Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Remains Strong Despite Russian Obstructionism

28 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy SpokespersonBureau of Global Public Affairs

After weeks of intensive but productive negotiations, the Russian Federation alone decided to block consensus on a final document at the conclusion of the Tenth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russia did so in order to block language that merely acknowledged the grave radiological risk at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the very kind of challenge the conference is called upon to address.  For the Russian Federation to not accept such language in the face of overwhelming international consensus underscores the need for the United States and others to continue urging Russia to end its military activity near ZNPP and return control of the plant to Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s cynical obstructionism, the fact that all the other remaining States Parties were able to support the final document speaks to the Treaty’s essential role in preventing nuclear proliferation and averting the danger of nuclear war. Over the course of the conference, NPT Parties affirmed the need for action on arms control, proliferation crises, and expanded access to peaceful nuclear energy, science, and technologies, especially among states of the global south. Amid a challenging international political and security environment, the extent to which NPT States Parties found common ground in support of strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime is remarkable.

The United States will continue to work alongside the international community to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. The NPT remains and will remain the fundamental cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and essential to advancing nuclear disarmament and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  We are proud to have worked constructively and in good faith with all Parties toward a consensus. Russia’s actions reflect only on Russia. It is clear that the rest of the NPT’s States Parties recognize the Treaty’s role as an essential pillar of the international rules-based order.

Establishing an Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region

26 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy SpokespersonBureau of Global Public Affairs

An Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative is of critical strategic importance to the United States and a priority for Secretary Blinken.  As one of eight Arctic nations, the United States has long been committed to protecting our national security and economic interests in the region, combating climate change, fostering sustainable development and investment, and promoting cooperation with Arctic States, Allies, and partners.  To further American interests and cooperation with Allies and partners in the Arctic, and after extensive consultations with Members of Congress, local and federal government officials, and external stakeholders, the President plans to elevate the Arctic Coordinator position by appointing an Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

The Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region will advance U.S. policy in the Arctic, engage with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic nations as well as Indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local, and Tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies and Congress.  The United States remains committed to constructive cooperation in the Arctic, foremost through the Arctic Council, and the Ambassador-at-Large will work in close partnership with the U.S. Senior Arctic Official, the federal Arctic science community, and the Arctic Executive Steering Committee.

We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with the Congress to swiftly confirm the Ambassador-at-Large, once a nomination is sent to the Senate.

Department Press Briefing – August 25, 2022

26 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy SpokespersonBureau of Global Public Affairs

Washington, D.C.

2:04 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. And good afternoon, everybody, and thanks so much for joining. I have one thing for you at the top before we dive into your questions.

So nearly every day, we see new and credible reports of Russia’s forces committing horrific atrocities against individuals, families, and communities as President Putin’s devastating and unjustifiable war against Ukraine continues. As we’ve said before, President Putin and all those who commit heinous acts must be held to account for violations of international law. The United States is supporting reporting and accountability efforts through a multifaceted approach.

The Conflict Observatory is a program designed to capture, analyze, and make publicly available evidence of war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine committed by members of Russia’s military. Today we announced an extension of the program’s work through $9 million in additional funds. This supports efforts through the administration’s European Democratic Resilience Initiative to advance accountability and justice.

Today, the Conflict Observatory also released a new analysis of sites it identified as associated with Russia’s brutal filtration operations. The Conflict Observatory was able to make these identifications based on a combination of overhead imagery, traditional news media sources, and accounts of these activities shared via social media.

The report follows the unclassified U.S. National Intelligence Council assessment of Russia’s filtration operations and other recent Conflict Observatory products that document damage to Ukraine’s hospitals, schools, churches, museums, archives, and other civilian objects.

The broad assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is clear, as are Russia’s destructive ambitions, and we are keeping a focus on these abuses. The people of Ukraine deserve justice, and together with them, we too demand it.

And with that, I’m happy to open it up to questions. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind sharing instructions again.

OPERATOR: Certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. And we do ask if you could please pause before asking your question until we let you know your line is open. Again, if you have a question, please press 1 then 0.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. Let’s first go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

OPERATOR: And your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you. Could I follow up on Ukraine? The – and there was an announcement today that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex was cut off from the national power grid. Can you comment on that? Does the U.S. have information to confirm that? And if so, what do you see the effects of this? How serious is this for the situation in Ukraine and for, indeed, the power situation and continued concerns about an incident there?

If you don’t mind, a separate question. I was wondering if the U.S. has anything to say about the situation politically in Pakistan. Imran Khan, there are some charges that have been placed against him, the former prime minister, and also a decision not to – an order not to air his remarks in the media on satellite TV. Is there anything that the United States wants to say about that? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. Let me take your first question first. We are closely monitoring the reports that the last two operational reactors at ZNPP have been shut down. Ukraine is reporting that all the plant’s safety and security systems are working normally, and we have no indications of increased or abnormal radiation levels. I also want to take a minute and applaud the courage and selflessness of Ukraine’s personnel at ZNPP for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most harrowing and dangerous conditions.

But to take a little bit of a step back, it is clear that Russia’s shelling and seizure of Ukraine’s power plants and infrastructure are part of its strategy to create energy crises in Europe. We strongly condemn any action at ZNPP or elsewhere that impacts the health and welfare of civilians throughout the region. The situation at ZNPP is the result of Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, its control of and dangerous military presence at the power plant, and its unwillingness to turn control of the plant back to Ukraine for safe and secure operations.

We’ve said this before, but no country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone, and we oppose any Russian efforts to weaponize or divert energy from the plant. To be very clear, the ZNPP and the electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine, and any attempt to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect to occupied areas is unacceptable.

On Pakistan, we’re aware of some of these reports. The United States does not have a position on one political candidate or party versus another. We support the peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles. The United States values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. That remains unchanged.

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

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my call. Quick questions on Iran. Does the United States plan to issue visas for Iran’s President Raisi and his entourage? UNGA is approaching. Can you confirm or rule out that he’s attending UNGA? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Nike. Visa records are confidential under U.S. law, therefore I can’t discuss the details of individual visa cases. But I would reiterate what we’ve said before that as a host nation of the UN, the U.S. is generally obligated under the UN Headquarters Agreement to issue visas to representatives of UN member states to travel to the UN headquarters district. The U.S. takes seriously its obligations as a host country of the UN, but again, visa records are confidential, and therefore I can’t get into anything else.

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

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Vedant. I wondered if you had a response to the new congressional delegation just arrived in Taiwan led by Marsha Blackburn, Senator Marsha Blackburn. I understand there’s been several of these delegations. What advice is the State Department giving to members of Congress who come to you and ask whether they should visit Taiwan and what advice was given in this case? And is there any concern given the – China’s reactions to previous – the previous visits that continued visits, repeated visits is – could potentially inflame the situation? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Simon. So members of Congress and elected officials have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so, and this is in line and is consistent with our longstanding “one China” policy. I’d refer you to the delegation for any other specifics on their travel.

But look, the United States has continued to act in a – in a way that is responsible, steady, and resolute. Our policy towards Taiwan has remained consistent for decades across administrations, and we remain committed to our “one China” policy. We’re going to continue to take calm and resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the region and to support Taiwan in line with our longstanding policy.

Next let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, and thank you so much, Vedant. I have two questions. The first one is on Ukraine. Putin has signed a decree on – decree to increase the size of his military today. As you know, the war in Ukraine enters its seventh month with no signs of abating. I’m wondering how do you read this news in terms of Russia’s intentions in the region and, of course, its possible implications to not only Ukraine but also other vulnerable countries.

And my second question – I want to ask you about the U.S. role in the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process, especially in the wake of yesterday’s announcement came out from the Secretary. It looks like the Azeris are surprised by the appointment of Ambassador Reeker to the post of Minsk Group co-chair as well as senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations. In fact, the Azeri foreign affairs ministry described it as “an approach far from the post-conflict …in the region,” quote/unquote. Can I get your reaction to that? Because as someone who has been covering this issue for years, frankly, I am surprised that the Azeri Government is surprised, because if I’m following it closely enough, these kind of appointments have always been coordinated before telegraphing publicly, right? In general, how do you want us to read Ambassador Reeker’s appointment in terms of the administration’s current approach to the peace process? Thank you again.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Alex. So in response to your first question, it’s quite clear 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 support for Ukraine is unwavering. President Putin’s full-scale war on Ukraine continues to result in climbing costs – thousands of civilians killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes, historic cities pounded to rubble, foot shortages, skyrocketing food prices around the world, all because President Putin has determined to conquer another country.

And he’s failed in that goal. Ukraine has not and will not be conquered. It will remain sovereign and independent, and as this war stretches on, the courage and strength of Ukraine’s military and its people become even more evident and even more extraordinary. They will do whatever it takes to protect their homes, their families, their fellow citizens, their country. Ukraine’s talks with Russia are not stalled because Ukraine has turned its back on diplomacy. They’re stalled because Russia continues to wage a war.

I would also note that these actions continue to have consequences on Russia and Russia’s economy. I’ll note that nearly a thousand multinational companies have curtailed or suspended operations in Russia, including Citigroup, which is one that was just recently announced.

And on your other question – on your question about Armenia and Azerbaijan and the appointment of Ambassador Reeker, look, the Secretary appointed him to serve as the senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations to underscore our commitment to facilitating peace in the South Caucasus. As a country, we are committed to facilitating direct dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia bilaterally, multilaterally, and in cooperation with likeminded partners to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement between the two countries. His selection underscores our commitment to the Geneva International Discussions, where we’re going to continue to hold Russia accountable to the commitments it made under the 2008 ceasefire. Also, as part of his diplomatic advisor role, Ambassador Reeker will also represent the U.S. both at the OSCE Minsk Group and at the Geneva International Discussions as I mentioned.

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

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Two questions, Vedant. Does the State Department have any comment on the Myanmar military junta detaining a former British ambassador there?

And then separately, in light of the renewed hostilities in Ethiopia, are there any plans to dispatch the special envoy for the Horn of Africa to the region to try to solve any of this? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. On your first question, I’ve – we’ve seen those reports but don’t have anything to offer here from the State Department. We’d refer you to the United Kingdom for anything on that.

As it relates to the travel of Special Envoy Hammer, I don’t have any travel to preview, but in coordination with the embassy, Special Envoy Hammer is in frequent contact with the parties as well as international partners to urge a cessation of hostilities and for peace talks to start as soon as possible under the African Union’s auspices. He is prepared to the region – he is prepared to travel to the region – I’m sorry – as is needed.

Let’s next go to the line of Guita Aryan with the Voice of America.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. While the State Department is laser focused on the JCPOA talks, about an hour ago or less the Treasury Department issued a general license for Iranian students, allowing for any U.S. academic institution giving online educational services and providing them with the necessary software. I know this is not part of the Vienna talks, the negotiations that the U.S. says it doesn’t want to talk anything outside of that framework, but since these students have been issued visas by the State Department, could you tell me anything – why this change? And obviously the State Department must have been advised or consulted by the Treasury on this decision. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Guita. We’ll have to check with some folks here, and then we can circle back with you. I’d also encourage you to reach out to our colleagues at the Treasury Department on this as well.

Let’s next go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you Vedant for doing the call. I have two questions. Were you able, first, to convince Israel and U.S. allies in the region that they will be better off with Iran nuclear deal?

And second, when do you expect to receive Iran comments on the U.S. response to the EU proposal?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Michel. So there – of course, the process for the flow of information and the conveying of communication is through the EU, so would refer to them. I’m certainly not going to speculate on a timeline from here.

On your question about our Israeli partners, look, to take a step back, as you heard me say earlier this week, we have continued to engage closely with our Israeli partners on this issue. We think that – we continue to feel that a mutual return to compliance in the JCPOA continues to be not only in the national security interest of the United States, but also an important step for the region. But I’m certainly not going to comment on details or negotiate from the press or get into a back-and-forth on our specific engagements with our allies and partners.

Next let’s go to Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan 24.

QUESTION:  Thank —

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for taking my question, and it’s actually Laurie Mylroie. But here’s my question: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has an article today warning about the growing alliance between Russia and Iran. That includes that Russia might use the revival of the JCPOA as a way to sell its oil and evade sanctions. Do you share that concern?

MR PATEL:  Thanks, Laurie, and apologies for the mispronunciation. My bad. So to take a little bit of a step back and to widen the aperture, absent a deal we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to limit exports of petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products from Iran, and we’ll address any effort at sanction evasion. The framework of U.S. sanctions on Iran remains robust and continues to have a very clear impact. Iran’s macroeconomic figures clearly bear this out. We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to Iranian sanction evasion efforts and will continue to do so. We have seen reports about increased oil revenue. I can’t confirm the accuracy of those claims. But I would note that oil export figures fluctuate regularly over time based on prices and changes in methodology.

Let’s go to Elizabeth Hagedorn.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi. I’m wondering if you have a reaction to recent comments made by Turkish officials hinting at eventual reconciliation with Damascus. Most recently, Turkey’s foreign minister said the country had no preconditions for dialogue with the Syrian Government. Given the U.S. position on normalization of the Syrian regime, how does the U.S. view this recent rhetoric?

MR PATEL:  Thanks for your question. So first and foremost, I will reiterate what we’ve said previously on this, that Turkey tins to be a important NATO Ally and has played an integral role in continuing to hold Russia accountable for its barbaric actions in Ukraine. But to be clear, this administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. does not intend to upgrade our diplomatic relations with the Assad regime and we don’t support other countries normalizing their relations, either.

We will not lift sanctions on Syria or change our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria until there is authentic and enduring progress towards a political solution. We believe authentic and enduring political progress is both necessary and vital for reconstruction and have not seen progress on that front. We urge states in the region to consider very carefully the atrocities inflicted by the Assad regime on the Syrian people over the last decade as well as the regime’s continuing efforts to deny much of the country access to integral humanitarian aid and security.

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

OPERATOR:  Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this and thank you for taking my question. Very quickly, I know I saw the statement that you guys issued after the meeting of Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman with the Israeli National Security Advisor Hulata. And I saw that there was a reference to the Palestinian issue and to the organizations and so on. Can you tell us whether the deputy secretary received any kind of clarification on the Israeli position or there any evidence and so on? And what was her – his response on this issue?

And second, just to follow up on Michel Ghandour’s question about the – regarding the Iran deal being the best possible way forward to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and whether that your allies have been content with that. Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thanks, Said. So I don’t have additional information to provide beyond what was in the readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meeting. But to reiterate here for those, the Deputy Secretary was able to, with the national security advisor, discuss the strength of the bilateral relationship. They discussed shared global security challenges, including Iran. The deputy secretary also reiterated the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security. She also underscored the importance of ensuring independent civil society organizations in the West Bank and Israel are able to continue their important work.

On the second part of your question, again I’m just not going to read out specific engagements with our allies and partners beyond reiterating what I’ve said, which is that our engagements with allies and partners, including those in Israel, continue to be a key tenet of our process with the JCPOA. And we continue to fully believe that a mutual return to compliance is not only in the national security interest of the United States, it’s the best step to contain Iran’s nuclear program but will offer benefits in the region as well.

I think we’ve got time for a couple more questions. Let’s next go to the line of Hiba Nasar.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, and thanks for taking my question. My first question about Iran: Iranian foreign minister today said that they would not allow the IAEA baseless accusations to remain – I’m stating his words – so they are opposing that the investigation could go on after the deal. Is there room for you to stop the investigation? This is my first question.

My second question: What do you make from these attacks against the U.S. troops in Syria since they are happening now when you are closer to a deal with Iran? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let me answer the first part first. So our position on this has been quite clear, and we have communicated this repeatedly in public and in private to Iran. Iran needs to answer the IAEA’s questions. That is the only way to address these issues. Once the IAEA director general reports to the board of governors that the outstanding issues have been clarified and resolved, we expect them to come off the board’s agenda, but not before that. We’ve also been 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.

And on the – and on your second question, what I would say about the airstrike – and again, I would reiterate that our colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to some of this additionally – is that whether or not there is a deal, the President’s commitment to protect U.S. personnel and confront Iran’s activities that jeopardize our people or our partners in the region is unwavering. The nuclear deal has nothing to do with our readiness and ability to defend our people and our interests.

We’ve also been clear that we will ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy is the best path to achieving that goal, and as we long have said, we believe pursuing JCPOA talks is in U.S. national security interests, and we’re going to continue to do so.

Great. I think we’ve got time for one last question, so why don’t we close it out with Matt Lee from the Associated Press?

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, there. Thanks, Vedant. I wasn’t going to ask a question, but your response to the last question on the IAEA safeguards inspections prompted me to ask this question, and that is: You guys keep saying that there is no conditionality between closing this file and the implementation, or there should be no conditionality between closing these – this investigation and the implementation of the deal. And you present this as though it is some tough, hardline stance that the United States has.

But you can – it can be looked at entirely the opposite way, meaning that Iran doesn’t have to do this and the deal – I mean, Iran doesn’t have to satisfy it, the deal will be implemented, and you guys will still give them sanctions relief under the deal. Is that not correct, or am I completely missing something? You guys are presenting this as though we’re forceful; we’re telling the Iranians that they can’t – that their demand that this be closed before the deal is implemented, that we’re rejecting that. But in fact, what it also does, it says that the deal can be implemented, Iran can get the sanctions relief even if they haven’t satisfied the IAEA’s concerns. Is that correct or not?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Matt. So I will just reiterate what I’ve said previously, that of course it would be preferable for us to return to a full implementation of the JCPOA without any safeguards issues, but the power to achieve that is fully in Iran hands. And again, to say like I said before, we have been clear that we don’t believe there should be any conditionality between reimplementation of the JCPOA and investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations under both the NPT and its comprehensive safeguards agreement as well.

Alright, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. We will all be in touch, and please don’t hesitate if you all need anything else.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – August 24, 2022

25 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy SpokespersonBureau of Global Public Affairs

Washington, D.C.

2:01 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Thanks so much for joining us today. I wanted to start by taking a minute to highlight that today is Ukraine’s national day, which also marks the sixth month of Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine. Looking back six months ago, the United States consistently spoke of the two paths Russia could choose: dialogue and diplomacy or escalation and massive consequence. We made genuine and sincere efforts to pursue the former, which we vastly preferred, but President Putin chose war. Putin expected a quick victory but underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian people, their strong desire to remain independent, and their capability to defend their freedom and democracy.

Since Putin made that fateful decision, Russia has inflicted unconscionable civilian suffering and massive damage to civilian infrastructure. Its bombardments have hit schools, hospitals, churches, apartment buildings, and food infrastructure facilities. The United States has rallied the world and galvanized our global allies and partners to support Ukraine and press Putin to end his senseless war. We have worked with our allies and partners to impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia, including through sanctions, export controls, and visa restrictions that target Putin, his war machine, and his enablers.

Including today’s announcement of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the United States has announced more than $22 billion in assistance to Ukraine, including critical security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself, humanitarian assistance to help the millions of people displaced or affected by Putin’s brutality, and economic assistance to support the resilience of Ukraine’s government and economy. We don’t know when this war will be over, but we know this: Ukraine will be a strong, sovereign, and independent nation, and the United States will continue to stand united with Ukraine and help it defend itself for as long as it takes.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Operator, would you please mind sharing the question instructions again?

OPERATOR: Of course. If you have a question at this time, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1 then 0 command. If using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers. One moment, please, for our first question.

MR PATEL: Thanks. Let’s first go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.

QUESTION: Hey, Vedant, hope you’re well. I’m sure lots of my colleagues have questions on Iran, but if you don’t mind I’d like to ask about two things that are unrelated to that. Ethiopia, the breaking of the ceasefire – do you have any comment on that, and also in terms of diplomacy, whether there’s any U.S. effort to try to restore the ceasefire, and whether this will affect at all any discussions on Ethiopia’s trade privileges, trying to restore those, as Ethiopia has been trying to do?

And also I was wondering if you could give a readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s talks with the Chinese ambassador yesterday. What was discussed – Taiwan, et cetera? Does this indicate that there could be some diplomacy back on track? Anything you could give on that. Thanks very much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. I will start with your second question first. So Deputy Secretary Sherman met with the PRC ambassador to the United States yesterday on August 23rd. We have and will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the PRC. Beijing has shut down some key communication channels and cooperation across several vital issues that affect the entire world, but the United States continues to seek an open and constructive line of communication to manage our differences.

And on your question about Ethiopia, we are concerned by reports of renewed hostilities in Ethiopia, and we call on the Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF to redouble efforts to advance talks to achieve a durable ceasefire without preconditions and ultimately bring a permanent end to the conflict. Over the past five months, the March 24th humanitarian truce declared by the government and reciprocated by the TPLF, it reduced violence and it cleared the way for delivery of humanitarian assistance in key regions of Ethiopia. Respect for this truce has saved countless lives and enabled assistance to reach tens of thousands, and recent provocations on the battlefield and the lack of a durable ceasefire now threaten this progress and delay the establishment of an inclusive political process to achieve progress towards common security and prosperity for all Ethiopians.

A return to active conflict will result in widespread suffering, heightened human rights abuses, create further economic hardships, and play into the hands of those that seek to undermine Ethiopia’s peace and security. The United States remains fully committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and seeks peace and stability in Ethiopia. We stand ready to work with all Ethiopians to navigate the full range of challenges the country faces, which include overcoming historic drought and promoting regional security. I’ll also note that the U.S. is the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance, reflecting our commitment to reach all regions and people of Ethiopia in need.

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

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wondered if you had any – the U.S. has any comment or response to political developments in Thailand, where the prime minister – a court has ruled that the prime minister should be suspended because he served a long enough period in charge. So is there any particular concern from the U.S. about this development and – yeah, your comments on that? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Sure. The United States respects Thailand’s democratic process and institutions and looks forward to continuing our engagement with the government and people of Thailand. It’s important to remember that Thailand is a key partner and one of our most enduring allies in Asia. Our broad cooperation benefits both of our countries, the region, and beyond.

Next let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to ask about Iran and your response today to the EU. I was wondering if you could read anything else out and say what you expect the next steps to be. Additionally, I wanted to ask about the timeline for that response. The administration has said itself that the runway is ending, time is of the essence to restore the JCPOA. And it took about a week for you to reply after Iran issued their comments to the EU. I wanted you to say if you had any concerns over the timeline to restore a deal going forward. Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Sure. As you know, we received Iran’s comments on the EU’s proposed final text through the EU. Our review of those comments has now concluded, and we have responded to the EU today. We have conveyed our feedback privately, and I’m not going to get into further details from here today on that.

To take a little bit of a step back, we have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start. If Iran is prepared to fully implement its commitments under the 2015 deal, then we’re prepared to do the same. This negotiation at times has languished for months upon months on account of Iran. The notion – we started in March, that we – we stated in March that we were prepared for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA based on the text that was on the table at that time. Iran was not. So we’re – like I said, we’re not going to negotiate additionally from public, and we’ve conveyed our response to the EU today.

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

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. Following up on the question regarding Deputy Secretary of State Sherman’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang, specifically what’s discussed on Taiwan? Does the United States assess a drastic military move by China as Chinese President Xi Jinping is on his way to the third term? And how did you describe the intimacy of the meeting? Is this part of the guard rails to prevent miscalculation?

And separately, if I may, what can you tell us about discussions with China on Taliban travel ban waivers? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks, Nike. So I will just reiterate what I answered before in that we have and will continue to keep the lines of communication open with the PRC. The United States continues to seek open and constructive lines of communication to manage our differences. I will note that we continue to take calm and resolute steps to uphold peace and stability in the region as well as support Taiwan in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.

I don’t have any specific readouts to provide on discussions about the travel ban exemptions. But what I will reiterate, and some have spoken to this before, is that the exemption expired on August 19th, and discussions on whether to grant an exemption remain ongoing, and a decision requires consensus among other members of the Security Council. We will, I’m sure, have more to say once the committee concludes negotiations; generally we see the need to continue limited engagement with the Taliban to help the people of – help the Afghan people, and have found that face-to-face discussions in third countries have proven to be useful to advance our interests, to advance our national security interests.

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

QUESTION: On Iran, I wanted to ask about the issue of the detainees. Are there still active negotiations on that part? And is it still the position of the U.S. that there has to be an agreement on their release before any reentry to the JCPOA?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So the Secretary addressed this earlier this year. He said for four years the Shargi family has waited anxiously for the Iranian Government to release Emad. Like too many other families, their loved one has been treated as a political pawn. We call on Iran to stop this inhumane practice and release Emad. The U.S. will always stand up for our citizens who are wrongfully detained overseas, and we’re continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and urge Iran to do the same.

We have two separate negotiations underway with Iran, one for a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and one on the release of all four U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Iran. We continue – we are continuing to approach these negotiations with the utmost urgency, and like I said, are urging Iran to do the same.

Next let’s go to the line Nadia Bilbassy from Al Arabiya News.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. I hope you can hear me. I just wanted to clarify one point. You’re saying that basically, if an agreement is signed, so basically it will allow Iran to go back to the 2015 agreement as it was signed. Does that mean that the administration is not going to address the issues that led the Trump administration to withdraw from it in 2018, which is the sunset clause, allowing inspectors to go to secret sites, et cetera? So my understanding, and I just want you to confirm that, is basically we’re going back to the agreement as it was signed during the Obama administration. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Nadia. So the Biden administration has been sincere and steadfast in pursing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA and use that to address our full range of concerns with Iran. 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.

Next let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Vedant, for doing this. I want to stay on Ukraine and just to pick up on where you left off in your opening statement, and just wanted to give you a chance to a little bit expand on what your objectives are six months into the war. Is it just to help Ukrainians defend their territory, or to help them achieve victory and defeat Russia? I’m asking because there is a huge difference between the two, and we also have seen the Secretary’s statement today, and of course the White House’s and also an aid package.

My second question: Can I get your comments on planned trials of captured Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol? Thank you so much again.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Alex. So let me try and address this in two parts. First is – the first part of your question – we believe it’s for Ukraine to define what it considers success. We’ve been clear that diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has consistently shown no signs that it’s willing to seriously engage in negotiations. We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression, and we are focused on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as much as possible on the battlefield so when that time comes, Ukraine has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table.

Ukraine has continuously demonstrated its commitment to a peaceful negotiated end to the conflict, and we believe that if and when Russia is prepared to act in good faith, Ukraine will be as well.

And on the second part of your question, we’re going to have to take that question back and we’ll have the team follow up with you.

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

QUESTION: (Inaudible) anything on the organization, the Palestinian organizations? Is there anything in the offing on the position of the United States? That’s one.

Second, did the United States warn the Palestinian Authority or Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, not to pursue efforts for full membership in the United Nations?

And lastly, did Mr. Hulata, the Israeli national security advisor, discuss with Deputy Wendy Sherman the issues or did she raise the issues of the organizations with Mr. Hulata? Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So we actually missed the first part of your question, so if you could please repeat that, that would be great.

QUESTION: My first part – the first part of my question was: Is there anything new on the U.S. position about the organizations that have been declared as terror organizations by Israel, the human rights organizations? That was my first question.

Were the other ones clear?

MR PATEL: Yup, thanks. So on the first part of your question, my colleague Ned Price spoke to this extensively on Monday and we don’t have any additional updates to share beyond that.

On the meeting that you mentioned in the second part of your question, that – Deputy Secretary Sherman looks forward to meeting with Israeli National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata later today. We will of course have a readout once that meeting concludes, but I’m not going to get ahead of that process just yet.

Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my question. Is there a possibility of a meeting between the Secretary and Lavrov on the sidelines of the UNGA?

MR PATEL: Sorry about that, with difficulty getting off of mute. We have no meetings to preview as it relates to UNGA or anything on the sidelines at this time.

Next let’s go to the line of Hiba (inaudible).

OPERATOR: She seems to have removed herself from queue.

MR PATEL: Understood. Let’s go to the line of Roj Zalla from Rudaw TV.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Two questions about Syria. First, the airstrike that targeted some Iranian militia group. I know that CENTCOM had a statement on that, but I was just wondering if there was anything else that you could add or what’s the State Department’s position on that.

And then the second question that I have is about the Turkish drones striking an education camp, killing four teenage girls. I know you guys had a statement in which you are calling for restraint, but the statement fails to even mention Turkey. I mean, if it was someone like Bashar Assad or another regime, I would assume that you would have a much stronger statement. So what is it that doesn’t allow you guys to even mention the perpetrator of an attack that killed four teenage girls? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So on the airstrike, I don’t have anything additional to provide beyond what our colleagues at CENTCOM shared, but to reiterate as the CENTCOM spokesperson stated last night, at President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces conducted precision airstrikes on facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s IRGC and Syria overnight. The strike was in response to attacks by Iran-backed militia groups against U.S. forces in Syria, including the attacks on August 15th. The U.S. will do what is necessary to defend U.S. forces, but would defer you to the Pentagon for anything additional.

And on your second question, I will just reiterate what we have said previously, which is that the United States remains deeply concerned about increasing military activity in northern Syria, and in particular its impact on the civilian population. We continue to support the maintenance of current ceasefire lines and condemn any escalations. It is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work towards a political solution to the conflict.

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

QUESTION: Hi, I don’t know if my line is open yet or not.

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, how is it going? Thanks for taking my question. I want to circle back to Iran. Now that the team has taken its comments on Iran’s comments, does the State Department think that this could be a short dash – a really short dash to an agreement?

MR PATEL: Hi, there. Sorry about that. I’ve been struggling with mute. So again, I’m just not going to speculate or negotiate on a timeline or get into details from here beyond what we’ve already said, which is that we received Iran’s comments and we have responded to the EU today. We’ve conveyed our feedback privately, but we’re not going to get into the details of that. We have taken a deliberate and principled approach to these negotiations from the start. We are continuing to engage with this, and I don’t have anything additional to provide right now on timeline.

Next, let’s go to the line of Hariana Veras with TPA.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for the opportunity. So today is the election day in Angola. And we noticed that the State Department didn’t issue any alerts for the Americans in Angola. And also the election is done. Angolans went to vote and everything was peaceful in the entire country. So I just want to hear the comments of the State Department on the Angola election.

MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks so much for your question. The United States supports the democratic process through our ongoing democracy and governance programs, and by observing the election. Election observations promote participation and public confidence in the electoral process. I will also note that the United States and Angola share a strong partnership. We will continue to work together with the government chosen by the Angolan people to deepen cooperation around shared priorities, which include democracy, economic growth, and investment, global health security, and public health, and climate and energy goals to create a better future for all Angolans.

The United States also commends the Angolan people for their participation in the democratic process, and efforts to strengthen democratic institutions will provide a foundation for a safe, prosperous, healthy, and inclusive future for both of our countries.

Let’s go to Jennifer Smith from The Daily Mail.

QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for taking my question. I’d like to ask you about Charles Oliha. He is the diplomat from South Sudan who was arrested on suspicion of rape this weekend in New York City. He was released after he invoked his diplomatic immunity. My question has two parts. Firstly, I would like to know whether or not he remains in the U.S. or if he has left the country. And secondly, the Manhattan district attorney has announced that he is investigating these claims. If he does bring charges, will the State Department ask the Government of South Sudan to waive Oliha’s diplomatic immunity? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So we are aware of the incident referenced involving a diplomat accredited to the UN. We take these allegations very seriously and are working closely with the New York Police Department and the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, as we do in all legal and criminal cases involving foreign diplomats assigned to permanent missions and observer offices at the UN.

I don’t have anything else to add, as we don’t comment on specifics of ongoing investigations.

Next, let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham with Voice of America.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my questions. I hope you can hear me?

MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Two Russian bombers flew through South Korea’s air defense identification zone yesterday. So what is your level of concern over this Russian military activity? Plus the U.S. has made clear that the trilateral cooperation between and among the U.S.-ROK-Japan is pivotal to a number of shared interests. Can you say this Russian bombers case is one of the areas where the U.S. can cooperate or coordinate with South Korea?

My second question is, as we know, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has announced his new initiative towards North Korea. But some say that the U.S. and North Korea should normalize their relations along with this – along with this initiative when and if it is moving forward. I mean, what do you think of this suggestion or idea, the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and North Korea? Are there any conditions or limitations? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. So on your first question, we’re going to have to take that back and we’ll have someone from the team follow up with you on that one. But what I can say about your second part is that the United States remains focused on coordinating closely with our allies and partners to address the threats posed by the DPRK, which includes advancing our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and continuing our ironclad commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan.

And I think we’ve got time for one more question, so we’ll close out going back to Said.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question again, Vedant. I wanted to ask you, Axios reports that the administration has warned the Palestinian Authority not to apply for full membership in the United Nations. I wonder if you have any comment on that, whether this happened or not happened. Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said, and apologies for missing this when you asked earlier. So there are no shortcuts to Palestinian statehood outside direct negotiations between the parties. The only realistic path to a comprehensive and lasting peace that ends this conflict permanently is through direct negotiations between the parties. The United States remains committed to a two-state solution. As President Biden said along President Abbas earlier this summer, the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable, and contiguous. The United States is focused on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis closer together in pursuit of this goal of two states, for two people, living side by side in peace and security.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks so much, everybody. I think that’s all the time we have for today, but appreciate everyone joining, and we’ll talk to you all soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – August 11, 2022

11 Aug

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy SpokespersonBureau of Global Public Affairs

Washington, DC

2:02 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Hey everyone, good afternoon and welcome to the daily press briefing. This is Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson here at the department. I don’t have anything for you at the top today, so I am happy to take your questions. Operator, would you mind giving the instructions one more time?

OPERATOR: Thank you. And once again, if you have a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad, 1 followed by 0.

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

OPERATOR: Okay, sir, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, yes. Hi, Vedant. Leon here. Just a quick question. What can you tell us on the record on the Iran nuclear deal? Should we be expecting the United States to – they’re reviewing the draft. Could we expect a decision soon, an answer to the EU on this, on the proposal on the table? And to what effect, if any, does the plot that was unveiled yesterday hurt those prospects, or not at all? Thanks.

MR PATEL: We and the Europeans have made quite clear that we are prepared to immediately conclude and implement the deal we negotiated in Vienna for a mutual return to the full implementation of the JCPOA. But for that to happen, Iran needs to decide to drop their additional demands that go beyond the JCPOA. Ultimately, the choice is theirs. This administration along with our allies and partners are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to the full implementation of the JCPOA. The President and Secretary Blinken will only conclude a deal that we determine is in the national security interest of the United States.

On the second part of your question, I will reiterate what Secretary Blinken reinforced in his comments. Our message to Iran is very clear: we will not tolerate threats of violence against Americans, and that certainly includes former government officials. This administration has been clear that it will ensure Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, and we believe the best path to achieving that goal is through diplomacy. And as long as we believe pursuing a JCPOA is in U.S. national security interest, we’re going to continue to do so.

Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis with Reuters.

OPERATOR: Please stand by. Okay, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Thanks, Vedant. Yeah, just I wanted to see if the United States has a response or a comment on the decision by Latvia and Estonia to withdraw from the cooperation group with China that they announced today. And I wondered how does that – how does that sort of reflect Europe’s response to the tensions happening in Taiwan? And do you think this has any – any impact on the relationship between – between – well, any – is this connected in any way to China’s relationship with Russia given the invasion of Ukraine? Yeah, any comment on those? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure, let me try to address that in a couple parts. First, to the first part of your question, we respect and support Estonia and Latvia’s sovereign decision to no longer participate in the 16+1 initiative. We will continue to closely support their efforts to make the Baltics a more resilient and prosperous region. Estonia and Latvia are important and valued NATO Allies and key U.S. partners across a number of issues, including through our strong defense ties, our strong economic ties, as well as the promotion of democracy and human rights. Beyond our commitments to these same values, our free, democratic countries produce prosperity that helps both of our economies thrive.

On the second part of your question relating to China’s relationship in Europe, a pillar of this administration’s approach to the PRC is aligning with our allies and partners in Europe and around the world. This administration believes that our likeminded allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific hold similar visions for the future of the international order and can realize our goals most effectively when we work together.

Over the past year, we’ve seen countries around the world express deep concern about the PRC’s strategic alignment with Russia as well as Beijing’s support for Moscow’s war against Ukraine. As Secretary Blinken has said before, there is a growing convergence about the need to approach relations with Beijing with more realism.

Next let’s go to the line of Ellen Knickmeyer with the Association Press.

OPERATOR: Please, stand by. Your line is open now.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. Secretary Blinken is in Rwanda today, and it looks like he was quite outspoken about human rights and democracy there. He – there was some talk of – he raised the issue of – and I’m sorry, I’m – I don’t – I can’t pronounce his last name very well, and I’m hesitant to try – but the Texas-based Rwanda critic of Kagame who is in prison there now. Is the U.S. treating that person’s case with the same immediate concern that it’s treating Griner and other Americans being held in Russia? Has it – is it – what is it – what is it doing now and what has it been doing to gain his release?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Ellen. I believe you’re referring to the case of Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, who, as you mentioned, is currently being detained in Rwanda. I will reiterate what the Secretary said at his joint press availability today, which is that we continue to urge the government to address concerns about the legal protections afforded to Mr. Rusesabagina and his case, as well as establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future.

More broadly speaking, the U.S. is aware of the appellate court’s decision upholding the conviction of Mr. Rusesabagina. Our concerns over the trial and conviction remain. We have also been made aware of some serious health concerns of Mr. Rusesabagina, and we’re continuing to urge to the Government of Rwanda ensure that he receive all appropriate and necessary medical care.

More broadly, this department is laser-focused and committed to any American citizen who is wrongfully detained abroad. We have our team at the State Department, including – led by Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, who remains in close touch on this issue, and it continues to be a top priority.

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

OPERATOR: One moment, please. Thank you, and your line is open now.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing the call. Questions on two topics. One, the Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan proposal. Has there been any movement on that deal? Have any U.S. officials interacted with Russian officials since Secretary of State Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and has anyone from the U.S. embassy been able to visit or speak with Brittney Griner since her sentencing last week?

And then on the New START Treaty and the impasse over the inspections, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov seemed to suggest that there was a U.S. team that intended to go do an inspection without Russian approval. Is there anything you can tell us on that? Did a team intend to go or go to Russia to do an inspection there? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So on your first question, the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongful detainees Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The conviction and sentencing by a Russian court of Brittney Griner to nine years in prison further compounds the injustice of her wrongful detention.

The administration – and Secretary Blinken has spoken to this a number of times – has been quite clear that there is a substantial proposal on the table to facilitate their release, both the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. This proposal has been raised through appropriate channels. Secretary Blinken has been able to raise this directly with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. And ultimately, the ball is in Russia’s court.

As it relates to any visits, our embassy staff were able to be in touch with Brittney most recently on the day of her sentencing on August 4th.

On New START – on New START – so just to take a little bit of a step back, the U.S. and Russia had paused inspection activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic since the spring of 2020. Both sides have continued to provide data declarations and notifications in accordance to the treaty. The U.S. is committed to implementation of the New START Treaty. And as President Biden has said, today perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War, we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation. We keep discussions between the parties concerning treaty implementation confidential.

I will also note that – what Secretary Blinken noted recently, that the New START Treaty makes the U.S., Russia, and the world safer by persevering – preserving verified restrictions on our strategic nuclear arsenals and avoiding an arms race.

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

OPERATOR: One moment, please. And your line is open now.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thanks. The State Department put out a release yesterday ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the abduction and disappearance abroad of American journalist Austin Tice. That release said that the State Department will, quote, “continue to engage with the Syrian Government.” Are you able to say at all whether this engagement with the Syrian Government is current or not, and if it is direct or indirect? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So, again, to take a little bit of a step back, Austin Tice this week will have spent 10 years in captivity in Syria. We call on the Syrian Government to ensure Austin Tice and every U.S. national held hostage in Syria is able to return home. We can’t get into investigative details, but what I will underscore is that the U.S. Government knows with certainty that Austin was held by the Syrian Government and that they have the power to release him. We think Bashar al-Assad has the power to release Austin Tice, and we call on Syria to work with us to secure his release and bring him home.

Operator, let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. And your line is open now. One moment, please. One moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Do you have any comments on that? And the second question: Is there any updates on Advisor Hochstein’s mediation between Israel and Lebanon?

OPERATOR: Okay, sir, your first question, the line was not open yet, so please state your first question.

QUESTION: Yeah, the first question was Turkish foreign minister has announced that he met the Syrian foreign minister in Belgrade in October, if you have any comment on that.

MR PATEL: Let me take your second question first, Michel. So the U.S. remains committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a decision on the delimitation of the maritime boundary. Progress towards a resolution can only be reached through negotiations by the two governments. We welcome the consultative and open spirit of the parties to reach a final decision which has the potential to yield greater stability, security, and prosperity for both Lebanon and Israel, as well as for the region, and we believe that a resolution is possible.

On the subject of the meeting, I would refer you to the governments of those entities.

Operator, let’s go to the line of Elizabeth Hagedorn.

OPERATOR: Please stand by to have your line open. Please stand by.

QUESTION: Hi.

OPERATOR: Okay. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Will the U.S. – sorry. Will the U.S. be granting Iranian President Raisi a visa to attend next month’s UN General Assembly? Thanks.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So, broadly speaking, visa records are confidential under U.S. law, but as host nation of the UN, the United States is generally obligated under the UN Headquarters Agreement to facilitate travel to the headquarters district by representatives of UN member states. We take our obligations under these agreements very seriously. But again, to reiterate, visa records are confidential under U.S. law.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

OPERATOR: Please stand by. One moment. Your line is open now.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for doing this. I have a quick question. Today the UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet issued a very strong statement expressing alarm over the death of Palestinian children. In the past week, 19 Palestinian children were killed, taking the toll this year, Vedant, to about 37 children. Are you alarmed by the number of Palestinian children that are being killed in conflict, and have you raised this issue with the Israelis, or will you raise it with the Israelis?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Said. So you saw both Secretary Blinken and President Biden speak to this over the weekend in their comments relating to the ceasefire over the recent Gaza conflict. So I will reiterate that this agreement brought a welcome respite to Israeli and Palestinian civilians, and allowed deliveries of critical supplies to Gaza. We express our condolences to the families of civilians who lost their lives, and we also support a timely and thorough investigation into these reports of civilian casualties. We are grateful for Egypt for their role in reaching this agreement, as well as to Qatar and Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, as well as the UN. Our team as well played an important role and worked around the clock to support this outcome, and we also remain dedicated to our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and are fully engaged to promoting calm. We continue to work with partners to improve the quality of life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity, and democracy.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham of Voice of America.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. And your line is open now.

QUESTION: Hey. Thank you very much for doing this. I have two questions today; one on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday declared victory in the battle against the coronavirus in order to lift some of their restrictions. So do you have any comments on this? Do you still assess North Korea as preparing its seventh nuclear test? And this new announcement may allow, do you think, North Korea to move forward with their plans?

And my second question is that China has been demanding South Korea not to deploy the U.S. anti-missile defense system, THAAD. It is asking South Korea to maintain the “three noes” policy. So one of the noes is no additional deployment of THAAD. So what’s your position on the “three noes” policy and China’s strong opposition on THAAD? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. So first on your question about COVID-19, look, we are very concerned about how COVID-19 could affect the North Korean people, and we continue to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK. To this end, we strongly support and encourage the efforts of international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the DPRK and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country. To date, DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. We continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans. Should the DPRK request vaccines, we stand ready to offer them, and we urge and reiterate for the DPRK to work with the international community to facilitate the rapid vaccination of its population.

On your – the second part of your question, the U.S. assesses the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site for what would be its seventh nuclear test. This assessment is consistent with the DPRK’s own public statements. We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our Japanese and ROK allies. Furthermore, we are prepared to make both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as appropriate in responding to any DPRK provocation. We’re concerned by the regime’s strengthened rhetoric around its nuclear program. A seventh nuclear test since 2017 would constitute a grave escalatory action and seriously threaten regional and international stability as well as security, not to mention undermine our planet’s nonproliferation efforts. Such an action would also be dangerous and deeply stabilizing to the region.

On THAAD – on THAAD, we believe 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 United States 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 threats.

Let’s go to Joseph Haboush with Al Arabiya English.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question. I just want to try again on Jennifer’s earlier question. Is the U.S. planning on sending a delegation or has it sent a delegation to inspect Russian nuclear weapon sites without Russian approval? And does the State Department condemn Russia’s suspension of its participation in the New START treaty?

And just a second one: Turkey said it was sending a delegation to Washington on Monday to discuss the sale of F-16s. Are any State Department officials meeting with the delegation? Thank you.

MR PATEL: On the second part of your question, I have no meetings to preview at the moment. And as it relates to your first, I will reiterate what I said previously, is that we will continue to exercise our on-site inspection rights under the New START treaty will also prioritizing the health and safety of personnel conducting and hosting inspection activities. We look forward to continuing to implement this important treaty with the Russian Federation. It is an important instrument of stability in the bilateral relationship. And I will reiterate again what Secretary Blinken said, which is that the New START treaty makes the U.S., Russia, and the world safer.

Let’s go to the line of Alex Raufoglu.

OPERATOR: One moment, please. And your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much, Vedant, for doing this, and Happy Thursday. Couple of questions on Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian foreign minister called on Western countries yesterday to stop issuing visas to Russian citizens. Yesterday, DAS (inaudible) staff from the visa services bureau confirmed to me that there is no restriction at this point on Russian travelers. Are you considering to review this in response to Ukraine’s request?

Secondly, if there’s any comment on your end from Latvia parliament yesterday naming Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Do you applaud that? What is your reaction?

And lastly, there’s – there are reports that during last couple of weeks Russian officials conducted training in Iran as part of the agreement on UAV transfers from Iran to Russia. Any reaction to those reports? Thank you so much again.

MR PATEL: Sorry about the delay there. Thanks for your question. I will answer the last one first. So on the delivery of UAVs to Russia, what I will first say and go back to is, as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN in July, the U.S. Government has information indicating Iran is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs. We’ve also said that we assess an official Russian delegation recently received a showcase of Iranian attack-capable UAVs. We can confirm that during the last several weeks, Russian officials conducted training in Iran as part of the agreement of the UAV transfers.

Let me be clear: We will vigorously enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trades. The kind of transactions you’re mentioning are potentially sanctionable under numerous authorities, including but not limited to Russia-specific authorities and our worldwide nonproliferation sanctions. We remain incredibly concerned about Iran’s use and proliferation of UAVs. They have been used to attack U.S. forces, our partners in the region, and international shipping entities. We will continue to use all available tools, including but not limited to sanctions, to prevent, deter, and dismantle the procurement network that supply UAV-related material and technology to Iran.

Alex, would you remind – would you restate your other two questions, please?

OPERATOR: Sir, please press 1 then 0 to restate your questions. One moment, please. Okay, your line is open now.

QUESTION: Yes, of course. Thank you so much. Yeah, other two questions were about, first of all, reaction to Latvian parliament’s yesterday’s decision on naming Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Do you applaud that decision? And what is your reaction?

And lastly, as you know, Ukrainian Government has been urging – calling on Western countries – in particular G7 countries, which the U.S. is one of them – to stop issuing visas to Russian tourists. And as a State Department official confirmed yesterday, the Russian citizens are still able to obtain those visas. Are you in a position to give us any detail about whether or not State Department is considering to review that policy in response to Ukraine’s request? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So on a potential designation, we’re just not going to discuss deliberations or potential deliberations on a potential designation from here. As a matter of law, in order to designate any country as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.

The U.S. Government has already taken a number of significant and effective steps to respond to Putin’s war of choice, from export controls as well as sanctions and economic consequences as well. Our unprecedented sanctions are having a drastic impact on Russia. Russia’s stock market has lost a third of its value, inflation has risen 20 percent, Russia’s imports of goods from around the world could fall by 40 percent.

On your question about any visa ban, we’ve been very clear that we intend our actions to not harm or have significant impact on the Russian people. That is not who our disagreement with is on this.

Let’s next go to the line of Janne Pak from U.S. Journal Korea.

OPERATOR: One moment.

QUESTION: (In progress) beautiful day. I don’t know because I’m late a little bit listening about your statement. Maybe somebody ask already these question on that, but I have two questions for you. One is North Korea, one is China again. So North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, said yesterday the coronavirus was delivered from South Korea, and she announced that she would take the strong retaliation against South Korea. What is your comment on this?

The second one: China announced that it would resume trading with North Korea, which had been suspended. Trade with China will allow North Korea to secure foreign currency. Can this be seen as a violation of sanctions against North Korea? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks. So on COVID-19, one of your colleagues did ask that, but I’m happy to reiterate. We are incredibly concerned about how COVID-19 could affect the North Korean people and continue to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK. To date, the DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. We continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans. Should the DPRK request vaccines, we stand ready to offer them.

On the potential resumption of trade with China, the second part of your question, let me reiterate what my colleagues here have said before. United Nations sanctions on the DPRK remain in place. We will continue to implement them and encourage others to fully implement them, including at the United Nations and with the DPRK’s neighbors. It is important for the international community to send a strong, unified message that the DPRK must halt all provocations and abide by its obligations under numerous UN Security Council resolutions, as well as engage in sustained and intensive negotiations with the United States.

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

OPERATOR: One moment please. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question. Thanks for taking my question. My question about Austin Tice. Can you confirm that officials from the Biden administration met with Syrian officials to discuss this matter?

MR PATEL: Again, so I am just not going to get into investigative details, but I will underscore that the U.S. Government knows with certainty that Austin Tice was held by the Syrian Government and that they have the power to release him. We call on Syria to work with us to secure his release, and we believe Bashar al-Assad has the power to release him. As the White House has recently said – and you heard Secretary Blinken say this as well – the U.S. Government is extensively engaged with Syrian officials to bring Austin home, but that Syria has never even acknowledged holding him.

Operator, let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie from Kurdistan24.

OPERATOR: One moment, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for taking my question. The Israeli defense minister today denounced Iranian support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, calling it a violent Iranian proxy; it funds Palestinian Islamic Jihad, trains them. Do you share the Israeli views that Palestinian Islamic Jihad is so closely tied to Iran that Iran can be held accountable for its actions?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much. So look, the United States is under no illusions about Iran’s destabilizing actions throughout the region. If Iran wants to show it can be a responsible actor, now is the time for it to play a constructive role in the region.

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

QUESTION: Hi, yes, thanks.

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my question. So Turkish defense minister said that a delegation will be visiting U.S. on August 15 to discuss the F-16 program. Can you update us on your position on the F-16 program? Is there any change, or do you see a way that Turkey and the U.S. could find a way to resolve the issues around the F-16s?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. The United States strongly values its partnership with our important NATO Ally, Turkey. The U.S. and Turkey have a longstanding, deep relationship with important defense ties, and Turkey’s continued NATO interoperability remains a priority. As a matter of policy I’m just not going to comment or confirm or get into proposed defense transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress, and I’d refer you to the Turkish Government for anything additional.

I think we have time for one final question. And so we will close it back out with Ellen Knickmeyer from the AP.

OPERATOR: Your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. I had just wanted to ask you a follow-up about the – about Rusesabagina. Was there any progress made during Blinken’s visit about obtaining his release? And does the U.S. plan to move to any of the kind of negotiations or perhaps detainee swaps that are being talked about with Whelan and Griner in Russia?

MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Ellen. I’m going to reiterate again what the Secretary said, which is that we continue to urge the government to address concerns about the legal protections afforded to him and his case, and establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future. We are going to also continue to push for consistent consular access, and we remain in close touch with Mr. Rusesabagina’s team. And the Secretary was able to raise this directly with President Kagame on his visit as well.

Thanks again, everybody, for joining today – for joining today’s press briefing. We’ll talk to you all again very soon.

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

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  1. A seventh nuclear test would be the first since 2017.
  2. Destabilizing