2:03 p.m. EST
MR PATEL: Hey, everybody. Good afternoon. Thanks so much for joining us today, and for those of you joining us on the phone thanks again. I have one very brief thing at the top, and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.
So, first, today’s successful vote by the UN Economic and Social Council to remove Iran from the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women sends an unmistakable message of support from around the world to the brave people of Iran. The U.S. is proud to have worked with our partners to remove Iran from a body whose values and mission the current Iranian regime fails to uphold. The United States reiterates our unwavering support for the people of Iran.
And with that, I’m happy to start taking your questions. Operator, will you please repeat instructions on how to ask questions?
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1, then 0 on your phone. Press 1, then 0 only one time, as a second time will remove you from the question and answer queue. Once again, for your questions, please press 1, then 0.
MR PATEL: Let’s first go to the line of Jenny Hansler with CNN.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant, thanks for doing the briefing. Two questions, one on these – FSB agent that was arrested in Estonia. Does State have any information or comments on that?
And then the Ukrainians said they returned an American in a prisoner swap today. Do you have any information on this person’s identity or anything else you can share? Thanks.
MR PATEL: Sure. I’ll take your second question first. We can confirm that a U.S. citizen who was released by Russian forces in Ukraine has now departed Russian-controlled territory, but due to privacy considerations, we don’t have any additional information to offer at the moment. And give me one second on your first question.
I’m so sorry about that. I was dealing with some technical difficulties that I guess comes with the territory when you brief on the phone. So as the Department of Justice stated yesterday in their press release on – Jenny, on your question about authorities arresting an FSB officer, the coordinated Department of Justice and Commerce enforcement actions demonstrate our vigilance in uncovering Russian tactics to illicitly acquire the items they need to keep their brutal war going. We thank our international partners for their cooperation in disrupting the networks that enable the Russian Government to continue its unjust war in Ukraine. And for anything further, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and the Government of Estonia.
Next, why don’t we go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News Agency.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Happy Wednesday. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Awesome. So three quick questions, Vedant. We have seen reports that Kyiv was again under attack this morning. Russia is obviously still using Iranian Shahed drones. Can you please update us on Russia-Iran cooperation on this sphere? Are you observing any new transfer between the two?
Secondly, there – Moscow reports that U.S. is moving to impose sanctions on Vladimir Potanin, one of the – Russia’s wealthiest men, but not his company. Are you in a position to either confirm or deny those reports?
And lastly, a separate topic. We are seeing increasing congressional concern over former military personnel who had received waivers to pursue jobs with foreign governments known to have, to put it mildly, histories of human rights abuses and political oppression. There are – several letters were direct addressed Secretary from the Hill. Do you have any comment on that? Thank you so much.
MR PATEL: Sure, Alex. Thanks so much for your question. So first, on the increasing cooperation between Iran and Russia, I don’t have any updates to offer you, but I’ll reiterate what I and our colleagues across the interagency have said previously, that Iran is providing Russia with drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine, and in exchange Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support that is transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership. So let me be clear: This partnership poses a threat not just to Ukraine but to Iran’s neighbors in the region, and we have shared our information with our partners in the Middle East and the Gulf but also our partners around the world as well.
On your second question, I’m just not going to get ahead of our process. As you know, we do not and will not preview sanctions, Alex. But what I will say is that you needn’t look further than the trajectory of Russia’s unjust and illegal infringement on Ukrainian territory and sovereignty to know that the United States will continue to use the tools in its tool belt to hold the Russian Federation accountable. And that, of course, includes the use of sanctions and export controls and other measures to hold the Russian Federation accountable.
Let’s next go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya News.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you for doing this. I want to ask you about the African summit. You know that many of the countries that are participating in this summit are accused of either corruption or gross human rights violation. How can you verify that the money that the President announced will be spent in a transparent way and it’s not going to be diverted to the pockets of those in government? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Nadia. So the African Leaders Summit is an opportunity to advance our most pressing issues, both regionally and globally, with leaders from across the African continent, and we took an inclusive approach toward invitations in close coordination with the African Union. And our approach creates an opportunity for the President, Secretary Blinken, the Vice President, and other U.S. Government leaders to make progress on important U.S.‑Africa policy through engagement. And the President’s approach to foreign policy is rooted in values, values like promoting respect for human rights. It’s also rooted in engagement and engaging with our partners and allies directly, and this summit is an opportunity to do just that.
It’s also an opportunity to promote the respect for human rights and the values enshrined in the UN Charter, which are at the core of the principles of the administration’s foreign policy. Human rights will always be on the agenda for President Biden and Secretary Blinken, and they will not shy away from raising these issues with any foreign leader in the world, including here over the course of this summit.
Let’s next go to the line of Nick Kalman.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) today that the administration is considering expanding an asylum program for Venezuelans and expanding it to include Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans to alleviate the surge of migrants at the border, particularly Nicaraguans. Is there anything you can expand on about that?
MR PATEL: Hey, Nick. I don’t have any new policy or process to announce today, and of course, our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security would be the ones to speak about any new such program. But what I will use this opportunity to say is that this – the Biden administration has always viewed migration as a hemispheric challenge, as a regional challenge, as a challenge that goes beyond the scope of just the United States, and we have attempted to address and work on these challenges in that context and we look forward to continuing to do so.
Let’s next go to the line of Said Arikat.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Two quick issues. First, the Israelis once again this year banned Palestinian Christians from Gaza to go to Bethlehem. I wonder if you’re aware of these topics and if you have brought it up with the Israelis to allow – there’s only, like, a thousand Christians remaining in Gaza. That’s one.
And second, the other day, on Monday, Ned basically called on the Israelis to assume responsibility for the killing of the teenager, Jana Zakarneh. I wonder if you have any more information on this issue. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So on your first question, we are aware of these reports and would refer you to the Government of Israel on the specifics of it. But what I will say is that we understand the very real security threats Israel faces. We also have been very clear with our Israeli partners and Israeli authorities on the need to enhance transparency of entry processes and to facilitate legitimate travel to and from Gaza. The U.S. continues to believe Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity and democracy.
And on the second part of your question, Said, I don’t have any updates for you beyond what Ned spoke about earlier this week. Just to reiterate, we expressed our condolences to the family, and this is a tragic incident and we understand that the IDF is undertaking a review of what happened. And as Ned said earlier in the week, we hope to see accountability in this case. This recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including the impact that it’s had on numerous children, which we continue to be deeply concerned about this kind of intensifying violence.
Let’s go to the line of Marcin Wrona with TVN.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thanks for calling on me. I would like to ask you about what U.S. media has been talking about for the past two days, which is sending Patriot batteries to Ukraine. Where are you on this? Is there anything new? Can you confirm this? And what would be the time frame if this really happens?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been clear that the United States will continue to prioritize sending air-defense systems to Ukraine to help defend itself from Russia’s aggression. But I don’t have anything to announce or preview today. I will note that in recent weeks our assistance has included equipment to help Ukraine counter Russia’s use of unmanned aerial vehicles, including two NASAMS which Ukraine has reported have been quite effective, as well as missiles for the HAWK air-defense systems that has been donated by our allies and partners.
Let me be clear that we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance for as long as it takes, but again, I don’t have anything new to preview at this moment.
QUESTION: Vedant, let me just follow up. Are Patriots at all on the table?
MR PATEL: I will again reiterate what I have just said, which is that we have been clear that we will continue to prioritize sending air-defense systems to Ukraine to help defend itself from Russia’s aggression.
Next, why don’t we go to the line of John Hudson with The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks, Vedant. I just wanted to ask – this has been made public, but Bernie Sanders pulled his Yemen war powers resolution legislation and said that he’s working with the administration for a compromise. Can you give any window into what the compromise is and what the administration’s concerns were about the legislation in general?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to this, John. First, I’m not going to get into any specific conversations that we’ve had with members of Congress, but what I will note is that all of us – including Senator Sanders – want to see an end to this war, and the administration looks forward to working with him and other members of Congress on seeing that through. And we look forward to coordinating closely with Congress as it relates to our overall Yemen policy, to which we remain deeply committed to advancing a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict.
Thanks in part to the administration’s concerted diplomacy, Yemen is currently experiencing the longest period of calm since the war began eight years ago. Intensive negotiations between the conflict parties are ongoing, and we remain deeply hopeful about prospects for a new agreement and a comprehensive peace process. Only a Yemeni-Yemeni political agreement can reverse the dire humanitarian crisis facing Yemen. And U.S. diplomacy in support of these UN-led efforts in Yemen continues unabated.
Let’s next go to the line of Janne Pak.
QUESTION: Thanks, hi there. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, so thank you for taking my questions, quick questions on the North Korean human rights issues. It has been reported that North Korea recently publicly executed young teenagers. The reason is that they watched South Korean movies. What action is the United States taking against the North Korea’s continued violation of human rights?
Secondly, when will the North Korean human rights ambassador be nominated? Thank you very much.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Janne. Let me answer your second question first. I have no specific personnel announcements to make at the moment, but what I will say is that this is something that this administration unequivocally has remained deeply engaged on across a variety of personnel. As you know, Special Representative Sung Kim, Assistant Secretary Dan Krittenbrink, the Secretary, the Deputy Secretary, others, remain deeply engaged on the DPRK and the challenges that they pose not just in their region, but the broader implications across the world. And so this is something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to and work collaboratively on with our allies and partners.
As it relates to human rights, we remain very concerned about the human rights situation in the DPRK, and the U.S. is committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy. The DPRK continues to exploit its own citizens, it continues to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful nuclear and ballistic weapons program. The DPRK is among the most repressive authoritarian states in the world, and its human rights situation is deplorable. And we’re going to continue to work with the international community to raise awareness, highlight abuses and violations, and increase access to independent information, and promote respect for human rights in the DPRK.
Let’s next go to the line of Mushfiqul Fazal with Just News.
QUESTION: Thank you, Patel. On Bangladesh – can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. On Bangladesh, U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh, Ambassador Peter Haas, has faced obstruction by the pro-regime supporters while he was visiting a victim Sajedul Islam family this morning. And he – then he rushed to the foreign ministry and met with the foreign minister and expressed his concern. And as you know, Bangladesh – the regime, is very much attacking on opposition, thousands of oppositions activists, including the top leadership that is in jail. And this is the – the second attack. First attack, Ambassador Marcia Bernicat was attacked in August 6th, 2018, same, pro-government activists. So what is your comment on that, and how a country like USA is involving with the social activities and facing harassment by the pro-government people? So what is your comment on that?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. The U.S. is committed to taking actions consistent with its values and recognizes the respect for human rights as a prerequisite for global peace, security, and prosperity. And as a key element of our bilateral relationship, we raise human rights with our Bangladeshi counterparts when we have concerns about developments that erode space for independent media, civil society, and free and fair elections.
As it relates to the specific meeting that you mentioned, the U.S. ambassador and embassy staff concluded a meeting early on December 14th to – due to security concerns. And we have raised our concerns about this matter at the highest levels of the Bangladeshi Government.
Let’s next go to the line of Eunjong Cho with Voice of America.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant, for taking my question. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yup, go ahead.
QUESTION: Great, thank you. The U.S. continues to emphasize that China needs to play a role in restraining North Korea. So to facilitate more active Chinese involvement, will the U.S. consider sanctioning Chinese banks and financial institutions? And relatedly, when calling for constructive Chinese role, what specific role does the U.S. expect China to play and use its leverage on North Korea?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things to this. First and foremost, as I said previously to a different question, we do not preview our sanctions. But what I will say about the role that the PRC can play as it relates to the DPRK is one that we spoke about when President Biden had the opportunity to meet with President Xi on the margins of the G20 summit in Bali. And in that meeting, President Biden raised concerns directly about the DPRK’s provocative behavior, and noted that all members of the international community – including the PRC – have an interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly.
The PRC has a responsibility to make clear to the DPRK that Pyongyang should not engage in unlawful nuclear or ballistic missile tests. And we continue to be open to engaging with the PRC to manage the very real threat that is posed by the DPRK. Our viewpoint is that we must limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction program. And our goal remains the same, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we remain prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy to make tangible steps towards that process. And together with the international community, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantive dialogue.
Let’s go to the line of Joshua Keating.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, yes. I have a question about Haiti. I’m curious if there are any updates on the topic of armed intervention in Haiti, whether the U.S. is still pushing for a UN resolution in that, whether it’s in negotiations with other countries in the region about supplying their own troops for such an intervention. Where are we at on the topic of kinetic intervention in Haiti?
MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. I don’t have any updates to offer at this time, but what I – I would reiterate what we have said previously on this, which is that there is a broad international consensus regarding the need to promote improved security conditions in Haiti. And that conversation continues to be ongoing with our allies and partners and other countries. I’m not going to get ahead of those ongoing discussions, but at the United Nations and across the U.S. Government, negotiations continue with partners and other council members to set defined and specific parameters for a mission and find the most effective means to support, enable, and resource it.
Let’s next go to the line of Begum Ersoz.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MR PATEL: Yup. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. So the Turkish court sentenced Istanbul’s opposition mayor today, Ekrem İmamoğlu, to two years and seven months in prison on a charge of insulting public officials; the court also imposed a political ban on him, and he’s seen as a potential challenger to President Erdoğan in the upcoming election.
The ruling would need to be upheld by higher court. So any reaction or comment on this? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. The department is deeply troubled and disappointed by today’s sentencing of the Istanbul mayor to two years and seven months in prison based on insult laws that aim to restrict his exercise of free expression. This unjust sentence is inconsistent with respect for human rights, with respect to fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and we remain gravely concerned by the continued indictment of civil society, media, political and business leaders in Turkey and their prolonged pretrial detention.
The right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association is fundamental to any healthy democracy, and we continue to urge Turkey to respect these fundamental freedoms and to bring this case to a swift and just resolution.
Let’s next go to the line of Dilge Timotin.
QUESTION: Hi. I was here for the same question, actually, that Begum asked about Turkey. But thank you very much.
MR PATEL: Okay. Thank you. Thanks for joining us today, everybody. Really appreciate it. And thanks for joining today’s press briefing.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:31 p.m.)
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