1:37 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Apologies for being a little bit tardy. I do not have anything off the top, so Simon, would you like to kick us off?
QUESTION: Sure, yeah. I wonder if you have any up-to-date information following the weekend’s events in Russia. Particularly interested if the U.S. is tracking changes to the status of the Wagner Group. I know your – Matt said the other day – talked about a successor organization. What is your view of what’s going to be replacing Wagner’s presence in some countries, particularly African countries where they’re operating?
MR PATEL: So, Simon, I don’t have any updates or anything to share beyond what Matt spoke to about this earlier in this week. We continue to monitor the situation and will continue to be in close coordination with our allies and partners. As we’ve said before, this is an internal Russian matter, and it’s too soon to know the impacts, both for the immediate region, but to your other question about potential impacts in other parts of the world. The one thing I will just make clear is that our support for Ukraine will continue. That’s a point that President Biden made directly with President Zelenskyy over the weekend and in his conversations with our allies and partners. And as you all know, yesterday we did announce a new package for Ukraine as well.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up?
MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.
MR PATEL: Leon, we have not parsed our words about the destabilizing impact that the Wagner Group has when it has a presence in any country. We’ve certainly spoken to this about – a great deal when it comes to the Wagner Group’s operations throughout Africa. I’m of course not going to speculate on any forthcoming actions or things that could happen internally, but would just again reiterate that the Wagner Group has a very clear track record. There’s a reason that they and Mr. Prigozhin are designated entities and why the U.S. takes – will continue to take steps to hold them and affiliated individuals accountable for their destabilizing activities.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea on the figure, on the number of Wagner Group that relocated in Belarus?
MR PATEL: I don’t. I don’t have any figures or metrics to offer from up here.
Matt, anything? No? Okay. Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: A couple on Wagner, Vedant.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Two questions about Wagner. Beyond yesterday’s sanctions, have there been any attempts over the past couple of days to reach out to African leaders and explain to them – or discourage them from cooperating with Wagner?
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements or conversations that we’ve had, Alex. But we, as I’ve said, have not parsed words or been unambiguous about how we feel the Wagner Group operates, how we feel they – what we feel their impacts on various countries are and the kind of state that they leave countries and its natural resources in. So this is something that we’ll continue to engage with our allies and partners on, including on the continent of Africa and elsewhere, very regularly.
QUESTION: Sure. Now that – that’s fair enough. Now that Putin acknowledged that he has been funding Wagner Group, I’m just wondering if it changed your view of their presence in Africa and other countries. Do you see this as an invasion from Russia, or what is – how do you name the name of this game?
MR PATEL: I don’t have a new or updated nomenclature to offer you, Alex. What was true last week, which is – is that when the Wagner Group has a presence in a country, that country finds itself more susceptible to destabilizing actions, it finds itself more susceptible to its natural resources being exploited and taken advantage of. All those things that were true last week continue to be – remain true today.
QUESTION: You have recognized – designated Wagner Group as a global criminal organization. As you know, we are just days before – ahead of Russian Government’s intention to integrate them into Russian military. Do you have any red line there? I mean, a criminal – members of a criminal organization will officially serve in the Russian military.
MR PATEL: I don’t – I don’t understand your question, Alex.
QUESTION: Because you know that there have been outside contacts with Wagner members. They have a deadline, until July 1st.
MR PATEL: I certainly —
QUESTION: Does it change your —
MR PATEL: I don’t have a new designation to preview. You’ve heard us talk about the Wagner Group and our designation of them as a transnational crime organization. I’ve spoken about this before. Our assessment continues to be that these – this is a group that is – continues to be motivated by profit, which is one of the many factors that go into a transnational crime organization designation.
QUESTION: Then a final question on Ukraine. A Kramatorsk strike today. Do you have any readout on that? I know that we have been talking about particular strikes from time to time, but this is a strike on a pizza restaurant, and this has been done by the Russian army using Iskander, according to the Ukrainian side, Iskander missiles, which means they have deliberately targeted that particular civilian area and that object. Do you have any —
MR PATEL: Well, Alex, the U.S. unequivocally condemns the targeting of civilians and offers our sincere condolences to those lost in this most recent strike in the city center. We are appalled by this but, unfortunately, not surprised by Russia’s conduct. This is another example of Russia’s continuing escalation and the sheer brutality of its war of aggression in Ukraine.
QUESTION: Do you —
MR PATEL: While others are focused on pursuing a way to end this war, Russia is again undertaking strikes, sending drones and missiles into residential areas of a neighboring country. As you so noted, Alex, yesterday they hit a popular shopping center, a restaurant that has been frequented by volunteers, by families, by journalists, killing and injuring scores of people. It continues to be – their conduct and their actions in Ukraine continue to be unacceptable.
Anything else on this before we move away?
QUESTION: I have question.
MR PATEL: Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Kim Jong-un – North Korean Kim Jong-un sent a message saying he support Russian President Putin. What do you think the prospect for the close relationship between the Wagner Group and North Korea will be?
MR PATEL: What do I think – what?
QUESTION: What do you think the prospect for the close relationship between the Wagner Group and the North Koreans will be?
MR PATEL: I am certainly not going to speculate or try and get in the mind of Kim Jong-un.
QUESTION: And one more questions. The members of the House national defense committee visit to Taiwan yesterday. It is part of implementing the National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress. China is offended again. How can you comment on this?
MR PATEL: Well, I will let these respective member offices speak to their own travels. But what I will just say broadly, though, is that members of Congress have traveled to Taiwan before. There has been historical precedent. And again, as you’ve seen us speak about this in previous iterations, this is no reason to incite tensions or to change the status quo. That’s certainly not what the United States is seeking. But again, this is not Executive Branch travel and I will let these congressional member offices speak to their own engagements.
QUESTION: Thanks. Liam Cosgrove with The Grayzone. I just wanted to follow up on my question yesterday about whether the U.S. supports Ukraine President Zelenskyy’s recent decision to postpone presidential elections due to martial law.
MR PATEL: So this is a little bit of a hypothetical, and certainly don’t – as you know, we tend to not engage in hypotheticals. But what I will say is that we continue to stay in close touch with our Ukrainian partners. It’s also an opportunity – I’d remind you that martial law is only in place because Russia continues to wage a full-scale illegal war against Ukraine and its people. Ukraine and its people are fighting for survival, fighting to defend their independence, and as President Zelenskyy has often made clear, they’re fighting for their democracy.
It’s also important to remember that nearly 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory is occupied, and tens of millions of citizens are displaced because of Russia’s war. We’ve made clear our commitment in supporting Ukraine in its fight, and we support a careful constitutional approach to keeping democracy strong in wartime. And we also strongly support the role of civil society and the role that it’ll continue to play in providing input, analysis, and guidance on maintaining strong democratic processes and institutions.
QUESTION: So it’s hypothetical as to whether the war will be going on during those presidential elections, but his decision to postpone the election was not hypothetical. He said that – he made a televised announcement about that. Do you support that decision specifically?
MR PATEL: I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond what I just laid out. This is something that we’re going to continue to remain in close touch with our Ukrainian partners on.
QUESTION: Wait. What exactly does keeping democracy safe in wartime mean to you?
MR PATEL: Matt, we partner —
QUESTION: Does that mean – I mean, does that mean, like – just look at our own history. Alien and Sedition Acts. What does that mean?
MR PATEL: I’m – certainly it’s not for me to be prescriptive about. What I am saying – or for the U.S. Government to be prescriptive about. What I was simply saying is that we, as it relates to the multiplicity of support that we are offering our Ukrainian partners – of course we talk a lot about our support in the security space, but there is also other areas: humanitarian support, support for civil society, and things of that nature.
QUESTION: But in other places you have been not supportive of having elections held while there is conflict going on, Syria being one – an example. I’m just not sure I understand your response to the question because, I mean, if Ukraine – you’re right that there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people displaced. Voting would be difficult under the current circumstances. Why would you not give your support to something like a postponement?
MR PATEL: Matt, we’re just – I don’t have a formal decision to – or announcement to offer. This obviously is something that is for our Ukrainian partners to determine. We of course will continue to remain in close touch with them throughout this process, as we have remained in close touch and support with them as it relates to the broader illegal invasion by Russia. But I don’t have any additional updates here.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Sudan. A couple weeks ago, a State Department official has said that the department is preparing or was preparing recommendations for the administration regarding the next steps in Sudan. Is there any update in this regard?
MR PATEL: We’ll continue considering all the tools at our disposal to stop the tragic, senseless, and devastating conflict that started and continues to be perpetuated by the SAF and the RSF, and we’ll continue to work with our partners to ensure that this is a coordinated and sustained process with direct pressure. I don’t have any updates on any forthcoming designations or actions, but we’ll continue to work through those processes and remain in close touch with our allies and partners as well.
MR PATEL: So broadly speaking, we are engaging extensively to try and get Austin Tice home. We have pursued every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family, and we’ll continue to do so. This includes discussing the case with a number of countries in the region, and we’ll continue to work at this until we see a safe return to the United States. As President Biden has said before and as has the Secretary, we are not ceasing our efforts to find Austin Tice and bring him home.
QUESTION: Some people say that the talks include political and other topics too, not only Austin Tice.
MR PATEL: As I’ve – you’ve heard me directly say before, the U.S. is willing to engage with anyone who can help secure progress toward the release of U.S. nationals. In order to protect these various avenues, I’m not going to get into specifics of diplomatic discussions. But we are willing to talk to whomever necessary to accomplish that goal, and that certainly does not signal a broader change in our relationship. And you’ve heard me speak about our vision and our viewpoint on the conflict in Syria and what we view as an appropriate resolution, and that is one of course – one that is consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
MR PATEL: Do you have a specific question there, Michel?
QUESTION: Are you still talking to them about the nuclear deal, about the prisoners and other things?
MR PATEL: What I will say is that broadly we continue to remain in close touch with allies and partners, including in the region, about the various areas of concern that we have with Iran. I will note that rumors about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading. And we’ll continue to remain focused on constraining Iran’s destabilizing behavior through diplomatic pressure, close coordination with our allies and partners, and de-escalation steps in the region as well.
We also, on detainees, continue to work to bring home the American citizens that are wrongfully detained in Iran. I unfortunately don’t have an update for you, but it’s something that we will continue to work for tirelessly. Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens, including for the use of political leverage, is absolutely outrageous, and we’ll continue to be committed to securing the freedom of all U.S. citizens.
QUESTION: Thank you. Switching topics.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: But first, Eid Mubarak to all those celebrating.
MR PATEL: Eid Mubarak to all celebrating.
QUESTION: According to Haaretz, both the former secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and former UNHCR Mary Robinson, who was also the former president of Ireland, concluded their visits last week to both Israel and the West Bank, and they have concluded that Israel is drifting into apartheid, that the government is driving Jewish supremacy. So I wonder if you are aware of these reports or if you have seen them and if you have any comment on this. Do you agree with their assessment?
MR PATEL: So I will let the representatives from the UN speak to and clarify their own comments, Said, but I will reiterate that that is not a term that we have used to describe Israel’s actions. And broadly, we continue to work towards a negotiated two-state solution along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. The international community has also worked tirelessly toward this goal, and the United States along with our international partners are going to continue to pursue this. We continue to believe that it’s important to advance equal measures of justice, of freedom, of dignity, and those are important means to advance a negotiated two-state solution.
QUESTION: One other issue. Today the – Secretary Blinken said that the continuing violence hinders any efforts to sort of normalize between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or efforts at normalizing between – and he’s citing the violence that is happening. He cited of course settlements, the violence, the sectoral violence and so on. But then you know we are looking at four months after the attack on Huwara, the village, fourth months ago and so on, and nothing really has happened. No one has been prosecuted.
So other than expressing these sentiments, I mean, it’s the same old question. So what can the U.S. do to make sure that those perpetrators are brought to justice?
MR PATEL: Said, the Secretary and this department have been unambiguous on this issue. The United States continues to be deeply concerned by the rising trend of extremist settler violence. We unequivocally condemn all acts of extremist violence, whether it be by Israelis or Palestinians.
To your question though, accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence. In the case of Huwara, we welcome the IDF’s condemnation of these acts and expect the Israeli Government to ensure full accountability for those responsible for those attacks, including legal action and restitution of lost homes and properties as they deem appropriate. And we regularly raise this issue broadly with our Israeli counterparts.
Israeli security officials themselves have characterized this violence as national terrorism. We very much welcome steps that are being taken, Said, including the June 25th joint statement by top Israeli security officials condemning extremist settler violence against Palestinian citizens. And we equally welcome similar statements made by Defense Minister Gallant yesterday, including his commitment to hold perpetrators accountable under the law.
Anything else before we move away?
QUESTION: On Israel.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he’s been invited to China. I wonder sort of in the context of that and the visit by the Palestinian Authority president as well to China, do you see China playing – potentially playing a role in securing peace in the Middle East?
MR PATEL: So, Simon, to take a step back, as Secretary Blinken and others in this department have said, countries can have a relationship with the PRC just as we do. And we expect the Netanyahu government and the prime minister to raise issues of their interest and of mutual concern on a potential visit to Beijing. I of course will let them speak to any of their own forthcoming travel.
What I will say though is that – what I can speak about is the United States. And the United States is going to continue to remain deeply engaged in the region, both as it relates to continuing to pursue and advocate and push for and work with the parties directly as it relates to a negotiated two-state solution, but also in – when it comes to regional integration and normalization as well. That continues to not only be a priority for this administration but also a direct priority for the Government of Israel and the government of – governments of many of our regional partners also.
QUESTION: And there’s still no invite for the prime minister to come here?
MR PATEL: So the White House has spoken to any potential invites for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I certainly wouldn’t speak to any updates on that from here and don’t have any to share, and so would just refer you to them to speak to any forthcoming visits. What I can say though is that we engage and talk with our Israeli counterparts and our Israeli partners directly. You just saw the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Cohen. Assistant Secretary Leaf was recently in the region directly engaging with our Israeli partners. Ambassador Nides also continues to talk to his counterparts. We talk to the members of the Israeli mission here in D.C. as well as throughout the United States. We continue to engage on these issues directly.
QUESTION: It wouldn’t be concerning to you if like your – your major ally in the region, prime minister of your major ally in the region, went to China before coming here?
MR PATEL: I think it’s important to not get caught up in things like sequencing and choreographics like that, and it’s more important to stay focus on the substance of the issues. And the substance of the issues are that we are in direct contact and engagement directly with our Israeli partners, and we have a number of issues at the nexus of our relationship that we look forward to continuing to engage on bilaterally.
Anything else on this before moving away?
QUESTION: On Syria.
MR PATEL: Leon’s had his hand up. I’ll come to you after that. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Moving away —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There was an incident – a serious incident today – for Armenian soldiers who were killed. What is your take on that? And second, of course since there are talks which are ongoing here, are they suspended or will they continue as planned until tomorrow, or does this incident impact those talks in any way?
MR PATEL: So first let me say – and thank you for raising this, Leon – we are deeply disturbed by the loss of life in Nagorno-Karabakh, and we offer our condolences to the families of all of those who were killed. These latest incidents underscore the need to refrain from hostilities and for a durable and dignified peace.
The U.S. is committed to assisting the parties in achieving this goal, and Secretary Blinken is directly engaged in the peace process. Direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a durable and dignified peace. Yesterday’s meetings with the foreign ministers were constructive, and we continue to build on those discussions today and tomorrow as the peace talks continue. So there’s no change in the schedule, Leon. This is going to be something that we’re going to continue to work on.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up that, Vedant?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So can you assure us that the foreign ministers are laser focused on negotiation, given the tension that’s —
MR PATEL: Alex, I am not their spokespeople, so it would be inappropriate for me to characterize that at all. What I can say is, though, that this is something that the Secretary is going to be directly engaged on and continues to be directly engaged on this process, as is other members of our team, including our senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, Lou Bono. This is something that we’ll continue to remain directly engaged on with these foreign ministers. As you know, the Secretary had the opportunity to meet with them both bilaterally and trilateral yesterday, and we look forward to having these peace talks continue.
QUESTION: Just so (inaudible), is the Senior Advisor Bono in the room today as well?
MR PATEL: He – I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of the room and things like that. But he continues to be at the summit site and directly engaged on these processes.
QUESTION: Any concern on your end that ministers might talk the talk, but when push comes to shove, they turn to tension that’s happening in the region, and they might prefer to freeze the conflict, which actually serves more Russian interest?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into what is an active process, Alex. What I can speak to is the United States’ role, is that we’re very much glad to be convening and hosting this, and the role that we’ve played similar to the last time that we hosted this – these kinds of talks earlier this year. As I said, the Secretary had the opportunity to meet with these foreign ministers. This is something that the department is going to continue to remain deeply engaged on, and I don’t have any other updates to offer on this.
QUESTION: Just to clarify – just on this issue, to – just to be absolutely sure. Can you confirm that there are meetings today?
MR PATEL: Yes. There’s been no change in schedule, Leon. The meetings —
MR PATEL: Yes, the meeting – there’s been no – there has been – the Week Ahead schedule that was conveyed to you, there’s been no change.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) tomorrow —
MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview tomorrow’s – any of tomorrow’s press engagements, but the schedule is certainly going to continue as planned.
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Syrian neighboring countries are suffering from the drugs and also captagon pills are exported from Syria with the support of the Syrian Government, that they are using against some security forces in the region. Today, Iraqi police has seized at about two thousand and fifty hundred captagon pills in Ramadi. Then there’s a big war on this drug in the region. What’s your position and stance in this drug war in the region, and how are you going to support the Middle East country to face this infiltration and smuggling drugs from Syria, especially countries like Iraq and Jordan?
MR PATEL: So captagon trafficking remains a serious problem with significant impacts on the region and across the world. We believe that this drug trade fuels corruption and stifles economic prosperity, and we’re continuing to work to combat narcotics trafficking through multiple efforts, including traditional law enforcement tools and capabilities. We’ll also continue to work with partners and allies in the region as well as partners in Congress, and we’ll continue to use all means at our disposal to combat the captagon trade.
QUESTION: Going back to indirect talks with Iran, I’ve heard your answer to Michele. But CNN reported today, citing official sources, that the talks have been resumed. Do you have anything new on that? And also, is DOS involved in this at all, or is NSA conducting the diplomacy for the time being?
MR PATEL: By DOS, do you the Department of State?
MR PATEL: So of course we are absolutely involved in our Iran policy broadly. That’s why we have an office for this issue to work on directly. And we continue to be deeply engaged in all aspects of the administration’s policies as it relates to Iran. But I will reiterate what I said to Michele, which is that rumors of an Iran deal, interim or otherwise, are false and they are misleading. Our policy has not changed, and we continue to remain deeply focused on Iran’s destabilizing behavior through diplomatic pressure, through close coordination with our allies and partners. And we are committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. So of course we are watching Iran’s actions and activities very closely.
As you’ve heard me say, we are – we prefer diplomacy, But we are preparing for all possible options and contingencies. And in – we are in full coordination with our allies and partners on this.
QUESTION: Okay. Allies and partner intelligence from EU countries suggests – this came out today – that Iran is potentially nearing its first-ever nuclear attack. Do you have the same assessment?
MR PATEL: I am certainly not going to speak to intelligence assessments from up here. You probably would know that by now. But what I will say is that as it relates to closely coordinating with our allies and partners in confronting the many challenges that are facing us as it relates to the Iranian regime, close coordination and partnership with our EU partners continues to be a big piece of that. So —
QUESTION: Okay. And going to Congress, a resolution sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee just came out. Their resolution rejects nuclear Iran, insists that Iran must not be able to ever obtain a nuclear weapon and also supports Israel in its freedom to act against Islamic Republic. Any comments on the – on this bipartisan resolution?
MR PATEL: Well, we certainly share the concerns about Iran’s nuclear advances, and I will say that our commitment to Israel and our commitment to Israel’s ability to defend itself are ironclad. This is what we have been clear about in our communications to Iran should it take any steps to further escalate tensions. The Biden administration has been clear that we are prepared to take action to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
Janne, go ahead.
MR PATEL: I don’t have anything – any updates on that, Janne, but I’m happy to check with the team, see if we have any readouts from there.
QUESTION: Okay. How is it different from the NCG – I mean Nuclear Consultative Group – I mean, group and this group?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m going to have to check with the team on that for specifics, Janne. But what I will just say is that our partnership with our ROK partners continues to be one of the most consequential and important for the Indo-Pacific region. We were pleased to be able to host our ROK partners at a state visit earlier this year. The Secretary had the opportunity to speak to his foreign minister counterpart just a number of weeks ago, and so we continue to remain deeply engaged with our South Korean partners on a number of issues.
Goyal, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two question on U.S.-India relations. First, as far as Prime Minister Modi’s visit last week, according to the media here and also in India and according to the also Indian American community and people in India, Prime Minister Modi received hero’s welcome in Washington at the White House and including here at the State Department. Where do we go from here now?
MR PATEL: Well, this isn’t an – and I spoke a little bit about this prior to the prime minister’s arrival. This is not about just a moment in time. What this is about is steps and efforts to deepen, strengthen – deepen and strengthen our relationship and our partnership with India. And we believe that last week’s visit was very successful. There were a number of announcements made between our two countries, including steps to strengthen semiconductor supply chains. You also saw the President and the prime minister and our two countries speak about engine coproduction as well as university research partnerships. Much of this was laid out in the joint statement.
So this is not about where we go from here. The answer to that is quite simple: We will continue to work closely with our partners in India to continue to deepen, strengthen this very important bilateral relationship.
QUESTION: Part two – thank you, sir – as far as President Obama’s comments on India are concerned, he – when he was in India – he became the only U.S. president visiting India twice, and when he was there he received very warm welcome from 1.2 billion people. And also at the same time, Indian American community supported him very well and he supported India. He was friends of India even today and friends of the Indian American community. As far as his comments are concerned – and I was there also with him in India. As far as his comments are concerned, does Secretary knows about his comments or any comments from the Secretary?
MR PATEL: Our – what I will say on behalf of the Secretary and the department, again, is that – what you just heard me say is that the state visit was a very successful state visit last week. It was an important opportunity to continue to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relationship with India. The two countries made a number of announcements, but as it relates to former President Obama’s comments, I just don’t have anything for you on that from here and would just refer you to his office for anything additional on that.
QUESTION: I’d like to quickly just – where are we as far as U.S.-India relations – I mean as far as human rights in India are concerned or minorities issues in India?
MR PATEL: Well, you heard Matt speak about this just yesterday. As it relates to human rights, as Secretary Blinken has said it before, for the United States, human rights are always on the agenda. And as it relates to our engagements with senior officials from any government, we continue to engage directly on the issues of human rights, and this is also something that you saw President Biden speak to directly in the press conference that he had during the state visit as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. On China, I just want to follow up the question from briefing yesterday on China’s anti-espionage law, which will go into effect on July 1st. Actually, I wasn’t quite sure about the answer you guys gave us yesterday. So does the U.S. Government have – in general have any position on this law or any concerns on this law? And also, how do you see the effect of this law on the U.S. companies doing business in China?
MR PATEL: Well, we are closely monitoring the passage of the PRC’s new counter-espionage law, which as written will greatly expand the scope of what they consider espionage activities. And we continue to press the PRC to allow foreign individuals, including journalists, NGOs, scholars, researchers, and including businesses, to operate in a safe and open working environment free of harassment and intimidation. The U.S. will continue to speak out for human rights and rule of law issues and promote accountability for the PRC’s repressive activities, which this of course would be one of them. But I don’t have any additional to offer as we’re continuing to assess and monitor the passage of this law.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Vedant Patel. For – I have two (inaudible) part of discussion. First part about Prime Minister Modi. When visited last week, it was a festive – big festival here. And at the East Room in the White House, when they both – the prime minister and President Biden were speaking in front of media, Prime Minister Modi was telling about one particular thing: the cross-border extremism that they will – the President and prime minister agreed they will work together to stop in India cross-border extremism. I just wanted to give you some information about when Khaleda Zia was in power in Bangladesh, there was 10 trucks, military-grade; arms was about to smuggle using Bangladeshi port to the Seven Sister in ULFA. And yeah, do you think that President and prime minister was talking about such a cross-border extremism? Yeah, they are – they will help each other to not to return such a regime to Bangladesh again? This is part one.
And second thing: Do you do any fact-check if somebody ask any question? For example, yesterday St. – about St. Martin Island that was mentioned that Bangladeshi prime minister was talking about USA.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: But as I seen that there was – from Bangladeshi prime minister there was never talking about USA. Any fact-check there from —
MR PATEL: So let me – let me take – let me take the first part. I certainly don’t want to speak for Prime Minister Modi, but as it relates to the United States, of course when we’re talking about these issues we’re looking at it through the lens of a broader security cooperation with the Republic of India, which of course this state visit was an opportunity to enhance and deepen our partnership on a number of these issues. I’m certainly not going to get into specifics or get technical on the various issues of security cooperation, but of course we look forward to deepening those with our Indian partners.
And on your second question, I just don’t have anything for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thank you.
Go ahead, Simon.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Yeah, just to go back to your – the answers you gave on Israel, I wondered – you said – I think you were citing Israeli officials calling attacks by settlers “terrorism.” Does the U.S. consider those attacks terrorism?
MR PATEL: It’s not for us to assign a nomenclature to, Simon. I was simply just sharing what Israeli officials have previously described it as.
QUESTION: But, I mean, you do call things terrorism in other contexts.
MR PATEL: I just don’t have any additional characterization to offer for you on this.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. But sorry, just wanted to clarify that.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wondered also if you would have any comment on the events in Sweden, this burning of the Quran at a protest, and I think Türkiye – Turkish officials have already responded. Does the U.S. have a specific comment on what happened and the impact this might have on your hopes of getting Sweden into NATO in the next few weeks?
MR PATEL: So let me say a couple things, Simon, and this is not something you haven’t heard us say before. You’ve said – we’ve said consistently that the burning of religious texts is disrespectful and hurtful, and what might be legal is certainly not necessarily appropriate. And so I will let the Government of Sweden and local law enforcement speak specifically or more about this particular incident.
But broadly, we continue to encourage Hungary and Türkiye to ratify the accession protocol of Sweden without delay so that we can welcome Sweden into the Alliance as soon as possible. We believe that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments under the trilateral memorandum agreement that was agreed with Finland and Türkiye on the margins of the Madrid Summit last year. We believe that Sweden is a strong, capable defense partner that shares NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security, and we continue to believe that Sweden should become a NATO member as soon as possible.
MR PATEL: Yeah, let me – I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Can you assess more investigation (inaudible) to understand whether or not this was done intentionally to sabotage the process?
MR PATEL: Well, certainly it’s not an area that we have jurisdiction over, Alex, so it’s not something that we would necessarily conduct an investigation on. What I will just reiterate again is that – you’ve heard me say this and when Ned was up here he’s spoken to this a great deal as well – is that the burning and tarnishment of religious texts can be deeply disrespectful and hurtful, and while certainly we also believe that people’s abilities of freedom of expression should be protected, what is legal is not always necessarily appropriate. These aren’t just our words. This is something that the prime minister of Sweden has also spoken to.
QUESTION: But in terms of timing, will it – does it raise eyebrows?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to – I’m not going to speculate or read into this at all, Alex.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Very quickly, Vedant.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are the talks with the Syrians in Oman totally focused on the safe return of Austin Tice or do they include other stuff?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions, Said. What I will just reiterate is that we are engaging extensively to try and get Austin Tice home. We will continue to pursue every channel to do so, including discussing this and raising this and working with a number of countries in the region as well.
Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: So during Secretary Blinken’s recent visit to China, President Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a dictator. And then afterwards, Blinken in an interview with CNN said Biden “speaks for all of us.” So I don’t personally disagree with that characterization, but given that Blinken was there on a diplomatic trip, it seems a bit counterproductive. And what’s the State Department’s official position on whether he’s a dictator and Blinken’s statements, Biden’s statements?
MR PATEL: Well, two things. First, I think you missed the briefing where we talked about this a great deal already, so I would point you to the transcript of that day, where your colleagues raised this a number of times. I don’t have anything different to offer than what the Secretary said. He is right. The President does speak for all of us, and the President has said that he will continue to speak candidly about China and our legitimate differences and disagreements.
And it should come as no surprise that sometimes we have tough things to say. We certainly are not the only country that has tough things to say. The President also believes in diplomacy, including the important trip that was undertaken by the Secretary. It is a responsible way to manage tensions. It is a responsible way to manage our competition with the PRC responsibly but also potentially collaborate on areas of potential cooperation on a number of transnational issues. We believe that Secretary Blinken had a good trip, made some progress, and we have every expectation that we will continue building on that progress.
QUESTION: How would you say relations are right now? Just a brief overview.
MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to – this is a – one of – as you’ve heard us say about the PRC, this is one of the most complex and consequential relationships of the 21st Century. It would be inappropriate to assign a singular adjective to it, so I will just say, again, that we believe that Secretary Blinken had a good trip, made some progress. We will continue building on some of this progress, and in a number of those ways the Secretary spoke about in his end-of-trip press conference in Beijing as well.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)
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