conflict will likely need to come through discussion and diplomacy and negotiations. But we have yet to see any kind of concerted effort from the Russian Federation to do that. And so in the interim, what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through many of the lines of efforts that I spoke about early – continuing to offer security assistance, continuing to offer humanitarian assistance, continuing with our allies and partners to hold the Russian Federation accountable through sanctions, through export controls, through other measures. And any effort about this should not take place without Ukraine, and our belief continues to be nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine when it comes to Russia’s brutal invasion that continues to be ongoing.

QUESTION: If you will, one more question on this one.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: The (inaudible) CSTO, Collective Security Treaty Organization, is there any assessment on your end of how much it is involved in Russia’s – supplying its missiles and other arms that they’re using in Ukraine? I’m asking because Putin is planning to go to Yerevan next week to attend the summit of the CSTO.

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate, Alex, or get into a hypothetical here. But what I would just say again is that it is Russia that is infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and that Russia could end this war by leaving Ukraine, but if Ukraine did not stop fighting, Ukraine would end. And so again, what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through a number of lines of efforts that I just spoke about.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the CSTO members and urging them to refrain from helping Russia —

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of specific calls to offer, but we have been quite clear that any country – that it would be deeply problematic for any country to play a role in assisting Russia as it takes part in its unjust and barbaric invasion and brutal attacks in Ukraine.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just one thing, Vedant – so the Polish president said both Poland and U.S. would have to agree for Ukraine to take part in the investigation into the whole missile incident. Given that there’s such discrepancy between you guys and what Ukraine is saying, does the United States want to give Ukraine access so that they can take a look at the wreckage or do their own investigation?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer about our role in the investigation beyond President Biden saying that we have of course agreed to offer support, but I’m happy to check to see if we can – we have anything additional to offer.

QUESTION: And do you know which part of the U.S. Government is taking part in these investigations and which part needs to approve Ukraine’s potential involvement?

MR PATEL: Again, I just don’t have any other specifics to offer on this right now.

One more, Jenny.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Brittney Griner’s whereabouts?

MR PATEL: I don’t have an update on this beyond what I addressed earlier in the week.

QUESTION: So you don’t know which penal colony she’s been sent to?

MR PATEL: So we continued – we through our lawyers are aware of her location and are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team, but formally, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. Our embassy and our mission in Moscow has continued to press for more information about her transfer and her current location, and those requests continue to be ongoing.

QUESTION: Has anyone from the embassy been able to speak with her since she was relocated?

MR PATEL: Not to my understanding.

All right, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

# # #

  1. Nations
  2. but if Ukraine stops fighting

 

Department Press Briefing – November 15, 2022

16 Nov

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

3:03 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Apologies. How is everyone doing?

QUESTION: There’s a little button you could have —

MR PATEL: Yeah, no, no, I know. I know. Just this is great. I actually don’t have anything off the top today so I’m happy, Matt, for you to kick us off.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. All right. So let’s just start with the breaking news, right? Poland, these missiles – what do you know? I realize that the Pentagon and the NSC have already said that you’re looking for information, but what can you tell us? Has the Secretary been involved in any calls? Anyone else?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out and would echo what our colleagues at the White House have said on this as well, which is that we have seen these reports out of Poland and are working with the Polish Government and our NATO partners to gather more information. We can’t confirm the reports or any of the details at this time, but I can assure we will determine what happened and what appropriate next steps would be. But I don’t have anything additional to offer at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. I guess that pretty much is going to end this line of questioning, at least from me because I don’t think you’re going to say anything else. So I’ll pass it on to someone else.

MR PATEL: All right.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, just the President basically multiple times said every inch of NATO territory will be defended. Are you able to recommit to that from the podium today regardless of what this is?

MR PATEL: Look, I don’t want to speculate about hypotheticals as this just happened within the past hour. And as I said, we have seen these reports out of Poland, and we’re working with the Polish Government and our allies and partners to gather more information and assess exactly what will happen. We’re going to do that. We will determine what will happen and determine appropriate next steps, but I just don’t want to speculate about any hypotheticals just yet.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Asking a more broad strokes question then, generally, will the U.S. look into the intent? How important is that in determining response if a strike is accidental versus if something is deemed to be intentional when consulting with NATO Allies?

MR PATEL: Of course that is something that would be of importance. And as I said, we will determine what happened and we will determine appropriate next steps. But like I said, this just happened within the past hour, and so we are still taking the important time to figure out the exact facts.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Logistics – on logistics. When it comes to triggering Article 5 of NATO, I know you don’t want to get too far ahead of where things stand now, but because this department knows really well how that process would work, could you just lay out a little bit of how you guys would go about that process and what it would look like for folks as we’re in this moment of trying to figure out what’s next?

MR PATEL: I certainly appreciate that question, but I do want to be very careful of not getting ahead of hypotheticals. I am happy to see if we have a specific sort of sequencing to share with you, but again, I want to be very, very careful about not getting ahead of hypotheticals here as we continue to take time to determine what happened.

Alex.

QUESTION: Vedant, has the department reached out to Polish officials? Do you have any communication with Poland?

MR PATEL: Like I said, I don’t have any – like I said to Matt, I don’t have any calls to read out at this point. But of course Poland is an important ally and partner, and like I said, we are working with them to determine what happened and assess next steps as well.

QUESTION: In a broader context, what is your confidence level that Putin is not targeting NATO, given his latest statements?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to try and speculate or try and get in the mind of President Putin or his intentions. What we do know is that this war has been one that is unjust. It’s been brutal. It has affected millions of lives, not just in Ukraine but across the world as well. And as you guys saw, in response to President Zelenskyy’s speech at the G20, what President Putin did was he met Ukraine with another round of cruel attacks that killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure.

So what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to stand with the government and the people of Ukraine who have stayed strong in the face of Russia’s brutal and needless onslaught for months, and we will continue to support Ukraine.

Camilla.

QUESTION: When you say you’re working with – obviously with the Polish Government and allies and partners, can you confirm that this department is speaking to Ukrainian officials and trying to get more insight from them as to what this might have been and whether or not they have responded at all?

MR PATEL: Camilla, we’re talking to a range of partners. But like I said, this just transpired so I don’t have specific calls or line item actions to read out for you. But again, I want to assure that we will get to the bottom of what has happened. We’ll determine what’s happened and determine appropriate next steps.

Leon.

QUESTION: Yeah. Before Article 5 is Article 4, which is on emergency consultations. Would the United States be ready to call for emergency consultations on this issue?

MR PATEL: Look, Leon, we of course are ready to stand with our NATO allies and partners, but I want to again be very clear that we do not want to get ahead of hypotheticals. We do not know what has happened yet. We have seen the reports out of Poland. They of course are incredibly concerning, and we’re working with our partners in the Polish Government and our NATO partners to get more information and to assess what has happened. And we will make that determination and we will determine appropriate next steps as well.

QUESTION: And just to follow up, certain media are quoting U.S. intelligence officials on their story. So I’m assuming that you are in contact with those officials.

MR PATEL: Leon, what I can say from this podium in front of you all on camera and on the record is that we’ve seen these reports and that we are working with the Polish Government and other partners to asses and get more information. We cannot confirm the reports of what has happened or the details, but we are working through that process to determine what happened and determine appropriate next steps.

In the back.

QUESTION: Marcin Wrona, TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland. So you repeated a few times that you are working with the Polish Government on this issue. Who are you talking with, at what level if you don’t want to give any specific names? And also, if this is confirmed, should this trigger an immediate increase of the numbers of U.S. boots on the ground in Poland, maybe sending additional Patriot batteries fortifying eastern flank?

MR PATEL: I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but again, I do not want to get ahead of hypotheticals or get into a tit-for-tat of potential actions. What I can say is that we will determine what happened and we will determine what appropriate next steps to take. We are engaging directly with our partners in the Polish Government. I don’t have specifics to offer in terms of who and at what level. But like I said, Poland is an important partner, an important NATO Ally, and so we are continuing to work through this process and engage on this.

QUESTION: Okay, follow-up. Will Secretary Blinken want to talk to Minister Rau? Is a contact at this level possible?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls to preview, or read out yet for that matter, so we – I’m just not going to get ahead of that process.

In the back.

QUESTION: So not getting into hypotheticals, but President Biden did say and Secretary Blinken also has repeatedly said that U.S. is going to defend every inch of NATO territory, so can you just repeat it today as in principle? And do you have any reaction to just the overall attack, the barrage from Russia today? It’s been reported that it’s the largest one so far, the largest missile attack. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I think I spoke to this a little bit in responding to Alex’s question. But first, to your first question, of course we stand by NATO and our NATO Allies and partners. This administration views NATO as one of the most important transatlantic defensive alliances out there. But again, I am not going to get ahead of hypotheticals as we continue to work through this process and determine what’s happened and determine appropriate next steps.

On the barrage of strikes that we saw take place in Kyiv, as I said, while President Zelenskyy spoke at the G20 about a path to a just peace and for ending this war, what we saw was Russia unleash a barrage of attacks that have killed civilians and destroyed critical infrastructure. And it is no surprise that after the Ukrainian liberation of Kherson that Russia has gone down the path of attempting yet again to plunge Ukrainian civilians into darkness.

But what the United States is going to do is going to continue to stand by the government, and the people of Ukraine and our commitment to our Ukrainian partners is unwavering.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: One more question on this.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I know you don’t want to get ahead of this, but Russia is already trying to spin the situation here with the defense minister putting out a short statement saying that the reports of Russian missiles landing in Poland are, quote, “a deliberate provocation aimed to escalate the situation.” Do you have a response to what they’re saying about this right now?

MR PATEL: Well, the United States is certainly not trying to escalate or incite the situation at all. And like I said, we have seen these same reports that you all have, and we are working with the Polish Government to gather more information. And we are not at a point where we can confirm some of these reports that we are seeing, and that’s why I’m telling you that we will determine what exactly has transpired and we will determine appropriate next steps as well.

Let’s go over there.

QUESTION: I’d like to —

MR PATEL: Still on the region, or are we moving away?

QUESTION: On China.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine and —

MR PATEL: Let me do one more, and then I’ll come back to you. And then we’re going to work through them, Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: In response to Putin’s terrorist attacks you just mentioned – over one hundred missiles have been – struck Kyiv and around – is it time for the department to revisit its decision on Russia’s SST designation?  And if not – if not now – then when?

MR PATEL: Alex, we have spoken about this quite, quite regularly, and our answer continues to be the same. And that is that we have – we have a number of tools in our tool belt to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners. We have done that through sanctions and export controls on Russia. We have done that through security assistance and humanitarian assistance to our Ukrainian partners. And we continue to assess that a specific state sponsor of terror designation would largely be a redundancy to the many lines of efforts that the United States has already undertaken.

Additionally, as I said to you about this a couple of weeks ago, we have – it’s been raised to us that a number of humanitarian organizations operating in the region – it would make their work more difficult if a specific state sponsor of terror of designation were to take place.

But I will remind you that we have continued to do everything possible to support our Ukrainian partners, including additional drawdowns earlier this month, as well as USAI packages. And we’ve continued to take steps to support our Ukrainian partners and to bolster their efforts to defend their sovereignty and defend their territorial integrity. I will also add that our sanctions and export controls are having a direct impact on the Russian economy and the Russian Federation. And so we will continue pursuing these lines of efforts as well.

QUESTION:  And let’s not forget Moldova as well.

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room, Alex.

QUESTION:  Moldova also got impacted today.

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room.  We’ve got a lot of questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Could you confirm that Secretary Blinken is going to visit China early next year? And what is going to be his mission?

MR PATEL: So in the follow-up of President Biden’s bilateral meeting with President Xi, it was determined that Secretary Blinken will travel to China at some point. And currently we are working diligently with our counterparts in the PRC to schedule a visit, which is tentatively planned for early next year. But I’m not at a point to offer any additional specifics on that.

QUESTION: And in terms of – on the talks between the United States and China, which have been suspended, do you have a timeframe? When are they going to resume, especially the climate talk? Has it started already?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific timeframe for you. I will note that Special Envoy Kerry has been engaging directly with his counterparts in Sharm El Sheikh at the COP27 conference. But to take a little bit of a step back, both – President Biden underscored that the United States and China must work together to address some of these transnational challenges, including addressing climate change, addressing health security, addressing global food security, and global macroeconomic stability. I don’t have a specific timeline to offer, but this was a key point of the bilateral talk.

QUESTION: And lastly, President Biden told President Xi in detail that the “one China” policy hasn’t changed. Does it mean Taiwan is part of China, and is this the message you are going to convey to Taiwan after the summit?

MR PATEL: Well, President Biden was quite clear in his remarks and in his press conference that our “one China” policy has not changed and that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo and have a commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Our position remains the same. We have this longstanding “one China” policy which is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.

Gitte.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Still on Asia or shifting away?

QUESTION: No.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: Shifting away – Iran.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Special Envoy Rob Malley is – was in Paris today meeting with his counterparts from France, Britain, and Germany. Do you have a readout of the meeting?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer, but what I can say is that I can confirm that Special Envoy Malley is in Paris meeting with E3 partners, discussing a wide range of issues, but don’t have any other specifics to offer.

QUESTION: So it’s not just a one-day trip or – do you know?

MR PATEL: I don’t have additional specifics to his travel, but I can confirm that he is in Paris meeting with his – with our E3 partners.

QUESTION: Also it’s about two weeks now since Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the U.S. will support expulsion of Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Has there been any movement on that front?

MR PATEL: So – let me see if I – I believed – I thought I had an update for you on this. Let me check back on this, Gitte, for you specifically, about a timeline. I thought I had an update, but I can’t find it. We’ll circle back afterwards.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Staying on Iran —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — is there any more you can share about today’s redesignation of Wagner Group and the IRGC’s aerospace force?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So today the Department of State – and in conjunction with the Department of Treasury – imposed sanctions on eight targets in response to Iran’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, which included Tehran’s transfer of unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia, which are being used by Moscow to strike civilian infrastructure and cities in Ukraine. We designated a total of three Iranian entities, including those manufacturing and delivering the UAVs supplied by Iran to Russia. That includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace forces; it also includes Qods Aviation. And Treasury is also designating Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. We are designating these – these actions include third-party designations involved in the transfer of Iranian UAVs to Russia, and this is, again, in the line of that we have been warning since July that Iran is planning to sell UAVs to Russia for use against Ukraine. We exposed this publicly, and this action is our latest effort to implement and enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade, and to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons.

Dylan.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to China for one second? You mentioned health security just now, when talking about the topics that were discussed. The White House, they said that this was a topic that was discussed with the President and President Xi. Could you just expand maybe a little bit on what that means exactly, health security? What are some of the details of that and what you guys are working on there?

MR PATEL: I will let my colleagues at the White House and the National Security Council expand on any specifics that they can offer about the bilateral meeting. But what I can say and what is no secret is that between the United States and the PRC exist a number of challenges that impact not just our two countries, but countries around the world, and that addressing these challenges transnationally together is a better result for both of our people, but also for the world broadly. And that of course includes climate change. It includes global health. It includes health security. It includes global macroeconomic stability. But I don’t have anything other specific to add.

QUESTION: So you – so does that not include, like, things related to COVID-19, the origin of the COVID pandemic? Is that something that’s on the radar for when Secretary Blinken will be visiting next year?

MR PATEL: Of course global health security is on the agenda and on the radar, and of course ensuring that as a planet we are best prepped for any future public health crisis that may transpire.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Okay. Oh, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: No – (laughter) – I’ve got two. First, what kind of discussions have you had or what kind of notifications have you made to the Israelis about – regarding a potential FBI investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh?

MR PATEL: That would be for the Department of Justice to speak to, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, what kind of conversations have you had with the Israelis about this?

MR PATEL: As it relates to any potential law enforcement activity, that would be a matter for the Department of Justice, for them to raise.

QUESTION: So when the Israelis come to you and ask you what’s going on, what do you tell them?

MR PATEL: We would – it is for the Department of Justice to speak to law enforcement and any investigation.

QUESTION: Is there an investigation that – as far as you know – that the FBI is conducting into this?

MR PATEL: That is for the Department of Justice to speak to. That – I’m not going to get into that from here.

QUESTION: Okay. You have gotten into previous investigations into the deaths of American citizens, though, so let me just make that point.

Secondly, on a different issue, can you offer anything more than the – what was in the couple-paragraph readout of the Cuba migration talks today? Was anything significant achieved or agreed to?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, these migration talks —

QUESTION: No, you don’t have to read the statement if that’s – unless someone for TV wants it.

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond what was in the robust media note that involved the topics discussed —

QUESTION: Robust? (Laughter.)

MR PATEL: — and the – that involved the topics discussed and that were raised in these routine migration talks with Cuba.

QUESTION: Okay. Speaking of robust statements, then, last night you guys put out a readout of the Secretary’s telephone call with Kenyan President Ruto, which was then immediately followed up with – immediately followed by a tweet from the Secretary saying he had an important conversation with President Ruto, about Ethiopia among other things. But the readout was literally two sentences long. Is there anything you can add to that?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything specific to add as it relates to the Secretary’s call, but what I will use this opportunity to say is that we certainly – especially the Secretary – welcome the November 12th declaration by Ethiopian Government and Tigrayan regional leaders in Nairobi to advance the implementation of the November 2nd cessation of hostilities that were agreed upon in Pretoria. And we strongly urge them to honor the cessation of hostilities and expedite unhindered humanitarian assistance. But don’t have anything specific to offer beyond that when it comes to the call.

QUESTION: Vedant?

MR PATEL: Yeah, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about —

MR PATEL: One second. Do you have anything else, Matt, before I —

QUESTION: No. No, no, that was it.

MR PATEL: Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just about Shireen Abu Akleh.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So U.S. has repeatedly called for accountability over her killing. At this point in time, does the United States believe that accountability has been achieved?

MR PATEL: Let me — I will answer your question, Humeyra, but let me just take a little bit of a step back, because I don’t want my answers to Matt be taken out of context here.

QUESTION: What —

MR PATEL: If you’ll allow me. Any action from the Department of Justice, law enforcement or investigatory, would be for them to speak to. That’s not a State Department equity. The State Department, its authority into investigations, is generally limited into the deaths of U.S. Government employees, their eligible family members, and security responsibilities as it relates to the Secretary of State and other principals. Whether the Department of Justice takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun, that is for them to speak to. That is not an equity here for the State Department. That is not something I am going to be able to speak to.

On your question, Humeyra, we continue of course to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we continue to call and press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, to protect journalists, and to ultimately prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

QUESTION: You had raised these rules of engagement with them earlier. Did you get any positive feedback or any sign that they would actually review this and make any changes?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific readouts to offer as it relates to our engagements on this.

QUESTION: Do you assess or think that it is within U.S.’s right to launch its independent – its own investigation on this?

MR PATEL: That’s for the —

QUESTION: This is a U.S. citizen.

MR PATEL: That is for the Department of Justice to determine. That’s not for the State Department or, frankly, any other entity of the interagency to —

QUESTION: Can I – just – you – tell me if I got this wrong. This is what my Otter transcript says that you just said. “Whether the Department of Justice takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun, that is for them to speak to. That is not an equity here for the State Department.” How is that possible? On any subject under the sun?

MR PATEL: I don’t understand your question, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand your response. This is a —

MR PATEL: Whether they – whether they decide to pursue a law enforcement —

QUESTION: That’s not an equity? It is not an equity for the State Department if there’s an investigation into the murder or the killing of a U.S. citizen?

MR PATEL: The —

QUESTION: That is certainly number one priority of this department and has been for decades and decades and decades, is the protection or the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.

MR PATEL: And it still is. And it still is.

QUESTION: Okay. So then what – then whether – then I don’t understand why you say that whether the department takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun is not for you to speak to. Of course it’s for you to speak to if you think that there needs to be an investigation into it that’s – especially if it involves a U.S. citizen. Right?

MR PATEL: I would just disagree with that characterization. Whether the Department of Justice decides to investigate something, that is for them to speak to. That’s not for us to speak to.

QUESTION: Fine, but it’s not like you don’t have any equities at all.

MR PATEL: Sure. Sure. I perhaps —

QUESTION: The safety – the welfare and safety of American citizens —

MR PATEL: Of course the safety – of course the —

QUESTION: — overseas is the Department of State’s number one priority.

MR PATEL: Of course, and it continues to be. But whether the Department of Justice chooses to pursue law enforcement activity into something like this is for them to speak to. That’s not something I am going to get into here or anything that I have to offer on that is the point that I was trying to make.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Camila.

QUESTION: Vedant, just staying on this for – when you and Ned have spoken about accountability, you’ve talked about it in the context of working with Israeli partners on their investigation, with the Palestinian Authority on their investigation, and now you have a U.S. investigation. So there seems to have been a shift in what this department thinks and what the Justice Department is doing. Would you characterize an FBI investigation as unusual or unprecedented, what they’re doing with Israel? And also, did the Department of Justice give this department a heads-up that that’s what they were going to do?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to characterize that one way or the other, and I don’t have any interagency conversations to read out specifically.

In the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m curious because yesterday the White House said in its readout from the – from the meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi that they both underscored their opposition to the threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but the Chinese readout didn’t include that. Do you have any comment on that, why —

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to something that —

QUESTION: I mean —

MR PATEL: — exists or doesn’t exist in the Chinese readout. But what I can say and that – what we reiterated in ours and you saw the President speak to in his remarks in Indonesia was that the President, President Biden, and President Xi both reiterated their understanding that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won, and underscored their opposition to any use of – threat of use of nuclear weapons in relation to the war in Ukraine.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Moldova was also impacted by Russian massive missile attacks today. As you know, it caused —

MR PATEL: Can you – can you repeat the first part of the question?

QUESTION: Yeah, Moldova also got impacted by Russian massive attacks today. It’s caused electricity disruption in Moldova. I want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about Russia’s threat that going beyond Ukraine given its latest actions in Ukriane.

MR PATEL: I’ve not actually seen those reports, Alex, so I’m going to have to follow up with you afterwards and see if we can get you something specific there.

Did you have a question?

QUESTION: Vedant, did you guys pin down whether or not Brittney Griner has reached the penal colony? Do you have any latest update on – do you have any update on her exact whereabouts?

MR PATEL: We are aware of the reports of her location and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team, but the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest and disagree with. The – our mission in our embassy in Russia has continued to press for more information about her transfer and her specific current location. Following this sham trial and the unjust sentencing, the Russian Federation is transferring her from a prison to a remote penal colony.

QUESTION: Are you able to say anything about what Bill Burns talked when it comes to her and Paul Whelan with his Russian counterpart yesterday in Ankara?

MR PATEL: So, from the very beginning we have been very open about the fact that we have channels to communicate with Russia on managing risk, especially nuclear risk and risks to strategic stability. And as part of that effort, CIA Director Bill Burns went to Ankara to meet with his Russian intelligence counterpart. He conveyed a message on the consequence of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the risks of escalation to strategic stability. He also raised the cases of unjustly detained U.S. citizens, but I don’t have any other specifics to offer at the moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)