2:12 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. I have two very quick things for you and then happy to dive into your questions.
So first, Secretary Blinken yesterday met with the Secretary General of the Bureau of International Expositions and other officials that were visiting to assess the United States bid to host Expo 2027 in Minnesota.
The Secretary reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s strong support for the bid, and our commitment to making Expo 2027 a success. The Secretary and the other officials also discussed the theme – “Healthy People, Healthy Planet: Wellness and Well-Being for All” – and that advances that an Expo in Minnesota could make exploring medical and environmental innovations.
The Secretary conveyed the enthusiasm centered on Minnesota and the excitement of bringing the World’s Fair back to the United States, in the heartland of America.
One other thing: I wanted to offer – on behalf of the department, wanted to offer a sincere thanks to the journalists in this room and around the world who continue to accurately report on Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, especially in talking about the enormous and increasing human costs.
Our EUR Bureau and colleagues across the department, including our Embassy in Kyiv, were especially moved by the AP story yesterday on Russia’s ongoing and deliberate efforts to kidnap children from Ukraine and transfer them to the Russian Federation for adoption.
Russia’s human filtration operations is something that we remain extremely disturbed by and focused on. As the Secretary said in July, “Reports indicate Russian authorities are deliberately separating Ukrainian children from their parents and abducting others from orphanages before putting them up for adoption inside Russia.”
Estimates from a variety of sources, including the Russian Government, indicate that Russian authorities have uprooted 260,000 children from their homes to Russia, often to isolated regions in the Far East.
We, here at the department, thank you all for your dedication in telling these stories and extend our gratitude to those working even from inside Russia to tell these stories.
And with that, I’m happy to take your questions. Matt, if you want to kick us off.
QUESTION: Yes. Thanks, Vedant. And thanks for the mention of my colleagues’ story.
Two things, one really briefly, which people may come back to, but then – and that is just: does the U.S. have any – sorry. Does the State Department have any equities in the Starlink system that’s being used in Ukraine?
MR PATEL: So I’m aware of those reports, the press reports specifically on Starlink, and would refer you to my Pentagon colleagues to speak to specifics. But in general, the U.S. has provided significant assistance to the Ukraine to maintain its internet infrastructure and connectivity, as well as cyber security, in the face of kinetic and cyber attacks from the Kremlin. This assistance includes thousands of satellite phones, data terminals, and funding for hands-on technical support to essential service providers in Ukraine.
QUESTION: You – sorry.
MR PATEL: No. And so –
QUESTION: Oh. Has that ended?
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, no. I just – I mean, are there State Department equities here? Are – is the State Department paying for any of this?
MR PATEL: Not that I am aware of.
QUESTION: Have you been asked to?
MR PATEL: We have not had any communications with Starlink, as it relates to this.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, have you had any conversations with the Pentagon as it relates to paying for the provision of internet access?
MR PATEL: Not that I’m aware. I don’t have any update to offer on that.
QUESTION: I’ll let other people come back to that. I just want to get one quick one in, on Haiti.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: And that is: So it’s been a week now since Prime Minister Henry made his request. And pretty much nothing has been done, although I see, at least in terms of the multinational force and enforcing a humanitarian corridor – although I see that USAID announced a couple hours ago that they’re sending a DART team, which is well and good and I’m not going to – I’m not even going to – I won’t denigrate the impact that a DART team can have. But, that’s seven people, and it’s basically like firefighters and rescue personnel and people who analyze and assess what can or should be done after a natural disaster – or other kind of disaster. It does not seem to me like this is being treated with the urgency that you say the situation warrants. Can you –
MR PATEL: Well –
QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of an update on where – what the administration’s thinking is?
MR PATEL: Well, I would disagree a little bit with that characterization. I think this is something of great importance to the department. As you know, Assistant Secretary Nichols just returned from leading an interagency delegation to Haiti, where they met with Prime Minister Henry and private sector leaders, as well as broader civil society groups, to continue to discuss how the U.S. Government can continue to provide – not only various forms of assistance but also promote accountability for those responsible for some of the criminal acts that we’re seeing. We are in receipt of the Government of Haiti’s appeal for security assistance to address the humanitarian crisis. We’re currently reviewing that. I don’t have any updates to offer. But these things take time, but we remain in close touch with our partners and allies in assessing next steps.
In terms of things that we’ve done, though, Matt, the Coast Guard dispatched on Wednesday one of its major cutters to patrol offshore near Port-au-Prince. As you noted, yes, there’s a DART team in Haiti now from USAID. We also are working closely through the CDC and the – and USAID with Haiti’s ministry of public health, as it relates to the cholera outbreak, and it’s something that we continue to remain deeply engaged on. And I have no doubt we will have further updates to offer on this in the days ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m sure you will. And I’m not trying to – I realize that responding to requests like this take time. But the urgency with which you and Ned have spoken about the situation, as well as the Haitians and others, would seem to suggest that something more than putting a Coast Guard cutter off the shore, which is not going to be on the ground and not doing anything that the Haitian Government, the Haitian prime minister, has asked for, a seven-member DART team – it’s been a week, and that’s all?
MR PATEL: I wouldn’t say that there’s just – that that’s all. In addition to that, in conjunction with our partner, Mexico, we’ve also circulated a draft resolution on specific measures that’ll enable the Security Council to address security challenges.
QUESTION: Well, I’m sure that draft resolution will help a lot of people in Pétion-Ville and Cap-Haïtien with cholera that they’re getting.
MR PATEL: In addition to this, Matt –
QUESTION: Wait –
MR PATEL: – you raised this last Friday, and over the course of the weekend we had an assistant secretary and a delegation in country, discussing these various important issues. We are moving as quickly, as diligently, and with as much urgency as we can. We recognize that this is a very pressing issue. There are some serious humanitarian concerns at stake. And from sanctions to USAID’s DART team, to other measures, this is something we continue to remain deeply engaged on, and I have no doubt we’ll have more to share in the days ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Last night, North Korea – last night, North Korea threatened South Korea with over 280 artillery shells fired, and fighter jets, and it’s provoking South Korea for four times a day with cruise and ballistic missiles. This is the first provocations for North Korea to invade South Korea since the Korean War in 1950. The people in Korea are feeling scared about escalating this tensions on Korean Peninsula. In fact, North Korea is choosing military actions. How will you respond to North Korea, which has chosen military actions rather than dialogue or diplomatic solutions? Thank you.
MR PATEL: A couple things, Janne. So first, we are aware of those reports, and we call on the DPRK to cease all these provocations and these threatening actions. We also again condemn the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches and other provocative actions. As I’ve said previously, these launches are in violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions.
But also, I would reiterate again that our position on diplomacy and dialogue remains the same, even in the light of these recent developments. We continue to believe our ultimate goal is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to remain open to diplomacy and dialogue as a step towards getting there.
QUESTION: Okay. One more. Recently announced Biden administration’s National Security Strategy. What – how is the Korean Peninsula and North Korean nuclear issues working in the interest of the United States?
MR PATEL: Well, regional stability in that region of the world continues to be a key tenet of our National Security Strategy. And even in the face of the recent provocations and launches from the DPRK, you’ve seen this administration continue to show an ironclad commitment to our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan, both through communications and direct engagements from senior officials within this building but also across the administration, but also through joint military exercises that my colleagues at the Pentagon I’m sure can speak to as well.
QUESTION: But often an UN Security Council resolution failed frequently in adopting a statement condemning or sanctions North Korea as a provocation, as a violation of a UN Security Council, as opposed to China and Russia. Do you think the role of the member of the United Nations Security Council needed to be improved?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any – anything to offer on the body of the Security Council itself, but what I will note is that on that resolution that you note all but two countries supported this resolution – two countries that parroted the same kind of disinformation of alluding to some kind of U.S. provocation as it relates to these launches, which is certainly not the case.
Guita, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. This morning, Secretary Blinken met with a group of Iranian American activists. Did the U.S. team hear anything from them that it could consider for supporting the demonstrators in Iran?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Guita. I believe we’ll have a more formal readout of this morning’s meeting later today, but what it really was, was an opportunity for the Secretary and other department officials to engage with members of the community and human rights defenders and talk about the protests that we are seeing in Iran, the bravery and the courage of the women and all those involved in the protest; and continue to discuss ways that the U.S. can support these protestors and supporting defending of human rights. But like I said, we’ll have a more specific readout to follow later in the —
QUESTION: One more question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Suppression is continuing and it’s getting worse. There are some horrific pictures on social media of what’s happening to women, what they’re doing to women. Today the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called on the Biden administration to spearhead the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry into Iran. Would the – would the Biden administration think it would be useful and would it consider it?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any assessment to offer on this specific request, but what I can say is that the Iranian Government now has killed more than 200 people in its crackdown, according to a number of human rights organizations. And we continue to condemn Iranian authorities on firing on and the arresting of peaceful protesters, including students, including journalists, including human rights activists, teachers, and lawyers. And the Government of Iran continues to disrupt internet access for its 80 million-plus citizens and preventing them and the rest of the world from watching these ongoing crackdowns.
This cruel and violent suppression of peaceful protests shows that the Iranian Government clearly fears its own people.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a follow-up on Iran and a quick question on Saudi, and then I have to go. I have a live show.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So, on Iran, there have been criticism against the Obama administration at the time that they did not support the Green Movement enough. Do you believe that this administration is supporting the Iranian protesters, especially that you put human rights, democracy, and freedom of expression on the top of the agenda? That’s one.
On Saudi, or if you want to answer just the Iran one —
MR PATEL: Sure, let me – and then I’ll let you ask your next question.
So, since these protests began, the U.S. has taken several concrete steps. First, we sanctioned the so-called morality police and its senior leadership for their roles in the death of Mahsa Amini while she was in their custody. We also sanctioned additional security officials directly responsible for the violent crackdowns. On top of that, we sanctioned additional security officials that were involved in perpetrating the violence, including Iran’s minister of the interior. We also sanctioned Iran’s minister of communications for his role in shutting down and disrupting Iranian people’s access to internet.
And, also, as you all know, we issued the General License D-2, which opens the door for a number of U.S. companies to be able to bring their services into Iran and allow the easier flow of access and information; so that the Iranian people can not only better communicate with themselves but also with the outside world. And as we’ve seen, U.S. technology companies are already taking up that charge, and a number of them are taking steps to deploy their services in Iran.
QUESTION: On Saudi just quickly, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan in an interview with Al-Arabiya, he said that the United States relationship with Riyadh is still strategic. Do you believe that you still hold the same standard, i.e., that the relationship with Saudi Arabia is built on mutual interest, and do you believe that it’s still a partner when it comes to counterterrorism or ending the war in Yemen or confronting Iran?
MR PATEL: Absolutely. As Ned, myself, others, the Secretary have spoken, we continue to have a multiplicity of interests as it relates to our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And of course, a big piece of that is a security relationship – one that is important towards regional stability, but also approximately or more than 70,000 American citizens live in the kingdom. And so, we continue to keep in mind their safety but also the broader national security interests of the United States in the region and in ensuring that the steps that we take do not infringe on those interests either.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Simon.
QUESTION: A follow-up on the Iran answer that you just gave.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Just specifically on the measures that you said that the administration has taken, I wonder on that – on the general license, you said a number of companies are moving. Is there any sort of specifics you can give us? Which companies? How many and what kind of services you’re aware of? Has there actually been an American company that is now offering internet services that couldn’t do it before that general license?
MR PATEL: Well, we will let private sector companies specifically speak to their own endeavors in the country, but what I can say and what I would reiterate again, is that tech companies are already taking up the charge and providing new services in Iran as a result of that license. I will see if we have any specific metrics that would be appropriate for us to offer, but again, I will let these companies speak specifically for themselves.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran. In addition to meeting with civil society activists, have U.S. officials since the protests began had any contact with the exiled Iranian opposition, including Kurdish groups? And just generally, what’s the policy on engagement with members of those groups?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any, but I am happy to check and circle back with you on that.
In the back.
QUESTION: Just on Saudi relations, real quick. Both sides clearly not happy. This continues to escalate. Now we’re hearing from some Democrats on the Hill that there might be some actions coming from the White House as early as next week. My question is: If we can’t get the oil from Saudi Arabia, if these actions and consequences don’t change Saudi’s and OPEC’s decision on oil, where do we get it from? Are we starting to now look at other countries like Venezuela?
MR PATEL: So, let me – to widen the aperture a little bit, I think first and foremost I will let the White House speak to any announcements they may or may not have coming, and certainly don’t want to get ahead or get into specific congressional engagements. Over the course of the past week, we – of course, have seen a number of ideas come forward as it relates to our relationship, but I think the bigger picture here is that the President since taking office, and even since when he was a candidate, has been quite clear that the President needs a different sort of relationship with Saudi Arabia.
And in the – under the auspices of the energy conversation, we’ve also been quite clear that over the course of this administration that supply should meet demand. And as it relates to the diversification of our energy sources, I’m not going to get ahead or preview any kind of country that we’re looking at or anything like that. But a big component of this, of course as we talk about a transition to a clean energy future and a less reliance on foreign fossil fuels, is of course the Inflation Reduction Act, which colleagues at various other agencies can speak to the specific metrics. But we’ve also been clear-eyed that as an administration we need to slowly pivot away from this reliance, and make investments in renewable energies that will allow us to keep up with our supply and demand.
QUESTION: But Saudi Arabia has been a longtime strategic ally, one of our most important allies in the Gulf. Shouldn’t cooler heads prevail in this moment?
MR PATEL: As I just said addressing to Nadia’s question, we of course have a multiplicity of interests with our bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. Of course, a component of that is the energy conservation. But another big aspect of that is – of course, the security piece, and the role that they play in regional stability as it also relates to the safety of more than 70,000 American citizens who live in the kingdom.
QUESTION: Thank you. I heard you say what you said about Iran, and maybe one day someone from behind that podium would recognize the Kurds and the Palestinian people; that day after day face the monstrosity called a military occupation – a very brutal one at that. You mentioned that – about the brutality of the Iranian regime, that they continue to arrest journalists, human rights activists, teachers, students, and so on. This happens on a daily basis with the Palestinians. It’s been happening for decades. So, perhaps one day you guys will recognize that and do something about it.
But with that, I want to ask you – there’s an operation that has been ongoing since last March. It’s called “Breaking Waves,” in which the Israelis attack communities day after day, night after night. It has become routine – the death of Palestinian children, teenagers. Today there were two. Tens of bystanders and regular citizens, residents, and so on – they don’t even have citizenship – daily get arrested and so on. And I have not seen any effort on your part – serious effort – to stop this craziness that is conducted by the Israeli army.
MR PATEL: So, a couple of things, Said. First and foremost, we remain deeply concerned by the worsening situation in the West Bank, including some of the anecdotes that you shared. Just this month alone, at least 21 Palestinians, including at least seven children, and four Israelis have been killed. This is horrific, and it must stop. And the deaths of soldiers and children alike are unacceptable. And this also includes preventing all forms of violent incitement, and we are calling on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation, which we believe is in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians but also the region more broadly. And as we have said for a long time, we urge of the parties themselves to contain the violence. While the U.S. and other international partners stand ready to help, we can’t substitute that for vital engagement between the parties to mitigate the conflict.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay. Just let me follow up with —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — with your permission or your indulgence. Now, in the securities – National Security Strategy, it mentions a two-state solution, varied negotiations and so on, but you have not taken any steps to really effectuate that in any way, shape, or form. I mean, why are you not taking initiative to start these negotiations if you are committed to the two-state solution?
MR PATEL: Said, we are incredibly committed to this, and officials from within this building and across the administration are deeply engaged on this matter. We don’t read out every single one of those engagements, but it continues to be something that this administration is deeply committed to. It’s something that Assistant Secretary Leaf is committed to, Ambassador Nides, others. It’s something that the President spoke to during his travels, that the United States is deeply committed to the goal of a two-state solution – two states along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.
We’ve also been clear, again, that Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, justice, prosperity, and democracy. And we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on these efforts.
QUESTION: I just —
MR PATEL: Alex.
QUESTION: I want to mention that the Israelis have arrested chairman of the theater group in – the Freedom Theater group in Jenin for no apparent reason. And they just keep renewing his administrative detention. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PATEL: I’ve seen those reports. I saw them right before I came out, but I don’t have anything additional on this. We’re happy to check with the bureau and see if we can get you anything.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. I have two questions, but before that I want to follow up on internet access – a question – please bear with me —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — which actual – is about both Iranian-related question, also, Matt’s question. The Pentagon spokesperson said that they are – that the administration is going to discuss this topic with industry companies. I know the Secretary is headed to California next week. And as you put it out in your statement, he’s going to discuss technology, tech diplomacy in advancing U.S. national security. Are any of these topics will be part of that – those questions here?
MR PATEL: I would not imagine that the Secretary will raise this directly in some of the laboratories and facilities that he’s touring. That line that you read out is in reference to the dialogue he’s going to hold with Secretary Rice at Stanford. So – but again, I don’t want to get ahead of the trip, and there will be open press components of it. And I’m sure we’ll have more information —
QUESTION: Thanks so much.
MR PATEL: — closer to.
QUESTION: May I get your reaction to Putin’s threatening to shut down humanitarian corridor even though he’s entertaining some so-called terror acts and other reasonings? But what is the administration’s reaction to the fact that he is talking about it?
MR PATEL: Are you speaking about the grain initiative specifically?
QUESTION: The grain, yes.
MR PATEL: Got it. So look, to take a step back, this grain initiative has been a benefit. Desperately needed food and fertilizer has been able to flow from Ukraine’s ports and get to markets and countries that need it. The world also, candidly, has benefited from access to Russia’s export of food and fertilizer, which have never been included in our sanctions. And so, on October 7th, the EU clarified this in formal guidance, and we welcome this step. And frankly, any talk of disrupting this agreement is essentially a statement that people should pay more for food; and it’s another effort of President Putin to weaponize food. So, we would take great issue with that.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And on – last, on conflicts. Putin also – actually, there have been some conflicting statements coming out of Russia lately, but Putin was talk about some sort of goodwill in terms of – in response to the territorial conflicts, although he forgot to mention Ukraine in his statement. My question is about Armenia-Azerbaijan. There is no – there is lack of reluctance when it comes to Russian officials criticizing the West and its mediation efforts on Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and Zakharova said two days ago that the West is trying to replace us or trying to steal our mediating efforts. There also are offices on counter-mission from CSTO vis-à-vis the EU mission.
Two questions. One is, do you have any concern on your end that Russia might jeopardize once again the process that you guys have been putting together? And secondly, where is Ambassador Reeker during these days?
MR PATEL: So a couple of things. First, on the second part of your question, I don’t have any updates for Ambassador Reeker’s travel beyond – I think we discussed some of this last week, but we’ll check if we have an update. And look, if any country is eager to engage with us on Armenia and Azerbaijan and help us get to a peaceful resolution, we certainly would welcome that. But we have not seen any kind of effort from Russia as you might be referring to.
And I know this wasn’t the crux of your question, but to your – to your comment about goodwill, let’s talk about goodwill for a second. And showing goodwill would be stopping the assault on the people of Ukraine. It would be stopping the bombs. It would be stopping the shelling of hospitals and stopping the kidnapping of children. These things are not goodwill.
So, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the new president in Iraq, and also the new designated prime minister?
MR PATEL: Sure. So we welcome the Iraqi Council of Representatives’ election and – as the president of Iraq. We also note that President Rashid named Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as the prime minister-designate. And as Iraq’s political leaders form a new government, we urge them to bear in mind the will of the Iraqi people, who voted for the government responsive to their needs. We – I want to use this opportunity to also reiterate our commitment as the United States, in partnering with the people and the Government of Iraq, to advance our many shared priorities. And we look forward to continuing to work with them and have strong cooperation between our two countries.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Are you worried about Sudani being close to Iran in any way?
MR PATEL: So we’re prepared to work with any government in Iraq that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its own agenda.
QUESTION: One last question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, whenever people talk about implications of OPEC decision on Saudi Arabia, we hear in Washington about banning or stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In the past, we have seen whenever Gulf countries were denied of U.S. arms, they turn to China. How confident are you that any of such move would be effective against Gulf countries to make them divert their course?
MR PATEL: Well, like I said, I don’t have any specific actions to preview and don’t want to get ahead of the ball here. But I also want to again reiterate that we have a multiplicity of interests with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And, of course, a big component of that is the nearly 70,000 American citizens who live in the kingdom. And, of course, their security is of great importance to this administration. And we certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that impedes on their security, but also on the United States’ own national security in the kingdom or in the region itself. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of any actions that many might be speculating upon.
QUESTION: OPEC+ is, like, consisting of large number of countries, almost all Gulf countries. Why is Saudi Arabia on the hot spot now? Is there a specific reason?
MR PATEL: Well, look, I —
QUESTION: And not others.
MR PATEL: I think you saw Admiral Kirby speak to this a little bit earlier this week, but other OPEC nations communicated to us privately that they disagreed with the decision that was taken earlier this week. And as the President has said, we’re re-evaluating our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of that. And we’ll continue to look for ways to take additional steps. But again, I don’t have anything additional to preview today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)