1:19 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything off the top today, so Matt, please.
QUESTION: I – this is probably a pointless exercise, but I’ll ask anyway if there’s anything new that you have to say about the Ukraine dam and what caused this to happen.
MR PATEL: We still conclusively don’t have anything additional to offer on what happened at this point, but that is a process that continues to be underway and we will share more information when we can. I will note, though, that 16,000 residents face immediate flood risk as a result of the damage and destruction, with an estimated 20,000 people needing to relocate. This flooding as a result of this puts not only homes, farms, and civilians at risk, but it also creates another challenge to maintaining safety in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as critically endangering the water supply to southern Ukraine, including Crimea. It additionally impacts the stability of the national power supply and threatens ecological systems and food security as well. But —
QUESTION: And what is —
MR PATEL: We don’t have additional – to your questions about attribution, I don’t have anything to —
QUESTION: Okay. But you suggested, at least, I think, at the beginning that you might – or you would have something to say about it some time in the future. Is that —
MR PATEL: This will – when we have more information to share, we certainly will. I don’t want to assign a timeline on it.
QUESTION: Is it an “if and when,” or is it a “when?”
MR PATEL: Matt, I mean —
QUESTION: I’m just – look, because we’ve been through this kind of song and dance before —
MR PATEL: I know.
QUESTION: — where you guys have said that, okay, we’re going to present stuff, and then it doesn’t happen.
MR PATEL: We will share information when we can.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PATEL: All right.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue that? Is there anything as a result – I think – you’re telling us about the attribution. But in terms of the investigation, if you want to call it that, in terms of what’s happened —
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into internal assessments and – but I will note that we continue to be in close touch with Ukrainian authorities on providing assistance to the civilians displaced, as well as continuing to assess what transpired. Again, it is a deeply alarming, it is a tragic outcome of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And so this is something we’ll continue to remain deeply engaged on. But I don’t have an updated assessment to offer on this.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up —
MR PATEL: On the same topic, Alex? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. There were reports last night that the U.S. possesses intel information indicating that Russia is behind it. Can you say —
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into intelligence assessments from up here, and as I told Matt, we don’t have any conclusively – anything to offer as to what happened. But when we do, we’ll make sure to share that information.
QUESTION: Given where we are right now – we regret what’s happening and we can’t say who is behind it – is it a concern on your end that this sends out the wrong signal to Russia to proceed with other plans, like Zaporizhzhia and others, because they feel like they’re greenlighted and the world will actually come late to it?
MR PATEL: Alex, at any kind of escalatory action that Russia has taken – and again, I want to be very careful that as it relates to this we are continuing to determine what happened, and I don’t have conclusively a steer to offer. But broadly, at every turn of this unjust and unlawful invasion into Ukraine, when Russia has taken reckless action – whether it be conducting violent activity so close to the nuclear power plant, which is something that we were talking about last year; their continued air strikes on Kyiv that has targeted civilians, civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure – we have called Russia out for this dangerous behavior. Not only that, we have continued to support our Ukrainian partners in their endeavors to defend their territorial integrity, to defend their sovereignty, and to defend their people.
We’ve also taken steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable. So we are not greenlighting anything. This – again, so as I said, this destruction was certainly alarming, and we are continuing to look into what transpired.
QUESTION: And one more follow-up on this, if I can have another. How much are you guys involved into rescuing efforts? And is there an assessment on how well-equipped is Ukraine in terms of addressing the emergency?
MR PATEL: We’re engaging directly with our Ukrainian partners about ways that we can provide assistance in – specifically as it relates to this displacement. But I don’t have anything new to offer beyond that.
QUESTION: On this issue.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: A very quick follow-up. There was a conversation between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan today, and he said that – he put the blame squarely on Ukraine. He said Ukraine was pushed by those that espouse or claim to espouse certain values, meaning probably you and the West. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PATEL: I don’t.
QUESTION: Did you see that?
MR PATEL: I don’t, Said. I have not seen those comments. I will say from the U.S. Government perspective we’re continuing to assess what conclusively happened. But I will use this opportunity to note that I would take anything President Putin says with a grain of salt.
Jenny, go ahead. You had your hand up. Oh, yeah – anything else on this before we move away, on this topic?
MR PATEL: Okay. I’ll come back to you, Jenny. Go ahead.
QUESTION: For a follow-up, President Erdogan proposed to establish an international commission to investigate the incident, and even he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy. Any moment from the United States side that Secretary Blinken would call the new Turkish foreign minister to talk on this? Because Erdogan proposing that Türkiye and United Nations should involve with that commission. Any side from the United States?
MR PATEL: So first, to take a little bit of a step back, I don’t have any call to read out or preview for you. Of course, Türkiye is an important partner and NATO Ally. I know the Secretary looks forward to speaking with his new counterpart very soon. I don’t have a schedule or timeline to offer on when that will happen, other than he looks forward to doing it as soon as possible.
Beyond that, the United States is continuing to look into what happened, and we continue to remain in close touch with Ukrainian authorities on this. But I certainly don’t have anything to offer on any establishment of an international investigatory body or anything like that.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue this?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the United States favorable in general to an international program on what happened?
MR PATEL: I think we’re getting a little cart before the horse here a little bit, Shaun. We’re still assessing what exactly transpired, and we are determining what steps we can take to support our Ukrainian partners and those who have been impacted and displaced by the flooding. And so I’m just certainly not going to get ahead of that process.
Anything else on this before we move away? Jenny, go ahead.
QUESTION: Following up on the Air India flight that was forced to land in Russia yesterday, do you have any updates on how many American citizens were on board, if there’s been any outreach from the State Department to those folks?
MR PATEL: So let me say a couple things. First, we understand that there were less than 50 U.S. citizens aboard that flight. We also understand that a relief aircraft is expected to arrive later today to assist the Air India flight and the passengers continue on with their route. I will defer to Air India to speak to any other specifics about their further movements and any of the technical issues.
We are not aware of any outreach from some of these American citizens to our embassy and consular officials in Russia, and so don’t have anything additional to offer.
QUESTION: And then separately, has there been any communication between officials in this building and the Canadian Government on the wildfires that are raging there that are affecting now the United States?
MR PATEL: Sure. So the U.S. is supporting Canada as it faces extreme wildfires, which based on our assessments is on track to be one of the largest natural disasters in Canadian history. Specifically, Jenny, and I will let some of these agencies speak more specifically to the work that they’re doing, but the U.S. Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior have provided 648 personnel as of June 7th to support Canada’s efforts to battle the ongoing wildfires. Additionally, several U.S. states and local municipalities are also providing support directly to Canadian provinces via agreements known as the Northwest and Northeast Compacts. But I will defer to our forest service and the Department of Interior to speak to anything more specific about —
QUESTION: So no communications from (inaudible) —
MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls or anything to read out, but certainly as a U.S. Government we are assisting, helping, engaging in the ways that we can.
Anything else on this before we move away? All right, Simon, go ahead.
QUESTION: A separate issue. On Sudan.
MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Firstly, I wonder if you have any update on the status of the talks in Jeddah, whether there’s any new kind of developments on that given the Secretary’s visit. But I also wanted to ask whether, since your colleague Matt had given us an update from the ceasefire monitoring team a couple weeks ago, I – or last week, I think it was – are you able to give us any sort of update on what the monitors are seeing in terms of potential – well, more than potential, but breaches of the ceasefire, especially given some reports of battles around an industrial complex in Khartoum close to fuel and gas depots? Are you able to sort of say what the —that monitoring mechanism is seeing at the moment?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to get into some of the specifics of these monitoring mechanisms and the work that’s being undertaken from here. I will note, though – and he asked a similar question yesterday – our belief continues to be that a diplomatic solution is what is needed to resolve a conflict, not a military one. We have continued to press both sides. We have imposed visa restrictions, levied economic sanctions, updated our business advisories, and we stand ready to take further action as well.
It’s also our viewpoint that once parties take steps to demonstrate their commitment to the Jeddah declaration of principles we, along with our partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are prepared to resume facilitation of these talks. We continue to remain engaged deeply on this, and continue to remain deeply engaged specifically with the SAF and RSF.
QUESTION: But previously from the podium has – there had been this kind of statement about possible breaches of the ceasefire. Has – obviously, that’s something that was an ongoing process to look at that. Has there been any conclusion of – from the U.S. Government side – this group breached the ceasefire in this way?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific assessments to offer on that from here.
I’m going to work the – I’ll come back to you, Shaun. I promise. Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Sorry, so just to confirm, peace talks have not resumed in Jeddah?
MR PATEL: We remain deeply engaged, but the formal resumption of talks has not yet taken place.
QUESTION: Okay, and on the trip to Saudi Arabia, are there any deliverables that you can kind of talk to you that that you’re hoping to achieve there?
MR PATEL: Well, I won’t get ahead of the Secretary, who will have the opportunity to have a press conference tomorrow, if I’m doing my math at the time difference correctly, from Riyadh. But you saw us put out reroutes both with for the – with the Secretary’s engagement with the crown prince and the foreign minister. And as you’ve heard us say previously, there is – of course continues to be a multiplicity of interests as it relates to our relationship with the kingdom, both continuing to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen, deepening collaboration on a number of areas whether it be security, cooperation, trade cooperation, addressing the climate crisis.
Of course, the kingdom has also played an integral role in the evacuation of American citizens as the violence in Sudan escalated. And they continue to be important partners as it relates to the Jeddah talks, and these are all things that I know that the Secretary raised and discussed in great deal with both the crown prince and the foreign minister. And he’s also there, of course, as you know, to take part in the engagements as it relates to the GCC and the D-ISIS ministerial. So I will let the Secretary say more over the duration of his trip.
Anything else on the region before we move away?
MR PATEL: Let me go to Janne. I’ll come back to – actually, I’ll – go ahead, Diyar. Janne, I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yeah. A pro-Iranian group, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, was to resume their struggle to expel the U.S. troops in Iraq, and saying in a statement that this time they are preparing for something way different and big. And also two more Lebanese Hizballah armed wings established in Iraq since last month. Does the U.S. takes these threats seriously? And how do you deal with the situation in Iraq that the Iranian proxies have seized the power in Baghdad on getting the state?
MR PATEL: So we of course take threats seriously, and our number one priority continues to be the safety of our personnel abroad. We also continue to be immensely concerned about Iranian influence, that undermines the stability and integrity of not just the region, but of Iraq’s sovereignty and its national institutions, as well as the well-being of the Iraqi people. We continue to support Iraq sovereignty and we continue to partner with Iraq to strengthen its state institutions as well.
QUESTION: One last question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Bashar Assad of Syria is returning to the regional arena and going forward with normalizing its relations with the countries in the region. Does the U.S. supports the idea of the U.S.-backed Kurdish administration in Syria to – for a formal relations with Damascus and also to secure their future of the semi-autonomous region with Bashar Assad regime? How – have you given the Kurds green light to go back to Damascus?
MR PATEL: So we do not support the creation of a separate state in northeast Syria. We believe that durable stability in Syria and the greater region can only be achieved in a process that we believe represents the will of the Syrian people. And that is what is outlined through UN Security Council resolution 2254. The Secretary and others in this building have made our position quite clear that we don’t support normalization with the Assad regime without authentic progress that is consistent with resolution 2254.
Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Regarding the stability of contaminated water in Fukushima, Japan, what concerns do the United States have about the safety of this charge of radioactively contaminated water in Fukushima, Japan?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics on this, Janne. I would have to check with the team and then we can get back with you.
QUESTION: But can you tell us the IAEA’s inspections for this?
MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m happy to check with the team and get back to you, Janne.
QUESTION: Okay, I have another one on the North Korea’s cyber hacking. And how is the U.S. responding to North Korea’s cryptocurrency and cyber hacking? And can you tell us more about its recent achievement (inaudible)?
MR PATEL: We – Janne, we have not hesitated to take action as it relates to any of the malign and destabilizing actions that the DPRK has taken, whether it be their ballistic missiles program but also other destabilizing and malign activities, whether it be its egregious violations of human rights but also threats in the cyber space as well. And we continue will to work in close coordination bilaterally and trilaterally with the ROK and Japan and will continue to do so.
Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: On Iran.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Haaretz today reported, citing Israeli defense official, that an interim deal with Iran is imminent and it’s advancing faster than expected. Any reactions? Any explanation?
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to respond to rumors or leaks of diplomatic conversations, which of course have a tendency to be false and misleading. You have heard me, you’ve heard the Secretary, you’ve heard President Biden speak quite clearly that the U.S. is committed to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal on a verifiable and durable basis. The President has also been clear, as has the Secretary, that we’ve not removed any option from the table, and so I will just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. An on board of the – board of governors meeting, in her statement, Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to Vienna, is saying that Marivan case – Marivan is one of those three suspicious sites – is not closed and the Iranian side explanation does not constitute a closure. What does this mean? And bottom line, what is your assessment of the latest IAEA report? Is Iran cooperating, they are not cooperating – because the statement is not what we were talking about few days ago when the quarterly report came out.
MR PATEL: So to take a step back, Director General Grossi’s latest report made clear that Iran continues to expand its nuclear activities in a way that have no credible civilian purpose. We believe the IAEA has undertaken extensive efforts to engage Iran on many of these longstanding questions related to safeguards, related to obligations. And we’re glad to see that the IAEA and Iran were able to come to an agreement to increase the frequency and intensity of inspections at Iran’s enrichment facilities. Still, cooperation from the Iranian regime remains significantly lacking, and it certainly falls short of the expectations that were outlined by the board in November. And so we continue to urge Iran to fully cooperate with the agency and the implementation of its commitment under the March joint statement with the IAEA.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving onto the Palestinian —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — Israeli issue, I want to ask about the visa waiver —
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: — and where we are in this process, what progress has been made. It’s been said that we’re looking at the date of July 1st for a trial period to begin for a short period – four weeks and so on – so if you could clarify all that. And it’s – I mean, it is – it also alleged that the American Ambassador Tom Nides is basically going over the head of the State Department and DHS directly to the White House because he’s negotiating a watered down version on what reciprocity means for Palestinian Americans. So if you could really explain this to us. What role is basically the U.S. embassy in Israel – is playing? I’m just going – I mean, I have many more questions, but I’ll settle for this portion.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So first, I’m certainly not going to engage in any diplo-town gossip as it relates to the engagement of anybody on what we think is a very important issue as it relates to our relationship with our Israeli partners. Of course, this is something that Ambassador Nides, this department, many across the interagency are deeply engaged on, and it’s something that we are working in direct tandem with, with all of the relevant entities, to have a resolution.
Broadly, though, Said, I don’t have any announcement to make as it relates to a potential pilot program or travel program. I don’t have anything to announce as it relates to that. But you’ve heard me be quite clear about this. To us, reciprocity means extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals – all of them – including Palestinian and Arab Americans to travel to and throughout Israel. This, as I said, includes Americans on the Palestinian population registry.
It’s our viewpoint that what we want this to be is that visa reciprocity in the Visa Waiver Program would mean that as a general principle, any American – that includes Palestinian and Arab American – will be able to travel visa-free to Israel for a short-term stay up to 90 days. They would be able to enter Israel without any hindrance through any port of entry, including Ben Gurion Airport, travel to any location in Israel, as well as transiting through Israel to and from the West Bank. And as I said, this includes all American citizens and nationals.
QUESTION: Okay. So it doesn’t mean that – including some sort of concessions to the Palestinians like the G4, whatever it is, and so on.
MR PATEL: This —
QUESTION: That’s not – that is totally independent (inaudible).
MR PATEL: I am telling you what reciprocity means to us.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Let me ask you about —
QUESTION: Before you leave that, though, I mean, American citizens, if they aren’t Palestinian Americans – non-Palestinian American Americans already have visa freedom to travel to Israel. Isn’t the reciprocity in this case the bigger amount in terms of numbers of people? Isn’t it allowing Israeli citizens to come into the U.S. without a visa?
MR PATEL: What do you mean?
QUESTION: Well, I understand what you’re saying about reciprocity and the importance of it and the importance that Israel treats Palestinian Americans the same as – and Arab Americans more broadly – the same way that it treats other Americans. But what the Israelis want is for their citizens to come in – to be able to come to the United States without a visa.
MR PATEL: That is —
QUESTION: That’s —
MR PATEL: That’s —
QUESTION: That’s – yeah, that’s the issue here. And you’re – but are – I just want to make sure. You’re saying that you’re prepared to do that as long as they extend reciprocity —
MR PATEL: I —
QUESTION: — that the Israelis extend the same courtesy to Palestinian and Arab Americans going to Israel or going to Israel to transit into the West Bank?
MR PATEL: Matt, I certainly am not going to make visa policy here and negotiate from up here.
QUESTION: Well, I’m just asking you to clarify what you just said —
MR PATEL: But what —
QUESTION: — which I think that’s what I understood you to say, but I want to make sure.
MR PATEL: I am just sharing what we view reciprocity as. As it relates to the American citizen equity of this, I’m happy to check further.
QUESTION: Okay. But the give here, if there is to be a deal, if there is to be a give from the U.S., it’s allowing all Israeli citizens to come to the United States without a visa, right?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the negotiations from here. I’ve been clear about what reciprocity means to us, and I will have no doubt that we will have something more formal to announce somewhere down the line as it relates to this that I know you and Said will both ask about when that – whenever that day comes.
QUESTION: Fine. So you —
MR PATEL: I’m going to – anything else, Said, before I move away?
QUESTION: I want – yeah, I want to ask you just a follow-up —
MR PATEL: And then I’ll come to you, Shaun.
QUESTION: — on the Roger Waters —
MR PATEL: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: — issue that was discussed in this room a couple days ago, and the AP articles that our esteemed colleague wrote, Matt, in – yesterday. And you responded to him that Roger Waters has a long track record of using anti-Semitic tropes and so on, and then you went on to say Special Envoy Lipstadt’s quote tweet speaks for itself, that the concert in question which took place in Berlin contained imagery that is deeply offensive to the Jewish people and so on.
Now, my question to you is: Where is the evidence of his past things and so on, the anti-Semitic tropes and so on? This seems to be an issue that every time there is a high-profile personality who comes out critical of Israel and in support of the Palestinians, he’s labeled as anti-Semitic. We’ve seen it even with someone like Ken Roth, who headed the Human Rights Watch, and many, many others. There are so many others.
So could there be, like, a definition or something where you can be critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian cause without crossing that line?
MR PATEL: Said, I am – I am just not going to categorize this in the way that you asked. I don’t have a specific litany, a list to share with you. As I said, as we said, the special envoy’s quote tweet certainly speaks for itself.
But I would take issue with the other part of your question. When any officials have said hurtful, problematic, dangerous things as it relates to any community, when we’ve been asked about it we have spoken out clearly. It’s something you’ve seen me do. It’s something you’ve seen Matt do. It’s something you’ve seen Ned do when he was in this job up here as well. So I certainly take issue with the characterization that we are only doing this in one circumstance —
QUESTION: No, I’m not —
MR PATEL: — because that is not true.
QUESTION: I mean, I’m not saying you – I’m saying that a lot of criticism of Israel seems to fall automatically and is swept into this big basket of anti-Semitism.
MR PATEL: And in the same context of this issue, Said, when we have seen officials say dangerous, problematic, inciteful things as – not insightful, but comments that could incite tensions – as it relates to the Palestinian community or the Palestinian Authority, you have seen us call those out as strongly as well.
Shaun, you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Sure. Different topic – Senegal.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: There is a readout that came out just a little bit ago, I think in Matt’s name, on the Secretary calling President Sall. The statement itself was relatively succinct, talking about democratic values and expressing condolences for the – over the recent violence. And I was wondering if there’s more to say. These protests were triggered by the conviction of the opposition leader, Mr. Sonko. I was wondering if there was a message from the Secretary or more broadly from the department about that, whether – I mean, his supporters obviously were angry about it; I guess the charge itself was about sexual assault, so quite serious things at hand. But does the department have anything to say about that? Does the Secretary – did the Secretary convey any sort of message about that?
MR PATEL: So I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of the diplomatic conversation beyond what was in the readout, but as a friend and partner to Senegal, the U.S., we continue to be troubled and saddened by the violence and damage that we have witnessed in various parts of Senegal. We offer our deep condolences to the families and friends of those who have died, and we wish a quick recovery to those injured. Senegal’s strong record of democratic governments and peaceful coexistence is something for which the Senegalese people should be rightfully proud, and we continue to urge all parties to voice their views in a way that is peaceful and encourage the government to protect and – the rights of freedom of expression. I don’t have anything else.
QUESTION: Sure. And just a follow-up. The election is coming up, and part of the critique of the protesters was this is an effort to exclude the opposition candidate. Does – did the Secretary have any message on that, about the conduct of upcoming elections?
MR PATEL: So again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the conversation, but it is the role of the Senegalese institutions to evaluate these allegations and evidence. And as a friend and partner to the country, we will continue to promote respect for the rule of law and democratic principles.
Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks. Liam Cosgrove with The Grayzone. I just want to get your response to a recent article by Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs at the end of May. He’s challenging this notion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was completely unprovoked, which is a common Biden administration kind of talking point, and I’ll just summarize his argument so you can respond. He says, quote, “the National Archives show irrefutably that the U.S. and German governments repeatedly promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move one inch eastward when the Soviet Union disbanded,” and then, obviously, several administrations broke that promise.
But Biden administration started bringing it up to their doorstep when in September 2021 they released a statement that we’re working with Ukraine to bring them into NATO. We provided Ukraine with weapons and did joint military operations with NATO and Ukrainian forces. So the standard response is always kind of, well, it’s a voluntary organization and it’s kind of up to each nation whether they want to join, and the U.S. is kind of hands-off, but —
MR PATEL: Which is true. It is a collective Alliance and it is an Alliance decision under the auspices of the open door policy to determine its membership. It’s not a U.S. decision alone. But continue.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah – Sachs’s kind of illustration of why he disagrees with that is he points to an internal memo from William Burns, who’s now the CIA director, but at the time during the Bush administration he was the ambassador to Russia, and he’s talking with Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, and he says I’m speaking to Russian officials here and experts and they’re really concerned about this NATO push, that it’s stoking specifically in Ukraine a strong civil divide between the west and the ethnic Russians in the east, and that Russia’s concerned it’s going to spark a literal civil war. And then I’m quoting William Burns here, “Russia would have to decide whether to intervene, a decision Russia does not want to have to face.” So from William Burns’ perspective, Russia did not want this war, but it was our policies that were kind of evoking this response from them.
And that turned out to be exactly what happened when under Poroshenko for almost a decade there was this civil war in the east, and we were kind of backing on the side of Poroshenko. So ‑‑
MR PATEL: So I just —
QUESTION: Yeah, how would you —
MR PATEL: I just take issue with this entire characterization. There is – this invasion, these unjust, unlawful, illegal acts that we’re seeing the Russian Federation undertake, there is no reason to make attempt to erase the borders of a neighboring country, and that’s what we’re seeing. And what we’re – continue to see is the Russian Federation unleash strikes, missiles, on civilians, on Kyiv, on energy infrastructure, on civilian infrastructure. So there is absolutely no policy, nothing that has been undertaken by the United States – or Ukraine, for that matter ‑‑ that would justify or sanction these kinds of actions as acceptable. And that is why we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners. You’ve seen us continue to do so, and we’ll continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable as well.
QUESTION: And so just to clarify, Sachs was not saying it was justified, he was just saying that the U.S. did play a role in provoking it. But – how —
MR PATEL: Again, I would take issue with that as well. The U.S. did nothing, and neither did Ukraine, to provoke or encourage or incite these kinds of actions.
QUESTION: Well – and I know this is a hypothetical, so – but if you think of – if the hand were on the other foot – or the glove were on the other hand – and Mexico was trying to enter an alliance that historically has a precedence for establishing Russian military bases on it – if Mexico was going to get a Russian military base installed on it – our reaction to that would probably be like, “No way. No way in hell is that going to fly.” So it’s – I know it’s a hypothetical, but it’s a pretty simple one that I think most people can grasp.
MR PATEL: It certainly is a hypothetical, and I feel fairly on confident ground to say that any potential U.S. action in this hypothetical scenario certainly wouldn’t involve the infringement on another country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and attempts to erase its borders off the map. So certainly —
QUESTION: So the U.S. would not – not intervene in that case?
MR PATEL: Certainly – certainly appreciate this international relationships 101 that we have going on, but I’m going to work the room a little bit.
QUESTION: Well, hold on, Vedant, because it isn’t a hypothetical. It actually happened once, right, with Cuba, and you did take action and you did intervene. So let’s not say that this is completely made up and out of the blue. I mean, yes, Mexico is a hypothetical, but it’s historical fact what happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, right?
MR PATEL: I’m not disputing historical fact, Matt. I think what we’re talking about is —
QUESTION: Okay. Don’t just say that it’s – that it’s a hypothetical and blow the question off because you don’t find it comfortable, but to answer —
MR PATEL: That’s not —
QUESTION: I mean, whether or not the argument that he’s representing from Dr. Sachs or whoever it is is accurate or whether you agree with it or not, I mean, it’s not just made up out of whole cloth.
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not saying it’s made up. What I am saying is that there is no justification for attempts to erase another country’s borders, which is certainly not what even – again, you know I don’t like getting into AP U.S. history from up here, but it is also not what transpired during the Cuban Missile Crisis, either.
QUESTION: I’m assuming you mean advanced placement U.S. history and not Associated Press —
MR PATEL: (Laughter.) No, no, no. Well, I guess in this case it could work both ways.
You’ve had your hand up patiently in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On just Ukraine and diplomacy, I want to know if you guys have talked to Vatican diplomats after Cardinal Zuppi meeting with Zelenskyy and what is your expectation for diplomatic efforts led by the Vatican.
And if I may, a second question, just a little bit different. On Monday, Secretary Blinken will meet with Italian Foreign Minister Tajani here at the State Department. Can you give us a preview on the main topics they are going to talk about?
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get ahead of the schedule, and we’ll have more to announce about next week as we get closer.
But as it relates to the first part of your question, we of course remain deeply engaged and in close touch with the diplomats at the Holy See. Of course our Ambassador Donnelly continues to remain in close touch. I’m certainly not going to get into specifics of any diplomatic engagements, but broadly, of course we have continued to see a number of countries put forward peace plans, resolution plans as it relates to the conflict in Ukraine, and I will just say again that no one wants this war to end more than the Ukrainians.
But ultimately, it is for Russia to decide whether they will engage in good faith to this diplomacy or not. Russia has continued to not show any desire for engagement, and instead they have taken actions that are escalatory, that have harmed civilians, harmed civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure, targeted hospitals, apartment buildings. And so till then, till Russia is willing to engage in good faith, we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners through security assistance, through humanitarian assistance, through holding the Russian Federation accountable through sanctions and export controls. And I will note you heard the Secretary talk a great deal about this last week in Helsinki about the various peace proposals – the well‑intentioned peace proposals, I might add – coming from various corners of the world. But until the Russian Federation decides to engage in good faith when it comes to diplomacy and to this point – they continue to have not – we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners.
Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you. On South Caucasus, I have two human rights-related questions. But before we enter there, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are headed to Washington next week. Just wondering if you – if there’s any kind of sense on your end that this time around they might actually achieve something meaningful.
MR PATEL: Well, Alex, I’m certainly not going to confirm or offer any insight into the schedule or any potential dates beyond just saying that we, of course, as you heard me talk about earlier this week, we look forward to hosting another round of talks in Washington as the parties continue to pursue a peaceful future in the South Caucasus region. You’ve heard the Secretary and others speak to this. We continue to believe that direct dialogue is key towards reaching a durable and dignified peace.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. On human rights, I want to transition to the case of a U.S.‑educated leading activist from Azerbaijan, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. You addressed his case previously, and not only has the government refused to release him, reports suggest that they are in the midst of prepping – putting together another additional charges against him. They raided his house yesterday. They found some “evidence,” quote/unquote, his picture with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I’m just wondering if you have anything to say about that. His lawyer visited him today and reported that he needs additional help, so he is traumatized.
MR PATEL: We’re aware of the reports of the continued investigation of Mr. Hajiyev, and we continue to closely follow his case and call for his expeditious release. We remain strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we urge the government to respect its citizens’ rights, including the right to express views peacefully.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And one follow-up – you might want to take this one. You guys have issued – launched a very interesting initiative earlier this year, Without Just Cause initiative, as one of the tools in your toolkit to prioritize this sort of cases. I noticed a few of – 20, some 20 cases have already been successfully – achieved the success in, basically. They got released. But I don’t see any update on the website. So where is the strategy here? Are you planning to adopt new cases, or this was just a one-time thing? And if you are, what are the criterias, for instance, to adopt cases such as Bakhtiyar Hajiyev now that another Azerbaijani activist has been released?
MR PATEL: I’m happy to look into that for you, Alex, and we can check in with the team.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. In spite of many differences, both Bangladesh and U.S. developed a strong counterterrorism cooperation. Recently Bangladesh achieved spectacular success dealing with terrorist threats. Now, according to the Global Terrorism Index 2023, Bangladesh tremendously improved its position. How would the U.S. evaluate the role of Bangladesh and does the Biden administration have any new plan to boost its engagement for counterterrorism in Bangladesh?
MR PATEL: So of course this is an issue that continues to be of importance to us. I have spoken about this a great deal to some of your colleagues. But last year we celebrated an anniversary as it relates to our bilateral relationship with Bangladesh, and this year in 2023 we look forward to deepening that relationship, and there are a number of areas in which we intend to deepen that cooperation. One of them, of course, is the opportunity for security cooperation with Bangladesh. But in addition to security cooperation, there of course continues to be potential for deepening our cooperation on climate issues, on trade issues, and many other issues of the like.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)
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