2:02 p.m. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll try.

MR PATEL: Okay. (Laughter.)

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

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

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

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

MR PATEL: First of all, welcome back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

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

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

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

MR PATEL: Said, our —

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on that?

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

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

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

Leon.

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Again, Said —

QUESTION: Last week.

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

Camilla, go ahead.

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

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

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

Alex, go ahead.

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

MR PATEL: I —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go ahead in the back.

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

And then I have two other nuclear question to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: And the last one.

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

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

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

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

Go ahead.

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

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

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

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR PATEL:  Sure.

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

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

Go ahead.

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

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

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

QUESTION:  And —

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

Go ahead, Said.

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

MR PATEL:  Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dylan, go ahead.

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

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

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

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

Goyal, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, please.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

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

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

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

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

MR PATEL: Pardon me. What?

QUESTION: Is this office created mainly to confront China?

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

QUESTION: Is the —

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

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

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

MR PATEL: It has not. Go ahead.

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

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

QUESTION: That would be great, thanks.

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

QUESTION: North Korea.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

Shannon, in the back.

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

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

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

Go ahead, Alex.

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: And two more on the human rights —

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

QUESTION: Yeah, back to Ukraine.

MR PATEL: Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

All right. Thanks, everybody.

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

U.S. Department of State

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