State Dept Press Briefing -Apr 20, 2023
The State Dept held a press briefing on Apr 20, 2023 with Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson, fielding a wide range of questions. Here are some excerpts.
The Q-A on Afghanistan and Bangladesh are tweaked to appear upfront
QUESTION: Iram Abbasi from VOA. Thank you. My first question is on Afghanistan. The United Nations deputy secretary-general said that the organization plans to arrange a conference in the coming days to discuss granting recognition to Afghanistan’s Taliban. And basically, can you tell us more about the conference? Do you have the dates or any updates on that? And also, does the U.S. support it?
MR PATEL: So my colleague at the mission in New York, the spokesperson there, spoke a little bit about this yesterday, so I would refer you to his comments. But what I would reiterate what he said from here is that the intent of – purpose of this meeting was never to discuss recognition of the Taliban, and any discussion at this meeting about recognition would be unacceptable to us. But I will let our mission in New York speak more about this.
QUESTION: Sure. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto is set to go to India May 4th and 5th for Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, and this is going to be a first visit from foreign minister after Hina Rabbani Khar visited India in 2011. How does the U.S. see this development?
MR PATEL: This is a question for Pakistan and India, respectively. We have deep, important relationships with both countries that are not a sum meets all or anything like that.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Patel. I’m from Somoy News from Bangladesh. My question – foremost, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity. We have noticed that Deutsche Welle and Netra News link on web was shared on the verified official Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh. How does it go with foreign policy approach of the USA and vice versa Bangladesh?
And second question, I want to ask you that the overall impressive socioeconomic development of Bangladesh over the last decade is not accidental. It happened due to a long-term plan, execution with good governance, when USA is also an important partner. How do you view the economic growth of Bangladesh?
MR PATEL: So as it relates to this specific Facebook post, I will – I’d refer you to the embassy in Dhaka. I’ve not seen that, so I’m not aware, but I’m happy to check and see if we have anything to offer on that.
Broadly though, the U.S. and Bangladesh last year celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations, and over the past 50 years we have provided more than $8 billion in aid across many sectors, whether that be health, agriculture, humanitarian assistance, Bangladesh’s growth and prosperity. The U.S. also looks forward to deepening our engagement with Bangladesh in the years to come, and we believe that there’s important potential for cooperation on a number of issues, including climate change, development, the economy, and humanitarian assistance as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a last question. Rashed Chowdhury, one of the self-confessed and convicted killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, continues to find shelter here in USA. U.S. policy commitment of upholding justice and ensuring accountability globally, how – yeah, how do you see – go with this U.S. global policy of sheltering a convicted killer here in U.S. soil?
MR PATEL: I just don’t have anything to offer on that. If there is some sort of active case or litigation towards this individual, that would be a matter for the Department of Justice. But I’m happy to check and see if we have anything more.
QUESTION: Yes, regarding Bangladesh?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: As you know that Bangladesh has been hosting over 1 million Rohingya refugees since 2017, and in his recent meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Momen, Secretary Blinken mentioned Bangladesh’s remarkable generosity for hosting this huge number of Rohingya refugees. In his meeting with the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today, the outgoing UK high commissioner to Bangladesh, Robert Chatterton Dickson, said that his country supports Bangladesh on Rohingya issue. So as you know that Rohingya – Burma – Myanmar has not taken one single Rohingya back yet, so do you have any plan to put pressure on Myanmar with – to take Rohingya back with the international community?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific new policy to announce, but what I would say is that – and the Secretary reiterated this in his bilateral engagement with the foreign minister last week – is that we recognize that Bangladesh has shown incredible generosity and compassion in welcoming, as you said, almost a million Rohingya into the country and giving them shelter. The U.S. has also been deeply engaged in this as well, offering more than $1.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to support refugees and host communities in Bangladesh, Burma, and the region since the start of the Rohingya crisis in August of 2017. We’ll continue to maintain pressure on the Burma military regime to cease its violence and restore the country’s path toward genuine and inclusive democracy.
Cindy, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. China’s expanding its nuclear weapons capability with Russia’s help. How does the State Department believe the U.S. should respond to a world with three nuclear powers? And should the U.S. expand its own nuclear arsenal or use old plutonium to refurbish or develop new weapons?
MR PATEL: So the Secretary broadly spoke a little bit about this from the G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Japan, and he spoke about the need – the important need for the reduction of nuclear weapons to continue and for it to take place in a pragmatic, practical, and safe way. So I would first – I would have you take a look at those comments on this broad topic.
But beyond that, the PRC’s nuclear buildup is deeply concerning, and it raises questions about the PRC’s intent and it reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures to reduce nuclear risks. And it – the pace at which the PRC is operating will create new stresses on international stability and new challenges for deterrence, assurance, arms control, and risk reduction. We’ll continue to press the PRC to engage in substantive bilateral and multilateral engagements to reduce nuclear risk, and we’ll continue to be deeply engaged on that.
As it relates to our own arsenal or our own posture, I will let the Department of Energy and the Department of Defence speak to that.
QUESTION: ….I thought you might have something to say about Sudan. So, let’s start there, even though I’m not optimistic that you’re going to be able to shed any more light on the situation.
But so in terms of what you might be able to tell us, has there been any contact between the Secretary and any of the parties involved or – in the conflict or other countries, your allies and partners in this? And what is the current status of the embassy and the Pentagon’s pre-positioning of assets to prepare for a potential evacuation?
MR PATEL: Sure, Matt. Let me say a couple of things.
First, in the strongest terms, the United States condemns the violence between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. You have seen members of this department and members of this administration for a number of days now say clearly that there is no military solution to Sudan’s political crisis. The 24-hour ceasefire announced on April 19th has mostly held. In coordination with our allies and partners, we urge the SAF and RSF to extend the current ceasefire through Sunday, April 23rd, which would be the end of Eid.
Secretary Blinken has also made very clear that any attacks, threats, and dangers posed to U.S. diplomats are totally unacceptable. I don’t have any new calls to read out, Matt, but the Secretary has been in direct communication with Generals Burhan and Hemedti. In coordination with our allies and partners, he again reiterated, as I just said, the need to extend the current ceasefire through the end of Eid.
As it relates to our embassy, we continue to remain in close contact with our team in Khartoum, in close communication directly with Ambassador Godfrey. We’re engaging in this from all corners of the department and continue to have full accountability of our personnel.
You saw the Pentagon put out a statement earlier today that through U.S. Africa Command they are monitoring the situation closely as well and conducting prudent planning for various contingencies. And as they said, they are deploying additional capabilities nearby to the region should circumstances require it.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just ask you – I mean, “extend the current ceasefire through the end of Eid?” Well, the current ceasefire is pretty much a joke, right? I mean, they haven’t ceased firing at all. So presumably, you would want them to actually respect the ceasefire through the end of Eid, right?
MR PATEL: Extend and respect the ceasefire. That’s right, Matt. But our viewpoint also is that the 24-hour ceasefire that was announced on the 19th has mostly held, but we think that the extension of it is important for a number of reasons – allowing for the flow of necessary humanitarian materials, but also to ensure the safety of diplomatic personnel as well.
QUESTION: All right. And is it still your understanding that all embassy personnel are safe and accounted for and —
MR PATEL: We continue to have full accountability of our personnel in Khartoum.
QUESTION: Could I follow up?
QUESTION: Well, full accountability doesn’t mean they’re all safe.
MR PATEL: Our team in Khartoum, we have – we remain in close contact with them. To our understanding they are safe, and we continue to have a full accountability.
QUESTION: Are you keeping track of who is supporting whom in this fight? I mean, there are rumours – I don’t know how true they are – they say that the Wagner Group for instance is there in Sudan aiding Hemedti, and Russia denied and the group denied, and so on. We see that Egypt is sending planes and tanks and so on, and personnel even, to aid the army. We see that Haftar in Libya is sending arms to the rebels and so on. Can you walk us through what is going on?
MR PATEL: Said, our focus remains squarely on two things: first, ensuring the safety and security of our personnel in the region at the embassy in Khartoum; but also working with our regional and other partners to establish an immediate ceasefire, to take steps to reduce tensions, and ensure the safety of all civilians, including UN workers, humanitarian workers, and of course not just our diplomatic personnel but diplomatic personnel from other capitals as well.
There is no military solution to this crisis. And I will let other countries speak to their own viewpoints as it relates to this conflict, but that is ours.
QUESTION: Okay, let me just on this point —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Of course, there was supposed to be a transition of power last Tuesday, I think the 11th of this month, and it didn’t happen. You still believe that this could happen? I know that the Secretary of State has spoken to both sides.
MR PATEL: Said, you heard me say just now I think three times, and I’ll say again, is that our viewpoint is that there is no military solution to Sudan’s political crisis. And quite frankly, this kind of ongoing, reckless violence threatens the safety of all civilians and it jeopardizes the aspirations of the Sudanese people for that very democratic transition that you just spoke of.
I’m not going to get ahead of this or try to look too far deep into any kind of crystal ball, Said. Our main goal right now is working closely to get this ceasefire extended and, as Matt said, respected, and beyond that, working to ensure the safety and security of our personnel in the region as well.
Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia and UAE, what role are they playing?
MR PATEL: Those are questions for – specifically for those countries to speak to. But again, Michel, we are working quite closely with our allies and partners in the region, including countries that have relationships in Sudan to not only extend the ceasefire through the 23rd but also to ensure the safety and security of our personnel as well.
QUESTION: The State Department is obviously telling Americans who are there to shelter in place, but the airport’s closed. It’s obviously not safe for them to travel on the roads given the violence. So is there any thought in this building of trying to create some assistance to them to get out of the country if the embassy goes into ordered departure, or is that not part of the ongoing conversations or planning at this time?
MR PATEL: Kylie, we are planning for all various types of contingencies. I am certainly not going to get of ahead of the process here. But as you’ve so noted, Khartoum International Airport and Sudan’s border with Chad is closed. And due to the unfortunate and uncertain and very fluid security situation in Khartoum, and again because of the closure of the airport, it’s not safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private American citizens at this time.
But we’re continuing to monitor the situation closely. We’re monitoring it from here, monitoring it with our team in Khartoum. U.S. Africa Command is also monitoring it. And we’ve also been in communication with private U.S. citizens in the region about safety measures and other precautions that they can take.
We have been very clear about the need to – for American citizens to remain indoors, to stay off the roads, to shelter in place, and to avoid traveling to the U.S. embassy at this time.
QUESTION: And so, when you say all contingencies, or I think you said all contingencies – yeah. All contingencies are being considered right now. Does that include helping these Americans get out?
MR PATEL: Kylie, I reject the premise of the question that we are not helping American citizens currently.
QUESTION: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just asking if you’re going to provide a mechanism – travel – for them to get out of the country.
MR PATEL: I understand. So, I’m just not going to get ahead of the process here, as this is a very fluid and dynamic situation. But like I just said, it is currently not safe to undertake a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation of private U.S. citizens. We’ve made this clear in the updated Travel Advisory alert that we issued for Sudan. I believe it was sometime yesterday. But again, we’re continuing to monitor the situation and pay attention closely.
QUESTION: And then just one last question. It’s our understanding that when Molly Phee was on the Hill yesterday, she explained to lawmakers that the department is looking for the ceasefire to hold in order to actually carry out an evacuation because it’s too dicey on the ground right now to do so. Can you just shine some light on how long the ceasefire would have to hold in order for that operation to be conducted?
MR PATEL: I will say one thing, Kylie, that the safety and security of American citizens, especially our personnel and U.S. government personnel in the region, is of utmost importance. But I am certainly not going to get into operational security specifics or details or what would be required for any kind of operation to take place.
QUESTION: Vedant, you say it’s not current – it’s not safe to organize an evacuation of private U.S. citizens. Isn’t it also the case that it’s not safe to order the – or to provide an evacuation for official U.S. embassy employees? Isn’t it both?
MR PATEL: Matt, we are monitoring and paying attention to the situation very closely. Obviously, how an evacuation of embassy personnel or private American citizens happens – are conducted differently.
QUESTION: Right. But it’s unsafe right now for either.
MR PATEL: I understand your question.
QUESTION: Is that not the case? Are you saying that it is the – or you’re saying that it isn’t the case and that there is a possibility that even if conditions do not change, even if the ceasefire is not respected or extended, that you could still go in and mount some kind of a rescue mission for embassy staffers but not private —
MR PATEL: I am just not going to get into hypotheticals, Matt. I think we’re all aware of the circumstances that we’re dealing with, with the airport being closed and the border with Chad being closed as well. We are in communication with American citizens. We are offering assessments about security measures and other precautions. We are in touch with our personnel. We are in touch with Ambassador Godfrey. We continue to have full accountability with the team in Khartoum.
QUESTION: So, this week, the DOJ announced several prosecutions against Chinese agents for transnational —
MR PATEL: Do you mind if I stay on the topic and come back — and then I can come back to you?
QUESTION: Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah.
MR PATEL: Yeah, there’s a lot of interest in this. Rosiland, go ahead, and then we’ll work —
QUESTION: When the Secretary has spoken with both Hemedti and Burhan, what specifically has he told them? If they don’t stop fighting, what is the U.S. prepared to do in order to get to a ceasefire?
MR PATEL: His main point to both of these generals continues to be urging to extend the current ceasefire through April 23rd. That is what he has consistently raised with these two generals. Specifically, I’m not going to get ahead of any actions that the U.S. may or may not take. We are looking at a full range of options available, and we are working with our partners to ensure the response is coordinated and consistent whenever possible. But our viewpoint is, is that the most important thing to happen right now is for the ceasefire that was announced on April 19th to be extended and for the violence to stop.
QUESTION: But you’re not prepared to say what inducements —
MR PATEL: I have never —
QUESTION: — the U.S. is making?
MR PATEL: — offered the actions that the – I or frankly any spokesperson has never offered the or prescribed the specific actions that this government is prepared to take as it relates to any country, and I’m certainly not going to do that here. We are paying close attention, and we will continue to take steps as we need, and we’ll do so in close coordination with our allies and partners as well.
QUESTION: And finally, how long is the U.S., how long are the U.S.’s allies willing to watch the situation deteriorate across Khartoum and north of the country? I mean, it’s basically all-out war now.
MR PATEL: I don’t think we’re watching and standing by. We are engaging on this. We’re engaging on this, as I said, on multiple fronts – one of them being, of course, the safety and security of American citizens and our personnel, but of course the other front being the calling for a cessation of violence with a clear understanding and evocation of the fact that there is not a military solution to this crisis and that such kind of violence, it threatens the safety of all civilians and it threatens the aspirations of the Sudanese people.
QUESTION: Beyond establishing a ceasefire, keeping the ceasefire going, how important is it to secure the airspace? Does the State Department have a understanding of if that can even be done, if guarantees can be made that are necessary in order to move an American aircraft in to take embassy staff out? And also does the State Department have an understanding of who controls that airport even though it’s closed?
MR PATEL: I just am not going to get into operational security specifics as it relates to what needs to happen or not happen as it relates to the undertaking of anything.
Go ahead, Elizabeth.
QUESTION: Can you speak a bit more on the whereabouts of the U.S. embassy personnel? Are there efforts underway to move them? Can you speak with any specificity?
MR PATEL: I would not do that out of respect for the very delicate security environment in Khartoum right now. But what I will reiterate again is that the State Department across various levels have been in direct touch – regular direct touch with the team in Khartoum, with Ambassador Godfrey, and we continue to have full accountability of our personnel.
QUESTION: And then given the attack on the convoy, are there any indications that U.S. embassy personnel could themselves be targets?
MR PATEL: I don’t want to offer any kind of premature conclusion. I know that the incident that you’re referring to about a diplomatic convoy coming under fire is being investigated. Our message, though, broadly to any American citizen, whether they are our personnel or not, is to remain indoors, stay off the roads, and we’re in close communication with them, sharing appropriate safety and security measures as well.
QUESTION: And then just lastly, has there been any discussion of targeted sanctions against rights violators in Sudan?
MR PATEL: I think I kind of answered your question when speaking to Elizabeth. We are paying attention to this situation quite closely. I’m not going to prescribe or preview any action. And the most important thing for us right now is doing what we can to ensure the safety and security of our personnel, but also getting these two generals to extend this ceasefire.
QUESTION: As regards U.S. personnel, and without getting into the specifics of their whereabouts and understanding that colocation efforts are underway, how much of that effort is completed if you can say? And —
MR PATEL: I just would not offer such specific details. Again, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens, including our personnel. We have been in close touch with them over the course of the number of days, over the course of regular intervals. We’ve been in touch with Ambassador Godfrey, and we continue to have full accountability of our folks.
QUESTION: Okay. And just to follow up and clarify on that, right now you’re not aware of any specific credible threats to American personnel or American citizens?
MR PATEL: As in, like, targeting? Is that what you mean? Again, I don’t want to offer a specific assessment on the security situation, but that’s my understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. And one quick one on the taskforce that State has stood up. Can you elaborate a little bit as to its makeup? Are there elements of the Pentagon involved in that taskforce?
MR PATEL: This, of course, is – and the monitoring of this entire crisis is happening across the interagency, from the State Department to the Pentagon to the White House to the National Security Council. You saw the Department of Defense speak to the steps that they’re taking in the region today, so I just wouldn’t have anything else to offer beyond that.
QUESTION: …..this week the DOJ announced several prosecutions against Chinese agents for transnational repression campaigns. Could you explain that? And is the U.S. considering sanctions over this?
MR PATEL: First, what I would say as it relates to any actions that the U.S. Government would take, we certainly are not going to preview or prescribe them from here, but broadly as it relates to the PRC, we have not hesitated to take actions to hold them accountable. On this situation specifically, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. They can speak more about this current process and situation. I don’t have anything to offer on that from here.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. And on reports of the CCP running up to six secret police stations in the U.S., are there plans with the administration to stop this from going on in the future?
MR PATEL: So, the FBI and the Department of Justice have spoken about these police stations before, and I would refer you to them to speak more about comments and updates about the ongoing investigation surrounding the arrests of individuals who were operating in these unofficial police stations. But I don’t have anything else to offer on this from here.
QUESTION: Okay. One more, quick. So, House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul has signalled that he might take the State Department to court over its failure to comply with the subpoena to hand over the Afghan dissent cable. Will the State Department continue to resist complying with the subpoena, even if it goes to litigation?
MR PATEL: Well, I spoke to this late yesterday, and I will reiterate what I said then, which is that Secretary Blinken has continued to make clear his and the State Department’s commitment to working with HFAC to provide relevant information needed for their oversight function while also upholding the responsibility to protect the department’s dissent channel. Discussions with the committee are ongoing, but we have, again, offered a briefing about the concerns raised and the challenges identified by some State Department officers and the embassy in Kabul – and we’ve proposed that for next week, and we sincerely hope the chairman will accept – in addition to offering other means that we’ve offered to help inform the committee in its investigation. We continue to believe that the offer on the table can satisfy the committee’s need for its information and to conduct its oversight function while still protecting the important dissent channel.
QUESTION: Any reason to be worried about potential Russian role in all this, given Wagner Group’s presence —
MR PATEL: Well, let me just say broadly, Alex, that of course we have spoken a great deal about the destabilizing force that the Wagner Group is, and that we’ve previously said broadly that the Wagner Group, of course, countries who choose to partner with the Wagner Group find themselves less safe and less secure. Excuse me.
Again, I am not at a place to get into any additional assessments about the situation in Sudan beyond just saying that we are deeply engaged on this, and our priority continues to be ensuring that the ceasefire is extended through the 23rd.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to Russia.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you guys (inaudible) Ambassador Antonov since Russian court dismissed Evan’s appeal?
MR PATEL: Alex, we have raised Evan Gershkovich’s case directly and candidly with our Russian counterparts quite consistently. I don’t have any specifics to offer, but this is something that we have been quite consistent about, about the release – immediate release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, both who are currently being wrongfully detained.
QUESTION: Any sense of how often Evan will be able to see the U.S. diplomats, particularly ambassador?
MR PATEL: That’s a question for the Russian Federation, Alex. But consistently, as it relates to when any American national is detained and especially so when they’re wrongfully detained, we insist on regular and consistent consular access as part of that. And so our hope is that Evan is able to meet with American diplomats as frequently and as often as he needs.
QUESTION: Moving to another colleague of us, Vladimir Kara-Murza.
MR PATEL: Uh-huh.
QUESTION: There are congressional calls for the State Department to designate him as wrongfully detained under Levinson Act. I’m surprised that you guys haven’t done that since last year. He’s a U.S. resident.
MR PATEL: Well, we’ve been very vocal about Mr. Kara-Murza’s case, who, as you know, Russia is detaining unjustly. We remain committed to pursuing justice for Mr. Kara-Murza and using every appropriate tool we have. As it relates to the wrongful detention designation for anyone, it’s an ongoing and deliberative process, and I’m certainly not going to get ahead of that.
QUESTION: The Israeli Government has nominated a minister of the current government named May Golan to be the consul general of New York. Ms. Golan has previously described herself as a “proud racist.” She’s said that she refuses to eat with African asylum seekers because she fears she’ll contract AIDS. Does the State Department have any concerns about credentialing this person?
MR PATEL: So, I would refer you to the Government of Israel specifically on any of their personnel announcements and how that relates to credentialing within foreign missions here in the United States. But broadly, we would condemn such kind of rhetoric and believe that such kind of language is also particularly damaging when it’s amplified in leadership positions. So – but I don’t have any other updates to offer on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, in this regard, Vedant, do you have any readout on the 18th Annual NATO Conference on Arms Control, Disarmament, and Weapons of Mass Destruction?
MR PATEL: I will see if we can get you a more specific readout, Michel. But as you know, we hosted the 18th annual conference. It was chaired by Deputy Secretary Sherman and Under Secretary Jenkins. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg had the opportunity to participate virtually, and it was a really important discussion. But we’ll see if we can get you some more – a specific readout, if there is one.
QUESTION: One more on this. What’s your view on Saudi Arabia trying to have a civil nuclear program? And is the U.S. ready to help them get this program?
MR PATEL: That is – the first question, I’m going to have to follow up with you on that, Michel. We’ll have to check with the team and can get back to you.
MR PATEL: You had a – you’ve had your hand up. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) Namazi, the Iranian American who recently got freed from Islamic Republic of Iran’s jail, today he published a statement criticizing Joe Biden for not giving him an appointment to sit and talk about the situation of Siamak, his son. Do you have any update about any ongoing diplomacy regarding the dual nationalities? Because I remember a few weeks ago there were some talks that Qatar was going to help. Is there anything happening?
MR PATEL: So first let me say the U.S. will always stand up for our citizens who have been wrongfully detained overseas, including of course Siamak Namazi and the others who are wrongfully detained in Iran. The President, President Biden, and Secretary Blinken have no higher priority than the safety and security of our American citizens when they are abroad, especially those who have been arbitrarily detained. Individuals across this administration – from Secretary Blinken, from Ambassador Carstens, from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to including even the President – we engage with the families of our wrongfully detained American citizens regularly. We engage with them. We talk about their cases with them. And we continue to engage on ways that we can make sure to bring them home as swiftly as possible.
I’m not going to get into specifics about scheduling or anything like that, but this – we meet with the families. We meet with them regularly. This is something that the President is personally engaged on. It’s something that the Secretary is personally engaged on.
QUESTION: But so far the President has not met with anyone from Iranian families. None.
MR PATEL: Senior officials across this administration engage with the families, the families of wrongfully detained American citizens regularly.
QUESTION: Okay. And one on JCPOA.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Iran is reporting progress in its meeting with IAEA’s inspectors, and they are saying that they are solving problems and ambiguities. Do you have any comment on that? And do you buy this sort of news and announcements?
MR PATEL: Well, we have long said that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, and we still believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that. And at the same time, we’re also preparing for all possible options and contingencies in full coordination with our allies and partners on this.
QUESTION: On this, Vedant, do you have any comment on Reza Pahlavi’s visit to Israel and his meetings with the prime minister and high officials there?
MR PATEL: I don’t.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR PATEL: I just don’t have – I would refer you to the Government of Israel and Mr. Pahlavi’s representatives. I don’t have anything to offer on that.
QUESTION: This is a follow-up on the Afghan dissent cable.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Is the department open to sharing the cable with McCaul in such a way that named sources and other classified info does not become public, or just sharing a redacted version of the cable?
MR PATEL: We believe that the offer that we have consistently made, which is a briefing that discusses the concerns that were raised and the challenges identified by some State Department officials and those involved in our work in Afghanistan in that time period sufficiently and satisfactorily provides the committee with the information it needs to conduct what we think is a very important oversight function. And Secretary Blinken has continued to make clear, as have I from up here, that we as a department have a commitment to working with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This is a good and substantive offer.
The important thing to also remember is that we have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the dissent cable channel, a channel in which anybody at the State Department can offer a dissenting view to senior leaders of this department on any issue area under the sun. Secretary Blinken has spoken publicly about how he reads every dissent cable, and so this is an important institution that we are committed to protecting, and we continue to believe that the offer that we have made to Chairman McCaul satisfactory – satisfactorily meets the mark in what they are looking for.
QUESTION: A question on Saudi Arabia.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: How do you read the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement? A couple days ago, the foreign minister met with Syrian President Bashar (inaudible) and so on. Could it be a prelude to sort of finally winding down the Syrian civil war? Do you see it in that?
MR PATEL: Well, Said, let me say a couple of things. And you will not be surprised by this, but our position has not changed and our position on this is clear: We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent authentic progress towards a political solution to the underlying conflict. We continue to make this clear publicly and privately with our partners. And we have stressed to regional partners who are engaging with the Saudi regime – with the Syrian regime, apologies – that any credible step to improve the humanitarian and security situation for Syrians should be front and center in any engagement. And that continues to be something that we reiterate.
QUESTION: So, did you express displeasure with your close allies the Saudis or the Emiratis or the other —
MR PATEL: Look, Said, I will refer to the kingdom to speak to their own position, but we do not believe that Syria merits readmission into the Arab League in this time. And we have been very clear about that, and we continue to stress to regional partners who are engaging with the Syrian regime that their engagements should have credible progress that improve the humanitarian and security situations in Syria, that those issues should be front and center of their engagements.
QUESTION: But just one last comment on this. Of all 22 Arab members of the Arab League, there is only Kuwait, Qatar, and Morocco who are opposing the return of Syria. The rest, there are 18 other members that really want Syria to go back, and they are – many of them are your allies. So, are you saying that they can go ahead and chart their own policy towards Syria without consulting with you?
MR PATEL: Said, what I’m saying is that we don’t believe that Syria has merit for readmission into the Arab League at this time. What I am also saying is that in our engagements with allies and partners we are making very clear that improving the humanitarian and security situation in Syria should be at front – the front and center of any of their individual engagements with the Syrian regime.
And more broadly, there are tangible steps that we think should happen. That includes sustained, predictable, and independent humanitarian access. That includes reducing the role of the IRGC in Syria. That includes ending the devastating Captagon drug trade and also includes authentic progress on the political track as well.
QUESTION: Vedant, on this you’ve said several times that the U.S. position has not changed towards Syria, but the issue is that the Arab world and the Arab countries’ position towards Syria is changing. Don’t you have any problem with that? We’re not asking about the U.S. position towards Syria. We know it.
MR PATEL: Look, Michel, countries ultimately are going to make their own sovereign decisions as it relates to their own relationships. What I am here to offer is our viewpoint and what we have been deeply engaged on with our allies and partners, and that is that any engagements that they have with the Syrian regime to take steps towards normalization, that part of those discussions, the thing that should be front and center, is how we can improve the humanitarian and security situation for the Syrian people. And that’s what this is about.
QUESTION: In March of 2022, the U.S. said it was profoundly disappointed at Assad’s visit to the UAE. Is the U.S. no longer actively discouraging states to not engage? Is that in the conversation?
MR PATEL: That’s certainly not what I was trying to indicate. We continue to not only – we would be – we would oppose, of course – are against our own normalization with the Assad regime but also other allies and partners taking steps to do so as well. Ultimately, the countries will make their own sovereign decisions. That being said, though, that is not something we support. It’s not something we support our allies and partners doing either.
Anything else? Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)
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