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US State Dept Presser, Sept 6

17 Min
US State Dept Presser, Sept 6

The US State Dept held a press briefing in Washington D.C. on Sept 6, 2022. Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielded the questions.

2:05 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: I have one quick thing off the top, and then I’m happy to turn to your questions. So first and foremost, we congratulate Liz Truss on her becoming the new prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK and the U.S. are the closest of friends and allies, and we look forward to continuing our close cooperation with Prime Minister Truss and the new government on a range of important priorities, including continued support to Ukraine in the face of Russia’s war, and preserving peace, and economic security, and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.

Our unparalleled defense and security alliance and Special Relationship, founded on shared values and common beliefs, promote security and prosperity for our two nations and for the world.

Our countries are deeply linked by our economic ties and the bonds between our people. The UK is our largest foreign investment partner and biggest partner in the services of trade, and our respective companies directly employ more than one million workers in the other country.

QUESTION: Okay. I want to start in the Middle East. I want to start with Israel.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: And your guy’s response to the IDF report on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh but also on the situation with the Palestinian NGOs. So, number one, on the IDF report yesterday, I’m a little confused as to what your actual response and what your actual position is. This is an American citizen who was killed. You have called for accountability, and yet there does not seem to be any accountability there. And the statement that came out yesterday in Ned’s name mentions accountability, but are you satisfied that this is – that the Israelis have done what they need to do in terms of this case?

MR PATEL: So, we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists, and prevent similar tragedies in the future. Ultimately, that is a key goal for us, as the statement from Ned yesterday, is to underscore that similar actions and similar occurrences don’t happen in the future. And that’s what we continue to reiterate with our Israeli partners.

QUESTION: Well, but do you think that accountability has been achieved?

MR PATEL: So again, we’ve continued to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re continuing to press our Israeli partners on that.

QUESTION: Well, forgive me for not accepting – that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, I continue to underscore the fact that it’s important that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but – and which it does. But there is – do you consider that – do you believe that Israel has taken steps to hold whoever is responsible for her death accountable?

MR PATEL: We’re —

QUESTION: And then if I could – and I’ve just – actually back up. What does accountability mean to this administration?

MR PATEL: Look, Matt, so I’m not going to categorize that in one way or the other from here. That’s for our Israeli partners to determine. What for us to do – and what we’re – the role we’re continuing to play is pressing Israel to closely review its policies and practices to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: Okay. But that’s not what accountability is, unless you guys have a different definition of it than the dictionary does. So, what does accountability mean for this administration? An apology? We’re sorry. It happened maybe – it looks like it happened by accident.

MR PATEL: So —

QUESTION: But it won’t happen again. That’s the – that’s what accountability is, or is it something more?

MR PATEL: We are continuing to press Israel to review its policies and practices and that is what accountability —

QUESTION: How does that – but that doesn’t – reviewing their practices and policies does not mean accountability for this woman’s death, does it?

MR PATEL: Look —

QUESTION: Maybe it does in your view. I don’t know. You tell me.

MR PATEL: Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss. Not only, as you all know, Shireen was a U.S. citizen, and she was a fearless reporter. And part of our vision of accountability is ensuring that activities like this – that something like this does not happen again. And that’s something —

QUESTION: Right. What’s the rest of it?

MR PATEL: — and that’s something that we continue to raise directly with Israel, that it closely reviews its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take additional steps to mitigate risk, to protect journalists, to protect civilian harm, and to ensure that similar tragedies don’t happen in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, what is then the other part or other parts of accountability and from your perspective?

MR PATEL: Matt, I think I’ve answered your question a couple of times. I will just reiterate again that —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’ve said some stuff in response to my questions a couple times. I don’t think you’ve answered them. Let’s move – let’s —

MR PATEL: We —

QUESTION: I’ll let someone else go on. I just want to move to the NGOs.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So, you had said that you were looking for additional information to support the Israelis’ allegation that – support the Israelis’ decision to close down these offices, and I’m wondering if you ever got that.

MR PATEL: We continue to engage directly with our Israeli partners on that. We strongly believe that respect for human rights and the importance of a strong civil society are critically important. And we can make clear to the Israeli Government and the PA that independent civil society organizations in the West Bank must continue their important work. I don’t have any updates on this beyond what Ned briefed on this a couple weeks ago. We continue to seek additional information from our Israeli partners, but don’t have an update beyond that.

QUESTION: I have a couple more question. Let me ask you about the new rules that Israel is imposing on those who visit the West Bank and Palestinians who are going to get married and so on, that they are demanding like a time, date on romance, if you will, and so on. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So, I think you might have seen that Ambassador Nides spoke a little bit about this over the weekend, but to reiterate: Since February, the State Department, including through our embassy in Jerusalem and the Office of Palestinian Affairs, have engaged directly with the Israeli Government on these rules and will continue to move do so going forward.

We continue to have serious concerns with the published protocols, particularly the role in determining whether individuals invited by Palestinian academic institutions are qualified to enter the West Bank and the potential negative impact on family unity, as you mentioned. It’s important to ensure that all of these regulations are developed in a way that’s coordinated with key stakeholders, including the Palestinian Authority, and we fully expect the Government of Israel to make necessary adjustments to ensure transparency as well as the fair and equal treatment of all U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals traveling to the West Bank.

QUESTION: So, if myself or my brothers or members of my family and so on that hold both – that hold an American citizen – citizenship go back, and there are – or they get interrogated almost on issues of land ownership – well, who are they visiting, why are they there, where will they be staying and so on – do they have a recourse? Could they come to you and say this has happened to me, I demand accountability?

MR PATEL: Said, we are continuing to engage with Israel on these pilot procedures that were published this weekend that, as you said, impact the entry, study, and work or residence of potentially thousands of people in the West Bank. We understand that Israel plans for them to go into effect on October 20th. We note that there are some improvements in some of these regulations from the original draft in February, but we remain concerned about potential adverse impact for these procedures and how they could impact Palestinian civil society, how it could impact tourism, impact family unity, investment, and other health care and academic institutions.

QUESTION: If I could switch over to Russia, the White House said today that President Biden has made a final decision against designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. Designating Russia was something that Ukraine has pushed for. What has been Kyiv’s response to this final decision being made?

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to the response from Ukraine. I’ll let our Ukrainian partners speak to that. But as the President has said, we don’t think that a state sponsor of terrorism is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for the world and Ukraine as well.

I’ll note that according to humanitarian experts and NGOs who have spoken on this, it could seriously affect the ability to deliver assistance to Ukraine, it could drive critical humanitarian and commercial actors away from facilitating food exports and engaging in the country. It could also undercut potentially multilateral coordination that has been very critical in holding Putin accountable and doing our part in ensuring that Ukraine is in a position to defend itself.

QUESTION: Does State have a legal analysis of whether Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, that’s a process that is determined by the Secretary of State, and I don’t have any updates to offer on that right now.

QUESTION:  According to U.S. intelligence, Russia is purchasing North Korean weapons. We also discussed how Russia is cooperating with Iran on drones. If imposing secondary sanctions and calling the terrorism the way it is, is not the best way to address the problem, then what is?

MR PATEL: Well, there are a number of lines of effort that we have at our disposal to continue to hold Russia accountable, our sanctions being one of them. And I think just last week we briefed out some metrics on the economic consequences that are directly being put upon Russia’s economy because of their barbaric and unjust actions in Ukraine.

But to go back to the crux of your question, as you said, the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages due in part because of export controls and sanctions – another example of the lines of efforts that we have to hold Russia accountable.

QUESTION: A new narrative pushed by Russia also replicated by other countries like Turkish Erdo?an and others. They’re blaming European energy crisis on sanctions. And also at some point, Russian foreign minister named the U.S. as one of the reasons behind this crisis. Do you have a response to that? Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: So we’ve seen those reports, but what I would note is that this kind of rhetoric continues to demonstrate that Russia is not a reliable supplier of energy and that we remained in sync with our allies and partners and our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy products, and continuing to place pressure on the Kremlin.

QUESTION: The IAEA report today – I wonder what you make of it and what the next steps diplomatically are to safeguard that facility. And this idea of a demilitarized zone, I mean, everyone keeps talking about that, having the Russians pull back, but it also would mean not having the Ukrainians pull back from that area. And I wonder what you make of that.

MR PATEL: We received the report earlier today and our experts here at the State Department are reviewing it. I don’t have any immediate reaction to offer, but we continue to remain concerned about such military and violent activity so close to a nuclear power plant. That continues to be incredibly concerning. Some initial takeaways, though: I believe the report touched on observations of physical damage at the power plant, and that continues to be something we find incredibly troubling as well.

As we from the department have said previously, fighting around a nuclear power plant certainly presents a serious risk, which is why we have continued to call for Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the facility, and that continues to be our belief on that.

QUESTION: What would – who – what would the U.S. like to see in terms of a demilitarized zone? Who could enforce that?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to qualify it one way or the other from here, but I think it’s important to note that Russia is the one that is illegally, unjustifiably in Ukraine, in Ukrainian territory, and infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by being at the ZNPP.

QUESTION: Anyway, that’s kind of a rhetorical question. …have you seen any evidence of either Iranian drones or North Korean weapons being used in Ukraine by Russia?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates ……

QUESTION: Vedant, on state sponsors of terrorism, do you have a standard definition on that? I mean, I’m sure the State Department has. You guys have, like, a legal language on how you classify countries as state sponsors of terrorism?

MR PATEL: I’m sure we’d be happy to get you a specific definition after this.

QUESTION: Just going back to that North Korea —I mean, if there are actual shipments, couldn’t they be interdicted at sea because it would be violating UN resolutions? Is that something you guys are working on, bringing up at the UN?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview anything from here, but to your point, yes, this would violate UN sanctions on the DPRK by doing this. Multiple UN Security Council resolutions prohibit UN member-states from procuring from the DPRK all arms and related material. The Security Council imposed this prohibition over a decade ago in response to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program. While all UN sanctions are a serious violation, I think particularly concerning here is that a permanent member of the Security Council is floating these measures.

QUESTION: The Nord Stream pipeline that Russia shut the gas supply off, does the department have an assessment and/or a comment as to why Russia is doing that?

MR PATEL: Well, my understanding is that they have reduced flow due to claims of maintenance and a supposed oil leak, but we have not found those claims to be credible, and other experts in the private sector and otherwise have also found that to be not credible as well.

….this is just another example of Russian actions demonstrating that they are not a reliable energy source. And we continue to remain in lockstep with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security, reducing our collective dependence on Russian energy, and maintaining pressure on the Kremlin.

QUESTION: So this is actually returning to the beginning about Liz Truss.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you were looking forward to continuing close cooperation on various things such as support to Ukraine, but what is your take on Northern Ireland and what sort of cooperation you can have there? Because Ms. Truss, as you know, has driven the legislation to scrap parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. So, are you concerned about the strength of her conviction on this issue now as the prime minister? Do you think there’s any way you can sway her on this?

MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to speak to any potential legislation or anything like that in another country, but what I will say is that the U.S. priority remains protecting the gains of the Belfast and Good Friday Agreement and preserving peace and stability and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland. We have welcomed the provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Protocol is a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving distinct EU and UK markets, while preventing the return of customs infrastructure on the land border.

QUESTION: Thanks. Just circling back briefly to the state sponsor of terrorism branding, I want to just be clear on that phrase “final decision.” Is the view of the administration that there are still red lines that Russia could cross that would merit the designation?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals from here. What I will reiterate again is that this is a designation authority that rests with the Secretary of State, but also, as the President said over the weekend, we do not think that this is the most effective or strongest path forward to hold Russia accountable. The designation could have unintended consequences for both Ukraine and the world broadly as well.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Good to see you. And North Korea will be keeping close eyes to Iran nuclear deal. What differences do you see between the Iran nuclear deal and the nuclear negotiation with North Korea in the future? And will Iran and North Korea’s nuclear technology cooperation be included in the negotiations?

MR PATEL: So, both a North Korea with a nuclear weapon and an Iran with a nuclear weapon are things that we view as deeply problematic and destabilizing, not just for the world but for their respective regions as well. And that is why, as it relates to the DPRK, we continue to push for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and we’re going to continue to stress our commitment to dialogue with the DPRK, without preconditions, while we’ll also take all necessary actions that we need to address the threat of Pyongyang that it could pose not just on the United States but on its allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: Another question. At the national security advisors meeting held in Hawaii last week,  the three parties national security advisor, South Korea, Japan, and United States, agreed to take strong countermeasures if North Korea conducts its seventh nuclear test. What is the strong level of countermeasures? What is it specifically?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any actions or measures from here, but I do want to take this opportunity to note that Special Representative for the DPRK Sung Kim is in Tokyo to meet with our multilateral partners, the Republic of Korea and Japan, on this very issue, where he will, again, stress our joint efforts to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and also stress the importance of U.S. commitment to taking dialogue, even while we take necessary action to address the threat Pyongyang poses.

QUESTION: Moving on to Ethiopia.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So Special Envoy Mike Hammer is there. You guys have been very sketchy about his schedule and who he’s seeing or not seeing. As far as we know now, he’s already seen the UN representative there. Can you give us any information as to who is he going to see and give us some details on his trip?

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So, to just share for folks – and we, I believe, put a media note about this over the weekend – but U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Mike Hammer arrived in Ethiopia on September 5th to support efforts to get the TPLF and Ethiopian Government to come to an immediate cessation of hostilities and participate in AU-led peace talks. While in country, Ambassador Hammer will consult with the Ethiopian Government, the African Union representatives, and international partners on the next step forward.

I will also just use this opportunity to reiterate what some from the administration said last week, that we are deeply concerned about renewed fighting in Ethiopia. The U.S. condemns the TPLF offensive outside of Tigray, we condemn the Ethiopian Government’s airstrikes and ground offensives, and we condemn Eritrea’s re-entry into the conflict as well. These actions are increasing tensions throughout the region and worsening the humanitarian situation. In our view, there is no military solution to this conflict.

QUESTION: On China and Taiwan, after the State Department announced it has approved new packages of arms sales to Taiwan, China has rejected and threatened to take actions. What is the U.S. response to China and its objection of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan?

MR PATEL: Well, there is no reason for China to react. These systems are for defensive purposes. And the United States has been providing defensive capabilities to Taiwan for decades, which is in line with our longstanding commitments under not just the Taiwan Relations Act, but it’s also consistent with our “one China” policy. In line with that policy, the U.S. will continue to meet Taiwan’s defense needs. This package was in the works for some time precisely because we expected it would be needed as China increased its pressure on Taiwan. We have and we will continue to be responsible, steady, and resolute and keep our lines of communication open with Beijing, but also continue to support Taiwan in consistent – in ways that are consistent with our policy.

QUESTION: And then can I just follow up? To what degree does the U.S. decision on the quality and quantity on Taiwan – arms sale to Taiwan is based on the level of threats that Taiwan is facing from China? Thank you.

MR PATEL: So consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defence capability. I’ll note that since 2010, the Executive Branch has notified Congress of over $35 billion in arms sales to Taiwan.

QUESTION: On Iraq and Syria?

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: Iraq – assistant secretary’s visit – Barbara Leaf’s visit to Baghdad and Erbil. What is she trying to achieve there?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer on her travel beyond the media note that was put out over the weekend, but what I will note is that we, again, believe, as it relates to Iraq, that now is the time for all parties to resolve the current impasse. Above all, we urge all those involved to remain calm, abstain from violence, and pursue peaceful avenues. But we’ll see if we have any updates from her trip in the later part of the week.

QUESTION: On Syria, Nick Granger’s visit to northeast Syria – what can you tell me about that? And does it – having a U.S. diplomatic mission there, does it indicate any seriousness in U.S.’s stance on the situation there or trying to deescalate the Turkish attacks on northeast Syria?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything for you on that from here, but we’ll follow up with you after the briefing and see if we can get you an update.

QUESTION: Over the weekend, High Representative Borrell said the whole process is in danger when it comes to reviving the JCPOA. On Thursday you called Iran’s latest response not constructive. How would you characterize where the process stands right now?

MR PATEL: Yeah. I mean, to reiterate what the administration said at the tail-end of last week, Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We’ve consistently said that gaps remain, and it’s clear from Iran’s response that these gaps still remain.

QUESTION: Baquer Namazi’s family – he’s wrongfully detained in Iran – is saying in a statement today that he requires urgent surgery. I’m wondering if his clearly deteriorating health situation has triggered the U.S. to do any more to try and secure his release.

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to offer on his medical condition. Due to privacy concerns, I’m just not going to get into that. But as it relates to Iran, we are continuing to approach negotiations to secure the release of four wrongfully detained U.S. citizens with the utmost urgency, and we continue to urge Iran to do the same. Iran must allow Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz to return home to their loved ones.

QUESTION: And just sticking on Americans wrongfully detained, when it comes to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, the lawyer for Alexander Vinnik, who is a Russian man accused of money laundering. He’s now calling for the Russians to include Vinnik in a potential prisoner swap for Whelan and Griner. Has – have U.S. officials discussed that specifically, including him in a potential prisoner swap with the Russians?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’m not going to get into specific details or negotiations from here. I will reiterate that the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongfully detained individuals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. As you all know, the Secretary came and spoke to you all a number of weeks ago, where he was clear that there was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release, and our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.

QUESTION: Yesterday marked 200 days since detention of Brittney Griner. Last time, the U.S. embassy reached out to Russian officials? Do you have any information about that?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of our engagements and negotiations from here.

QUESTION: Yeah, I have a couple questions. Counsellor Chollet is in the UAE today, and he met with the foreign minister. He discussed Libya, Yemen, and Iran. What is he trying to achieve there?

MR PATEL: Yeah, so Counsellor Derek Chollet is in the UAE today as part of travel to the region, and he’ll be going to Pakistan after that. But I will see if we can get you some specifics on his engagements in the UAE.

QUESTION: And on OPEC+ decision to decrease its production in October by 100,000 barrels, how do you view this decision?

MR PATEL: White House put out a statement over the weekend addressing this, and so I will reiterate that this administration has been clear that energy supply should meet demand to support economic growth and lower prices for American consumers and consumers around the world. This administration has taken action, including a historic release from – of oil from U.S. and global strategic reserves and working with allies on a price cap on Russian oil, to ensure we maintain a global oil supply even as we punish Russia for their actions. U.S. oil production is up by more than half a billion dollar – half a billion barrels per day since the beginning of the year and is on track to be up by more than 1 billion barrels per day by the end of the year.

QUESTION: Hi. The Biden administration announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit for September 28th, 29th. Can you talk about the significance of that summit and the primary aims in the context of increased Chinese engagement with the region?

MR PATEL: Sure thing. So, as you saw, our colleagues at the White House announced the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit. This will be the first ever U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit, which will be held at the end of September. The summit will demonstrate a number of things, but first the U.S.’s deep commitment and its enduring partnership with Pacific Island countries and the Pacific region that is underpinned by shared history, values, and people-to-people ties. The summit will also reflect our broadening and deepening cooperation on a number of key issues, including maritime security, addressing climate change, pandemic and global health response, economic and trade recovery and ties, environmental protection, but also advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Do you have any readout on Assistant Secretary Donfried’s call to Azerbaijan’s foreign minister yesterday?

MR PATEL: I don’t, but we can check if we have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: According to Azeris, they discussed the Karabakh conflict, something that we have discussed previously. You mentioned before that the U.S. supports the Brussels process, also negotiations between two sides – direct negotiations. My question is: We did not see U.S. representative at the Brussels meeting last week. I just – I’m trying to figure out what – when you talk about supporting the process, do you mean a moral support or distant support? What does that mean?

MR PATEL: Well, as you know, Alex, this is – it’s an EU-led process; it’s not a U.S.-led process. But I also want to use this opportunity to note that Ambassador Reeker, our senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations, will be traveling to the region this week in what will be his first trip in this new role. This is a first of what we expect to be regular travel to the region. He departs this evening and will be going to Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and in all three countries he’ll meet with senior officials to discuss key issues in the region as well as looking for pathways to assist partners and engaging directly and constructively to resolve outstanding issues and further regional cooperation.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:49 p.m.)