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State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 29

13 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 29

 The US State Dept held a presser on Aug 29, 2022; Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielded a wide range of questions.

MR PATEL: Let’s go to the line of Leon Bruneau with AFP.

QUESTION:  The U.S. has denied that there has been any evacuation order to our embassy there in Baghdad. Can you say, however, if there’s been any measures to have some people leave, maybe, or other details like that without it – calling it per se an evacuation order? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Leon. As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on matters of internal security and ensuring the safety of U.S. Government personnel and U.S. citizens, and the security of our facilities both in the National Capitol Region and abroad remains our highest priority; but would reiterate what was shared with you all earlier today, that reports of Embassy Baghdad being evacuated are false.

Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: I had a similar question just following up. You said there’s no evacuation. Was there any or is there any reduction of staff at the Baghdad Embassy?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Will. I don’t have any operational updates to provide as it relates to Embassy Baghdad. Again, I would just reiterate that the reports that it’s being evacuated is false..

Let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick with CBS News.

QUESTION:  Today marks a year since an erroneous U.S. airstrike killed 10 Afghans, which included aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and his children. Last week marked one year since over a hundred Afghans and 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bombing on the international airport in Kabul. Two weeks before that marks one year since Kabul fell to the Taliban. There’s still no after-action report on Afghanistan from the Biden administration. Can we still expect something on this to be published?

MR PATEL: I don’t presently have an update to provide. But as we’ve said, we will be as transparent as possible with the report, consistent with classification and other considerations, and we hope to have an update to you all as soon as possible.

Let’s next go to the line of Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION: Two questions, one of the news that the IAEA team is heading to Zaporizhzhia. Does the U.S. have any comment on this? Do you believe they can accurately and completely carry out an investigation at that nuclear power plant?

And then separately, do you have any update on the two Americans who are being held by Russia as prisoners of war?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Jenny. So as confirmed publicly by the IAEA, an expert team is on its way and is expected to arrive at the ZNPP later this week. Russia has said it will let the IAEA team inspect the power plant, and we hope that Russia lives up to its word and allows a full inspection of the facilities and unhindered access to the operators. But I don’t have anything else to preview on that at the moment.

And sorry, as it relates to your other question, we remain in contact with the families of U.S. citizens who may be detained, but I don’t have any details to get into on that at the moment.

Let’s go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.

QUESTION:  I want to follow up on Iraq as well. (Inaudible) phone calls between the Secretary and any Iraqi officials in the next few days, if not today? And second, were you caught by surprise of the events that’s happening today in the Green Zone, considering the turmoil that the (inaudible) in the last few weeks and months?

And on the Iranian response, do we any expect any timeline, considering the State Department and the White House saying we are two weeks closer to probably reaching an agreement – we are closer than two weeks ago. Is it any (inaudible) for the Iranians, and then it’s going to be another round of talks? If you’d just clarify this point. Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: I will take your second question first.  I will let Iran and the EU speak to timeline. But as you know, we responded to the EU on Wednesday, and now it’s up to Iran to answer and send their response to our text back.

And ton your question about Iraq, I don’t have any calls with any leaders to preview or anything like that. But as per standard, we’ll read something out if something comes together. But to take a little bit of a step back, reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence, and Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be put at risk.

We’re aware of the reports of increasing violence and potential casualties, and we condemn the use of violence above all. Now is the time for dialogue, and we urge all those involved to remain calm and pursue peaceful avenues of redress. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators should also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Very quickly, when the President visited Israel and the West Bank last month, he impressed upon the Israelis to keep the bridge, the border bridge, the Allenby Bridge, between Jordan and the West Bank open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But as of now, nothing has happened. I mean, this has been promised before. I saw a tweet by former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, where he says, look, I was promised this back in 2014 and nothing happened. So, my question to you: Are you getting any kind of firm commitment by the Israelis that they will open that border?

And second, will there be a meeting between the head of the Mossad, who is in town, with any at the State Department? And will they discuss, beside the Iranian issue, the Palestinian issue? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. Let me answer your second question first. I don’t have any meetings to preview or anything to announce. But to take a little bit of a step back, as always, we are in intensive and constant discussions with our Israeli partners on Iran. There is no greater supporter of Israeli security than President Biden.

And on your first question, look, this administration supports creating a more autonomous, efficient, and reliable Palestinian experience of traveling abroad. During the President’s trip in June, he announced that Israel is prepared to take measures to increase efficiency and accessibility to the Allenby Bridge for the benefit of Palestinians. In order to upgrade facilities, Israel agreed to enable access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by September 30th, 2022. And a working group is assessing several measures, including the use of biometric passports, and will complete its assessment within the month and discuss conclusions with U.S. partners. In addition, the working group is considering steps to establish Palestinian Authority presence on Allenby Bridge while maintaining Israel’s security considerations.

Let’s go to Abigail Williams with NBC News.

QUESTION: There’s a report out that Iran has started enriching uranium with one of three clusters of advanced IR-6 centrifuges that were recently installed at its underground enrichment plant Natanz. Is the U.S. concerned that Iran is continuing to advance its nuclear program even while negotiating re-entry into the JCPOA?

And then a second question. Does the State Department have anything further on the American who was killed while fighting in Ukraine last week? Have U.S. officials been in touch with Russian officials regarding the return of their remains to the United States? And can you say how many American citizens fighting in Ukraine does the U.S. believe have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Abigail. I will take your second question first. So first, our ability to verify reports of deaths of U.S. citizens in Ukraine is limited. In addition, not all U.S. citizens’ deaths may be reported to U.S. authorities. For those reasons, we’re unable to provide a definitive number of all U.S. citizens who have been killed. But to the crux of your question, we can confirm the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine, and we are in touch with the family and providing all possible and necessary consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family, I don’t have anything additional to add other than we are working with our international partners and the Ukrainian Government regarding this case. It’s extremely sensitive, and we take our responsibilities as such very seriously, and out of respect for the family during this difficult time we have no further comments.

On your question about Iran and the JCPOA, we’re certainly not going to negotiate in public, but what I will reiterate, and which what others from the department have said, is that a mutual return to full implementation is in America’s national interest. It is the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s other destabilizing conduct. We have been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return of implementation that we think will address our full range of concerns with Iran.

Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching with Voice of America.

QUESTION: On Taiwan, do you have anything on the planned visit by head of Taiwan Mainland Affairs Council? Is there a plan for State Department officials to meet with him? And is the meeting in line with the State Department’s revised guidelines on interacting with Taiwan?

And separately, if I may, on Afghanistan SIV, I want to put on your radar the feedback – an Afghanistan evacuee now into his second and final year with parole status, which is as it stands now, Afghan evacuees are sent to the same email address whether they are starting the SIV process or nearly through. Why isn’t there a hub of workers assigned to expedite advanced cases when paperwork has been filled or individual cases workers assigned? And I have a follow-up question.

MR PATEL: On your first question, we don’t have any meetings to announce, and I’d refer you to TECRO for any information on possible Taiwan official travel to the United States.

And on your second question about SIVs, what I would note is that our commitment to SIVs and SIV processing is enduring, and we’re continuing to assess the process and do whatever we can to make it more efficient and process SIV applications more expeditiously, while of course also safeguarding our national security. I will also note that earlier this year, we were able to in conjunction with our partners at USCIS further streamline the SIV process and reduce the administrative burden on applicants by getting rid of a duplicative process that we think will be able to save about a month off of processing time.

So, this is a commitment that we are continuing to be laser focused on, and we’ll continue to assess and make adjustments to the process as we see fit, and that are of course in – consistent with U.S. law, and safeguarding our national security.

Let’s go to the line of Shannon Crawford with ABC News.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask about a report that the war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types  ammunition to dangerously low levels. Does the State Department share that level of concern? And if so, will that have any influence over future aid packages? Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Thanks, Shannon. I think what’s important to remember here is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue to firmly stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our belief is, is that we will do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, can defend its territorial sovereignty, to defend its territorial integrity. And we are going to continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as that takes. And part of that also involves continuing to hold Russia accountable through economic costs, through sanctions, and other measures as well.

Next, let’s go to the line of Ksenija Mcateer with Pavlovic Today.

QUESTION: I would like to ask you if Secretary Blinken has been briefed about the latest outcome of the Serbia-Kosovo talks, and what are his thoughts regarding the lack of agreement on the license plates? And my second question related to the same topic, can we expect Secretary Blinken to reiterate in the coming weeks the need for the creation of the Community of the Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo?

MR PATEL: We all at the State Department have been paying close touch. And as you know, through the EU-facilitated dialogues, Serbia has agreed to eliminate entry and exit documents for Kosovo ID holders, and Kosovo agreed not to introduce entry and exit documents for Serbia ID holders. The U.S. and this department support this agreement and sees it as an important step forward towards normalized relations centered on mutual recognition.

The dialogue has proven itself to be an important and flexible mechanism for dispute settlement, and the dialogue is a mechanism through which Serbia and Kosovo can come to a comprehensive agreement on normalizing the relations between two countries which will unlock a European future for both countries. Based on the commitment of both parties and the hard work of the special representative of the EU, we will find a way to move forward in a peaceful manner.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea.

QUESTION:  I have a question about South Korea and Russia. And first question is South Korea. South Korea concerns about the electrical vehicle production due to Inflation Reduction Act, and the South Korea recently requested the United States to enforce maximum flexibility. Will the United States consider on this? And second – my second question on Russia: Russia has announced that it will increase the – its Russian troops. Can you predict this will be a long war of Ukraine?  

MR PATEL: Thanks, Janne. So, on your first question, we’ll have to get back to you. We’ll take that question and someone will follow up. But on your second, what I would reiterate, again, is that the United States has stood with the people of Ukraine for 31 years, and we will continue firmly to stand with them as they defend their freedom and independence. Our support for Ukraine is unwavering, and we’re going to continue to take steps to do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend its territorial integrity, can defend its sovereignty.

And it’s quite clear that as this war enters its seventh month that President Putin’s assault is coming at a climbing cost: thousands of civilians killed or wounded, 13 million Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes. But President Putin has also failed in his goal: Ukraine has not and will not be conquered; it will remain sovereign and independent. We don’t know when this war will be over, but the United States will continue to stand united with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr with Asharq News.

QUESTION: You said on Iraq that you agree with the UN assessment that Iraq state is at stake with what’s happening now?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question. What I  am going to do is reiterate what I’d said already, which is that reports of unrest throughout Iraq today are deeply disturbing, as Iraqi institutions are not being allowed to function. This in turn increases the risk of violence and it – Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty should not be at risk. The right to peaceful public protest is a fundamental element of all democracies, but demonstrators must also respect the property and institutions of the Iraqi Government, which belong to and serve the Iraqi people.

Let’s go to the line of Laurie Mylroie with Kurdistan24.

QUESTION: Regarding Iraq, what is your response to critics like David Schenker, former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, who just complained in Foreign Policy magazine that senior officials, U.S. officials have not been interested enough in Iraq and that has given a relatively free hand to Iran and its proxies there?

MR PATEL: We have consistently reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s commitment to a strong, stable, and prosperous Iraq. A long-term, deep, multifaceted, and strategic partnership with Iraq both – serves both Iraqi and American people, and we are prepared to work with a government that puts Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the heart of its agenda.

Next let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: I have two questions. First, is Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr going to Israel and Palestinian territories, as the reports say?

And second, any updates on Senior Advisor Hochstein’s talks with Israel and Lebanon

MR PATEL: I don’t have – to your first question, I don’t have any travel to preview or anything like that. And on your second, as we’ve previously said, the U.S. remains committed to facilitating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to reach a decision on the delimitation of their maritime boundary, but I don’t have any updates or new information to provide.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham with Voice of America.

QUESTION:  An expert from Russia on the North Korean issue in an interview on Saturday said that the U.S. and South Korea are now instigating the DPRK and want Pyongyang to carry on a nuclear test as soon as possible. And North Korea’s state media KCNA published this story on their website today. So what would be your comments on this? I mean, do you still assess that North Korea is preparing its seventh nuclear test?

And I have a second question. South Korea has announced that it has formed a consultative body to assess environmental impact of the U.S. anti-missile defense system, THAAD. Once it’s done, the THAAD system is expected to be operated fully, and many expect that China will press South Korea. I mean, how would you react on China’s strong opposition to the possible full operations of the THAAD system?  

MR PATEL: Let me take your second question first, and I addressed this a number of weeks ago, but we believe that THAAD is a prudent and limited self-defence capability designed to counter DPRK weapons programs. Criticism or pressure on the ROK to abandon its self-defence is inappropriate. The U.S. and the ROK made an alliance decision to deploy THAAD to the ROK as a purely defensive measure to protect the ROK and its people from armed attack and to protect alliance military forces from the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threat.

I would reiterate that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. harbours no hostile intent toward the DPRK, and our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and willing to explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. However, we also have a serious responsibility to address the DPRK’s recent provocations and to implement UNSCRs already in place.

All right, I think we’ve got time for one last question, so we can close it out with Nike Ching again, Voice of America.

QUESTION:  Just a quick follow-up on the Afghan SIV. As you mentioned, there are new measures to expedite the process. Could you please elaborate a little bit? What is the State Department implementing that’s new to expedite these cases?  

MR PATEL: Sure, Nike. To just give a little bit of specificity on the adjustment that we made in July, so beginning on July 20th all new Afghan SIV program applicants are no longer required to submit a form I-360, petition for a special immigrant, to USCIS. Instead, a revised form DS-157, which is already one of the several documents required in our State Department’s chief of mission approval application, now serves as the petition for classification as a Special Immigrant Visa. We anticipate that this change will shave at least a month off of adjudication time as well as ease administrative burden on the visa applicant, while also maintaining our robust security standards as well.

Alright, everybody, I really appreciate everyone joining today, and again, sorry for dialling in a little late. And looking forward to talking to you all again soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:42 p.m.)