US State Dept Presser

Department Press Briefing – April 10, 2023

18 Min
Department Press Briefing – April 10, 2023

The State Department’s Principal Dy Spokesperson Vedant Patel held a press briefing on Apr 10, 2023 and fielded a wide range of questions from China to Israel and from the Ukraine war to South Korea scene and B’desh politics. 

Here are some excerpts with Q-A on B’desh tweaked to appear upfront

1:55 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Happy Easter Monday. So, let’s just start with the – I don’t expect that you’re going to have a lot to say, but let’s just start with all these documents that are floating around out in the ether, in the internet. ….. what does the State Department have to say about them? Have you had any issues with friends, allies, partners related to these revelations?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Matt. And many of you probably just heard my colleague, Chris Meagher, speak to this at the Pentagon. But after learning about the leak, the Department of Défense quickly referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation. The Pentagon has said they have taken steps to further restrict access to sensitive information and an inter-agency effort has been initiated to review the national security implications of the disclosure and to mitigate this impact of the release of these documents that it could have on U.S. national security as well as the impact that it could have on our allies and partners.

Broadly, what I would say, Matt, is that U.S. officials across the interagency are engaging with allies and partners at high levels over this, including to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and the fidelity of securing our partnerships as well. But I don’t have any other specifics to get into.


QUESTION: So, when you talk about communicating with allies to reiterate commitment to safeguarding intelligence, which allies have you had those conversations with thus far?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into specifics of those conversations or read them out, but that work is ongoing and we are engaging with allies and partners over this.

QUESTION: And are those proactive conversations and such that you’re going to the countries that were mentioned in these documents, or is this in response to them reaching out to you with concerns about this information being in the public domain?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to parse it more specifically than that these engagements are ongoing. They’re happening across the interagency. They’re happening at the highest levels, and we’re doing so with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: So, hold on. Just – so they’re happening across the interagency. So, is State taking the lead on those conversations? Or is DOD having conversations, State’s having conversations, the White House is having conversations? Can you just —

MR PATEL: Well, as the main diplomatic branch and agency of this administration, of course, the Department of State would have a role in communicating with our allies and partners, but these conversations are happening across the administration. U.S. officials are engaging with allies and partners at the highest level over this.

QUESTION: And just one last question. Has this department implemented any measures to restrict access to classified information that’s in this building as a result of this leak? For example, are officials who could print out classified documents in this building still allowed to do so?

MR PATEL: Kylie, I just wouldn’t get into the specifics of operational security decisions regardless of the circumstance and what rules and policies are in place. What I would say is that we take the security of our intelligence and classified documents very seriously, and of course, as I said at the top of this, there is an interagency effort that’s been initiated to review the implications, but I’m just not going to get into any policy changes that have happened or not happened as it relates to this.

QUESTION: The U.S. intelligence agency wiretapped the South Koreans’ foreign affairs and national security line. If this is true, how do you see the impact on the U.S. and South Korea relationship?

MR PATEL: Look, Janne, what I would start with by saying is that our commitment to the Republic of Korea is ironclad. But broadly, as I told Kylie, U.S. officials are engaging with high levels with our allies and partners over this to reassure them as it relates to our commitment to safeguard intelligence and sensitive documents as well as ensuring our commitment to the security of the partnerships that we have with these countries.

QUESTION: Do you think that Russia was involved in the leak of this secret document?

MR PATEL: I am just – it would be most inappropriate of me to offer any assessment on cause or source or anything like that. What I will just reiterate is what I said at the beginning of this, is that the Department of Défense quickly moved into action. They have referred the matter to the Department of Justice for an investigation, and I will let the Pentagon and the DOJ speak more specifically about that process.

QUESTION:  …You’re not in a position to deny that the Kremlin was behind this leak?

MR PATEL: I’m not in a position to deny or confirm anything beyond what I said, as there is an investigation and process that is ongoing.

QUESTION: And lastly, how much of your assessment also covers how will this leak impact the trajectory of the work? Because you talk about an ongoing operation.

MR PATEL: Are you talking about the trajectory of the war in Ukraine? Look, I will let our Ukrainian partners speak to the decisions that they’re making as it relates to the battlefield and their – any posture or planning that they are undertaking. What I would say broadly, and you’ve – this is nothing new – is that we’re going to continue to support Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s brutal aggression for as long as it takes, and that continues to be the case. But I’m not going to get into anything beyond that.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Daphne.

QUESTION: Israel has rejected claims raised in the documents that leaders of Mossad had supported nationwide protests against a proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary. Have you had conversations with your Israeli counterparts on this and are you concerned more broadly that this leak might affect your relationship with Israel at a time when tensions between Israel and the Palestinian groups are – have sharply increased?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things to that. First, our partnership with Israel is deep. It is an important partnership that we have with Israel. But broadly, what I will say is that I’m not going to read out private discussions that are taking place between the United States and our allies and partners beyond just saying that they are happening at the highest levels, and we are working to communicate when we can.

QUESTION: Are you concerned this document leak might have an impact on your relationship with Israel?

MR PATEL: Again, our commitment to Israel is ironclad, our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad, and we speak often with our Israeli partners. And you hear this administration writ large talk about the deep relationship that we have with our Israeli partners.


QUESTION: Is this department playing any active role in assessing any Russian disinformation coming off the back of these documents?

MR PATEL: Again, Camilla, while the important work is being done to assess the validity and veracity of these documents, I’m just not going to get into the specifics beyond that. What I will say is that of course, broadly, anywhere disinformation and misinformation happen around the world, we are paying close attention, and where possible, we try and take steps to ensure that disinformation and misinformation does not spread. But again, I’m just not going to get into specifics as it relates to this.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the French president’s comments over the weekend.   ….. I just wanted to know if the State Department has a response to that, especially given for the last couple meetings now with European allies the U.S. has touted a strong strategic alliance against China.

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, the foundation of the transatlantic relationship is our shared commitment to democratic principles, the rule of law, the respect for human rights, and an international rules-based order. And France is our oldest ally, and these shared values have been the north star of our partnership and continue to guide us today, including both of our countries’ joint approach in supporting Ukraine.

This is also the case in terms of the broad concern related to the PRC and its coercive economic practices, its threatening behaviour towards Taiwan, and its human rights abuses, and the risk of deepening or creating new economic dependencies. The Secretary just returned from a NATO foreign ministers’ ministerial where there was an entire session on the role that the Indo-Pacific plays. And that’s because NATO has recognized the PRC’s stated ambitions and policies. They challenge our interests, they challenge our security, and they challenge our values. And allies, including France, have committed to work together to address these systemic challenges.

As you likely know, Shannon, EU President von der Leyen has also been part of these travels to Beijing, and the EU itself has described the PRC as a systemic rival and strategic competitor in addition to being a partner. As I said, President von der Leyen outlined in her speech in March that the PRC poses risks to European economic and national security. The United States and the EU remain concerned regarding the PRC’s support of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.

But broadly, what I would just ultimately say again is that countries have their own sovereign decisions and have their own sovereign decisions to make as it relates to any bilateral relationship that they hold. Our viewpoint will always be what can we accomplish bilaterally and multilaterally with countries where partnership with the United States is at its center. And I think through the partnership between the United States and France and the partnership between the United States and the EU, we have done a lot of important, great work, including supporting our Ukrainian partners in the face of Russian aggression. And I think that work is going to continue to move forward as we continue to work collaboratively to deal with the growing role that the PRC plays as well.

Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION:  You don’t really answer the question in the sense that you don’t qualify or characterize President Macron’s comments. Do you find them helpful, unhelpful? And also, I mean, this is against the backdrop of the Chinese manoeuvres off Taiwan, which are finishing today. Fairly important. And France is basically saying that the Europeans in general should not get caught in this sort of bloc or logic of blocs between China and the U.S. or tit-for-tat between China and the U.S., and have their own autonomous strategy. So, how does that fit in?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple things. I think, again, these countries have their own sovereign autonomy. They have their own right to have bilateral relationships. They have their own right to comment on these bilateral relationships.

But what I know is that the United States and France’s partnership is deep. They are our oldest allies. We have countless shared values. And they have immense – been immense partners in both holding Russia accountable for its aggression into Ukraine. They have been immense partners in our work to address the challenges posed by the PRC. They have been, of course, helpful in the EU context but also through NATO and through – it leads other fora as well.

Specifically on the actions that you so referred to, Leon, we are of course closely monitoring those actions. And actions like these, they undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which we continue to believe and is a viewpoint that we know our French allies share, is critical to global prosperity. And as we have said before – you heard me say this on Thursday – there is no reason for the PRC to turn a transit which held precedent as – which is consistent with U.S. longstanding policy into something that it’s not.

QUESTION: Yes, but Vedant, you mean you’re saying there’s no reason for them to, but they did. They sent out ships and everything. So, you can’t replay that, in fact, and say there’s no reason for them to. They did it. So —

MR PATEL: Well, there is no reason for them to. I understand that they did it. And as I said, we are closely monitoring Beijing’s actions but also, broadly, in keeping with our belief that we won’t be deterred from operating safely and responsibly in the seas and the skies of the Western Pacific consistent with international law. In keeping with that, the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and a Marine Amphibious Readiness Group are conducting routine operations in the Philippine Sea and will remain in that region.

And I will say again that there is no reason to turn this transit into something that it was not.

Anything else on this before we —

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk about the French for a second.


QUESTION: Yes, it is true that France is the oldest U.S. ally. But it is not exactly like you haven’t had disagreements, very serious disagreements.

MR PATEL: Of course, we have, Matt. We have disagreements with many of our allies and partners.

QUESTION: Okay. That have caused severe disruption in relations – AUKUS being the most recent one. The war in Iraq, where —

MR PATEL: Do you have a question, or are you just trying to give us a history lesson?

QUESTION: Well, no. But it sounds – are you saying all of that is forgiven, all that is done, over with and everything is fine?

MR PATEL: What I am saying about our French allies, and which is what I would say about any ally and partner that we have, is that of course there are areas in which we disagree. But that does not take away from the deep partnership that we have and what we have accomplished through the bilateral relationship with that country. And that is especially true with our French allies.

QUESTION: Are you concerned at all that Europeans might not be so much in favour of defending Taiwan, if that were to be the case? At least inside – either the defence relationship obviously is not the same, and the interests and all this is not the same?

MR PATEL: Leon, I would point you no further than President von der Leyen’s speech just a number of weeks ago where she talked about the PRC as a national and economic security threat for all of Europe. And so, on a lot of these issues as it relates to dealing with the complex challenges posed by the PRC, there is immense convergence between us and our European allies and partners in how we tackle that challenge head on. And there’s also a number of fora in which we can do that – through the European Union, through NATO, through other mechanisms.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. A couple of things on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Last Thursday, the United States blocked a statement or a potential statement by the United Nations Security Council condemning the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque. And my question to you: Why would the United States condemn the storming of any place of worship?

MR PATEL: Said, we have always said that, as it relates to the holy sites in Jerusalem, that we believe that it’s important of upholding the historic status quo in practice. We also have long said that we believe that people should be able to practice their religion and faith without any hindrance. But we’ve also previously said, and you’re not hearing me say anything new – that discussing these issues and litigating these issues through the UN is not productive. It further incites tensions and takes us away from a two-state solution and takes us away from what we believe is important, which is maintaining the status quo.

QUESTION: Okay, let me ask you if today there was a march by thousands of settlers into Eviatar, protected by the Israeli army, who attacked the press with tear gas, they attacked Palestinians that were protesting and so on. And this seems to be happening day in day out,  and by the way, the Palestinian children going to school had to take the hills, the rocky hills so they can go to their schools. They couldn’t walk where the settlers were walking. So, I want you to tell me: What is your position on this particular incident if you’re aware of it?

MR PATEL: Said, we have made our views clear, and that is that it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that incite tensions, that undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. And that of course includes annexation of territory, evictions, demolitions, violence against civilians, violence against journalists, incitement to violence, and things of that nature. Said, we have spoken about this before.

QUESTION: Yeah, you just said going to the United Nations is unproductive. Are you saying that the Security Council in this conflict is irrelevant? And if so, why?

MR PATEL: I am not saying it is irrelevant. What I am saying is that   this is an issue and a topic that needs to be decided and determined and discussed between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. And that is exactly why almost every day questions as it relates to this region that have come up, I have – I and others from this department have spoken firmly about our viewpoint being the desire for a negotiated two-state solution and that being the mechanism. And so I just don’t have anything else to offer on that.

QUESTION:   on Russia and Evan Gershkovich?


QUESTION: Are there any updates there?  

MR PATEL: So, thanks for your question, Matt. What I can say is that we are still continuing to seek consular access. At this point, it is a violation of Russia’s obligations under our consular convention and a violation against international law. We have stressed the need for the Russian Government to provide this access as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And what is the consequence for the violation? Is there any?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, as you know, between our two countries – between any country that we have —

QUESTION: No, I just mean in general. Like is – say they violate. You just accused them of violating the agreement on consular access. So, what do you do?

MR PATEL: Well, this is something that we’re continuing to raise with them. It is a violation. We believe that it is a matter of human dignity to ensure that Mr. Gershkovich can meet with consular officers.

QUESTION: All right. But what do you do? Do you have any recourse at all?

MR PATEL: We have a number of tools at our disposal, Matt, to hold the Russian Federation accountable broadly, obviously. But again, this is a consular issue that we are working through appropriate channels.

QUESTION: And – okay. And then on the wrongful detention determination, that’s still a work in progress?

MR PATEL: I think you heard the Secretary quite clearly in Brussels. And so that work is a deliberative process that’s ongoing, and I don’t have any updates for you on that right now.

QUESTION:  …. I just wanted to get the State response – the State Department’s reaction to state media reporting that Gershkovich has been officially charged with espionage. I know that information is limited, but if you could just respond to that officially happening.

MR PATEL: Well, I would point you no further than what the Secretary said in Brussels, and what I and others across the interagency have spoken about as well. These charges – it’s hard that – it’s hard for any of them to have veracity. And again, Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to raise this detention with Foreign Minister Lavrov this past – last weekend, if I’m doing my math correctly, and he underlined the United States’s grave concern of not just these charges but the detention, and called for his release immediately.

QUESTION: But I know that you are still working on consular access, but in terms of the formal communication between the MFA and the embassy about even just a notice of arrest, that hasn’t happened yet —

MR PATEL: So that has. That happened, I believe, over this past weekend, in which the ministry did provide a notification of detention. But they have still not granted consular access, and as I said, this is a violation against the obligations we have within our consular convention with Russia.  

Dylan, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yeah, back on China for one second.


QUESTION: It’s been now two months – well, about two months and a week since the Secretary cancelled or postponed, as you guys have said, his trip to China, since the balloon incident and everything that followed. Are you any closer now than you were previously to rescheduling that trip?

MR PATEL: As you heard me say on Thursday, Dylan, to one of your colleagues’ questions is, again, we have and intend to continue to keep lines of communications open with the PRC, and we look forward to rescheduling the Secretary’s trip when conditions allow.

QUESTION: You guys have said that it was postponed – going out of your way to say it’s postponed, not cancelled. At what point does it become canceled and not postponed if it’s not rescheduled? How many more months until it’s cancelled?

MR PATEL: That is a hypothetical I’m not going to engage in, Dylan. Again, the – our – you have heard me say, you’ve heard the Secretary say that we intend to reschedule this trip when conditions allow.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Back on the drone strike on the U.S. convoy in the vicinity of Sulaymaniyah airport.


QUESTION: You’re aware of that strike? Okay. There are some reports saying that the strike carried out by Türkiye. Can you confirm that the drone was Turkish? If not, who does the U.S. believe carried out the strike?

MR PATEL: So, let me say a couple of things, and my colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to some of these – more specifics. Our Department of Defense is investigating the attack on the convoy on April 7th. That convoy included U.S. military personnel. We can confirm that there were no casualties, and we of course forcefully oppose any action that threatens the safety and security of U.S. personnel. U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Syria in support of local partners to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS. The degradation of ISIS in the region continues to be an important priority of ours.

And broadly, I’m going to defer to the DOD and their investigation before speaking to any source or origination. What I will just reaffirm is that any action in Iraq should respect Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we encourage governments to work together to deconflict cross-border military operations.

QUESTION: Has the U.S.  spoken with Türkiye or someone —

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get ahead of the DOD’s investigation.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up question on China. As you mentioned, the U.S. has tried to maintain the lines of communication open with China and tried to reschedule Secretary Blinken’s trip to China.


QUESTION: But after the Speaker’s meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai, China reacted harshly, including military drills around Taiwan. So how much are you worried about the impact of Chinese reactions on the U.S.-China relations?

MR PATEL: Well, let me say a couple of things. First and foremost, on any Chinese reaction, what I would say – and you heard me say this to Leon – is that transits by Taiwanese officials have – they are consistent with U.S. longstanding policy. They are consistent with our “one China” policy. They are consistent with the Assurances and the Communiques as well that govern our “one China” policy, as well as the Taiwan Relations Act.

Broadly, as it speaks to Congress, Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government that is going to make its own decisions, and I would let the Speaker or any member of Congress speak specifically to their engagements. We continue to hold firm that we will reschedule the Secretary’s trip when conditions allow. And again, any reaction from the PRC, it is not necessary to make something out of this transit that it’s not.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Is the State Department aware of violent attacks on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishes taking place now?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of these specific reports. Can you expand a little bit?

QUESTION: Last week alone, there were dozens of attacks on the church and churchgoers in Ukraine. People are capturing churches in Ukraine. Have you heard anything about it?

MR PATEL: Again, I haven’t seen those reports, so I couldn’t speak to them, but we’re happy to check and get back to you.

QUESTION: On Ethiopia.


QUESTION: Thousands have protested across Amhara since the federal government decided to disband regional special forces units, and two Catholic Relief Service workers were shot and killed in the region on Sunday amid the protests. Are you concerned about this order from the Ethiopian Government and resulting pushback, or is this something that you support?

MR PATEL: I’m going to have to check on the specifics of that, Daphne. I was not aware of that before coming out, but what I would say broadly is that we believe it is important for parties in Ethiopia to make progress and take steps towards the implementation of the November cessation of hostilities, including, of course, the formation of the interim Tigray regional government, as well as the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and the concurrent TPLF disarmament. But I’m happy to check if we have more specifics.


QUESTION: The Secretary is accompanying the President to UK and Ireland – Northern Ireland. There was some limited violence in the streets of Derry. Are – do you have anything to say about any concern ahead of the visit, of there being any more unrest in the region before the President and the Secretary visit?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any on the ground or assessment to offer. Obviously, if – this is relating to any potential American citizens traveling to the region, we have travel advisories, specifically both to Ireland and the United Kingdom. I would point individuals there. But the President is going to travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland to mark the tremendous progress since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement 25 years ago and to, of course, underscore support of the U.S. to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential. And then after that, he will be in Ireland and he will discuss with our close cooperation on a range of shared global challenges as well.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Back to Russia and Ukraine —


QUESTION: — can I get your reaction to the Kremlin’s latest comments on Ukraine? Medvedev said over the weekend that Ukraine should be erased from the map – a country that chairs UN Security Council simply denies another country’s existence. Do you have any reaction?

MR PATEL: Well, Mr. Medvedev is wrong, and you have seen the United States take serious action over the past year and even prior to that to support our Ukrainian partners, to do everything we can to support them so that they can defend themselves against Russia’s aggression and defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Alex, at the crux of this is the rules of a rules-based international order and the foundations of the UN Charter. The border of one country should not be erased by pure aggression of another, and that is what Russia is trying to do. And so we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners and put them in the best position possible for the negotiating table should that come.

QUESTION: And on the Security Council, 10 days in, is it your take that Russia has been taking its chairmanship less seriously, to put it mildly?

MR PATEL: Well, it’s our hope for Russia to conduct itself professionally during its scheduled presidency, and for the council to continue to do its important work on a number of issues of peace and security across the world. That said, we also expect and are fully preparing for Russia to continue to use its seat on the council to spread disinformation and to try and distract from or justify its egregious actions in Ukraine. And so we’re going to continue to take close attention, and we will take appropriate steps as needed.

QUESTION: Super quick question. Tunisia is planning to join BRICS. Any comment on that?

MR PATEL: These are sovereign decisions for countries to make. I don’t have anything to offer from up here. Go ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:45 p.m.)