US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing –Apr 28, 2023

12 Min
State Dept Press Briefing –<a>Apr 28, 2023</a>

The State Department held a presser on Apr 28, 2023 with Principal Dy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielding a wide range of questions.

Some Excerpts

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I’ve got two very quick things and then we’ll dive right into your questions. I do have a hard out today, so I am going to be mindful of the clock.

But first and foremost, there is no higher priority for this administration than the safety and security of U.S. nationals around the world. Russia and Iran’s continued pattern of wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals is deeply troubling. We have repeatedly called on Russia and Iran to release wrongfully detained U.S. nationals, but Moscow and Tehran have chosen to ignore these requests.

Yesterday, we used authorities established by EO 14078, which builds on the Levinson Act, to promote accountability for those responsible for wrongfully detaining or holding hostage U.S. nationals abroad. As you know, Iran abducted former FBI agent Bob Levinson in 2007, and Iranian authorities have yet to account for Bob’s fate. Bob Levinson’s legacy endures through the Levinson Act, which bolsters our ability to bring home hostages and wrongfully detained U.S. nationals held overseas.

In what marks the first use of EO 14078, the Department of State designated Russia’s Federal Security Service and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Intelligence Organization for their involvement in the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals. We also designated four senior officials in Iran’s IRGC Intelligence Organization.

The U.S. will continue our relentless efforts to secure the release of U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained and reunite them with their loved ones. Yesterday’s actions are one tool, and we will continue to do all that we can to bring Americans home.

Secondly, on Sudan, and I have additional updates for you all. We remain dedicated to assisting U.S. citizens in Sudan. As Secretary Blinken said, we are actively helping U.S. citizens who seek to depart Sudan to move overland to a location where they can more easily exit the country. We’re not going to get into operational specifics given security considerations, but I will reiterate that this is a very fluid and dynamic situation.

We cannot guarantee travelers’ safety, nor can we guarantee how long these departure options will be available. And we strongly encourage U.S. citizens in Sudan to complete the crisis intake form on the Embassy Khartoum website to provide their contact information so that our team of consular officers here in D.C., who are working around the clock, can communicate directly with them on specific details.

We are deeply grateful to our allies and partners who have included U.S. citizens in their own departure operations. Multiple countries have provided key engagement in our diplomatic efforts, as well as their critical work to help U.S. citizens depart Sudan. We continue to coordinate and lead on these efforts.

Over the course of this crisis, we have been actively soliciting contact with U.S. citizens seeking help. So far, fewer than 5,000 U.S. citizens have requested additional information from us. Of those, only a fraction have actively sought our assistance to depart Sudan. We can also confirm that, in addition to our official embassy personnel, several hundred U.S. citizens have already departed by – departed Sudan either by land, sea, or aircraft. We encourage U.S. citizens who are no longer in Sudan to respond to the message they received when they first completed the online crisis form to inform us of their safe departure.

We are providing the best possible information we can to anyone asking for our assistance about conditions regarding safety and security, so that they can make their own decisions about whether and when to depart.

As Secretary Blinken has previously communicated, the U.S. is committed to bringing an end to the conflict in Sudan. And to that end, the U.S., in close cooperation with our partners, has been continuously engaging the SAF and the RSF. The parties agreed to extend the current ceasefire for an additional 72 hours and have expressed their readiness to engage in dialogue to establish a durable cessation of hostilities and humanitarian arrangements. It is clear that there have been multiple violations of the ceasefire. But implementing ceasefires is often difficult at the start, but the violations of the ceasefire do not mean a failure of the ceasefire. And we are working with partners to ensure better monitoring of activity and engaging both parties to improve adherence.

And with that, Matt, if you wanted to —

QUESTION: Yeah. Look, I realize that you’re limited in what you can say, but you say that fewer than 5,000 have requested information about leaving, and only a fraction of them have – are actually – have actually told you that they’re going to leave. What kind of fraction are we talking about here? Because that could be

five out of 100. You remember math class, right? So, fractions are – it could be 99 out of 100 for all we know.

MR PATEL: Matt, we have – we often – we generally do not provide numbers of U.S. citizen —

QUESTION: I know. But I’m just trying to pin you down on when you say only a fraction have actually asked

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to be more prescriptive than that, Matt. This is a very fluid and dynamic situation, as I said, but the important thing to remember is that fewer than 5,000 people have registered through this crisis form.

QUESTION: They are all American citizens, you know?

MR PATEL: I wouldn’t be able to confirm that from here. Obviously, it’s a public form that anybody can register. But the number of individuals who have chosen to communicate with us through that form has been fewer than 5,000. The number of Americans who have gotten in touch with us and have expressed a desire to leave the country through our assistance has been a fraction of that.

Beyond – and as I said at the top, in addition to the number of official embassy personnel that were evacuated through the operation last weekend, several hundred American citizens have indicated to us that they have been able to successfully and safely depart Sudan through land, through air, through airplane, many of which have been through our facilitation and our help in close coordination with our allies and partners.

QUESTION: Okay. And then can you just tell us what your message to Americans in Sudan today who want to leave is? What is the best way today for them to get out of the country if they want to leave?

MR PATEL: The best way for an American citizen who is currently in Sudan and is – has a desire to leave the country is to register with the crisis form on Embassy Khartoum’s website so that our consular officers can get in touch with them and get the best sense of their particular situation and connect them with some kind of modality to safety. What that will be will ultimately depend on the decision point of that individual and when they’ve made the determination that it is their desire to leave the country or not. Of course, each individual and each family is going to make that determination based on what makes the most sense to them based on the circumstances on the ground.

QUESTION: Vedant, the Secretary mentioned yesterday that you were assessing some sort of U.S.-facilitated mechanism – I think he used the word “mechanism” so I’ll use that word – for the overland route to Port Sudan. Any specifics on that? Any developments?

MR PATEL: Nothing that I am going to get into from here, Leon. I will reiterate what the Secretary said is that we have a commitment to helping U.S. citizens who seek to depart. We’re doing that. That work is ongoing. And we are working to more actively determine ways in we can – which we can offer support for overland routes to depart the country.

QUESTION: So you can confirm that you are actually actively talking to both sides at the present time, right? You are talking to both warring factions?

MR PATEL: Said, we have been in regular engagement with both of the generals for many, many days now.

QUESTION: Including directly with General Hemedti, correct?

MR PATEL: The Secretary has had the opportunity over the course of the past many days to speak to both generals. Others in this department have had the opportunity to speak with both generals. We continue to be deeply engaged on this because we strongly believe that a extension and adherence of a ceasefire is not just important for the people of Sudan and for returning to something that is reflective of the will of the Sudanese people, but it also has been so incredibly critical in allowing such operations to take place that are allowing to get American citizens to safety as well as the citizens and personnel of our allies and partners.


QUESTION: Vedant, thanks. Can you just clarify when American citizens come to Jeddah from Sudan, what their options are, and whether most of them will be returning to the United States?

MR PATEL: So, of course, that option is going to – these will be decisions based on what their own determinations and decision points are. Without getting into specific cases, if that – if those individuals have documentation to be in other countries, they’re of course welcome to do that. But of course, these are also American citizens, and should they have the appropriate documentation to re-enter the United States, they’re able to do that as well. And for anything in between, our consular officers are on hand to help them assess and determine the most appropriate next steps.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Anything on Sudan?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR PATEL: I’m going to go to – and then I’ll come to you, Guita. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, there are suggestion that China is well equipped in terms of leverage to talk with both generals – general – for a solid ceasefire that could end the fighting. (A) Are you aware about it? (B) If that happened, would you lend it support?

MR PATEL: I am going to let other countries speak to their own diplomatic engagements in the region. What I will say is that the United States has been working this issue from multiple angles, from as many angles as we can. Secretary Blinken, to take a step back, had the opportunity to speak to both of these generals when he was on travel in Asia, which many of you were on that trip. He had the opportunity to speak with both generals when he was in Japan. Once he returned to the United States, he had the opportunity to participate in an AU ministers virtual session led by Chair Faki in which they talked about this very issue.

Secretary Blinken, Assistant Secretary Phee, and others continue to be deeply engaged on this – of course directly through these two generals, but also through mechanisms like the Quad – Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the United Kingdom and the U.S. – as well as through the trilateral mechanism of the AU, IGAD, and the United Nations as well.

So we’re going to continue to pursue this in as many ways as we can. Again, I’m not going to speak to a specific country; it’s for them to speak to their own diplomatic engagements in the region.

All right, Guita, you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have two questions on Iran.


QUESTION: First one going back to your topper about the wrongful detention executive order – I don’t have a question specifically on that, but has there been any movement recently – say, in the past month – about prisoner exchange with Iran?

MR PATEL: Guita, I always hope when I’m able to come to this podium that we have good news to share when it comes to American citizens who are wrongfully detained in any corner of the world, whether it be Iran, Russia, or elsewhere. But unfortunately I don’t have any updates to offer. We continue to press directly for the release of our wrongfully detained citizens in Iran. That’s something that we’re going to continue to communicate and raise directly, and we hope to welcome them home very soon.

QUESTION: So any comment by Iranian officials to the contrary is – is inaccurate?

MR PATEL: I would say that most things that come from the Iranian regime I would take with a grain of salt.

QUESTION: Okay, another question. Republicans on the Hill are working on a series of bills for further sanctions on Iranian officials in different sectors, and also apparently to tie the administration’s hands in negotiating with Iran on the nuclear deal, the JCPOA, because they believe that the administration is working behind the scenes still, even though you say it’s not on the agenda. Is that anywhere close? Are you in touch with the – your allies to keep the – this line, at least, open, the possibility?

MR PATEL: So – so let me take a step back and say a couple of things. We are – this President and this Secretary of State are absolutely committed to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And we of course continue to believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal. And, of course, through diplomacy and any avenue that includes diplomacy will include robust engagement with our allies and partners, including through the auspices of the E3 and otherwise. And so we’ll continue to remain engaged on that.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks so much, Vedant. Staying on the same topic, on sanctions, in the case of Evan – Evan situation, why did administration stop short on – in sanctioning the FSB only since it is Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry is denying your request visiting Evan? And National Press Club yesterday said that they’re – that this move actually equals almost to torture. You have Russian Foreign Affairs minister roaming around New York streets lying about Evan’s case even before their sham – their own sham trial. So why are you not sanctioning Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry in this case?

MR PATEL: Alex, let me take a little bit of a step back. I think first and foremost as it relates to Evan’s case, we of course were deeply disappointed that the request to visit Evan in early May, on May 11th for a consular visit, was denied. We have been clear and consistent that American nationals detained abroad, especially those American citizens who are wrongfully detained like Evan, like Paul Whelan, are allotted appropriate and regular consular access by our personnel.

And so we’re going to continue to insist that. We also are going to continue to call for Evan’s release and the release of Paul Whelan. This is something that we have raised with the Russians directly, the Secretary has raised with his counterpart directly, and so we’ll continue to be engaged on this.

As it relates to American designations, Alex, as we’ve long said, we’re not going to preview sanctions or actions from here. But we have a number of tools in our tool belt to continue to hold not just the Russian Federation accountable but also hold those who perpetrate arbitrary and wrongful detention of American citizens as well, and we’ll continue to pursue those lines of efforts as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Can we also get your comments on the overnight’s missile attack on Ukraine? It looks like they are shifting their strategy. They haven’t been doing this for more than 50 days. How did you read that and what is your reaction to overnight missile attacks? Number of victims are – is growing.

MR PATEL: Well, Alex, this is another example in a long line of examples of Russia’s brazen disregard of Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian life. Time and time again we have seen them take volatile and reckless actions as it relates to their unjust war in Ukraine, and the United States is going to continue to do what it can to support our Ukrainian partners, continue to do what we can to hold the Russian Federation accountable as well.

 Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a very quick question on the Palestinian issue. Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper, reported that in the next couple weeks or so the Israeli Government is going to launch 70 settlements and outposts. Are you aware of this issue? Do you have any comment on it?

MR PATEL: Said, I would reiterate our longstanding view here, which you are familiar with, and the Secretary had the opportunity to speak to directly when he was in Israel, which is that all parties should refrain from actions that heighten tensions and take us further away from peace. And this certainly includes the expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, and the demolition of homes.

QUESTION: Yes, but are you aware of this particular one?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of this specific report, Said, but again, we strongly oppose the advancement of settlements and urge Israel to not take steps that will take us further away from a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: And second, there is a Palestinian prisoner who’s been detained on administrative detention time after time. He’s on a hunger strike. He’s in a very critical condition. Are you aware of his situation, and do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Said, this – is my understanding that this individual is not an American citizen, but broadly   speaking, the U.S. urges respect for human rights and believes that all individuals, including prisoners, should be treated humanely. And I would refer you to the Government of Israel to speak further about this.

I’m going to go to you in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: One question about Japan.


QUESTION: Japanese ruling party, LDP, has just announced today that its secretary-general, Toshimitsu Motegi, will visit United States next week and will meet Secretary Blinken. So what kind of discussion do you expect?

MR PATEL: Well, I don’t have any meetings or engagements to preview or get ahead of right now. But what I can say is that we have a deep and important partnership with our ally Japan. Secretary Blinken just had the opportunity to be in Karuizawa and Tokyo about a week and a half ago, where he had the opportunity to meet with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Hayashi, as well as had the opportunity to sit down with Prime Minister Kishida, where – in both of those meetings talked about a number of important issues, including Japan’s presidency of the G7, Japan’s continued support of our Ukrainian partners, and their vision and their mission for their G7 presidency and the summit that they are looking forward to hosting in Hiroshima in about a couple weeks.

QUESTION:  The Philippines president is expected to come to Washington in the coming days. Is this part of the U.S. effort to strengthen ties with allies in the Asia Pacific region amid the growing Chinese influence?

MR PATEL: Well, Guita, our diplomatic engagements with any singular country are about that singular country and the United States. We do not ask any country to choose between the U.S. and another country. What our engagements are about are about offering and putting on the table what a deep partnership with the United States of America can look like. Of course, the Indo-Pacific is a vitally important part of the world. It has – it is one of the fastest-growing parts of the world with one of the fastest-growing populations, and so we are of course going to take steps to deepen our ties and deepen bilateral relationships with countries in the region. Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to engage in a 2+2 dialogue with his and Secretary Austin’s Filipino counterparts before he headed off on this most recent travel and looks forward to continuing to engage with our Filipino partners.

All right, thanks, everybody. I do have to wrap today. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:52 p.m.)