Department Press Briefing October 26, 2022
2:02 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I have two very brief things for you all at the top, and then happy to dive right in.
So first, today the United States designated two Moldovan oligarchs – Vladimir Plahotniuc, and Ilan Shor, and their networks, in connection with significant acts of corruption and interference in Moldova’s election. The United States continues to support Moldova’s efforts to counter corruption, reform the justice sector, promote accountability, and strengthen the independence and transparency of its democratic institutions. These designations reaffirm our commitment to tackling corruption as a first-order national security threat and to promoting accountability for systemic efforts to undermine Moldova’s democratic institutions and elections, including the Kremlin’s election interference operations in Moldova.
The U.S. will continue to use all available tools to disrupt kleptocratic interests within Moldova and threatening its democracy from abroad.
One more thing. It has been 40 days since the death of Mahsa “Zhina” Amini in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. We join her family and the Iranian people for a day of mourning. In the past 40 days, Iranian authorities have killed hundreds more in a brutal crackdown to suppress peaceful protests sparked by Mahsa’s death, including many more young women and girls. Their bravery in continuing to lead protests in the face of this crackdown is an inspiration to the world.
Today, we are announcing a joint action between the State Department and Treasury Department, designating 14 individuals and three entities using five different authorities. These newly sanctioned individuals and entities represent a range of those responsible for Iran’s repression. There are senior leaders of the security apparatus, mid-level officials who have believed that they could commit abuses against their neighbors while preserving their anonymity, and organizations and individuals who have attacked the Iranian people’s ability to use the internet to communicate with each other and the world.
Peaceful protests by large numbers of Iranians are now well into their second month, as is the Iranian regime’s attempts to violently suppress them. The regime’s ongoing violent crackdown, pervasive surveillance of citizens, and disruption of communications are the latest reminder of the Islamic Republic’s flagrant disregard for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of Iranians.
We will continue to look at the tools at our disposal and take action to support the people of Iran as they peacefully protest for their human rights in the face of brutal repression.
Matt, if you want to kick us off.
QUESTION: Thanks. I didn’t have anything to start, but since you went on at – a little bit at length about Iran, I will ask you this: The other day, Ned was quite reluctant – in fact, loath to and would not – ascribe any motivate or – to – or ascribe what – describe what the calls that you’re seeing from the protesters are. Are you at a point now where you’re able to say with some certainty that you know what the protesters are demanding?
MR PATEL: So I don’t have anything new or different to offer from what Ned said. Iran’s leadership is facing a problem of its own making, and it continues to accuse the U.S. of instigating these protests. And let’s be clear: These protests are about the Iranian people and their demands. And we also are trying to be very careful to not play into the regime’s disinformation about the United States being behind these protests. And our fallacy is – policy is designed around finding practical ways to support the Iranian people with the tools that this administration has in its arsenal to support the Iranian people in the face of the brutal, violent crackdown, the internet disruptions, and the denial of basic human rights, and the state-sponsored violence that we’re seeing.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say, then, that your reluctance to give a description or to say what you believe the Iranian protesters want is because you’re concerned that by doing that, that you will play into the government’s allegations that the U.S. is behind them?
MR PATEL: Well —
QUESTION: Is that the entire – is that it? Or is it because –
MR PATEL: I think the key takeaway here, Matt, is that no one – not myself, not Ned, no one in the U.S. Government – should claim or can claim to speak for these protesters; only they can do that. And we, our role is to continue to take steps and take practical efforts to use the tools at our disposal to hold the regime accountable for what we are seeing happen across Iran.
QUESTION: But I don’t think anyone is asking you to speak for the protesters. But what I’m going to ask – what I’m asking you to do is to say what your understanding is of what their demands are.
MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I —
QUESTION: I don’t understand how that’s speaking for them. If you can –
MR PATEL: I appreciate your question, and I understand what you’re asking, but that is not for us to characterize. What we are seeing is the Iranian people demand basic human rights, rights of expression, as this started in the death of Mahsa Amini, and we’re seeing the Iranian people make their voices heard. But I don’t have any other specific assessment to offer.
QUESTION: Vedant —
MR PATEL: Let me go to Guita, Said, and then I’ll come to you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, Vedant on Iran, on this issue.
MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you; I promise. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Vedant, if you were to describe what is happening in Iran in just one word, what word would that be?
MR PATEL: I think it would be improper to try and categorize this in one word.
QUESTION: So “improper” is the word? (Laughter.)
MR PATEL: That’s not the word that I am trying to use either. What this is about is the Iranian people making their voices heard, standing up for basic human rights, standing up against the state-sponsored violence against women that we’re seeing all across Iran. In the last 40 days alone, we have seen security authorities killing hundreds of peaceful protestors who were outraged by Mahsa Amini’s death, including many other young women and girls. And their bravery continuing to lead these protests in the face of this crackdown is an inspiration to many across the world. And so what this administration is going to do is going to continue to collaborate with our allies and partners and continue to take steps to support the Iranian people and hold them accountable for these egregious human rights abuses and for their violent crackdown that we’re seeing.
QUESTION: What other way is there to support them besides the sanctioning the forces that are suppressing them and giving them access to technology?
MR PATEL: We continue to have – we continue to have a number of items in our toolbelt. And I would not minimize the sanctions and the actions that this administration has already taken. Targeted sanctions impose real costs on individuals and the country writ large, as well as the organizations that we’ve designated. It further isolates them on the global stage, and it imposes real costs. I will also note that targeting individuals and entities – they are also denied access to U.S. financial systems and the financial systems of other allies and partners depending on other countries who are designating them. So these things have real consequences.
QUESTION: Is there —
QUESTION: One more, sorry.
QUESTION: Sure. Please.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: While this is going on with the demonstrators in Iran, Morad Tahbaz has been taken back to prison. He’s both a U.S. and British national as well in addition to Iranian. Is the State Department aware? Is the State Department going to – have you made any contact?
MR PATEL: So I’ve seen those reports, Guita, and I don’t have any confirmation or assessment to offer from here, but we continue to work night and day to secure the release of our wrongfully detained citizens. And to be quite clear, as we’ve said before from here, Iran is unjustly detaining innocent Americans and others and should release them immediately. And securing their release is one of our utmost priorities, and we call upon Iran to make urgent progress towards the release of wrongfully detained American citizens.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Vedant. You mentioned hundreds killed. Do we have a figure, an accurate figure, and how do you collect these figures?
MR PATEL: Well, Said, I think before when we’ve spoken to the death toll that we’ve seen, we’ve cited some reporting that we’ve seen from various human rights organizations and NGOs. I don’t have a specific cite for you today, but I’m happy to check and get back to you on that.
QUESTION: And second, to the best of your knowledge, has there been, like, a manifesto or a statement issued by whoever is organizing these protests with a set of demands, saying one, two, three, four?
MR PATEL: As far as I’m aware, Said, I’ve not seen any specific manifesto, as you call it; but, again, what we’re seeing quite clearly in the streets, in Iran across the country, is students, women, journalists, teachers making their voices heard, standing up for basic human rights, basic rights of expression, basic dignities. And what we’re also seeing is the Iranian regime violently crack down on these protests, killing their citizens, killing women and young girls, students, things of the like.
QUESTION: I understand. I know in this case your predicament: You want to help these protestors achieve their goals, but you don’t have an address to send this – whatever aid or whatever help you can provide to them. In the absence of such a thing —
MR PATEL: Said, we are helping. We are taking —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, maybe you can share —
MR PATEL: We have taken over the – since – over the course of these two months that these protests have started, we have taken direct, concrete actions to support Iranian protesters, starting first, I believe, earlier this month designating the so‑called morality police, designating other entities of Iran’s security apparatus, issuing general licenses to allow the easier flow of communication not just among Iranians but also between Iran and the outside world. And today we have designated 14 individuals, three entities, and using five designations across the interagency. So we are taking action, and we’re helping how we can.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on a terrorist attack today in Shiraz that killed 15 worshippers – of Iranians?
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that specific report today, Said, but of course any loss of life is heartbreaking, and we send our condolences. And we’re continuing to see if there’s any additional information.
Anything else on Iran before we move away? All right.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So in Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit at – that’s going on at the moment, the – South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Cho said after the meeting, the trilateral meeting, we’ve agreed – “We agreed that an unparalleled scale of response would be necessary if North Korea pushes ahead with a seventh nuclear test.” Is that language something that – is there something that has been agreed in that meeting? What is – what do they mean by “unparalleled?” Is that something that the U.S. signs up to? And separately, do you have any hope of getting China or Russia to sign up for new UN sanctions on North Korea?
MR PATEL: Well, Simon, I’m not going to categorize or try to speak for the foreign ministry of our partners in the Republic of Korea. But I think you saw Deputy Secretary Sherman speak while also on her travels and was quite clear that this kind of provocation and aggressive action, threatening action, is – we view it as irresponsible, and it is not only unsafe but these missile violations – these missile launches violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
And so we will continue to do what we have been. We’re going to consult with our allies and partners. As you know, Deputy Secretary Sherman is in the region. And as it relates to other members – permanent members of the Security Council, it is of course our hope that they will join us in holding the DPRK accountable. But even as recently as earlier this month, we did not see that from the PRC and Russia, and instead we saw parroting of disinformation that the U.S. provocations was somehow behind these launches, which is just absolutely not true.
QUESTION: And you just talked about the – about missile launches, but you’ve also been warning of the nuclear test. Specifically on the question of if North – the North Koreans conduct that test and what the consequences would be, is there something that you’re actually able to say on that?
MR PATEL: Simon, I’m of course not going to read out specifically the various tools in our toolbelt that we have to hold the DPRK accountable, but we have a number of tools available. Earlier this month – and I would say we have tools available across the interagency, not just within this department. Earlier this month you saw our colleagues at the Pentagon take part in joint military exercises with – both bilaterally and trilaterally in response to some of these launches that we’ve seen. And so – also, I believe, earlier this month we designated additional individuals and entities in response to the irresponsible activities that we’re seeing from the DPRK.
So this is all to say we continue to have tools at our disposal to hold the DPRK accountable. But broadly speaking, a seventh nuclear test, should it happen, would constitute a grave escalatory action and seriously threaten regional stability, international stability, security in the region, and it would also undermine the global nonproliferation regime and efforts that are being undertaken. So we are going to continue to collaborate closely with our allies and partners, but I don’t have any – I don’t have a litany – a line item list for you of potential actions that we could take.
Still on DPRK or moving away?
QUESTION: No, moving.
MR PATEL: Anything else on the region before we move away?
All right, Leon.
QUESTION: Okay. And I’m sorry because I have —
MR PATEL: No.
QUESTION: — two questions and I’m going to have you jump continents.
MR PATEL: You’re all good.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) But I guess you’re used to that.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: I think it was yesterday or the day before – I’m confused – there was a Travel Advisory for the – not the evacuation but asking personnel, nonessential, to leave —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — because of the threats. Has that now – that was on a voluntary basis. Has that become compulsory now?
MR PATEL: That has not. That has not. So as you all know, the department overall continues to adjust and make assessments on its posture at our various embassies and missions and consulates throughout the world in line with local security, the environment, and other factors such as public health. In the case of Nigeria, yesterday the department did approve the authorized departure, which is the technical term in this situation, for family members and non-emergency U.S. government officials in Abuja. We made this decision for voluntary departure out of an abundance of caution related to an elevated risk of terror attacks, specifically in Abuja. But it is still at the authorized departure level. I don’t have any —
QUESTION: So no changes?
MR PATEL: No changes.
QUESTION: It’s not – it’s still voluntary?
MR PATEL: Correct.
MR PATEL: Correct.
QUESTION: And then, so totally unrelated, on Haiti. So it’s now been more or less two weeks since the call for – Haitian Government called for a potential international force or help from the international community. There’s been discussions on it. I understand obviously that it takes time to set up such a force. But what we’re hearing everywhere, including in this house, in France, elsewhere is that really nobody is wanting to take the lead of this potential force if there were to be one. So I’d like to ask you: are you – is – are you clearly, in the United States, saying that you would not lead that force and waiting for another country to come up, if that be the case? Or rather, that you are not inclined really to go down that road – and nobody else seems to want to go down that road – and will really beef up security through helping the national police in Haiti and what have you?
MR PATEL: Sure. So a couple of things, Leon. First, these conversations and the diplomatic engagements around this are ongoing. We continue to work closely with our Mexican partners on a draft resolution, and those conversations continue to be ongoing. And our ambassador in New York, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spoke to this as recently as yesterday, and we are continuing to work night and day on this and do so in a way that addresses the concerns raised not just by the Haitian Government, but also the secretary-general.
On the United States’s role, as I’ve said previously, the U.S. will consider the most effective means to support, enable, and resource this mission. As I’ve said before, we are proposing a limited and carefully scoped, non-UN mission led by a partner country, and we will work with partners and other council members to set defined and specific parameters for the mission.
And at the beginning of your question you said that it has been two weeks, and I want to again note that we have taken action to address the dire humanitarian concerns in Haiti. We have, I believe, about a week and a half ago, over the weekend, a U.S.-Canada joint operation delivered vital security-related equipment to Port-au-Prince. We also, I believe earlier this month, imposed visa restrictions and took other designations against Haitian officials and other individuals involved in street gangs and some of the activities that have contributed to the humanitarian crisis we are seeing in Haiti right now. Prior to that, Assistant Secretary Nichols led an interagency delegation to Port-au-Prince, where he met not only with Haitian Government leaders, but members of civil society, members of the private sector.
So this is something that we continue to remain deeply engaged on. Also to – of note is the UN Security Council resolution that successfully passed last week. But these processes take time and we’re continuing to work through them diligently.
Go ahead, Alex.
There are reports that Russia is now recruiting Afghan commanders trained by the U.S. Navy SEALs, and there are also reports that Kadyrov declared great jihad against Ukrainians. There are also reports that Putin today personally attended military drill and – which involves practicing missile launches. First of all, what do you think about those reports? Secondly, are you sure that Russia is not acting like a state of – state that sponsors terrorists?
MR PATEL: So a couple of things, Alex. First, some of this reporting I’ve also seen, but I don’t have any new assessment to offer or confirmation from the department for that matter. But I think the big takeaway here is that, once again, this is another example of how the Russian Federation’s war is not going according to President Putin’s plans, and he is having to turn to increasingly desperate actions to keep the war machine going. This is a possible follow-up to the Russian Federation attempting to provision assets from places like the DPRK and Iran and elsewhere.
I have no updates to offer on the state sponsor of terror designation. As we’ve said quite clearly – and you’ve seen the President speak to this – we continue to believe that, one, we have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable, and we’ve done that, designations that in many cases supersede what a state sponsor of terror designation could be. But also there has been some specific concerns from humanitarian organizations and NGOs that a specific state sponsor of terror designation could impact and significantly impair the important work that they are doing in the country in terms of humanitarian work and humanitarian assistance that they can offer.
QUESTION: They’re doing it in Ukraine, not in Russia?
MR PATEL: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: What is the connection between Russia being a terrorist state and NGOs not being able to operate in Ukraine? I’m just – I’m just trying to clear that.
MR PATEL: We – I can – we can look into the – how the specific impacts would be, but the feedback that we’ve heard from a number operating in the region, that a specific designation like that would make their work more difficult to accomplish.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Russia?
QUESTION: And how do you think about Putin’s – Putin’s personally attending today’s military drill? Was it bullying? Was it blackmailing? Was it just acting as if – as Putin?
MR PATEL: I never want to try to be in the head of President Putin, so I don’t have any other assessment to offer there. But what I can assure you is that this is something that this administration is going to continue to pay close attention to, and we’ll continue to support our Ukrainian partners.
QUESTION: Just following up on Russia.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken earlier today was asked about the consequences once again if Russia uses nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, and he said, quote, “[We have] communicated directly and very [directly] to the Russians…President Putin about the consequences.” Can you be a little bit more explicit with us? Who exactly has communicated that message to President Putin?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Kylie. I don’t have any specific calls to read out or share that we haven’t already over the past days. But this is not something new. We have said, over the past many weeks and months, that we have raised this both privately and publicly with the Russian Federation. And as – over the course of the past two weeks, you have seen members of this administration dialogue directly with their counterparts in Russia and express these concerns and the potential for dire consequences that we have, as no doubt likely have made its way back to President Putin. But I don’t have a specific engagement to read out for you.
QUESTION: Great. And then just a follow-up. The Russian ambassador to the UK said today to CNN that Russia is not going to use nukes. Is there any reason to take what Russian officials are saying on this front at face value, just given what they have said, of course, leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
MR PATEL: Look, firstly – and Ned spoke to this earlier in the week as well – we have no reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. What this is about is the irresponsible rhetoric and the irresponsible tactics that the Russian Federation is taking part in to talk about this. It is another trend in their long line of saying that another country is going to do something, and then they themselves are ones to carry out that action. And so it’s this kind of irresponsible rhetoric that continues to be deeply troubling.
QUESTION: Right. But should a Russian official’s denial that they would use nuclear weapons be taken as legitimate?
MR PATEL: Again, I am just going to reiterate what I said, that we have not seen any reason to adjust our nuclear posture, nor do we have any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. But the rhetoric that we’re seeing from across the Kremlin and across the Russian Federation on this is deeply irresponsible.
QUESTION: And just one more question on Russia related to Belarus.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: CNN did some extensive reporting on hospitals in Belarus over the last few months, and the reporting found that there are many more Russian soldiers that have been treated in those hospitals than Belarusian officials have said have actually been treated there. So has the U.S. Government found that Belarus has also been doing this, or do you have any response to this reporting?
MR PATEL: I haven’t seen that. I don’t have anything to offer on that right now. But we can check if we’ve got anything more to offer there.
Okay. I just called on you, Said. Let’s work the room for a little bit. I’ll come back, I promise.
QUESTION: Yeah. So there was new reporting last night that was published regarding how the Saudi OPEC cut situation unfolded. It’s kind of a two-part question related to that. First, is it accurate that the Saudis repeatedly assured you that production was going to be increased, not cut, in the months leading up to the cut, and that U.S. officials weren’t aware that a cut was coming until it was actually imminent?
And then secondly, one Democratic lawmaker, Virginia’s Gerald Connolly, said that there’s now embarrassment, was his word, as the Saudis are merrily going on their way after this entire episode went down. Do you have a response to that, somebody from the President’s own party characterizing the situation that way, and the meeting with MBS from earlier this year and what’s unfolded from that?
MR PATEL: A couple of things, Dylan. I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements, but I think you’ve seen even Saudi officials dispute some of the claims that have come out over the course of this week. But we have been clear over the course of this administration as it relates to the conversation around energy that supply should meet demand. That has been the case as not only our country and our economy continues to climb out of the COVID-19 pandemic but others do around the world. And our message has been clear to producers, producing countries, that supply should meet demand.
As it relates to Saudi Arabia, again, I’m not going to speak to Congressman Connolly’s comment specifically. But as we’ve said previously, this is a relationship that has been built over decades on a bipartisan basis, and so this administration will act methodically and strategically. And as I’ve said before, we have a multiplicity of interests in Saudi Arabia – some security interests, energy interests, trade interests. But we again have been quite clear that we found this production decision disappointing. And so we’re going to do our due diligence, and as the President and others have said, work to continue to recalibrate that relationship.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The reporting indicated that the nature of the meeting with MBS this summer was largely focused on energy and these potential OPEC cuts in production. You mentioned that there’s a multiplicity of facets to the relationship, and the administration has maintained that that meeting was not all about oil. Do you still assert that that’s not the case, it wasn’t a meeting all about oil?
MR PATEL: I do assert that. I was in Jeddah with the Secretary and the President on that trip, and there were a number of finite things that came out of that trip. Like I said, we have a multiplicity of interests with Saudi Arabia, and continue to believe that to be true.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to switch topics.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: To the Palestinian issue. Amnesty International issued a report calling for a probe into the possible war crimes during the Israeli offensive on Gaza last August. Are you aware of that, and do you support such a probe?
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen the reporting on that specifically, Said, but you’ve seen us speak to this a number of times from this briefing room. This recent period has seen a sharp and alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries in the West Bank but also Gaza, and it has impacted a number of children. And we continue to emphasize that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to have equal measure of security, stability, justice, and dignity, and it is vital that the cessation of hostilities take place.
QUESTION: So do you support efforts by Amnesty International in this case? Do you support their effort, or you dismiss Amnesty International as a credible organization?
MR PATEL: Amnesty International is certainly a credible organization. I just haven’t seen this specific report, so I’m not going to comment on it.
QUESTION: Second, according to the Israeli president’s office, in his meeting yesterday – President Herzog’s meeting with Secretary Clinken (ph) – Clinton – Blinken, sorry – Secretary Blinken – hearkened back (laughter) a long time – anyway, Secretary Blinken’s meeting, he shared with him evidence or he told him that there’s evidence that the Israelis have about Iranian use of – I mean Russian use of Iranian drones in Ukraine. Is that —
MR PATEL: Said, we read out Secretary Blinken’s bilateral engagement with President Herzog. I don’t have anything additional to offer, and certainly am not going to get into reported intelligence-sharing or anything like that.
QUESTION: And lastly, today during his meeting with the President, he reminded President – President Herzog reminded President Biden that it’s been 40 days since Mahsa Amini died, and that is true, as you mentioned. But he failed to mention that it’s been 165 days since an American Palestinian journalist was killed by Israeli bullets. Do you think he conveniently sort of forgot about that, or maybe the President should have reminded him that this has happened and we have not seen the results of the investigation yet?
MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to try and put my words into the mouth of the Israeli president. What I can say is that from this department, we have taken the death of Shireen Abu Akleh quite seriously, and we have mentioned it and engaged with our Israeli counterparts on it. The Secretary has spoken about it a great deal, Ned has spoken about it a great deal. And it’s something that we are very, very mindful of.
Go – we’ll work the room. Going back to Simon.
QUESTION: I have a question about soccer, also known as football. The World Cup in Qatar is coming up in a couple of weeks. The British foreign secretary spoke about this today, I think. There’s been, obviously, concerns that the – Qatar’s laws on LGBTQ people or – towards LGBTQ people could have an impact on people who want to travel to this World Cup, so Foreign Secretary Cleverly basically said – he said, “I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure, and exciting World Cup.”
USA is also in this World Cup. Some Americans will be traveling there to see it. I notice your Travel Advisory for Qatar doesn’t specifically say – give any warning about behavior, and for LGBTQ people, how they should act while in Qatar. So do you have some guidance for Americans who might be going to the World Cup? Should they sort of compromise, as the British seem to be suggesting, or what would you advise them to – how would you advise them to behave once they’re there?
MR PATEL: Well, Simon, we have a number of lines of effort underway in this department to ensure the safety of American citizens when they travel abroad, and broadly, our guidance to any American citizen choosing to travel anywhere is to, of course, look at what the appropriate travel advisory designation is for a said country, to ensure that you and any loved ones or fellow travelers register with our Smart Traveler system and the embassy so that they can stay up to breast on any developing situations on the ground. And as I said to Leon’s question, when there is a change in the status on the ground that deems for us to change our travel advisory warning both for our personnel in country but also for American citizens, we’ve done that. And so we’ll continue to pay close attention and do that as well.
QUESTION: So if somebody is traveling there, there’s been comments from the Government of Qatar saying during the World Cup – sort of warning that public displays of affection are going to be unwelcome. This is in the security advisory from the U.S. Government, but on the actual Travel Advisory there is no specific advice, right? So if you’re an LGBTQ American wanting to go and support the USA in this World Cup, are they – as you sort of mentioned, they should be aware of local laws, but does that mean during the World Cup they should, I guess, limit how they behave in order to stay in line with local rules?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to prescribe something like that from here, Simon. I think, again, as the State Department, it’s our responsibility to ensure that American citizens when they travel, they have the most up-to-date information as it relates to a travel advisory warning for a specific country. We update that information as circumstances on the ground change, and we’ll continue to do that as it relates to any country in the world as you’ve seen us do at regular intervals from this department.
QUESTION: And very broadly, that advice includes respecting and obeying local laws —
MR PATEL: Of course it does.
QUESTION: — and customs, right?
MR PATEL: Of course it does.
QUESTION: Okay. So what’s – I don’t – I’m not sure I understand what – why you’re reluctant to ask – why you’re reluctant to answer the —
MR PATEL: I was not reluctant to answer Simon’s question. Of course obeying local law enforcement guidelines, the local rules and regulations is of course key to any travel.
QUESTION: While we’re on this subject, there was an alert in South Africa, and some suggest it was because the – in that area there’s going to be a gay pride protest. Is that related to that?
MR PATEL: I’ve not – I don’t have anything specific on that travel alert. I will check with the team to see if we have anything for you, but, again, we assess the safety and security on the ground in any country as things like security and other factors assess and develop. But we’ll check.
QUESTION: But on this, are you aware of any country in the world for which you encourage Americans not to obey local laws?
MR PATEL: No, Matt, of course that —
MR PATEL: — any American citizen when they travel abroad, we —
MR PATEL: — of course encourage them to follow local laws.
QUESTION: Right. And what –
MR PATEL: As we would —
QUESTION: And that includes Russia too, right?
MR PATEL: As we would for anybody traveling to the United States as well – like simultaneously, vice versa, is what I meant.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I was wondering if you have anything on the recent state trip to the Armenia-Azerbaijani border to observe the situation there. It was led by the director of Caucasus affairs two days ago. I was wondering – I’m just curious how you want us to see that as an independent mission from – independent from the OSCE and EU missions. Is it a separate mission?
MR PATEL: So let – to take a little bit of a step back, the Secretary has emphasized that the U.S. has communicated – is committed to Armenia‑Azerbaijan peace negotiations, and we have encouraged both leaders to meet in whatever format is most useful to them. Our viewpoint is that direct dialogue is key to resolving these issues and reaching a lasting peace. There is no greater supporter than the U.S. for the sovereignty and independence of the three countries in the South Caucasus, and the restoration of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia’s independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union was a seminal event that guaranteed each of these countries the right to pursue their own foreign policy interests and sovereignty.
QUESTION: And my last one on this – landmines issue. There are concerns from both Azerbaijan and Armenia, but the Azeris put out some numbers out there two days ago that they have lost 262 since the end of (inaudible). I know this is something that State has been involved for a long time. And last time, I remember Ned announced eight months ago some 2 million of funding to help the sides to deal with the issue. And then, as you know, things have changed rapidly; the war broke. And I was wondering if that funding is still available, allocated, and if so, what is going on with that program?
MR PATEL: My understanding is that it is, but I will check – we can get you specifics and follow up with you afterwards. Thanks.
Sure, in the back.
QUESTION: On the deputy secretary’s trip to Japan, I’m wondering how you conclude trilateral meeting between her and the Japan, ROK counterpart. This time we could see the joint press conference after the trilateral meeting, which we couldn’t see the last time? Can you give us some evaluation on that?
MR PATEL: Sure. So I would not – I would say I would not necessarily read into joint press conferences being scheduled or not. Often, people’s schedules and their ticktocks over the course of the day impact whether they’re available to do press availabilities or not. But of course the Republic of Korea and Japan are two of our most important allies and partners in the region, and the Deputy Secretary had the opportunity to meet with both her Japanese counterpart but also her counterpart from the Republic of Korea.
And just to – specifically with these engagements, she was able to reaffirm the importance of the bilateral relationships with these two countries, but also the trilateral relationship as well, and the important partnership that is going to be required to promote peace and security and stability in the Indo‑Pacific region.
QUESTION: Can we set the record straight on something, on amnesty? Because the probe calls for war crimes by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, unless I’m not too clear in my —
MR PATEL: Thanks, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)