US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing -June 5, 2023

17 Min
State Dept Press Briefing -June 5, 2023

The State Department held a presser on June 5, 2023 with Principal Dy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielding a wide range of questions.   The Q-A on India, Pakistan and B’desh tweaked to appear upfront. Some Excerpts

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody.   I actually don’t have anything off the top, so go ahead.

QUESTION:  My question is about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who has been languishing in the U.S. jail for the last 20 years. Last week a political party leader and a lawyer had a chance to meet her after 20 years. This issue just came up again in Pakistani media again, and there is no doubt that the U.S. is one country which really cares about human rights, and it’s without politics. Now, many journalists in Pakistan believe that because Pakistan was not pursuing the case properly at that time, and that was one of the reasons why she got convicted by a judge and was sentenced to 80-some years of jail. There’s any chance – and it give a very bad impression of the human rights gesture, just a PhD lady involved in terrorism videos.

MR PATEL: So I will refer to the relevant law enforcement authorities on this.

QUESTION: But like, can, like, the U.S. think about revisiting the case just —

MR PATEL: Again, that would be for the relevant law enforcement authorities to speak to, not the State Department.

QUESTION: Okay. How about the individual, if you remember, Dr. Shakil Afridi, who worked for the U.S. and is languishing in jail in Pakistan, and the U.S. has demanded his release for quite some time? Is there any new efforts, or maybe a (inaudible) can be done between these two individuals when —

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize. I also am not going to get into the specifics of the case given privacy concerns, beyond saying that all across the world, when American citizens are detained, we take steps to ensure that they have consular access, and that will continue to be the case.

QUESTION: One last question.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION:  You have said this before, too, that the U.S. wants to see a stable Pakistan. But we don’t see any condemnation from the U.S. now for last almost a year. Now we have former chief ministers, governors 80 years old being arrested, journalists are missing, military courts have been established to trial civilians. No condemnation from the U.S. with regard to any of these things?

MR PATEL: We engage directly with our Pakistani partners on the issues that are of importance to the United States and are of importance to broader regional security and stability. And as I have said before, we of course want to see a prosperous and stable Pakistan. That is in the interest of U.S.-Pakistan relations. And when we direct – we engage with these – with this country directly and not everything we read out are – when it comes to our diplomatic engagements.

QUESTION: Bangladesh ruling Prime Minister Hasina reacted to the new visa policy by saying she does not have any headache as U.S. issuing any – she doesn’t have any headache with giving restriction or imposing sanction. There is – it is not only – only the ocean. There is another, more – Atlantic is the not only ocean. So the – though her party men describe that the U.S. new visa policy is for the opposition, to bring them in the election under her government. But the political parties, civil society groups do not believe that Sheikh Hasina will go for a free, fair, credible election as she did not keep her promise in 2014 and 2018. So how could you believe that Sheikh Hasina will go for a credible, neutral (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: The United States is committed to the promotion of democracy and free and fair elections all over the world. The government, political parties, civil society, and the media in Bangladesh have all expressed their desire that the upcoming national elections be free, fair, and peaceful. And in support of those free and fair and peaceful elections, the U.S. announced, as you so noted, a number of weeks ago a new policy that allows us to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals, including current or former Bangladeshi officials, pro-government or opposition political party members, and others believed to be responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.

QUESTION: Bangladeshi opposition projecting a letter by six U.S. congressmen seeking for presidential intervention on harsh measure in Bangladesh, a moral victory in their demand on outstanding government without polls. But country’s minority leaders from Hindus’ and Christians’ community have criticized the finding stated in the letter that Hindus have (inaudible) and Christian are persecuted under the current government. According to BD Media, they said such assertion is not true. My question to you, that with this letter to the President by six congressmen: Will the letter hold any impact on the bilateral ties with Bangladesh?

MR PATEL: So of course, when it – as it relates to the bilateral relationship with any country, not just Bangladesh, we of course engage with our partners in Congress and solicit and seek their input. I am not going to speak to this specific letter or comment on it. Obviously, correspondence with Congress we keep private. But broadly, as you’ve heard me say before, last year marked an anniversary of our relationship with Bangladesh, and we look forward to deepening that relationship in a number of areas, whether it be addressing energy, climate, deepening economic ties.

That being said, we also will continue to push for the freedom of expression of religion and faiths of all people around the world.

QUESTION: The recent city corporation elections – the largest city corporation in Bangladesh, Gazipur – were held in festive manner and have been described as free, fair, and peaceful. The candidate from the ruling party narrowly lost the election, and the both candidate have expressed satisfaction with the election process and atmosphere. The government and the election commission observed their neutrality —

MR PATEL: Do you have a question here?

QUESTION: — on the fair election. However, the main opposition party, BNP, is claiming that the result is due to the recent announced U.S. visa policy. Would you comment on that, please?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speak or get into specific election results in another country. What I will just say is what you just heard me say to your colleague, is that we are committed to the promotion of democracy and free and fair elections around the world.

QUESTION: Vedant, is the department aware of any Americans who were killed or injured in the train crash in India?

MR PATEL: We are not at this time aware of any U.S. citizen injured or killed in the train crash in Odisha, India. We’re monitoring the situation closely and are in touch with local authorities. We strongly encourage U.S. citizens in India to continue to monitor local news, follow the emergency instructions provided by local authorities, and of course enrol in our Smart Traveller Program to receive any additional updates.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Vedant, I have a question on Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming state visit, to United States. What are the big takeaways that you’re expecting from the visit? Are there any agreements that will be signed? Because I believe Indian foreign secretary is in town currently to negotiate. What are the kind of areas that you’re focusing on and what are the big takeaways that you expect from the visit?

MR PATEL: So I’ve been doing this long enough to know to not get ahead of the President or the Secretary on this, so I’m going to let the state visit speak for itself. What I will just say is that we of course very much look forward to hosting Prime Minister Modi and the Indian Government for the state visit later this month. Our partnership with India is one of our most consequential and we look forward to continuing to deepen our collaboration on a number of issues, whether it be enhancing security cooperation, deepening our economic ties, deepening trade issues, and things of that sort. But I will let the visit speak for itself.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I could start with the Chinese warship that crossed in front of a U.S. destroyer in the Taiwan Strait this weekend. Has the State Department had any conversations with Chinese counterparts about this? And do you feel it’s a sign that China is more aggressively pushing back against the U.S. and its allies in the South China Sea and near Taiwan?

MR PATEL: So I will let our colleagues at the Pentagon speak more about this incident. But broadly, as you know, the United States for many years has routinely conducted operations in the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law. And in exercising the high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight, the United States upholds navigational rights and freedoms and will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

QUESTION: But do you feel this is any sort of sign of escalation from China?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to parse or try to read into this situation any further. What I will note is that we are looking to continue to have a predictable relationship with the PRC. President Biden has been clear. We don’t seek any kind of new cold war, and our competition must not spill over into conflict. And what the international community expects of the United States and the PRC is to manage this relationship responsibly, and that’s something that we continue to intend to do.

QUESTION: Staying on China.

MR PATEL: Jenny. Sure.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink having any more meetings while he’s in Beijing, and has the ball moved forward at all on a potential rescheduling of the Secretary’s trip?

MR PATEL: So firstly, I don’t have any updates on the Secretary’s trip, as we’ve previously said that we hope to have this visit rescheduled when conditions allow. I don’t have any additional information to share on Assistant Kritenbrink – Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink’s meetings beyond what we put out before I came out.

But if you’ll offer me, he and Senior Director Sarah Beran from the National Security Council had meetings with PRC officials on June 5th. The two sides had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between these two countries. The two sides exchanged views on a number of bilateral issues, including of course addressing climate, fentanyl precursors, human rights, wrongfully detained American citizens, and they also discussed cross-strait issues and continuing to maintain channels of communication and keeping them open. But I don’t have anything additional to share on these meetings.

QUESTION:  Today marks the 56th anniversary of the occupation of Israel, the West Bank, occupying all Palestinians. And on this ominous occasion, there is a report that came out that issued by the Défense for Children International that speaks really, I mean, of bad conditions for Palestinian children.

So my question to you is twofold. One, of course, we heard the Secretary speak today at AIPAC, and he talked about the two-state solution. He talked about opportunities of prosperity and safety and so on, security for Palestinians and Israeli alike and so on. And my question to you, when will this come to pass? I mean, do we have to wait another 56 years for the generations after 56 years to enjoy some of the stuff that the Secretary spoke about and for children – Palestinian children not to be tortured and maltreated?

MR PATEL: Said, first let me just say the President and the Secretary have been clear that we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live safely and securely. We also have been clear that both deserve to enjoy equal measures of freedom, justice, dignity, and prosperity.

It is our absolute goal and desire to see a negotiated two-state solution. It is what we continue to works towards. It’s what we continue to engage directly with – with both parties on. But it – also not entirely up to the United States, Said. And so while I certainly appreciate your question, we are not the only interlocuters here. And this is why that we have been so clear in our advocacy for this. And we’ve been clear about it with our Israeli partners, we’ve been clear about it with the Palestinian Authority, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Yeah. But you must admit that the United States of America is Israel’s biggest benefactor, correct? I mean, they protect them diplomatically, politically, militarily. All this wonderful equipment that Israel has and uses constantly against the Palestinians are all American made. So you have a lot of leverage. I mean, to say that you’re not the only one, really that’s sort of looking the other way   from the thrust of the question? Do you really n’t have that much leverage with Israel?

MR PATEL: That’s not what I said, Said. That’s not what I said. Our commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is ironclad. But we – that – and we want to see a two-state solution. That’s why we’ve been so clear about it. We’ve raised it directly with our Israeli partners and with the Palestinian Authority, and we’ll continue to do so. And when steps are taken that undercut that vision, we have been clear and vocal about that as well.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia has said it will make a deep cut to its output in July on top of a broader OPEC+ deal to limit supply. Do you have concerns about this announcement, especially as it comes ahead of Blinken’s trip?

MR PATEL: You’ve heard us say this before: We believe that supply should meet demand. And we’ll continue to work with all producers and consumers to ensure that energy markets support economic growth and lower prices for American families. That’s what we’re focusing on. And as you so note, prices have come down significantly since last year, and so we’re focused on that and we’re focusing on lowering prices for American families.

QUESTION: Vedant, could I ask a follow-up on Saudi Arabia a little bit – on the visit,



MR PATEL: Then I’ll come back to – yeah.

QUESTION:  The visit comes amid the many reports that point to increased executions in Saudi Arabia. Are you concerned about that issue? Is that an issue that the Secretary is likely to discuss with the Saudis?

MR PATEL: Said, not just with Saudi Arabia, but with other countries around the world, when we see human rights attacked, we raise those directly. I am sure that we will do so here. I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s trip or get ahead of specific engagements, but I have no doubt that this is something that we’ll continue to raise directly.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Speaking of Saudi Arabia, Iran is reopening its embassy in that country. Does the Biden administration look forward to it or see it as another channel of communication with the Islamic Republic of Iran? Could it facilitate anything?

MR PATEL: Look, Guita, we have – as a general matter, we’ve long encouraged direct dialogue and diplomacy, including between Iran and regional governments. An exchange of ambassadors would be an unsurprising step in the course of this dialogue. And we continue to hope that dialogue will contribute to the de-escalation of tensions, the contribution of some more regional stability, and will address other longstanding regional concerns.

QUESTION: Speaking of channels of communication, I’m sure you’ve seen the Financial Times report last week that Special Envoy Rob Malley has met with Iran’s UN ambassador several times on the U.S. dual nationals in prison in Iran. Can you confirm that? Can you tell us anything more?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to announce on this front, Guita. As you’ve heard me say previously, we have the means to communicate with Iran and deliver messages to them that are in America’s interest to do so. We’re not going to detail the contents of those messages or the means of those deliveries. I don’t have anything additional to add there.

QUESTION: I remember recently you’ve said you have the means to directly speak with Iran in this regard. Is that right?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to parse my comments any further.

QUESTION: Okay. One more, please.


QUESTION: There’s a group of Iranian opposition outside this building. They’ve been there since Saturday, staged a sit-in, and we understand that a State Department official has met with them. Can you tell us anything about what the State official – how seriously they’re going to take what they – what the group had to say?

MR PATEL: Well, I don’t – I don’t have any specific meetings to read out, Guita. But we always value the opportunity to hear what members of the community and what civil society representatives have to say about the situation in Iran. But I don’t have anything to preview or share beyond that.

QUESTION:  I have a question about NATO.


QUESTION: Imagine a country whose intelligence agency admits that a terrorist organization on your FTO list, of the United States, “provides significant financing for terrorism” in that country, unquote, and still, as of yesterday, their militants are showing off in the capital with flags and banners belonging to ISIS, and the leader – ex-leader that the United States killed, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Now, I’m sure that the United States wouldn’t argue that that country is fit to join a defense alliance today, now, as Blinken put it just a couple of days ago. So what’s the difference when it comes to Sweden and Turkish – or just NATO Ally, Turkish soldiers, respectively?

MR PATEL: Well, we have been very clear for some time now that we think that it’s time for Sweden to join NATO. We think that Sweden, as you’ve heard us say before, is an advanced democracy, but there is a deep partnership there. There’s a partnership among security collaboration. They already partner with NATO on a number of issues. And you – I would point you no further than the Secretary’s speech as to why the expansion of NATO by allowing the accession of Sweden to happen needs to happen immediately. Again, this is a collective Alliance decision, and each country will need to work through their respective processes. But I’m just not going to get ahead of it any further.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s no question about the fact that obviously expansion is needed, and the Turkish parliament has approved already the application of Finland. But do you not think it’s turned into something silly that over the past year there’s about like, what, a couple hundred terrorist militants or supporters, and this country has not – has done nothing to tackle this. Like, it’s embarrassing for the secretary general, because he was meeting on behalf of Sweden yesterday with the Turkish president, and just on the same day you have hundreds of terrorist supporters marching in the capital, uncontrolled.

MR PATEL: Well, we believe that there has been progress made in the agreements that were discussed on the margins of the Madrid Summit last year. And that’s why we continue to believe that Sweden should join NATO and should happen immediately. And as the Secretary said, the time is now.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: I have two questions on the Caucasus, but before that, what can you tell us about the latest on the ground in Ukraine? Is it your impression that the counter-offensive has begun?

MR PATEL: So Alex, I’m not going to, obviously, get into specific battlefield assessments from up here or speak on behalf of the Ukrainian Government. Candidly, though, I do believe that Russia is on its back foot in this war, and so I hope the Kremlin will re-evaluate their presence, cut its losses, and leave Ukrainian territory immediately.

QUESTION: — Ukraine has sanctioned Georgian Airways last week and its owners following its decision to fly to Russia. Is the department, State Department, planning to follow suit?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any actions or designations that the United States might take.

QUESTION: And have you been following the recent protests in Tbilisi? There’s a campaign launched by Georgian Dream’s government against protesters and its ongoing crackdown against independent voices in the country. How closely are you watching what’s going on in Georgia?

MR PATEL:  I’m sure you saw our embassy in Tbilisi spoke about this over the weekend, and I’ll reiterate what they said and say it again here – is that we are monitoring closely the cases of those who were arrested and detained on June 2nd while demonstrating peacefully in front of the parliament. The rights to peacefully assemble and the freedom of expression are core human rights and fundamental to democracy. And a lack of tolerance for dissent is inconsistent with the values of the Euro-Atlantic family of nations, which the majority of people of Georgia wish to join. And so I don’t have anything additional to add beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you. And final, Armenia-Azerbaijan. We were told that the Secretary is planning to invite ministers to town next week. There’s another – another negotiation going on that will be happening in this town. Can you give us more details?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific dates to speak to, Alex, or offer a look ahead into the Secretary’s schedule. But yes, we look forward to hosting another round of talks in Washington later this month as the parties continue to pursue a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. As you’ve heard me say before, direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a durable and dignified peace. The U.S. is pleased that talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan are proceeding in different venues, including the recent meeting of leaders as well. But I don’t have anything else to offer on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: About the explosion of Beirut, at the port.

MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: What kind of measures this administration has taken to see the truth come into the light? We don’t see any pressure. This is the – it was the explosion of the century. You all saw it on TV, how big it is.


QUESTION: And there’s no measures taken from this administration. Why so?

MR PATEL: We have continuously called for the investigation into that very unfortunate and tragic incident.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL: And we stand ready to – essentially, we’ve called on an investigation to take place. I don’t have anything additional to   offer on that.

QUESTION:  On Iraq. It’s been four months that the KRG oil export into the international market has been stopped, which they supplied nearly half a million barrels per day to the global market. At the beginning of this stoppage, you were engaged with Türkiye and also with Iraq to resume this oil exporting. After this so long time stoppage, do you still have discussion with Türkiye and also Iraq to break this KRG oil exporting stoppage?

MR PATEL: We continue to support the resumed operations of the Iraq-Türkiye pipeline. And we have engaged on this issue with urgency with Baghdad, with Erbil, and Ankara. And I don’t have anything additional to share on this process, and we’ll ultimately let the governments of Iraq and Türkiye speak to the latest here.

QUESTION: And last question.


QUESTION: Yeah. There is a dispute between Erbil and Baghdad on the draft budget law. And there were some KRG officials say that we are not committing – committed to that, changes that made by the financial committee to articles of the law that pertain to the Kurdistan region. Then do you have any engagement with both Erbil and Baghdad to settle this dispute between them? Because we know that there are some people in Kurdistan region that say that Iraq, which the current government is backed by some groups that are aligned with Iran, they try to destroy this federalism that, I mean, existed in Iraq since 2003.

MR PATEL: Yeah. So we’ve discussed the critical importance of the budget and are in constant dialogue with our Iraqi partners. The U.S. supports the goals and the efforts of the Iraqis who want to build a strong and stable Iraq, including its Kurdistan region, and doing so in a way that attracts investment from the United States and the international community. But Iraq has a vibrant parliament, and it is for Iraqis to determine the direction of their political processes and sort out any specific budget disputes.

Dylan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. There have been a couple instances the past several weeks of foreign leaders weighing in on American domestic elections. German Chancellor Scholz, for instance, essentially endorsed President Biden’s re-election campaign. Mexican President AMLO implored Hispanics in Florida not to vote for Ron DeSantis. The Mexican foreign minister actually has a trip planned later this month where he is potentially going – people think he’s going to speak negatively about DeSantis and his immigration policy. This administration’s done a lot to curtail foreign election interference and influence. Are these kind of comments from foreign leaders endorsing or going against certain candidates something you would consider to fall under that category?

MR PATEL: I would not. This – these are foreign leaders expressing their own views about their bilateral relationship with the United States, and I will let their spokespeople clarify and add any context to their comments that you seek. But yes, this department – and along with the interagency – has continued to do immense work to counter foreign influence in our democracies, whether it be – and in democracies happening around the world. So —

QUESTION: You obviously in this department typically don’t make statements like that. You just broadly support democracy and fair elections and things of that sort when you’re commenting on foreign elections. That’s obviously very different than what these leaders are doing. Do you take any issue with it at all? Do you prefer that they wouldn’t make endorsements of candidates and things like that, or do you just not really have a preference?

MR PATEL: I, again, will let these governments speak and clarify their own comments. What we have been very clear about in the United States when elections have taken place in countries around the world, including in countries that are our allies and partners, is that we do not seek to support or choose a particular candidate or political party over another, and we can – will look forward to deepening our relationship with whichever country that might be.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is about arms control. So last Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. is seeking dialogue with both Russia and China on nuclear arms without preconditions, but Russia suspended participation in the New START Treaty and China seems unwilling to engage in such discussions. So how does the U.S. make Russia and China go to the negotiating table?

MR PATEL: So the United States is ready to engage with Russia and China on implementation of existing agreements and on how to advance arms control and risk reduction, both bilaterally and in appropriate multilateral fora. We continue to abide by New START’s central limits and to fulfill all of its New START obligations that are not addressed through U.S. countermeasures.

Jenny, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Chairman McCaul just put out a statement saying the department has allowed all members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to view the dissent cable or you will allow that. Can you confirm that and do you have —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer on the process. What I will note is that we continue to engage with the committee directly, and I’m sure we’ll have further updates as this progresses. But as a reminder, we have at this point already provided a written summary of the dissent channel cable as well as dissent coming out of Embassy Kabul. We have offered a classified briefing on the contents of the cable. We have allowed Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Meeks to come view the document as well. And we believe that all of these steps sufficiently meet what the committee is looking for, but we’ll   circle back if we have any other updates.

All right. Thanks everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:03 p.m.)