12:39 p.m. EST

MR PATEL:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Just one very brief thing before I dive right in.  We have special guests in the back.  Mr. and Mrs. Williams, welcome to the daily press briefing.  I’d be remiss not to take this opportunity to just talk about how much we love and adore your daughter, how she’s the glue that keeps the daily press briefing and the press team together.  So thank you for lending her to us and to the Foreign Service.  So with that, I’m not sure where our friend is, but Simon, you want to kick us off?  

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I just wanted to ask about the – a couple of different sanctions that were announced earlier today.  Could you sort of say a bit about how exactly you think these sanctions are going to impact – they seem to be aimed at Iran-linked proxies.  So what is the impact that you see those having, given that – I guess we don’t assume that these groups have assets in the United States.  They’re generally able to use intermediaries to route their transactions around, so what impact would we see from this? 

MR PATEL:  Sure.  So are you – we announced to – any specific you – or would like me to start with?  Or —   

QUESTION:  Well, I guess – well, is – more of talking about the Iran-linked proxies.  

MR PATEL:  Sure.  Sure.  So just to take a step back for those who might not be tracking, earlier today the Treasury Department’s OFAC designated one Iraqi airline and its CEO for supporting the IRGC Qods Force and Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  We’re taking this action now because the IRGC Qods Force and the network of group it supports, they pose a significant threat to the Mideast region; for example, KH has claimed credit for a series of drone and missile attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq, in Syria since Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel on October 7th.  We are committed to exposing and taking actions against individuals and groups that abuse their local economies and engage in illegal activities and support terrorist groups destabilizing the regions.  Specifically, though, Simon, you know that sanctions are just one of the many levers at our disposal when it comes to holding Iran and some of its proxies accountable for its activities.  

QUESTION:  Do you have any specific information that these groups that are being targeted do have assets that would be affected?  Or is it largely symbolic, to say we’re doing something? 

MR PATEL:  I would not say that it’s symbolic.  As you know, all around the world our sanctions have – excuse me – our sanctions have legitimate and tangible impacts.  For example, the Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad has supported the operations of the IRGC Qods Force and Iran-aligned militia groups by delivering materiel and personnel through the region.  Fly Baghdad flights have delivered shipments of weapons to Damascus International Airport in Syria for transfer to members of the IRGC Qods Force and Iran militia groups on the ground.  So this is just an example of just some of the tangible things that are happening that we hope to be able to disrupt with some of our actions like this.  

Matt, come back to you.  

QUESTION:  No, I was late so I’ll wait.  

MR PATEL:  Okay. 

QUESTION:  Sorry. 

MR PATEL:  Leon.

QUESTION:  I’m wondering – the Turkish parliament is – has set up a vote tomorrow, I think, unless I’m mistaken – yeah, I think it’s tomorrow – on the Sweden transition to NATO.  Do you have a reaction to that?  

MR PATEL:  I don’t.  We will, of course, let Türkiye’s legislative processes play out before getting ahead of that process, but if you recall, we have not parsed words about how ready we are for Sweden to formally join the Alliance.  We have long felt that it has met its commitments, and we look forward to this process moving forward.  

Alex.  

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.  Back to the sanctions, and then I have Russia-related questions.  One of the networks that were sanctioned today – Shamlakh Network – is also operating in Türkiye.  Have you reached out to Turkish counterparts and asked them to follow suit?

MR PATEL:  We engage with partners regularly, including an important NATO Ally like Türkiye, but I am just not going to get into the specifics of our communications and deliberations around our —    

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

MR PATEL:  — sanctions measures.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On Iran, given the fact that Iran’s foreign minister has been active card-carrying member of the IRGC, given to those sanctions and also last week’s events, will he be allowed to come to the United States this week to attend the UN?  

MR PATEL:  Alex, as you know, visa records are confidential, so I’m certainly not going to be able to speak to that, but the – I believe what you’re referring to is a convening of the UN Security Council.  And as you so note, the United States has a responsibility as its – as the host country for the United Nations to allow and facilitate legitimate travel to the United Nations for legitimate business for ministers and members of government that may have business in front of the UN.  So I’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION:  Again, move to Russia if I may.  Putin apparently today signed an order declaring a 1983 sale of Alaska to the United States as “illegitimate,” quote/unquote.  Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL:  So let me just understand, that he signed something today that said the sale of Alaska is illegitimate?

QUESTION:  Right.

MR PATEL:  Well, I think I can – I speak for all of us in the U.S. Government to say that certainly he is not getting it back.  So – (laughter).  

QUESTION:  Are you speaking for Secretary Seward as well?  (Laughter.)

MR PATEL:  Said.

QUESTION:  Please come back to me later.

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

QUESTION:  Go to the Palestinian issue?

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Are you aware of a Palestinian American teen that was killed by the Israelis, 17-year-old Tawfic Abdel Jabbar?  And if you are, are you doing anything about that?

MR PATEL:  Thanks for your question, Said.  So we are aware, and we are devastated about the killing of 17-year-old U.S. citizen Tawfic Abdel Jabbar in the West Bank.  We continue to engage closely with the Government of Israel to ascertain as much information as possible, and we have called for an urgent investigation to determine the circumstance of his death and accountability be met as appropriate as well.  We also have been clear for quite some time over the tragic escalation in violence in the West Bank, and call on all parties to avoid escalations.

I will also just note, Chief of the Office of Palestinian Affairs George Noll had the opportunity to visit with the family and offer condolences, and will plan to continue to stay in touch with them over the course of this process over this tragic loss.  Our embassy in Jerusalem also has been in touch with the family and is providing all appropriate consular services.

QUESTION:  But you don’t know under which circumstances he was killed at this point?

MR PATEL:  I’m not able to – I’m not able to speak to the circumstances around his death at this time.  But we have asked for the Government of Israel for any and all relevant and pertinent information, and we have asked that they conduct an investigation into what transpired as well.

QUESTION:  A couple of other things.  The U.S. News & World Report is reporting that 16,000 children – women and children have been killed in Gaza.  Does that – have anything to say about that?  Does that really – it doesn’t hold you back and it doesn’t stagger your perceptions of what’s going on in this war?

MR PATEL:  Of course, Said.  Of course – don’t take my word for it; take the Secretary’s word for it, who has quite clearly spoken about the sheer impact on Palestinian civilians that this conflict has had, not to mention the impact that it has had on the most vulnerable in those circumstances, including women and children.  We – I will say again that we believe Israel has a moral and strategic imperative to take all possible precautions to avoid civilian harm as it conducts this operation.  I will leave it at that.

QUESTION:  Well, Israel has been using dumb bombs, 2,000 pounds that were supplied by the United States of America.  That is not exactly being surgical and so on.  As long as they use this kind of munitions, civilians will die, day in and day out.  Are you currently reconciled to the fact that 150 or more Palestinian civilian men, women, and children die every day now?

MR PATEL:  On the specifics of the military operations, Said, I’m just not going to speak to those, as this is not an American operation.  But in every engagement that we have had with our Israeli counterparts and in every engagement we will continue to have, we have reiterated the moral and strategic imperative that steps need to be taken, more needs to be done to minimize the impact on civilians.

But simultaneously, Said, it is also important to remember that while we have this conversation, no one is calling for Hamas to lay down its arms; no one has been condemning Hamas for the irresponsible attacks that —   

QUESTION:  Well, you have.

MR PATEL:  — no one aside from us has been, for the irresponsible tactics that Hamas has been taking to co-locate itself within civilian infrastructure, its targeting of Israeli civilians on October 7th and beyond, its continued attacks on Israel’s sovereignty, and its stated intent of recreating October 7th over again and again and again and again.  And of course, Said, I am not saying that there is any moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel.  But we’ll continue to reiterate again that steps need to be taken for civilian casualties to be minimized.

QUESTION:  Although it’s the Israeli forces that are really now occupying Hamas and inside – I mean, occupying Gaza and inside the territory.  Correct? 

MR PATEL:  That is —

QUESTION:  So, I mean, they could call this off, too.  I mean, they could probably pursue a much more – a course that might be much more successful, like negotiating with Hamas to release the hostage.  And wouldn’t that be — 

MR PATEL:  I’m not —

QUESTION:  – a good idea at this stage?

MR PATEL:  I’m not going to speak to the specifics surrounding the military operation.  Of course we want to see hostages released as swiftly as possible.  But we also believe that it is important that steps be taken to not just hold Hamas accountable but degrade it in such a way that October 7th cannot be repeated. 

QUESTION:  And one – my last question.  Palestinians are reporting that the Israeli army executed 19 civilians in a summary execution.  I wonder if you are aware of the report and if you have any comment on that. 

MR PATEL:  I’ve seen that article, Said, and we’ve not been able to independently confirm these reports. 

QUESTION:  But if you can confirm that this has happened, this would be a war crime, wouldn’t it? 

MR PATEL:  Said, I’m just not going to get ahead of hypotheticals. 

QUESTION:  Okay. 

MR PATEL:  We’ve been clear that Israel must comply with international humanitarian law, but the article that you pointed out we have not been able to independently confirm. 

QUESTION:  I understand.  But if it did happen, that would constituent a war crime? 

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to offer a prescriptive opinion from up here. 

Matt, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Vedant, last week when we were discussing the destruction of the university in Gaza, Matt said that the U.S. is always troubled by – or is troubled by the degradation of civilian infrastructure in Gaza.  He also said that you guys had asked Israel questions about this specific incident.  I’m wondering, if you’ve heard back from them, if the Israelis are saying that this building, which appeared by – appeared to be empty and appeared to be occupied by or at least had been occupied by the IDF so that they could get the explosives in to do a controlled demolition, if the Israelis have come back to you and said that that’s a threat or it was a threat, and that’s why it was destroyed. 

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any updates on that.  It is correct we have asked for some updates and operational information specifically on that, but I don’t have any updates to read out for you.  I’m happy to check if we’ve got more to share and circle back. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  In your experience, does it generally take them longer than four or five days to get back to you with a —

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to prescribe something to that one way or the other. 

QUESTION:  So right now, you’re no more or less concerned than you were last week? 

MR PATEL:  We continue to be concerned when civilian infrastructure, civilian buildings like that, are targeted.  Again, this is an armed military operation to speak to.  It’s not one that we are conducting.  But to echo Matt, we are – have sought out additional information and context, and I don’t have an update for you at this time.  But I’m happy to check. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And is it your opinion or your position or is the U.S. – the administration’s position that this constituted a quote/unquote “degradation” of civilian infrastructure?  I mean, whether it was justified or not, it is – understanding that the Israelis haven’t come back to you yet with the answers to your no doubt probing questions, this – you believe that, rightly or wrongly, this was degradation, it was a degradation of civilian infrastructure?

MR PATEL:  Matt, of course – it was a civilian facility.  The circumstances around the operation I just don’t have additional context to offer.  So I will leave it at that. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And I just wanted to ask you about this word “degradation” because this wasn’t degradation.  This was complete destruction.  You still think that it’s —

MR PATEL:  I would not take issue with the way that you characterize it.  When I was referring to degradation in Said’s question, I was speaking about the degradation of Hamas. 

QUESTION:  Well, no, no.  I mean, Matt was the one who referred to degradation last week.  No, he referred to this – that you were troubled by incidents of the degradation of civilian infrastructure in Gaza.  

MR PATEL:  Correct, which we are. 

QUESTION:  But this – and this counts as degradation?  It doesn’t count as complete destruction?

MR PATEL:  Matt, we can quibble about the specific words for the entirety of the briefing.  

QUESTION:  Well, words matter.  But —  

MR PATEL:  But of course —

QUESTION:  So if that’s degradation, then —

MR PATEL:  Of course words matter.  But the point that we have always made is that when civilian – that civilian infrastructure and civilians broadly, steps need to be taken to ensure that those are not impacted.  But I don’t have specifics to offer on this. 

QUESTION:  But this was a case that steps were – not only were steps not taken to protect civilian infrastructure, steps were taken to completely demolish civilian infrastructure.  And if you look at pictures from other parts of Gaza – and I won’t get into that because we’re talking about this one specific case, this one specific instance – it wasn’t that the Israelis didn’t take steps to avoid damage to this building.  It was that they intentionally took steps to completely destroy it. 

MR PATEL:  Again, Matt, I am just not going to speak to the specifics of this operation.  We have asked for additional information, and if we have any, I’ll be sure to convey that. 

QUESTION:  Can I just very quick — 

MR PATEL:  Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION:  — let me finish on this point?

MR PATEL:  Okay.

QUESTION:  They also – the Israeli army apparently stole 3,000 artifacts from the university’s museum.  Do you have any – any information on that?

MR PATEL:  I’ve not seen anything about that, Said, so I’m going to refrain from commenting.

QUESTION:  Is that something that the United States would ask the Israelis whether they did?  And if they did, could they return them?

MR PATEL:  I’m just – I just don’t have anything for you on that, Said.  I’ve not seen that reporting.  

Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Going back to the death of the Palestinian-American teenager, on what level has the U.S. communicated with Israel regarding the urgent need for investigation?  Has the Secretary spoken with his counterpart?

MR PATEL:  We engage with the Israelis regularly at all levels.  I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out.  As I said, George Noll, the chief of the Office of Palestinian Affairs in Jerusalem, had the opportunity to visit the family as well as the members from the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem have been in touch with the family, and we of course will continue to remain in touch with the Government of Israel about this, as I said.

QUESTION:  And on a separate question, do you have any update on the amount of Americans who have – number of Americans who’ve been killed in Gaza and the number who have been injured?

MR PATEL:  Sure.  So I don’t have an update on the numbers that have been injured.  But as a result of continued violence after October 7th, we can share that – confirm the deaths of 23 American citizens, 21 who have served in the IDF, one who served in the Israeli National Police, as well as the recently reported death of Mr. Jabbar as well.  

QUESTION:  And in the course of Americans who have left Gaza and gone into Egypt, can you say how many of them have – you’ve seen be injured as a result of what’s taking place in Gaza?

MR PATEL:  I don’t have – I don’t have any metrics to offer on that. 

QUESTION:  Are you aware of any Americans who are on – or any Americans who are on the list trying to get across into Egypt who are injured and awaiting hospital treatment?

MR PATEL:  I would not be able to speak to such specificity about individual circumstances, given privacy.  What I can say is that since the conflict we have been able to aid 1,400 American citizens, LPRs, and eligible family members be able to safely depart Gaza.  And this is something we of course will continue to work around the clock towards.

Camille. 

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.  Just going to what President Biden told reporters last week after his conversation with the Israeli prime minister, he said that there are a number of types of two-state solutions.  There’s a number of countries that are members of the UN that don’t have their own militaries.  I’m just seeking clarification on whether this is – this is the U.S., like, saying that it is willing to accept a Palestinian state that doesn’t have sovereign control over its own military, de facto its own security and its own borders.  Is that – is that the case?

MR PATEL:  So look, Camille, in the conversation around our ongoing work for a two-state solution for the creation of a Palestinian state, the specifics around what that looks like is to be determined by the direct parties involved.  It’s not for the United States to be prescriptive at this time about what those conditions could look like.

The President is absolutely right; there are a number of scenarios that exist out there.  But again, right now what we’re focused on is ensuring that steps are being taken to get us towards that conversation for when this conflict in Gaza ultimately ends.

And regardless, we believe and we know that there is convergence with us and many in the Arab world that a two-state solution, specifically the creation of a Palestinian state, is key to regional security, regional prosperity, in a long-term sense – something that we believe will help get us out of this constant cycle of violence. 

QUESTION:  And also just to follow on that?

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  The Israeli prime minister put out a statement this weekend after the President’s comments saying – and this is translated from the Hebrew:  “My insistence is what has prevented over the years the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel.  As long as I am prime minister, I will continue to strongly insist on this.”  Would you agree that that sounds a lot like an Israeli leader who is not willing to work with the – with anyone on the establishment of a Palestinian state?

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to characterize the prime minister remarks and will use this opportunity to echo what you’ve heard Matt and the Secretary say as well, which – that there exists a historic opportunity for Israel to deal with the challenges it has faced since its founding and an opportunity to take steps that we believe will ultimately lead to greater peace, greater stability, greater integration in the region, something that we believe can address the needs of the Palestinian people while also addressing the very legitimate security concerns that Israel has grappled with since its founding.  

Nick, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Different topic.

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  There are allegations Senator Menendez took bribes from Qatar.  Over the weekend, separately, new reports the Qataris led a campaign to discredit Republican senators trying to designate the Muslim Brotherhood.  Does State have any concerns about these allegations against the Qataris?  Have they been relayed to the Qataris in any way? 

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to comment on this as this involves an active Department of Justice matter. 

QUESTION:  Do these allegations in any way cause State to question the reliability of Qatar as an ally considering they’re playing such a key role in the hostage crisis in Israel?  

MR PATEL:  I don’t have anything to offer on the circumstances surrounding Senator Menendez, but to take a step back, Qatar is an important partner, a key regional partner, one that is playing an immeasurable role in the ongoing work to not just address the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza, and Hamas, but also work that’s ongoing for – towards hostage release.  So don’t have anything else to offer on that. 

Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  U.S. Government is sending every day eight — 

MR PATEL:  I’m sorry, you’re going to need to speak up.  I’m having a hard time hearing.

QUESTION:  U.S. Government is sending every day $8 million to Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, based on the recent report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, Taliban have detained woman in Afghanistan based on the ethnicity, mostly Hazara and Tajik women.  Doesn’t this money help the Taliban to imposing harder restriction on the Afghan women? 

MR PATEL:  Let me say a couple of things.  First and foremost, as it relates to Afghanistan and the Taliban, its treatment of women and girls, its lack of human rights, basic human rights in everyday society, continues to be something of great concern to us and something that we have continued to make clear to the Taliban is unacceptable to us as it goes about its own desired journey for legitimacy.  

Separately, though, there are a number of steps and measures that are in place to ensure that U.S. humanitarian aid does not end up in the hands of the Taliban.  We work closely with trusted NGOs and other entities who we’ve had long-established relationships with, and there are measures and vetting and other processes in place to ensure that the hard-earned money from the American taxpayer does not end up in the hands of the Taliban.  

Go ahead, right behind her. 

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Vedant.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  After the last general election in Bangladesh, in the State Department press statement it is outlined that U.S. is looking ahead to partnering with Bangladesh to advance shared vision, also a free and open Indo-Pacific area, region.  What specific action is the U.S. considering to deepen its partnership with Bangladesh?  

MR PATEL:  There are a number of steps that we have and will continue to take when it comes to deepening our partnership with Bangladesh.  You’ve heard me say it here before that last year was the anniversary of our diplomatic relations with Bangladesh, and there continue to be a number of areas – specifically in addressing climate cooperation, security cooperation – where we believe that there is opportunity.  Of course, through that there – we have the opportunity to also engage with nongovernment actors as well, which we believe is also key and critical to deepening this relationship also. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir. 

MR PATEL:  Diyar, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Going back to the – these sanctions on Fly Baghdad.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  In terms of time, when did the Iran use that airline to send weapons, fighters, and — 

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to speak more specifically about some of these efforts from up here given operational security.  

QUESTION:  The U.S. ambassador to Iraq says that the Iran use of an Iraqi airline for weapons, fighters, and the U.S. dollar smuggling.  So I’m talking about the U.S. dollars.  You know that the dollars in the Iraq is coming from New York and then they – the United States puts a lot of sanctions on the Iraqi banks.  So how did these Iranian get these dollars from the Iraqi Government?  What have you discussed with them?  

MR PATEL:  So in terms of the specific – the specific ins and outs of the transactions and the financial history, I have no doubt our colleagues at the Treasury Department and OFAC may be able to speak to you a little bit more in detail about the sanctions and background here. 

QUESTION:  One last question.

MR PATEL:  Uh-huh. 

QUESTION:  National Defense Authorization Act, which signed by President Biden late December, requests this administration to provide the Kurdistan region of Iraq a defense system, and last week there were meetings between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the U.S. officials, and you showed your support to the Kurdistan region in terms of security and diplomacy.  So does that administration provide the anti-missile defense to Iraqi Kurdistan?  Are you open to discuss that with your partners in Kurdistan region? 

MR PATEL:  I will just note, Diyar, that the Secretary, Secretary Blinken, had the opportunity to chat briefly with the prime minister of the Kurdistan region in Switzerland last week.  Continued cooperation in the security space was certainly a topic of discussion, but I just don’t have anything to announce, and I don’t have anything more specific to get into right now.

QUESTION:  And last question:  So what do you have for the Iranian media outlets?  They are trying to mislead and distorting the very facts and information about their attacks on Erbil and on the region.  They’re using fake images, fake videos just to tell the public that they are doing this and they are pretexting for their acts in the region.  Then what do you have for that?

MR PATEL:  We have not – we have not parsed our words about some of these kinds of misleading tactics that the Iranian regime and some of its proxies have undertaken, but again, we believe quite strongly that the sovereignty of countries – Iraq, in this situation – needs to be respected and the protection of civilians, the protection of U.S. personnel, is tantamount.  And we will take appropriate steps to hold these malign actors accountable should we need to.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Rabia, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  I’ll go back on the two-state solution.  The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, today said that Israel’s plan to destroy Hamas is not working and the European Union must pursue efforts to create a two-state solution despite Israeli operation.  And there were also some reports that the EU is seeking to impose consequences on Israel for its opposition to Palestinian statehood.  What is your response to that?  Do you believe that there should be consequences on Israel’s opposition to a two-state solution?

MR PATEL:  So as it relates to the meetings and talks on this that are ongoing in the European Union, I would refer you to member-states and staff from those member-states to speak at greater specificity about this.  We’re obviously not – have not been party to those conversations.

But to take a step back, we believe that it is in the best interest not only for the Israeli people but also the Palestinian people, as well as for the region.  We think that a two-state solution, a creation of a Palestinian state, is the only path that gets us out of this endless cycle of violence and onto a path that provides peace and security for all.  We will continue to work towards that goal, of course, in close coordination with our EU partners and other partners in the region.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything to share on your engagements with Israelis in this regard, in the – on the two-state solution?

MR PATEL:  We have been urging the creation of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution at every engagement that we’ve had with Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials even prior to October 7th, and this is something that we’ll continue to do because we truly believe it is something that can offer longstanding, enduring peace and stability for the region and something that, again, will get us out of this endless cycle for violence.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The Russian embassy said that it sent a note to the State Department with a request to strengthen security measures around its diplomatic missions and consulates amid a surge of provocative actions.  Did you receive it?  Did you respond to it?

MR PATEL:  I wouldn’t speak to internal diplomatic deliberations publicly, but I will just say that we take our responsibilities of foreign missions that we host in our country quite seriously, including the safety and security of relevant diplomats from foreign nations who may work and operate outside of the United States.

QUESTION:  One more, one more.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  As you probably know, Gonzalo Lira died in a Ukrainian prison.  Do you intend to investigate this case?  

And on a side note, Putin didn’t cite any orders claiming that the sale of Alaska was illegitimate, just to clarify.

MR PATEL:  Maybe you and Alex can talk after class.

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

MR PATEL:  Hash this out.

I’m not aware of that case.  I really would refer to Ukrainian authorities to speak to that.

Ksenija, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Turning to Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic said today that he spoke to Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien concerning Kosovo central bank decision to eliminate the Serbian dinar in Kosovo.  What steps, if any, is the United States going to take to prevent the Kosovo central bank from suspending the Serbian dinar on February 1st?

MR PATEL:  Ksenija, I’m going to have to check back on that.  Let me check with the team and I’ll get back to you.

All right, go ahead, in the back.  Yeah, you.

QUESTION:  Hello.  The first question regarding to the Qatar.  Like, we have, like, been reading and listening comments from Israeli leaders that Qataris are involved with the – like, Qatar’s leaders and Qatar’s state is, like, involved with Hamas, allied with Hamas, and, like, they must be punished.  Like, how much, like, U.S. agree or disagree that is Qatar involved with Hamas, not just like in October 7th, like – but in the – like, all the process of Hamas operations.  This is first question.  

Second question is:  Why the U.S.A. disagree with this international court trial?  Like, if you are assured that Israeli are, like, very innocent, like, they are very moral, they don’t do something wrong over, like, ten hundreds – they is, like, they are amazing, like they don’t do anything wrong.  So why you are afraid that you go to this trial if you are assured that they are innocent, like, can you justify or explain, like, why are – why you are worried or afraid that Israel subject to the trial?

The last question is related to the Houthi.  Do we expect that U.S.A. could escalate, like, their operation against the Houthi until, like, invading Yemen or, like, do – like do, like, an escalation in terms of bombing Yemen or, like, they are just going to do some small operation?  Even the Houthi – like, doesn’t care about what are you doing.

MR PATEL:  Okay.  Let me work backwards.  

QUESTION:  Three questions.  Yeah, three. 

MR PATEL:  Thank you.  I heard you.  Let me work backwards.  First, as it relates to the Houthis, the United States is not interested in any escalation, but it is never acceptable for malign actors to target international vessels, to target legitimate commerce that is flowing through the Red Sea.  We’re talking about international waters that allow 30 percent of global container shipping to flow through those waters – 15 percent of seaborne trade.  This is a waterway that is vital.  And we will always take appropriate steps to hold those accountable that put things like legitimate commerce, civilians, U.S. personnel, in harm’s way.  

QUESTION:  But no invasion?                         

MR PATEL:  No, no.  Number two, as it relates to your question on the ICJ, I think you are taking our comments a little bit out of context.  What we have been clear about is that the accusation that Israel is committing genocide, we believe that accusation is unfounded.  That being said, we have not hesitated to make clear – and I did so at the beginning of this press briefing, which, I will add, you were a little late to – that Israel has a moral and strategic imperative to take additional steps to ensure that impacts on civilians are minimized.  

QUESTION:  But the — 

MR PATEL:  We have been very clear that more steps need to be taken, and that the toll on Palestinian civilians and the lives that have already been lost are far too many.  And then what was your first question?  

QUESTION:  First question related to Qatar, like I wish to – if you can make clear — 

MR PATEL:  Ah, yes, yes.  On — 

QUESTION:  And like – because Ben-Gvir and his — 

MR PATEL:  I will just say that as it relates to Qatar, they are a key regional partner and an important relationship that the United States has in the region.  And they have been an important conduit to a lot of the work that we are – that we are doing as it relates to the conflict in Gaza as well as other regional priorities as well.

Go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  So new Polish Prime Minister Tusk is in Kyiv today.  He pledged further assistance in the form of financing to purchase weapons and announced a reset of relations.  Do you have a reaction to that given the halt of U.S. assistance and – the Europeans sides, at least, there’s no sign of stopping that.  And also, while in Kyiv, Tusk also suggested that the – that Hungary’s prime minister is quietly supporting Russia and said that – that he’s betraying the West.  I wonder if that’s – if you agree with that statement.  

MR PATEL:  On the second one, I don’t have anything to offer on that.  Hungary is an important NATO Ally.  

As it relates to the first part of your question, we of course welcome our Polish allies taking steps – and really any country taking whatever steps that is feasible within their systems – to continue to support our Ukrainian partners.  As it relates to the United States, you heard the Secretary talk about this last week.  It is so imperative that Congress act as swiftly as possible so that we can continue to advance our own national security interests by supporting our Ukrainian partners.  And to echo Secretary Blinken, there is no secret pot of money here.  We need to work with Congress to get this done.  

But the point that you raised about Poland is an important one because not only of course is the United States – has the United States taken intense steps over the past two years to support our Ukrainian partners – but other countries – a part of the Alliance, even outside of the Alliance – have taken appropriate steps to do so as well.  And we welcome any country that’s able to do it.  

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.  And two separate topics.  Can you please fill us in on the administration’s current policy of confiscation of Russian state assets?  Any progress on that front?  

MR PATEL:  This is something that we are just continuing to work towards with our G7 and other likeminded partners.  There’s of course, Alex, a lot of complexity when you look at – through the varying different government systems and international laws that exist, and so we’re continuing to have those conversations.  We have no doubt, though, that this could be an important conduit to hold the – continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable, but I don’t have anything to announce for you today.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And second topic on the South Caucasus.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah.  Yeah.  

QUESTION:  The Secretary in December invited Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers to Washington to discuss Karabakh conflict.  Is the invitation still pending?  Was it rejected or —   

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any – I don’t have any scheduling updates to offer, Alex, but we look forward to talking more about this soon. 

QUESTION:  Russia – Lavrov said that Azerbaijan’s Aliyev is willing to go to Moscow to discuss Karabakh conflict.  Do you feel same appetite to Washington talks?  

MR PATEL:  You know that we have the same appetite, Alex.  As someone who has covered this and worked and asked questions about this for at least as long as I’ve been here, you know firsthand that this is something that the United States and that the Secretary is interested in and that this is something that we’re going to work very hard to get across the finish line in close coordination with Armenia and Azerbaijan and the others who are working on this issue, including Coordinator Bono.

In the back.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  United States daily expresses its regret for the killing of the civilians in Gaza.  And they still kill – now more than 24 killed, civilians, and there is under the rubble.  At the same time, United States refused the ceasefire in Gaza.  So – and also the only state to use – last time – vetoes to ceasefire.  You don’t think this is a conflict of the position?

MR PATEL:  It’s not because a ceasefire is not a policy that we’re pursuing, because we believe that important steps need to be taken to degrade Hamas so that it cannot carry out the October 7th attacks over and over and over again.  That’s not hyperbole.  That’s not me up here exaggerating.  That’s the stated intent of Hamas.  They want to conduct October 7th every day if they had the opportunity to.  And so currently Israel is conducting an operation to take steps to degrade Hamas so that it cannot do that.  And we believe that that is something that they must and should do.  Simultaneously, we believe that there is a moral and strategic imperative to hold – to take steps so that civilians are not impacted at the rate that they have been.  

But while we have this conversation, let’s not forget that over the course of this, it is Hamas that has been co-locating itself with civilian infrastructure.  It is Hamas that has been using facilities like schools and hospitals and apartment buildings as headquarters, co-locating itself within civilians.  So we shouldn’t lose sight of that also.  

One other – go – no, no, no, behind you.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Let me go back to the Treasury sanctions on —   

MR PATEL:  Sure. 

QUESTION:  — Iran-backed militias.  How would you believe the sanctions on Iranian-backed figures and militia groups are impacted – impacting their abilities?  Because they say we don’t have any assets in the United States, and Iran and its backed militias use different tactics to evade sanctions.

MR PATEL:  Well, the important thing to remember here also is that sanctions are not the only steps that we are – we have at our disposal, but we also believe that our sanctions are a vital tool against those who try to misuse not only their own economic systems but also try to subvert the U.S. financial systems as well.  I already offered an example of how Fly Baghdad had been working closely with the IRGC already.   

Okay.  All right.  Thanks, everybody.  

QUESTION:  Hold on, I just wanted a last —  

MR PATEL:  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Last and possibly least.  I noticed that it is now past halftime at the football match in Ivory Coast that the Secretary is going to.  And Equatorial Guinea is beating the hosts one to nothing.  Who is the Secretary rooting for in this?  

MR PATEL:  The Secretary is looking forward to just catching a great game and seeing —     

QUESTION:  So he has no —

MR PATEL:  — the sport of soccer, or football, played.  

QUESTION:  He has no interest in either rooting or wagering either way?  

MR PATEL:  No, he is very glad to be hosted, to be catching this match.  As you know, Matt, he’s a big soccer fan, and I know he is enjoying what seems to be turning out to be a great game.  And while I have the floor, my condolences on the Bills yesterday.  

QUESTION:  Yeah, I’m still recovering.

MR PATEL:  So you and Under Secretary Allen can commiserate together.

QUESTION:  Yeah. 

MR PATEL:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.  

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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