US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – April 25, 2023

16 Min
State Dept Presser – April 25, 2023

The U S State Department held a press briefing on Apr 25, 2023 with Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson fielding questions on a wide range of issues from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Sudan and South Africa to China and North Korea besides the Ukraine war.

Some Excerpts. The Q-A on Afghanistan and Pakistan is tweaked to appear upfront.

1:35 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL:  I have three very brief things, and then we will dive right into your questions. Yesterday, the United States took further action, concurrently with the UK and the EU, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses. We imposed sanctions on four key commanders in Iran’s IRGC and law enforcement forces. These individuals were linked to units implicated in some of the worst human rights abuses during the violent crackdown on protests last year. We also designated Seyyed Mohammad Amin Aghamiri, the Secretary of the Supreme Council for Cyberspace. Additionally, we imposed visa restrictions against 11 Iranian Government officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses.

This is the eleventh round of U.S. sanctions actions targeting the Iranian regime and its security elements officials involved in the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, since the nationwide protests began in September 2022. We, along with our partners and allies, remain committed to holding the Iranian regime accountable for its human rights abuses and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters.

Some updates on Sudan, from over the weekend. I know many of you joined our call on Saturday night, but to reiterate, following the successful evacuation of our Embassy Khartoum personnel, we are working on two urgent lines of effort related to the crisis in Sudan. The first is to assist U.S. citizens in Sudan and to coordinate with our allies and partners on efforts to secure their personnel. We are in close communication with U.S. citizens and individuals affiliated with the U.S. Government to provide information on all available departure routes for those seeking to depart safely. We are providing the best possible advice we can about conditions, safety, and security so that they can make their own decisions with the most information possible. We also continue to coordinate with allies and partners who are conducting their own operations and work to include our citizens in those efforts.

The second line of effort is pressing for the SAF and the RSF to implement and fully uphold a ceasefire and allow unhindered humanitarian access. Following intense diplomatic efforts, the SAF and the RSF agreed to implement a nationwide 72 ceasefire – 72-hour ceasefire – starting at midnight yesterday. To move beyond temporary ceasefire commitments and achieve a more durable end to the fighting. We are coordinating with regional and international partners and Sudanese civilian stakeholders to assist in the creation of a committee to oversee the negotiation, conclusion, and implementation of a permanent cessation of hostilities and humanitarian arrangements in Sudan.

QUESTION:  A gathering of Afghan leaders in Vienna is discussing the roadmap for opposing the Taliban. What’s your take on it, and does the U.S. support any opposition to the Taliban?

And second, do you intend to convene a conference on dealing with the Taliban on May 1st in Doha? Their recognition might be a topic. Will Thomas West also attend, and what will be his stance?

And last one. What’s your response to Russian statement blaming the U.S. for leaving weapons in Afghanistan and the concern that militant groups may use those for destabilizing the region?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, I’m not aware of any forthcoming travel, or don’t have any travel to announce.

On the topic of these two conferences, I believe I spoke to them late last week. And what I would say is that any kind of recognition of the Taliban is completely off the table. It is not supposed to be the purpose of either of these engagements.

Number three, your comment about weapons left in Afghanistan – Admiral Kirby and the Department of Défense has – have spoken a great deal about this, so I would point you back to their previous comments. I don’t have anything different to offer on that.

QUESTION:  So, as you mentioned last week that the recognition of Taliban is not on the table, then what is the next step for the United States? So, is that going to keep it as it is right now under Taliban’s control as a de facto government? Or what is the next plan for the Biden administration?

And the second part of my question is that lately The Washington Post reported that ISIS is planning to attack the United States’ interests from Afghanistan. It was based on the documents that were leaked. So, what is the United States plan to prevent another terrorist attacks from Afghanistan?

MR PATEL: Let me a say a couple things. First on your second point, the degradation of ISIS in the region continues to be a top priority for this administration and it’s something that we continue to work collectively on with our allies and partners and others in the region.

To your first question, our commitment to the people of Afghanistan endures. We have been incredibly clear about that. The United States continues to be the single largest humanitarian donor to the people of Afghanistan, and we have ways to do that and NGOs and experts that we work through to ensure that that funding does not find its way to the Taliban.

On the Taliban broadly, we have been very clear, and we take issue with a number of their recent – not recent, a number of their continued human rights abuses, especially abuses towards women and girls. And that continues to be one of the key roadblocks to their own self-proclaimed desire for international recognition.

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. So, the UN said that if Taliban don’t allow women to work, women who worked for the UN in Afghanistan, they may pull out from Afghanistan next month. So – and then what’s next for you, for the Biden administration?

MR PATEL: I will let the UN speak to specifically their own protocols and steps that they’re going to take place, but we of course would broadly agree with this notion that when you are barring half of your population from participating in society, from participating in the economy, that is most certainly going to be a unbreakable roadblock towards, I think, prosperity and advancement for the Afghani people.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, Chairman McCaul just asked that the State Department declassify the after-action report on Afghanistan or release it publicly. Is this something that’s under consideration?

MR PATEL: There are no plans to do that at the moment. We have, through the AAR – and Admiral Kirby spoke about this, a number of weeks ago – communicated these reports to Congress through appropriate mechanisms. You also saw the White House put out a summary document as well. And so, we continue to be deeply engaged with Congress as it relates to legitimate oversight functions on Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Vedant. Just a couple of related questions. One of them is that Pakistan just recently purchased its first oil from Russia. Your reaction to that?

And second, now when we see that this whole war thing is not producing any good results, don’t you think the U.S. should also adopt a different strategy?

MR PATEL: A different strategy on Russia and Ukraine?

QUESTION: With regard to Ukraine. Yeah, yes, Russia and Ukraine.

MR PATEL: And what would that different strategy be?

QUESTION: Like a peace strategy?

MR PATEL: Got it. So, I think an important thing to remember here – and I spoke about this a little bit last week – is that there is one country here trying to erase the borders of another. That is Russia. Russia is unlawfully, unjustly aggressing against Ukraine, against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And so, what the United States is going to do is continue to support our Ukrainian partners through humanitarian assistance, through security assistance, through energy assistance – and we’re going to continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable through the ways that we have done – through sanctions, through export controls.

On the purchase – Pakistan’s purchase of Russian energy – look, each country is going to make its own sovereign decisions as it relates to its energy supply. One of the reasons that the United States, through the G7, has been a big proponent of the price cap is to ensure that steps are not being taken to keep Russian energy off the market because we understand that there is a demand for supply. But we also need to take steps to ensure that Russians – Russian energy markets are not turning out to be a windfall for Putin’s war machine. And so, again, countries will make their own sovereign decisions. We have never tried to keep Russian energy off the market.

QUESTION: One more, please.


QUESTION: Just like my colleague earlier mentioned about the weapons that were left in Afghanistan, so one of the U.S.-funded radio station, Radio Free Europe, had a couple of weeks ago reported that a lot of that weapon has landed in the TTP hands. When I asked Mr. Kirby, he says that that’s not the – that’s not the reality and a lot of weapons was wasted and – or made not to be used. So, Mr. Kirby version – that U.S.-funded radio version is not correct, right?

MR PATEL: That is correct. As the Department of defence and Admiral Kirby, when he was there, have spoken a great deal about is that any assets or weaponry that were left in Afghanistan were no longer usable. So, this is something this administration has spoken to a number of times before.

QUESTION: You mentioned in your opening, you’re working with – or talking to U.S. citizens in Sudan and quote/unquote “individuals affiliated with the U.S. Government.” What exactly is an individual affiliated with the U.S. Government?

MR PATEL: That’s correct. It could be locally employed staff. It could be U.S. Government officials that may not necessarily – or U.S. Government-affiliated individuals that don’t fall into the Chief of Mission cone for our security responsibilities. But I don’t have the specifics to get into…


QUESTION: Could I ask about the ceasefire itself?


QUESTION: The 72-hour ceasefire – do you believe that it’s holding?  

MR PATEL: It’s our hope that this ceasefire not just be durable, but it be adhered to and that it be extended. We think that a ceasefire is really important to not just to be representative of the will of the Sudanese people, but for allowing the access of humanitarian aid and for the appropriate next steps to take place for us to get this from a ceasefire to a specific cessation of hostilities between these two generals.

QUESTION: You say you hope that that’s the case, or you hope that the ceasefire is durable. Is it your indication or the State Department’s indication that the ceasefire is actually holding?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to offer specific assessments from the ground, Shaun. But we continue to be deeply engaged on this, from the Secretary, from Assistant Secretary Molly Phee, of course Ambassador Godfrey. We continue to be directly engaged with the parties on the ground as well as other Sudanese stakeholders as well.


QUESTION: Vedant, just to push you a little bit more on that, how does the U.S. envision the path from this shaky ceasefire to a permanent cessation of hostilities? Who’s going to do what? How is that going to be achieved? What are you guys going to tell these two generals differently that they’re going to agree to?

MR PATEL: Well, look, Humeyra, I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic conversations. But we remain in close contact with Sudan’s military and civilian leaders. And what we want to do, through the Secretary and through others’ engagements on this, is help them identify a path; a path to reach a sustainable cessation of hostilities that, of course, includes humanitarian arrangements and is an extension and a step forward from the ceasefire that was agreed to out of respect for Eid this past weekend.

QUESTION: And just to look back a little bit because there has been a lot of criticism on social media about how the Western powers did not see this coming – I don’t know if you’ve seen some of that criticism. There was one that was very striking, and I want to read a little bit. Quote, “You put us in this mess. Now you’re swooping in to take your kinfolk, leaving us behind to these two murdering psychopaths.” I mean, is the U.S. doing any reflection on the past process, on what went wrong, and drawing some lessons for the future? What can be done differently? There’s criticism that Western powers were not perhaps tough enough with the generals. Do you accept that?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Humeyra. First, that over this past weekend – from communications that you’ve seen from the Secretary and others – we have been quite clear in saying that the Sudanese people are not giving up and neither are we. And one of the key tenets of that is that this suspension of operations is temporary, and our commitment to the people of Sudan and our commitment of getting a ceasefire extended in hopes that it turns into a cessation of hostilities, in hopes that we can get back to a transitional government, those desires endure. And we’re going to continue to work those lines of efforts unhindered.

Specifically on the security situation, Humeyra, we have also been very clear that the situation in Sudan has been delicate for quite some time, and it has been a very fluid and fraught security situation. It’s been since August 2021 that Sudan was deemed a Level 4, Do Not Travel, country. And so, we have not been naïve about the challenges that exist within the country, as it relates to our own goals but also the goals of the Sudanese people as well.

QUESTION: Should we expect a little bit more, tougher stance from U.S. towards the generals? There’s an expectation – not an expectation, but some people are suggesting that U.S. should have sanctioned them and all that. How – are you guys accommodating or entertaining any —

MR PATEL: I’m certainly – you know just as well as everyone else here, I’m not going to preview sanctions or get ahead of actions from behind this podium. But we, of course, are looking at this from all angles. And looking at ways that we can continue to support the Sudanese people, and take active steps that gets us to a ceasefire that is extended, adhered to, and eventually towards a cessation of hostilities as well.

Yeah, Jenny.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do the number “some dozens” still stand from yesterday that the Secretary referenced in terms of Americans reaching out to try to get out of Sudan?

MR PATEL: Jenny, I’m just not going to get into specific numbers, as the situation is quite fluid. And as you know, we’ve talked about this before, that we don’t ask American citizens to register when they travel to any country, when they arrive in a country, when they’re residing in a country, or when they depart. What I can say is that we continue to remain in close touch with American citizens. That continues to be the case, offering them best practices on security precautions, on other measures that they can take, and ways that they might be able to safely depart the country as well.

QUESTION: Can you just explain why the U.S. thinks that this ceasefire has a greater chance of becoming permanent? And, also, just kind of give us any more detail on the composition of this committee that is envisioned to work toward making it a more durable cessation of hostilities?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific makeup to offer, but I would suspect that a number of officials who have been engaged in this issue for the past many weeks will continue to be engaged, people like Assistant Secretary Molly Phee and others. We’ll see if we’ve got some more updates on that over the course of the week, but I don’t have anything to offer right now.

I’m, again, not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements that we’ve had with the two generals. But, at every instance, we have been clear to them that they have two responsibilities here: a responsibility to stop the violence; a responsibility to the – to ensure that our diplomatic personnel as well as the diplomatic personnel of our allies and partners, of the UN, of humanitarian workers, of civilians and others, do not fall to harm over the course of this process.

QUESTION: On Wagner, can you   say anything about its activities? And Foreign Minister Lavrov consider it a private company; and said it can function in Sudan if they want.

MR PATEL: Well, I would say two things. Any entity that is taking actions in Sudan that is going to contribute to further destabilization, contribute to further violence, that’s something that the United States would certainly not welcome. I don’t have any assessment to offer on the group’s role in Sudan, but what I will say broadly is that – and you’ve heard me say this before – that on the Wagner Group: When we see them engage in any country, we find that country end up being more vulnerable, more prone to destabilization, more prone to threats. And so, we are working collectively with our allies and partners to curb the influence of the Wagner Group, of course on the African continent but elsewhere as well.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Given what you just said about Wagner, is it your assessment that Wagner Group might actually benefit from this crisis?  

MR PATEL: That’s a very speculative question, Alex. I’m just not going to engage on that.


QUESTION: Is there any concern that once the foreigners are out that Sudan’s warring parties will act with even less restraint; that this conflict could turn more deadly once diplomats aren’t at risk of being caught in the crossfire?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate or hypothesize on that, Elizabeth. That is – what I will say is that we are – continue to be deeply engaged on the cessation of hostilities and ensuring that this ceasefire is extended and adhered to. That’s what continues to be our focus because that’s what we’d like to see happen.

Go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: Two questions. Russia requested volunteer army support from North Korea for the war in Ukraine, and they announced that Russia provide advanced missiles and fighters to North Korea. As you know, Russia says it will retaliate if South Korea provide arms to Ukraine. What do you think of the give and take between North Korea and Russia?

MR PATEL: So, Janne, I have not seen that specific report – but if you’ll let me take a little bit of a step back to widen aperture, we have not parsed our words on the deep concern we have about the closening of relations between Russia and the DPRK, especially in the context of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. We have talked openly before about the DPRK’s provision of ammunition, and so this is something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to, specifically the DPRK’s provision of lethal aid. But I don’t have anything on the specific reports, but it’s quite concerning the closeness that these two entities continue to have.

QUESTION: Do you think South Korea should participate in the U.S.’s semiconductor containment against China?

MR PATEL: Can you expand on that, Janne? Are you referring to something specific?

QUESTION: Yeah, because yesterday I think United States more containment against China to semiconductors (inaudible) actually start.

MR PATEL: Got it. So let me say a couple things. First, this is ultimately a decision for the Republic of Korea to make, but this administration and the administration of President Yoon have together made historic progress in deepening our relationship. We have an immense cooperation on national security, on trade, on addressing issues like climate change, and this of course includes efforts to coordinate on the semiconductor sector as well. So, we expect the state visit, which is set to begin on Wednesday, to deepen these very important conversations as well.


QUESTION: Yeah.  U.S. ambassador to China, Ambassador Burns, tweeted today that he presented his credentials to PRC President Xi Jinping. What is the reason that he presented credentials more than one year after he issued office?

MR PATEL: Nike, that’s a question for the Chinese MFA. I will let them speak to their schedule on how they have their diplomats present credentials.

 QUESTION: Can you please remind us, what is the protocol of a U.S. ambassador? Does he or she usually present or request to present such credential upon arrival?

MR PATEL: My understanding is that the presentation of credentials and the provision of those is likely determined by the host country, but I am happy, Nike, to see if we’ve got a specific on how exactly that happens.

QUESTION: Is that fair to say it’s a retaliation from the PRC to see him one year – more than one year?

MR PATEL: I don’t think so, because he’s been in the country. I mean, I’m not going to speculate, but Ambassador Burns has been in the country doing important work for quite some time now. So again, on the sequencing and the scheduling, I will let the MFA speak to that. But if we have specific guidance on how – in a standard sense, we go about this, I’m happy to check on that as well.

QUESTION: On Russia, any comments on the reports that Iran is shipping ammunitions to Russia?

MR PATEL: This is – the Russian Federation’s deepening of relations with the Iranian regime also continues to be something that is deeply concerning to us and something that we are continuing to place – pay close attention to. I’ve seen those reports that the Russian Federation is continuing to seek lethal aid from Iran. This is not the first time that we’ve seen this happen. Over the course of this conflict, we have seen the Russian Federation unleash Iranian-made drones on Kyiv, targeting critical civilian and energy infrastructure. So, it’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor and pay close attention to as well as take action on in conjunction with our allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: The report – Wall Street Journal’s report explicitly suggests that Iran has been resupplying Putin’s army in Ukraine through the Caspian Sea. Is there anything the U.S. Government can do to prevent this from happening in the future?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into such specific operational updates or actions from here. But look, what I will say is that, Alex, you needn’t look further than the work that we’ve done through this department in conjunction with Treasury and other cabinet agencies that are involved in holding the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ll continue to do so and take action as appropriate.

QUESTION: Can I also ask about the South Caucasus, please? A quick question.

MR PATEL: I’m going to – he’s had his hand up. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Please come back to me. Yeah.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Russia.


QUESTION: John Kirby said yesterday that Russian state-owned media outlets are propaganda organs, and that’s why they didn’t get visas for the UN session. Is it a new administration policy with respect to Russian journalists? Or does it mean that Russian state-owned media will not be issued visas in the future?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, as you know, the United States is the host nation for the United Nations, and we take seriously its obligations as a host country of the UN, under the UN Headquarters Agreement. I will note that in relation to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to the UN for Russia’s presidency, the United States issued nearly 100 visas for Russian nationals, including for a number of journalists.

But yeah, while we’re on the subject, when we talk about the ability of journalists to do their work, it is worth pointing out that Russia’s ongoing repression of independent media and freedom of the press has led to an exodus, and not only of foreign journalists, but also Russian journalists as well.


QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. South Caucasus – the statement that you guys have put out on Sunday suggests that the high-level negotiations that senior administration officials have been conducting in Baku and Yerevan throughout last week didn’t pan out. Was that the case?

MR PATEL: Alex, you know first-hand that this issue in the South Caucasus is something that the Secretary himself deeply values and places a lot of importance on. And as you saw us say over the weekend, the department is deeply concerned about the establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor. Frankly, Alex, it undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process, and we are of the viewpoint that there should be free and open movement of people and commerce on the Lachin corridor. But Senior Advisor Bono, Assistant Secretary Hogan, the Secretary – we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on this.

QUESTION: But department see this coming? Because you guys were in the midst of negotiation on the ground.

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into specifics of diplomatic assessments on the ground or the specifics of the conversations that we’ve had.


QUESTION: Briefly, do you have anything to say about South Africa saying it’s going to withdraw from the International Criminal Court at The Hague (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: That is a question for our South African partners. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Okay. We’ll go to Janne, and then I think I have to wrap. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just quick question. Do you think North Korea’s launch of military reconnaissance satellite is imminent?

MR PATEL: North Korean what? Pardon me?

QUESTION: Military reconnaissance satellite is —

MR PATEL: So, I have no assessments to offer from up here, Janne. But we know that the DPRK takes part in a number of malign and destabilizing activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific region but in the – across the world broadly, and that’s something that we, in conjunction with our allies and partners, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea, are going to work in a trilateral, coordinated effort to continue to undermine. Our commitment and our goal here continues to be the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We hope to engage with Pyongyang in dialogue without preconditions to reach this goal, but they have yet to engage in good faith.


MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)