Department Press Briefing – May 8, 2023
- JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
- SAUDI ARABIA/REGION/SUDAN
- SYRIA/ARAB LEAGUE
- NORTH MACEDONIA
- JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA/CHINA
- JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
1:12 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: You’re early.
MR PATEL: I know, I’m telling you.
QUESTION: Three minutes early, it’s a new record.
MR PATEL: Three minutes early. I’m just trying to deliver, picking up what you guys were putting down.
I don’t have anything off the top, so I’m happy to take your questions.
MR PATEL: Really. You’re always surprised, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I know. But it’s a Monday, and with stuff happening over the weekend. But okay.
MR PATEL: I have no doubt you’ll ask about it, so –
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure someone will. Can I just ask you if you have anything to add to the comments that were put out earlier under your name on the response to Chairman McCaul on his –
MR PATEL: I don’t have anything additional to add, Matt, but I will reiterate what we shared this morning, which is that it’s unfortunate that after being provided a classified briefing and being provided a written summary of the contents of the dissent channel cable as well as the department’s response, that the House Foreign Affairs Committee continues to pursue this. Our viewpoint is that the materials and briefings that we’ve offered and provided have sufficiently met the mark when it comes to the committee’s legitimate oversight request.
Now, that being said, we’ll continue to engage with Congress and the committee when it comes to correspondence and things of that nature. But you’ve heard me say, you’ve heard the Secretary speak about the importance of the dissent channel cable and the integrity to which it holds here in the department, and we’ll continue to do what we can and what we need to to protect it.
QUESTION: Is it your view, or the Secretary’s view or the department’s view, that actually giving them the cable would not add anything to what they already have?
MR PATEL: Matt, what – you’ve heard me speak about this before. This is not just necessarily about this dissent channel cable. It is about the dissent channel writ large.
QUESTION: I know that. But do you think that giving them the cable would give them anything – would give them any additional information that you haven’t already provided?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to – I’m not going to get into the contents of –
QUESTION: I’m not asking you about the content.
MR PATEL: You – you –
QUESTION: I’m asking you if you think that it would give them any additional information.
MR PATEL: I am just not going to make that assessment from here. It’s a – the dissent channel cable is a classified document.
QUESTION: Well, then, if you can’t make that assessment, if you think that you’ve already given them everything that they need in terms of this cable in both the briefing and the summary form of it, then shouldn’t you be able to say that there is nothing else they could learn from getting the entire thing?
MR PATEL: We have said that. I’ve said that – I’ve said that in the – through the – by saying that we’ve provided a classified briefing as well as we’ve provided a written summary that covers the entirety of the contents of the cable as well as the department’s response.
MR PATEL: Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Vedant, I want to ask you about Ambassador Burns’s —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — meeting. I mean, how useful does the State Department think this meeting was to stabilize U.S.-China relationship?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to put a metric on one specific engagement or not, Humeyra. What I will say, though, is that maintaining open lines of communication with the PRC has been a key tenet of our approach as it relates to this very complicated bilateral relationship. You have seen even the Secretary speak about the importance of that even in – after his trip was postponed. You saw him talk about the importance of these open lines of communication remaining open and being used as a way to discuss things that are critical and important to the bilateral relationship. And just as the Secretary does when he speaks to his counterpart, the ambassador spoke in his meeting about the areas where our two countries can cooperate, such as addressing the challenge of the climate crisis, such as addressing cooperation when it comes to global health and public health, as well as important opportunities on food security and other things.
So our belief is that with the PRC, we want to and intend to open – keep lines of communication open. We do that through the Secretary, we do that through Secretary Krittenbrink, we do that through Ambassador Burns, and we do that through a variety of others who are working day in and day out on this issue.
QUESTION: Right. I have a couple more on this. So there is a specific line from the Chinese side saying – it says that the United States must correct its handling of the Taiwan issue, and stop the hollowing out of “one China” principle. I’m curious – what was Ambassador Burns’s response to this, or what’s your response to this? I mean, do you – does the United States see that there is anything for it to correct here?
MR PATEL: There absolutely isn’t, and the ambassador conveyed privately what you’ve seen myself, the Secretary, and others say publicly and clearly, not just from this podium but other corners of this administration. There has been no change to our policy with China. There has been no change to our “one China” policy, which is guided by more than four decades of the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. We have been very clear-eyed about that. And we’re also going to continue standing with our friends and allies across the Indo-Pacific to advance our shared prosperity and security and values. There is no – we do not intend to change the status quo. That has never been the approach that the United States has attempted to take.
QUESTION: Right. And was the possible rescheduling of Secretary Blinken’s trip discussed during this meeting? And was there any decision or like, at least, like a tentative date that both sides would plan on?
MR PATEL: I certainly wouldn’t get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions like that. But you heard the Secretary talk about this just last week when he sat down for Washington Post Live. He would like to go. He would like to get this trip back on. And we’ll intend and work to do so when conditions allow. But I don’t have any additional updates beyond that.
Nike, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Also staying on China, if I may.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: China is sending a peace envoy to Ukraine, other countries. Can you provide the U.S. assessments on the latest diplomatic effort?
MR PATEL: What I would say is that any diplomatic effort relating to a peace between Russia and Ukraine needs to be undertaken and conducted in close coordination with our Ukrainian partners. We’ve long felt and long believed that the PRC has an appropriate role they can play, and we also strongly believe that the PRC needs to hear not just from the Russians but also from our Ukrainian partners. The PRC – for any country that – belief that territorial integrity and territorial sovereignty are important values and important principles to be governed by, it is critically important to be in close coordination and to hear from our Ukrainian partners, who have been subject to barbaric and unjust and unlawful invasions and attacks since February of 2022.
QUESTION: Given the special – the close ties between the Chinese envoy to Russia – he is among the very few foreigners that received the friend – medal of friend – friend-ness from Russian President Putin – do you have any assessment on the neutrality?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any assessment. But in any – through this lens of Russia and Ukraine, the important perspective to remember is that actions from any country are going to speak louder than words. And I’ll reiterate again that any undertaking of diplomacy by any country needs to happen in close coordination with our Ukrainian partners. The terms of diplomacy and the terms of these negotiations, or of any negotiations, and the path forward is for our Ukrainian partners for – to decide. It is their country that is being invaded. It is their country that’s being subjugated to Russian drones and missiles and attacks on a week-by-week basis.
So we’ll continue to support our Ukrainian partners. You saw us announce another presidential drawdown late last week. We’ll also continue to take steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable.
Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. On the contaminated water in Fukushima, Japan. What is the position of the United States regarding the release of contaminated water in Fukushima, Japan?
QUESTION: One more.
MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: South Korea and United States and Japan cooperation will be more effective if Korea-Japan relations are stronger in order to respond to North Korean nuclear issue. But the public opinion of the Korean people is that Japan should not give indulgence to Japan’s brutal act, such as forced labor of South Koreans in the past. How does the United States evaluate this?
MR PATEL: Janne, what I’ll say is that we welcomed the news from this past week that the Japan-ROK summit took place, and we commend Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon for their leadership. This is an important new chapter and a new beginning for our alliance partners, and an example of real leadership. This produced new momentum between like-minded countries that respect rule of law and are equally committed and share commitment to advancing peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. And we’ll continue to work with – through the alliance, with the ROK and Japan and other partners, to advance these interests as well.
QUESTION: Follow-up to Ambassador Burns —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Follow to – up – his meeting. So Ambassador Burns, last week he called for cabinet-level talk to be reopened between United States and China, and then we saw this meeting just took place today. Do you see this as a sign that the United States and China will reopen the high-level leadership conversation?
MR PATEL: We believe that there are important areas of potential cooperation between our two countries, like in areas of climate change, like in areas of food security, as well as global health. There’s also important work to collaborate on addressing the precursors for the fentanyl crisis. So there’s a number of areas where we believe it will benefit the both of our countries to continue to communicate, and our intention has always been to maintain lines of communication with the PRC.
QUESTION: We know there are other secretary, like secretary of treasury, secretary of commerce, who also – they are willing to visit China. Is there going to be a sequence, of which Secretary will go first?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to speak to any potential cabinet travel. What I will say is that I will reiterate what Secretary Blinken said so clearly last week, is that he intends to go, and he intends to go as soon as conditions allow and we’re able to get that trip back on the books.
QUESTION: Lastly —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — this wasn’t the first time Ambassador Burns meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. They had met before when he was an ambassador to the United States. So how do you characterize this second meeting between both of them?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to characterize this meeting any further than what I’ve said. What I will say is that we maintain important lines of communication with a number of officials across the PRC. Obviously, that will relate to the respective individual and who their appropriate counterpart was. As you know, when Secretary Blinken was Secretary and, obviously, when Foreign Minister Qin Gang was ambassador to the United States, they had a number of opportunities to engage as well. But the important thing here is that we would like there to continue to be open lines of communication between our two countries.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant.
MR PATEL: Oh, certainly. And I’ll come to you after. Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: A couple questions. Let me start with Ukraine. Last night was the heaviest – most intense, I would say – drone attack on Kyiv since early this year. Do you have any reaction to the fact the Russians are shifting and retargeting Kyiv again?
MR PATEL: What I will say, Alex, is that this is just another line item in the litany of list of Russian aggression on Ukraine. You saw me speak to this a little bit last week, but there was an instant in which Kyiv and Ukraine were subject to numerous missiles and drones. And this kind of action and activity is just unacceptable and another example of Russian aggression.
QUESTION: The latest – last couple of days, let’s say – have they changed your calculus on Wagner, the fact that they announced they’re going to leave and they stayed to – probably to spin our heads about their tactics? Has there been any change in terms of recognizing Wagner Group as a terrorist group, as it is?
MR PATEL: We have – as you know, Alex, we have designated Wagner, the Wagner Group, as a transnational threat group that – we’ve previously done that – because we continue to believe that the group is largely motivated by profit, not motivated by fame or some of these other things that are made when assessments are happening for a potential FTO designation. What I will also say is that we know that the Wagner Group, when they are active in a country, that country is less stable, less secure. It often finds its natural resources and minerals exploited upon.
But the important thing to remember here, Alex, is that this conflict has not gone to plan according to Putin. The Russian Federation has had to scrape around for additional personnel for this conflict. Now they are relying on the Wagner Group and its band of ex-convicts to do much of this work. And rather for Putin to withdraw from Ukraine and stop the needless loss of life, the Russian Federation has chosen time and time again to escalate. And this – unfortunately we are seeing that wreak havoc across Ukraine, including on Kyiv, as you so mentioned.
So the United States will continue to take steps to support our Ukrainian partners – as I said, we announced a drawdown late last week – and we’ll continue to take steps to hold the Russian Federation accountable.
Jackson, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have two more – please come back to me.
MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you. Actually, let me go to Leon, who’s had his hand up, Jackson, and then I’ll come to you.
Leon, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah – no problem. This is onto Saudi Arabia. So the National Security Advisor, of course, was there this weekend – sorry, last week. And I was wondering, the readout of – from the White House, of course, mentions the help of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, with the troops in Yemen; of course, in Sudan, for the evacuation. It doesn’t mention any other subjects – for example, human rights or what have you. We’re a far cry from a couple of months ago, where the President was saying there would be consequences and re-examination of the relations with Saudi. So where do we stand now? Is everything good with Saudi Arabia right now?
MR PATEL: Leon, what I will say and what you’ve heard me say before is that we have a multiplicity of interests as it relates to our relationship with Saudi Arabia. There are a number of factors at play and they’ve also been an integral partner in a number of endeavors, including, as recently, they’ve played an immense role in welcoming American citizens who are seeking safety from Sudan. They also played a role in facilitating these ongoing initial negotiations between the SAF and the RSF.
But beyond that, Leon, we do have a multiplicity of interests, whether they be a security interest, an economic interest. I will also note that we have nearly 80,000 American citizens living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And so our bilateral relationship and the avenues that we choose to pursue and the areas that we choose to focus on keeps those individuals in mind, as well as their safety and security.
QUESTION: So precisely given the fact that there are 80,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia, given the fact that Saudi is helping out – has helped out and is – in Sudan, for the evacuation of American citizens – and in Yemen and all there, is – are your hands tied precisely because of that?
MR PATEL: Our —
QUESTION: To deal with other issues with Saudi Arabia, which there are?
MR PATEL: We can walk and chew gum. When there are areas of concerns between any partner, we raise them and we discuss them privately. We raise them in appropriate diplomatic channels. But what I will say again is that Saudi Arabia has been an important partner on a number of fronts, including welcoming American citizens from Sudan, as well as welcoming these talks. They also have played an integral role in the peace and stability and security of the region as well, and have taken appropriate steps in the conflict with Yemen also. And so they – we’ll continue to work with them on a number of these issues.
QUESTION: Okay, just one follow-up —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — and then I’ll finish. By sending Jake Sullivan to Riyadh this weekend, what – after several months where there were really not so many back and forths, what is the message you’re sending right now? Are you – is it back to normal with Saudi Arabia?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to speak for the White House from here, Leon, but the message is the same message that we have said all along, is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the region of which the United States has a multiplicity of interests in front of, whether they be security interests, trade interests. I’ll also note that Saudi Arabia has played an important role in conflicts like Sudan, in the crisis in Yemen. They’ve also played an important role in – when the President visited in June through steps like the welcoming of flights from Israel and other places. So this is of course something that we’re going to continue to engage on.
Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: On this, were you able to make any progress regarding the normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and will Jake make any progress —
MR PATEL: I don’t have anything additional to add beyond the White House’s readout, but of course this is something that is not just important to the United States but it’s important to the region and it’s something that we’ll continue to focus on as well.
QUESTION: And on Arab League decision yesterday —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — to bring Syria back to its council, what’s your view on that?
MR PATEL: You’ve heard me talk about this last week, Michel. We do not believe that Syria merits readmission to the Arab League at this time, and it’s a point that we’ve made clear with all of our partners. I will note that we share a number of the same goals with our Arab partners with respect to Syria, including reaching a solution to the Syrian crisis that is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We believe that there is a strong need to expand humanitarian access to all Syrians, build security and stability to ensure ISIS cannot resurge, create safe conditions for the eventual refugee returns, and releasing the – clarifying [the] fate of those that are unjustly detained and missing, as well as there’s an important opportunity to reduce the influence of Iran as well, as well as countering the Captagon trafficking that’s taking place from Syria.
So there is a number of issues in which we believe that our partners will use direct engagement with the Assad regime to further and push and demand in these issue areas.
QUESTION: The Jordanian foreign minister has said last week that Jordan and the Arab countries coordinated their initiative with the U.S. before they put it on the table. Can you confirm that? Did you give any green light to the Arab countries to move forward with their normalization with Syria?
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions, Michel, but I just said that we have made clear to all of our partners that Syria does not merit readmission into the Arab League, and we continue to believe that we will not normalize our relations with the Assad regime and we don’t support our allies and partners doing so either.
QUESTION: Final one on the strike that targeted a drug dealer in Syria today and killed – killed him and his family. Do you have any reaction?
MR PATEL: I’ve seen those reports, Michel, but I don’t have any confirmation or assessment to offer on that from here.
Jackson, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. So regarding the calls, right, to hold Secretary Blinken in contempt of Congress, could the State Department provide a version of the cable that redacts confidential material or whatever may compromise sources of methods? Is the State Department prepared to – or prepared or willing to fight the subpoena in litigation?
MR PATEL: We’re going to continue to engage with Congress appropriately as it relates to their legitimate requests for information and oversight function, but we also have already provided a classified briefing as well as a summary of the dissent channel cable as well as a summary of the department’s response. And so we feel that that has sufficiently conveyed appropriate information.
QUESTION: And ahead of Title 42 expiring this week, is the State Department prepared to do its part in what will likely be a huge influx of asylum seekers?
MR PATEL: Well, you saw Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas speak to this last week or the week before, where you saw us announce a number of lines of effort that the State Department is undertaking in coordination with regional partners, in coordination with, of course, the Department of Homeland Security – actions like Regional Processing Centers and ensuring that relevant legal pathways for illegal migrants are on the table. And so we’ll continue to work in close coordination to do that.
MR PATEL: Camilla, go ahead. Go ahead, Camilla.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much. I just wanted to get back to —
MR PATEL: I meant Camilla Schick from CBS.
QUESTION: Oh, for her?
MR PATEL: Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Senator Van Hollen has written to the Secretary asking for a new report by the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority on last year’s death of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. He wants it to be handed over for congressional review. Has the Secretary responded? Will State hand it over? And what’s the difference between this new report and what the security coordinator’s conclusion was put out last year?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of our engagements with Congress, Camilla. We of course will work closely with congressional partners for the provision of any new document, but I don’t have any additional updates on that at this time.
Now go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Vedant. It’s good to see you, by the way, Vedant. And I’d like to bring you back to the question of Sudan, if you will.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: I’m going to share some sentiments from my audience members. One of them is a doctor in Sudan, and this is likely the same sentiments that thousands of people in Khartoum are feeling right now. She says that, “The choices are stay home and die or step out and be shot or bombed. Pearl, my home and my aunt’s two houses down the road in Khartoum Amarat area were bombed.” Another audience member has said – shared this and said, “Would it not have been better,” quote, “if we had heard directly from the resident ambassador?” Now, I’d like to hear your comments given that John – Ambassador John Godfrey’s work.
And Vedant, please speak a little bit about your specific work with your ally the United Kingdom on Sudan. Where are you guys at? And was there any assessment – or what is your current assessment as to why there was no sort of early warning response, particularly through the mechanism of the African Union? So where are we specifically here? What are you doing?
There is a sense from the Sudanese people who say that it seems unfair that even here in Washington – they’ve attended events that Secretary Blinken was at and they said, quote, “Pearl, it’s so unfair the United States is making sure that they – that the Ukrainian people receive all the help, but Sudan is getting nothing – no help, no attention, people are dying in their homes, no water, no electricity, no food.” How are you working with your PD department to kind of be transparent and increase understanding about what you’re doing, what outcomes, where do these things stand right now, and speak to my audiences here in Africa, Vedant?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. First and foremost, Ambassador Godfrey has personally been deeply engaged on this issue and continues to be, and his leadership and the way in which the suspension of operations procedures and operation was conducted is a testament to, of course, the broad interagency effort as well as our – the entirety of our workforce in Khartoum, but especially a testament to Ambassador Godfrey’s hard work and leadership. So let me first open with that.
As it relates to any pre-warning, the United States – I’m not here to speak to any other multilateral mechanism, but what I can say about the United States is that since August of 2021, we have been clear and consistent with the world and clear and consistent with American citizens and LPRs who happen to be in the region that Sudan is a ‘Level 4 – Do Not Travel’ country. We have not parsed our words about the delicate security situation that has existed in Sudan for some time. It didn’t start being a Level 4 country in April. It’s been a Level 4 country since the Fall of 2021. And we have not been naïve or have not hesitated to make that clear to American citizens through all the communicative mechanisms that exist through our Travel Advisory websites.
Number three, we – the anecdotes and quotes that you offered are the exact reason why we are so deeply engaged in ensuring that we can get a ceasefire that lasts, and it’s why we welcome the initial start of negotiations between the SAF and the RSF that began over the weekend. And we – like I said earlier, we appreciate the role that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has played in hosting and facilitating these talks.
It’s our understanding that the parties began a review of a proposed declaration of commitment to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian actions in Sudan. We also are continuing to engage civilian leaders, resistance committees, and civil society to work towards the shared goal of establishing civilian, democratic governance in Sudan as soon as possible. We believe that is the will of the Sudanese people. And so the United States is not hesitating to get its hands dirty, to be deeply engaged in this process. The Secretary personally has engaged with both of these generals a number of times, has engaged with his counterparts in the UK, in the United Arab Emirates, in Saudi Arabia on these very important issues, and we’ll continue to be deeply engaged on this.
QUESTION: Vedant, can I give you a follow-up? There is some question as to why the United States embraced even talking to these two generals, right, given that arriving at this country did not come through democratic means. So could you not have used alternative methods or innovative methods maybe through some network diplomacy pressure or working with your allies in the international community, perhaps more additional pressure and engagement with Saudi Arabia so that you did not have to have this direct engagement —
MR PATEL: I’m going to – I’m going to stop you right there.
QUESTION: — sort of (inaudible)?
MR PATEL: I’m going to stop you right there to say it was the direct engagement of the United States that allowed the creation of the security conditions so our allies and partners and American citizens and LPRs and others had the opportunity to get to safety through a variety of mechanisms that had existed in Sudan to get to safety. So that is why the United States was so keen on engaging directly and why we take responsibility in this matter so seriously and why we’ve been so deeply engaged. There are multiple avenues of pursuit here. One of them, of course, is the continued ceasefire to get us to establishing a civilian democratic governance in Sudan. But the other piece of this is ensuring that security conditions can persist so American citizens, LPRs, the citizens of our allies and partners, can get to safety.
(Inaudible), go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Secretary Blinken is meeting today with the prime minister of North Macedonia. Can you please preview Secretary Blinken’s expectations for today’s meeting and the main themes, like what you can expect that they talk about?
North Macedonia is a strong NATO Ally partner. It is NATO’s – one of NATO’s newest members and current OSCE chair, and it has been a strong and vocal supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. North Macedonia has provided military, humanitarian, and energy infrastructure support to our Ukrainian partners.
And we are also a strong supporter of North Macedonia’s integration into the EU, and we believe that the future of the Western Balkans is squarely within the European Union. And so I expect the Secretary will raise a number of these issues, but I’m not going to get ahead of that and I’m sure we’ll have a more formal readout following.
Guita, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. In Iran today, the authorities executed two people on charges of blasphemy. I was wondering if you have any comment and what, if anything, the U.S. can do to put a stop to capital punishment in that country.
MR PATEL: We condemn these executions, Guita, and these latest executions are a grave reminder of the Iranian regime’s penchant for abusing and violating the human rights of the Iranian people. All that – [all] blasphemy laws remain an affront to human rights worldwide, including in Iran. And so the United States will continue to take appropriate action in accordance with our allies and partners to continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its egregious human rights abuses. You have seen, Guita, since I have been here, us not hesitate to take action when it comes to this, specifically targeting some of the human rights atrocities that we have seen take place from the regime in Tehran.
QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to follow up on Japan-South Korean summit yesterday. Both leaders also discussed about having China-ROK-Japan trilateral meeting reportedly by the end of this year. And obviously, China is not comfortable to see growing U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation these days. So from your standpoint, how do you assess the potential restart of China-ROK-Japan trilateral summit?
MR PATEL: Well, that is a question for our partners in the ROK and our Japanese partners. We have been very clear that we do not ask countries to choose between the United States and the PRC or the United States and any country. What our relationships and our bilateral engagements are and the foreign policy we choose to pursue is about what a partnership with the United States can look like. And we are very confident in the deep partnerships that we have with Japan as well as the ROK. As you now, the Secretary just had the opportunity to return from Japan a number of weeks ago, where he had the opportunity to not just meet with Prime Minister Kishida but also Foreign Minister Hayashi. We just hosted the Republic of Korea for what I think was a very successful state visit where the President and President Yoon had the opportunity to announce the Washington Declaration.
So we will continue to work through bilateral mechanisms with our relationship with both of these countries, but also trilaterally with the ROK and Japan about deepening our relationship and enhancing peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region as well.
QUESTION: On Russia, on Saturday General Kyrylo Budanov – he is the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence – gave an interview to Yahoo! News, and he was asked whether Ukraine had anything to do with the killing of Daria Dugina in August in Russia. And he refused to reply, but he said that Ukraine has been killing Russians and Ukraine will continue killing Russians all around the world. Do you have any comments here?
MR PATEL: So we have been very clear that we do not condone the targeting of civilians, whether that be in Russia or whether that be in Ukraine or in any part of the world, and that continues to be the case.
QUESTION: Yes, the question is about Victory Day in Moscow. Tomorrow, leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus will attend a Victory Day parade in Moscow. So are there any concerns from the perspective of Department of State that such multilateral visits undermine the U.S. efforts to isolate Russia?
And a follow-up quickly. Does the U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy has any plans to take part in any of tomorrow’s festivities in Moscow or make any public statements related to this memorable date? Thank you.
MR PATEL: I will let the team in Moscow speak to the ambassador’s schedule. I don’t have anything offer to here – from here. And on your first part of your question, I just don’t have an assessment to provide. Countries are at their whim to participate in any celebratory activity that they choose.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I would like to move to Türkiye.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Next week on Sunday, presidential and general elections are taking place in Türkiye. I’m sure that the State Department will be following election closely, so how will the election results affect Turkish and American relations?
MR PATEL: They won’t. We will continue to work together with whatever government is chosen by the Turkish people, and we’ll continuing to deepen those relationships, work on a number of areas of cooperation and shared priorities. Türkiye is, of course, an important NATO Ally and has played an integral role in a number of issues that are important to the United States. I will just point the role that Türkiye has played in convening and making the Black Sea Grain Initiative a reality – because of their leadership and convening role, that there is a mechanism now so that Russia does not weaponize grain.
But broadly, the U.S. does not take sides in elections. Our only hope is to see a free and fair election rooted in a democratic process.
Go ahead in the back. Ryo.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up question on the Japan-South Korean summit held on Sunday.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And regarding the Washington Declaration you just mentioned, South Korean President Yoon said that Washington Declaration is a bilateral agreement between Korea and the U.S., but they do not rule out Japan’s participation in the Washington Declaration. My question is: How do you see the possibility to expand the Washington Declaration to trilateral cooperation including Japan, or the possibility to make a new trilateral consultative mechanism on extended deterrence including Japan?
MR PATEL: Look, Ryo, I don’t have any changes to the Washington Declaration to announce today, but we of course welcome increased collaboration between our partners in the ROK and our partners in Japan, as well as increased collaboration trilaterally as well. We believe all of these things are good for all three of our countries. They are good for advancing peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, but I don’t have any new policy to announce today.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. The Kurdistan region Deputy Prime Minister Talabani met with his prime minister, Barzani, today, and this comes after the – Barbara Leaf’s meeting with them last week. My question is that – what’s your comment on this meeting, and is there any pressure from the U.S. on the Kurdish political party, first, to come together, and second, to have an election this year?
QUESTION: On the second question.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Last week, the U.S. State Department officials, including Ambassador Leaf, spoke at the same event in Iraqi Forum in Baghdad as some of the Iranian-backed forces leaders that are listed in FTO were a keynote speaker. Is there any change in your policy towards those leaders and groups?
MR PATEL: There’s no change in policy.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Moving to South Caucasus, if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary stand by his early assessment that last week’s dialogue in Washington was successful? I’m asking because I’ve been hearing different – let’s say conflicting – comments from both sides.
MR PATEL: Our view, Alex, is that last week’s discussions were constructive, and we believe that the delegations from Armenia and Azerbaijan made significant progress in addressing difficult issues. Both countries, as you know, agreed in principle to certain terms and have a better understanding of each other’s points of views. And we believe that with additional goodwill and flexibility and compromise, that an agreement is within reach, and we continue to provide full support and engagement from the United States as the two countries continue to engage in dialogue and continue to secure a durable and sustainable peace.
QUESTION: Are there further steps that both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan, should take or should refrain from taking to maintain the momentum?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics in the discussions, Alex, but as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s reporting out there that the parties have continued their talks, and we welcome those reports that those parties are continuing to engage in these discussions. And we reiterate our conviction that peace is within reach and that direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a lasting peace.
QUESTION: Finally on Azerbaijan, human rights came up in this room from time to time. Did the Secretary have a chance to discuss the topic with his Azerbaijani counterpart? Today there was a pardoning, but they did not include Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and other thousands of political prisoners in that list.
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of last week’s talks beyond what we’ve shared publicly. But of course, we raise human rights regularly and consistently with our counterparts when we engage with them.
QUESTION: Any reaction to today’s decision?
MR PATEL: Nothing else to offer.
Jackson, go ahead.
QUESTION: Two China-related questions.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Senate Democrats plan to introduce a new China competition bill in the coming months to address a wide range of economic and security issues, including technology transfers, the Belt and Road Initiative, and Taiwan. Does the State Department support any effort by Congress to resolve these China issues? Does it hold a different opinion on this?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into potential and pending legislation from up here.
QUESTION: And China’s foreign minister said on Monday it is imperative to stabilize Sino-U.S. relations after a series of, quote, “erroneous words and deeds,” end quote, threw ties back into deep freeze. Any reaction to that?
MR PATEL: Threw what? The – what was the second part of your question?
QUESTION: Threw ties back into a deep freeze.
MR PATEL: Our viewpoint has always been that there is an importance to continue to maintain open lines of communication with the PRC, and you have seen the United States do so. The United States has acted responsibly. We have continued to engage with PRC officials and have kept lines of communications open. We have no change to our “one China” policy.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)