Department Press Briefing – May 15, 2023
- NORTH KOREA / CHINA
- SOUTH KOREA
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- CHINA / UKRAINE / RUSSIA
- SOUTH AFRICA
- MOROCCO / WESTERN SAHARA
- SOUTH AFRICA
- SAUDI ARABIA
- UNITED KINGDOM
- CHINA / TAIWAN
1:16 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I hope everyone had a good weekend and a wonderful Mother’s Day. Just one very brief thing at the top, and then —
QUESTION: How was your Mother’s Day?
MR PATEL: I had a wonderful Mother’s Day?
QUESTION: Did you wish your mother a Happy Mother’s Day?
MR PATEL: I spent a wonderful Sunday with my mother-in-law.
QUESTION: Did you? Okay.
MR PATEL: It was great. I have one very brief thing at the top, and then happy to dive into your questions.
I am very pleased to note the election of Amy Pope today to become the next director general of the International Organization for Migration. At a time when more than 100 million people are displaced globally as a result of conflict, climate-related disruptions, and extreme poverty, IOM needs innovative, energetic, and inclusive leadership, and Amy Pope is the right choice to provide that leadership. We look forward to working closely with her as she assumes this new role.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: That’s it?
MR PATEL: That’s it.
QUESTION: Okay. All right, well, I assume that maybe others will ask you more about U.S. migration – immigration policies and the election of an American to run it. But I want to start somewhere else, and it’s just purely logistical, and that is there are some reports in Russia that former employee of the consulate in Vladivostok has been arrested. Do you guys know anything about —
MR PATEL: I’ve seen those reports, Matt, but I don’t have anything additional to offer from here at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. I’ll turn it over to Humeyra, who I think has some more pressing questions.
MR PATEL: Humeyra, go ahead.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Obviously, it looks like it’s going to a run-off, so what you may say – what you say might be limited, but just indulge me here. So whoever wins, I am basically wondering if U.S. is thinking a little bit strategically after the election and looking at ways to create some sort of an opening for a reset in ties betweeen the two countries, because their relationship have been at best uncomfortable and sometimes tense. I’m just wondering if you guys are thinking about that.
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things, Humeyra, and I would reject the premise of your question a little bit. We have a deep partnership with Türkiye, which is a longstanding U.S. ally. The Secretary had the opportunity to visit earlier this year, where he had the opportunity to engage with not just President Erdogan, but also Foreign Minister Cavusoglu. But broadly on the issue of the election, we are continuing to closely monitor the country’s ongoing electoral process. As you so noted, the supreme electoral council has indicated that the elections are going to go to a run-off.
But broadly we congratulate the people of Türkiye for peacefully expressing their will at the ballot box, and also congratulate the newly elected parliament. We’ll continue to work together with whatever government is chosen by the Turkish people to deepen our cooperation and our – deepen our shared priorities. But I don’t have anything else.
QUESTION: Great. Let me try a couple of more times. Washington – one of Washington’s priorities when it comes to Türkiye is to obtain a green light from Ankara for Sweden’s NATO bid. And while it was on the cards that this was probably going to go into a run-off, we’re now going to wait for another two weeks. Again, I’m wondering if the U.S. is planning to communicate with Türkiye, whoever gets elected, and try to one way or another make sure that Sweden gets an approval before Vilnius summit in July.
MR PATEL: Our message regarding Sweden is the same irregardless of whatever government is chosen by the Turkish people, and that is the longstanding position on this that you’ve heard many describe from up here, which is that Sweden is ready to join Finland as a member of the NATO Alliance. We believe this strongly; we think that Sweden’s accession will not only strengthen the Alliance, but it will strengthen security across Europe. It is why the United States was so quick to approve its formal accession protocols, and we look forward to this process finalizing. And we are – we believe that Sweden should join NATO as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And my final one on this. There was a lot of commentary that U.S. was waiting to see the result of the election, the Turkish election, to proceed with the possible F-16 sales or to weigh in on a little bit more on Congress to move on this. So what is the Biden administration’s position as of now with the F-16s? Will there be a push to proceed with that sale in terms of, like, lobbying with Congress after the election?
MR PATEL: Our position hasn’t changed. You saw the President and the Secretary both speak to this a number of times since in office. One of the key things that is of upmost importance to us is NATO inoperability, and that is why we believe —
QUESTION: No, no, no. It’s inter-, not inoperability.
MR PATEL: Inter- – thank you, Matt – NATO interoperability. That is why the Secretary and the President are so supportive of this. But I don’t have any new progress to announce or anything, and we of course will continue to engage with Congress on a number of these issues.
QUESTION: I have one on Türkiye.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So Vedant, there was a highly competitive election, and then the turnout was about 90 percent – almost. And Erdogan finished the race by 5 points ahead of his opponent. My question, like – did the election atmosphere was quite peaceful and there were a lot of international observers also watching the election in Türkiye, including some of the U.S. So how was – what is your assessment on the atmosphere – election atmosphere in Türkiye, and your assessment of the Turkish election process in general?
MR PATEL: Well, the election process is still unfolding, as is the work of the OSCE’s election observation mission, which, as you know, released some preliminary findings. But to take a bit of a step back, Türkiye has a long, proud democratic tradition, and we trust that Turkish authorities will carry out this next phase of the presidential election in line with the country’s laws and in a manner that is consistent with its commitments to the OSCE as well as a NATO Ally. But I’m not going to predict anything additional from here.
QUESTION: Who is your favorite candidate?
MR PATEL: We do not – nice try, but I really appreciate your candid effort, but I will just say again that we look forward to deepening our alliance and cooperation with the – whatever Turkish Government is chosen by the people of Türkiye.
Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Does anyone else have more on Türkiye?
MR PATEL: Anything else on Türkiye?
QUESTION: Very quickly —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — to clarify. Thank you so much.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to give it another shot because I did not hear actual assessment. Did you have U.S. observers on the ground observing elections —
MR PATEL: My understanding is that there was observers through the OSCE.
QUESTION: But the embassy was not involved, the U.S. embassy was not —
MR PATEL: Not to my understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can we go to another election?
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Also starts with a “T”, Thailand. The quite – a result that (inaudible) people did – the Move Forward Party – Mr. Pita’s party – scored a bit of an upset. Does the United States have any assessment both on the conduct of the election and on the presumed winners? And also, is there any concern about whether the winners will be able to take office considering the military-backed system there?
MR PATEL: Well, first, Shaun, we congratulate the tens of millions of people across the Kingdom of Thailand who participated in the May 14th election, and the U.S. is looking forward to working with the new government elected by the Thai people to continue advancing the interests and values that our two countries have long shared. And we support the right of the people to democratically choose their own leaders. And as a longstanding friend and ally of Thailand, the U.S. looks forward to seeing the final results and working with the next Thai Government to advance our shared goals for the benefit of both of our people.
QUESTION: Do you feel confident that the democratically chosen winners of this would be able to take office?
MR PATEL: Again, we look forward to seeing the final results and working with the next Thai government. My understanding is that the final count is still ongoing, and it will still be a number – many of number of days before an official result is announced.
Anything else on Thailand before we move away?
MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions. Thank you, Vedant. North Korea and China are fully normalizing economic trade now. Do you see this as a violation of UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea? So what sanctions does the U.S. currently imposing on China for violating UN sanctions?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things there. First, it is, of course, our view that a number of countries who have influence and engagements with the DPRK have a role to play when it comes to curtailing their destabilizing activities that we see so frequently in the Indo-Pacific region. Of course, one of those countries is the PRC. There, of course, are sanctions in place with the DPRK through the UN Security Council as well as otherwise. I’m not going to get into specifics here, whether such an action is a deviation of a sanction or not. But broadly both in holding the DPRK accountable and holding accountable countries that attempt to subvert sanctions or bolster the DPRK’s destabilizing efforts, the U.S. will continue to have a number of tools at its disposal to hold them accountable.
QUESTION: And on G7 —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any plans to discuss membership changes at the upcoming leaders’ summit, but of course we’ll let the summit take place first.
MR PATEL: Lalit, go ahead.
MR PATEL: Specifically?
QUESTION: Because there have been some attacks – violence been taking place, attacks on the government installations —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — political leader of opposition is being arrested.
MR PATEL: Certainly, Lalit. So first and foremost, of course, our belief is that individuals should have the freedom to express themselves but do so without participating in any violence, violence that would put government employees in government buildings in harm’s way. And specifically on the arrest, I spoke a little bit to this last week. The U.S. does not have a position on one political party or one candidate or other. Our view is a strong, stable, and prosperous Pakistan is crucial to U.S.-Pakistan relations and that for any arrest that such an individual is affronted basic human rights in accordance to their laws.
QUESTION: The former prime minister today said that the press is not being allowed to show the other part of the story. Are you concerned that the freedom of press has been challenged in Pakistan right now?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to be prescriptive about the current situation. I don’t have an assessment to offer from here. But broadly, we are very clear about the need for access for media and the access for information and the free flow of information between the government and journalists.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you also about India. Last week the White House announced President Biden has invited Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, for a state visit —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: – next month. I know this is all being handled by the White House, but State Department – what role State Department will have? And also, what are the key issues with Secretary, things should be on the table for the state visit between bilateral issues?
MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So first, I have no doubt that the State Department and of course Secretary Blinken will be critically involved in the upcoming state visit for Prime Minister Modi. I’m not going to get ahead of the White House or get ahead of the state visit, but I will just say, Lalit, and this is no surprise to you, the State Department’s viewpoint is that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships, and we work closely with India on a number of vital priorities. And the state visit is an opportunity to deepen some of these partnerships, whether it be ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific and ensuring that it is a region that is more connected, more prosperous, more secure, and more resilient.
Obviously, between India and the United States, there exists an opportunity to deepen trade issues, deepen security partnerships. There’s an opportunity to address some shared global challenges, like global health and addressing the climate crisis. So again, I’m not going to get ahead of the state visit, but we very much look forward to hosting the Indian Government.
QUESTION: And finally, this is the third state visit of this Biden administration. Was Secretary taken into confidence, consulted on inviting Prime Minister Modi for this? And what are the reasons why India was selected from the long list of state visits?
MR PATEL: Yeah. Well, first, as Secretary Blinken is our country’s and the President’s chief diplomat and one of his most trusted and longest-serving foreign policy advisors, we of course are in constant communication with our partners at the White House on things like state visits and visits by foreign dignitaries and things of that sort. But I’m not going to get into the specific deliberations beyond that. And like I said, our partnership with India is one of the most consequential and it is why we’re very much looking forward to hosting them in a state visit next month.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Today, May 15, marks the 75th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba. Now, there was an event at the UN, and the deputy ambassador, the U.S. deputy ambassador Evans chose not to go, and he said that they don’t attend event that are anti-Israeli in nature. Is commemorating the Palestinian Nakba an anti-Israeli event? And it’s – why would he – why would he skip such an event?
MR PATEL: Said – Said, the attendance or U.S. representation at any event is not reflective of our commitment to the Palestinian people. We continue to recognize the painful plight of Palestinian refugees. I will also note that this administration has prioritized our support for the Palestinian people and has provided over $940 million for Palestinians, including $730 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinian refugees.
We also remain committed to a negotiated, mutually agreed, two-state solution that settles all final status issues, including refugees. And you recall, Said, that President Biden, standing right next to President Abbas last June, said that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own that’s independent, sovereign, viable, and contiguous. That continues to be our view.
QUESTION: Well, speaking of President Abbas, today he said that the United States and the United Kingdom bear the responsibility for the Palestinian catastrophe. Do you agree with him? And the time has come to end it. Do you feel that the time has come to end this catastrophe?
MR PATEL: The – I do not agree with those comments.
QUESTION: You don’t agree. So they should continue to suffer?
MR PATEL: That’s not what I said, Said. I can disagree with President Abbas’s comments, but also I would reiterate what I just said, is that our commitment to a mutually agreed, two-state solution continues to be unwavering. And that is something that this government and this administration will continue to pursue.
QUESTION: All right. One last question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Today it’s been reported that Secretary Blinken is considering appointing an envoy to the Abraham Accords and maybe Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Can you comment on this? Do you have any information?
MR PATEL: I have no personnel announcements to offer from up here.
All right. Jenny, go ahead.
MR PATEL: We are aware of the sentencing of a U.S. citizen in the PRC on charges of espionage. When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the department works to provide all appropriate assistance, including relevant consular access. The department has no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. But just given privacy concerns, I don’t have anything else to offer.
QUESTION: Has he been designated as wrongfully detained?
MR PATEL: So look – broadly on wrongfully detained designations, that work is a deliberative process that is ongoing. I don’t have any updates to offer on any new wrongfully detained designees from here. And again, on the reports of this case, because of privacy considerations there’s a limit to what else I can get into.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Bangladesh authority withdraws additional security to envoys, including U.S. and UK. The foreign minister told reporters that they will not give any additional security to the U.S. ambassador and the UK and others, around six ambassadors. As you know, U.S. ambassador’s convoy attacked couple of times in recent days and 2018 by the pro-regime supporter. Are you concerned about the ambassadors and the embassy personnel security in Bangladesh?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to get into the specifics about security details concerning the U.S. embassy or its personnel. But I will note that per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, any host country must uphold its obligations to ensure the protection of all diplomatic mission premises and personnel and take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on personnel. The safety and security of our diplomatic personnel and facilities are of the utmost importance.
QUESTION: Follow-up, Bangladesh.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two small question, one about Deputy Assistant Secretary Afreen Akhter. She just told you Saturday that about Bangladeshi election – you know this is election year – that is it ultimately on the political parties if they want to participate or not; USA will not interfere. Do you have any comment on that if BNP or other parties do not participate in election, if U.S. will have any comment on that part, that it will be fair or unfair election?
And other thing, very short, on – I’ll make it very short. Bangladesh terribly suffered from terrorist threats during the BNP-led regime in 2004 and 2005 despite the meaningful antiterrorism support from USA. According to the Global Terrorism Index, in 2023 Bangladesh tremendously improved in the position in – all over the world. The question: whether the U.S. will continue to engage with Bangladesh in counterterrorism and if Biden administration has any new plan regarding lifting the sanction on RAP, Rapid Action Battalion. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Okay, let me say a couple things. First, I don’t have any new policy to announce so no new news on any sanctions or anything like that. But broadly, let me say about the U.S.-Bangladesh relationship – you’ve heard me say this before – last year our two countries celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations. And what we’re looking forward to is deepening that relationship and deepening our cooperation with Bangladesh on a number of key issues regardless of political party or candidates or anything like that. Our hope for any election taking place around the world is that they are free and fair and accessible, but beyond that I have nothing else to offer insight on when it comes to political parties or candidates or anything like that.
QUESTION: Only if there are elections?
MR PATEL: No, that was my answer about elections.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: So a Chinese envoy is going to Ukraine and Russia this week to attempt to end a – or start a negotiation to end the war. Is the U.S. concerned about China doing these negotiations, or are they welcoming any attempt at this point?
MR PATEL: Well, you’ve heard me say this before, that it is important for the PRC to hear directly from our Ukrainian partners about why Ukraine’s security concerns and its sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected. You’ve also heard us say that when it comes to diplomacy, nothing should happen about Ukraine without Ukraine.
There is a role for the PRC and frankly, any country for that matter, in supporting diplomatically an outcome that is consistent with the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. No one wants this war to end more than our Ukrainian partners.
But the other piece of this is obviously Russia, the Kremlin, and I am not saying something new. The Kremlin has yet to demonstrate meaningful interest in ending this war, and in fact they’ve done quite the opposite. While others are focused on finding ways for this war to end, including President Zelenskyy, who has laid out his own peace plan, Russia is sending drones and missiles into a neighbor’s country, hitting apartment buildings, hitting hospitals, hitting movie theaters, killing scores of children and injuring others.
Our goal, the United States goal, will continue to be to make sure that Ukraine can defend itself against further attacks from Russia and that if Ukraine chooses offensive operations of its own, it can repel Russia’s ongoing invasion, and it has the capabilities to conduct those.
QUESTION: And then on a different topic —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s been criticism of the U.S. building a new embassy in Lebanon. It’s estimated to cost about a billion dollars. What’s the reasoning for building such an opulent embassy, especially in a country where right now I believe about 80 percent of the population is below the poverty line?
MR PATEL: Well, I don’t have any specifics about our new mission in Lebanon. But what I will say is that where we decide to open up new facilities, that is – obviously there’s a close coordination with Congress on that. There’s also a close coordination on what building and what security and what technology requirements – we try to keep those consistent among our facilities across the world. But we’ll see if we have anything specific to offer on this one.
Coming back to you, Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. Can I ask a couple of different things about Africa?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Nigeria first. Secretary Blinken in a statement today said there were visa restrictions being imposed on a number of Nigerians over undermining the democratic process in the elections this year. As you know, a number of opposition candidates there have challenged the actual validity of the election results. Is this in any way giving credence to that, saying that there were overall concerns about the election, and can you give us any more details about the people being targeted?
MR PATEL: No, Shaun. So you might recall that in February the Secretary spoke to this via a statement in which – congratulating the Nigerian people and the winners of that election and calling that election credible, and our viewpoint is that both things can be true. The election can be credible and we congratulated it when it happened, but also, individuals could have attempted to undermine it. And that’s what today’s designation is about, is the Secretary announcing steps to impose visa restrictions on individuals who we believe were responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic processes during Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
QUESTION: Can you just say a little bit more if these are people in the election as an – are these officials, are these people in political parties, or —
MR PATEL: As you know, Shaun, visa records are confidential, so I’m just certainly not going to get into a specific litany of lists, but what I will note is that today’s steps are specific to certain individuals and they are not directed at the Nigerian people nor the Government of Nigeria as a whole.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s a South African military delegation in Moscow now. Is this – does the United States have anything to say about this? Do you have any further thoughts about South Africa’s relationship with Russia and how this is – how this has gone forward?
MR PATEL: So on this specific meeting, I will refer you to our South African partners and to the Russian Federation to speak to. I don’t have anything to offer on that. But as it relates to our relationship with South Africa, I’ll note that our relationship with South Africa remains strong, and we are – continue to be committed to the affirmative agenda of our bilateral relationship. There are a number of issues that we look forward to working on with them, whether that be global peace and security, furthering and growing our bilateral trade, working together on a shared health agenda, finding ways to collaborate on energy challenges, and so forth.
QUESTION: Do you think that the episode that we had last week challenges that at all? Are you confident that relations remain on track?
MR PATEL: No, our – I am quite confident that our relations remain on track. Our two governments continue to be focused on the priorities that lie ahead.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Secretary had a call, I believe over the weekend, with the Moroccan foreign minister.
MR PATEL: Yep.
QUESTION: Nasser Bourita. In the readout, there wasn’t specific mention of the autonomy plan that Morocco has for Western Sahara. Some have interpreted that as a change in policy or watering down it all. Do you have anything to —
MR PATEL: No. So there is no change in the U.S. position on this matter. We continue to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, as credible, as realistic, and a – one of the many potential approaches to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara. And we also fully support UN Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General Staffan de Mistura as he intensifies the UN process on Western Sahara toward an enduring and dignified political solution and for the people of Western Sahara and the region.
All right. On —
MR PATEL: Let me go to Jenny and then I’ll come to you. Go ahead, Jenny.
QUESTION: The U.S. ambassador said on Friday he spoke with the foreign minister to, quote, “correct any misimpressions” left by his public remarks. What were those misimpressions? Because he was very clear in his public remarks.
MR PATEL: I am not going to parse the ambassador’s words any further, as I just said that our relationship with South Africa remains strong. We have a number of key priorities and areas that we very much look forward to working with them on.
I’ll also reiterate what I said on Thursday that we have raised directly with our South African partners, which is that the U.S. Government had serious concerns about the docking of a sanctioned vessel at a South African naval port. And just as good partners do, we raised those directly with South African Government officials, but I don’t have anything else to offer.
QUESTION: So does the U.S. not believe defensive materiel was transferred to that docked sanctioned ship?
MR PATEL: I just don’t have anything else to offer on this, Jenny. Thank you.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Very quickly.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Government of Sudan said that they are extending the closure of their airspace till the 31st of this month. You have any comment on that? Does that impede in any way or impact any operations that you might —
MR PATEL: I certainly wouldn’t get into operational specifics from here, Said. We of course – are you speaking about the ability for evacuations and stuff?
QUESTION: Yes, the evacuations – right.
MR PATEL: So look, our message and what we’ve communicated directly to American citizens is that – to look to the security alerts that the department updates regularly about avenues and information for options to depart Sudan. Obviously, security assessments and situations on the ground will play into that, but I don’t have anything else to offer.
MR PATEL: Well, you saw a very important announcement happen late last week, where the SF – SSF – SAF and the RSF signed a declaration of commitment to protect civilians of Sudan while also pushing for humanitarian access as well. This is something that we will continue to remain deeply engaged on. It’s something the Secretary has been personally engaged on. He’s had the opportunity to engage with both sides over the past number of weeks. As I said last week, Assistant Secretary Molly Phee and Ambassador John Godfrey had been in Jeddah engaged deeply in these talks, and it’s something that the U.S. will continue to monitor.
MR PATEL: Go ahead. I’ll come to you after. Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Last week, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Tomita said that NATO was planning to open a liaison office in Tokyo. Do you have any timeline regarding this plan? And I’m also wondering if it could be a positive step for the United States and whole NATO Alliance.
MR PATEL: So I don’t have anything new to offer, and obviously, our partners at NATO would be able to speak more to this. But NATO – a strong and unified NATO as well as one that is reflective of our alliances in the Indo-Pacific is something that’s very important to us, and our traditional security partnerships elsewhere not only deters aggression but provides a platform for mutually beneficial cooperation that strengthens the international order. Secretary General Stoltenberg spoke to this, I believe, at the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels most recently, where he said what happens in Europe matters to the Indo-Pacific and what happens in Asia matters to NATO.
So broadly, Japan’s cooperation with NATO is mutually beneficial. And as you might recall, at this foreign ministers meeting that took place in Brussels, the NATO foreign ministers had a entire session on the Indo-Pacific and had the opportunity to engage with their counterparts from Japan and South Korea on these important topics as well.
Go ahead in the back.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Vedant, today John Kirby in the briefing said that there are indications that Russia and Iran are expanding their cooperation and the U.S. is prepared to do more to stop this. A few days – a few days ago also there was an announcement that the U.S. will bolster its defenses in the region, in the Middle East, due to the growing – to the growing threat from Iran. What’s new that you are becoming more vocal about the threat? I mean – I mean, the Iranian are threatening the navigation since a long time. What’s new now?
MR PATEL: I would not say that we have been new in how we’ve been communicating about this. We have been very clear collectively, across the board, that the United States will always act in its interest; it will also always act in efforts to defend itself as well as our partners and allies.
But to take a step back, the crux of this is, is that Iran remains Russia’s top military backer, and Iran has already provided Russia with artillery and tank rounds for use in Ukraine. Iran also continues to provide Russia with one-way attack UAVs. Since August – and this is something that we’ve talked about last year as well – Iran has provided Russia with more than 400 UAVs, primarily of the Shahed variety, and Russia has expended most of these UAVs using them to target Ukrainian critical infrastructure inside Ukraine.
But broadly, the deepening of this cooperation is a threat and a danger to not just Ukraine; it’s a threat and a danger to Russia’s neighbors, Iran’s neighbors, and the international community broadly.
QUESTION: A follow-up on —
QUESTION: One more question on Sudan.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is —
QUESTION: Follow-up on Iran first.
MR PATEL: Let me – since I’ve called on her, let me, and then I will – we’ll do a follow-up on that question.
QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Molly Phee still in Ethiopia, or she’s back?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates on her travel, but I’m happy to check for that – for you.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on —
MR PATEL: Go ahead, and then I’ll come to you.
QUESTION: I hear you: there’s nothing new here. But what is the reason for the decision to flag it today? You mentioned 400 drones now, but we heard from Admiral Kirby this morning that he was talking about Iran was seeking (inaudible).
MR PATEL: So let me clarify my words. What is not new is the United States’s reaction and response when it comes to the threat that it faces from Iran or from any other malign actor. But as it relates to the news that was announced today, of course – the reason we have been and are being so public about the deepening cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Iranian regime is because it is incredibly concerning. It is dangerous. It is a threat to the countries in those regions. It is a threat to the international community. We are talking about a security cooperation that flows both ways, from Iran to Russia and from Russia to Iran. This is a partnership that is a full-scale defense partnership, and it is harmful to Ukraine, it is harmful to other countries in the region.
QUESTION: White House is seeking some designations in response to this action. I know you’re not going to preview any upcoming action, but let’s step back a little bit and talk about previous actions you have taken. Is IRGC a terrorist organization?
MR PATEL: I can’t – I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the —
QUESTION: Do you consider IRGC a terrorist organization?
MR PATEL: Well, it’s been designated as one, Alex, so yes.
QUESTION: Then why – why would the U.S. ask the UK not to do the same? We have seen multiple reports and the UK officials are still keep saying same thing (inaudible).
MR PATEL: These – Alex, these are – these are sovereign decisions – these are sovereign decisions that other countries will make as it relates to their own assessment of the security environment. We of course have taken these steps, and we of course have taken additional steps to hold the Iranian regime accountable.
QUESTION: But the U.S. has not asked the UK Government to refrain from —
MR PATEL: These are – these are sovereign decisions, Alex, that countries will take on their – their own accord.
Go ahead, behind you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Yeah. Oh, let me go to him and then I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: And just I’d go back to the previous question.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. Navy bolstered their presence in Middle East and especially in Persian Gulf to deter Iran. My question is that: Has the Iranian threat increased on the U.S. presence in Middle East?
MR PATEL: I certainly am not going to get into a specific threat assessment from here, and my colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to any force posture, or things like that.
QUESTION: Is that —
MR PATEL: What I will say is that we are not – will not ever be naïve about the threat that the Iranian regime can face to American personnel as well as the personnel of our partners and allies. We have seen time and time again in the conflict with Ukraine and other parts of the world Iranian-backed activities take actions that further destabilize specific countries or regions. So we are not going to hesitate to take actions to protect our own interests, to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and take other steps as well.
QUESTION: Is that – is that a sign that the U.S. is preparing for dealing with a reality without Iran deal?
MR PATEL: Look, we have always said that we will take any step possible to ensure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best path forward, but we of course also have not taken anything off the table.
QUESTION: And a short question on Türkiye.
MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit.
QUESTION: A short question on Türkiye.
MR PATEL: I’m going to work – you’ve gotten a couple of questions in.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. About your Religious Freedom Report today, in these reports, going back more than a decade, the State Department has accused the CCP for persecuting Falun Gong practitioners in China. The Biden administration has sanctioned some individuals, but that seems to not have changed the situation. So I’m wondering if you are – is the State Department looking at broader actions targeting those involved in persecution and also forced organ harvesting in China?
MR PATEL: Of course our – we remain deeply concerned about human rights abuses taking place within the PRC, and we continue to be clear-eyed about that. I’m not going to preview any actions or designations or additional steps that the government might take from here, but we have already taken a number of historic actions on human rights specifically to hold violators accountable. And human rights is something that we raise quite regularly in our bilateral engagements, and we will continue to do so.
Shannon, go ahead – your hand up.
QUESTION: There’s an (inaudible) briefing on Iran tomorrow. I was wondering if you could shed any light on this particular subject matter, why it’s happening now, and State’s involvement in the briefing.
MR PATEL: I don’t – I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of our engagements with Congress. We engage with Congress on a number of issues. We brief Congress on a number of issues, often at Congress’s request. But of course, there are a number of issues at the nexus of Iran, and so we look forward to engaging with Congress on that. But I’m not going to offer anything else.
QUESTION: Thank you. Me?
MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On U.S.-UK Special Relationship, on May 10th, day after Secretary Blinken held bilat with Cleverly here, President Biden brought up his trip to Ireland and he said that he went there to make sure, I quote, “the Brits didn’t screw around.” Has Secretary Blinken spoken to the UK Government to provide reassurance regarding the President’s recent remarks? And can Secretary Blinken say with confidence that President Biden trusts the UK Government?
MR PATEL: We absolutely trust the UK Government and the – you saw – if you paid attention to the bilateral engagement that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Secretary Cleverly had and the press conference they had together, what you saw was two allies, two partners talking collaboratively about the issues that lie ahead of it, whether it be addressing challenges within the conflict in Russia and Ukraine. I’ll also note that President Biden in Belfast deeply spoke about the appreciation he had for the United Kingdom’s government, specifically Prime Minister Sunak’s leadership in reaching an agreement with the EU on the Windsor Framework and preserving the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement.
QUESTION: Just one more question regarding Zelenskyy’s visit today to Chequers. Sunak said that UK remains a great supporter of Ukraine, and he announced that the UK is going to train Ukrainian pilots to fly Western fighter jets. So what is the U.S. stance on that? And how do you see this developing further between the coalition going forward?
MR PATEL: Look, there is an important process as it relates with the alliance of a number of countries providing important security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. We are all unified in our goal of doing collectively everything that we can to ensure that Ukraine has the assets to defend itself, to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. And you have seen a number of countries step up and share systems, train individuals, and we look forward to deepening our partnerships in order to do that and play our role as well.
In the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Patel.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Jalil Afridi here from The Frontier Post. My first question is with regard to the women education in Afghanistan, and it’s a bit personal to me as well because I’m a Pashtun well. It’s been a long time now they are not getting education, and the Biden administration and the State Department has pretty much forgotten about them. And if you remember, in the early days after 9/11, there was a system called jirga was done by the U.S. to bring a government in Afghanistan. Now, jirga is a traditional gathering of elders from different tribes, different parts of the countries to convince something or to decide something. Why hasn’t the U.S. thought about holding a jirga especially with regard to women education?
MR PATEL: Well, first, let me – I will reject the premise of your question, because our endure – our commitment to the people of Afghanistan, not only is it unwavering, it endures. The United States continue needs to be the single largest humanitarian provider to the people of Afghanistan, and we will continue to take this challenge head on. There’s a number of ways in which we engage on this issue. Of course, we have spoken regularly about the egregious human rights violations coming from the Taliban, especially on – and the impact that it’s had on women and girls.
We continue to affirm quite clearly that we do not see how the people of Afghanistan will be able to move forward when half of their population is being left behind. And so we will continue to take steps —
QUESTION: So Mr. Patel, basically —
MR PATEL: — to strengthen those issues and strengthen what aid we have on these important areas.
QUESTION: Mr. Patel, basically, I hope – last time you said the same thing, the word premise of the question. Foreign journalists usually don’t have favorites presidents. I don’t ever try to choose between Biden and Trump. That’s not our goal. But jirga is a tradition which State Department and the U.S. Government used – and this is a very important issue – like Pashtun women are —
MR PATEL: I’m not disputing the importance —
QUESTION: — for the last few decades they have —
MR PATEL: — of the issue. I’m —
QUESTION: So like online education, Jirga is one thing that you like hold from different tribes of Pakistan or Afghanistan, and you could try to convince them. Why not use their own tradition instead of using this podium to say that U.S. is the biggest donor —
MR PATEL: I don’t have a new program to announce within Afghanistan. What I will say is that the U.S. is the single largest humanitarian donor to the people of Afghanistan. We work with NGOs and entities through the UN to ensure that that aid goes directly to the people of Afghanistan, and we work with experts in the region; we work with organizations who have deep expertise in the area and these issues to ensure that we can do what we can to offer this aid.
QUESTION: Just one thing related – one related subject —
MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit —
QUESTION: One related —
MR PATEL: — because we’re getting close.
QUESTION: On May 12th, Qatar prime minister met with the Taliban leaders in Kandahar, and two days later Secretary Blinken talked with him and Afghanistan was also a topic in their discussion. Would you elaborate on developments? And was Al Thani – Qatar prime minister – able to meet the supreme leader of the Taliban? And the last question: is there any development regarding the American taken hostage by the Taliban?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to get into the specifics about the Secretary’s call with his counterpart beyond what was in the readout. But look, we appreciate the strong cooperation with our Qatari partners on Afghanistan in a number of areas. As the United States is protecting power in Afghanistan, Qatar provides the diplomatic and consular interests of the U.S. and our citizens in Afghanistan. Our senior leadership meets with and discusses regularly with our Qatari counterparts to find solutions to Afghanistan’s – a number of issues. And as a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Qatar and other Muslim majority countries are influential voices. So this is something that of course the Secretary and others in the building are going to engage on and raise directly with their Qatari counterparts.
QUESTION: So will you take one related?
MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit. Guita, go ahead.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan President You Si-kun, who is the equivalent of the U.S. congressional speaker, is in D.C. today – this week. I’m sorry. So is there any meetings set up with State Department officials? And is it – can it be said that his visit to D.C. is considered – is consistent with the U.S. “one-China” policy under the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Communiques, and the Six Assurances?
MR PATEL: So I will let the – Taiwan speak for – about the details of this visit. I don’t have any specifics to offer you, nor do I have any meetings to read out or preview from the State Department. But, yes, such a visit would be consistent with our longstanding “one-China” policy, which has not changed and is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Goyal, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Just quick question. Just coming back from a short trip to India, what I saw there, that there’s a much more interest in the U.S. products and U.S. policies in – among – especially among youngsters in India. What I saw there, more and more U.S. franchise are open and now the first U.S. – first Apple stores in Mumbai and Delhi opened. So what do you tell us more and more interests are there in India among Indians and also from the U.S. companies – what it tells us?
And also, hundreds of thousands students are flooding to the U.S. universities and colleges, and more are lining up. What they’re asking: if U.S. is opening for more student visas? And what is the now future and where do we stand as far as ahead of prime minister’s visit to the U.S.?
MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks for your question, Goyal. So, of course, as I said to your colleague, that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential and of course deepening our trade relationship is of course a key priority and has been one as it relates to our partnership with India. Of course, another key component of this is our deep cultural exchanges and peopletopeople ties as we are both democracies. I don’t have any new policy to announce, but we, of course, are eager to welcome Indian students interested in studying here through the appropriate visa systems and otherwise, but I don’t have any – anything new to provide.
QUESTION: Just —
MR PATEL: Go ahead. Go. Go.
QUESTION: Just a quick, I want to say traveling from Delhi to many places in India, and I asked this question to many people from every sector of people that why there is so much interest in the U.S., and what they’re saying is because United States has a rule of law and human rights and freedom of press, freedom of religion, and just like in India, and we have no problem traveling to the U.S. and back forth. That’s what they’ve been telling me. So what message you think you have for that?
MR PATEL: Again, I will just reiterate that these shared values that you so outlined are a key tenet to this partnership that we continue to believe is one of the most consequential.
I’m going to wrap soon, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I know that you don’t want to take sides in the Turkish election, but President Erdogan is saying that – actually, he’s accusing opposition that they were working with President Biden to overthrow him. And if you allow me, he said that, quote, “Biden gave the order to [overthrow] Erdogan. I know this,” he said. “All my people know [is that] if that is the case, then the ballots will give a response to Biden, too.” He is the President Biden —
MR PATEL: So I’m just going to – I’m going to stop you right there and reject the premise of the question because that is absolutely not true. The United States does not take sides and elections and our interest is and will continue to be the democratic process. And we will continue to work together with the government chosen by the Turkish people to deepen our cooperation on a number of shared priorities. As I’ve said, Türkiye is an important NATO Ally, and we look forward to deepening these collaborations.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex – probably final question.
MR PATEL: I don’t have any additional assessments on it from here, Alex. I will let the two parties speak to updates. Obviously, the U.S. was not a party to these talks. But as a follow-on to the talks that we hosted in Arlington, we continue to believe that these are important steps forward as we continue to find that a durable peace is possible between these two countries.
All right. Thanks everybody.
QUESTION: What was UN —
MR PATEL: Thanks everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:06 p.m.)
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