News

State Dept Presser, Oct 4

14 Min
State Dept Presser, Oct 4

The US State Department held a press conference on Oct 4, 2022 with Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesman fielding a wide range of questions.

Some Excerpts

2:19 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: As we saw, the Secretary spoke overnight, I suppose, or very late last night, with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. I see the White House announce that the President spoke with Prime Minister Kishida and Jake Sullivan spoke with their national security advisor. So, are you aware of any other contacts that there have been since this missile launch? And where does the administration intend to go next with its response?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Special Representative Kim had a chance to speak with their counterparts as well. But beyond that, I want to reiterate what you saw the Secretary and some of the communications coming from the administration have reiterated, which is that we condemn this dangerous and reckless launch of a long-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan, and it posed an unacceptable threat to the Japanese public. This action is a clear violation of multiple resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council, and it again demonstrates the threat that the DPRK holds both as it relates to its unlawful weapons of mass destruction program, but also its ballistic missiles program, and the threat that it poses to its neighbors as well. Yogether with the international community, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocations and to engage in sustained and substantive dialogue. We continue to consult closely with our allies, as is evidenced by the number of high-level communications that have happened from across the interagency with their counterparts. And I’d also reiterate that our commitments to Japan and the Republic of Korea are ironclad.

QUESTION: Right, but is there any – are there any thoughts about where you take it from here, beyond the consultations? I mean, what do the consultations lead to? What are you consulting about? Presumably it’s a response.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview or read out for you at this time ….

QUESTION:  UN secretary-general said this was an escalation. But what’s the overall read about this happening now, and how dangerous it is? And with the repeated warnings about a nuclear test, is there any new indication that the United States have that that might be imminent? And any messaging that you want to share?

MR PATEL: We’re still assessing the specific nature of this recent launch, which, again, posed an unacceptable threat to the Japanese public. As you noted at the beginning of your question, this is the 39th ballistic missile that the DPRK has launched in 2022, and this kind of continued action, not only is it unlawful, it is destabilizing to the region and the whole international community. And we continue to condemn this kind of testing and this kind of activity.

QUESTION: You’ve been saying, I guess since the beginning of the administration, that you’ve been asking the North Koreans for dialogue. You mentioned encouraging them to engage in dialogue. Is there still kind of an offer on the table despite what they’re doing? That hasn’t changed that you want them to talk?

MR PATEL: Absolutely. So our position on diplomacy and dialogue has not changed, and it remains the same. And frankly, this action underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy. I’ll also note that our ultimate goal here, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, has not changed either. And we remain prepared to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy to make tangible progress towards these goals.  

QUESTION: So the offer to meet without preconditions, that will remain on the table sort of regardless of the actions that – if they continue taking escalatory actions?

MR PATEL: That continues to be our posture. We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions. We consider that to be an important step towards meeting our ultimate goal, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we continue to feel that diplomacy and dialogue are a key – a key aspect of achieving that goal.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering how serious the administration is regarding this launch. Like, 4,600 kilometers is long enough to strike Guam, and with more development could enable them to possibly strike Hawaii, Alaska, or even the West Coast. With that, like, how long do you all plan to keep having this door open for, like, a call back? Is there a timeline?

MR PATEL: Well,  like I answered Matt’s question, I’m not going to speculate on any kind of response or specific actions. As I said, we continue to consult closely with our allies and partners. But since you asked, I will again use this opportunity to say that the U.S. Government condemns this dangerous and reckless launch. We think that it’s unacceptable. It is a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and it again demonstrates the DPRK’s unlawful and destabilizing activities in the region.

QUESTION: Could you address anything about the joint air drills, the South Korean-U.S. air drills in response to this launch?

MR PATEL:  I can confirm that we have had a bilateral military exercise with Japan and the Republic of Korea. I will refer you to the Pentagon and let my Pentagon colleagues there speak to those in greater detail. But what I would take away from that is that the United States commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan is ironclad. But I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to those in greater specificity.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Two questions on Iran. Yesterday, President Biden issued a statement in support of the people who are demonstrating in Iran, and in it he says that the Iranian regime has been suppressing people and denying their fundamental rights for decades, and then he promises more sanctions. But the effectiveness of these sanctions is really under question. Would the Biden administration consider deporting the family members of all Iranian authorities who are here in the United States studying, working, and just living, irrespective of their legal status?

MR PATEL: So let me answer that in two parts. First, as it relates to the President’s statement yesterday, as he said, we will continue to take action to impose further costs on the perpetrators of the violence against peaceful protesters and other human rights abuses. I don’t have anything to preview. I’m certainly not going to preview any potential actions.

But as it relates to the second part of your question, deportation and the enforcement of our immigration laws is something that’s handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the State Department, so I would refer you to DHS. Our viewpoint is that individual deportations are a legal issue and not a political tool. But again, this is something that DHS can speak to. I’m not going to get into it from here.

QUESTION:  Well, you – the administration keeps saying that they have all sorts of different tools in their – for cases like this or other cases. Couldn’t this be one way of really getting back at the authorities and showing them that the U.S. is serious?

MR PATEL:  We do have a number of tools in our arsenal to hold Iran accountable for a lot of their destabilizing activities. I’m not going to read them out necessarily from here. But as it relates to this, as it relates to individual deportations, our view is that they’re a legal issue, not a political tool, and they live within the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. So I’d refer you to them to speak to that.

QUESTION:  About Iran and Iraq. A VOA Kurdish investigation has exposed that Iran, through the Iraqi Government, is pressuring the Iraqi Kurdistan officials to tell the Iranian Kurdish groups in Kurdistan to expel them, actually. Officials have told VOA that Iraqi – the Iraqi military delegation warned the Iraqi Kurdistan region they have – we have people who have said that the Iranians have amassed forces on the Iraqi Iran border and that they have threatened to attack these people.

Now, should Iran conduct such an attack against the opposition group in Iraq, would – number one, has the U.S. administration been told about this from the Iraqi Kurdistan? And would the U.S. get involved? Would it help the Regional Government of Kurdistan to face such attack if it happened?

MR PATEL:  So I don’t have any specifics or anything to offer on that. What I will say is that we would take issue with any violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I don’t have any additional assessment to offer on that. Anything else?

QUESTION:  This is about Namazi, Baquer Namazi.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Can you confirm if he is at the moment in the USA? And has anyone from State Department met with him and knows about his condition?

MR PATEL:  So out of the respect for the family’s privacy, I don’t have any other details to offer. And we request that the media also respect their privacy. But would take a step back, just to make sure folks know what we’re talking about, is that wrongfully detailed U.S. citizen Baquer Namazi has been permitted to depart Iran and his son Siamak, who also was wrongfully detained, has been granted a furlough from prison. But again, out of respect for the family’s privacy, I don’t have any other details to offer on this.

QUESTION:  And about the negotiations that has happened for this release, can you give us any details? What sort of negotiations was that? What sort of a deal you broke?

MR PATEL:  So we understand that the lifting of this travel ban and Siamak’s furlough were related to medical need. They were not part of any deal or anything like that. So I don’t have anything additional to offer. I would reiterate, though, that Baquer Namazi was wrongfully detained in Iran and then not permitted to leave the country, despite after serving his sentence and despite having urgent medical need. But again, our understanding is that the lifting was related to medical need.

QUESTION:  There was a payment of $7 billion from South Korea to —

MR PATEL: There has been no facilitation of any funds transferred. That is absolutely false.

QUESTION: But you know it’s very hard to believe that Islamic Republic released them based on good faith and – because that has never happened before.

MR PATEL: That is a question for Tehran and not for me.

QUESTION:  Family members of Nika Shakarami said that Iranian security forces stole body of 16-year-old protester after reportedly beating her to death and buried her secretly in a village in Iran. Are you aware of this report that BBC talked about?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of this specific report, Michel. But since you asked the question, I do want to take an opportunity to reiterate what you’ve seen the President and the Secretary and a number of others say over the past few days, which is that we are gravely concerned that the Iranian Government is intensifying its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters who are demanding their equal rights and demanding basic human rights and human dignity. We’re appalled by some of these crackdowns, especially as it relates to the crackdown on students. And so as the President said, we will continue to take actions to impose further costs. We will continue to monitor and pay close attention and impose costs on these perpetrators of peaceful protesting and human rights abuses as well.

QUESTION: Okay. On the Palestinian issue, first of all, can you update us on the meeting that Hussein al-Sheikh and PA official have had today?

MR PATEL:  Secretary General al-Sheikh is in Washington today for meetings. He met today with Deputy Secretary Sherman, and we will have a readout of that later today. He also met with other senior State officials and other interagency officials as well. The – what this is largely about, Said, is this administration’s focus on renewing engagement with Palestinian leadership and deepening diplomatic ties with the Palestinians. And as you saw, this is – President Biden had a meeting with President Abbas in July, and this is an extension of those efforts to deepen relationships, and engagement in Washington is naturally a part of that.

QUESTION: Did you guys commit to him in any way about a date, a possible date, for reopening the American consulate in Jerusalem? I know that’s probably one of the issues that, I mean, logically he would have raised.

MR PATEL: Right. I don’t have any specifics to offer yet, Said, but we will have a readout on this meeting later today. Like I said, these are part of efforts to renew and deepen our engagement with Palestinian leadership, and so we’ll have more to offer in the readout of this meeting.

QUESTION: On the issue of administrative detention, rights groups, Israeli and international rights groups are saying that the Israelis are holding somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 Palestinians under administrative detention. Now these detentions or imprisonments can go on forever sometimes. I mean, some people are still under that kind of detention for decades, I mean for 20 years and so on. What is your position – what is the United States position – on holding someone indefinitely without any charges?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, the U.S. urges the full respect for human rights both in Israel but also in the West Bank and Gaza. And as we have said many times before, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of security, prosperity, and freedom.

QUESTION: Could I ask you – there is a court in Russia today – talked about another American being sentenced – Robert Gilman. He was identified as – in Russian news agencies as – he was accused of kicking an officer. Do you have anything about this, and if so, whether there’s been consular access?

MR PATEL: So due to privacy considerations, there is going to be a limit to what I can offer. But we are aware of Russia’s court’s decisions, and we take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are continuing to monitor the situation. We continue to insist that the Russian Federation allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens, and we urge the Russian Government to ensure fair treatment to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia. But I don’t have anything else to offer.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, has there been an access in this case? Is that a concern in this case?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, there’s a limit to what I can say. I don’t have any additional comments to offer.

QUESTION: Sure. And I know you just said nothing more to offer, but just briefly – I mean, is there any indication he was targeted because of his U.S. citizenship?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have further assessments to provide on this.

QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the Russian Government officials on this particular case, or is it too early to talk about?

MR PATEL: Again, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have anything to offer additional beyond what I said otherwise.

QUESTION: You probably are aware of the reports that the European Union has issued a coordinated efforts that they are summoning Russian ambassadors, most recently I think yesterday in Brussels, to express their concern on annexation. Is the United States going to follow suit? And if not, why not?

MR PATEL: We have taken – I don’t have any specific actions to read out specifically, but I will note that we have taken a number of actions since last week to make clear our vehement condemnation and opposition to the efforts around not just the sham referenda but also the annexation.

You saw today another tranche of security assistance be announced. You saw late last week a robust interagency action between the Treasury Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department that have imposed imposing actions on Russia’s leaders within the Kremlin and things of that nature. So I don’t have any future actions to preview as it relates to that, but we have made our opposition to these annexations quite, quite clear and quite vocal.

QUESTION: Has there been any progress towards securing the freedom of Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan? And can you characterize any ongoing talks with Russian officials to that aim?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so I don’t have any additional updates to provide as it relates to the wrongful detention of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. We continue to urge their release. Secretary Blinken spoke to you all a number of weeks ago and spoke about a substantial proposal that was on the table earlier this summer to facilitate their release. Our governments are communicating about that, but the Russians should take the deal that’s on the table. But I don’t have any other updates to provide.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Mark Stone from Sky News. Just on Russia and Ukraine, there have been some quite confused reporting – there has been some confused reporting about a Russian train, military train that might be connected somehow to its nuclear capabilities moving. I wondered if you could comment on that and simply comment on whether you have seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any assessment to provide about any updates on the ground or any of that reporting, but I would say is that as Secretary Blinken has said, we have heard a lot of irresponsible rhetoric coming from Russia and coming from Vladimir Putin. And we are focused on making sure that we are all acting responsibly, especially when it comes to this kind of loose rhetoric and saber-rattling. We’ve been very clear with Russia publicly as well as privately to stop its irresponsible rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons, and we’ve addressed this both from the Secretary and the President have spoken to this as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the U.S. engagement between Lebanon and Israel, the U.S. has delivered a draft agreement to both parties. Have you received any answer or any answers from them?

MR PATEL:  Special Presidential Coordinator Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close. As you note, I can confirm we delivered a U.S. proposal for a final agreement on the maritime boundary to both countries and that happened over the weekend. And we continue to welcome the consultative spirit of both parties to reach a resolution. Resolving this dispute is a key priority for this administration, and we firmly believe that a deal has the potential to promote lasting stability and economic prosperity for both countries. But I don’t have an update to provide or anything to offer yet in terms of next steps.

QUESTION:   Does the United States have any concern about Russia’s role in Burkina Faso or any information on what’s going on?

MR PATEL: Sure. So first and foremost, I would say that the U.S. is continuing to monitor the situation in Burkina Faso. But specifically, as it relates to your question, we have spoken clearly about the destabilizing impact of both Russian disinformation but also the Wagner Group’s activities globally. Countries where the group has been deployed find themselves weaker and less secure, and we’ve seen that in a number of cases in Africa alone.

So we – our viewpoint is that we condemn any attempt to exacerbate the current situation in Burkina Faso, and we strongly encourage the new transition government to adhere to the agreed?upon timeline for return to a democratically elected, civilian-led government.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to ask about a provision Senator Kaine had inserted into the Taiwan Policy Act — that would increase oversight of non-career political-appointed ambassadors, basically allowing embassy staff to complete anonymous annual assessments of these ambassadors and make that easier to report poor performance to the IG. Is that something that State Department would support or not support?

MR PATEL: Well, I’m not going to get into correspondence with Congress or – on legislation that is still being litigated and negotiated, so I don’t have any assessment to offer on that.

QUESTION: But broadly speaking, is State favourable towards the idea of more transparency on politically appointed ambassadors and their performance?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to offer an assessment on this yet.

QUESTION: I have two questions about Latin America, if possible.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The first about the prisoner exchange negotiation between United States and Venezuela announced past weekend.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Guaidó said that he was not involved in this negotiation. How does State Department respond to claims that this negotiation brings a diplomatic issue once United States does not recognize Maduro’s regime and at the same time have to negotiate with him this type of matter?

MR PATEL: So to take a little bit of a step back, we are not going to get into the specifics of the diplomatic engagements here due to operational concerns, due to privacy. But more broadly, the important takeaway here is that we want the American people to know that we have no higher priority than their safety and security. Securing their release and reuniting them with their families has been a top priority for this administration, and we’ve engaged on the issue of wrongful detainees at every opportunity as well as engaged directly to release them as soon as possible. And this is something we’re going to continue to work intensively on.

QUESTION: Okay. And if possible, a second question about Brazil.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Past Sunday night, the State Department already released a statement regarding elections in Brazil. Is there anything else that you could add regarding this statement, especially about how the U.S. see electoral process in Brazil?

MR PATEL: Sure. So I would just reiterate what the Secretary said over the weekend, which is that the – first and foremost, we congratulate the Brazilian people and its institutions on a successful first round that was conducted with credibility and transparency, and we support the Brazilian people and their democratic right, and we look forward to this next process and it playing out transparently as well.

I think that’s all the time we have for today, everybody. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:55 p.m)