1:55 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I am really sorry for the tardiness today. I’ve got two very brief things and then we’ll dive into your questions.

On March 31st, President Biden released the first ever presidential proclamation recognizing April as National Arab American Heritage Month. The Secretary echoed the President releasing a statement on April 1st recognizing and celebrating the vast contributions Arab Americans have made in the United States – including right here at the Department of State. From writing the very words that come from this podium to ensuring life-saving humanitarian aid is delivered to those in need, to developing policy on our most difficult problem sets, and implementing that policy overseas, I want to personally thank all Americans of Arab descent who have dedicated their lives to public service and recognize the contributions they have made to our national security and protecting their fellow Americans abroad. The U.S.’s unique diversity is our greatest strength. We mark National Arab American Heritage Month to honor and celebrate those contributions here and all over our country.

Secondly, tomorrow will mark one year since Russian pro-democracy activist and politician Vladimir Kara-Murza was arrested in Moscow. Russian authorities charged Mr. Kara-Murza with multiple offenses stemming from his exercise of freedoms of expression and association. We are deeply concerned by reports his health has deteriorated in detention, and we urge Russian authorities to ensure he receives all appropriate medical attention. As his trial is set to conclude in the coming days, we again call for the Russian Government to end the politically motivated prosecution of Mr. Kara-Murza. And we will continue to follow his case very closely.

And with that, Matt, if you want to start us off.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Happy Easter Monday. So let’s just start with the – I don’t expect that you’re going to have a lot to say, but let’s just start with all these documents that are floating around out in the ether, in the internet.

MR PATEL: Sure, Matt. So —

QUESTION: Oh, wait, no, no.

MR PATEL: Oh, you’ve got a question or no?

QUESTION: Well, I’ll just stop right there.

MR PATEL: I was waiting for your question. No, please.

QUESTION: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MR PATEL: You – you offered a natural pause. So I know I have a tendency to fill —

QUESTION: Well, yeah.

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Why don’t I let you finish your question before I dive in.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, what does the State Department have to say about them? Have you had any issues with friends, allies, partners related to these revelations?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Matt. And you – many of you probably just heard my colleague, Chris Meagher, speak to this at the Pentagon. But after learning about the leak, the Department of Defense quickly referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation. The Pentagon has said they have taken steps to further restrict access to sensitive information and an interagency effort has been initiated to review the national security implications of the disclosure and to mitigate this impact of the release of these documents that it could have on U.S. national security as well as the impact that it could have on our allies and partners.

Broadly, what I would say, Matt, is that U.S. officials across the interagency are engaging with allies and partners at high levels over this, including to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and the fidelity of securing our partnerships as well. But I don’t have any other specifics to get into.

QUESTION: Well, how is that going, assuring your allies and partners —

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I’m —

QUESTION: — of the fidelity of your —

MR PATEL: It should be no surprise to you that I am not going to get into the specifics of private diplomatic conversations from up here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, is it – is it the case that the State Department is not aware that any of its own documents have been compromised?

MR PATEL: So, Matt, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of this beyond saying what you’ve heard others across the interagency say, which is that the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community are reviewing and assessing the validity of these documents. There is no question, of course, that they present a risk to national security, but I’m just not going to get into specifics beyond that.

QUESTION: All right. Well, just if they do present a risk to national security, then that suggests that they are legit, right? Or —

MR PATEL: Matt, as I have said, the work is ongoing right now.

QUESTION: Because otherwise I could write something down on a piece of yellow paper and say whatever and then give it to whoever, and they could put it out there.

MR PATEL: That is —

QUESTION: You wouldn’t say that was a risk to national security.

MR PATEL: That is why the important work is ongoing right now to review and assess the validity of those documents.

QUESTION: Well, but you just said that – I think – let me go back and look in my – you just said that they do present a risk to national security. So if you have determined that they do present a risk to national security, then they must be, by inference, legit; no?

MR PATEL: Matt, without getting too much into a philosophical conversation about what could be a threat to national security or not —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Look, if they were fake and they were just made up by someone, then they wouldn’t be a risk, right?

MR PATEL: I think fake information being out there can, of course, still be a threat to national security.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: But what I will say broadly and leave it at is that the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community are working to review and assess the validity of these documents.


QUESTION: So when you talk about communicating with allies to reiterate commitment to safeguarding intelligence, which allies have you had those conversations with thus far?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into specifics of those conversations or read them out, but that work is ongoing and we are engaging with allies and partners over this.

QUESTION: And are those proactive conversations and such that you’re going to the countries that were mentioned in these documents, or is this in response to them reaching out to you with concerns about this information being in the public domain?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to parse it more specifically than that these engagements are ongoing. They’re happening across the interagency. They’re happening at the highest levels, and we’re doing so with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: So hold on. Just – so they’re happening across the interagency. So is State taking the lead on those conversations? Or is DOD having conversations, State’s having conversations, the White House is having conversations? Can you just —

MR PATEL: Well, as the main diplomatic branch and agency of this administration, of course, the Department of State would have a role in communicating with our allies and partners, but these conversations are happening across the administration. U.S. officials are engaging with allies and partners at the highest level over this.

QUESTION: And just one last question. Has this department implemented any measures to restrict access to classified information that’s in this building as a result of this leak? For example, are officials who could print out classified documents in this building still allowed to do so?

MR PATEL: Kylie, I just wouldn’t get into the specifics of operational security decisions regardless of the circumstance and what rules and policies are in place. What I would say is that we take the security of our intelligence and classified documents very seriously, and of course, as I said at the top of this, there is an interagency effort that’s been initiated to review the implications, but I’m just not going to get into any policy changes that have happened or not happened as it relates to this.

QUESTION: Can I follow up, please?

MR PATEL: Janne, go ahead. I’ll come back to you, Alex. Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Follow-up these issues.


QUESTION: The U.S. intelligence agency wiretapped the South Koreans’ foreign affairs and national security line. If this is true, how do you see the impact on the U.S. and South Korea relationship?

MR PATEL: Look, Janne, what I would start with by saying is that our commitment to the Republic of Korea is ironclad. But broadly, as I told Kylie, U.S. officials are engaging with high levels with our allies and partners over this to reassure them as it relates to our commitment to safeguard intelligence and sensitive documents as well as ensuring our commitment to the security of the partnerships that we have with these countries.

QUESTION: Do you think that Russia was involved in the leak of this secret document?

MR PATEL: I am just – it would be most inappropriate of me to offer any assessment on cause or source or anything like that. What I will just reiterate is what I said at the beginning of this, is that the Department of Defense quickly moved into action. They have referred the matter to the Department of Justice for an investigation, and I will let the Pentagon and the DOJ speak more specifically about that process.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: To clarify what you told Matt and Kylie, the fact that it was referred to the DOJ, does that suggest that you have no question about the authenticity of the documents?

MR PATEL: Alex, I am not going to be prescriptive beyond what I said to Matt, which is that the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community is hard at work assessing and reviewing the validity of these documents, and I’m not going to get into any other specifics beyond that.

QUESTION: I also – you’re not in a position to deny that the Kremlin was behind this leak?

MR PATEL: I’m not in a position to deny or confirm anything beyond what I said, as there is an investigation and process that is ongoing.

QUESTION: And lastly, how much of your assessment also covers the – how will this leak impact the trajectory of the work? Because you talk about an ongoing operation.

MR PATEL: Are you talking about the trajectory of the war in Ukraine? Look, I will let our Ukrainian partners speak to the decisions that they’re making as it relates to the battlefield and their – any posture or planning that they are undertaking. What I would say broadly, and you’ve – this is nothing new – is that we’re going to continue to support Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s brutal aggression for as long as it takes, and that continues to be the case. But I’m not going to get into anything beyond that.

On this same topic?

QUESTION: On the same.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Daphne.



QUESTION: Israel has rejected claims raised in the documents that leaders of Mossad had supported nationwide protests against a proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary. Have you had conversations with your Israeli counterparts on this and are you concerned more broadly that this leak might affect your relationship with Israel at a time when tensions between Israel and the Palestinian groups are – have sharply increased?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things to that. First, our partnership with Israel is deep. It is an important partnership that we have with Israel. But broadly, what I will say is that I’m not going to read out private discussions that are taking place between the United States and our allies and partners beyond just saying that they are happening at the highest levels, and we are working to communicate when we can.

QUESTION: Are you concerned these – this document leak might have an impact on your relationship with Israel?

MR PATEL: Again, our commitment to Israel is ironclad, our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad, and we speak often with our Israeli partners. And you hear this administration writ large talk about the deep relationship that we have with our Israeli partners.


QUESTION: Is this department playing any active role in assessing any Russian disinformation coming off the back of these documents?

MR PATEL: Again, Camilla, while the important work is being done to assess the validity and veracity of these documents, I’m just not going to get into the specifics beyond that. What I will say is that of course, broadly, anywhere disinformation and misinformation happens around the world, we are paying close attention, and where possible, we try and take steps to ensure that disinformation and misinformation does not spread. But again, I’m just not going to get into specifics as it relates to this.

Shannon. I’m sorry, (inaudible). I know you’ve had your hand up patiently.

QUESTION: Changing – a change-up.

MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you after. Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the French president’s comments over the weekend.

MR PATEL: Well – (laughter.)

QUESTION: Sorry, I’ll start unless you have a very smart follow-up.

MR PATEL: Well, can we – before we – before we jump into that, does anybody else have anything on this before we move away to the – on the topic we were talking about before?

QUESTION: About the classified documents?



MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead. Then I promise I’ll come back to you guys.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions. So with the leak of the classified documents, South Korean criticism of excessive U.S. intelligence activities against allies is a big issue right now. I was wondering what the U.S.’s response to those criticisms is.

MR PATEL: Well, you just, I think, heard me speak to this a little bit to Janne’s question. But since you’ve asked, I will reiterate again that, one, our commitment to the ROK is ironclad. They are one of our most important partners in the region. We have a number of shared values with the Republic of Korea, and a big piece of that is our shared vision of not just a rules-based, free, and open Indo-Pacific but having that rules-based order apply to the world broadly.

The Secretary, Secretary Blinken, has had the opportunity to engage with his counterpart, the Republic of Korea’s foreign minister, on a number of occasions, including as recently as the month prior at the Munich Security Conference. This is a deep partnership that we have, and it is one that is enduring. But again, broadly, as I said, there are conversations ongoing. We are engaging with our allies and partners on this subject. But I just don’t have anything other specific to add.

QUESTION: And following up with that, the South Korean president will be making a visit in about two weeks. Do you think the leak of the classified documents will affect any – the event itself?

MR PATEL: Again, we have a very deep relationship and partnership with the Republic of Korea. I know that President Biden and Secretary Blinken and the First Lady are looking forward to hosting our South Korean counterparts and partners over the course of the state visit. I will let the White House and the National Security Council speak to any specific schedule or programming, but it’s something that we’re very much looking forward to as an administration. And again, our commitment to the ROK is ironclad.

Anything else on this topic before we pivot back to Shannon and Leon, who’ve had their hands up patiently? All right, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So the president of France was quoted in two publications over the weekend as saying that Europe should pursue a different strategy on Taiwan from Washington. I just wanted to know if the State Department has a response to that, especially given for the last couple meetings now with European allies the U.S. has touted a strong strategic alliance against China.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, the foundation of the transatlantic relationship is our shared commitment to democratic principles, the rule of law, the respect for human rights, and an international rules-based order. And France is our oldest ally, and these shared values have been the north star of our partnership and continue to guide us today, including both of our countries’ joint approach in supporting Ukraine.

This is also the case in terms of the broad concern related to the PRC and its coercive economic practices, its threatening behavior towards Taiwan, and its human rights abuses, and the risk of deepening or creating new economic dependencies. The Secretary just returned from a NATO foreign ministers’ ministerial where there was an entire session on the role that the Indo-Pacific plays. And that’s because NATO has recognized the PRC’s stated ambitions and policies. They challenge our interests, they challenge our security, and they challenge our values. And allies, including France, have committed to work together to address these systemic challenges.

As you likely know, Shannon, EU President von der Leyen has also been part of these travels to Beijing, and the EU itself has described the PRC as a systemic rival and strategic competitor in addition to being a partner. As I said, President von der Leyen outlined in her speech in March that the PRC poses risks to European economic and national security. The United States and the EU remain concerned regarding the PRC’s support of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

But broadly, what I would just ultimately say again is that countries have their own sovereign decisions and have their own sovereign decisions to make as it relates to any bilateral relationship that they hold. Our viewpoint will always be what can we accomplish bilaterally and multilaterally with countries where partnership with the United States is at its center. And I think through the partnership between the United States and France and the partnership between the United States and the EU, we have done a lot of important, great work, including supporting our Ukrainian partners in the face of Russian aggression. And I think that work is going to continue to move forward as we continue to work collaboratively to deal with the growing role that the PRC plays as well.

Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: I guess the follow-up is a must. You don’t really answer the question in the sense that you don’t qualify or characterize President Macron’s comments. Do you find them helpful, unhelpful? And also, I mean, this is against the backdrop of the Chinese maneuvers off of Taiwan, which are finishing today. Fairly important. And the – France is basically saying that the Europeans in general should not get caught in this sort of bloc or logic of blocs between China and the U.S. or tit-for-tat between China and the U.S., and have their own autonomous strategy. So have you – how does that fit in?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple things. I think, again, these countries will – countries have their own sovereign autonomy. They have their own right to have bilateral relationships. They have their own right to comment on these bilateral relationships.

But what I know is that the United States and France’s partnership is deep. They are our oldest allies. We have countless shared values. And they have immense – been immense partners in both holding Russia accountable for its aggression into Ukraine. They have been immense partners in our work to address the challenges posed by the PRC. They have been, of course, helpful in the EU context but also through NATO and through – it leads other fora as well.

Specifically on the actions that you so referred to, Leon, we are of course closely monitoring those actions. And actions like these, they undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which we continue to believe and is a viewpoint that we know our French allies share, is critical to global prosperity. And as we have said before – you heard me say this on Thursday – there is no reason for the PRC to turn a transit which held precedent as – which is consistent with U.S. longstanding policy into something that it’s not.

QUESTION: Yes, but Vedant, you mean you’re saying there’s no reason for them to, but they did. They sent out ships and everything. So you can’t replay that, in fact, and say there’s no reason for them to. They did it. So —

MR PATEL: Well, there is no reason for them to. I understand that they did it. And as I said, we are closely monitoring Beijing’s actions but also, broadly, in keeping with our belief that we won’t be deterred from operating safely and responsibly in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific consistent with international law. In keeping with that, the Nimitz Carrier Strike
Group and a Marine Amphibious Readiness Group are conducting routine operations in the Philippine Sea and will remain in that region.

And I will say again that there is no reason to turn this transit into something that it was not.

Anything else on this before we —

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk about the French for a second.


QUESTION: Immense partnership. Yes, it is true that France is your – is the oldest U.S. ally. But it is not exactly like you haven’t had disagreements, very serious disagreements.

MR PATEL: Of course we have, Matt. We have disagreements with many of our allies and partners.

QUESTION: Okay. That have, like, caused severe disruption in relations – AUKUS being the most recent one. The war in Iraq, where —

MR PATEL: Do you have a question, or are you just trying to give us a history lesson?

QUESTION: Well, no. But it sounds – are you saying all of that is forgiven, all that is done, over with and —

MR PATEL: I – what I’m saying is that —

QUESTION: — everything is fine?

MR PATEL: What I am saying about our French allies, and which is what I would say about any ally and partner that we have, is that of course there are areas in which we disagree. But that does not take away from the deep partnership that we have and what we have accomplished through the bilateral relationship with that country. And that is especially true with our French allies.

QUESTION: Are you – sorry, just to follow up on this. Are you concerned at all that Europeans might not be so much in favor of defending Taiwan, if that were to be the case?

MR PATEL: Leon —

QUESTION: At least inside – either the defense relationship obviously is not the same, and the interests and all this is not the same?

MR PATEL: Leon, I would point you no further than President von der Leyen’s speech just a number of weeks ago where she talked about the PRC as a national and economic security threat for all of Europe. And so on a lot of these issues as it relates to dealing with the complex challenges posed by the PRC, there is immense convergence between us and our European allies and partners in how we tackle that challenge head on. And there’s also a number of fora in which we can do that – through the European Union, through NATO, through other mechanisms.

Anything else on this before we pivot away? Said’s patiently had his hand up. All right, Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. A couple of things on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Last Thursday, the United States blocked a statement or a potential statement by the United Nations Security Council condemning the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque. And my question to you: Why would the United States condemn the storming of any place of worship?

MR PATEL: Said, we have always said that, as it relates to the holy sites in Jerusalem, that we believe that it’s important of upholding the historic status quo in practice. We also have long said that we believe that people should be able to practice their religion and faith without any hindrance. But we’ve also previously said, Said – and you’re not hearing me say anything new – that discussing these issues and litigating these issues through the UN is not productive. It further incites tensions and takes us away from a two-state solution and takes us away from what we believe is important, which is maintaining the status quo.

QUESTION: That statement would have just said we condemn the storming of the mosque while people are worshiping. I am sure that the United States of America and many other countries would have probably done the same thing if, let’s say, the Chinese attacked a mosque that – where the Uyghurs are.

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. But we have spoken clearly and firmly about any concern of changing the status quo as it relates to the historic holy sites in Jerusalem, and we have continued to call for constraint, coordination, and calm as well.

QUESTION: Okay, let me ask you if today there was a march by thousands of settlers into Eviatar, protected by the Israeli army, who attacked the press with tear gas, they attacked Palestinians that were protesting and so on. And this seems to be happening day in day out, but – and by the way, the Palestinian children going to school had to take – had to take the hills, the rocky hills so they can go to their schools. They couldn’t walk where the settlers were walking. So I want you to tell me: What is your position on this particular incident if you’re aware of it?

MR PATEL: Said, we have made our views clear, and that is that it is critical —

QUESTION: I understand, but on this march that is being protected by the Israeli Army and all the trimmings, so to speak.

MR PATEL: It is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that incite tensions, that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. And that of course includes annexation of territory, evictions, demolitions, violence against civilians, violence against journalists, incitement to violence, and things of that nature. Said, we have spoken about this before.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on the creation of a new national guard in Israel and the possible – I mean, this is what was published yesterday – that an Israeli officer, Avinoam Emunah, well known for giving orders to shoot and kill Palestinians and incitement and so on, will head that group. Are you concerned? Even the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, who was a general in his own right, so to speak, warned against such a thing. Do you have a position on this?

MR PATEL: Said, these are all hypotheticals, and we’re aware of these reports about potential candidates, but I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals and I would refer you to the Government of Israel to speak more specifically about this. Broadly what I will say is that we’ve always emphasized to call on – to call on those to refrain from actions, including rhetoric, that could inflame tensions.

QUESTION: On this topic?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, you just said going to the United Nations is unproductive. Are you saying that the Security Council in this conflict is irrelevant? And if so, why?

MR PATEL: I am not saying it is irrelevant. What I am saying is that the – this is an issue and a topic that needs to be decided and determined and discussed between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. And that is exactly why almost every day questions as it relates to this region that have come up, I have – I and others from this department have spoken firmly about our viewpoint being the desire for a negotiated two-state solution and that being the mechanism. And so I just don’t have anything else to offer on that.

QUESTION: Can you – could I just – sorry, on Russia and Evan Gershkovich?


QUESTION: Are there any updates there? Have you guys gotten consular access? Have you been given any new information from the Russians about him?

MR PATEL: So thanks for your question, Matt. What I can say is that we are still continuing to seek consular access. At this point, it is a violation of Russia’s obligations under our consular convention and a violation against international law. We have stressed the need for the Russian Government to provide this access as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And what is the consequence for the violation? Is there – is there any?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, as you know, between our two countries – between any country that we have —

QUESTION: No, I just mean in general. Like is – say they violate. You just accused them of violating the agreement on consular access. So what do you do?

MR PATEL: Well, this is something that we’re continuing to raise with them. It is a violation. We believe that it is a matter of human dignity to ensure that Mr. Gershkovich can meet with consular officers.

QUESTION: All right. But what do you do? Do you have any recourse at all?

MR PATEL: We have a number of tools at our disposal, Matt, to hold the Russian Federation accountable broadly, obviously. But again, this is a consular issue that we are working through appropriate channels.

QUESTION: And – okay. And then on the wrongful detention determination, that’s still a work in progress?

MR PATEL: I think you heard the Secretary quite clearly in Brussels. And so that work is a deliberative process that’s ongoing, and I don’t have any updates for you on that right now.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: I’m going to go to – I’ve gotten a couple of questions already, Alex. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. You asked a couple of mine as well. But I just wanted to get the State response – the State Department’s reaction to state media reporting that Gershkovich has been officially charged with espionage. I know that information is limited, but if you could just respond to that officially happening.

MR PATEL: Well, I would point you no further than what the – again, the Secretary said in Brussels, and what I and others across the interagency have spoken about as well. These charges – it’s hard that – it’s hard for any of them to have veracity. And again, Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to raise this detention with Foreign Minister Lavrov this past – last weekend, if I’m doing my math correctly, and he underlined the United States’s grave concern of not just these charges but the detention, and called for his release immediately.

QUESTION: But I know that you are still working on consular access, but in terms of the formal communication between the MFA and the embassy about even just a notice of arrest, that hasn’t happened yet —

MR PATEL: So that has. That happened, I believe, over this past weekend, in which the ministry did provide a notification of detention. But they have still not granted consular access, and as I said, this is a violation against the obligations we have within our consular convention with Russia.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication as to why it’s taken this long, why they still haven’t granted it? It seems —

MR PATEL: For consular access?


MR PATEL: That’s a question for the Russians. We have been calling for consular access since the very first day, as we do with any American citizen who is detained abroad. Our call is for American citizens to be granted consular access so that our officials can check in on them and ensure their well-being.

QUESTION: Sorry, just one final one.


QUESTION: I know in previous briefings you’ve said that the State Department stance is that all Americans should leave Russia, whether you’re a reporter or what have you. Has the State Department been in touch with any American reporters in Russia about trying to get out, of advising them to get out? What protections are in place?

MR PATEL: Due to privacy considerations, I’m just not going to – in a place to speak to any specific conversations. But you are correct; the travel warning for the Russian Federation is a Level 4, which is Do Not Travel. And our message continues to be to any American citizen in the Russian Federation to leave immediately, and that our embassy in Moscow can assist should you need assistance to do so.

Go ahead, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Sir, following DW’s –

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

QUESTION: — investigation that members of the Bengali government may be involved in the torture and killers – killings of RAB – we have been talking here about that – how will you proceed with the sanction imposed on RAB in December 2021 for serious human rights violations?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of any new actions or designations that the U.S. Government may take. But what I will say broadly is that – and you heard me speak to this on Thursday – we will examine the allegations in this article and video carefully. And our immense hope is that the Bangladeshi Government do the same. Perpetrators of any human rights abuses should be held accountable.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’d like to go back, if you like, to last week, last Friday. It’s been confirmed that three U.S. military personnel were traveling with the SDF’s Mazloum Kobane in northern Iraq on Friday. This was confirmed by the CENTCOM. My question is going to be: Is the United States now putting American lives at risk in providing round-the-clock personal protection to Mazloum Abdi wherever he may go because we all know that this man comes from the ranks of an organization that’s on your list of FTOs?

MR PATEL: I’m not familiar with this case, so I’m going to have to check on – check with our team and get back to you. Obviously, for any comment about force posture or the positioning of American troops, I’d refer you to our Pentagon colleagues.

QUESTION: Do you know of anything, any information at the State Department, that Mazloum Abdi’s dealings in northern Iraq or northern Syria, wherever it may be, that the United States is actually providing some sort of security guarantees so that he can travel safely?

MR PATEL: I just – I don’t have anything to offer on that. But I’m happy to check and see if we can have anything to say.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Vedant.


QUESTION: Secretary of State just having meeting with the visiting Bangladesh foreign minister in this building right now. But when he is in town, the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has launched a ferocious verbal attack on the U.S., questioning U.S. democracy, the human rights, and blaming for the regime change. And her son and ICT adviser to the prime minister has said U.S. State Department “nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.” So do you comment on that?

And just as supplement, another with my colleague that you are urging investigation, you are thoroughly examine and you urge Bangladesh Government to investigate the Netra News and DW report, but Bangladesh Government is examining other way around. They arrested already one of the witness in Bangladesh. So they examine other way. So what is your comment on that? And daily largest – Bengali – highest largest Bengali daily newspaper, Prothom Alo, today a bunch of – group of people breach the security, and they’re looking for the editor they want to harm.

So what is your comment on three of my questions?

MR PATEL: Let me see. Let me try and unpack that.

First, as it relates to the prime minister comments, look, the latest world freedom – World Press Freedom Index ranked Bangladesh 162 out of 180 countries, a drop of 10 places from the previous year. And one of the biggest reasons that Bangladesh scored that – and you have asked about this question previously – is the Digital Security Act, which per our assessment is one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists. And we have made our concerns about this law quite clear. A free press and an informed citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic future, and we are concerned that – media and content restrictions and the impact that they might have.

Look, broadly I’m not going to – I don’t have any new or different comments to offer about the – your second question that you asked. I would reiterate that any abusers of human rights should be held accountable, and we – it’s our immense hope that the Bangladeshi Government does look into the contents of this article and video.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Regarding Bangladesh, the main opposition party, BNP, they are demanding for a caretaker government during our election, upcoming election. However, the ruling party, they are saying – they are rigid on their stance to hold the election under the current constitution, which is – which has already abolished the caretaker system. On this in-depth decision, what would be the U.S. stance regarding our upcoming election?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of your question. What is your question?

QUESTION: The main opposition party, BNP, they are demanding for a caretaker government system in the – in our – for the election time. But the current ruling party, they are rigid on their stance to hold election under the current constitution. The constitution has abolished the caretaker government system.


QUESTION: On that decision, how would be the U.S. stance?

MR PATEL: So let me say two things. First is that we want to and are looking forward to deepening our relationship with Bangladesh. That’s why Secretary Blinken is meeting – had the opportunity to meet with Bangladesh’s foreign minister today. But broadly, the U.S. supports the principle of free and fair elections in Bangladesh and around the world, but I’m not here to endorse one political candidate or party versus another. We, again, are looking forward to deepening our relationship with Bangladesh as a whole.

QUESTION: Vedant, a follow-up to that. Is the Secretary of State – or did he kind of mention the investigation when he met —

MR PATEL: I don’t want to get ahead of any formal readout that we put out, which we’ll putting – be putting out one later today, I’m sure.

Dylan, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yeah, back on China for one second.


QUESTION: It’s been now two months – well, about two months and a week since the Secretary cancelled or postponed, as you guys have said, his trip to China, since the balloon incident and everything that followed. Are you any closer now than you were previously to rescheduling that trip?

MR PATEL: As you heard me say on Thursday, Dylan, to one of your colleagues’ questions is, again, we have and intend to continue to keep lines of communications open with the PRC, and we look forward to rescheduling the Secretary’s trip when conditions allow.

QUESTION: You guys have said that it was postponed – going out of your way to say it’s postponed, not cancelled. At what point does it become canceled and not postponed if it’s not rescheduled? How many more months until it’s cancelled?

MR PATEL: That is a hypothetical I’m not going to engage in, Dylan. Again, the – our – you have heard me say, you’ve heard the Secretary say that we intend to reschedule this trip when conditions allow.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Back on the drone strike on the U.S. convoy in the vicinity of Sulaymaniyah airport.


QUESTION: You’re aware of that strike? Okay. There are some reports saying that the strike carried out by Türkiye. Can you confirm that the drone was Turkish? If not, who does the U.S. believe carried out the strike?

MR PATEL: So let me say a couple of things, and my colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to some of these – more specifics. Our Department of Defense is investigating the attack on the convoy on April 7th. That convoy included U.S. military personnel. We can confirm that there were no casualties, and we of course forcefully oppose any action that threatens the safety and security of U.S. personnel. U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Syria in support of local partners to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS. The degradation of ISIS in the region continues to be an important priority of ours.

And broadly, I’m going to defer to the DOD and their investigation before speaking to any source or origination. What I will just reaffirm is that any action in Iraq should respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we encourage governments to work together to deconflict cross-border military operations.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. – has the U.S. spoken with Türkiye or someone —

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get ahead of the DOD’s investigation.

QUESTION: That’s something. When I asked the question, you said that you didn’t know what happened on Friday in northern Iraq. Now, you just provide a statement on same subject. That was my question.

MR PATEL: I didn’t – I didn’t understand that’s what you were asking about.


MR PATEL: I thought you were asking about —

QUESTION: I was asking – the three U.S. military personnel were traveling with Mazloum Abdi. Can you confirm that, that they were in the convoy together?

MR PATEL: Understood. I did not realize that that’s what you were speaking to. So I’m not going to get into the specifics of – beyond what I just said. I would refer you to —

QUESTION: (Inaudible), right?

MR PATEL: I would refer you to the Pentagon to speak more specifically. What I can just say is that the convoy included U.S. military personnel and that there are no casualties.

QUESTION: Do you know why the U.S. military personnel were there, specifically?

MR PATEL: Again, that is a question for our colleagues at the Department of Defense.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up question on China. As you mentioned, the U.S. has tried to maintain the lines of communication open with China and tried to reschedule Secretary Blinken’s trip to China.


QUESTION: But after the Speaker’s meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai, China reacted harshly, including military drills around Taiwan. So how much are you worried about the impact of Chinese reactions on the U.S.-China relations?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. First and foremost, on any Chinese reaction, what I would say – and you heard me say this to Leon – is that transits by Taiwanese officials have – they are consistent with U.S. longstanding policy. They are consistent with our “one China” policy. They are consistent with the Assurances and the Communiques as well that govern our “one China” policy, as well as the Taiwan Relations Act.

Broadly, as it speaks to Congress, Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government that is going to make its own decisions, and I would let the Speaker or any member of Congress speak specifically to their engagements. We continue to hold firm that we will reschedule the Secretary’s trip when conditions allow. And again, any reaction from the PRC, it is not necessary to make something out of this transit that it’s not.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Is the State Department aware of violent attacks on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishes taking place now?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of these specific reports. Can you expand a little bit?

QUESTION: Last week alone, there were dozens of attacks on the church and churchgoers in Ukraine. People are capturing churches in Ukraine. Have you heard anything about it?

MR PATEL: Again, I haven’t seen those reports, so I couldn’t speak to them, but we’re happy to check and get back to you.

QUESTION: I have one more question.


QUESTION: In February Under Secretary Jenkins said that the United States will finish the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal this – in spring. Is the U.S. still on track to do that?

MR PATEL: I believe we are. I have not seen any indication that’s not the case. But I’m happy to see if we have any specific updates to offer.


QUESTION: On Ethiopia.


QUESTION: Thousands have protested across Amhara since the federal government decided to disband regional special forces units, and two Catholic Relief Service workers were shot and killed in the region on Sunday amid the protests. Are you concerned about this order from the Ethiopian Government and resulting pushback, or is this something that you support?

MR PATEL: I’m going to have to check on the specifics of that, Daphne. I was not aware of that before coming out, but what I would say broadly is that we believe it is important for parties in Ethiopia to make progress and take steps towards the implementation of the November cessation of hostilities, including, of course, the formation of the interim Tigray regional government, as well as the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and the concurrent TPLF disarmament. But I’m happy to check if we have more specifics.


QUESTION: The Secretary is accompanying the President to UK and Ireland – Northern Ireland. There was some limited violence in the streets of Derry. Are – do you have anything to say about any concern ahead of the visit, of there being any more unrest in the region before the President and the Secretary visit?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any on the ground or assessment to offer. Obviously, if – this is relating to any potential American citizens traveling to the region, we have travel advisories, specifically both to Ireland and the United Kingdom. I would point individuals there. But the President is going to travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland to mark the tremendous progress since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago and to, of course, underscore support of the U.S. to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential. And then after that, he will be in Ireland and he will discuss with our close cooperation on a range of shared global challenges as well.


MR PATEL: Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. On Yemen, Saudi officials were in Yemen yesterday talking about the ceasefire and making it permanent, finishing – finalizing the end of the war. Is the United States involved – although the Omanis are mediating, is the United States involved at all in any shape or form? And if not, is the Biden administration being briefed on where it’s going, what’s happening? And how do you see the likelihood of the war really ending?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. We welcome recent progress in Yemen peace efforts, including the visit by Saudi and Omani delegations to Sana’a and the Republic of Yemen’s public commitments to take additional steps to achieve peace. This progress follows more than a year of intensive UN-led diplomatic efforts, efforts that are supported by the United States and regional partners like Saudi Arabia and Oman.

We, of course, are supporting these efforts, but they are UN-mediated ones, which, as you know, Guita, began in April of 2022, and this laid the foundation for renewed peace efforts while delivering tangible benefits to the population. The U.S., of course, is deeply engaged on this, and officials travel to the region frequently, but I just don’t have any other specifics to offer on the process.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Back to Russia and Ukraine —


QUESTION: — can I get your reaction to the Kremlin’s latest comments on Ukraine? Medvedev said over the weekend that Ukraine should be erased from the map – a country that chairs UN Security Council simply denies another country’s existence. Do you have any reaction?

MR PATEL: Well, Mr. Medvedev is wrong, and you have seen the United States take serious action over the past year and even prior to that to support our Ukrainian partners, to do everything we can to support them so that they can defend themselves against Russia’s aggression and defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Alex, at the crux of this is the rules of a rules-based international order and the foundations of the UN Charter. The border of one country should not be erased by pure aggression of another, and that is what Russia is trying to do. And so we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners and put them in the best position possible for the negotiating table should that come.

QUESTION: And on the Security Council, 10 days in, is it your take that Russia has been taking its chairmanship less seriously, to put it mildly?

MR PATEL: Well, it’s our hope for Russia to conduct itself professionally during its scheduled presidency, and for the council to continue to do its important work on a number of issues of peace and security across the world. That said, we also expect and are fully preparing for Russia to continue to use its seat on the council to spread disinformation and to try and distract from or justify its egregious actions in Ukraine. And so we’re going to continue to take close attention, and we will take appropriate steps as needed.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to attend the formal meeting end of this month?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any travel to announce or preview, Alex.

Go ahead.



QUESTION: Super quick question. So the – Tunisia is planning to join BRICS. Any comment on that?

MR PATEL: These are sovereign decisions for countries to make. I don’t have anything to offer from up here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My second question is that U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu in his visit in Bangladesh in January, he said that the Rapid Action Battalion, RAB, has made tremendous progress in performing its duties while respecting human rights. So considering this, whether the U.S. is thinking to withdraw its sanction on RAB?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to preview or get into specifics of any actions or designations that we have taken from up here. What I will say broadly is that the U.S. looks forward to deepening our engagement with Bangladesh over the next 50 years and beyond. And our cooperation on a number of issues like climate change, development, trade, economically, humanitarian assistance, and security shows the range of our strong partnership and future potential.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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