US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser, June 28, 2023 

15 Min
State Dept Presser, June 28, 2023 

The US State Dept held a press briefing on June 28, 2023 with Principal Dy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielding questions on a wide range of issues.  The Q-A on India are tweaked to appear upfront.

QUESTION: Two question on U.S.-India relations. First, as far as Prime Minister Modi’s visit last week. Where do we go from here now?

MR PATEL: Well, this isn’t an – and I spoke a little bit about this prior to the prime minister’s arrival. This is not about just a moment in time. What this is about is steps and efforts to deepen, strengthen – deepen and strengthen our relationship and our partnership with India. And we believe that last week’s visit was very successful. There were a number of announcements made between our two countries, including steps to strengthen semiconductor supply chains. You also saw the President and the prime minister and our two countries speak about engine coproduction as well as university research partnerships. Much of this was laid out in the joint statement.

So this is not about where we go from here. The answer to that is quite simple: We will continue to work closely with our partners in India to continue to deepen, strengthen this very important bilateral relationship.

QUESTION: Part two – thank you, sir – as far as President Obama’s comments on India are concerned, does Secretary knows about his comments or any comments from the Secretary?

MR PATEL: … what I will say on behalf of the Secretary and the department, again, is that – what you just heard me say is that the state visit was a very successful state visit last week. It was an important opportunity to continue to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relationship with India. The two countries made a number of announcements, but as it relates to former President Obama’s comments, I just don’t have anything for you on that from here and would just refer you to his office for anything additional on that.

QUESTION: I’d like to quickly just – where are we as far as U.S.-India relations – I mean as far as human rights in India are concerned or minorities issues in India?

MR PATEL: Well, you heard Matt speak about this just yesterday. As it relates to human rights, as Secretary Blinken has said it before, for the United States, human rights are always on the agenda. And as it relates to our engagements with senior officials from any government, we continue to engage directly on the issues of human rights, and this is also something that you saw President Biden speak to directly in the press conference that he had during the state visit as well.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Vedant Patel. For – I have two (inaudible) part of discussion. First part about Prime Minister Modi. When visited last week, when   the prime minister and President Biden were speaking in front of media, about one particular thing: cross-border extremism; they  agreed they will work together to stop in India cross-border extremism. I just wanted to give you some information about when Khaleda Zia was in power in Bangladesh, there was 10 trucks, military-grade; arms was about to smuggle using Bangladeshi port to the Seven Sister in ULFA. And yeah, do you think that President and prime minister was talking about such a cross-border extremism? Yeah, they are – they will help each other to not to return such a regime to Bangladesh again? This is part one.

And second thing: Do you do any fact-check if somebody ask any question? For example, yesterday about St. Martin Island that was mentioned that Bangladeshi prime minister was talking about USA.


QUESTION: But as I seen that there was – from Bangladeshi prime minister there was never talking about USA. Any fact-check there from —

MR PATEL: So, let me take the first part. I certainly don’t want to speak for Prime Minister Modi, but as it relates to the United States, of course when we’re talking about these issues, we’re looking at it through the lens of a broader security cooperation with the Republic of India, which, of course, this state visit was an opportunity to enhance and deepen our partnership on a number of these issues. I’m certainly not going to get into specifics or get technical on the various issues of security cooperation, but of course we look forward to deepening those with our Indian partners.

And on your second question, I just don’t have anything for you.

QUESTION:  I wonder if you have any up-to-date information following the weekend’s events in Russia. Particularly interested if the U.S. is tracking changes to the status of the Wagner Group.  What is your view of what’s going to be replacing Wagner’s presence in some countries, particularly African countries where they’re operating?

MR PATEL:  We continue to monitor the situation and will continue to be in close coordination with our allies and partners. As we’ve said before, this is an internal Russian matter, and it’s too soon to know the impacts, both for the immediate region, but to your other question about potential impacts in other parts of the world. The one thing I will just make clear is that our support for Ukraine will continue. That’s a point that President Biden made directly with President Zelenskyy over the weekend and in his conversations with our allies and partners. And as you all know, yesterday we did announce a new package for Ukraine as well.

QUESTION: Would you agree with the Polish president that the presence of Wagner in Belarus poses a threat to the neighbouring countries – Poland, the Baltics?

MR PATEL:  I’m of course not going to speculate on any forthcoming actions or things that could happen internally, but would just again reiterate that the Wagner Group has a very clear track record. There’s a reason that they and Mr. Prigozhin are designated entities and why the U.S. takes – will continue to take steps to hold them and affiliated individuals accountable for their destabilizing activities.

QUESTION: You have designated Wagner Group as a global criminal organization. As you know, we are just days before – ahead of Russian Government’s intention to integrate them into Russian military. Do you have any red line there? I mean, a criminal – members of a criminal organization will officially serve in the Russian military.

MR PATEL: I don’t have a new designation to preview. You’ve heard us talk about the Wagner Group and our designation of them as a transnational crime organization. I’ve spoken about this before. Our assessment continues to be that these – this is a group that is – continues to be motivated by profit, which is one of the many factors that go into a transnational crime organization designation.

QUESTION: Then a final question on Ukraine. A Kramatorsk strike today. Do you have any readout on that? I know that we have been talking about particular strikes from time to time, but this is a strike on a pizza restaurant, and this has been done by the Russian army using Iskander, according to the Ukrainian side, Iskander missiles, which means they have deliberately targeted that particular civilian area and that object. Do you have any —

MR PATEL: Well, Alex, the U.S. unequivocally condemns the targeting of civilians and offers our sincere condolences to those lost in this most recent strike in the city center. We are appalled by this but, unfortunately, not surprised by Russia’s conduct. This is another example of Russia’s continuing escalation and the sheer brutality of its war of aggression in Ukraine.

QUESTION:  The members of the House national defence committee visit to Taiwan yesterday. It is part of implementing the National Defence Authorization Act passed by Congress. China is offended again. How can you comment on this?

MR PATEL: Well, I will let these respective member offices speak to their own travels. But what I will just say broadly, though, is that members of Congress have traveled to Taiwan before. There has been historical precedent. And again, as you’ve seen us speak about this in previous iterations, this is no reason to incite tensions or to change the status quo. That’s certainly not what the United States is seeking. But again, this is not Executive Branch travel and I will let these congressional member offices speak to their own engagements.

 QUESTION: Yeah, on Sudan. A couple weeks ago, a State Department official has said that the department is preparing or was preparing recommendations for the administration regarding the next steps in Sudan. Is there any update in this regard?

MR PATEL: We’ll continue considering all the tools at our disposal to stop the tragic, senseless, and devastating conflict that started and continues to be perpetuated by the SAF and the RSF, and we’ll continue to work with our partners to ensure that this is a coordinated and sustained process with direct pressure. I don’t have any updates on any forthcoming designations or actions, but we’ll continue to work through those processes and remain in close touch with our allies and partners as well.

QUESTION: And two more, one on Syria. Any updates on the talks with the Syrian regime in Oman?

MR PATEL: So broadly speaking, we are engaging extensively to try and get Austin Tice home. We have pursued every channel we can to seek his safe return to his family, and we’ll continue to do so. This includes discussing the case with a number of countries in the region, and we’ll continue to work at this until we see a safe return to the United States. As President Biden has said before and as has the Secretary, we are not ceasing our efforts to find Austin Tice and bring him home.

QUESTION: Some people say that the talks include political and other topics too, not only Austin Tice.

MR PATEL: As  you’ve heard me directly say before, the U.S. is willing to engage with anyone who can help secure progress toward the release of U.S. nationals. In order to protect these various avenues, I’m not going to get into specifics of diplomatic discussions. But we are willing to talk to whomever necessary to accomplish that goal, and that certainly does not signal a broader change in our relationship. And you’ve heard me speak about our vision and our viewpoint on the conflict in Syria and what we view as an appropriate resolution, and that is one of course – one that is consistent with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

QUESTION: Any update on the talks with Iran in Oman too? Are you still talking to them about the nuclear deal, about the prisoners and other things?

MR PATEL: What I will say is that broadly we continue to remain in close touch with allies and partners, including in the region, about the various areas of concern that we have with Iran. I will note that rumours about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading. And we’ll continue to remain focused on constraining Iran’s destabilizing behaviour through diplomatic pressure, close coordination with our allies and partners, and de-escalation steps in the region as well.

We also, on detainees, continue to work to bring home the American citizens that are wrongfully detained in Iran. I unfortunately don’t have an update for you, but it’s something that we will continue to work for tirelessly. Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens, including for the use of political leverage, is absolutely outrageous, and we’ll continue to be committed to securing the freedom of all U.S. citizens.

QUESTION: According to Haaretz, both the former secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and former UNHCR Mary Robinson, who was also the former president of Ireland, concluded their visits last week to both Israel and the West Bank, and they have concluded that Israel is drifting into apartheid, that the government is driving Jewish supremacy. So I wonder if you are aware of these reports or if you have seen them and if you have any comment on this. Do you agree with their assessment?

MR PATEL:  I will let the representatives from the UN speak to and clarify their own comments, but I will reiterate that that is not a term that we have used to describe Israel’s actions. And broadly, we continue to work towards a negotiated two-state solution along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. The international community has also worked tirelessly toward this goal, and the United States along with our international partners are going to continue to pursue this. We continue to believe that it’s important to advance equal measures of justice, of freedom, of dignity, and those are important means to advance a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: One other issue. Today the – Secretary Blinken said that the continuing violence hinders any efforts to sort of normalize between Saudi Arabia and Israel, or efforts at normalizing between – and he’s citing the violence that is happening. He cited of course settlements, the violence, the sectoral violence and so on. But then you know we are looking at four months after the attack on Huwara, the village, fourth months ago and so on, and nothing really has happened. No one has been prosecuted.

So other than expressing these sentiments, I mean, it’s the same old question. So what can the U.S. do to make sure that those perpetrators are brought to justice?

MR PATEL: Said, the Secretary and this department have been unambiguous on this issue. The United States continues to be deeply concerned by the rising trend of extremist settler violence. We unequivocally condemn all acts of extremist violence, whether it be by Israelis or Palestinians.

To your question though, accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence. In the case of Huwara, we welcome the IDF’s condemnation of these acts and expect the Israeli Government to ensure full accountability for those responsible for those attacks, including legal action and restitution of lost homes and properties as they deem appropriate. And we regularly raise this issue broadly with our Israeli counterparts.

Israeli security officials themselves have characterized this violence as national terrorism. We very much welcome steps that are being taken, Said, including the June 25th joint statement by top Israeli security officials condemning extremist settler violence against Palestinian citizens. And we equally welcome similar statements made by Defence Minister Gallant yesterday, including his commitment to hold perpetrators accountable under the law.

QUESTION: Yeah, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he’s been invited to China. I wonder sort of in the context of that and the visit by the Palestinian Authority president as well to China, do you see China playing – potentially playing a role in securing peace in the Middle East?

MR PATEL: So, Simon, to take a step back, as Secretary Blinken and others in this department have said, countries can have a relationship with the PRC just as we do. And we expect the Netanyahu government and the prime minister to raise issues of their interest and of mutual concern on a potential visit to Beijing. I of course will let them speak to any of their own forthcoming travel.

What I will say though is that – what I can speak about is the United States. And the United States is going to continue to remain deeply engaged in the region, both as it relates to continuing to pursue and advocate and push for and work with the parties directly as it relates to a negotiated two-state solution, but also in – when it comes to regional integration and normalization as well. That continues to not only be a priority for this administration but also a direct priority for the Government of Israel and the government of – governments of many of our regional partners also.

QUESTION: And there’s still no invite for the prime minister to come here?

MR PATEL: So, the White House has spoken to any potential invites for Prime Minister Netanyahu. I certainly wouldn’t speak to any updates on that from here and don’t have any to share, and so would just refer you to them to speak to any forthcoming visits. What I can say though is that we engage and talk with our Israeli counterparts and our Israeli partners directly. You just saw the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Cohen. Assistant Secretary Leaf was recently in the region directly engaging with our Israeli partners. Ambassador Nides also continues to talk to his counterparts. We talk to the members of the Israeli mission here in D.C. as well as throughout the United States. We continue to engage on these issues directly.

QUESTION: It wouldn’t be concerning to you if like your – your major ally in the region, prime minister of your major ally in the region, went to China before coming here?

MR PATEL: I think it’s important to not get caught up in things like sequencing and choreographics like that, and it’s more important to stay focus on the substance of the issues. And the substance of the issues are that we are in direct contact and engagement directly with our Israeli partners, and we have a number of issues at the nexus of our relationship that we look forward to continuing to engage on bilaterally.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Syrian neighbouring countries are suffering from the drugs and also captagon pills are exported from Syria with the support of the Syrian Government, that they are using against some security forces in the region. Today, Iraqi police has seized at about two thousand and fifty hundred captagon pills in Ramadi. Then there’s a big war on this drug in the region. What’s your position and stance in this drug war in the region, and how are you going to support the Middle East country to face this infiltration and smuggling drugs from Syria, especially countries like Iraq and Jordan?

MR PATEL: So captagon trafficking remains a serious problem with significant impacts on the region and across the world. We believe that this drug trade fuels corruption and stifles economic prosperity, and we’re continuing to work to combat narcotics trafficking through multiple efforts, including traditional law enforcement tools and capabilities. We’ll also continue to work with partners and allies in the region as well as partners in Congress, and we’ll continue to use all means at our disposal to combat the captagon trade.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On China, I just want to follow up the question from briefing yesterday on China’s anti-espionage law, which will go into effect on July 1st. Actually, I wasn’t quite sure about the answer you guys gave us yesterday. So, does the U.S. Government have – in general have any position on this law or any concerns on this law? And also, how do you see the effect of this law on the U.S. companies doing business in China?

MR PATEL: Well, we are closely monitoring the passage of the PRC’s new counter-espionage law, which as written will greatly expand the scope of what they consider espionage activities. And we continue to press the PRC to allow foreign individuals, including journalists, NGOs, scholars, researchers, and including businesses, to operate in a safe and open working environment free of harassment and intimidation. The U.S. will continue to speak out for human rights and rule of law issues and promote accountability for the PRC’s repressive activities, which this of course would be one of them. But I don’t have any additional to offer as we’re continuing to assess and monitor the passage of this law.

QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Yeah, just to go back to your – the answers you gave on Israel, I think you were citing Israeli officials calling attacks by settlers “terrorism.” Does the U.S. consider those attacks terrorism?

MR PATEL: It’s not for us to assign a nomenclature to, Simon. I was simply just sharing what Israeli officials have previously described it as.

QUESTION: But, I mean, you do call things terrorism in other contexts.

MR PATEL: I just don’t have any additional characterization to offer for you on this.

QUESTION: I wondered also if you would have any comment on the events in Sweden, this burning of the Quran at a protest, and I think Turkish officials have already responded. Does the U.S. have a specific comment on what happened and the impact this might have on your hopes of getting Sweden into NATO in the next few weeks?

MR PATEL: So, let me say a couple things, Simon, and this is not something you haven’t heard us say before. We’ve said consistently that the burning of religious texts is disrespectful and hurtful, and what might be legal is certainly not necessarily appropriate. And so, I will let the Government of Sweden and local law enforcement speak specifically or more about this particular incident.

But broadly, we continue to encourage Hungary and Türkiye to ratify the accession protocol of Sweden without delay so that we can welcome Sweden into the Alliance as soon as possible. We believe that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments under the trilateral memorandum agreement that was agreed with Finland and Türkiye on the margins of the Madrid Summit last year. We believe that Sweden is a strong, capable defence partner that shares NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security, and we continue to believe that Sweden should become a NATO member as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Are the talks with the Syrians in Oman totally focused on the safe return of Austin Tice or do they include other stuff?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic discussions, Said. What I will just reiterate is that we are engaging extensively to try and get Austin Tice home. We will continue to pursue every channel to do so, including discussing this and raising this and working with a number of countries in the region as well.

QUESTION: So, during Secretary Blinken’s recent visit to China, President Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a dictator. And then afterwards, Blinken in an interview with CNN said Biden “speaks for all of us.” So, I don’t personally disagree with that characterization, but given that Blinken was there on a diplomatic trip, it seems a bit counterproductive. And what’s the State Department’s official position on whether he’s a dictator and Blinken’s statements, Biden’s statements?

MR PATEL: Well, two things. First, I think you missed the briefing where we talked about this a great deal already, so I would point you to the transcript of that day, where your colleagues raised this a number of times. I don’t have anything different to offer than what the Secretary said. He is right. The President does speak for all of us, and the President has said that he will continue to speak candidly about China and our legitimate differences and disagreements.

And it should come as no surprise that sometimes we have tough things to say. We certainly are not the only country that has tough things to say. The President also believes in diplomacy, including the important trip that was undertaken by the Secretary. It is a responsible way to manage tensions. It is a responsible way to manage our competition with the PRC responsibly but also potentially collaborate on areas of potential cooperation on a number of transnational issues. We believe that Secretary Blinken had a good trip, made some progress, and we have every expectation that we will continue building on that progress.

QUESTION: How would you say relations are right now? Just a brief overview.

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to – this is a – one of – as you’ve heard us say about the PRC, this is one of the most complex and consequential relationships of the 21st Century. It would be inappropriate to assign a singular adjective to it, so I will just say, again, that we believe that Secretary Blinken had a good trip, made some progress. We will continue building on some of this progress, and in a number of those ways the Secretary spoke about in his end-of-trip press conference in Beijing as well.

All right. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)

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