Department Press Briefing – October 4, 2022

5 Oct

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

2:19 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hey, everybody, and sorry for being a little tardy. Apologies.

So I have one quick thing for you at the top, and then I’m happy to dive in to your questions.

So I am happy to announce today that the United States is proud to nominate Amy Pope to be the next director general of the International Organization for Migration.

Amy Pope is an experienced leader that IOM needs at this time of unprecedented displacement and migration. She has extensive experience fostering collaboration between governments, NGOs, and communities to translate their policies into reality. I worked with her closely at the White House, where she was brilliant, and a wonderful colleague.

She has proven her exceptional capacity to achieve results that serve migrants, to lead and support IOM’s workforce, and to collaborate closely with member states. The U.S. strongly supports her candidacy, and we are confident that under her leadership IOM will thrive.

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

QUESTION: Sure. Just to make sure – I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this – this nomination was actually announced yesterday.

MR PATEL: Correct. It was announced —

QUESTION: You wanted to have —

MR PATEL: The Secretary announced it via a statement.

QUESTION: You wanted to get it on camera?

MR PATEL: We just wanted to —

QUESTION: Reiterate it?

MR PATEL: — again reiterate our proud nomination of Amy.

QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. So North – let’s start with North Korea. As we saw, the Secretary spoke overnight, I suppose, or very late last night, with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. I see the White House announce that the President spoke with Prime Minister Kishida and Jake Sullivan spoke with their national security advisor. So are you aware of any other contacts that there have been since this missile launch? And where does the administration intend to go next with its response?

MR PATEL: Sure. So Deputy Secretary Sherman and Special Representative Kim had a chance to speak with their counterparts as well. But beyond that, I want to take a little bit of a step back and reiterate what you saw the Secretary and some of the communications coming from the administration have reiterated, which is that we condemn this dangerous and reckless launch of a long-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan, and it posed an unacceptable threat to the Japanese public. This action is a clear violation of multiple resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, and it again demonstrates the threat that the DPRK holds both as it relates to its unlawful weapons of mass destruction program, but also its ballistic missiles program, and the threat that it poses to its neighbors as well.

Together with the international community, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and to engage in sustained and substantive dialogue. We continue to consult closely with our allies, as is evidenced by the number of high-level communications that have happened from across the interagency with their counterparts. And I’d also reiterate that our commitments to Japan and the Republic of Korea are ironclad.

QUESTION: Right, but is there any – are there any thoughts about where you take it from here, beyond the consultations? I mean, what do the consultations lead to? What are you consulting about? Presumably it’s a response.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview or read out for you at this time, but again, we condemn this dangerous and reckless launch, and again, are holding close consultations and continue to communicate directly with our allies and partners on this issue, especially with the Republic of Korea and Japan.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR PATEL: Same topic?

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Just the secretary-general himself said this was – the UN secretary-general said this was an escalation. But what’s the overall read about this happening now, and how dangerous it is? And with the repeated warnings about a nuclear test, is there any new indication that the United States have that that might be imminent? And any messaging that you want to share?

MR PATEL: Sure. So we’re still assessing the specific nature of this recent launch, which, again, posed an unacceptable threat to the Japanese public. As you noted at the beginning of your question, this is the 39th ballistic missile that the DPRK has launched in 2022, and this kind of continued action, not only is it unlawful, it is destabilizing to the region and the whole international community. And we continue to condemn this kind of testing and this kind of activity.

Anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have one on North Korea.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You’ve been saying, I guess since the beginning of the administration, that you’ve been asking the North Koreans for dialogue. You mentioned encouraging them to engage in dialogue. Is there still kind of an offer on the table despite what they’re doing? That hasn’t changed that you want them to talk?

MR PATEL: Absolutely. So our position on diplomacy and dialogue has not changed, and it remains the same. And frankly, this action underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy. I’ll also note that our ultimate goal here, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, has not changed either. And we remain prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy to make tangible progress towards these goals. And we continue to be prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, but it’s unfortunate that these efforts towards diplomacy and outreach has not responded – has not – they have not reacted similarly.

QUESTION: So the offer to meet without preconditions, that will remain on the table sort of regardless of the actions that – if they continue taking escalatory actions?

MR PATEL: That continues to be our posture. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We consider that to be an important step towards meeting our ultimate goal, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we continue to feel that diplomacy and dialogue are a key – a key aspect of achieving that goal.

Any —

QUESTION: Just one other certain thing.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I wonder if you had anything on sort of just – there’s unconfirmed reports just before we came into this briefing, I guess, that there was an explosion, possibly multiple explosions and a fire at a South Korean air force – the South Korean air force’s 18th fighter wing base. At the moment it’s very unconfirmed, but I’m wondering if you guys have any —

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer on that, but we can – we can check and see if we have anything to assess on that.

Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering how serious the administration is regarding this launch. Like, 4,600 kilometers is long enough to strike Guam, and with more development could enable them to possibly strike Hawaii, Alaska, or even the West Coast. With that, like, how long do you all plan to keep having this door open for, like, a call back? Is there a timeline?

MR PATEL: Well, like I – like I answered Matt’s question, I’m not going to speculate on any kind of response or specific actions. As I said, we continue to consult closely with our allies and partners. But since you asked, I will again use this opportunity to say that the U.S. Government condemns this dangerous and reckless launch. We think that it’s unacceptable. It is a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and it again demonstrates the DPRK’s unlawful and destabilizing activities in the region.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Could you address anything about the joint air drills, the South Korean-U.S. air drills in response to this launch?

MR PATEL: Sure. So I can confirm that we have had a bilateral military exercise with Japan and the Republic of Korea. I will refer you to the Pentagon and let my Pentagon colleagues there speak to those in greater detail. But what I would take away from that is that the United States commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan is ironclad. But I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to those in greater specificity.

Anything else on the region before we move away? Gitte?

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Two questions on Iran. Yesterday, President Biden issued a statement in support of the people who are demonstrating in Iran, and in it he says that the Iranian regime has been suppressing people and denying their fundamental rights for decades, and then he promises more sanctions. But the effectiveness of these sanctions is really under question. Would the Biden administration consider deporting the family members of all Iranian authorities who are here in the United States studying, working, and just living, irrespective of their legal status?

MR PATEL: So let me – let me try to – let me answer that in two parts. First, as it relates to the President’s statement yesterday, as he said, we will continue to take action to impose further costs on the perpetrators of the violence against peaceful protesters and other human rights abuses. I don’t have anything to preview. I’m certainly not going to preview any potential actions.

But as it relates to the second part of your question, deportation and the enforcement of our immigration laws is something that’s handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the State Department, so I would refer you to DHS. Our viewpoint is that individual deportations are a legal issue and not a political tool. But again, this is something that DHS can speak to. I’m not going to get into it from here.

QUESTION:  Well you – the administration keeps saying that they have all sorts of different tools in their – for cases like this or other cases. Couldn’t this be one way of really getting back at the authorities and showing them that the U.S. is serious?

MR PATEL:  We do have a number of tools in our arsenal to hold Iran accountable for a lot of their destabilizing activities. I’m not going to read them out necessarily from here. But as it relates to this, as it relates to individual deportations, our view is that they’re a legal issue, not a political tool, and they live within the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. So I’d refer you to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. And —

QUESTION:  Does that mean that there’s no policy implication to this at all?

MR PATEL:  No policy implication to what, Matt?

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, yes, DHS is the one that takes them to court and then physically picks them up and flies them out of the country. But they don’t just do that on their own.

MR PATEL:  I –

QUESTION:  There’s a policy – I mean, they can, obviously. But in a situation like this there’s got to be a policy decision made above DHS —

MR PATEL:  Right.

QUESTION:  — that you are going to go after – as she suggested —

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  — the – or may go after the families of Iranian officials who are here.

MR PATEL:  Look, I –

QUESTION:  DHS isn’t going to make that decision on their own, unless they’ve gotten more powerful than I’m aware of.

MR PATEL:  Look, I think what the – what I would reiterate and what I would say is that I’m not going to preview any actions. As the President alluded to his statement, there will be additional actions coming. I’m certainly not going to get into that from here. But I would also agree that there continue to be a number of tools in our toolbelts and items in our arsenal that we can use to continue to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing actions.

On your specific question about deportations, they are a legal issue, not a political tool, and they are handled by DHS, not from the State Department. So I don’t have anything else to add on that.

QUESTION:  Another question on this.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  About Iran and Iraq. A VOA Kurdish investigation has exposed that Iran, through the Iraqi Government, is pressuring the Iraqi Kurdistan officials to tell the Iranian Kurdish groups in Kurdistan to expel them, actually. Officials have told VOA that Iraqi – the Iraqi military delegation warned the Iraqi Kurdistan region they have – we have people who have said that the Iranians have amassed forces on the Iraqi Iran border and that they have threatened to attack these people.

Now, should Iran conduct such an attack against the opposition group in Iraq, would – number one, has the U.S. administration been told about this from the Iraqi Kurdistan? And would the U.S. get involved? Would it help the Regional Government of Kurdistan to face such attack if it happened?

MR PATEL:  So I don’t have any specifics or anything to offer on that. What I will say is that we would take issue with any violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I don’t have any additional assessment to offer on that. Anything else?

QUESTION:  You mean that – sorry – post-2003 you mean?

MR PATEL:  Pardon?

QUESTION:  You would take issue with any violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity post-2003?

MR PATEL:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Is that what you mean?

MR PATEL:  Thank you, Matt. I – we —

QUESTION:  Right. Okay. Just making sure.

QUESTION:  On the Iran deal –

MR PATEL:  Hold on, Said. Said, I have to – let me – there are other folks that with their – I will come back to you, Said, I promise.

QUESTION:  On Iran, on Iran.

MR PATEL:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  This is about Namazi, Baquer Namazi.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Can you confirm if he is at the moment in the USA? And has anyone from State Department met with him and knows about his condition?

MR PATEL:  So out of the respect for the family’s privacy, I don’t have any other details to offer. And we request that the media also respect their privacy. But would take a step back, just to make sure folks know what we’re talking about, is that wrongfully detailed U.S. citizen Baquer Namazi has been permitted to depart Iran and his son Siamak, who also was wrongfully detained, has been granted a furlough from prison. But again, out of respect for the family’s privacy, I don’t have any other details to offer on this.

QUESTION:  And about the negotiations that has happened for this release, can you give us any details? What sort of negotiations was that? What sort of a deal you broke?

MR PATEL:  So we understand that the lifting of this travel ban and Siamak’s furlough were related to medical need. They were not part of any deal or anything like that. So I don’t have anything additional to offer. I would reiterate, though, that Baquer Namazi was wrongfully detained in Iran and then not permitted to leave the country, despite after serving his sentence and despite having urgent medical need. But again, our understanding is that the lifting was related to medical need.

Said.

QUESTION:  There was a payment of $7 billion from South Korea to —

MR PATEL: There has been no facilitation of any funds transferred. That is absolutely false.

QUESTION: But you know it’s very hard to believe that Islamic Republic released them based on good faith and – because that has never happened before.

MR PATEL: That is a question for Tehran and not for me.

Said, you had a question.

QUESTION: One more on Iran, please.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry, Said. Family members of Nika Shakarami said that Iranian security forces stole body of 16-year-old protester after reportedly beating her to death and buried her secretly in a village in Iran. Are you aware of this report that BBC talked about?

MR PATEL: So I’m not aware of this specific report, Michel. But since you asked the question, I do want to take an opportunity to reiterate what you’ve seen the President and the Secretary and a number of others say over the past few days, which is that we are gravely concerned that the Iranian Government is intensifying its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters who are demanding their equal rights and demanding basic human rights and human dignity. We’re appalled by some of these crackdowns, especially as it relates to the crackdown on students. And so as the President said, we will continue to take actions to impose further costs. We will continue to monitor and pay close attention and impose costs on these perpetrators of peaceful protesting and human rights abuses as well.

Said.

QUESTION: Can I move on?

MR PATEL: Sure. If there’s anything else on the region before we move on? All right, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. On the Palestinian issue, first of all, can you update us on the meeting that Hussein al-Sheikh and PA official have had today?

MR PATEL: Sure. So Secretary General al-Sheikh is in Washington today for meetings. He met today with Deputy Secretary Sherman, and we will have a readout of that later today. He also met with other senior State officials and other interagency officials as well. The – what this is largely about, Said, is this administration’s focus on renewing engagement with Palestinian leadership and deepening diplomatic ties with the Palestinians. And as you saw, this is – President Biden had a meeting with President Abbas in July, and this is an extension of those efforts to deepen relationships, and engagement in Washington is naturally a part of that.

QUESTION: Did you guys commit to him in any way about a date, a possible date, for reopening the American consulate in Jerusalem? I know that’s probably one of the issues that, I mean, logically he would have raised.

MR PATEL: Right. I don’t have any specifics to offer yet, Said, but we will have a readout on this meeting later today. Like I said, these are part of efforts to renew and deepen our engagement with Palestinian leadership, and so we’ll have more to offer in the readout of this meeting.

QUESTION: A couple more questions.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On the issue of administrative detention, rights groups, Israeli and international rights groups are saying that the Israelis are holding somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 Palestinians under administrative detention. Now these detentions or imprisonments can go on forever sometimes. I mean, some people are still under that kind of detention for decades, I mean for 20 years and so on. What is your position – what is the United States position – on holding someone indefinitely without any charges?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, the U.S. urges the full respect for human rights both in Israel but also in the West Bank and Gaza. And as we have said many times before, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom.

QUESTION: But honestly, with all due respect, I mean, when you say this and then we see, as we saw last week, the Israelis chase a 70-year-old, and then he falls to his death – I mean, these calls ring hollow, with all due respect, I mean, equal measures and all these things – the Palestinians are not holding Israelis under administrative detention. They are not destroying their home; they’re not blowing them up; they’re not removing them and so on. There are no equal measures. There are no equal measures. So my question to you: Will the United States take a position on the administrative detention? I think you would probably do that if it were else. I mean, this is question that I’ve probably raised many, many times over the years in this room.

MR PATEL: I certainly appreciate your question, Said. I don’t have any additional assessments to offer here other than the U.S. urges the full respect for human rights in Israel, in the West Bank, and Gaza. As we have said many times before, Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, on the child Rayyan Suleiman, last week you said that you have asked the Israelis for an investigation, a formal investigation. Have they responded to you in any way?

MR PATEL: So Said, I want to take a little bit of a step back and clarify my comments from last week’s phone briefing because I think you and a couple others are taking them out of context. We did not ask for an investigation. What we said was we welcome investigation that the IDF had already indicated was underway. I understand from the latest reporting that the child tragically died of heart failure, which of course does not make this —

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

MR PATEL: — which does not make this any less heartbreaking. But statements on this from the IDF made clear that an initial inquiry showed no connection, that this issue continues to be up to review. So I would refer you to them, but I did want to clarify my comments.

QUESTION: So you are not — just to be clear, you are not calling for an investigation into this?

MR PATEL: What I said was that we welcome a thorough investigation —

QUESTION: I understand. I’m just saying what you’re saying now —

MR PATEL: I just wanted to —

QUESTION: — that you are not calling for an investigation —

MR PATEL: What we are –

QUESTION: — at this particular incident.

MR PATEL: What I said and what I would reiterate today is that we welcome a thorough and immediate investigation. The IDF is already – that process is underway, and so I will – I will let them speak to that. But really not —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, since you’re going to quibble over his use of words, I’m going to quibble with yours because you didn’t say we would welcome. You said, “We support a thorough and immediate investigation,” unless the transcript that I’m reading off of that I just pulled up on the website is wrong.

MR PATEL: No, you are – you are right.

QUESTION: So you didn’t say, “We welcome an investigation.” You said, “We support a thorough and immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child’s death.”

MR PATEL: That is correct. My —

QUESTION: Is there difference between welcome and support that you’re trying to —

MR PATEL: My intention was just to indicate that this was —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: — an investigation that the IDF —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: — had already under —

QUESTION: No, no, I don’t think anyone is saying that you’re urging an investigation or calling for an investigation —

MR PATEL: Well —

QUESTION: — but there is a difference between welcome and support unless —

MR PATEL: I just wanted to clarify that piece.

QUESTION: — you’re trying to say that –

MR PATEL: Nope. I wanted to clarify that latter piece, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Can I go to —

MR PATEL: On same region or shifting subjects?

QUESTION: No, it’s on Russia.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Could I ask you – there is a court in Russia today – talked about another American being sentenced – Robert Gilman. He was identified as – in Russian news agencies as – he was accused of kicking an officer. Do you have anything about this, and if so, whether there’s been consular access?

MR PATEL: So due to privacy considerations, there is going to be a limit to what I can offer. But we are aware of Russia’s court’s decisions, and we take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are continuing to monitor the situation. We continue to insist that the Russian Federation allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens, and we urge the Russian Government to ensure fair treatment to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia. But I don’t have anything else to offer.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, has there been an access in this case? Is that a concern in this case?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, there’s a limit to what I can say. I don’t have any additional comments to offer.

QUESTION: Sure. And I know you just said nothing more to offer, but just briefly – I mean, is there any indication he was targeted because of his U.S. citizenship?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have further assessments to provide on this.

QUESTION: Sure. I have some stuff on other regions in the world, unless someone else has more on Russia.

MR PATEL: Sure. Still on Russia?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you, Shaun. I promise.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Russian Government officials on this particular case, or is it too early to talk about?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have anything to offer additional beyond what I said otherwise.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. On Russia, again —

QUESTION: How does that have to do – how does that have anything to do with privacy considerations?

MR PATEL: What do you mean, Matt?

QUESTION: Well, I think the question was: have you been in touch with Russian officials about this case? You’re confirming that there is a case, that you’re aware of it, but privacy considerations prevent you from saying whether you’ve asked – you’ve gotten in touch with the Russians about it?

MR PATEL: Due to privacy considerations, there – I – there are limits to what I can get into.

QUESTION: That has nothing to do – yeah, but that has nothing to do with privacy.

MR PATEL: As I said at the top of Shaun’s question, we continue to insist consistent consular access.

QUESTION: Well, I get it, but you —

MR PATEL: And we’re monitoring the situation, but I don’t have any other assessments.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I think you need to come up with a better explanation for why you’re refusing to say anything than privacy considerations about a government-to-government – a government-to-government contact that has nothing to do with the person’s privacy. He’s just – he’s just asking whether you’ve been in touch with them or not.

MR PATEL: Well, like I said, we are aware of the Russian’s court’s decision, and we take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens who are abroad.

QUESTION: On that line, I have a question about Russians.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: You probably are aware of the reports that the European Union has issued a coordinated efforts that they are summoning Russian ambassadors, most recently I think yesterday in Brussels, to express their concern on annexation. Is the United States going to follow suit? And if not, why not?

MR PATEL: We have taken – I don’t have any specific actions to read out specifically, but I will note that we have taken a number of actions since last week to make clear our vehement condemnation and opposition to the efforts around not just the sham referenda but also the annexation.

You saw today another tranche of security assistance be announced. You saw late last week a robust interagency action between the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department that have imposed imposing actions on Russia’s leaders within the Kremlin and things of that nature. So I don’t have any future actions to preview as it relates to that, but we have made our opposition to these annexations quite, quite clear and quite vocal.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Has there been any progress towards securing the freedom of Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan? And can you characterize any ongoing talks with Russian officials to that aim?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so I don’t have any additional updates to provide as it relates to the wrongful detention of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. We continue to urge their release. Secretary Blinken spoke to you all a number of weeks ago and spoke about a substantial proposal that was on the table earlier this summer to facilitate their release. Our governments are communicating about that, but the Russians should take the deal that’s on the table. But I don’t have any other updates to provide.

Shaun, coming back to you.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I ask a couple things in Latin America?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Can we do Russia a little bit more?

MR PATEL: Actually – okay, you had a couple questions. Michel, did you have – you had a question on a similar topic?

QUESTION: No. On Israel and Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Okay. We’ll take your question in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Mark Stone from Sky News. Just on Russia and Ukraine, there have been some quite confused reporting – there has been some confused reporting about a Russian train, military train that might be connected somehow to its nuclear capabilities moving. I wondered if you could comment on that and simply comment on whether you have seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any assessment to provide about any updates on the ground or any of that reporting, but I would say is that as Secretary Blinken has said, we have heard a lot of irresponsible rhetoric coming from Russia and coming from Vladimir Putin. And we are focused on making sure that we are all acting responsibly, especially when it comes to this kind of loose rhetoric and saber-rattling. We’ve been very clear with Russia publicly as well as privately to stop its irresponsible rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons, and we’ve addressed this both from the Secretary and the President have spoken to this as well.

QUESTION: Just to follow up if I may, some U.S. administration officials have been quite clear over the past few weeks in stressing that they have not seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture. So as of today, have you seen any change?

MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any new updates to offer or a new assessment to provide on any updates from the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the U.S. engagement between Lebanon and Israel, the U.S. has delivered a draft agreement to both parties. Have you received any answer or any answers from them?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Michel. So to take a little bit of a step back, so yes, Special Presidential Coordinator Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close. As you note, I can confirm we delivered a U.S. proposal for a final agreement on the maritime boundary to both countries and that happened over the weekend. And we continue to welcome the consultative spirit of both parties to reach a resolution.

Resolving this dispute is a key priority for this administration, and we firmly believe that a deal has the potential to promote lasting stability and economic prosperity for both countries. But I don’t have an update to provide or anything to offer yet in terms of next steps.

QUESTION: Did you receive any answers?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any new assessment to provide.

QUESTION: And do you expect any deal this week?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to speculate on timeline here other than this is something that continues to remain a key priority and something that we’re very closely engaged on.

We’ll go back to Shaun.

QUESTION: Nicaragua. The – I know there’s some – there was a reaction to this last week, but the Nicaraguan Government is saying that it’s not accepting the confirmed U.S. ambassador. It’s also declared persona non grata the European Union representative and the Dutch ambassador. Do you have any comment on this, either where the United States is going with this in terms of whether Ambassador Rodriguez will still try to go or more broadly speaking about where you see the direction of diplomacy with Nicaragua?

MR PATEL: I will have to get back to you on that. I don’t have anything to offer on that right at this moment.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: But I can – we can check with the team and get back to you.

QUESTION: Sure, can I ask something completely unrelated.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Burkina Faso.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: The coup there. There’s a demonstration today on which there are some Russian flags. The head of the Wagner Group offered praise for the new junta leader, the new coup leader. Does the United States have any concern about Russia’s role in Burkina Faso or any information on what’s going on?

MR PATEL: Sure. So first and foremost, I would say that the U.S. is continuing to monitor the situation in Burkina Faso. But specifically as it relates to your question, we have spoken clearly about the destabilizing impact of both Russian disinformation but also the Wagner Group’s activities globally. Countries where the group has been deployed find themselves weaker and less secure, and we’ve seen that in a number of cases in Africa alone.

So we – our viewpoint is that we condemn any attempt to exacerbate the current situation in Burkina Faso, and we strongly encourage the new transition government to adhere to the agreed‑upon timeline for return to a democratically elected, civilian-led government.

Nick, you had a question?

QUESTION: Could I just briefly follow up?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there actually a concern that the Wagner Group is actually going to come in, that there is something being cooked between them and the authorities in Burkina Faso?

MR PATEL: I’ve not seen anything as it relates to that. But again, we’ve been very clear that the – about the destabilizing impacts both on Russian disinformation but also the Wagner Group as well.

Nick.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to ask about a provision Senator Kaine had inserted into the Taiwan Policy Act —

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: — that would increase oversight of non-career political-appointed ambassadors, basically allowing embassy staff to complete anonymous annual assessments of these ambassadors and make that easier to report poor performance to the IG. Is that something that State Department would support or not support?

MR PATEL: Well, I’m just – I’m not going to get into correspondence with Congress or – on legislation that is still being litigated and negotiated, so I don’t have any assessment to offer on that.

QUESTION: But broadly speaking, is State favorable towards the idea of more transparency on politically appointed ambassadors and their performance?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to offer an assessment on this yet.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions about Latin America, if possible.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first about the prisoner exchange negotiation between United States and Venezuela announced past weekend.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Guaidó said that he was not involved in this negotiation. How does State Department respond to claims that this negotiation brings a diplomatic issue once United States does not recognize Maduro’s regime and at the same time have to negotiate with him this type of matter?

MR PATEL: So to take a little bit of a step back, we are not going to get into the specifics of the diplomatic engagements here due to operational concerns, due to privacy. But more broadly, the important takeaway here is that we want the American people to know that we have no higher priority than their safety and security. Securing their release and reuniting them with their families has been a top priority for this administration, and we’ve engaged on the issue of wrongful detainees at every opportunity as well as engaged directly to release them as soon as possible. And this is something we’re going to continue to work intensively on.

QUESTION: Okay. And if possible a second question about Brazil.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Past Sunday night, the State Department already released a statement regarding elections in Brazil. Is there anything else that you could add regarding this statement, especially about how the U.S. see electoral process in Brazil?

MR PATEL: Sure. So I would just reiterate what the Secretary said over the weekend, which is that the – first and foremost, we congratulate the Brazilian people and its institutions on a successful first round that was conducted with credibility and transparency, and we support the Brazilian people and their democratic right, and we look forward to this next process and it playing out transparently as well.

I think that’s all the time we have for today, everybody. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – September 29, 2022

29 Sep

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

1:32 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hey everybody, good afternoon, and thank you so much for joining us via phone today. We thought with all the various building restrictions on campus today, we thought it’d be easier to get this group together via phone.

I don’t have anything off the top for you today, so I’m happy to dive right into your questions. Operator, if you could please repeat asking question instructions again. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Absolutely. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1-0 on your telephone keypad. And you can withdraw that question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. And one moment.

MR PATEL: Operator, let’s start with the line of Matt Lee with the Associated Press.

OPERATOR: One moment. Mr. Lee, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. Thanks. Two things real briefly. One is I had been under the impression – I guess misimpression, perhaps – that the Iran sanctions that were going to be announced today – well, that you just did announce – were related to the current crackdown and repression. Is there something else coming today, or – related to the – what’s going on inside of Iran now, with the protests and the clampdown?

And then secondly, how soon after Russia goes ahead and formally annexes or says that it has formally annexed these four regions of Ukraine, how long will the administration wait before taking action? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Matt. So first, I will note that the sanctions on – that you mentioned, just to take a little bit of a step back for those that might not know what we’re talking about, today the State Department imposed sanctions on two People’s Republic of China‑based entities, and the Treasury Department designated eight entities for their involvement in Iran’s petrochemical trade. This is standard enforcement of sanctions not related to anything other than just our standard enforcement of our sanctions.

As it relates to what is going on in Iran currently, we have taken a number of steps. As you all might be well aware of, we designated last week Iran’s morality police as well as seven senior Iranian security officials involved in human rights abuses, including violent repression of peaceful protests in Iran. On top of that, the U.S. also issued General License D-2, which opens the door for U.S. companies to provide tools for ordinary Iranians to better communicate with one another and the outside world using various software and internet products.

What I will note about the second part of your question is of course all options remain on the table when it comes to imposing costs on Russia in response to its atrocities and its continued invasion of Ukraine, and of course its recent reports on its sham referenda and the efforts around annexation. I don’t have anything to preview right now, but I will note that we will continue to use the various tools and levers at our disposal to hold Russia accountable and to continue to support the Ukrainian people. And we will never recognize those territories as Russian. They will always be Ukrainian and in Ukraine.

Next, let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Also on Russia. NATO – well, also on – yeah, related to Russia. NATO today said that there was a deliberate, reckless sabotage on Nord Stream. I wonder if the U.S. on its own has any assessment of what happened. Do you have – can you cast the blame on anybody in terms of who actually did this? Will there be repercussions? And I think this was asked yesterday, but does this rise to the – rise to the level that it violates – that it invokes Article 5 of NATO? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Shaun. I don’t have any overnight updates to provide on this beyond what Ned said yesterday. Of course, any sort of apparent sabotage on key infrastructure entities would of course be of serious concern. But I’ll reiterate that we have been in touch with our European allies and partners about the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. We are supporting European efforts to investigate this.

As – and of course as you all know, these pipelines weren’t pumping natural gas into Europe at the time. Nord Stream 1 had been shut down due to Russia’s weaponizing of energy, and Nord Stream 2 was never operational. We are going to continue to work hand in hand with our European partners to get to the bottom of this, and I will also note we’re not going to let Russian disinformation distract us from Russia’s fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory either.

Next, let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis with Reuters.

OPERATOR: One moment here. And please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Vedant. Just back to the Iran sanctions that you guys just announced, I wondered – I know this is – these are Treasury designations, but it mentions in the statement that the State Department just put out from the Secretary these eight entities involved in Iran’s petrochemical trade. Is there any more information you can give us about what those entities were doing and whether, I guess particularly they’re in several countries, are you asking those countries to take action additionally against those companies? I’m specifically interested that India is mentioned as one of the countries where those – where the companies are. I wonder – an additional question – since the Secretary met with the Indian – his Indian counterpart this week, is that something came up or did the subject of enforcement of Iran sanctions come up generally? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question, Simon. I don’t have any additional information to provide on the Secretary’s bilateral engagement with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar beyond what the two ministers spoke about in their press conference earlier in the week.

And as to additional specifics about the sanctions, I would really refer you to the Treasury Department to speak to more specifics, but I will note again here for everyone that the Department of Treasury designated eight entities for their involvement in Iran’s petrochemical trade. Those entities are based in Hong Kong, Iran, India, and the United Arab Emirates. And those designations were made pursuant to Executive Order 13846 which authorizes the imposition of sanctions with respect to trade in Iranian petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products. But again, our colleagues at the Treasury Department, I’m sure, can speak to you further on this.

Let’s go to the line of Jenny Hansler with CNN.

OPERATOR: One moment. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks Vedant. I wanted to ask about the North Korean missile launches. Does the U.S. have any assessment of that and do you see it as extra provocative given that Vice President Harris was just in the DNC and in the region? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Jenny. So the United States condemns the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches this morning: two today and three earlier this week. These launches are a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and demonstrate the threat the DPRK poses to the region as well as the international community. We remain deeply committed to a diplomatic approach with the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue. I’ll also note that our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan – two of our key allies in the region – remains ironclad.

Next, let’s go to the line of Guita Aryan with Voice of America.

OPERATOR: And please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my question. I have a question about Iran as well but not the sanctions. Regarding the possible fatalities in Iraqi Kurdistan due to the Iranian missile attacks, do you have any updates – have there – do you know of any Americans having been among those killed? Because we have gotten information on at least one individual, U.S. citizen. And also the second part of my question, yesterday, the Iranian president said that the demonstrations are part of a U.S. plot. Did the Biden administration ask the people to go out on the streets and demonstrate? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Guita. First and foremost as it relates to the attacks, I want to reiterate that we condemn Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the genesis of your question – we can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed as a result of a rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region yesterday, but due to privacy considerations I don’t have any further comments to provide.

And on your piece about the protests – these protests are not at all about the United States. This is about the Iranian Government and its efforts to cut or disrupt access to the internet, its efforts to crack down on peaceful protestors, its efforts to infringe on basic human rights. That’s what these protests are about. It is not about the United States.

Let’s next go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News.

OPERATOR: And please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you so much for doing this and happy Thursday. A couple questions here. May I get your reaction to Putin’s latest accusations, saying that the West was ready to provoke, quote/unquote, “color revolutions” and it was working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts in the post-Soviet space. I know you guys have, in the past, refuted these sort of Russian narrative. I want to give you a chance to respond to this latest example, him pointing fingers at the West.

And secondly, Russia also claimed today that it is considering talks on expanding key nuclear arms treaty. The spokesperson of the foreign ministry said that they are open to reviving inspections under New START Treaty and considering the possibility of in-person meetings to discuss nuclear arms. Do you have anything on that?

And lastly, if I may, Slovakia this week became the latest NATO Ally to ratify Sweden and Finland’s entry into the Allies. Now that you have two Allies left, Hungary and Turkey, that are last holdouts, do you have any message to them? Is the administration in consultations with both countries? Thank you so much for the opportunity.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your questions, Alex. Let me try to unpack those piece by piece.

First, on your second question about New START talks, I don’t have any additional updates to provide there.

Third, to your point about a NATO accession, we will leave it to our NATO Allies to work to their own internal legislative processes as it relates to NATO accession. As you know, the U.S. Congress was able to pass its – and play its part in NATO – in the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland, and I know that President Biden and Secretary Blinken were happy to see that, that major milestone take place. And we continue to look forward to this process playing out forwardly.

And look, as it relates to President Putin’s comments, I’ve not seen those comments specifically. But again, this isn’t about the United States. This is about Russia and Russia’s infringement on basic human rights, as well as Russia’s illegal and unjust efforts in Ukraine, its invasion of Ukraine, its sham referendum, and now its potential annexation of territory that is Ukrainian and will be – will remain Ukrainian. The U.S. will never recognize that territory as part of Russia.

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

OPERATOR: One moment here. Said, your line is open.

QUESTION: I think – can you hear me? Hello?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. I wonder if you have any comment or if you saw the story that the Israeli – Israeli soldier chased a Palestinian boy, seven years old, to his death this morning. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And second, yesterday, after you called on the Israelis to pull back from the brink, they seem to have upped the ante, and the chief of the army issued an okay, I guess, to go ahead and assassinate Palestinian activists and leaders using airplanes and drones. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So first and foremost, the U.S. is heartbroken to learn of the death of an innocent Palestinian child. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have repeated numerous times, Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity. We support a thorough and immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child’s death, and I believe the IDF itself has also indicated it will be looking into what has – what transpired as well.

And look, on the second part of your question, we call on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. And as we have said for some time, we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence.

Next let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly with The Hill.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. Going back to the leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines, are there any concerns that there’s any damage to transatlantic communication cables? And if I may, a second question, if there are any updates on the Israel-Lebanon maritime deal? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question, Laura. No updates to provide on the Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement. I – additionally not aware of any damage to transatlantic communication channels. But again, we are in close touch with our European allies and partners about the apparent sabotage, and we are supporting European efforts to investigate this.

Let’s go to the line of Barak Ravid with Axios.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thanks. I want to follow up on what Said asked on both of his questions. First, if you can again refer to the issue of the possible targeted assassinations by the Israeli military using drones and fighter jets in the West Bank. And second, Ned said yesterday something that sounded like a new policy when he said that the U.S. can – is willing to help, but it’s up to the parties themselves to stop the violence. And is this really a change in policy by the Biden administration – sort of you broke it, you fix it?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Barak. So first, I will say – reiterate what Ned said yesterday, which was not any sort of new U.S. policy, but what – reiterating what has been our belief for a long time on two fronts, which is that all parties should do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. And as we have said for some time, the United States and other international partners stand ready to help, but that cannot be a substitute for the vital actions by the parties to mitigate conflict and restore calm themselves.

Next let’s go to the line of Roj Zalla with Rudaw TV.

OPERATOR: One moment here for Roj, here. Apologize. Okay. Roj, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Vedant. So now that you confirmed that an American citizen was killed in the Iranian attack, what is the – how – what reaction should – will we see from the Americans? I know you said you don’t talk about the specifics of the case, but an American citizen killed by Iran, is that just gonna slip away, or is there something that we will be hearing from the U.S.?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Roj. Again, to reiterate, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have anything further to add. But I will note, first and foremost, we continue to condemn Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On top of that, at the United States disposal continues to be a number of tools and a number of lines of efforts to continue to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing actions in the region. And we will continue to pursue those lines of efforts. I’m certainly not going to read out everything from here, but those options continue to remain on the table.

All right. We got time for one last question, so we’ll go to the line of Leon Bruneau with the AFP.

QUESTION: Hello?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Leon.

OPERATOR: Yeah. Your line is open.

MR PATEL: Oh, yeah, yeah. Hi, Vedant. Thanks. Thanks for taking my question. Coming back to North Korea, the Vice President made some sort of extraordinary comments on the DMZ. I understand it’s a gaffe that can happen, but the optics of it at that location are quite extraordinary. Do you have any comment on that? Has there been any pushback as far as you know on this?

MR PATEL: Sorry about that, Leon – was struggling with mute. I will refer you to the White House and the Vice President’s office for any comments made during her trip.

But I want to use this opportunity to, again, condemn the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches this morning. Again, that was two today on top of three that took place earlier this week. That is – these are all in clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and continue to demonstrate the threat the DPRK poses to the region and the international community. And we remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

That’s all the time we have for today, everybody. Thanks so much for joining via phone, and we’ll talk to you all again very soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – September 7, 2022

8 Sep

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington D.C.

2:14 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good morning – well, good afternoon, everybody. Sorry. It’s not morning anymore. Apologies for being just a couple minutes tardy. I have two very brief things for you at the top, and then happy to dive right into your questions.

So, I want to bring Russia’s so-called “filtration” operations back to your attention ahead of the UN Security Council meeting this afternoon where Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will deliver remarks on behalf of the United States.

“Filtration” is a dehumanizing word describing a massive campaign that the Kremlin has launched to imprison, forcibly deport, or disappear those Ukrainian citizens Moscow decides could be a potential threat to their control over Ukraine. The tactics Russia has used to collect information are invasive, and victims of filtration are given no choice but to submit or face dire consequences. Russia has systematically used the practice of forced deportations previously, and the fear and misery it evokes for people forced to live under the Kremlin’s control are hard to overstate.

We have newly downgraded information about how, over the course of this conflict, Russia has increasingly relied on infrastructure – including facilities, technology, and transportation – to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have been and will be processed through these filtrations operations. Behind me is a map that DNI just made public earlier today, laying out some of these filtrations operations.

Russian forces and Russian proxies in Russian-controlled Ukraine are using dedicated information technology to support filtration operations, including online databases, tools, equipment to support the gathering of biometric data and facial recognition, and tracking and monitoring of Ukrainians’ cell phones.

The United States has information that officials from Russia’s presidential administration are overseeing and coordinating filtration operations.

We are further aware that the Russian presidential administration officials are providing lists of Ukrainians to be targeted for filtration, and receiving reports on the scope and progress of operations.

We assess that the Kremlin views filtration operations as a – crucial to their efforts to annex areas of Ukraine under their control.

And we demand that Russia halt its filtration operations immediately and allow the UN, independent observers, and humanitarian and human rights organizations access to these filtration sites.

We call on the global community to join us in condemning this practice and calling for humanitarian access to be granted.

One last thing. I know a few of you asked yesterday about Special Envoy Hammer’s travel to Ethiopia, so we just wanted to offer a brief update for you all on that. The U.S. continues to be deeply concerned about renewed fighting in Ethiopia. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer met in Addis Ababa September 5th through 6th with deputy prime minister, with the foreign minister, and the national security advisor to discuss the urgency of immediate cessation of hostilities and going to peace talks under the African Union’s auspices.

Special Envoy Hammer delivered the same message to the TPLF chairman, and we have condemned the TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, the Ethiopian Government’s airstrikes and ground offensive, and Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict.

In the coming days, as part of the ongoing diplomatic effort, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee, Special Envoy Hammer, and other U.S. diplomats will be consulting with the African Union as well as key actors in the region – the UN, the EU, and UK envoys. Our goal is to mobilize diplomatic efforts to press the government and the TPLF to halt immediately their military offensives and for Eritrea to withdraw to its borders. There is no military solution to this conflict. The only path forward is for the parties to pursue a negotiated settlement through peace talks.

The Ethiopian people have suffered tremendously from this conflict. As the largest donor, the U.S. is committed to continuing to provide its life-saving humanitarian assistance to those in need affected by the resumption of conflict. It is important to note that we remain concerned by the negative impact of conflict and drought in other regions of Ethiopia.

Let me restate again that the U.S. commitment to Ethiopia’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and our conviction that only through a lasting peace will the Ethiopian people have an opportunity to achieve the prosperity they desire and deserve.

So, with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Daphne, if you want to start.

QUESTION: Thank you. The – if I could start with the grain deal, is the State Department concerned about Putin’s comments saying he wanted to discuss the grain deal being reopened and accusing the West of deception? I have a follow-up as well.

MR PATEL: Sure. So, a couple of things. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. The U.S. did not offer, nor did it provide, any sanctions relief in exchange for Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. As a matter of fact, U.S. sanctions have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets, and Russia must continue to live up to its commitments to the Black Grain Sea Initiative.

And some of these other allegations that we’ve seen, that, one, global food prices are rising, just aren’t the case. In fact, global food prices have fallen, as a result of the Black Sea port arrangement. Additionally, I believe there were allegations that grain was not going to countries that needed it. That simply is not the case either. Because of this arrangement, grain has been able to reach global markets and gone to countries that need it desperately.

QUESTION: Okay. And UN and Russian officials met in Geneva today to discuss Russian complaints that Western sanctions were impeding the ability to export grain and fertilizer. Did the U.S. also meet with UN official Rebeca Grynspan in Geneva on the issue? And have you discussed this with the Russians, like what specific sanctions relief are they asking for?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I don’t have any additional specifics to readout on any potential meeting, but what I would reiterate, again, is that we did not provide or offer any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in this initiative. And as I’ve said, there has always been a clear exemption for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions never target humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Russia?

MR PATEL: Alex. Still on Russia-Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Staying on Putin, he made a number of statements today. Broadly speaking, do you see his statements as part of his war strategy – particularly when he was talking about lift the sanctions or else, that language. Do you see he is – do you think – based on your assessment, is he blackmailing the West?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to categorize his comments one way or the other. I think what it’s important to look at here is Russia’s actions, and what their actions have been – have been deeply problematic, starting with the unjust and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, their initial reluctance to allow grain to leave ports of Ukraine. What this is really about is their actions. And so, what I would reiterate again is that this Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungriest populations. And any allegation or notion that our sanctions are standing in the way of that are just simply not true because we have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer.

QUESTION: But back to the filtration questions, if you don’t mind.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned some technology, tools, equipment. Based on your assessment, is Russia alone in this, in terms of the source of those tools that Russia has been using?

MR PATEL: Is Russia what?

QUESTION: Is Russia alone in this, or is – is Russia cooperating with China, Iran?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond what I shared initially at the top.

Still on Russia-Ukraine, Jenny?

QUESTION: Yeah – filtration camps as well. Does the U.S. consider this to be a war crime, and if so, how do you intend to hold Russia accountable for this? And have you assessed that Putin himself is involved in these filtration camps?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics on who might be involved other than to reiterate that, clearly, it’s members of the presidential administration. We know that there have been activities that could be categorized as war crimes that have happened by Russian Federation forces over the course of this conflict, but I don’t have anything additional to offer.

Still —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Sure, Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: IAEA —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The report of the IAEA on Zaporizhzhia.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Now the Russians are saying that the inspector had determined that the attacks are, actually, Ukrainian attacks on that plant? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: So —

QUESTION: That’s what the inspectors has allegedly said.

MR PATEL: We continue to appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the IAEA in their efforts to continue to maintain a presence at the ZNPP to assess its safety and security. I will note again, as I noted yesterday, that it is Russia that is unjustly and illegally and unlawfully infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and Ukrainian sovereignty by being present at the ZNPP. I know the IAEA put out a report yesterday. Our experts are continuing to review that report and its recommendations, and we continue to call on and support Ukraine’s call for a demilitarization zone around the ZNPP facility.

QUESTION: Right, right. But – I understand all this. But do you agree, or you refute, the notion that it is actually the Ukrainians who have been attacking in the last few days – I mean, we’re talking about a short period of time – the plant and putting in jeopardy the contents and so on that might cause something akin to Chernobyl.

MR PATEL: Sure, Said. I think we’ve been very clear from the onset that any kind of military or violent activity near a nuclear power plant is unsafe. But I would reiterate again that Russia is the country that is illegally infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty by being present at the ZNPP.

Janne, you had a question?

QUESTION: Yes, on sort of Russia’s – Russians’ ambassador to the United Nations refutes U.S. claims about the Russia’s purchase of arms from North Korea. How would you response this? Yesterday —

MR PATEL: You’re saying the UK —

QUESTION: No, no. North Korean arms —

MR PATEL: No, I know. Which ambassador are you saying?

QUESTION: I mean, Russian ambassador to United Nations.

MR PATEL: Got it, understood. So, I don’t have any comment to offer on that, but what I will reiterate again, and what we said yesterday, is that we believe the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, which is in large part a consequence of our export controls and sanctions, and we expect that Russia could try to purchase additional North Korean military equipment going forward.

QUESTION: He said this is not true, is false. So how are you going to verify —

MR PATEL: Well, we believe that it is true, and this is rooted in the important work being done by our Intelligence Community. But I don’t have anything else to offer on that from here.

QUESTION: And one more. Is there any update about Special Representative Sung Kim meeting with his counter partners South Korea and Japan?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so as I mentioned yesterday, Special Representative Sung Kim was in Tokyo. He met with his counterparts from the ROK and Japan today, earlier today, to discuss how to address the DPRK’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction program. We, of course, place a lot of importance on this trilateral cooperation. It is integral to our efforts in attempting to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as we continue to take necessary action to address the threat that Pyongyang poses to the U.S. and our allies as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So, the Israeli press are reporting that the administration told Prime Minister Lapid that any potential deal with Iran is off the table. Yesterday, the EU chief diplomatic – to Iran said that – Mr. Borrell said that the deal could be in danger. So where are we? Are you still confident that we are actually on track for any potential return to the 2015 deal? Are you still optimistic, like you’ve been talking about the last few days?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, this obviously is a negotiation and it’s a very complex set of circumstances, and we’re continuing to work through that process.

On your question about President Biden’s call with the Israeli prime minister, I’d refer you to the White House’s readout of that call. In general, we don’t get into specifics beyond that. But as we have said, part of this diplomatic process is regular engagement with our allies and partners, including our allies in Israel. And as we’ve said before – late last week – Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We continue to work through that process. We are reviewing Iran’s response, and we hope to have an update soon. But this is something that we’re going to continue to pursue because we continue to believe and affirm that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA continues to be not only in the national security interest of this country; it’s an important step to contain Iran’s nuclear program; it is an important step for regional stability as well.

QUESTION: So, you’re saying it’s wrong to conclude that the deal is off?

MR PATEL: As I said, this is an extraordinary complex set of issues. It is unfortunate that Iran’s response to us took us backwards, and we of course are not going to conclude a deal that is not in U.S. national security interest. But this is something that we’re continuing to pursue. We are studying Iran’s response. We’re coordinating with our E3 allies, and wef’re continuing to go through this process.

QUESTION: Does Israel have veto power over the deal, whether it goes or does not go? Because that is in – that’s really the essence of the story. Do they have a veto power over whether this deal, or returning to the deal, see the day of light or it doesn’t?

MR PATEL: Well, like I said, Said, engaging with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance to the JCPOA continues to be a key component of this, and that of course includes engaging with our Israeli partners. But like I said, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations from here. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA is not just in the national security interest of this country, but it continues to offer important nonproliferative benefits that will contain Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: So just to be clear on that —

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one follow-up.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Sorry. Does the Israeli election slated for next month play a factor whether the deal is gone back to now or thereafter?

MR PATEL: I think there is – there is really, only one ultimate end goal of this deal, Said, and that is to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. And that continues to be our vision forward and the reason why we continue to pursue this because we believe that a mutual return to compliance will help us get there. It will put restraints on Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s an important step for regional stability and in the national security interest of the United States.

Leon, you had a question?

QUESTION:  Just to be clear, so you believe that negotiations are worth continuing; you want this deal, the return to the JCPOA, notwithstanding the IAEA report saying that they can’t guarantee it’s a peaceful program, the cyberattack which – in Albania which Albania and the U.S. is accusing Iran of having planned – notwithstanding all that and all the back-and-forth and saying their response is not constructive, you are adamant in saying, we want this deal and we’ll continue to negotiate with Iran?

MR PATEL:  So, let me widen the aperture a little bit here for you. We have never sought to insinuate that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA will address every single activity that we find problematic that Iran undertakes, that it’ll address every single one of those. But what we do know is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon takes – makes all of these problems a lot worse, and that is why we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA will put restraints on Iran’s nuclear program; it is in the best national security interest of this country; and it will offer steps towards regional stability as well.

But, I will also note that President Biden and this administration are not going to re-enter a deal that is not in the national security interest of the United States. But also, it’s important to note that this is an extraordinarily complex set of issues. We’re continuing to study the response, work closely with our allies and partners, including our E3 partners. It is, as I said, unfortunate that Iran’s step took us backwards, but we’re continuing to work through this process.

Anything else on JCPOA? Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can you just comment more specifically on the IAEA report today about Iran having moved closer to having more of its enriched uranium to near weapons grade? Is that not – is that not a – is that not a red line for the U.S. yet with this —

MR PATEL:  So, we continue to seek a full implementation of the JCPOA precisely because of Iran’s nuclear activities like the ones that you described. And under a JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear activities would be strictly limited and fully monitored by the IAEA. As you said, and as the IAEA report indicated, Iran now has a substantial amount of highly enriched uranium for it – which it has no credible civilian use. But in a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, Iran would need to get rid of all of its enriched uranium stockpile, aside from the limits that were laid out in the JCPOA.

Still on Iran?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR PATEL:  Another topic? Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION:  I understand a State Department official met with the Mossad chief?

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any meetings to preview or read out.

QUESTION:  Can I change topics?

MR PATEL:  Anything else on Iran before we change topics? Okay, Said. Then we’re going to work the room a little bit. You got a couple questions.

QUESTION:  This will be a very quick question on the Palestinian issue. I want to ask you about where you began, actually, about filtration and so on.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  You began by citing how Russia does filtration. You could be talking about the Palestinians. That’s what Israel has been doing for decades. In fact, it was legislated in law only a few days ago, and you expressed your concern yesterday about what the Palestinians have to go through and so on. But beyond that, there has been no scolding in the kind of language that you use, let’s say that you leveled on Russia and so on. Will the United States ever show the kind of strong language towards what is happening to the Palestinians, similar to that, that we see happening elsewhere, like in Russia?

MR PATEL:  Well, Said, we engage in serious diplomatic conversations with all of our allies and partners. Sometimes that’s on issues that we disagree with or continue to have to work through. Sometimes those conversations remain private. But as I said yesterday on the topic that you mentioned, and Ambassador Nides, our ambassador in Israel, spoke about this over the weekend, since February the department, including through channels at our embassy in Jerusalem and at the Office of Palestinian Affairs, have engaged with the Israeli Government on this; and we’re going to continue to do so moving forward.

As I said yesterday, we continue to have significant concerns with the published protocols that were published yesterday, particularly regarding COGAT’s role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank and as well as the potential impact it could have on family unity. This is something we’re continuing to work on, and we’ve engaged directly with our respective counterparts on this.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Israel signaled opposition today to U.S. calls to review rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank. The U.S. has repeatedly called for accountability over journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s death. If Israel resists reviewing the rules of engagement, how will accountability be achieved?

MR PATEL:  Again, I’m not going to – I don’t have anything additional to provide beyond the extent that – which I talked about this yesterday. But to reiterate, we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement and consider additional steps that will mitigate risk in this circumstance.

Anything else before we shift away to different topics? Why don’t we go back to Jenny?

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that a document about a country’s nuclear defense information was recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Has the State Department been briefed on which country this was, the contents of that document, and are you concerned it could damage bilateral relations with whatever country this is?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer on that. This is a Department of Justice activity, and so I would refer you to them and let them speak to this.

Shannon?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Same topic. Given that the report is out there, though, is there any concern within the department that this could alarm foreign governments and perhaps jeopardize intelligence sharing?

MR PATEL: I think, again, I am not going to speak to the Department of Justice activity directly. I will let my colleagues speak – at the DOJ to speak to that. But what I will note is that in countries where we have bilateral relationships, we remain – we have open lines of communication where we engage with them directly on a variety of issues, and those communication channels are open, and we continue to work closely. But I don’t have any specifics to offer on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any – any plans to engage those channels on this topic?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to preview on this right now.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, is the State involved at all into a damage assessment? Because that’s what the State Department does, right?

MR PATEL: I understand, but I just – I don’t have anything to offer on the DOJ investigation. I appreciate that.

Let’s go back to Michel and then we’ll work through.

QUESTION: Yeah. Any readout from the Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf in Iraq today?

MR PATEL: I do have an update for you on that. So, as we noticed over the weekend, Assistant Secretary Leaf is in Iraq and is meeting with a range of Iraqis and Iraqi political leaders both in Baghdad and Erbil. In her meetings, Assistant Secretary Leaf expressed U.S. support for Prime Minister Kadhimi’s call to hold a constructive dialogue to help resolve the current political and economic crisis and urged all parties to attend. She is focused on advancing U.S. support for Iraq’s sovereignty, stability, and security; and this includes working to advance the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement to support areas in which we can collaborate together, including energy, education, and infrastructure as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) You said Prime Minister Kadhimi?

MR PATEL: Yes.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you.

MR PATEL: Yes.

Lalit, let’s go to you.

QUESTION: Assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs is in India these days. Do you have a readout of his meetings, who he met and what he discussed there?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So Assistant Secretary of State Lu is leading a U.S. delegation to India from September 5th to 8th. This is to deepen the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. This delegation will meet with Indian officials. They will discuss ways in which the U.S. and India can expand our cooperation to support a free, open, connected, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific. We also understand that Assistant Secretary Lu will engage in roundtable discussions with senior business executives about how India can realize its full economic potential over the next 25 years and become a central hub in global supply chains as well.

Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION: On Assistant Secretary Leaf’s visit to Iraq, I know you just had the readout, but where does the U.S. stand on the political impasse? Do you see in the current political environment that the Iraqi leaders can form a government?

MR PATEL: As I spoke to this a number of weeks ago, we do not view this as a U.S. issue. It’s an Iraqi issue, and our posture has continued to be calling on calm and calling for peace amid some of the demonstrations. And ultimately, what we want to see is a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. We regard Iraq as a vital partner on a number of issues and a partner with whom we do many things across the region, whether it be food security, water security, addressing climate change, and among other things as well.

QUESTION: And then in Erbil she also discussed energy issues between Kurdistan region and Baghdad. I know that you’re saying the Iraqi formation of the government is not a U.S. issue, but then this one has some sort of U.S. angle where there are a lot of American companies – or some American companies – that are working in Kurdistan region and threatened by Iraqi supreme court’s ruling. Where do you guys stand on that? Do you want to see the continuation of American energy companies working in Iraq?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, to take a little bit of a step back for the rest of the room, as you mentioned, Assistant Secretary Leaf is taking a number of meetings with political leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan to strengthen the enduring relationship between the U.S. and the people of the IKR. Assistant Secretary Leaf is emphasizing the urgency of resolving Iraq’s political impasse in an inclusive way, including the importance of unity among the Kurdish parties in a – in forging a more secure, democratic, and prosperous future.

On your question about the energy, we encourage the parties to determine a way forward that supports existing and future investment and advances the interests of the Iraqi people, including those in the Kurdistan region as well.

QUESTION: One more quick question.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Does this visit have to do anything with the number of letters that you guys have been getting from Congress and Senate members asking you to engage Iraqi – Iraqi Government and Kurdistan government at the highest level?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I didn’t hear the —

QUESTION: The question I was asking was: Did this visit have to do anything with the number of letters that you’ve been receiving from Senate and Congress.

MR PATEL: I wouldn’t assign a connectedness to that. I think, again, this is an issue that we are paying very close attention to and that’s why Assistant Secretary Leaf is in the region as well.

Let’s go in the back.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to the Russia and the DPRK.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: In addition to the purchase, Russia had asked North Korea to send workers to reconstruct Donbas and the eastern region of the Ukraine. So what is your reaction to Russia and North Korea strengthening their ties? And does the U.S. consider any additional sanctions against North Korea?

MR PATEL: Well, we’re certainly not going to preview any actions, and I think in recent weeks we have seen Russia rely on states like the DPRK and Iran in ways that are deeply problematic. And everyone, not just in the region but around the world, should be concerned with Russia closening alliances to such countries.

But on your questions about the workers, I think we addressed this a number of weeks ago. But to reiterate, DPRK workers dispatched overseas, including to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, would be in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and these resolutions highlight that the revenue generated from overseas DPRK workers would essentially contribute to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles program, and all UN member‑states are required to repatriate DPRK nationals pursuant to this.

QUESTION: North Korea. So, after the trilateral meeting of the special representatives in Tokyo, what is the latest assessment of the United States on the possible nuclear test by North Korea?

MR PATEL: Again, our goal remains to the – towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We harbor no hostilities or – nor hostile intent towards the DPRK and our policy has called for a calibrated, practical approach that will explore diplomacy.

Michel and then we’ll go to Nadia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, the presidential elections there should happen between now and the end of October. So far, no reforms and no new government after the elections, and the parliament doesn’t look ready to elect a new president. What is the U.S. view on this?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, this is for the Lebanese people to decide who is in their government, and we call on Lebanon’s leaders to hold a free and fair presidential election, in a timely manner, in a way that is in accordance with the Lebanese constitution. We want to see a government in Lebanon that is capable of restoring the trust of its own people and committed to implementing the political and economic reforms needed to effect meaningful change, promote good governance, and rescue Lebanon’s economy as well.

Nadia.

QUESTION: My two questions also on Lebanon. Iran offered to give free fuel to Lebanon to avoid sanctions and any transaction. Would you welcome that? What’s your comment on that? Do you think that’s a good idea?

MR PATEL: Well, we think that any activity that could skirt sanctions would be deeply problematic.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, on the port, Lebanon seems to appoint another judge to investigate the previous judge – was kind of backed by the U.S. Do you think – is this is something that you welcome, to have a new judge to investigate the port explosion?

MR PATEL: Are you – I don’t have any updates to offer you on that from here, but I’m happy to check back with the team and see if we can get you something.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do you have any concern on Turkey’s parroting of Russian propaganda, which raised eyebrows in the region? As I mentioned yesterday, they blamed sanctions for energy crisis, and today President Erdoğan was quoted as saying that the West is “provoking,” quote/unquote, Russia. How much do these statements reflect the current state of Turkish-U.S. relationship? Is there any miscommunication, lack of coordination? Where is this coming from, your assessment?

MR PATEL: So, I think it’s important to note that we view Turkey as a vital and key NATO Ally and partner, and they played an – a really important role in the implementation of this Black Sea Grain Initiative, which, again, I would reiterate is a humanitarian arrangement bringing desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. And again, there has always been clear exemptions on food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Are you planning to meet with Turkish officials to discuss this misunderstanding or —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any meetings to preview, but as a key NATO Ally, we are in touch with our counterparts in Turkey on a regular basis.

QUESTION: And lastly, any comment or concern on upcoming China-Russia leaders meeting in Uzbekistan next week? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure. So, I’m not going to speak to reported meetings between other countries, but we’ve made clear our concerns about the depth of the PRC’s alignment and ties with Russia even as Russia prosecutes a war of aggression in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Chile?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Sunday there was a referendum on a new constitution, and Chileans overwhelmingly rejected —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — a left-leaning constitution after three years of debate and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Did you issue a statement?

MR PATEL: So, I believe we might’ve spoken about this earlier in the week, but the Chilean people have again demonstrated Chile’s commitment to democracy, and we remain committed to supporting Chile as it continues the democratic process of building a more perfect nation that expands prosperity and opportunity for all Chileans.

Let’s finish up with Leon.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to the Erdoğan question. So, I mean, he’s clearly, publicly said – accusing the West of imposing sanctions on Russia that are not helpful – provocative is a word he used. So, I mean – and you’re saying now that he’s – of course, Turkey is an ally and they did this Black Sea deal and all that. But do you find those, his comments – do you disagree firmly with those comments? Do you find them helpful, not helpful? I mean, give us some feedback.

MR PATEL: What’s important to note, to any country and to anybody talking about this, is that the U.S. did not offer or provide any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. And we have been clear from the very beginning that we have exemptions for food, for fertilizer; and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets. We think this has been a very important development that has allowed grain to get to people in countries who need it most, and now it’s up to Russia to live up to its commitment of this initiative.

All right, thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)

  1. Black Sea Grain Initiative

Department Press Briefing – September 6, 2022

7 Sep

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:05 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry for being a couple minutes late. So I —

QUESTION: You’re only four minutes late. And, in fact, if this is any indication of your punctuality in the –moving forward —

MR PATEL: Well —

QUESTION: It’s a very good sign.

MR PATEL: (Laughter.) Well, here to – here for you, Matt.

QUESTION: And welcome.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Good to see you up on the podium.

MR PATEL: I have one quick thing off the top, and then I’m happy to turn to your questions. So first and foremost, we congratulate Liz Truss on her becoming the new prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK and the U.S. are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to continuing our close cooperation with Prime Minister Truss and the new government on a range of important priorities, including continued support to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s war, and preserving peace, and economic security, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.

Our unparalleled defense and security alliance and Special Relationship, founded on shared values and common beliefs, promote security and prosperity for our two nations and for the world.

Our countries are deeply linked by our economic ties and the bonds between our people. The UK is our largest foreign investment partner and biggest partner in the services of trade, and our respective companies directly employ more than one million workers in the other country.

So again, an immense congratulations to Prime Minister Truss.

And with that, Matt —

QUESTION: Oh, that’s it?

MR PATEL: Take us away.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Nothing to do —

MR PATEL: I have nothing else for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one extremely brief one on that, do you know if in‑between the time that she – while she was still foreign security, like before she went up to see the Queen and became appointed, do you know if the Secretary, who she had a close, really professional relationship with – do you know if the two spoke between the time that she was chosen and the time that she was —

MR PATEL: You mean today?

QUESTION: Well, between yesterday and today —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — while she was still foreign secretary. Do you happen to know?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls to —

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: — read out right now.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to start in the Middle East. I want to start with Israel.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: And your guy’s response to the IDF report on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh but also on the situation with the Palestinian NGOs. So number one, on the IDF report yesterday, I’m a little confused as to what your actual response and what your actual position is. This is an American citizen who was killed. You have called for accountability, and yet there does not seem to be any accountability there. And the statement that came out yesterday in Ned’s name mentions accountability, but are you satisfied that this is – that the Israelis have done what they need to do in terms of this case?

MR PATEL: So we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists, and prevent similar tragedies in the future. Ultimately, that is a key goal for us, as the statement from Ned yesterday, is to underscore that similar actions and similar occurrences don’t happen in the future. And that’s what we continue to reiterate with our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Well, but do you think that accountability has been achieved?

MR PATEL: So again, we’ve continued to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re continuing to press our Israeli partners on that.

QUESTION: Well, forgive me for not accepting – that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, I continue to underscore the fact that it’s important that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but – and which it does. But there is – do you consider that – do you believe that Israel has taken steps to hold whoever is responsible for her death accountable?

MR PATEL: We’re —

QUESTION: And then if I could – and I’ve just – actually back up. What does accountability mean to this administration?

MR PATEL: Look, Matt, so I’m not going to categorize that in one way or the other from here. That’s for our Israeli partners to determine. What for us to do – and what we’re – the role we’re continuing to play is pressing Israel to closely review its policies and practices to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: Okay. But that’s not what accountability is, unless you guys have a different definition of it than the dictionary does. So what does accountability mean for this administration? An apology? We’re sorry. It happened maybe – it looks like it happened by accident.

MR PATEL: So —

QUESTION: But it won’t happen again. That’s the – that’s what accountability is, or is it something more?

MR PATEL: We are continuing to press Israel to review its policies and practices and that is what accountability —

QUESTION: How does that – but that doesn’t – reviewing their practices and policies does not mean accountability for this woman’s death, does it?

MR PATEL: Look —

QUESTION: Maybe it does in your view. I don’t know. You tell me.

MR PATEL: Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss. Not only, as you all know, Shireen was a U.S. citizen, and she was a fearless reporter. And part of our vision of accountability is ensuring that activities like this – that something like this does not happen again. And that’s something —

QUESTION: Right. What’s the rest of it?

MR PATEL: — and that’s something that we continue to raise directly with Israel, that it closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take additional steps to mitigate risk, to protect journalists, to protect civilian harm, and to ensure that similar tragedies don’t happen in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, what is then the other part or other parts of accountability and from your perspective?

MR PATEL: Matt, I think I’ve answered your question a couple of times. I will just reiterate again that —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’ve said some stuff in response to my questions a couple times. I don’t think you’ve answered them. Let’s move – let’s —

MR PATEL: We —

QUESTION: I’ll let someone else go on. I just want to move to the NGOs.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So you had said that you were looking for additional information to support the Israelis’ allegation that – support the Israelis’ decision to close down these offices, and I’m wondering if you ever got that.

MR PATEL: We continue to engage directly with our Israeli partners on that. We strongly believe that respect for human rights and the importance of a strong civil society are critically important. And we can make clear to the Israeli Government and the PA that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank must continue their important work. I don’t have any updates on this beyond what Ned briefed on this a couple weeks ago. We continue to seek additional information from our Israeli partners, but don’t have an update beyond that.

QUESTION: So they never brought the information that they said that they were going to?

MR PATEL: I just don’t have any other updates on this.

QUESTION: But – okay. When you were referring back to what Ned said a couple weeks ago, that was before the Israelis had brought this – what they said was going to be this – they promised that they were going to bring you – they haven’t done that as far as you know?

MR PATEL: We are in direct communication with the Government of Israel and we’re continuing to seek additional information.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. It’s great to see you behind the podium. Welcome.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Let me press Matt’s question a bit further. I mean, the Israelis obviously know who the solider is and they said basically they are not going to press any charges. There will be no accountability, and that’s the Israelis’ statement that you have supported. There will be no accountability. So how is that – how does that juxtapose with – you talk about the family and your thoughts are with them, all this good stuff. But how are they going to receive accountability or justice in this case?

MR PATEL: Again, Said, we continue to press Israel directly and closely at the senior-most levels to review its policies and practices on this to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in the future. That’s something we’re continuing to be really engaged on.

QUESTION: But you know what? It happened right after Shireen Abu Akleh – there were two journalists that have been killed. It happened time and again. There are 21 Palestinian journalists in Israeli prisons and so on. The Israelis are killing kids every day, teenagers and so on. So I don’t know when you say that we’ve talked to them at the highest level – I mean, do they heed your call? Do they listen to you? Or they just pretend that you’re not saying anything?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to read out every diplomatic engagement that we have. But I will mention again that we continue to press Israel to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take steps to mitigate risks, to take steps to protect journalists, to take steps to protect civilians and prevent similar tragedies like this happening in the future. We, the United States, continue to support press freedoms and the protections of journalists in carrying out their work, and we call on democracies and all responsible actors to ensure that journalists can conduct the vital work that they do.

QUESTION: If this – excuse me. I have a couple more questions —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — on Palestinian issues so we don’t have to come back to it. So hypothetically, I mean, they could be listening to you and they will heed you, your warning to them not to do it again, and so on. But in fact, they do it again. And hypothetically if this had happened elsewhere, would your position be the same? If an American journalist was killed, let’s say, somewhere else, in another democratic country, that the police gunned her down in the street, let’s say in India or elsewhere. Would your position be the same, in your opinion?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth on hypotheticals. In any situation, we continue to support press freedoms and the protection of all journalists. And in this situation, we, again, are pressing Israel to closely review its policies and practices to address the rules of engagement, to take steps to mitigate risk, to take steps to protect journalists and civilians, and to ultimately ensure that something like this does not happen again.

QUESTION: I have a couple more question. Let me ask you about the new rules that Israel is imposing on those who visit the West Bank and Palestinians who are going to get married and so on, that they are demanding like a time, date on romance, if you will, and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So I think you might have seen that Ambassador Nides spoke a little bit about this over the weekend, but to reiterate: Since February, the State Department, including through our embassy in Jerusalem and the Office of Palestinian Affairs, have engaged directly with the Israeli Government on these rules and will continue to move so – do so going forward.

We continue to have serious concerns with the published protocols, particularly the role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank and the potential negative impact on family unity, as you mentioned. It’s important to ensure that all of these regulations are developed in a way that’s coordinated with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority, and we fully expect the Government of Israel to make necessary adjustments to ensure transparency as well as the fair and equal treatment of all U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank.

QUESTION: So if myself or my brothers or members of my family and so on that hold both – that hold an American citizen – citizenship go back, and there are – or they get interrogated almost on issues of land ownership – well, who are they visiting, why are they there, where will they be staying and so on – do they have a recourse? Could they come to you and say this has happened to me, I demand accountability?

MR PATEL: Said, we are continuing to engage with Israel on these pilot procedures that were published this weekend that, as you said, impact the entry, study, and work or residence of potentially thousands of people in the West Bank. We understand that Israel plans for them to go into effect on October 20th. We note that there are some improvements in some of these regulations from the original draft in February, but we remain concerned about potential adverse impact for these procedures and how they could impact Palestinian civil society, how it could impact tourism, impact family unity, investment, and other health care and academic institutions.

QUESTION: Honestly, Vedant, on – the problem is with the pilot program. You should look into that.

MR PATEL: Daphne.

QUESTION: Vedant, welcome to the podium. If I could switch over to Russia, the White House said today that President Biden has made a final decision against designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Designating Russia was something that Ukraine has pushed for. What has been Kyiv’s response to this final decision being made?

MR PATEL: What has been —

QUESTION: Kyiv’s response?

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to the response for – from Ukraine. I’ll let our Ukrainian partners speak to that. But as the President has said, we don’t think that a state sponsor of terrorism is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for the world and Ukraine as well.

I’ll note that according to humanitarian experts and NGOs who have spoken on this, it could seriously affect the ability to deliver assistance to Ukraine, it could drive critical humanitarian and commercial actors away from facilitating food exports and engaging in the country. It could also undercut potentially multilateral coordination that has been very critical in holding Putin accountable and doing our part in ensuring that Ukraine is in a position to defend itself.

QUESTION: Can you tell me —

QUESTION: Does State have a legal analysis —

MR PATEL: We’ll work everybody. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Does State have a legal analysis of whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, that’s a process that is determined by the Secretary of State, and I don’t have any updates to offer on that right now.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much, Vedant. Congratulations on your debut, although you’re not a stranger to the room.

According to U.S. intelligence, Russia is purchasing North Korean weapons. We also discussed how Russia is cooperating with Iran on drones. If imposing secondary sanctions and calling the terrorism the way it is is not the best way to address the problem, then what is?

MR PATEL: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Say that —

QUESTION: If calling Russia – if, let’s say, given the fact that Russia has been cooperating with North Korea and Iran purchasing weapons against Ukraine, if calling Russia what it is, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, then what other means do you have in mind to call for accountability?

MR PATEL: Well, there are a number of lines of effort that we have at our disposal to continue to hold Russia accountable, our sanctions being one of them. And I think just last week we briefed out some metrics on the economic consequences that are directly being put upon Russia’s economy because of their barbaric and unjust actions in Ukraine.

But to go back to the crux of your question, as you said, the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages due in part because of export controls and sanctions – another example of the lines of efforts that we have to hold Russia accountable.

QUESTION: There’s a new narrative – just to stay on the same topic.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: A new narrative pushed by Russia also replicated by other countries like Turkish Erdoğan and others. They’re blaming European energy crisis on sanctions. And also at some point, Russian foreign minister named the U.S. as one of the reasons behind this crisis. Do you have a response to that? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Sorry, can you repeat the first part of your question?

QUESTION: That the energy crisis that Russia and allies are basically blaming the sanctions as a reason why Europe is facing this crisis. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: So we’ve seen those reports, but what I would note is that these kinds of – this kind of rhetoric continues to demonstrate that Russia is not a reliable supplier of energy and that we remained with – in sync with our allies and partners and our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy products, and continuing to place pressure on the Kremlin.

Anything else on —

QUESTION: Staying on that – on Russia?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: The IAEA report today – I wonder what you make of it and what the next steps diplomatically are to safeguard that facility.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: And this idea of a demilitarized zone, I mean, everyone keeps talking about that, having the Russians pull back, but it also would mean not having – having the Ukrainians pull back from that area. And I wonder what you make of that.

MR PATEL: Sure. So on the report, we received the report earlier today and our experts here at the State Department are reviewing it. I don’t have any immediate reaction to offer, but we continue to remain concerned about such military and violent activity so close to a nuclear power plant. That continues to be incredibly concerning. Some initial takeaways, though: I believe the report touched on observations of physical damage at the power plant, and that continues to be something we find incredibly troubling as well.

As we from the department have said previously, fighting around a nuclear power plant certainly presents a serious risk, which is why we have continued to call for Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the facility, and that continues to be our belief on that.

QUESTION: And do you have any ideas on who would —

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just – oh, go ahead. Sorry.

QUESTION: — enforce some kind of demilitarized zone?

MR PATEL: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Or what would – who – what would the U.S. like to see in terms of a demilitarized zone? Who could enforce that?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to qualify it one way or the other from here, but I think it’s important to note that Russia is the one that is illegally, unjustifiably in Ukraine, in Ukrainian territory, and infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by being at the ZNPP.

QUESTION: Can I – I just want to – two things.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: One, on this whole idea of holding Russia accountable for the invasion of Ukraine. So accountability – does it mean something different in the context of Russia invading Ukraine than it does for a U.S. partner and ally like Israel? Does it?

MR PATEL: That certainly is – that certainly is not what I was trying to say there.

QUESTION: I mean, I realize the two situations are apples and oranges, but the word “accountability” is the same word and it should have the same definition, shouldn’t it?

MR PATEL: Well, the two – as you noted, the two situations are apples and oranges, and so —

QUESTION: They are completely different, but accountability doesn’t change, right? Or at least it shouldn’t. Maybe – and if it does, and if there are different standards for different countries, then it would be great if you would tell us that.

MR PATEL: I was —

QUESTION: Anyway, that’s kind of a rhetorical question. The main question is: Am I correct in thinking – and I realize these reports are relatively recent and so there may not be anything on the ground, but have you seen any evidence of either Iranian drones or North Korean weapons being used in Ukraine by Russia?

MR PATEL: I’ve —

QUESTION: To this point? I realize —

MR PATEL: Specifically at the ZNPP or —

QUESTION: No, anywhere.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates on the use of them.

QUESTION: Okay. So as far as you know, these transfers that you are saying are still in progress and these weapons, what – drones or artillery or whatever – have not yet arrived and been used in the theater?

MR PATEL: I’m just – I’m not going to speak to the specifics of that. That’s probably a better question for the Pentagon, but I would again reiterate the declassified language on both Iran and the DPRK.

QUESTION: Vedant, on state sponsors of terrorism, do you have a standard definition on that? I mean, I’m sure the State Department has. You guys have, like, a legal language on how you classify countries as state sponsors of terrorism?

MR PATEL: I’m sure we’d be happy to get you a specific definition after this.

QUESTION: Just going back to that North Korea —

MR PATEL: Sorry. Michele, go ahead.

QUESTION: — going back to that North Korea.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if there are actual shipments, couldn’t there – couldn’t they be interdicted at sea because it would be violating UN resolutions? Is that something you guys are working on, bringing up at the UN?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview anything from here, but to your point, yes, this would violate UN sanctions on the DPRK by doing this. Multiple UN Security Council resolutions prohibit UN member-states from procuring from the DPRK all arms and related material. The Security Council imposed this prohibition over a decade ago in response to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program. While all UN sanctions are a serious violation, I think particularly concerning here is that a permanent member of the Security Council is floating these measures.

Can we stay on Russia-Ukraine before we shift away?

QUESTION: Just quickly – and welcome to the podium, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: The Nord Stream pipeline that Russia shut the gas supply off, does the department have an assessment and/or a comment as to why Russia is doing that?

MR PATEL: Well, my understanding is that they are – they have reduced flow due to claims of maintenance and a supposed oil leak, but we have not found those claims to be credible, and other experts in the private sector and otherwise have also found that to be not credible as well.

As I stated to Alex’s question, this is just another example of Russian actions demonstrating that they are not a reliable energy source. And we continue to remain in lockstep with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy, and maintaining pressure on the Kremlin.

Anything else on Russia or Ukraine?

QUESTION: One more on (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: We just went to you, Alex.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So this is actually returning to the beginning about Liz Truss.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you were looking forward to continuing close cooperation on various things such as support to Ukraine, but what is your take on Northern Ireland and what sort of cooperation you can have there? Because Ms. Truss, as you know, has driven the legislation to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. So are you concerned about the strength of her conviction on this issue now as the prime minister? Do you think there’s any way you can sway her on this?

MR PATEL: So I’m certainly not going to speak to any potential legislation or anything like that in another country, but what I will say is that the U.S. priority remains protecting the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement and preserving peace and stability and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland. We have welcomed the provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Protocol is a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving distinct EU and UK markets, while preventing the return of customs infrastructure on the land border.

Anything else – going back to Russia-Ukraine before we close out? I know we’ve been jumping a little bit. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PATEL: And then I’ll come to you, Janne. I promise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just circling back briefly to the state sponsor of terrorism branding, I want to just be clear on that phrase “final decision.” Is the view of the administration that there are still red lines that Russia could cross that would merit the designation?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals from here. What I will reiterate again is that this is a designation authority that rests with the Secretary of State, but also, as the President said over the weekend, we do not think that this is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for both Ukraine and the world broadly as well.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Good to see you. And North Korea will be keeping close eyes to Iran nuclear deal. What differences do you see between the Iran nuclear deal and the nuclear negotiation with North Korea in the future? And will Iran and North Korea’s nuclear technology cooperation be included in the negotiations?

MR PATEL: Yeah. Thanks, Janne. So both a North Korea with a nuclear weapon and an Iran with a nuclear weapon are things that we view as deeply problematic and destabilizing, not just for the world but for their respective regions as well. And that is why, as it relates to the DPRK, we continue to push for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and we’re going to continue to stress our commitment to dialogue with the DPRK, without preconditions, while we’ll also take all necessary actions that we need to to address the threat of Pyongyang that it could pose not just on the United States but on its allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Another questions. At the national security advisors meeting was held in Hawaii last week, you know that, the three parties national security advisor, South Korea, Japan, and United States. They agreed to take strong countermeasures if North Korea conduct its seventh nuclear test. What is the strong level of countermeasures? What is it specifically?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any actions or measures from here, but I do want to take this opportunity to note that Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim is in Tokyo to meet with our multilateral partners, the Republic of Korea and Japan, on this very issue, where he will, again, stress our joint efforts to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and also stress the importance of U.S. commitment to taking dialogue, even while we take necessary action to address the threat Pyongyang poses.

Anything else on DPRK?

Leon. I’m sorry, I skipped you over when I was going through the first round. Apologies.

QUESTION: No problem, Vedant. Congrats.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: Moving on to Ethiopia.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So Special Envoy Mike Hammer is there. You guys have been very sketchy about his schedule and who he’s seeing or not seeing. As far as we know now, he’s already seen the UN representative there. Can you give us any information as to who is he going to see and give us some details on his trip?

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So to just share for folks – and we, I believe, put a media note about this over the weekend – but U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Mike Hammer arrived in Ethiopia on September 5th to support efforts to get the TPLF and Ethiopian Government to come to an immediate cessation of hostilities and participate in AU-led peace talks. While in country, Ambassador Hammer will consult with the Ethiopian Government, the African Union representatives, and international partners on the next step forward.

I will also just use this opportunity to reiterate what some from the administration said last week, that we are deeply concerned about renewed fighting in Ethiopia. The U.S. condemns the TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, we condemn the Ethiopian Government’s airstrikes and ground offensives, and we condemn Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict as well. These actions are increasing tensions throughout the region and worsening the humanitarian situation. In our view, there is no military solution to this conflict.

Nike.

QUESTION: Just to follow up to that, so has he seen the Ethiopian officials yet?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to read out about his travel at this point, beyond what I just shared.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, and welcome to the podium.

MR PATEL: Thank you.

QUESTION: On China and Taiwan, after the State Department announced it has approved new packages of arms sales to Taiwan, China has rejected and threatened to take actions. What is the U.S. response to China and its objection of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan?

MR PATEL: Well, there is no reason for China to react. These systems are for defensive purposes. And the United States has been providing defensive capabilities to Taiwan for decades, which is in line with our longstanding commitments under not just the Taiwan Relations Act, but it’s also consistent with our “one China” policy. In line with that policy, the U.S. will continue to meet Taiwan’s defense needs. This package was in the works for some time precisely because we expected it would be needed as China increased its pressure on Taiwan. We have and we will continue to be responsible, steady, and resolute and keep our lines of communication open with Beijing, but also continue to support Taiwan in consistent – in ways that are consistent with our policy.

QUESTION: And then can I just follow up? To what degree does the U.S. decision on the quality and quantity on Taiwan – arms sale to Taiwan is based on the level of threats that Taiwan is facing from China? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. I’ll note that since 2010, the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $35 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Syria?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq – assistant secretary’s visit – Barbara Leaf’s visit to Baghdad and Erbil. What is she trying to achieve there?

QUESTION: Okay, excellent answer.

MR PATEL: Sorry – (laughter) – sorry about that. I was just finding something. So I don’t have any – I don’t have any specifics to offer on her travel beyond the media note that was put out over the weekend, but what I will note is that we, again, believe, as it relates to Iraq, that now is the time for all parties to resolve the current impasse. Above all, we urge all those involved to remain calm, abstain from violence, and pursue peaceful avenues. But we’ll see if we have any updates from her trip in the later part of the week.

QUESTION: And then the Erbil part – is the U.S. oil companies, the pressure on U.S. oil companies, is that part of the discussions there?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to preview on that.

QUESTION: On Syria, Nick Granger’s visit to northeast Syria – what can you tell me about that? And does it – having a U.S. diplomatic mission there, does it indicate any seriousness in U.S.’s stance on the situation there or trying to deescalate the Turkish attacks on northeast Syria?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything for you on that from here, but we’ll follow up with you after the briefing and see if we can get you an update.

QUESTION: Iran?

MR PATEL: Iran? Go ahead. Then we’ll —

QUESTION: Over the weekend, High Representative Borrell said the whole process is in danger when it comes to reviving the JCPOA. On Thursday you called Iran’s latest response not constructive. How would you characterize where the process stands right now?

MR PATEL: Yeah. I mean, to reiterate what the administration said at the tail-end of last week, Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We’ve consistently said that gaps remain, and it’s clear from Iran’s response that these gaps still remain.

QUESTION: Still on Iran?

MR PATEL: Still Iran? What’s that?

QUESTION: On Iran as well?

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Baquer Namazi’s family – he’s wrongfully detained in Iran – is saying in a statement today that he requires urgent surgery. I’m wondering if his clearly deteriorating health situation has triggered the U.S. to do any more to try and secure his release.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any updates to offer on his medical condition. But – give me one second – apologies. Again, so I don’t have anything to offer on his medical condition. Due to privacy concerns, I’m just not going to get into that. But as it relates to Iran, we are continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and we continue to urge Iran to do the same. Iran must allow Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz to return home to their loved ones.

QUESTION: And just sticking on Americans wrongfully detained, when it comes to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the lawyer for Alexander Vinnik, who is a man – a Russian man accused of money laundering. He’s now calling for the Russians to include Vinnik in a potential prisoner swap for Whelan and Griner. Has – have U.S. officials discussed that specifically, including him in a potential prisoner swap with the Russians?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m not going to get into specific details or negotiations from here. I will reiterate that the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongfully detained individuals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. As you all know, the Secretary came and spoke to you all a number of weeks ago, where he was clear that there was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release, and our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.

QUESTION: And just one follow-up on that.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Does the departure of Ambassador Sullivan disrupt at all conversations that were occurring regarding Griner and Whelan’s release?

MR PATEL: No, those conversations and engagements continue to be ongoing.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: You and then I’ll come to you in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Yesterday marked 200 days since detention of Brittney Griner. Last time, the U.S. embassy reached out to Russian officials? Do you have any information about that?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of our engagements and negotiations from here.

Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple questions. Counselor Chollet is in the UAE today, and he met with the foreign minister. He discussed Libya, Yemen, and Iran. What is he trying to achieve there?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so Counselor Derek Chollet is in the UAE today as part of travel to the region, and he’ll be going to Pakistan after that. But I will see if we can get you some specifics on his engagements in the UAE.

QUESTION: And on OPEC+ decision to decrease its production in October by 100,000 barrel, how do you view this decision?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so the White House put out a statement over the weekend addressing this, and so I will reiterate that this administration has been clear that energy supply should meet demand to support economic growth and lower prices for American consumers and consumers around the world. This administration has taken action, including a historic release from – of oil from U.S. and global strategic reserves and working with allies on a price cap on Russian oil, to ensure we maintain a global oil supply even as we punish Russia for their actions. U.S. oil production is up by more than half a billion dollar – half a billion barrels per day since the beginning of the year and is on track to be up by more than 1 billion barrels per day by the end of the year.

QUESTION: And one more on Amos Hochstein talks with Israel and Lebanon.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Any updates on these talks?

MR PATEL: So I have no travel to preview for Special Coordinator Hochstein, but we remain in close touch with both governments. Special Presidential Coordinator Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close. We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and we believe a lasting compromise is possible, and we welcome the consultative spirit of both parties to reach a resolution.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: If I could go back to the Namazis and the other prisoners in Iran, the families are understandably concerned that their fates are tied to the outcome of the nuclear talks. Given the latest setback, does the U.S. believe a prisoner swap is possible in the absence of a revived agreement? And what’s your message to those families?

MR PATEL: So again, I’m just not going to get into specifics of negotiations or engagements from here, but what I will reiterate is that the U.S. will always stand up for our citizens who are wrongfully detained overseas. We’re continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of our four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and we’re urging Iran to do the same and release them. And we believe that these individuals should be returned home to their loved ones.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. The Biden administration announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit for September 28th, 29th. Can you talk about the significance of that summit and the primary aims in the context of increased Chinese engagement with the region?

MR PATEL: Sure thing. So, as you saw, our colleagues at the White House announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit. This will be the first ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, which will be held at the end of September. The summit will demonstrate a number of things, but first the U.S.’s deep commitment and its enduring partnership with Pacific Island countries and the Pacific region that is underpinned by shared history, values, and people-to-people ties. The summit will also reflect our broadening and deepening cooperation on a number of key issues, including maritime security, addressing climate change, pandemic and global health response, economic and trade recovery and ties, environmental protection, but also advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

QUESTION: Which countries have confirmed attendance?

MR PATEL: I don’t believe we have attendees yet.

QUESTION: One more on Iran?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Iran’s wrongful detention, there – Iran sentenced two – what human rights organizations say – LGBTQ activists, Zahra Hamedani and Elham Choubdar. Do you have any comment on Iran’s sentencing people for defending human rights?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so we are aware of those reports that Iranian authorities have sentenced two LGBTQI+ activists. The U.S. firmly opposes all human rights abuses against LGBTQI+ persons and urges governments to repeal laws that criminalize individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. We do not have further details regarding the specifics of the case, unfortunately, at this time.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Do you have any readout on Assistant Secretary Donfried’s call to Azerbaijan’s foreign minister yesterday?

MR PATEL: I don’t, but we can check if we have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: According to Azeris, they discussed the Karabakh conflict, something that we have discussed previously. You mentioned before that the U.S. supports the Brussels process, also negotiations between two sides – direct negotiations. My question is: We did not see U.S. representative at the Brussels meeting last week. I just – I’m trying to figure out what – when you talk about supporting the process, do you mean a moral support or distant support? What does that mean?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, Alex, this is – it’s an EU-led process; it’s not a U.S.-led process. But I also want to use this opportunity to note that Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, will be traveling to the region this week in what will be his first trip in this new role. This is a first of what we expect to be regular travel to the region. He departs this evening and will be going to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and in all three countries he’ll meet with senior officials to discuss key issues in the region as well as looking for pathways to assist partners and engaging directly and constructively to resolve outstanding issues and further regional cooperation.

QUESTION: One more —

MR PATEL: All right, Michel.

QUESTION: Any comment on the Russia plan to buy military equipment from North Korea and Iran?

MR PATEL: I —

QUESTION: You already do this?

MR PATEL: I addressed this at the top, Michel, but just for you —

QUESTION: Oh, I wasn’t here. Sorry about that.

MR PATEL: No, no, you’re okay. Just for you I will —

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PATEL: — again reiterate that the Russian military defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine due in part to export controls and sanctions, and we expect Russia to try to purchase additional North Korean military equipment going forward as well.

QUESTION: Can you take one more on Russia? I know it has been long time. One last question, then.

MR PATEL: One last question.

QUESTION: The sham referenda – we talked about that before.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: But according to Russian sources, they have been put on hold. Are you in a position to confirm or deny that?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything on that from here. I don’t have anything on that from here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – August 30, 2022

30 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hey there. Thanks so much. Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining us today. I have two quick things for you at the top before we dive into your questions.

So first, the United States, through USAID, is providing an additional $30 million in humanitarian assistance to support the people affected by severe flooding in Pakistan resulting from heavy monsoon rains, as well as landslides and glacial lake outbursts, since mid-June.

The flooding has affected an estimated 33 million people and resulted in more than 1,100 deaths and more than 1,600 injuries. In addition, more than one million homes have been damaged or destroyed, and nearly 735,000 livestock – a major source of livelihood and food – have been lost, and the flooding has damaged roads and more than two million acres of agricultural land.

With these funds, USAID partners will prioritize urgently needed support for food, nutrition, multi-purpose cash, safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and shelter assistance.

A USAID disaster management specialist arrived in Islamabad on Monday to assess the impact of the floods and coordinate with partners on response efforts. USAID staff in Islamabad, Bangkok, Washington, D.C. continue to monitor the situation in close coordination with local partners, the Government of Pakistan, and U.S. Embassy Islamabad.

We are deeply saddened by the devastating loss of life and livelihoods throughout Pakistan. We stand with Pakistan during this difficult time, and the U.S. is proud to be the single largest humanitarian donor to Pakistan.

One more thing. The U.S. Government has assessed that Moscow is preparing to stage sham referenda in areas of Ukraine under its control. We expect Russia to manipulate the results of these referenda in order to falsely claim that the Ukrainian people want to join Russia. This is a part of Russia’s playbook to attack the sovereignty, identity, and history of Ukraine.

These referenda could take place in the coming weeks.  But Ukraine, the United States, and the international community know the simple truth – that all of Ukraine is and will always remain Ukraine. No matter how many Russians soldiers or puppet officials might be installed there, the Kremlin cannot change the borders of sovereign Ukraine by force.

The Kremlin continues to prepare to hold sham referenda on joining Russia in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic. Russian leadership has instructed officials to begin preparing to hold a sham referendum in parts of Kharkiv as well. These sham referenda will attempt to give a veneer of legitimacy to a blatant land grab that would violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law, including the UN Charter, and contravene principles of the OSCE.

As part of the sham referenda, Russia will undoubtedly employ propaganda and disinformation campaigns, falsify voter turnout, and exaggerate the percentage of those who supposedly voted in favor of joining Russia. We want to be clear: Any claim by the Kremlin that the Ukrainian people somehow want to join Russia is a lie. Polling shows that just three percent of Ukrainians say that they would like Ukraine to be a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Customs Union, and 90 percent want Ukraine to become a member state of the EU. It will be critical to call out and counter this disinformation in the weeks and months ahead. We expect the results to be predetermined by Kremlin authorities.

The people of Ukraine and the world will not be fooled by this mockery of a process. We stand by the people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind sharing question-answer instructions again.

OPERATOR: Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press the 1 – the 1 followed by the 0 on your touchtone phone – 1, 0 if you have a question.

MR PATEL: First, let’s go to the line of Matt Lee with the Associated Press.

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. You can hear me okay I hope?

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hey, listen just on your second topper there, you guys have been saying for months now that the Russians are going to do these sham referenda. Is there something new or particularly imminent about this? I’m just curious as to why today you’re raising this point again when it’s been raised multiple times in the past going back at least two or three months.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Matt. You’re right. We’ve raised this before, but we just wanted to share some additional information that we had about this, as I detailed in my topper, and to reiterate some of those points again that previously hadn’t been public. Polling data shows that in a free referendum that Ukrainians in the occupied areas would not choose to join Russia. The NDI’s May 2022 poll found that only three percent of Ukrainians would like Ukraine to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union.

I would also note, which is not something we’ve said previously, that preparations for the sham referenda are being led by the first deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, Sergey Kiriyenko. Kiriyenko is responsible for overseeing the Russia-held territories in advance of their attempted incorporation into Russia, which would be illegal if completed.

Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: Thanks Vedant. Hope you’re doing well. Could I follow up on Iraq? The – do you have any follow-up on the – anything further to say about the status of the U.S. embassy, about safety of Americans in light of the violence yesterday? On the political developments, the president of Iraq just shortly earlier today was talking about holding new elections, saying that could be a way out of the political impasse. Does the United States have any view one way or another on that and how that would – whether that would be a good idea?

If you don’t mind, a somewhat general question on the aid in – on Pakistan – to Pakistan. To what extent is climate a factor that you think needs to be addressed in this? The UN secretary-general notably was quite forceful today speaking about how climate change – this shows how climate change needs to be addressed better. If you have any remarks on that, I’m wondering if you could. Thanks. Bye.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Shaun. So I have no update on embassy stature or operations beyond what I briefed yesterday. Of course, ensuring the safety of U.S. Government personnel, U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities remain our highest priority. I will also note that a travel for – a Level Four Travel Advisory Warning remains in place in Iraq for American citizens intending to travel.

On the second part of your question, I think what I would reiterate what we’ve said previously is that we encourage all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and engagement. This is an Iraqi issue, not a U.S. issue. And we have constantly reaffirmed that — the U.S. Government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. We believe that a long-term, deep, multifaceted strategic partnership with Iraq serves both the Iraqi and American people.

And on your final question about flooding, we’ve seen, I’m sure, a number of extreme weather events across the world over the past year or two. And so it’s for that reason that addressing climate both through the work of this department and the interagency continues to be one of the top priorities for this administration. It’s work that Secretary Blinken takes seriously. It’s a key goal of his, as well as the important work being led by Special Envoy Kerry as well.

Let’s next go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis with Reuters.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. A quick question on Taiwan. Taiwan fired warning shots at a Chinese drone which buzzed an offshore islet on Tuesday. How concerned is Washington about escalating tensions?

And then if I could, just on the Solomon Islands, which has suspended entry into its waters for foreign navy ships pending adoption of a new process for approval of port visits, does Washington believe China is pressuring the Solomons to change the status quo in the region regarding ship visits? And based on your understanding, does this moratorium apply to potential visits by Chinese naval vessels as well? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Daphne. So on your question about the Solomon Islands, U.S. Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry diverted to Papua New Guinea after the Solomon Island Government didn’t provide diplomatic clearance for the vessel to refuel and provision in port. The U.S. Oliver – the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry is – was in the region as part of the Pacific Island Forum’s fishery agency’s Operation Island Chief. The operation aims to support regional partners effectively and efficiently; protect their national interests; combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and strengthen maritime government on the high seas and model professional maritime behavior to partners and competitors.

It’s disappointing that the Oliver Henry was not provided diplomatic clearance in support of its operation with the FFA. I will note that on August 29th, the U.S. received formal notification from the Government of the Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits pending updates in protocol procedures.

Sorry about that. Going back to your first question, Daphne, so I think it’s important to take a step back here. Over the past number of weeks, China has overreacted and has made provocations, whereas the United States and others in the region have been measured and responsible. And we have been clear that it’s important not to escalate and that there is no reason for the – for a crisis. We’ve also reiterated our intention of continuing to operate in the region, accordance – in accordance with international law, and we’re going to continue to support Taiwan as well as maintain open lines of communication with Beijing as well.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Going back to Iraq, are there any discussions about increasing security in or around the embassy compound in Baghdad in light of the protests in the international zone? And have there been any discussions between U.S. and Iraqi officials and does Secretary Blinken plan to call the prime minister? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. So I have no calls or engagements to read out from the department. What I would reiterate is that we consistently reaffirm the United States commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq, and we believe a deep, multifacted partnership with Iraq both – serves the people of both countries.

On the first part of your question, I don’t have any updates to provide. Certainly I’m not going to get into deliberative policy processes about potential security preparedness, but again would reiterate that there has been no change in posture at our embassy in Baghdad, as I noted yesterday as well.

Next, let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for doing this and for taking my question. Two quick questions. Today an Israeli court sentenced the Gaza representative of World Vision, an American Christian charity organization, to 12 years in prison. There has been no evidence of – his lawyers and even the organization itself. I wonder if you have a position on this. First, are you familiar with the case? And second, do you have a position on this?

And my second question is regarding Bachelet, the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights for United Nations. Michelle Bachelet criticized Israel today for not issuing or renewing visas for UN officials tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. I wonder if you have any comment on that as well. Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. On your second question, I don’t have anything for you on that at the moment. Happy to check if we have any updates and can circle back.

But on your first question, the U.S. has closely monitored this case, the one that you mention, and we have noted UN and NGO concerns about fair trial guarantees. We previously have been in touch with Mohammad al-Habib’s attorney to learn more about his detention and the court case, and we have expressed to Israel our deep concerns over the length of his trial.

We continue to urge the full respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. As we have said many times before, Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. We’ll continue to elevate the role of human rights in our foreign policy and to encourage legal reforms that advance respect for human rights of all individuals.

Next, let’s go to Alex Raufoglu with Turan.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much for doing this. I have two questions, but before that I do want to follow up on Matt’s question regarding the referenda. You mentioned rightly that some of the details are indeed new about involved actors, but we also did not hear anything new in your renewed response other than just we will not recognize the sham referenda. Is it fair to expect more than that, like sanctions or other tangible steps that might possibly make Russia think twice?

And now to my other questions, staying on Russia. There are reports that Russia has already obtained hundreds of Iranian drones capable of being used in its war against Ukraine, despite your warnings to Tehran not to ship them. Are you in a position to confirm those reports? Also I would appreciate if you gave your comment on that, specifically potential implications for the wider region.

And lastly, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, President of European Council Charles Michel will host next (inaudible) summit between Aliyev and Pashinyan tomorrow in Brussels. What are the DOS expectations from that meeting and also other communications between the two countries asides today’s meeting in Moscow? Thank you so much again.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Alex. Let me see if I can unpack that a little in three parts.

So first, in terms of action, look, we have stood with Ukraine for 31 years and we will continue to firm – firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering, and we continue to take steps to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, defend its territorial integrity, defend its sovereignty, as well as put it in the best position possible at a potential negotiating table.

But on top of that we also continue to have at our arsenal a number of consequences that we can continue to put onto Russia, whether that be economic sanctions and other things as well. And I will also note that the economic costs are hitting Russia and they’re hitting them hard. I’ll note that the import of goods could fall by 40 percent, which will lead to a shortage of foreign components, rapidly declining industrial production, and waves of underemployment. I will also note that Russia’s economy is so deeply tied to fossil fuels that it has no significant alternative industry to make up for declining oil and gas revenue. So those are just examples of how our actions continue to hold Russia accountable.

On your second question, we’ve spoken to this a little bit before, but the United States assesses that Russia has received UAVs from Iran. And over the course of several days in August, Russian transport aircraft loaded the UAV equipment at an airfield in Iran and subsequently flew from Iran to Russia. This initial delivery is likely part of Russia’s plan to import hundreds of Iranian UAVs of various types. Russian operators continue to receive training in Iran on how these systems – on how to use these systems. And we assess that Russia intends to use these Iranian UAVs, which can conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare, and targeting on the battlefield, in Ukraine.

The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to rely on unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment. In fact, our information indicates that UAVs associated with this transfer have already experienced numerous failures. Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world and especially those in the region should look at and see as a profound threat.

We’ll continue to vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade, and we will stand with our partners throughout the region against the Iranian threat.

And on your final question about Armenia and Azerbaijan, I don’t have any updates for you other than to reiterate what we’ve previously said, that the United States remains committed to promoting a secure, stable, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful future for the South Caucasus region, and we urge Armenia and Azerbaijan to intensify their diplomatic engagement and achieve a comprehensive peace agreement.

Next, let’s go to the line of Ed Wong with The New York Times.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I was wondering – I wanted to follow up on Daphne’s earlier question about the Solomon Islands. Does the State Department have any indication that Chinese officials have exerted any sort of influence over the Solomon Islands Government on its recent moratorium? And have PLA navy ships made any visits recently to the Solomon Islands, or do you expect them to make such visits in the near future? And finally, is the opening of the U.S. embassy that will cover the Solomon Islands on track to take place, as Secretary Blinken announced in February? And do – what are the – what’s the current status of discussions on the naval visits right now between U.S. diplomats and the government there?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Ed. I don’t have any updates or assessment to provide from here other than reiterating that it is, of course, disappointing that the Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry was not provided with the diplomatic clearance in support of its operation with the FAA. And as I noted, on August 29th we received formal notification from the government regarding a moratorium on all naval visits pending updates in protocol procedures.

On your question about the embassy, I don’t have any additional updates to provide at this time either, but we’re happy to take that back and see if we have anything for you.

Next, let’s go to the line of Abigail Williams with NBC News.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Two questions on unrelated topics. First, can you provide the latest on where negotiations stand on a return to the Iran nuclear deal? And more specifically, do you have any response to reports that the U.S. and Iran have reached an agreement to return to the deal which would be announced in the next two to three weeks?

And then separately, do you have any response to a letter sent by a group of senators to Secretary Blinken once again asking that detained American in Russia Mark Fogel be classified as wrongfully detained? Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Abigail. So on your question about the JCPOA, that reporting is false. We have not concluded an understanding. The situation remains the same as I briefed yesterday. We received Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposed final text through the EU, and we have responded to the EU on Wednesday, August 24th. Now it is up for Iran to answer.

On your second question, there is a protocol and procedure in place for the assessment of wrongful detention. I don’t have anything to provide beyond that.

Next, let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick with CBS News.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Vedant. I’m sorry if I missed it at the very top; I missed the first couple of minutes. I just had a question about the IAEA team on the ground in Ukraine right now. Can you give any update of what is the understanding of when they are scheduled to go and visit Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, whether that’s something today or tomorrow, or whether that’s still up in the air? Thank you.

MS PATEL: Thanks Camilla, and no, I hadn’t had a chance to address that yet. But as confirmed publicly by the IAEA, an expert team is currently in Kyiv and is expected to arrive at the ZNPP later this week. Russia has said that it will let the IAEA team inspect the power plant, and we hope Russia lives up to its word and allows a full inspection of the facilities and unhindered access to the operators. I don’t have anything further to preview on that, though, at this time.

Next, let’s go to Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for the phone briefing. On China and Taiwan, do you have anything on Arizona governor’s visit to Taiwan this week? Did the State Department get a heads-up or facilitate his visit, and is it fair to say this is in line with usual practices that are in place for years?

Also, just – follow-up on what you said earlier about China’s military escalation in the Taiwan Strait: does the U.S. assess it’s a result of Chinese domestic political calculation, particularly in the weeks leading to China’s 20th Communist Party Conference? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nike. So I will let the delegation speak to their own travel and any specifics around that. But what I will note and I have repeatedly noted is that members of Congress and elected officials from varying levels of government have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so. This is, of course, in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.

And sorry, on your – on the second part of your question, I am certainly not going to speculate. But what I would reiterate is that over the past week, many weeks, China has overreacted and taken provocations, and the United States’ response has been measured and responsible. And we have made clear that we do not intend to escalate the situation or cause any crises, and we certainly do not intend to change our longstanding “one China” policy.

We’ve also made clear that we’re going to continue to operate in the region as consistence and in accordance with international law. That also means maintaining open lines of communication with the PRC but also supporting Taiwan.

Next, let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

QUESTION: On Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his supporters to end their protests. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Laurie. As we’ve said previously, now is the time for all parties to resolve the current impasse. Above all, we urge all those involved to remain calm, abstain from violence, and pursue peaceful avenues of redress. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies. The demonstrators need to respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

And I will mention again, as in response to some of your colleagues’ questions as well, we have consistently reaffirmed that – our government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, and strategic partnership with Iraq serves the people of both of our countries.

Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr, Asharq News.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. My first question is on Taiwan. Can you please confirm that the State Department would ask the Congress for approval for a military sale worth $1 billion?

And my second question on Iraq. President Biden said during his visit to the region that the United States is staying there, is not going anywhere. I mean, Iraq was about to collapse yesterday. Is there any kind of engagement from your side? You have 2,500 troops there. They are not in a combat mission, but what kind of engagements did you make these two days? Nothing? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Hiba. So I will reiterate what I’ve said previously, is that we have a long-term commitment to this region. We reaffirmed this fact at the July Strategic Dialogue in Washington, where representatives of our countries met to discuss strengthening our long-term strategic relationship, not just in the security space but also when it comes to trade, culture, education, and the environment. And I will say again the U.S. wants to see a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. We will stay with them and continue to support this process.

As I addressed to some of your colleagues, we don’t have any calls or specific engagements to read out, but we continue to pay close attention to this – to the situation.

On your question about Taiwan, as a matter of policy we do not publicly comment or confirm proposed defense sales until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. But I will note, as I have said many times, we will continue to fulfill our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act, and that includes supporting Taiwan’s self-defense.

Let’s go to the line of Joseph Haboush with Al Arabiya.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask just also a follow-up on Iran in terms of some more details. Are you guys – I mean, are there plans for another round of talks, one?

Two, moving to Iraq, Reuters had reported earlier today that a series of rocket attacks pushed U.S. contractors out of the country where they were working to expand one of the biggest gas fields there. Part of that expansion project was funded through an agreement with USAID – or U.S. International Development Finance. Can you confirm that?

And also – last one – is Barbara Leaf traveling? Is she on official travel? And if so, could you let us know where? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Joseph. So let me take that last part of your question first. I can confirm that Assistant Secretary Leaf is traveling to the region and is in Tunisia today, where she met with the president and other Tunisian officials. I don’t have any other information for you on our travel, but we’ll have more updates today and through the course of the week.

On the topic of your question about the JCPOA, I don’t have any additional specifics to provide at this time. We, of course, are not going to negotiate in public. But as I said earlier, we received Iran’s comments, we’ve responded to them, and now it’s up to Iran to answer. We have been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path to meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA. And we continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance is not only in the national security interests of the United States; it continues to provide critical non-proliferative benefits but is also for – an important step for regional stability as well.

And on the topic of Iraq, I just don’t have any additional updates to provide for you on security or embassy personnel. As I said, there has been no change in our posture since yesterday.

All right, we have time for a couple more questions. And so next, let’s go to the line of Eduard Ribas with EFE.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. The Mexican president said that Secretary Blinken is traveling to Mexico this September. Can you confirm this? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. I don’t have any travel to the region to preview or announce at this time.

Next, let’s go to Victor Shalhoub with al-Arabya al-Jadeed.

QUESTION: Hello? Hello, thank you, Vedant. Do you hear me? Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Vedant. I assume that you learn about the four conditions laid down today by President Raisi concerning the JCPOA. Do you have any comment, especially about Iran’s condition about ending the IAEA inspections in order to return to the implementation of the JCPOA? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Victor. So we fully support the efforts of Director General Grossi and the IAEA Secretariat to engage Iran on the need to provide the necessary cooperation in order to clarify and resolve the open safeguards issues. Safeguards on nuclear materials relate to the very core of the IAEA’s mandate. And we have been crystal clear that we do not believe there should be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and the investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under the NPT and its Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement.

And thanks so much, everybody, for joining today. I really appreciate it. And we’ll talk to you all again soon.

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

Department Press Briefing – August 29, 2022

30 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

2:09 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything off the top for you today, so I am happy to dive into your questions. Apologies for being a few minutes late, a little bit of a crazy schedule today, but thanks so much for all joining. And Operator, if you want to share instructions to ask questions again.

OPERATOR: Yes, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0.

MR PATEL: Let’s go to the line of Leon Bruneau with AFP.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the situation in Iraq. The U.S. has denied that there has been any evacuation order to our embassy there in Baghdad. Can you say, however, if there’s been any measures to have some people leave, maybe, or other details like that without it – calling it per se an evacuation order? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Leon. So as a matter of policy, we don’t comment on matters of internal security and ensuring the safety of U.S. Government personnel and U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities both in the National Capitol Region and abroad remains our highest priority; but would reiterate what was shared with you all earlier today, that reports of Embassy Baghdad being evacuated are false.

Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. I’m not seeing that line. Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I had a similar question just following up. You said there’s no evacuation. Was there any or is there any reduction of staff at the Baghdad Embassy? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Will. I don’t have any operational updates to provide as it relates to Embassy Baghdad. Again, I would just reiterate that the reports that it’s being evacuated is false. And as a matter of policy, I’m just not going to get into internal security.

Let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick with CBS News.

QUESTION: Hi there, can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks Vedant. Today marks a year since an erroneous U.S. airstrike killed 10 Afghans, which included aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and his children. Last week marked one year since over a hundred Afghans and 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bombing on the international airport in Kabul. Two weeks before that marks one year since Kabul fell to the Taliban. There’s still no after-action report on Afghanistan from the Biden administration. Can we still expect something on this to be published? And if so, can you explain the delay in getting these out to the public? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Camilla. I don’t presently have an update to provide. But as we’ve said, we will be as transparent as possible with the report, consistent with classification and other considerations, and we hope to have an update to you all as soon as possible.

Let’s next go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: Hello?

MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Two questions, one of the news that the IAEA team is heading to Zaporizhzhia. Does the U.S. have any comment on this? Do you believe they can accurately and completely carry out an investigation at that nuclear power plant?

And then separately, do you have any update on the two Americans who are being held by Russia as prisoners of war? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Jenny. So as confirmed publicly by the IAEA, an expert team is on its way and is expected to arrive at the ZNPP later this week. Russia has said it will let the IAEA team inspect the power plant, and we hope that Russia lives up to its word and allows a full inspection of the facilities and unhindered access to the operators. But I don’t have anything else to preview on that at the moment.

And sorry, as it relates to your other question, we remain in contact with the families of U.S. citizens who may be detained, but I don’t have any details to get into on that at the moment. Thanks.

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

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Vedant, for doing this. I want to follow up on Iraq as well. (Inaudible) phone calls between the Secretary and any Iraqi officials in the next few days, if not today? And second, were you caught by surprise of the events that’s happening today in the Green Zone, considering the turmoil that the (inaudible) in the last few weeks and months?

And on the Iranian response, do we any expect any timeline, considering the State Department and the White House saying we are two weeks closer to probably reaching an agreement – we are closer than two weeks ago. Is it any (inaudible) for the Iranians, and then it’s going to be another round of talks? If you’d just clarify this point. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nadia. I will take your second question first. So I will refer – let Iran and the EU speak to timeline. But as you know, we responded to the EU on Wednesday, and now it’s up to Iran to answer and send their response to our text back.

And then separately, on your question about Iraq, I don’t have any calls with any leaders to preview or anything like that. But as per standard, we’ll read something out if something comes together. But to take a little bit of a step back, reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence, and Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be put at risk.

We’re aware of the reports of increasing violence and potential casualties, and we condemn the use of violence above all. Now is the time for dialogue, and we urge all those involved to remain calm and pursue peaceful avenues of redress. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators should also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Very, very quickly, thank you for doing this and for taking my question.

Very quickly, when the President visited Israel and the West Bank last month, he impressed upon the Israelis to keep the bridge, the border bridge, the Allenby Bridge, between Jordan and the West Bank open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But as of now, nothing has happened. I mean, this has been promised before. I saw a tweet by former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, where he says, look, I was promised this back in 2014 and nothing happened. So my question to you: Are you getting any kind of firm commitment by the Israelis that they will open that border?

And second, will there be a meeting between the – between the head of the Mossad, who is in town, with any at the State Department? And will they discuss, beside the Iranian issue, the Palestinian issue? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. Let me answer your second question first. I don’t have any meetings to preview or anything to announce. But to take a little bit of a step back, as always, we are in intensive and constant discussions with our Israeli partners on Iran. There is no greater supporter of Israeli security than President Biden.

And on the question about – your first question, look, this administration supports creating a more autonomous, efficient, and reliable Palestinian experience of traveling abroad. During the President’s trip in June, he announced that Israel is prepared to take measures to increase efficiency and accessibility to the Allenby Bridge for the benefit of Palestinians. In order to upgrade facilities, Israel agreed to enable access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by September 30th, 2022. And a group is – a working group is assessing several measures, including the use of biometric passports, and will complete its assessment within the month and discuss conclusions with U.S. partners. In addition, the working group is considering steps to establish Palestinian Authority presence on Allenby Bridge while maintaining Israel’s security considerations.

Let’s go to Abigail Williams with NBC News.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that Iran has started enriching uranium with one of three clusters of advanced IR-6 centrifuges that were recently installed at its underground enrichment plant Natanz. Is the U.S. concerned that Iran is continuing to advance its nuclear program even while negotiating re-entry into the JCPOA?

And then a second question. Does the State Department have anything further on the American who was killed while fighting in Ukraine last week? Have U.S. officials been in touch with Russian officials regarding the return of their remains to the United States? And can you say how many American citizens fighting in Ukraine does the U.S. believe have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion?

Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Abigail. I will take your second question first. So first, our ability to verify reports of deaths of U.S. citizens in Ukraine is limited. In addition, not all U.S. citizens’ deaths may be reported to U.S. authorities. For those reasons, we’re unable to provide a definitive number of all U.S. citizens who have been killed. But to the crux of your question, we can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine, and we are in touch with the family and providing all possible and necessary consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I don’t have anything additional to add other than we are working with our international partners and the Ukrainian Government regarding this case. It’s extremely sensitive, and we take our responsibilities as such very seriously, and out of respect for the family during this difficult time we have no further comments.

On your question about Iran and the JCPOA, we’re certainly not going to negotiate in public, but what I will reiterate, and which what others from the department have said, is that a mutual return to full implementation is in America’s national interest. It is the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s other destabilizing conduct. We have been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return of implementation that we think will address our full range of concerns with Iran.

Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for the phone briefing. On Taiwan, do you have anything on the planned visit by head of Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council? Is there a plan for State Department officials to meet with him? And is the meeting in line with the State Department’s revised guidelines on interacting with Taiwan?

And separately, if I may, on Afghanistan SIV, I want to put on your radar the feedback – an Afghanistan evacuee now into his second and final year with parole status, which is as it stands now, Afghan evacuees are sent to the same email address whether they are starting the SIV process or nearly through. Why isn’t there a hub of workers assigned to expedite advanced cases when paperwork has been filled or individual cases workers assigned? And I have a follow-up question. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Nike. So on your first question, we don’t have any meetings to announce, and I’d refer you to TECRO for any information on possible Taiwan official travel to the United States.

And on your second question about SIVs, what I would note is that we are – first, to take a step back, our commitment to SIVs and SIV processing is enduring, and we’re continuing to assess the process and do whatever we can to make it more efficient and process SIV applications more expeditiously, while of course also safeguarding our national security. I will also note that earlier in – earlier this year, we were able to in conjunction with our partners at USCIS further streamline the SIV process and reduce the administrative burden on applicants by getting rid of a duplicative process that we think will be able to save about a month off of processing time.

So this is a commitment that we are continuing to be laser focused on, and we’ll continue to assess and make adjustments to the process as we see fit, and that are of course in – consistent with U.S. law, and safeguarding our national security.

Let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC News.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to ask about a report that the war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types as ammunition to dangerously low levels. Does the State Department share that level of concern? And if so, will that have any influence over future aid packages? Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shannon. So I think what’s important to remember here is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue to firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our belief is, is that we will do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, can defend its territorial sovereignty, to defend its territorial integrity. And we are going to continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as that takes. And part of that also involves continuing to hold Russia accountable through economic costs, through sanctions, and other measures as well.

Next, let’s go to the line of Ksenija Mcateer with Pavlovic Today.

QUESTION: I would like to ask you if Secretary Blinken has been briefed about the latest outcome of the Serbia-Kosovo talks, and what are his thoughts regarding the lack of agreement on the license plates? And my second question related to the same topic, can we expect Secretary Blinken to reiterate in the coming weeks the need for the creation of the Community of the Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Ksenija. So we all at the State Department have been paying close touch. And as you know, through the EU-facilitated dialogues, Serbia has agreed to eliminate entry and exit documents for Kosovo ID holders, and Kosovo agreed not to introduce entry and exit documents for Serbia ID holders. The U.S. and this department supports this agreement and sees it as an important step forward towards normalized relations centered on mutual recognition.

The dialogue has proven itself to be an important and flexible mechanism for dispute settlement, and the dialogue is a mechanism through which Serbia and Kosovo can come to a comprehensive agreement on normalizing the relations between two countries which will unlock a European future for both countries. Based on the commitment of both parties and the hard work of the special representative of the EU, we will find a way to move forward in a peaceful manner.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yep. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a question about South Korea and Russia. And first question is South Korea. South Korea concerns about the electrical vehicle production due to Inflation Reduction Act, and the South Korea recently requested the United States to enforce maximum flexibility. Will the United States consider on this? And second – my second question on Russia: Russia has announced that it will increase the – its Russian troops. Can you predict this will be a long war of Ukraine? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Janne. So on your first question, we’ll have to get back to you. We’ll take that question and someone will follow up. But on your second, what I would reiterate, again, is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue firmly to stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering, and we’re going to continue to take steps to do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend its territorial integrity, can defend its sovereignty.

And it’s quite clear that as this war enters its seventh month that President Putin’s assault is coming at a climbing cost: thousands of civilians killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes. But President Putin has also failed in his goal: Ukraine has not and will not be conquered; it will remain sovereign and independent. We don’t know when this war will be over, but the United States will continue to stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr with Asharq News.

QUESTION: You said on Iraq that you agree with the UN assessment that Iraq state is at stake with what’s happening now?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry, Hiba. We missed most of that question as you were coming off of mute. Can you re-ask that?

QUESTION: Yes. Does the U.S. agree with the UN assessment on the situation in Iraq that the Iraq states – the Iraq state, sorry – is at stake now with what’s happening?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. What I will – what I am going to do is reiterate what I’d said already, which is that reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are deeply disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence and it – Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be at risk. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators must also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government, which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan24.

QUESTION: Regarding Iraq, what is your response to critics like David Schenker, former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, who just complained in Foreign Policy magazine that senior officials, U.S. officials have not been interested enough in Iraq and that has given a relatively free hand to Iran and its proxies there?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Laurie. We have consistently reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, multifaceted, and strategic partnership with Iraq both – serves both Iraqi and American people, and we are prepared to work with a government that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its agenda.

Next let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: I have two questions. First, is Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr going to Israel and Palestinian territories, as the reports say?

And second, any updates on Senior Advisor Hochstein’s talks with Israel and Lebanon? Is there any deal on the table?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Michel. I don’t have – to your first question, I don’t have any travel to preview or anything like that. And on your second, as we’ve previously said, the U.S. remains committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a decision on the delimitation of their maritime boundary, but I don’t have any updates or new information to provide.

Next let’s go to the line of Ahmed Alhazeem with Al Jazeera.

QUESTION: Few questions about Iraq, but everybody – it’s been asked and answered, so I don’t want to waste everybody’s time.

MR PATEL: Okay, then in that case let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my question. An expert from Russia on the North Korean issue in an interview on Saturday said that the U.S. and South Korea are now instigating the DPRK and want Pyongyang to carry on a nuclear test as soon as possible. And North Korea’s state media KCNA published this story on their website today. So what would be your comments on this? I mean, do you still assess that North Korea is preparing its seventh nuclear test?

And I have a second question. South Korea has announced that it has formed a consultative body to assess environmental impact of the U.S. anti-missile defense system, THAAD. Once it’s done, the THAAD system is expected to be operated fully, and many expect that China will press South Korea. I mean, how would you react on China’s strong opposition to the possible full operations of the THAAD system? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let me take your second question first, and I addressed this a number of weeks ago, but we believe that THAAD is a prudent and limited self-defense capability designed to counter DPRK weapons programs. Criticism or pressure on the ROK to abandon its self-defense is inappropriate. The U.S. and the ROK made an alliance decision to deploy THAAD to the ROK as a purely defensive measure to protect the ROK and its people from armed attack and to protect alliance military forces from the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threat.

As it relates to your first question, I think it’s important to take a little bit of a step back here, and I would reiterate that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK, and our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and willing to explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. However, we also have a serious responsibility to address the DPRK’s recent provocations and to implement UNSCRs already in place.

All right, I think we’ve got time for one last question, so we can close it out with Nike Ching again, Voice of America.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Just a quick follow-up on the Afghan SIV. As you mentioned, there are new measures to expedite the process. Could you please elaborate a little bit? What is the State Department implementing that’s new to expedite these cases? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure, Nike. So to just give a little bit of specificity on the adjustment that we made in July, so beginning on July 20th all new Afghan SIV program applicants are no longer required to submit a form I-360, petition for a special immigrant, to USCIS. Instead, a revised form DS-157, which is already one of the several documents required in our State Department’s chief of mission approval application, now serves as the petition for classification as a Special Immigrant Visa. We anticipate that this change will shave at least a month off of adjudication time as well as ease administrative burden on the visa applicant, while also maintaining our robust security standards as well.

Alright, everybody, I really appreciate everyone joining today, and again, sorry for dialing in a little late. And looking forward to talking to you all again soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)