1:30 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Apologies for being a couple minutes late. I have one quick thing at the top and then we’ll get started.
First, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement of the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. As we’ve said before, we strongly support the U.N.’s and Türkiye’s efforts on the deal which keeps global food and grain prices low.
But as Secretary Blinken has previously said, we should not need to remind Moscow every few weeks to keep their promises and to stop using people’s hunger as a weapon in their war against Ukraine. We should not need to remind Russia to stop obstructing inspections to allow grain to flow to vulnerable people who need it.
The world needs the Black Sea Grain Initiative. What’s more, the world needs Russia to end its illegal war against Ukraine, which would allow farmers to return to their fields, return agricultural trade to normal, and immediately and significantly improve global food security.
With that, Matt. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. So I’m think let’s start with Nigeria.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: And if I – I have one very small nit to pick with you guys, which is: Why put out a statement from the Secretary literally a minute before we get the two-minute warning for the briefing?
MR PATEL: We wanted to make sure that you all had it before we came out.
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s hardly enough time to even digest it before we get in here to ask you questions about it. So anyway, let me start with that, if I could.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So your understanding – well, I assume you don’t – you’re not going to have a whole lot more to add than —
MR PATEL: Correct. And if —
QUESTION: But has there been any discussion with the Nigerian authorities about this? I understand that Secretary Blinken, when he was speaking to the president-elect yesterday, it was before this had happened and so that hadn’t come up because he had plans to talk —
MR PATEL: I don’t have any – I don’t have any calls to preview for you, Matt. And of course, we continue to be in touch with Nigerian authorities on this. But if you’ll allow me just to reiterate what the statement says, on the afternoon of May 16th, unknown assailants attacked a convoy of two U.S.-Government-operated vehicles in the Ogbaru local government area of the Anambra state in Nigeria. This convoy was carrying nine Nigerian nationals, five employees of the U.S. mission to Nigeria, and four members of the Nigerian police force.
They were traveling to advance a visit by U.S. mission personnel to a U.S.-funded flood response project in Anambra. At last four were killed based on the information we have now, and U.S. mission personnel are working urgently with Nigerian security force counterparts to ascertain the location and condition of other members of the convoy. We condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act, and we will work closely with our Nigerian law enforcement colleagues in seeking to bring those responsible to justice.
We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the attack and pledge to do everybody possible to safely recover those who are unaccounted for. The U.S. reaffirms its commitment to the people of Nigeria to assist in the fight against violence and insecurity.
QUESTION: Okay. And so you don’t have any more indication about potential motive, whether they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time —
MR PATEL: We have no reason to believe that this convoy was targeted because of its connection to the U.S. mission or because of its connection to the embassy or anything like that, though an investigation continues.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR PATEL: All right. Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Chairman McCaul scheduled a committee meeting for next Wednesday to consider holding Secretary Blinken in contempt of Congress over the dissent channel cable. I’m wondering if – how the State Department is going to respond.
MR PATEL: Thanks for your – thanks for your question, Humeyra. First let me say it is unfortunate that the House Foreign Affairs Committee has continued to pursue this even before the State Department had the opportunity to respond to the chairman and the committee. We will be sending a response to the committee later today, and as you know, we continue to engage with the committee and discuss accommodations on the request for this information.
To take a step back, we believe that we have provided sufficient through our classified briefing, through the written summary, and we believe that these efforts already should have and would satisfy their request for information. But that being said, in our letter to the committee today, we will invite Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Meeks to view the dissent channel cable here at the State Department, in camera, with appropriate personal information redacted. Chairman McCaul himself has said that this is what he is interested in, and so it is our sincere hope that our offer here will sufficiently satisfy their request for information.
Anything else on this topic before we move away?
QUESTION: I’m just —
MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering why it took us so long to get here.
MR PATEL: Can you —
QUESTION: Why didn’t you guys just offer – if you’re now offering up this dissent cable with the names redacted, why didn’t we just do that from the get-go versus kind of having weeks long of this political fight between the department and the committee?
MR PATEL: Well, we’ve spoken to this a little bit, Kylie. First, to take a step back, you’ve heard me say this before: The dissent channel cable is something that is really integral and sacred to this department. It is an avenue for personnel across the world to engage with senior leadership on very important issues and for senior leadership to engage back. It’s not an avenue to inform or convey policy to Congress. And we wanted to ensure that we are taking steps to respect and protect the integrity of that channel.
Also, in any information request with a congressional body, there is a natural accommodation and discussion process, and we were engaged deeply in that and continue to be engaged deeply in that.
I will also note that at every turn the State Department has offered legitimate and sufficient steps forward to convey the information that was requested. We have – even before this new Congress was sworn into office, we have understood the importance of legitimate oversight requests and requests for legitimate information on the time period of our evacuation from Afghanistan, but on other foreign policy issues as well. And so we have engaged with Congress on all of those matters in good faith.
QUESTION: And just one more question.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The concerns that you guys have stated, have pointed to – the sanctity of the dissent cable channel in this building and not wanting to disrupt that – so you believe that the action that you guys are following through with now, providing them this cable without the names, still protects the sanctity of that channel in this building?
MR PATEL: We do. We believe that. We also believe, Kylie – and I want to stress this – that the steps that we had taken previously – a classified briefing, an in-depth written summary of these documents – sufficiently met the mark when it came to their information request as well.
MR PATEL: Anything else on this before we move away?
QUESTION: Yeah, just one more thing on this, and that is Chairman McCaul also wants to see Secretary’s response to the dissent cable. Is that included in this offer, or has – have you guys already turned that over because it is not protected in the same way as the —
MR PATEL: I’ll have to check on the specifics on that, Matt, but we can get back to you on that piece. Anything else on this before we move away?
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have a couple of questions on the Palestinian issue and one question on Syria.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: There’s apparently very severe restrictions imposed by the Israeli foreign ministry on the entry of foreign nationals, including Palestinians, and – per the reform that was introduced back in 2020. So I know that you talked from this podium on this issue before, but is this is something that you raise with Israelis while discussing the waiver issue?
MR PATEL: Of course, Said. We engage with the Israelis on a number of issues, including this one, and we engage with them on these procedures that I know you’ve asked me about before that were unveiled, I believe, in the fall that, as you know, impact the entry, the study, and the work, and residence of potentially thousands of people to and in the West Bank. Our view is that we seek equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity, including, of course, Palestinian Americans seeking to enter or transit through Israel. And we fully expect the Government of Israel to ensure transparency as well as fair and equal treatment for other foreign nationals traveling to and in the West Bank.
QUESTION: Thank you. I know I asked you about the march yesterday. But in view of what the prime minister said apparently in a TV interview a couple days ago, that they will continue their assassination and – I mean, he said those words – and that we will assassinate anyone who disrupts the march, and so on. I mean, it’s – it is really a very volatile issue. Are you more concerned today than you were yesterday?
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen those comments specifically, Said, so I’m not going to comment on those themselves. But what I will say generally is that – you heard me say this yesterday – we are urging all parties to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions or activities or rhetoric that would escalate tensions.
QUESTION: And lastly, let me ask you on Syria, if I may.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Okay. There were reports that the U.S. and Syria are engaged in some sort of negotiation in Oman. First, is this true? Can you confirm that? And did these – that these talks are ongoing, they took place in the past? And what was the nature of these talks? What did they include?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things to that, Said. As you’ve heard me say before, the U.S. is willing to engage with anyone who can help secure progress toward the release of U.S. nationals. In order to protect any avenues of progress, I’m not going to get into specific details, but broadly speaking, we are engaging extensively across the board to try and get Austin Tice home, and we have pursued every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family and will continue to do so. And that of course includes discussing this case with a number of countries in the region. And we will keep working until we see his safe returned in the United States. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have said, we are not ceasing our efforts to find Austin Tice and to bring him home.
QUESTION: So these talks are ongoing now or —
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into further specifics, Said.
QUESTION: On Syria, Vedant?
MR PATEL: Let me get to Michele, then I’ll come to you, Alex. Go ahead. Go ahead, Michele.
QUESTION: Now it’s confirmed that President Assad will attend the Arab Summit after tomorrow in Jeddah. What’s your reaction to that, and how do you feel about that?
MR PATEL: Well, Michele, you saw the Secretary speak to this last week when he was standing with his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Cleverly. I’ll just echo his words. We do not believe that Syria merits readmission to the Arab League, and it’s a point that we have raised directly with our regional partners, with our partners in the Arab world. And – but ultimately, these are their own decisions that they’ll make. But our position is clear – we are not going to normalize relations with the Assad regime, and we certainly don’t support others doing that as well.
That being said, we know that we share a lot of the same goals as our Arab partners, and while the ways of going about to do that may differ, our objectives remain the same – and that is finding a resolution to this crisis in a way that is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254; expanding humanitarian access to all Syrians; building the security and stability and infrastructure needed to ensure that ISIS cannot resurge in the region; creating the appropriate conditions required for the eventual refugee returns; as well as countering Captagon trafficking taking place in Syria; as well as steps that can be taken to reduce the malign influence from the Iranian regime.
We are aligned with our Arab partners on all of these things and we’ll continue to work those lines of efforts. The ways in which we go about them may differ, but our objectives are aligned.
QUESTION: I have two more. One on Russia and Iran —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — who signed the rail deal today for a corridor intended to rival the Suez Canal and prevent sanctions. How do you view this project?
MR PATEL: Any steps or any project being undertaken to go around sanctions is something that we of course would find deeply concerning. I don’t have an assessment to make on this specific project, but there is a reason that we enforce such a strict sanctions regime, and any efforts to go around those would be of immense concern to us.
QUESTION: And one more on Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meeting today with Israeli director general of the ministry of foreign affairs. Did they discuss expanding the Abraham Accords, and are you hopeful that you will be able to expand these accords?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics about the meeting to share right now. Of course, though we talk with our Israeli partners on a number of issues, we know that normalization is something that is not just important to us; it’s important to our Israeli partners. So I have no doubt it was a piece that was discussed, but I don’t have any specific metrics to offer.
Alex, and then I’ll come back to you, Humeyra. Go ahead. Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Russia – moving to Russia if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You spoke about Austin Tice. I want to ask about Evan as well, because today marks a depressing 50 days since his arrest for doing his job. I want to give you a chance to update us on what’s going on about his case, around his case. Also, Lavrov today seemed to be mocking the U.S. efforts, saying that they sometimes give us a call and raise his case. Is there anything more than just sometimes making the call to Moscow you guys have been doing?
MR PATEL: Of course. We are deeply engaged in this, Alex, and the work to secure the release of both Evan and Paul is ongoing. I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of a negotiation in progress, but we engage broadly with partners around the world to discuss wrongful detention cases, and in some cases look to their assistance and steps that we can collectively take to lead to a release. We continue to work aggressively using every means to bring home all U.S. nationals that are wrongfully detained or held hostage, and our view, again, is that Russia should immediately release Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, but beyond that there is a responsibility here consistent with the consular conventions that we have in place with the Russian Federation that they need to be offered consistent and regular consular access as well.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Secretary did not rule out designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. I was wondering if there’s any serious effort going on in this building beyond what the Secretary said.
MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates on those – on any policy designation, Alex. As you’ve heard us say before, the work to specifically designate a country is a robust policy process and I don’t have any updates to offer on that. But of course there is pretty significant public reporting out there that a specific state sponsor of terror designation for Russia would significantly impact the ability for a number of NGOs and nonprofit organizations to operate in the region, so we of course are incredibly mindful of that.
That being said, what we call and what we designate a country in this situation is a little besides the point, and what is more important is the actions that the U.S. Government is taking. And when you look at the actions that we’ve taken, we have clearly and consistently since even before February 2022 offered security assistance to our Ukrainian partners so that they can defend themselves, defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have taken steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable through sanctions, export controls, and other measures that we’re seeing has a clear impact on the Russian economy. Multinational corporations are leaving Russia, choosing not to do business anymore. We are seeing clear public reporting of the Russian economy shrinking. So we know that our actions are taking effect and having a real impact, and we’ll continue to do so.
I’m going to —
QUESTION: But SST designation is not off the table? That’s what —
MR PATEL: I just don’t have any update to offer on that.
QUESTION: So lastly on Ukraine, (inaudible) —
MR PATEL: I’m going to go to Humeyra – okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, my – sorry for that. You mentioned your thanks to the Turkish president. You also mentioned that the Secretary said we should not do that every couple of weeks. My question is, what are you guys doing to make sure that this is not – we are not back to the zero point again two months from now?
MR PATEL: Of course, on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, we think it’s really important that it was extended. We have long taken issue with Russia’s efforts to not just undermine the deal but also Russia’s efforts to weaponize hunger and weaponize food insecurity. And so this is of course something we welcome that it was extended, but it shouldn’t have been needed in the first place. And broadly, we’ll continue to work every channel that we can in conjunction with the UN and our Turkish partners to make sure that it’s extended for as long as it’s needed. We’ll also continue to take steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable when needed.
Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Vedant, since the President had to cancel his visit to PNG yesterday, there was a lot of disappointment. They had declared Monday a public holiday in honor of his arrival. So I’m wondering if the Secretary or anyone else from the administration is going to go to PNG? What are the plans? And there was quite a lot of commentary out there that it’s a blow to U.S. credibility in the region. It’s a consistent partner. Obviously, debt ceiling would have global repercussions. But can you talk a little bit about sort of U.S. commitment to the region to offset these concerns?
MR PATEL: Sure. Sure. Absolutely. So first to – let me just say I don’t have any additional or follow-on travel to offer in terms of scheduling at this point, but should we have any updates, we, of course, will let you all know. On Australia, the President spoke to Prime Minister Albanese yesterday to inform him that he will be postponing his trip. And as you know, he’s invited the prime minister for an official state visit at a time to be determined. We’ve also engaged the prime minister of Papua New Guinea to inform them as well.
But broadly, our commitment to the Pacific Islands and to the Indo-Pacific region broadly endures. And that is why we have had robust engagement from the department in this part of the world. Under Secretary John Bass in – I believe 2022 – had the opportunity to break ground on a new – not break ground, open a new embassy in Port Moresby. And so that is just an example of our continued engagement in the region. I know – I don’t want to preview or get ahead of any administration travel, but, of course, I think it’s everyone’s desire to find a way to get some kind of trip back on the books, but I’m certainly not going to preview or get ahead of the process.
QUESTION: So who spoke to the Papua New Guineans?
MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific call sheet for you, Matt, but the administration has been in touch with the prime minister of Papua New Guinea to inform them of the scheduling channels.
QUESTION: Yeah, (inaudible) who called the Australian prime minister. Who did the PNG prime minister get to talk to?
MR PATEL: I’m happy to check for you, Matt, to see if there’s a specific person. But again, I think it’s important to note that —
QUESTION: Do think that there’s not a specific person, that it was like a group thing?
MR PATEL: It’s important to note – (laughter) – Matt, that revitalizing and reinvigorating our alliances and advancing our partnerships —
QUESTION: Yeah, I know, but —
MR PATEL: — with groups like the Quad, with the Pacific Islands —
QUESTION: — if the President of the United States is going to cancel a visit to Australia, and he calls the Australian prime minister, but he’s also going to cancel a visit was going to be a historic visit, as you guys all said, to Papua New Guinea, and you can’t tell us whether the President called the prime minister personally or not, then that’s —
MR PATEL: What I will say is this, Matt, is that we look forward to finding other ways to engage with Australia, the Quad, Papua New Guinea and the leaders of the Pacific Islands very soon. And we hope to have more, but our commitment to the region endures. I know you are no stranger to our work there. Even this year, we have indicated – in the past year and a half, I think, we have indicated a number of places in which we intend to further and enhance and strengthen our diplomatic presence as a commitment —
QUESTION: No, I’m not — I’m not arguing with any of that.
MR PATEL: — to the Pacific Islands. We hosted —
QUESTION: I wanted to know who spoke to the prime minister of Papua New Guinea.
MR PATEL: On the topic of – on the topic of history making, we hosted a historic Pacific Islands Summit here at the State Department just a number of weeks ago. So our commitment to the region endures, Matt, and I don’t have any specifics on calls.
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t. I just wanted to know who spoke to the prime minister.
MR PATEL: I don’t have – I don’t have any additional details for you right now.
Go ahead in the back because I think you want to ask something on the same topic.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you speak on the potential impacts of the cancellation of President Biden’s trip, especially in order to deter China?
MR PATEL: Again, I think I will just reiterate what I said just here. While a trip – I know it would have been everyone’s desire for the trip to continue on in its original format. Sometimes there are external factors out of our control. But that being said, our commitment to the Quad, our commitment to our Australian partners, our commitment to the Pacific Island, all those things do not change. And we are very much looking forward to ways in which we can deepen those partnerships, strengthen those alliances going forward through visits and other mechanisms. But I would point you no further than the work that this department and this administration has already done through its foreign policy, through its diplomacy in the time we’ve already had to strengthen our partnerships and our presence in the Indo-Pacific and Pacific Island region broadly.
Okay. Anything else on this before we move away? Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’ve got a question about Germany, what happened this morning. This morning at the crack of dawn, police raided the house of two Turkish journalists and arrested them in front of their wives and children, even confiscated their laptops, phones, even towed their car. And I also know them personally from back when I was working there. This took place in Germany, an EU member and a NATO Ally. It’s just an awful intimidation and treatment of journalists, would you not say?
MR PATEL: I don’t know the specifics of this case, so I’m just not going to comment on it.
QUESTION: Like, you don’t know the specifics of many cases when it’s press freedom, but, like, you basically don’t have anything to say?
MR PATEL: We – I reject the premise of your question. When we do not have information sufficiently about any specific case, we don’t comment on them. We don’t comment on them. And so that is – this is an issue I would let you speak to local German law enforcement. They can speak to more about this. I’m not familiar with this case; I don’t have anything to offer on that. Broadly, of course, the treatment of journalists and press freedom is something that I, many in this department, including the Secretary, have spoken quite clearly about. But I have nothing additional to add on this.
Go ahead, Olivia.
QUESTION: Back on Nigeria, is the —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the visit to the flood response project that was mentioned in the Secretary’s statement, is that proceeding as planned or is that off? I’m just curious if there are measures being taken to limit the U.S. mission’s exposure at this stage, or are sort of security protocols and practices staying more or less the same?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics about the embassy’s forthcoming planning. But what I will just note is that our mission in Nigeria has a robust travel planning process and procedures in place. Of course, after this concludes, the response to this incident, we’ll take a look at those procedures and ensure that they remain appropriate. But I will also just note that U.S. mission personnel made multiple trips to the state in recent months and experienced no security incidents. And at the time that the decision was made to travel there for this advance route, there were no known threats to the U.S. mission in Nigeria at the time.
QUESTION: And understanding unknown assailants, unknown motive —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — no indications that that American or an American, like, was targeted – has that been ruled out, or it’s still part of the investigation?
MR PATEL: As I said in speaking to Matt’s question, the investigation is ongoing. But again, we have no reason to believe at this time that this took place because of the affiliation to the U.S. mission in Nigeria.
QUESTION: Can I ask a separate question about the American sentenced in China?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Just for an update —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just before – before that, did – have you guys explained where these people work? Did they work at the consulate in Lagos or at the embassy in Abuja?
MR PATEL: My understanding is that they worked at the embassy in Abuja. But if I have an update to that, I will let you know.
QUESTION: On the American sentenced in China, just an update – have you requested consular access? Has there been engagement with the Chinese on his case?
MR PATEL: So I don’t have anything additional to offer on this. I spoke about it a number of times this week. We are aware of the sentencing of a U.S. citizen in the PRC. When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, we take appropriate steps to offer all appropriate assistance. But due to privacy considerations, I don’t have more that I can offer on this.
QUESTION: Without offering specifics, has there been any engagement with the Chinese?
MR PATEL: Again, all I can say is that we’re aware of the reports of the sentencing.
Guita, go ahead.
QUESTION: I want to go back to Michele’s question about – the Russia-Iran question. He mentioned the rail project. Now Iran and Russia have recently signed on for several projects, like, for example apparently one Russian bank opened a branch in Iran. And they’re – Russia’s also considering investment in Iranian oil fields. Now, you refer – you mentioned enforcement of sanctions and sanction evasion. Do you see Russia-Iran economic cooperations all in that vein, in them trying to evade sanctions?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to paint with a broad brushstroke, Guita, but what I will offer on this is that we have not parsed our words about the deepening of the cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Iranian regime. We spoke to that earlier this week. And candidly, it is a situation in which – in the security context, support is flowing both ways, from Iran to Russia and Russia to Iran. In the economic context, we of course are going to continue to monitor and pay close attention. But any efforts to go around sanctions would be of immense concern to us and something that the United States would not hesitate to take further action on.
QUESTION: A U.S. official told Wall Street Journal that the drone strike that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded several U.S. personnels in Syria on March 23rd was launched by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. Can you confirm that this attack was done – was conducted by the Iranian-backed militia in Iraq? And if so, will there be any response or action against these groups?
MR PATEL: The activities of Iranian-backed militias and proxy groups – not just in Iraq, but in the region broadly – continues to be something of immense concern to us that we raise directly with partners in the region, including the Government of Iraq. But specifically on this, I don’t have anything to offer from here. I will let my colleagues from the Department of Defense speak to that. What I will just note is that the – this administration has not hesitated to take steps to ensure that our personnel are kept safe. But I don’t have anything else to offer on that.
QUESTION: Is there anything that puts you in a position that – not to pursue or to following the groups in Iraq that making threats on U.S. personnels in —
MR PATEL: I just don’t have any other assessments to offer on this from here.
QUESTION: Last question.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is scheduled to have an election later this year, which they should had last year. But there are still many disputes between the political parties, and the dispute is mainly on the minority position in the parliament, which they have 11 seats. Then the question is that: Have you touched this issue with the Kurdish political leaders? And second, will there be any engagement or encouragement to the Kurdistan Region?
MR PATEL: Well, we commend Kurdish parties for coming together to resolve issues through dialogue, Iraq in general and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in particular. These steps are benefitted when its leaders are focused on the needs of the people, and we encourage them to build on the momentum. We welcome the efforts by the parties to reach an agreement on holding Iraqi Kurdistan parliament elections later this year.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: According to the latest DPRK state media report, North Korea’s military spy satellite number one is ready for loading. Do you have any indication that North Korea would launch that spy satellite in imminent future, as well as its seventh nuclear test? And are you preparing any strong response to its launching, including additional sanction?
MR PATEL: Well, any DPRK launch that uses ballistic missile technology would also include SLVs used to launch a satellite into space, and that would violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions. We have been very clear that we urge the DPRK to refrain from further threatening activity and call on Pyongyang to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy. We’ve also been very clear about our unwavering commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as well as seeking dialogue with Pyongyang without preconditions.
In terms of actions, we of course continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the DPRK accountable. You have seen us take those steps and we will continue to do so.
In the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, members of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party are going to visit the UK tomorrow to work with members of Parliament on hashing out a China strategy. Has the State Department been coordinating with the select committee on that visit? And does the administration have any hopes that the UK might still embrace de-risking over engagement with China?
MR PATEL: Sorry, I missed the first part of your question, if you could repeat that.
QUESTION: Members of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party are going to the UK tomorrow to work with members of Parliament on hashing out a China strategy between the two nations. I was wondering if the State Department has been involved in coordinating any of that trip.
MR PATEL: Well, I will let the select committee speak to their own travels, but broadly, we have a China strategy; of course, Congress plays an important role in that piece. But as it relates to our British partners, you’ve heard the Secretary speak quite clearly about this. Even – you all heard from Foreign Secretary Cleverly last week. Between the United States and our European partners, including the United Kingdom, there continues to be immense convergence on the challenge faced by the PRC, and a key aspect of our strategy is to continue to engage, invest, and align with our allies and partners, and of course, a big piece of that would be the United Kingdom.
QUESTION: I had a question about Somalia.
MR PATEL: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: The government there is in the midst of an offensive to eliminate al-Shabaab. If they’re successful, what’s the State Department’s plan to support stability there?
MR PATEL: Well, we remain committed to working with the people and Government of Somalia to improve the security condition, to respond humanitarian needs, support economic growth. A big piece of that is of course deepening and strengthening our security partnership to further degrade al-Shabaab, but I don’t have anything to speculate or preview from here.
Abby, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I just had a couple follow-up questions on Nigeria.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The Secretary’s statement says that the U.S. mission is working with the local government to ascertain the whereabouts of those who are unaccounted for. Are the remaining five the – is that the number that are unaccounted for from the convoy?
MR PATEL: That is correct.
QUESTION: And the statement didn’t say how many of the four who were killed were U.S. consulate employees. It had been reported that that was two. Is that accurate?
MR PATEL: So that is information that we are still trying to ascertain, which is why I don’t have any additional information on that. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just – I just have one clarifying question on the dissent cable.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said that State is going to allow Congressmen McCaul and Meeks to review that cable in camera at the State Department. Will you also allow any staffers from that committee to review it or just the two top members of the committee?
MR PATEL: I believe our communication to them, which will be going later today, will be to Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Meeks for them to come and view the cable in camera.
QUESTION: Okay. And then separate topic: Britain and the Netherlands are working on a group to essentially figure out ways to get F-16s to Ukraine. Obviously we know what the position of the U.S. Government has been in terms of F-16s to Ukraine, but what’s your response to them formulating this group to procure those? Do you guys – have you engaged with these efforts yet? How do you think that they could affect the position of the Biden administration on that topic now?
MR PATEL: A number of countries have been deeply involved in the broader effort to strengthen the security apparatus of our Ukrainian partners. The U.S. – we have obviously at every tide and turn of this conflict taken steps to ensure that our Ukrainian partners have the assets that they need to defend themselves, defend their territorial integrity. We of course recently have placed an immense focus on air defense, and we have seen our Ukrainian partners use those air defense assets quite successfully, and we will continue to engage through the alliance and with our partners on any additional assets that could be provisioned down the road.
QUESTION: Vedant, could I just follow up on this just for a second?
MR PATEL: On F-16s?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: On the F-16s. I mean, is it a realistic pursuit? Considering I’m no expert, but considering that it takes years to train pilots to fly these things and use them effectively, is that something realistic?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics on the aircraft or any specific technology. But you have heard the Secretary speak about this as well, is that we want to ensure that the assets and systems that we offer our Ukrainian partners are the most impactful, that they can use them now, use them to defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty as soon as possible. And so we’ll continue to assess, based on the situation and security circumstances on the ground, what systems make sense. You have seen our Ukrainian partners use American systems to quite success in defending their territorial integrity and sovereignty, and we’ll continue to support them.
QUESTION: Thank you. And do you have any reaction on the decision of the president of Ecuador to dissolve the parliament over the impeachment?
MR PATEL: We’re aware of his decision to dissolve the legislature, and we support Ecuador’s democratic institutions and processes and respect the will of Ecuador citizenry and government. And we ultimately urge all government institutions, civil society, and citizens to ensure that democratic processes are carried out for the benefit of the Ecuadorian people. We will continue to work with the government and the people of Ecuador to address our shared challenges and goals.
QUESTION: Do you see any similarities with what happened in Peru, with Pedro Castillo?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to compare situations from here.
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. So in the face of the political chaos that we are seeing in Ecuador, did the U.S. Government or the State Department did any contact with Ecuadorian Government today?
MR PATEL: So I will say that our bilateral relationship with the Government of Ecuador and the Ecuadorian people remain strong. Ecuador remains a strong partner, and cooperation between the U.S. and Ecuador continues to expand and deepen in a number of areas, including security, addressing migration hemispherically, counter-narcotics, and other areas as well. I don’t have any specific calls to read out or share, but we of course continue to engage with our Ecuadorian partners.
QUESTION: What Lasso did, dissolving the parliament, so does not change anything in the bilateral relation among the U.S. and his government?
MR PATEL: That is correct.
QUESTION: The U.S. continue to support Guillermo Lasso?
MR PATEL: Our bilateral relationship with the Government of Ecuador and the people of Ecuador remain strong.
QUESTION: Yes, I have a follow-up question on Syria, and a question on Lebanon.
MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Syrian sources have told the press that the regime is discussing or considering a crackdown on captagon but would want the Arab countries to convince the U.S. to reduce sanctions in exchange. What is the take on that and on captagon trade at the time, especially given the fact that Congress is getting geared up to discuss the anti-normalization act?
And on Lebanon, the department issued a statement which called on leaders to elect a corruption-free president. That was about a month ago. The country’s still in deadlock. Is the department, administration considering other means of pressure to end the stalemate?
MR PATEL: Let me take your second question first. I don’t have any updates or new actions to offer. Our statement continues to stand. Our desire is for the Lebanese people to elect and select a leader that can head their government and lead and direct the country in what is a very challenging time.
On Syria, I want to be very clear about this, and we have been very clear with our partners in the Arab world, that we are going to stand by our core sanctions principles. And we have been consulting with our partners about their plans and making it clear to them that we do not intend to normalize with the Assad regime and that our sanctions are going to remain in full effect.
That being said, we share – we have this shared objective of countering the captagon trafficking that is happening in Syria. We note that this is an objective shared by many in the Arab world, and so we will continue to engage with them on that. We have been very clear, though, that we do not support normalization, we don’t see normalization as an objective – as a goal into which reaching that objective, but we’ll continue to consult closely with our partners in the Arab world.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: South Caucasus. I have two human rights-related questions.
MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Azerbaijan, as you know, it has dozens of political prisoners in jail. Some of them have been mentioned in this room previously. I want to ask about Popular Front Party activist, leading activist, Alizamin Salayev, who has been on hunger strike for more than a hundred days. Today he had a hearing, a court hearing, and they did not let him go. I was wondering if the department is aware of his case, and if you have anything to say about it.
MR PATEL: We are aware of the reports that Mr. Salayev is on a hunger strike, and we will continue to follow his case closely. We remain strongly committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and we call on all authorities to take steps that are consistent with Azerbaijan’s obligations under its own constitution and international agreements when it comes to human rights.
QUESTION: Thank you. And lastly, on Georgia. It’s been a while since I last time asked you about President Saakashvili was put in jail for more than two years, almost two years. Our colleagues at the VOA had a very compelling report last month indicating that he might have been poisoned in jail. Is there anything that the administration can do to save him?
MR PATEL: Alex, we pay close attention to the statements coming from the public defender’s office, and Georgian authorities should ensure that Mr. Saakashvili’s human rights are protected and that he is receiving the appropriate medical care that he needs.
QUESTION: Let me press you a little bit on it. But I heard you saying that before. You are talking about Georgian Dream government, which is flirting with the Kremlin. I am asking about a president who actually made a lot of enemies in the Kremlin because he stood up against Putin in the past. Aren’t you concerned that by not standing behind – let’s put it this way, by not – by leaving his life in the Georgian regime’s hands, you are sending wrong signals to —
MR PATEL: I don’t think we’re sending the wrong signal. We have been very clear that we think that his human rights need to be protected, and that his – he should receive the appropriate medical care that he needs.
All right, thanks everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:13 p.m.)