2:13 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Full house today. Wow. Well, welcome. Before I dive right in, I did just want to welcome Ben Hall back to the briefing room. We are so glad to see you here and just everything that you have been through, and just welcome back to the department. And we’ll hope to see you around here more often.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: All right. I have one very brief thing, and then we’ll dive right into your questions. I wanted to provide you all an update on our efforts in Sudan from the weekend.

Three U.S. government-facilitated convoys successfully enabled groups of U.S. citizens, their immediate family members, nationals from allied and partner countries to arrive safely in Port Sudan on April 29th, April 30th, and today.

These convoys have assisted over 700 individuals.  We unfortunately don’t have a further breakdown at this moment.

From there, we have been assisting U.S. citizens and others who are eligible with onward travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where additional U.S. personnel are positioned to assist with consular and emergency services.

This successful operation would not have been possible without the dedication and bravery of our locally employed staff who facilitated the movements from Khartoum during an arduous overland journey to Port Sudan.  We salute their commitment and applaud their courage.

This builds on the U.S. government’s efforts to assist the departure of our diplomats, private U.S. citizens, and Lawful Permanent Residents by land convoys, flights on partner aircraft, and by sea.

In a multinational effort, the U.S. Government, in concert with allies and partners, has facilitated the departure of over 1,000 U.S. citizens from Sudan since the start of the violence.

This effort has included intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance overwatch, close coordination with partner nations on flights and convoys, and a sustained diplomatic and messaging effort to approximately 5,000 U.S. citizens who have sought our guidance.

For those among them who have sought our assistance to depart, we are working tirelessly and around the clock to ensure those who have sought our assistance in Sudan that they are aware of all options for evacuation.

More than 200 U.S. government officials have been working around the clock since the start crisis, 24/7 to coordinate these efforts with allies and partners to facilitate safe departure of U.S. citizens.  Officials within our task force – which comprises interagency experts focused on coordinating logistics, consular, diplomatic, and assistance efforts – are also working around the clock with stakeholders across the U.S. Government.

Since April 24th, we have moved State Department personnel from Washington, D.C. and overseas missions including, among others, to Djibouti, Jeddah, Nicosia, and Nairobi to assist U.S. citizens departing Sudan.

Additionally, U.S. consular officers are on hand in Port Sudan to provide consular assistance to U.S. citizens.  I will note the security environment is dynamic, and the positioning of our personnel in Port Sudan may be subject to change.

Task force personnel here in D.C. and those supporting U.S. citizens departing Sudan at posts in the region have worked more than 1,200 collective hours based on initial conservative estimates.

We have sent and responded to more than 25,000 e-mails and thousands of phone calls and text messages providing information, coordination, and assistance to U.S. citizens.

There continue to be options available on commercial vessels traveling from Port Sudan to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

For departure from Port Sudan to a neighboring location, U.S. officials stand ready to provide consular assistance to U.S. citizens upon arrival to neighboring countries.

U.S. citizens who were not able to take advantage of the several convoy opportunities should reach out to us using the crisis intake form on our website if they have not done so.  We will continue to inform our citizens of departure options that may make sense or work for them – including by land, air, and sea – including options facilitated by partner nations.

Intensive negotiations by the U.S. with the support of our regional and international partners enabled the security conditions that have allowed the departure of thousands of foreign and U.S. citizens, including through today’s operation – this weekend’s operation.  We continue to call on Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to end the fighting that is endangering all civilians.

And we reiterate our warning to U.S. citizens not to travel to Sudan.

Matt, if you’d like to —


MR PATEL:  — kick us off.

QUESTION:  Well, before I turn it over to Ben for the first question, I just want to say something about his return.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  There were quite a lot of words spoken over this weekend in Washington, D.C. about the importance of a free press and the role that it plays in informing the world – the American people and others.  And I just want to remind everyone that Ben literally almost paid for this principle with his life, and we’re very thankful that he survived and recovered and is back with us here in the briefing room.  So it’s really good to – it’s really good to see you, and welcome back.  Let me just stand up and give you a round of applause.  (Applause.)

MR PATEL:  And I just want to say again, I obviously didn’t work here when you were in a place to not attend briefings, but I am so glad to be up here to welcome you back.  So seriously, welcome.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I won’t take your time too long.  We have a lot of questions to get to, but I felt all the support from this room, I really did, throughout, and it gave me a lot of strength to keep going.  So I’m so grateful for everyone who reached out, and I appreciate it all.  I will say that the briefing room was probably the thing I missed most while I was away, being in here.  So I’m glad to be back.

I’ll pass it back to you for the first question.

QUESTION:  Oh, no, way – well – really?

QUESTION:  Well, then —

QUESTION:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Then quickly I wanted to know about Sudan.  I wonder if there are any more convoys which are planned.  Do we expect to see any in the coming days?

MR PATEL:  So that is all going to depend on the very delicate security situation and security environment in Khartoum and Port Sudan as well.  We’ll continue to assess and look at this from all angles.  Currently we don’t have any immediate convoys planned, but this will largely depend, as I said, on the security situation as well as the desire from any remaining American citizens to safely depart Sudan.  So we’ll continue to monitor and make announcements as appropriate.

QUESTION:  Any update on numbers, how many are still trying to leave?

MR PATEL:  So again, to reiterate what I said, we have through our crisis intake form communicated with approximately fewer than 5,000 American citizens who have sought guidance and sought communication from the American Government.  And since the violence began, we have safely facilitated the departure of approximately 1,000 American citizens from Sudan.  This, of course, has been through a variety of modalities, whether it be our convoys, convoys from multilateral and international organizations, or flights from our partner and allies as well.

QUESTION:  So on Sudan, the evacuations –

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  So when was this third convoy?

MR PATEL:  What do you mean, Matt?

QUESTION:  Well, were there three, or only two?

MR PATEL:  There are – there were three.  The third was a convoy of –

QUESTION:  So the first one was Saturday.

MR PATEL:  Correct.

QUESTION:  The second one and – two and three were on Sunday?

MR PATEL:  Two was on Sunday, and I believe that I will have to get the exact timing for you, but the third one arrived earlier today, Sudan time.

QUESTION:  In Port Sudan?

MR PATEL:  In Port Sudan, correct.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then in terms of – and I know that you guys are not wanting to give the numbers, but I don’t see how it could be an issue.  How many American citizens or LPRs have the consular staff in Jeddah assisted?

MR PATEL:  Matt, I don’t have a specific number for you.  What I can say —

QUESTION:  Can you give us a rough estimate?

MR PATEL:  What I can say is – reiterate the numbers and the metrics that I’ve shared, which is that since the violence –

QUESTION:  Yeah, but that doesn’t my —

MR PATEL:  I understand the question.

QUESTION:  You can’t – so the answer is no.

MR PATEL:  Matt, the other important piece to remember, Jeddah is not the only place that individuals are going.

QUESTION:  But I’m only asking you about Jeddah.

MR PATEL:  I understand.  I understand, and I do not have a —

QUESTION:  I’m not asking you about the entire universe.  I’m asking you about Jeddah.

MR PATEL:  I don’t have a firm, specific —

QUESTION:  Really?  Do they not have a count?  CA doesn’t have a count of the number of people that they’ve – really?

MR PATEL:  Matt.  This is an ongoing situation.

QUESTION:  I know it’s ongoing; I’m asking you so far.  So obviously, you don’t want to answer that question.

MR PATEL:  I don’t have a further specific breakdown for you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Okay.  Humeyra.

QUESTION:  Vedant, the numbers have been a little bit all around the place, but I’m going to ask a numbers question as well.  What is your assessment at the moment on how many more American citizens require U.S. facilitation to depart Sudan?

MR PATEL:  There is not a specific snapshot number to provide, Humeyra.  American citizens will make the determination on when they would like to safely depart Sudan at a time and at a modality that works for them.  Each circumstance is different.  What I can say is that through the crisis intake form, we have communicated to fewer than 5,000 American citizens, and since the beginning of the violence we have been able to safely evacuate approximately 1,000.

What I will say, in my topper I mentioned that the three convoys from this weekend carried a total population of more than 700.  And so those are not reflected in that 1,000 number yet.

QUESTION:  And are you able to say how many of the 700 people were American citizens?

MR PATEL:  As I said, we don’t have a more specific breakdown for you all at the moment, but when I do I will be sure to share that with you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then when you say we have been in touch with less than 5,000, we have gotten out 1,000 – so can we deduct that number from the 5,000 and assume that you guys are still in touch, in active communication, however you want to put it, with the remaining 4,000 who still expressed some sort of a willingness to leave?

MR PATEL:  The thing to – the important thing to remember, Humeyra, is that not every American citizen who has necessarily gotten to safety has deregistered from the crisis intake form, which is why it is hard to give you a very specific snapshot and time update.  So no, I would not say that at this time it’s accurate to make that kind of math.

QUESTION:  To – just to clarify, the —

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  From what you just said – I don’t want to get into a numbers war, but —

MR PATEL:  Well —

QUESTION:  The 700 since Friday, this is —

MR PATEL:  Seven hundred individuals —

QUESTION:  Since Friday?

MR PATEL:  – from the three convoys.



QUESTION:  Those are not included in the 1,000?

MR PATEL:  Correct.  And I am saying 700 individuals because I don’t have yet a specific breakdown for you of how many were American citizens, how many were other nationalities.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But then how could – yesterday in your statement, so you were saying 1,000 from – and that was at the time of the second convoy.

MR PATEL:  So that continues to be the case.


MR PATEL:  Since the violence intensified, we have been able to get approximately 1,000 American citizens out through other mechanisms such as partner flights, such as convoys from other countries, such as convoys from multilateral international organizations.  We are basing this off of, one, just cross-referencing the information that is provided to us, but also, as American citizens seek out consular access or consular assistance in other places where people from Sudan are going to, we’re able to put those pieces together.

QUESTION:  But presumably, with the extra 700 – and I’m assuming there were American citizens in those 700 —

MR PATEL: There were, yes.

QUESTION: Quite a few.

MR PATEL: So that number —

QUESTION: So we’re over 1,000.

MR PATEL: That number – exactly. That number would go up. That is correct, Leon.

Let me go to Camilla and then I’ll come to you, Said. Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Just off of what Leon was saying –

MR PATEL: I’m assuming still on the subject. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The 1,000 American citizens that have got out – and you said that that’s a combination of U.S. convoys and other routes with allies and partners – would you say most of them have got out through other routes, or would you say most of those have gone out through a U.S. convoy, or do you have any idea of the breakdown?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into a specific breakdown, Camilla. This obviously is a very fluid and dynamic situation, and we’ll continue to offer as much information as we can.

QUESTION: And I just have one other question on – in Port Sudan, there’s some privately chartered vessels that we’ve heard about. CBS is on the ground there. They apparently have less than 20 percent occupancy and they won’t sail until they have 80 percent occupancy. I was wondering if you’re aware of any American citizens who’ve tried to go on those private vessels.

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of specific cases, but that is something that we’re continuing to pay close attention to. And what I will also note is that our convoys, they were not 100 percent full, either. Just given the ongoing and fluid security situation, we were able to take the package of people that we could and then were able to safety get them to Port Sudan. But I’m not aware of this specific case.

QUESTION: And people on the U.S. convoys will be going via U.S. vessels?

MR PATEL: There are a number of options available in Port Sudan. Obviously, there are – there was public reporting of a U.S. naval vessel that helped facilitate transfer to Jeddah. There are private ferries. There’s a regular schedule of a ferry leaving Port Sudan to Jeddah. And so a lot of those options continue to be at our disposal.


QUESTION: There has been talk or reports that Saudi Arabia may host talks between Hemedti and Burhan. Are you aware of these reports?

MR PATEL: That would be a question for the kingdom to speak to. What I will say, Said, is that throughout this whole process, of course, Saudi Arabia has played an important role, not just in welcoming American citizens to Jeddah and offering space for our consular activities to take place, but also through the auspices of the quad – obviously, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the United States. They’ve been an important interlocutor with these two generals in insisting and calling on a ceasefire that have allowed the security conditions for such operations to take place. But I don’t have a specific summit to speak to.

QUESTION: But since you worked in step with the Saudis on this issue all along since the fighting broke out, it wouldn’t be – it would be safe to assume that you would be involved in such talks? And so —

MR PATEL: A hundred percent, Said. We have been deeply, deeply engaged in these – making these ceasefires possible and these ceasefires being extended. These diplomatic negotiations that this department has intensely been involved with from the Secretary, from others, have allowed and created the security conditions for such operations to take place where we’ve been able to safely facilitate the departure of not just our citizens but the citizens of our allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the formation of the mechanism towards the ceasefire and to bring the parties to the table?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific update for you, Michel, from Friday. This is something that we continue to be deeply engaged on. As you saw, the two generals on Sunday evening further extended the 72-hour ceasefire. We welcome that step, and we are continuing to call on the ceasefire to be adhered to, to be respected, and for it to be extended even further so that we can continue to work towards a durable cessation of hostilities that gets us back to the will of the Sudanese people, which is a transitional government rooted in democracy.

Anything else on Sudan before I move away? Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Two quick questions.


QUESTION: There are some reports from other outlets about the Wagner group having established a presence at Port Sudan. I’m wondering if the U.S. has seen any presence of the Wagner group at that port and if that would further complicate efforts to get out American citizens from that port.

MR PATEL: I certainly wouldn’t get into on-the-ground security or intelligence assessments from up here. But what I will say, Kylie, is that we have not parsed words about the Wagner group and the destabilizing force that they can be and they have been throughout the African continent.

QUESTION: And then one more question.


QUESTION: What is the State Department doing to get back the passports of citizens of Sudan who were at – which were at the U.S. embassy when you guys had to temporarily shutter the embassy? Are those efforts actively underway? Can you bring us up to speed on what’s being done to get those passports back?

MR PATEL: Are you talking about dual nationals, Kylie, or just —

QUESTION: Sudanese who were having their passport brought to the embassy to try and get visas and the like. I don’t think that they would necessarily be dual citizens, but they were trying to get visas to come —

MR PATEL: Got it. I will – I’ll have to check on that, Kylie. I don’t have an update on specific embassy operations prior to the evacuation, but I will check and see if we have an update for you on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR PATEL: On Sudan before we move away?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Just to know the State Department reaction – our readers and me personally – it’s been in the Sudan situation we have seen Iran and Saudi Arabia have barred their citizens from that area. How is the State Department looking at that cooperation?

MR PATEL: That is a – something for both of those countries to speak to. I don’t have any comment to offer. What I will say is that Saudi Arabia has played an important role in not just welcoming our American citizens but also, through the auspices of the quad, have been an important partner and interlocutor in continuing to push for the extension of the 72-hour ceasefire.

Anything else on Sudan before I move away? Dylan, on Sudan? Okay, go ahead. I want to get through all the Sudan stuff before we work the rest of the room. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just I know you aren’t giving us specific numbers necessarily, but do you have confidence that you have a ballpark number of how many Americans are still in the country and want to get out? And I only ask because the Secretary said a week ago – he used the term “dozens of Americans” had expressed interest in leaving, and obviously dozens strays a lot from ending up having a thousand citizens plus these convoys of hundreds more leaving. So do you have a ballpark idea of how many Americans still want to get out, how many are there?

MR PATEL: Dylan, I’m not going to get more prescriptive than the numbers that I’ve already stated. This is a very fluid and dynamic situation. What I will remind you – and I’ve said this over the course of last week – is that there is not a snapshot time in moment where every American citizen in Sudan decides that the time is appropriate for them to leave. They are making the best judgment and assessment based on what makes sense for them and their family unit. And so we have sought to offer you all as much information in those processes as we can.

All right, moving away. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Happy Monday.

MR PATEL: Happy Monday.

QUESTION: Moving to a D.C. ministerial, today Secretary met with Azerbaijan-Armenian foreign ministers. I think you saw it. We were told by senior officials that discussions have already been successful. Can you please help us unpack that little bit? Was there anything that happened today that help you shape your expectations of how things are going to look like in the days ahead?

MR PATEL: Alex, I certainly am not going to be one to get ahead of the process. But since you’ve given me the opportunity, what I do want to say is that the U.S. is pleased to be hosting Foreign Minister Mirzoyan of Armenia and Foreign Minister Bayramov of Azerbaijan to facilitate negotiations this week as they work together to pursue a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region.

Secretary Blinken was honored to welcome the foreign ministers at a dinner yesterday and attend the opening plenary session this morning at the George P. Shultz National Affairs Foreign Affairs Training Center. You know this, Alex; you’ve covered this issue for a long time: The Secretary believes that direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a lasting peace. This is something that he’s been deeply engaged on. It’s something that Senior Coordinator Bono has been deeply engaged on as well. And it’s something that we will continue to pay close attention to.

And we – look, we believe that there is a – that peace is possible between these two countries, and we are glad to be welcoming them.

QUESTION: I’m sorry for jumping the gun. I know this is going to continue for a couple more days. But how does the success look like, to your understanding?

MR PATEL: Alex, the – ultimately, the way for it to be prescriptive is up for these two countries to decide. Ultimately, what we believe is that peace is possible in the South Caucasus. We look – that’s what we’re looking for, peace and stability between these two countries in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

QUESTION: And very quickly on the venue, is there any reason why the ministers are meeting at FSI facility, not in this building or at the Blair House? Is that because it is more – much more detailed than —

MR PATEL: Well, Alex, it’s a newly completed campus, newly constructed, that is reflective of our commitment to updated, modernized diplomacy that’s rooted in the 21st century.


QUESTION: So I was wondering, following that – on Armenia still. The Secretary has had a – has taken at least two trilateral meetings with the two sides —


QUESTION: — in the recent months. He’s called several times, according to your statements, the presidents, and the prime minister of Armenia and all. So how confident is he that this time could be the time that they agree on normalizing relations? And second, what kind of pressure is he putting on them?

MR PATEL: Leon, I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here as we’re only on the first day. What I will say is that we believe that peace is possible between these two countries. We think that direct dialogue through diplomacy is key here. And you were right; this is something that the Secretary has been deeply engaged on; he’s had the opportunity to convene trilateral meetings as well as speak to the foreign ministers and leaders of these two countries. And we will continue to be engaged on this issue.

QUESTION: Yes, but he hasn’t been successful so far in all these recent – in all the past trilaterals. So what makes this one different?

MR PATEL: Again, Leon, I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here, and I will let the two countries speak to their own efforts on this.

QUESTION: Follow-up?

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Follow-up in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Is that correct information that the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan might stay longer in Washington and have more meetings during the upcoming days? That’s my first question.

The second one is: The Government of Azerbaijan has disregarded all calls previously made by also Department of State to unblock the road, the Lachin corridor. I was wondering if this administration has any other steps – considers any other steps to take in order to make sure that the road is unblocked and that the nearly disastrous humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh improves.

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple things. First, I will let the two ministers speak to their own schedule. I don’t have anything to offer or update on that.

And secondly, we have not parsed our words about the need for the free flow of traffic and people and commerce through the Lachin corridor. That continues to be the case and it’s something that we will continue to raise directly with our Armenian counterparts.

Go ahead. Yeah, please.

QUESTION: I have a question about some news out of Türkiye.


QUESTION: The Turkish president announced that, in an operation by the Turkish intelligence, the leader of Daesh, or ISIS, has been killed on Saturday. Does the United States confirm that, first of all?

MR PATEL: So I’ve seen those reports, and it’s not something I’m able to confirm at this moment. And I would let the Government of Türkiye speak for – on this about more information. Obviously, if it is in fact true, this would be welcome news. And as you know, the United States has been waging a campaign with our international partners to degrade ISIS, and we have had success and we’ll continue these efforts. U.S. forces remain in Syria solely to support this enduring goal of defeating and degrading ISIS.

QUESTION: Can I – just a quick one.


QUESTION: We’ve heard you’ve had some exchanges here as well that the Turkish military presence in Syria – in northern Syria – has been destabilizing at times, according to the United States, for the fight against Daesh. How would that – can you speak to that a little bit, because —

MR PATEL: What I will just say broadly is that this is something that the United States is deeply committed to. We, as I said, have forces that remain in Syria solely to support this enduring defeat of ISIS, and candidly, we have always appreciated Türkiye’s valuable contributions to defeat ISIS as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Jackson.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Will the State Department comply with the House subpoena to turn over the Afghan dissent cable due by close of business today? If not, why?

MR PATEL: So, Jackson, you have seen me speak about this a great deal before. What I will reiterate is that we have communicated with the House Foreign Affairs Committee with an offer that we believe is sufficient for them to conduct their appropriate oversight duty that has included a written summary of dissent coming out of the embassy in Kabul and others. It has also involved a closed-door classified briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on these topics. And so we believe that we have aptly engaged the committee, and I don’t have any further updates to offer on what next steps will be. We continue to engage directly with them.

QUESTION: And Senator Ron Johnson today alleged that Secretary Blinken lied to Congress during a December 2020 interview about never emailing – excuse me – Hunter Biden. The senator claims he has emails showing otherwise. Does the department have a response to these allegations?

MR PATEL: This is not a State Department issue, and so I don’t have any comment for you on that from here.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf is in Baghdad, and she met with the Iraqi prime minister and scheduled to visit Erbil. Will the assistant secretary touch the KRG oil exports, (inaudible) a stoppage to the international market, as it is the main concern of the U.S. oil companies in the region? And I have learned that the U.S. companies has sent letters to the State Department to have more engagement to this matter.

MR PATEL: So broadly what I would say is that we would welcome the agreement between the central government and Kurdistan Regional Government on the export of oil through the Iraq-Türkiye pipeline, and this outcome is the consequence of important hard work of Iraqi leaders who are putting the needs of Iraqi citizens first and foremost. I don’t have any other specific updates about Ambassador Leaf’s engagements, though we’ll see if there’s – we have any other updates to offer.

QUESTION: Have you talked to Türkiye about the resumption of the oil exports?

MR PATEL: We engage with our close ally Türkiye on a number of issues. I don’t – I’m not going to get into the specifics of them, but we engage with them regularly.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib from ARY News.


QUESTION: It is about the annual report of U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom. The report recommends to include India and Pakistan into CPC countries. Pakistan is in the CPC list but India is not. So can you confirm whether State Department’s going to consider to include India into the CPC countries?

MR PATEL: What I will say is that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent U.S. commission established to provide policy recommendations to the President, to the Secretary of State, and Congress. It is not a branch of the State Department or the Executive Branch, and its report reflects the importance of religious freedom to the American people. While the report’s recommendations for designations overlap for some extent with the State Department’s lists of Country of Particular Concern, it is not entirely conclusive. Governments or other entities that have questions or comments about this report should reach out to the commission directly.

QUESTION: Sir, the report also mentioned that current prime minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, weaponized the blasphemy laws against Imran Khan and his cabinet member, which resulted in an assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Imran Khan. So sir, are you going to raise this issue, concerns with the Pakistani government of misusing blasphemy laws?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that we strongly oppose laws that impede the ability of any individuals – irrespective of their national identity – to choose a faith, practice a faith, change their religion, not have a religion, or tell others about their religious beliefs and practices.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question; it’s very important. The – senior members of U.S. Congress raising the issues of free and fair elections in Pakistan. The senior member, Brad Sherman, has said the United States should side with democracy and not with the leaders more pliable to Washington. So can you provide insight into the U.S. government’s stance on democratic values in Pakistan?

MR PATEL: Our belief is that we would support and look forward to engaging any government in Pakistan that is reflective of the will of the Pakistani people. And we certainly don’t have anything to say on internal or domestic politics or dynamics there. And I would refer you to Congressman Sherman to speak to his comments. I’ve not seen those.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), RIA Novosti news agency, Washington bureau. Thank you for this opportunity, Mr. Patel. So the first question is it’s almost a month since Secretary Blinken’s last conversation with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov. And last week, when Russian delegation was in the United Nations headquarters, there were no contacts – at least we didn’t hear about it. Are there any intentions from the State Department to arrange another high-level catch-up on the various topics they could discuss?

And the second question: What is the State Department’s position on the latest Ukrainian drone attacks on civilian facilities in Russian Bryansk region last week and in Sevastopol in Crimea this Monday? So doesn’t the U.S. administration consider that such kind of attacks could lead to another round of escalation of the conflict? Thank you.

MR PATEL: We have no plans to meet or engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov. The Secretary had the opportunity to speak with him at the beginning of this month, where he was very clear in his phone call about the need to release wrongfully detained American citizen and Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, as well as to release wrongfully detained American citizen Paul Whelan.

As part of your second question, I will let our Ukrainian partners speak to their specific operations that they decide to undertake. But I think it’s really, really important for all of us here to collectively remember that there is one country aggressively invading, trying to erase the borders of another, and that is Russia trying to invade Ukraine, erase its borders, erase its national identity. And so what the United States is going to do is going to stand with our Ukrainian partners, as we have done so. We are going to continue to take steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Both on Russia. Jill Hruby last week said that the U.S. would welcome the beginning of talks on a new treaty with Russia to nuclear weapons instead of the New START. Can you confirm that?

MR PATEL: Who said this?

QUESTION: Jill Hruby. She’s the chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

MR PATEL: I’ve not seen those comments. I just don’t have anything to offer on that.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have another question.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said last week that Russia didn’t actually get what it was promised to her as part of the grain deal. Do you believe that Russia benefited from the grain deal?

MR PATEL: I think the entire world benefited from the grain deal, because it has taken steps to ensure that food and grain is not weaponized, and that important food and grain and food products are able to get to countries who need it. And it is another mechanism in which that we’ve prevented the Russian Federation from weaponizing food.

QUESTION: Did Russia benefited – benefit from the grain deal?

MR PATEL: The whole world has benefited from Ukraine’s ability to ship its food to the places where it’s needed to go.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead.


MR PATEL: Not you.


MR PATEL: Janne. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. China and North Korea are criticizing the South Korea and the United States president for adopting the Washington Declaration at the summit last week. North Korea is warning of a nuclear pre-emptive strike against South Korea. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: The important thing to remember here, Janne, is that President Biden and President Yoon expressed a shared vision of a strong and deeply integrated U.S.-ROK alliance that maintains peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The President believes that the DPRK’s efforts to advance its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, as well as its destabilizing and dangerous rhetoric, requires a series of prudent steps to strengthen deterrence, which we think are elaborated through the Washington Declaration. And as the Washington Declaration so clearly states, both presidents – President Biden and President Yoon – remain steadfast in their pursuit of dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK. We have a shared goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: On China, the U.S. briefed China in advance about the Washington Declaration, but why does China say it will retaliate against South Korea?

MR PATEL: That is a question for the PRC, Janne. What I will say – I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of our diplomatic engagements and how we notify and engage with countries, but our relationship and alliance with the ROK is deep-rooted. This – as you know, this past week we celebrated the 70th anniversary of relations with the Republic of Korea, and this state visit was an important opportunity to mark that historic occasion. And so there is no reason for the PRC to overreact or to turn this into something that it’s not.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Follow-up on the ISIS leader killed in Syria. So he was – he replaced Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, the former leader that was killed by the United States in February. Have you contacted the Turks or should we expect a communication between Türkiye and United States with respect to this guy?

MR PATEL: So I think I answered this question fully to my ability when answering your colleague, but I will say again that I’m aware of these reports, I’m not in a place to confirm them at this time, and for anything additional on this I would let – I would have you speak to the Government of Türkiye.

What I can say, though, is that the United States has an enduring commitment to defeat and degrade ISIS. That is why we continue to have forces in Syria for this very goal, and we have been waging a campaign with international partners to degrade ISIS. And I will say is that we have always appreciated Türkiye’s valuable contributions in this effort.

QUESTION: I just wonder, given the value of the target, is there a specific reason that there is no communication with respect to that specific news between the Turkish and American governments?

MR PATEL: I didn’t say that. What I said was that I’m not in a place to confirm it and I would have you speak to the Government of Türkiye for further details.

As it relates to communicating with our Turkish allies, we engage with them closely on a number of issues, including security concerns in the region, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Very quick on the Palestinian –


QUESTION: — issues if you’re done with Syria. The ancient city of Jericho has been under siege for the past nine days by the Israeli occupation army. Has anyone – maybe Special Envoy Hady Amr or anyone from this building – been in touch, in consultation with the Israelis to lift the siege, or —

MR PATEL: Said, we are in constant touch with our Israeli partners, as well as the Palestinian Authority, as it relates to issues in the region. And we have reiterated to them about the need to not take steps that incite tensions and to take steps that take us away from our goal of a two-state solution, and steps that are not in line of our belief of equal measures of prosperity and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: All right, but this is a particular case because this city – which is really the hub of the Jordan Valley, it’s all – basically it’s the waystation for all agriculture and so on, and it’s totally besieged. No one has been in touch with them, as far as you know?

MR PATEL: Said, I am just not going to get into specific tit-for-tat conversations.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my second question on –

MR PATEL: We engage with our Israeli partners and the Palestinian Authority quite regularly. Go ahead.

QUESTION: And on Syria, very quickly. In Jordan there was a meeting held today with – Jordan hosted it – a meeting – Amman hosted a meeting with Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to talk about reintegrating Syria into the Arab world. Do you have any comment on this? I mean, Jordan is one of your closest allies. Did they consult with you beforehand or afterwards or anything?

MR PATEL: Again, we engage with our Jordanian partners closely on a number of issues. I am not going to get into the specifics of those. But what I will say is, as it relates to your question, we have seen those reports and understand that a communique was issued by the participants talking about their efforts to reach a solution relating to the crisis in Syria that is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. And we continue to believe that a political solution as outlined in 2254 remains the only viable option to the conflict, and we continue to work with our allies and partners as well through auspices within the UN to implement 2254.

QUESTION: So you find the communique satisfactory?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to parse that from here, Said. What I will just say is that I will let these other countries speak to that.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. So the French daily Le Monde has recently reported that ahead of the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, there is discord among the Western allies on the prospect of Ukraine membership in NATO. And it said that the United States are the most hostile toward the potential accession of Ukraine. Is that accurate, or – and if not, what is the position?

MR PATEL: What I would say is that we are – stand by NATO’s open door policy. This obviously is a collective decision, and it would be something for the entire Alliance to determine. What we are focused on now is ensuring that we can support our Ukrainian partners to take on the challenges that they are facing currently, and that is immense Russian aggression, Russian targeting of civilian and energy infrastructure, Russia having no – disregard for the simple, basics of the UN Charter as it relates to territorial integrity and sovereignty. So that’s what we’re continuing to be focused on.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Putin last week signed a decree allowing the deportation of Ukrainian citizens living in their own land, which was occupied temporarily – it’s the continuation of Ukrainian genocide, isn’t it?

MR PATEL: Alex, I’m not going to put a definition on it. What I have been very clear about from here is that we have seen members of Russian forces commit atrocities, but largely what we are doing is we are doing everything we can to support our Ukrainian partners to ensure that they have the tools and the systems necessary to defend themselves, to put them in the best position possible for a possible negotiating table, and we’ll also continue to take steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable as well.

(Inaudible) in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today President Biden will meet Philippines President Marcos at the White House, and there expects to announce a new bilateral defense guidelines. What would be the significance of a new U.S.-Philippines defense guidelines given the increasing threat from China in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait?

MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get ahead of the President, but President Marcos’ visit offers the opportunity to further deepen our bilateral economic ties, strengthen our security alliance, and renew our commitment to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges, including global food security, including addressing the climate crisis. It’s also an opportunity to discuss regional matters and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific while also coordinating on efforts to uphold human rights, democracy, and international law as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you so much, Mr. Patel. About Bangladesh, as we – everybody know that United States is one of the important supporter of Bangladeshi democracy. And this week Bangladeshi prime minister is visiting here – World Bank and International Monetary Fund. And yesterday managing director of IMF and also the President of World Bank praised her leadership in development in Bangladesh. You know that in Bangladesh they are approaching a national election very soon. How would the U.S. navigate a situation where, in Bangladesh, another party refuse to participate in a nationwide election and may later claim to be an unfair and unjust election?

MR PATEL: As it relates to elections, what we want is we want elections to be free and fair and to be reflective of the will of the Bangladeshi people. I don’t have anything else to get into that beyond as it’s an internal, domestic election. What I will say broadly, though, is that the U.S. and Bangladesh last year celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations, and we look forward to continuing to deepen those relationships. We have a number of areas where we have the possibility for immense cooperation and engagement – whether that be climate change, whether that be the economy, addressing the humanitarian crisis, and other things as well.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: I think I can only do one or two more questions before I’ve got to go. Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: What is the U.S. goal in Yemen by sending Special Envoy Lenderking to the region, and especially after the rapprochement between the – between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

MR PATEL: Our goal, Michel, has always been to end the war in Yemen. That is a top policy – foreign policy objective of this administration, and we fully support the UN’s efforts in this regard. Special Envoy Lenderking traveled to the Gulf today to advance these ongoing efforts and to a secure a new agreement and launch a comprehensive peace process. Special Envoy Lenderking meets regularly with senior Yemeni government officials, as well as senior regional and other international partners in close coordination with the UN, to advance peace efforts.

As it relates to the role that Iran can play, what I would say broadly is that we welcome any efforts to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East, especially those that are consistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Over the past year, there have been intensive diplomatic efforts by the United States, by the UN, by other regional partners, and it has created the longest period of calm and the best opportunity for an enduring peace since the war in Yemen began.

Unfortunately, over that time, Iran has continued its malign and destabilizing activities in Yemen, including illicit shipments of weapons to the Houthis. And so if there is a constructive role for them to play, and if that role can lead to de-escalation of tensions, we certainly would welcome that. But destabilizing activities are not helpful to the overall peace process.

All right. Thanks everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:59 p.m.)



U.S. Department of State

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