Department Press Briefing – March 27, 2023
- SOUTH KOREA / NORTH KOREA
- SUMMIT FOR DEMOCRACY
- UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- TÜRKIYE / FINLAND / SWEDEN / IRAQ
- CHINA / SOLOMON ISLANDS / HONDURAS
- RUSSIA / BELARUS
- CHINA / HONDURAS
- RUSSIA / IRAN
- ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN
- RUSSIA / BELARUS
2:13 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: So I’ll start with Israel. And I realize that you’re not going to have more – much more to say, if anything more to say, than what your colleague at the White House just said, so on camera. But I’m wondering if you do have anything more to say about the latest developments and the prime minister’s decision to put a pause on the judicial —
MR PATEL: Yeah, let me say a couple things to that, Matt. First, we welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise. And compromise is precisely what we have been calling for, and we continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that it’s the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest base of popular support.
What I will also add, Matt, is that this is something that you know the President had the opportunity to recently discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu that democratic principles have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
QUESTION: Okay. So I don’t want this briefing to turn into a repeat of the White House briefing, but obviously you can – I don’t know, because it’s still going on, if she was asked about the allegations, the accusations that have been made by some commentators that the U.S. somehow funded the protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government. These allegations, accusations were repeated, or retweeted, rather, by the son of the prime minister.
MR PATEL: Let me also say a couple things to that, Matt. These accusations are completely and demonstrably false. The Movement of Quality Government is a NGO, and it received a modest grant from the State Department that was initiated during the previous administration, and the latest disbursal of funds came in September of 2022, prior to the most recent Israeli elections. And this grant supported an educational program for Jerusalem schools that supplemented their civic studies curriculum. As you know, Matt, the department supports a wide range of programming by civil society actors around the world on strengthening awareness for human rights and democratic values. But any notion that we are propping up or supporting these protests or the initiators of them is completely and demonstrably false.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you think that it’s irresponsible for people to repeat these kinds of things or to even make the accusation in the first place?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to characterize anybody’s comments, Matt. But what I’m here to say and to affirm what we said over the weekend on this as well is that these accusations are completely and demonstrably false.
QUESTION: Well, have you made that point to the prime minister, the prime minister’s son?
MR PATEL: We talk about our bilateral relationship and our Israeli – relationship with our Israeli partners at a number of levels. I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements on this issue or another one, but again, just reiterate what I’ve previously said just now that these accusations are false.
QUESTION: Do you know if anyone in the department actually has any contact with the prime minister’s son?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware, but again, the important takeaway here, Matt, is that these accusations are false, but also broadly, we have a deep relationship with our Israeli partners. We discuss with them a wide-range of issues, but I couldn’t speak to any specific discussions on this.
QUESTION: Last thing on Israel, I just want to check on —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — and I think this’ll be – your response will be very short. The embassy – your – the U.S. Embassy in Israel was always open, right? It was not —
MR PATEL: That’s my understanding.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this?
MR PATEL: Can I go to – I’ll come back to you, Shaun? Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: On the same topic?
QUESTION: Please, no, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just briefly.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: When you say that Israel put a pause, is a pause enough? I mean, is this something that – could it just be a delay tactic? Is there a position that perhaps these reforms to begin with weren’t consistent in —
MR PATEL: Well, Shaun, broadly, we continue to monitor the situation. We continue to monitor the developments out of Israel, and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts. And we continue to urge strongly with our Israeli partners to find a compromise as soon as soon as possible. And we believe that that is the best path forward for Israel and its citizens.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to follow up – first of all, let me ask you about the Israeli embassy in town. I mean, they said they suspended their operation for today and so on. How did they inform you about that? What is the – I mean, I’m just curious to know, what are the channels that are normally —
MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to – I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we communicate with foreign missions as it relates to them communicating their operating procedure here in the National Capitol Region or otherwise, but our Israeli partners this morning were quite communicative publicly about their decision to close their mission here in D.C. I also believe that they have since stated that it will be reopening tomorrow, so I will – I’ll let them speak to – speak to that.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Now, I know that the prime minister just suspended the judicial law and so on. So what do you expect? What should happen next? Or what would happen next? Or what would you like to see happen next?
MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to prejudge or offer an analysis or prediction of what will or should happen next. This is for the leaders of Israel and the Israeli people to determine. And what I would say is reiterate what I told Shaun and Matt, that we’re continuing to monitor these developments coming out of Israel. We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and we continue to urge strongly for a compromise to be found, if possible, because we believe that is what’s in the best interest of Israel and its citizens. And as I said, this is something that the President had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu – how democratic principles are and have always been a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
QUESTION: Does it strike you – I mean, all these demonstrations that have been going on for three months now, almost, for many, many weeks – absent from these demonstrations and protests and so on is the occupation, which is the big elephant in the room? Do you think that Israeli society may have missed an opportunity to make its position known on this occupation that has gone on for too long?
MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to offer a – I’m not going to attempt to speak on behalf of those protesting or anything like that, as that would be inappropriate.
QUESTION: And just one – I have one last question.
MR PATEL: Okay, and then I’m going to work the room a little bit, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Okay.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you – can you give us the status of Mr. Hady Amr? Is he in town? Is he – because he was meeting with Palestinians I think last week and so on.
MR PATEL: I believe he is in D.C., but I will – I don’t – I don’t know for 100 percent sure, but I’m happy to check and we can follow up with you, Said.
Go ahead, Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to – I’ve got a follow-up on Shaun’s question, really. But you mentioned once again that you want – you want to build consensus. Can you just clarify, is the – the U.S. position is that there should be consensus no matter what the outcome in the – if they’re able to build consensus but they do go ahead with judicial reforms that strip the supreme court of the oversight role over the government, is that okay?
MR PATEL: Simon, it just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to prescribe any kind of outcome here, and I think what I would reiterate again is that we are urging Israeli leaders and our partners in Israel to find a compromise as soon as possible. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances. That’s something I’ve been very clear about, the Secretary has, as has Ned when he was briefing up here. And fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of support. But again, it would be – I’m not going to prescribe any kind of outcome or offer any kind of end scenario that the United States is wishing or hoping for other than to say that we believe that finding compromise is the best path forward.
QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that there may be concessions that have been given to the right wing, to Ben-Gvir in this, in order to agree to this delay?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate on that, Simon.
Janne. Any – actually, before I call on you, anything else on this question?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on this topic.
MR PATEL: Yeah, and then I’ll come to you after. Go ahead, Kylie.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering, just basically, does the Biden administration still have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MR PATEL: We have – Kylie, let me say a couple of things. Israel has enjoyed a strong democracy since its founding 75 years ago, and as I told Matt and Shaun, the hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, a big piece of it has always been democratic principles. And that is something that President Biden had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu recently. And we continue to support Israel’s security, and our commitment to Israel’s security and democracy continues to remain ironclad, and we work with our Israeli partners on a number of issues, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.
QUESTION: So you’re still confident in his leadership capabilities at this time?
MR PATEL: I have no different assessment to offer.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. What terms would be acceptable to the administration as it pertains to Israel’s attempt at judiciary reform?
MR PATEL: I think I just answered your question when speaking to Simon. It would be inappropriate for us to prescribe any kind of outcome here. That is for the leaders of Israel and the citizens of Israel to determine.
QUESTION: But you just (inaudible).
MR PATEL: What I am here to – what I am here to say is that we continue to believe that Israeli leaders should find a compromise as soon as possible because we believe that that is the best path forward, and we’re continuing to monitor the developments out of Israel and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts.
Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Just before we leave this —
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: — I just want to ask about the Summit for Democracy.
MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Right. So there’s no change? Given this development – in other words, the prime minister agreeing to a pause, which you welcome – there’s no change?
MR PATEL: Israel is an invitee to the Summit for Democracy this year, as it was last year, and —
QUESTION: And that won’t change?
MR PATEL: That – I have no change in programming to announce.
QUESTION: Could I piggyback off that?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Just in terms of other democracies invited to the summit, India. Rahul Gandhi, the opposition leader, has been expelled from parliament. Do you have anything to say about that? Is that consistent with democratic values?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Shaun. So respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy, and we’re watching Mr. Gandhi’s case in Indian courts, and we engage with the Government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values – including, of course, freedom of expression.
In our engagements with our Indian partners, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles and the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression, as a key to strengthening both our democracies.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up briefly?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: You just said engaging with the Government of India. How about with Mr. Gandhi himself? Is the United States still engaging with him as the opposition leader?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements to read out, Shaun. But as I’m sure you know as someone who’s covered this department for some time, it is normal and standard for us to engage with members of opposition parties in any country where we have bilateral relationships. But I don’t have any specific engagement to read out.
QUESTION: Summit of Democracies?
MR PATEL: Sure. And then I’ll come back to you, Janne. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Is Mexico still invited to the Summit of Democracies, considering that President Obrador is also pushing for these legal changes to undermine the independent elections body in Mexico?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any change in invitation status. But I will – we’ll check specifically and see if we have any updates to get back to you.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the latest developments on the – that issue of the undermining of the independent elections body in Mexico?
MR PATEL: What I would say is that Mexico is a close and valued partner of the United States, and we work together to address a number of shared challenges that span not just our hemisphere, but all areas of bilateral cooperation. Through the commitments made at the North American Leaders Summit, through the Bicentennial Framework, our countries have worked closely to promote human rights, to promote democracy, and to protect vulnerable populations as well.
Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Two questions. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently said that the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea should be considered. Do you think it is possible to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea for stronger extended deterrence?
MR PATEL: Janne, specifically as it relates to our deployment or any posture, I will let our Pentagon colleagues speak to that. But the one thing I want to be very clear about is that our exercises and our cooperation with the ROK are longstanding, they are defensive, and they are routine. And as it relates to the DPRK, the U.S. harbors no hostile intent, and we’re committed to the security of the ROK and our alliance’s combined defense posture. But I will let the DOD speak to specific postures.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, North Korean foreign ministry announced that it would respond with nuclear weapons if anyone forced CVID – complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement – on North Korea. How would your comment on this?
MR PATEL: Well, I didn’t hear the first part of your question, Janne. What are you speak – comment – what did the foreign ministry say?
QUESTION: North Korea foreign ministry announced that it would respond with North Korean nuclear weapons if anyone forced CVID to the North Korea.
MR PATEL: Janne, what I would say is that we are committed to a diplomatic approach with the DPRK, and we harbor no hostile intent. And our ultimate goal here continues to remain the same, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And our commitment to our partners of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.
Nazira, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. There is a problem from the Afghan girls. Still Taliban are not able to reopen the school for them. And Afghan women, they were in the street and Taliban respond them, and they put them – some of the Afghan women and Afghan girl in the jail. What’s your respond?
And number two, Dr. Zal Khalilzad, U.S. former representative in Afghanistan, yesterday – actually, yesterday he confirmed that Taliban killed two leader of ISIS in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-e Sharif. And he said that I think – he thinking, Dr. Zal Khalilzad thinking – that Taliban keep their commitment in Doha agreement, and if they continue to commit to their commitment, Doha commitment, he satisfy. The State Department has the same opinion? What’s your respond?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Nazira. First, as it relates to your announcement about the schools, we deplore the edicts that the Taliban have promulgated regularly that fundamentally repress the right of Afghan women and girls, and we’ve seen this now time and time again – denying them education, denying them the ability to work, denying them the ability to participate in the provision of humanitarian assistance that benefits all Afghans. And it’s safe to say from conversations among countries around the world that to the extent that the Taliban is looking for more normal relations with countries around the world, that will not happen in a long time, so as they continue to advance these repressive edicts against women and girls.
I’ve not seen those specific comments that you’re referring to, Nazira, but what I will say is that broadly, the Taliban’s recent actions have demonstrated a total disregard for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan and their lack of interest in normal relations with the international community. And we hope that they understand the implications of some of these disastrous decisions, like banning women from schools and things of that sort.
QUESTION: Wait a second. Just before you move on, do you understand that the complete – the – I don’t even know how to say it. You say that if the Taliban wants to have better relations with the rest of the world, they need to reverse these policies. And then two sentences later, you say they have demonstrated absolutely no interest in wanting to do this. So why —
MR PATEL: By the pursuit of these policies —
QUESTION: Well, exactly. So what – I mean, I – this is – you’re basing your – it’s a hope that you think the Taliban might change their policies because they want better relations with the rest of the world. And at the same time —
MR PATEL: That is their own —
QUESTION: — you admit and concede that they haven’t shown any interest in it and don’t want better relations with the rest of the world. So I think the question that she is asking is: What are you going to do about it?
MR PATEL: Well, Matt, we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Taliban accountable.
QUESTION: Like what?
MR PATEL: We have – I’m not going to preview actions from here, which is no surprise to you.
QUESTION: Well, you don’t have to preview anything. What tools – what tools do you have?
MR PATEL: We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal, visa restrictions and otherwise, to hold the Taliban accountable, as well as tools that we can pursue with our allies and partners. And I would – the point that I was making, Matt, was that this is a self-prescribed goal by the Taliban of normalization of relations with the international community. And yes, the steps that they are taking as it relates to women and girls runs contrary to what is the expectation of them from not just the United States but also from our international partners as well.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back.
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics for that from – for you right now. But I’m happy to check with the team and see if we have an update.
QUESTION: Can you confirm this trip?
MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any travel to offer any confirmation on. But I can check with the team, see if we have anything else for you.
QUESTION: Follow-up China question?
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Honduras switched its relations from Taiwan to China last week. Does the State Department have any comment?
MR PATEL: Well, this is ultimately a sovereign decision. An important thing to note is that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remains unfulfilled. And there are many recent ongoing examples of such behavior in Latin America and around the world. Regardless of this decision, though, the U.S. will continue to expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our longstanding “one China” policy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Couple questions. Let me start with the democracy summit. Assistant Secretary Zeya just posted early this morning that they’re going to be focusing on the U.S. partnership to prevent conflict and to promote stability. Now, look at the list. I see some of the countries that did not vote along with the U.S. during the last UN vote on Ukraine are part of the summit. Where do you draw the line? How much of this conversation will be focused on the conflicts and democracy versus autocracy in – with this particular focus on Ukraine conflict? And secondly, did Putin just jeopardize your first Year of Action?
QUESTION: The first Year of Action that you announced, did the war just jeopardize – is it your view that the war jeopardized your goals, having looked back to the first summit and look forward at —
MR PATEL: Certainly not, Alex. I mean, I think what the conflict and the war in Ukraine has highlighted is the importance of respecting a rules-based order, and respecting the UN Charter, and having respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. But broadly, of course the conflict in Ukraine will be an important topic of discussion in the Summit for Democracy. But there’s also a number of other issues at stake as well, and President Biden has spoken about this previously, that we’re currently at an inflection point when it comes to the future of democracy, both within the United States and globally. The defining question of this age is whether democracies will continue to deliver for their people in a rapidly changing world. And this was a summit that launched last year – or, sorry, the first year of this administration, in early 2021 – to put new and high-level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions.
QUESTION: And how much the war will impact the conversation this week?
MR PATEL: Again, Alex, I’m not going to prescibe it. But of course Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine will no doubt be a topic of discussion, I’m sure.
QUESTION: Can we move Russia, if you don’t mind? A couple questions on Russia as well.
MR PATEL: Can I come back to? You’ve – Camilla’s had her hand up. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just on Secretary Blinken’s hearings last week. Do you – can you confirm whether or not the State Department will hand over the requested dissent cable that Mike McCaul has asked for by close of business today?
MR PATEL: So let me say a couple of things broadly, Camilla. The first is that the department is committed to working with congressional committees with jurisdiction to appropriately accommodate their need for information to help them conduct oversight for legislative purposes. And the department has provided more than 200 briefings to bipartisan members and staff on Afghanistan policy since the withdrawal. As Chairman McCaul has said previously, he and the Secretary have had constructive decisions – conversations about this. The Secretary reaffirmed his commitment to cooperate with the committee’s work. And we have provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s request regarding Afghanistan.
On the dissent cable specifically, we of course – I want to make clear that we are working to provide all the information that Congress is looking for and that is – that its oversight responsibilities authorize it to look into. But on the dissent cable, the tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished here in the department and goes back decades. It is a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it without fear or favor. And they do it via the regulations we have established for these cables in a privileged and confidential way. It’s vital to us that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel. The Secretary reads every dissent channel that he gets and responds to every dissent channel cable that he gets as well.
And so we have – you saw the Secretary speak to this in his hearing. We understand that – appreciate that there is a real interest in the substance of this specific cable, and in the spirit of that we have – we are prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available, including through briefings or some other mechanisms. And again, we understand the importance, but I don’t have a specific to offer beyond that.
QUESTION: And is the department prepared for a subpoena if it is issued?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals. Again, we recognize the importance and the – we recognize the keen interest in this cable, and we’re prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available through briefings or some other mechanisms.
I’m going to go in the back. Alex, I’ve called on you a couple of times already. Yeah. No, you go ahead. Mikhail, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. Mr. Kalin, the advisor of president of Türkiye, says that first that you have to find the formula for the F-16 with the Congress and especially with Senator Menendez; and at the same time, he threatened United States, saying that they will not approve – the Turks – Sweden’s membership if you do not give them the F-16s. What is your answer to it?
MR PATEL: I’m not – whose comments are these?
QUESTION: Mr. Kalin. He is a number-one advisor of President Erdogan, of president of Türkiye.
MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. I’ve not —
MR PATEL: I’ve not specifically seen those comments. But as you saw me speak to last week, Mikhail, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement that he will send Finland’s NATO accession protocols to the Turkish parliament, and we look forward to a prompt and positive conclusion of that process. And we also encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s protocols as well. We believe that Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. The International Chamber of Commerce in Paris decided last week in favor of Iraqi Government against Türkiye in regards to KRG oil exporting to the international market through Türkiye. As of now, the KRG oil exporting is halted to just about a half million barrels per day, and some of the companies who were and are working on extracting and exporting the oil are the American companies. We know that there was some correspondence from the Congress last year to resolve the issues between Erbil and Baghdad, especially on oil and gas.
The first: How does the U.S. views this decision, and do you have any engagement with Erbil and Baghdad to overcome their gas and oil (inaudible)?
MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things to that. First, I don’t have a comment for you on the merits of the case or the court’s decision. But what I would say broadly is that since the ruling we have urged the governments of Türkiye and Iraq to resume the flow of oil through the Iraq-Türkiye pipeline. Disruptions to global energy supply would not serve anyone’s interest.
We also understand that the Kurdistan Regional Government is in discussion with the Government of Iraq to find a mutual acceptable path forward on related budget and hydrocarbon issues. As was discussed during the February U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee in Washington, U.S. officials continue to urge the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to resolve their budget and hydrocarbon disputes in a manner that will benefit the Iraqi citizens.
QUESTION: My second question?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Your consul general in Erbil shared a report in LinkedIn that was published on Foreign Policy, and the title of the report said “Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards is Collapsing.” And there were a lot of reactions in the Kurdistan Region towards this re-sharing the post. Later, he removed the post but the question is that: Has the U.S. policy towards the Kurdistan Region changed? What is your comment on sharing a report titled like that by your consulate general in Erbil?
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that specific social media post. But what I will say broadly is that Iraq, including the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, is a strategic partner of the U.S. and we have a long-term commitment to this region. And we reaffirmed this fact in July of 2021 in the Strategic Dialogue that was held when representatives of the two countries met to discuss strengthening our long-term strategic relationship not only in security but also in economic and trade issues, culture, education, environment, health care, and more as well.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in his recent statements is seen advising Pakistani Government and Pakistani Supreme Court regarding the political situation of Pakistan. There’s a general perception in Pakistan that his statements are kind of expressing the sentiments of U.S. Government. I know he’s not a part of the current administration, but could you clarify this that his statements is not a —
MR PATEL: Well, I think you just hit the nail on the head. Mr. Khalilzad is a private citizen, and any social media activity or comments or tweets that you might reference, those are done in his private capacity, does not represent U.S. foreign policy, and he does not speak for this administration.
QUESTION: Sir, what is your opinion about the current political chaos in Pakistan? The interior minister of Pakistan issued death threats to former Prime Minister Imran Khan live on public TV.
MR PATEL: So we have previously stated that any implication of violence, harassment, or intimidation has no place in politics, and as we do with our partners all around the world, we encourage all sides in Pakistan to respect the rule of law and allow the people of Pakistan to democratically determine their own country’s leadership pursuant to their own constitution and laws. And specifically, for any reaction to the comments, you would have to go to Mr. Sanaullah, the – not – that’s not for me to speak to.
QUESTION: Sir, one last question about the largest democracy in the world, India. Indian officials disqualified leader of Congress Party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, from his seat in the parliament for calling Modi – for calling Modi a thief. He was also sentenced to two years in prison for the same reason. Sir, what are your comments on this specific issue and about the freedom of speech in India?
MR PATEL: I’m not sure if you were late to the briefing or not, but Shaun already asked the question about Mr. Gandhi’s case, so you can check the transcript for that.
QUESTION: My question (inaudible) Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands has award a multi-million-dollar contract with a Chinese state company to update international port. I’m just wondering how is the State Department view or see this event?
MR PATEL: I didn’t hear the first part of your question, if you could speak up.
QUESTION: For the Solomon Islands has award a multi-million-dollar contract with a Chinese state company to update international port. How do you – State Department – see this event?
MR PATEL: That is a – that’s a question for the Government of the Solomon Islands as well as the PRC. What I can say is that our partnerships and our relationships with any country is about deepening partnerships with the United States and what a partnership with the United States can look like. Deputy Secretary Sherman had the opportunity to visit Solomon Islands and the region mid to the fall of last year, if I recall correctly, and had some important engagements and important discussions. It’s an important region for the United States and we’ll continue to work cooperatively in the region as well.
Go ahead, Simon.
QUESTION: I wanted to just follow up on an answer you gave a while ago about Honduras and the PRC.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: You mentioned the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic relation – recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled. Do you want to give some examples of that?
MR PATEL: I think the track record is pretty clear, Simon, not just necessarily in Latin America but around the world, whether it be projects for its Belt and Road Initiative, loans that end up saddling countries with very complicated and bad debt, partnerships and deepening of cooperation on infrastructure projects that end up bearing no benefit to job creation for the local economy, the local workforce. There’s a number of examples like that around the world.
QUESTION: Is there some – something that you’re aware of in the Honduras case that – a promise that was made?
MR PATEL: No. We again – I would reiterate that this is a sovereign decision and it is – but also important to note that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled.
QUESTION: So you’re not concerned that – recognition of Taiwan is something that you guys would like to see more around the world, right, presumably. It sounds a little bloodless, the way —
MR PATEL: These are sovereign decisions, Simon. These are sovereign decisions, Simon. What I can speak to is what the United States is interested in, and that is we will deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our “one China” policy. We believe that Taiwan is a reliable, likeminded, and democratic partner, and its partnerships around the world provide significant and sustainable benefits to citizens of those countries.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Shannon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Kyiv has indicated multiple times in recent days that the lack of ammunition is holding back its planned offensive. Just wondering, does the U.S. assessment match that, that Kyiv is lacking ammunition or other equipment to carry out an offensive right now? And if so, are there any plans in place to address that need?
MR PATEL: Shannon, I’m not going to get into battlefield assessments from up here, and in fact, some of our Pentagon colleagues might be better positioned to speak to that. But what I will say – this is not something you’ve – not something new – is that we have over the course of this war, since February of last year, even before, have offered security assistance to our Ukrainian partners and we have done so through assessments of what makes the most sense for the current status of the battlefield. And we’ll continue to do that. We recently announced another security assistance package and we’ll continue to support our Ukrainian partners on this as well.
Go ahead in the back. Yeah, you’ve had your hand up.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Will Russia’s decision to place tactical nuclear arms in Belarus have any impact on U.S. policy on New START agreement?
MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. First is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. But candidly, this announcement is one that we condemn. This is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia. No other country is inflicting such damage on arms control, nor seeking to undermine strategic stability in Europe. Russia’s decision led to the termination of the INF Treaty in 2019. It recently purported to suspend participation in New START. No other country has raised the prospect of potential nuclear use in connection with this conflict.
Let’s remember no country is threatening Russia or threatening President Putin. And as the G7 has made clear, any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in this conflict would be met with severe consequences.
QUESTION: Also – also on the issue —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell on Sunday said that the EU is ready to impose more sanctions on Minsk and Moscow for placing nuclear arms in Belarus. Does the U.S. also plan to do this?
MR PATEL: I will let the EU speak to its own comments. But over the course of this war, we have had a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners, and we’ll continue to do so. I’m not going to preview any actions from here, which is pretty standard.
QUESTION: May I just follow up on something?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you please a little bit expand on the previous question on your answer in light of Nikolai Patrushev’s today’s comments threatening the U.S. that we can actually hit – we have weapons to hit the U.S., and also in light of Putin’s attempts to draw some similarities between his plans and the U.S. presence in Europe?
MR PATEL: So again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic posture, nor any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We are going to continue to coordinate and consult closely with our allies and call on Russia to de-escalate, starting by ceasing its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion or preparation being done to resume Secretary Blinken’s trip to China?
MR PATEL: As we’ve said previously, that trip will be rescheduled when conditions allow, but I don’t have any specific scheduling update to offer.
Kylie, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on what she had asked you earlier about Rick Waters being in China last week. Why can’t you guys give a readout of those meetings if they’ve already taken place?
MR PATEL: I’m just going to want to make sure we get the most update – updated information for you. So we’re happy to follow up afterwards.
MR PATEL: Sure, Said. And then I’ll come back to you, Shaun.
MR PATEL: And then we probably have to wrap.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: What do you make of all the rapprochement that is happening right now from the Saudis? The – Türkiye is trying to reach out to Syria, to President Bashar al-Assad and so on, and there’s a movement in Arab countries. Many of them are your allies. So what is your take on that? And second, I want to ask about the military confrontation a couple of days ago. So.
MR PATEL: Sure. So our stance against normalization remains unchanged. And we have been clear about this; I was clear about this as recently as last week. Our consistent messaging to regional partners who are engaging with the Syrian regime has been that credible steps to improve the situation for the people in Syria should be front and center in any engagement. And we continue to be very clear about that.
QUESTION: So what kind of an outcome should there be, and what kind of process to lead to the outcome that you want in Syria should be taking place right now? And why is it – isn’t taking place?
MR PATEL: Said, we have been very clear about this. We – the United States has been very clear that our goal here is a political outcome that is reflective of the will of the Syrian people and improves the lives of the Syrian people. But broadly speaking, Said, we also have continued to be the largest humanitarian donor to the people of Syria. We continue to have a presence in northeast Syria because we continue to believe that the degradation of ISIS is a key priority, not just for northeast Syria and northern Syria but the broader region as well.
QUESTION: But you don’t set as a precondition that the current regime in Syria should not be part of any political process that would arise out of —
MR PATEL: Said, I’ll reiterate what I just said, which is that we feel that improving the situation for the Syrian people needs to be front and center in any engagement anyone has with the Assad regime.
QUESTION: And lastly, yesterday Mr. John Kirby, Admiral John Kirby’s – told Face the Nation, I believe, that the American troops are in Syria to stay. Basically that’s what he said, that we are there to stay until the mission is over. What is the mission? When can this mission be declared over?
MR PATEL: Said, we – I just spoke to this, but the degradation of ISIS in the region has been a key priority for the United States. Our presence in northern Syria has been a key aspect of that, but I will let our colleagues at the Pentagon speak to more details on that.
QUESTION: Can we go to Belarus?
MR PATEL: Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I – today’s theme of democracy’s —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — potential problems, Kenya – I was wondering if you have anything to say about the situation there. There’s some violence today. The government has banned protests by the opposition – it’s a dispute over the election. Is there anything you have to say about that, particularly about the ban on the opposition protests?
MR PATEL: I don’t initially, Shaun, but I’m happy to check if we have any updates on the ground and we can follow up with you.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — are you expressing to the Colombian delegations any concerns of the new approach on drugs and extraditions of the Petro administration?
MR PATEL: So this dialogue serves as a flagship opportunity for the U.S. and Colombia to deepen our cooperation across a broad set of bilateral issues. All discussion are focused on what we view as shared goals, and that of course includes cooperation in areas of migration, security, counternarcotics, human rights, equity, education, deepening economic opportunities, deepening energy cooperation, and addressing the climate crisis as well.
Let’s go in the back.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much. I want to follow up on question on Honduras and China.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Honduras established diplomatic ties with China, while Taiwanese President Tsai plans to transit the U.S. this week. Do you think this timing of announcement of establishing diplomatic relations was related to Tsai’s trip, and China tried to put pressure on the U.S. and Taiwan?
MR PATEL: So again, that’s not something that I’m going to speak to, but as I previously said that the Government of Honduras’s action is a sovereign decision. And on President Tsai’s transit, what I would say is that this transit is consistent with longstanding U.S. practice, the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan, and U.S. policy, which remains unchanged. Transits are taken out of consideration for the safety and dignity of the passenger and are in line and consistent with our “one China” policy, which also remains unchanged.
Alex, you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Very quickly on Russia-Iran. You probably have seen the media reports on Iran receiving advanced digital surveillance technology software from Russia in return for the drones. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that reporting, Alex, but what I will say is that of course Russia’s deepening of relationships with malign actors like Iran continues to be a deep concern. And it should be a concern for countries not just neighboring Russia and Iran but the world broadly. We have seen the havoc caused by Iranian-made drones that Russia has unleashed on Kyiv, targeting energy and civilian infrastructure, so of course this relationship is one that we are paying close attention to.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything for me on the latest situation on the ground?
MR PATEL: Sure. So Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried spoke with Foreign Minister Bayramov this morning and expressed concern over Azerbaijani military movements. She emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations. As the Secretary has also spoke about this quite repeatedly, direct dialogue is key to resolving this issue and reaching a lasting peace. There is not a military solution to this conflict. We’ll continue to facilitate discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan bilaterally as well as with partners, and as well as throughout multilateral organizations as well.
MR PATEL: So I spoke to this a great deal already, but I will reiterate what I said, which is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. That being said —
MR PATEL: That being said – that being said, we strongly condemn this announcement by President Putin, and it is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion. No other country —
QUESTION: What would the administration do – or what will the administration do if Putin follows through on his announcement?
MR PATEL: We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable. You have seen us take action over the course of their unjust and barbaric war in Ukraine, but again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications that Russia is planning to use a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Like what tools, Vedant?
MR PATEL: We have a number of tools at our disposal.
MR PATEL: Sanctions, export controls – I’m not going to preview or be prescriptive about tools from here.
Guita, I think you had your hand up or was that —
MR PATEL: No? Okay. Thanks everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:00 p.m.)