1:47 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: I have two very brief things, and then I’m happy to dive right into your questions.
Yesterday our Ambassador to France Denise Bauer launched the United States’ Expo 2027 Bid Symposium in Paris. The symposium is part of the bid process to bring an International Expo – also known as the World’s Fair – back to the U.S. The theme this year for the U.S. is “Healthy People, Healthy Planet – Wellness and Wellbeing for All.” And it offers the opportunity for a global conversation on health and climate change while showcasing innovation, culture, and other important things from around the world.
World Expos combine innovation, technology, business opportunities and cultural exchanges as a platform for the world to come together to focus on universal challenges. A U.S.-hosted Expo in Minnesota in 2027 will serve as a gateway to the commercial heartland of America and is projected to bring 14 million visits, $4 billion in economic activity, and 50,000 jobs to the United States. Ambassador Bauer conveyed the welcoming spirit of American diversity as well as the readiness and enthusiasm of Minnesota to bring Expo 2027 to the United States.
And lastly, on a much more serious note, especially in this room, I know all of you are incredibly concerned about the reports coming out of Russia today, as am I, as is the entire department. I want to say clearly and unequivocally in the strongest terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices.
Due to privacy considerations, I am limited at what I can share, but here are some updates I can offer.
First, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has requested official notification of the arrest, and Russia is required to provide that under our bilateral consular convention.
Second, whenever U.S. citizens are arrested abroad, we pursue consular access as soon as possible. However, due to Russia’s administrative procedures and security requirements, it will likely be several days before that happens.
Third, we are in close contact with The Wall Street Journal on this issue.
And also, I would like to make it clear that it is not safe for U.S. citizens to be in the Russian Federation. Any U.S. citizen residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately, as stated in our latest travel advisory. Those who require assistance in departing Russia should contact the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for assistance.
Unfortunately, we have seen how the Russian Government’s escalating repression affects journalists as well as civil society activists and the broader Russian community.
Since February 24th, 2022, dozens of outlets and more than 100 individual media professionals have been labeled as “undesirable organizations” or “foreign agents” for doing their jobs. Russian citizens are routinely jailed or fined for reporting basic facts or daring to share any opinion that differs from the Kremlin’s narrative. Our first priority will always be U.S. citizens, but I want to reiterate to independent Russian journalists and civil society voices who continue to speak out or are jailed or are in exile, we stand in absolute solidarity with you.
Matt, if you want to —
MR PATEL: — take us away.
QUESTION: Well, so on that, can you give us any more detail about when you knew, how you knew about this arrest and what you’re doing about it other than just reaching out to the Russian foreign ministry?
MR PATEL: Matt, we are still very much in the early stages here and so that is in fact what we’re doing. We’re trying to obtain and ascertain as much information as we can. I’m certainly not at a place to speak to the specifics of this case beyond what I already said given privacy considerations, but I, again, would say that we are immensely concerned over Russia’s announcement that it has detained a U.S. citizen journalist.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MR PATEL: We’re in contact, as I said, with The Wall Street Journal about this situation, and we have not yet heard back from the Russian foreign ministry affairs, but we reached out through the appropriate channels as soon as we were made aware of this reporting.
QUESTION: So your understanding right now is there is no Privacy Act waiver for this person?
MR PATEL: That is correct.
QUESTION: Would you recommend that people who are traveling in Russia who do not heed your advice to leave immediately sign one —
MR PATEL: I’m not —
QUESTION: — if they want to – if they want you guys to be able to speak about their case?
MR PATEL: I’m not here to offer legal advice, Matt. I —
QUESTION: I don’t —
MR PATEL: — am here to say two things.
QUESTION: — think that’s legal advice.
MR PATEL: First, that when any American in any part of the world is detained, we move quickly to seek consular access just as we have in this case. And secondly, our travel advisory warning for Russia continues to be a Level 4 and has been for quite some time and that continues to be the case. And it continues to be our message to any American citizen currently inside the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Jenny.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Vedant. Do you expect to name Evan as wrongfully detained? And if so, what is that process? How quickly do you think that designation will be made? And then can you say when you filed this notice with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow? Is there any sort of timeline that they’re required to meet to grant consular access or provide this notification?
MR PATEL: Jenny, the department regularly reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas for indicators that these detentions are wrongful. I’m not going to get ahead of that process as this just happened yesterday. Of course, I am seeing the same public reporting that you are seeing as it relates to these charges and don’t think that there is any truth to them. But again, I’m going to let this process play out and not get ahead of this process.
And then again, in terms of notifications or any of the sequencing, I’m just not at an ability to speak to the specifics given privacy considerations. But the minute that we were aware, the department has been deeply engaged on this as has been our embassy in Moscow.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? You said even citizens residing in Russia should leave. Evan was an accredited journalist there. Are you saying it’s not safe for even people who are accredited with the ministry or are working for international organizations to be there?
MR PATEL: Our message to American citizens residing in Russia is that the travel advisory warning is a Level 4, and that they should leave. And if they need assistance doing so, they can get in touch with our mission in Moscow.
Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just specifically a follow-up on this. The Russians have already said that the United States, in their words, shouldn’t use this as a reason to take action against Russian media in the United States. Do you have any comment on that one way or the other?
MR PATEL: Can you repeat that question, Shaun?
QUESTION: Sure. The Russian foreign ministry was saying that the United States should not use this as, in their view, a pretext to do anything to Russian media, take any measures against Russian media here. Do you have anything to say about that or about how Russian media is treated in the U.S.?
MR PATEL: Well, broadly, I think quite clearly we take the importance of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression quite seriously, and more broadly, what our focus here right now is to not take any action that is unrelated or to – simply just understanding as much information as we can, and most importantly, gaining consular access to meet with and visit this individual to ensure their well-being.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Is the State Department engaging with Russia about the arrested Wall Street Journal reporter? And is there the possibility of there being a prisoner release like there was with the Brittney Griner situation, or any sanctions – or a sanction lift, any kind of – any kind of concession to get the Wall Street Journal reporter back?
MR PATEL: So to answer your second question, I am not going to speculate or preview any actions. Again, we continue – our number one priority continues to be seeking consular access so we can meet with this individual and ascertain their well-being and get as much information as we can.
And to your first part of your question, I think I just delivered a topper on this.
MR PATEL: Camilla, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do you have any reason to be concerned that this is some kind of tit-for-tat for the student who – Russian spy that was attending Johns Hopkins University, or is it too early to tell?
MR PATEL: I just think hypotheticals at this point are unhelpful to the process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR PATEL: Anything else on this before we move away to a different topic?
QUESTION: Just quickly, is there anything about Russia’s lack of response so far that gives you any indication that they’re either treating this similarly to previous wrongfully detained Americans in Russia?
MR PATEL: I don’t want to draw a conclusion or get into hypotheticals. What I will just reiterate again is that our priority and our focus is pursuing consular access as swiftly and as quickly as we can. That continues to be our priority and that’s what this entire department and our team in Moscow continues to be engaged on.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: I know there was a statement – I think from the mission in The Hague – on this, but the International Court of Justice ruling today on Iranian assets. Is there anything you can say about that? The Iranians are – actually see some silver linings in this as well. Is there anything you have to say about the —
MR PATEL: Broadly what I would say, Shaun, is that this decision actually is a major blow to Iran’s attempt to avoid its responsibility, in particular to the families of U.S. peacekeepers who were killed in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barrack in Beirut. We recognize the court’s important role and contributions to the rule of law, and the U.S. commends the court’s ruling related to Bank Markazi, which was the bulk of Iran’s case.
We are of course disappointed that the court has concluded that U.S. laws permitting the turnover of assets of other Iranian agencies and [instrumentalities] to U.S. victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism were inconsistent with the treaty. But broadly, we believe that today’s decision is a major blow to Iran.
Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: On Russia. Sorry I’m a little late.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: And you might have addressed this one. Do you have any details on, first of all, when the arrest took place and what was the state of his credentials? I understand he recently got his credentials updated.
MR PATEL: Alex, as I spoke to a number of your colleagues about this just before, there is a limit to the details and the sequencing that I’m going to get into from here given privacy considerations. What I will reiterate again is that right now, we are working around the clock to seek consular access. We have raised this directly with the Russian Federation’s foreign ministry. We’re raising this through all appropriate channels, and our intent is to get as much information as we can and seek consular access so we can perform a wellness check on this individual and as well as just ascertain their well-being also.
QUESTION: What is your response to your Russian counterpart’s comment? It looks like Zhakarova has already jumped into conclusion, saying that he has been engaged in all sorts of activities but journalism. So it looks like they already drew that line, that he has been doing something illegal.
MR PATEL: What I would say to this, Alex, is that first and foremost, it’s – it is not helpful for anybody to get into hypotheticals right now. But there’s also no reason that anyone should believe these charges as accurate. But currently, our priority is gaining consular access to this individual, which is something we would do in any circumstance when an American national is detained abroad in any part of the world, and that continues to be a line of effort that we’re working towards.
QUESTION: And to put that into context, this is the first American reporter has been arrested, has been on charges, since 1986. What does it tell you about the state of U.S.-Russia relationship?
MR PATEL: Alex, what I will just say broadly is that what I closed with in my topper, which is that we have seen the Russian Government’s escalating repression against journalists and to civil society voices and the broader Russian community for quite some time. And as I noted, since February 24th, since they began their brutal assault on Ukraine, dozens of outlets and more than a hundred individual media professionals have been labeled as undesirable organizations or foreign agents for simply just doing their job.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on this? Are you concerned about the impact this could have on Paul Whelan’s case? And do you have any updates on when he was last given consular visit or a call?
MR PATEL: So I think it’s really important, Jenny, that we not make comparisons among these cases. The U.S. Government continues to engage with the Russian Federation through the established channel to bring Paul Whelan home. His release continues to be an absolute priority, and we have and will continue to engage the Russian Government on his case. Consular officers last visited Paul in person at the end of January, and will be speaking to him by phone today.
QUESTION: Can I have one more on this, if you don’t mind?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you view this action as a way to intimidate Western reporters who have been trying to investigate Russia’s action on the ground, given Moscow (inaudible) and other Russia’s activities?
MR PATEL: Alex, I’m just not going to speculate or get into hypotheticals. Again, my message to any American citizen inside the Russian Federation right now is that our Travel Advisory Warning is a Level 4. And if you are an American citizen in Russia, you should leave, and if you need assistance doing so, our embassy in Moscow is at the ready to help engage on this.
Anything else on this before we move away?
QUESTION: Kind of like piggybacking off Jenny’s question. Does this case have any impact on the case of Marc Fogel, who actually, by the way, the State Department doesn’t even consider to be wrongfully detained?
MR PATEL: Broadly, we take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and to provide all appropriate consular assistance. As our ambassador in Moscow has said, we have called on the Russian Government to release Marc Fogel on humanitarian grounds, and we continue to take seriously our commitment to American citizens in ensuring that they receive appropriate consular access.
QUESTION: I want to move on to Taiwan.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So the president’s visit – she’s in the U.S. at the moment and has said the relationship between the – between Taiwan and the United States is closer than ever. I wondered if you agree with that characterization of the relationship.
MR PATEL: We of course have a deep unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and our approach to Taiwan – the important thing to remember here – has remained consistent across decades and administrations. And we are guided by our “one China” policy as well as – which itself is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.
QUESTION: And you’ve warned – sort of talked about urging China not to respond aggressively. Have you seen any signs of overreaction so far since she arrived in the country?
MR PATEL: Our message to the PRC continues to be that there’s no reason to turn this transit, which is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, into something that it’s not, or use it as an opportunity to overreact. There are – there is nothing about this transit that is changing the status quo, and we continue to feel strongly that cross-strait issues should be discussed and dealt with in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Another – Laura Rosenberger met, or greeted, President Tsai when she arrived in New York. Are there any plans for any administration officials to meet with President Tsai during her stopovers?
MR PATEL: I will let the president and her team speak to her scheduling. But it is my understanding that there are no plans currently.
QUESTION: I’ll hit you up on one more —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: – if nobody else is.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil, has left the United States. Obviously he’s now in Brazil. But do you have any – do you have anything to say about his return there, his departure from the United States, and what role – in the wake of the incidents that happened in January in Brazil, the role that you would see for Bolsonaro, whether it’s supportive of democracy?
MR PATEL: I would say a couple things, Shaun. First and foremost, Mr. Bolsonaro is now a private citizen, so I would refer you to his representatives for any further information about his movements. But I’ve seen those same reports that you’re alluding to and would refer you to Brazilian authorities to speak to further details about the investigations that are ongoing in their country about the events on January 8th.
Dylan, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, a few questions about the Summit for Democracy just wrapping up now. What exactly is the criteria for being invited to the Summit for Democracy? Why weren’t two NATO Allies – Turkey and Hungary – invited when there are other countries that were invited that are, if you look at international monitors, significantly less democratic than those two countries?
MR PATEL: What I would say to that, Dylan, is that broadly speaking, we haven’t – we have built this invitation list in line with the same invitation list that the Summit for Democracy had last year, with the addition of – and I’m trying to see if I can get a specific list for you. We invited 121 foreign partners for the two-day summit, and that was reflective of partnerships with our co-hosts Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Zambia. This summit, our intent is to reflect the truth that people of the world share, which is to live in societies in which their voices are heard and human dignity is upheld. The invitation list and the co-hosts reflect a regionally diverse set of co-hosts that demonstrate the universal desire for accountable, transparent, and rights-respecting governance as well.
QUESTION: So you did add eight countries from – I believe was the number from the last summit. But why were those two not – at a – particularly at a time when you’ve stressed the importance of NATO being as strong as ever and needing these two countries’ cooperation to expand NATO, and they’ve been two of the roadblocks for that. Why were they not on that list of countries that were added? Because it’s not the same exact list.
MR PATEL: Well, to the contrary, Dylan, both Hungary and Turkey are moving forward as it relates to the protocol to have Finland join NATO. That is work that is ongoing, and we are eager to welcome both Finland and Sweden into NATO soon, and we continue to be very clear in our messaging with our Hungarian and Turkish partners that Sweden and Finland should both join NATO as soon as possible because it will not only strengthen the security of the Alliance, it will strengthen the security of Europe. But it would also strengthen the security of the United States as well.
QUESTION: Okay, just one more. So to go back to kind of the first question, the criteria for being invited to the Summit for Democracies is not just to be a democracy? That’s not one of the criteria?
MR PATEL: That is one of the pieces of the criteria to be invited to the summit.
QUESTION: Even though there’s countries invited that are not rated as democacies by the global Democracy Index?
MR PATEL: Dylan, I think I’ve answered your question.
MR PATEL: As I said, the invitations and the co-hosts are reflective of a regionally diverse set of countries that all share our universal desire for accountable, transparent, and rights-respecting governance as well.
Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Aly from ARY News.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So there are many countries who were not invited in this summit, but Pakistan is one of those invited but decided not to participate. So do you have – like, Pakistan said in its statements that they will continue talking about this issue on bilateral [inaudible]. So do you have any – your thoughts on that?
MR PATEL: Well, we’re certainly sorry that Pakistan chose not to participate. But it is a sovereign state and it is one that can make decisions for itself. This certainly does not change our willingness to continue to work with Pakistan. The U.S. and the Pakistan work together on a broad range of issues, and we continue to engage with them on issues surrounding democracy, human rights, including freedom of religion, belief, as well as there’s an important security partnership as well.
QUESTION: So there’s a rise of Taliban attacks in Pakistan. TTP recently attacked many police officers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. So recently, if I remember, there was like talks on the counterterrorism in cooperation with Pakistan. So anything about that? What kind of cooperation is going on with Pakistan? What kind of help you offer –
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer, but of course there is a deep security partnership with Pakistan, including counterterrorism efforts. I saw those same reports of the recent attacks and would offer condolences to those who were impacted.
QUESTION: I have a last question, please, (inaudible) –
MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit; you got a couple questions already. You had your hand up in the back. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. If I could just go back to Evan for a minute, if that’s okay. Just have just two more. Is there reason to believe this is in retaliation for anything, or that he was detained with the intent to use him for a future prisoner swap?
MR PATEL: I think as I said to one of your colleagues, jumping to hypotheticals right now is not helpful to anyone, including this individual. And currently our priority continues to be to ascertaining as much information as we can, seeking consular access, and making sure that we can check in – and check in on the well-being of this individual.
QUESTION: When do you expect that to happen, to have that contact with him?
MR PATEL: So as I said at the beginning of the briefing, the unfortunate part of this is that Russia’s administrative procedures and security requirements – it could potentially be several days before that happens. But we are pursuing this around the clock. The entire department is working a number of lines of effort to ensure that we can do this.
Simon, go ahead.
QUESTION: To come back to the Summit —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — for Democracy. You mentioned 121 countries were invited, right? I wonder if you had any sort of reflection on the – so I think the statement, the declaration that came out yesterday was signed 73 countries, with 12 expressing reservations or opting out of certain parts of the text. Does that – just for point of comparison, the Community for Democracies in 2000, when they launched that under Secretary Albright, had 106 countries sign up for their initial declaration.
So I guess the point of this summit is to kind of gather together the world’s democracies, get behind these principles. The fact that you’ve only – perhaps you want to tell me that more countries are going to sign up. I’ll be interested to know when we’ll see that. But the fact that for now you only have 73 with some reservations, how does that speak to this administration’s goal of uniting democracies against autocracies?
MR PATEL: I would say a couple things to that, Simon. First, what I would say is that the day of the summit’s programming is not over yet. We still have a number of hours before the end of day.
But broadly, we launched the Summit for Democracy in early 2021 to put new and high-level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions, protect human rights, and accelerate the fight against corruption both at home and abroad.
And in the 15 months since we held the first Summit for Democracy if December of 2021, the world has witnessed a lot of change, and the events of 2022 put in stark relief what we already know: that democratic government grounded in the rule of law and the will of the governed remains the best tool to unleash our full human potential.
So this is something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on not just through this summit, but it is something that the Secretary discusses frequently in his bilateral engagements around the world as well.
QUESTION: Sorry, do you want to just sort of answer the question about the number of countries that signed up? Is there any message to countries that didn’t sign up specifically? There’s a few who – like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, countries that you guys have pretty good relationships with – didn’t sign up to this statement.
MR PATEL: Simon, we engage on these issues with a number of countries through bilateral channels. I’m not going to specifically get ahead of the process when there’s still a good amount of the summit still left.
Matt, you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Yeah. Well, let me just point out that I was there when the Community of Democracies was founded in Warsaw by Secretary Albright, and the French refused to sign onto it because they didn’t think it was a good idea. So it’s —
QUESTION: Yeah, you’re welcome. (Laughter.) I have two wildly divergent questions.
MR PATEL: All right.
QUESTION: One is about Israel. Has there been any – has there been any contact with – between people in this building and the Israelis since the kerfuffle, shall we call it?
MR PATEL: I have no specific calls or engagements to read out, Matt. But of course, as you know, this is something that we raise directly with our Israeli partners through a number of channels, and that effort will continue.
QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, I just – it’s been a couple days now since the House Foreign Affairs Committee delivered its subpoena for the dissent cable, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything – if there’s any update to that.
MR PATEL: Yeah, I will – let me say a couple things to that, Matt. First, many of you saw the Secretary during his hearings on March 23rd make clear his commitment to working with the House Foreign Affairs Committee to provide the information that it needs while upholding his responsibility to protect the integrity of the department’s dissent channel, a forum that was established in order to ensure that employees can share their candid and critical advice with department leadership.
We made clear and followed up with the committee to reiterate our willingness to provide a briefing about the concerns raised and the challenges identified by Embassy Kabul, including in the dissent channel. The committee instead chose to issue a subpoena.
We remain committed to providing the committee with the information it needs to conduct its oversight function, and we have already provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the committee’s request.
The important thing to remember here, Matt, is that the department’s concern is much broader than this cable or any single cable; rather, it’s to protect all dissent channel communications past and future to ensure that the channel remains a privileged and confidential vehicle for department personnel or embassy staff to share their candid feedback and advice. And ultimately, we believe that we can satisfactorily provide the committee with the information it needs to conduct its oversight function while still protecting this important institution.
QUESTION: Okay. But since the – since they issued the subpoena or since you got it, has there been any communication back and forth?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements with the committee to read out, Matt. But as you know, this continues to be an ongoing and iterative process, and we have been quite clear, including from – directly from the Secretary’s mouth, our willingness to provide a briefing on all of these very important matters.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Jenny, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. There were reports last week that two Americans were kidnapped in Haiti. Do you have any further information on that, or have you gotten any confirmation about this?
MR PATEL: So broadly, Jenny, our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. I can confirm the kidnapping of two U.S. citizens in Haiti. We are in regular contact with Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and our U.S. Government interagency partners, but I don’t have any other specific updates to offer at this time.
QUESTION: Do you know who kidnapped them, or is there any information —
MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any additional information that I can offer at this time.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. A couple questions. One —
MR PATEL: Let’s limit it to one and work the room.
QUESTION: But one of them is a follow-up from yesterday. Actually, I’ll just start with that one. Excuse me. The other day there was a UN vote to form an independent investigation of the Nord Stream explosion. Only China, Russia, and Brazil voted in favor. Why did the U.S. abstain? You said you’d follow up on that.
MR PATEL: And I believe our team got back to you. But what I would reiterate is —
QUESTION: I’ve not gotten anything from your team.
MR PATEL: What I would reiterate is that, again, there is an ongoing investigation through the countries that were impacted, and we’re continuing to support those ongoing investigations, and certainly not going to take steps as it relates to additional investigations till that process plays out.
QUESTION: Okay. And China and Brazil struck a deal on Wednesday to conduct trade in their own currencies instead of the dollar. Is the U.S. concerned about this de-dollarization trend pushed by the Chinese Communist Party? Is there a plan to prevent similar deals with other U.S. partners?
MR PATEL: Countries are going to make their own sovereign decisions as it relates to relationships with any country in the world, including the PRC. What I will say about Brazil is that it is a important partner of ours, an important partner as it relates to our priorities in the Western Hemisphere but also across the world. There is an important climate nexus between our two countries, an important trade cooperation. And our approach to our relationship with any country is continuing to provide and put on the table what a partnership with the United States can look like.
Go ahead. You had your hand up.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Bangladesh, freedom of expression and freedom of press is very much controlled by the regime and (inaudible) zero-tolerance. And we have seen already, including United States, 12 country criticized the government position on freedom of expression as they are filing one after another cases under the Digital Security Act. Just yesterday they picked up – the security forces in a plain clothes picked up one reporter, widely circulated Bengali newspaper’s – Prothom Alo’s Shamsuzzaman Shams. He picked up and they file cases against the editor of Prothom Alo, and earlier March one of the reporter, he is working for Al Jazeera, his brother under attack. So what is your comment on that as regime is very much critical and attacking on freedom of expression in Bangladesh?
MR PATEL: So broadly, what I would say is we remain deeply concerned about the government’s use of the Digital Security Act. And freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is an essential element of democracy and is especially important in an election year. No members of the press should be threatened, harassed, physically attacked, or arrested for simply doing their job.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Forty global leaders expressed their deep concern for well-being of the Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. They wrote a open letter to the prime minister and it’s published in The Washington Post, including Secretary of State and the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. So what is your position as government is very – very much attacking on the Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus, filing case one after another?
MR PATEL: We’re aware of the recent letter in The Post expressing concern over Professor Yunus’s situation, and we share the signatories’ views that Professor Yunus has made significant contributions to the alleviation of poverty around the world, as is reflected in his Nobel Peace Prize and numerous other international honors. But I don’t have any other specifics to offer right now.
Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions, one on U.S.-India relations —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Another one, a second on Pakistan.
As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, now we have a new ambassador was confirmed already to India after two years almost – two years no ambassador to India. First of all, when he is going to take charge in New Delhi?
And second, whatever these little incidents took place about consulate in San Francisco and in Washington at the embassy and all that – anybody from the U.S. Government or Indian Government or in the Indian embassy was in touch with the State Department, or any meetings or any – about these incidents, and where do we stand today?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things.
First, of course, we were quite happy to see Ambassador Garcetti be confirmed. I don’t have any specific date or timeline to share other than I know he’s eager to get to New Delhi and present his credentials very soon. And I’m sure that will happen as soon as it can.
Secondly, to your next question, we take the safety and security of the diplomatic missions that we host in the United States and the diplomats that we – that work in them quite seriously. We are in close touch with our Indian partners on a number of issues, but including on this we made sure to remain in close touch with them as well as the appropriate local entities, depending on where these various missions and consulates were located.
QUESTION: And second, sir, as far as India and Pakistan relations are concerned, several incident – I mean, several questions were raised by Pakistan at the United Nations that Pakistan wants to talk with India and all that. But according to Dr. Jaishankar, foreign minister of India, and Indian officials, what they’re saying is that talks and terrorism cannot continue together. It has to be just talks, but Pakistan have to stop terrorizing India in any or all manners.
MR PATEL: Look, Goyal, I will let the Indian External Affairs Ministry add any additional commentary to Dr. Jaishankar’s comments. But broadly, what I would say is that the U.S. values its important relationship with both our Indian partners and Pakistan as well, and these relationships stand on their own and are not a zero-sum proposition.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Today Treasury Department sanctioned Slovakian national for attempted arms deal between North Korea and Russia, and Secretary Blinken issued a comment. My question is: How much are you worried about the impact of North Korea’s support to Russia’s military operation in the war of Ukraine at present and in the future?
MR PATEL: Broadly, what I would say is that we of course have remained increasingly concerned about the deepening of Russia’s relationship with a number of malign actors, whether that be the DPRK or Iran. And what the takeaway would be from today’s actions is that we will not relent in targeting those who provide support to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. And we will continue to take actions that deny the DPRK and other inputs that Pyongyang can utilize to further develop its weapons for mass destruction and ballistic missiles program. We’re going to continue to identify, expose, and counter Russian attempts to acquire military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.
Michail, you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Yes, I wanted to go back to Sweden and NATO, et cetera. Any indication from Türkiye and Hungary when they will give the green light to Sweden to be part of NATO?
MR PATEL: We have made quite clear that Sweden and Finland are strong and capable partners and share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance. We welcome the reports of Türkiye’s parliament voting for the ratification of Finland’s accession protocol. And we also encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s protocol as well.
QUESTION: Can I – one follow-up, please?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There are some – a lot of people in Europe and here in Congress saying that Türkiye and Hungary are blocking Sweden’s entry in NATO. I mean, this blocking, it serves the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin. What is your take on this?
MR PATEL: Our message has been clear and consistent since the U.S. itself signed and affirmed our own accession protocol for both Sweden and Finland, and that is that we encourage Türkiye and Hungary to ratify Sweden and Finland’s accession as swiftly as possible. And we are confident that NATO will formally accept both of these countries soon. And as we’ve said and as I just said earlier today, Finland and Sweden are fulfilling the commitments made under the trilateral memorandum of agreement that was made on the margins of the Madrid Summit. And we look forward to welcoming both of these countries in NATO sometime soon.
You had your hand up. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to get your response. Speaker McCarthy says today that Biden’s prisoner swap emboldened Putin, and he said, quote, “it…shows that when the President pays ransom, they’ll go after and take more Americans.” What is your response to the idea that previous prisoner swaps could have emboldened Putin to have Russia detain an American journalist?
MR PATEL: It’s pretty shocking to see someone already attempt to politicize this. So what I will say is – reiterate what this department is focused on. And what we’re focused on is ascertaining as much information as we can, seeking consular access to this individual so we can get the best sense of how they are doing and have a sense of their wellness. But broadly, this is a tactic the Russian Federation has long used, and our best tool to protect Americans is prevention. And currently, that is discouraging them to go from – to Russia in the first place, where I have said, again, we have a Travel 4 threat advisory in place. And it is clear it is not a safe place for American citizens.
But again, broadly, it is shocking and concerning that there are already attempts to politicize this.
All right, thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)
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