US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – Mar 30, 2023

14 Min
State Dept Presser – Mar 30, 2023

The US State Dept held a press briefing on Mar 30 with Principal Dy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielding a wide range of questions that ranged from South Asia to Middle East and the Ukraine war.

Some Excerpts.

The Q-A on South Asia is tweaked to appear upfront.

1:47 p.m. EDT

QUESTION:  Jahanzaib Aly from ARY News. (My question is) about the Democracy Summit. There are many countries who were not invited in this summit, but Pakistan is one of those invited but decided not to participate.   Pakistan said in its statements that they will continue talking about this issue on bilateral [inaudible]. So your thoughts on that?

MR PATEL: Well, we’re certainly sorry that Pakistan chose not to participate. But it is a sovereign state and it is one that can make decisions for itself. This certainly does not change our willingness to continue to work with Pakistan. The U.S. and the Pakistan work together on a broad range of issues, and we continue to engage with them on issues surrounding democracy, human rights, including freedom of religion, belief, as well as there’s an important security partnership as well.

QUESTION:  There’s a rise of Taliban attacks in Pakistan. TTP recently attacked many police officers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. So recently, if I remember, there was like talks on the counterterrorism in cooperation with Pakistan. So, anything about that? What kind of cooperation is going on with Pakistan? What kind of help you offer –

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer, but of course there is a deep security partnership with Pakistan, including counterterrorism efforts. I saw those same reports of the recent attacks and would offer condolences to those who were impacted.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Bangladesh, freedom of expression and freedom of press is very much controlled by the regime and (inaudible) zero-tolerance. And we have seen already, including United States, 12 countries criticized the government position on freedom of expression as they are filing one after the other cases under the Digital Security Act. Just yesterday they picked up – the security forces in plain clothes picked up one reporter, widely circulated Bengali newspaper’s – Prothom Alo’s Shamsuzzaman Shams. He picked up and they file cases against the editor of Prothom Alo, and earlier March one of the reporter, he is working for Al Jazeera, his brother under attack. So what is your comment on that as regime is very much critical and attacking on freedom of expression in Bangladesh?

MR PATEL: So broadly, what I would say is we remain deeply concerned about the government’s use of the Digital Security Act. And freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is an essential element of democracy and is especially important in an election year. No members of the press should be threatened, harassed, physically attacked, or arrested for simply doing their job.

QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh.


QUESTION: Forty global leaders expressed their deep concern for well-being of the Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. They wrote an open letter to the prime minister and it’s published in The Washington Post, including Secretary of State and the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. So, what is your position as government is  very much attacking on the Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus, filing case one after another?

MR PATEL: We’re aware of the recent letter in The Post expressing concern over Professor Yunus’s situation, and we share the signatories’ views that Professor Yunus has made significant contributions to the alleviation of poverty around the world, as is reflected in his Nobel Peace Prize and numerous other international honours. But I don’t have any other specifics to offer right now.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions, one on U.S.-India relations —


QUESTION: Another one, a second on Pakistan.

As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, now we have a new ambassador confirmed already   after  almost two years. First of all, when he is going to take charge in New Delhi?

And second, whatever these little incidents took place about consulate in San Francisco and in Washington at the embassy and all that – anybody from the U.S. Government or Indian Government or in the Indian embassy was in touch with the State Department, or any meetings about these incidents, and where do we stand today?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things.

First, of course, we were quite happy to see Ambassador Garcetti be confirmed. I don’t have any specific date or timeline to share other than I know he’s eager to get to New Delhi and present his credentials very soon. And I’m sure that will happen as soon as it can.

Secondly, to your next question, we take the safety and security of the diplomatic missions that we host in the United States and the diplomats that we – that work in them quite seriously. We are in close touch with our Indian partners on a number of issues, but including on this we made sure to remain in close touch with them as well as the appropriate local entities, depending on where these various missions and consulates were located.

QUESTION: And second, sir, as far as India and Pakistan relations are concerned, , several questions were raised by Pakistan at the United Nations that Pakistan wants to talk with India and all that. But according to Dr. Jaishankar, foreign minister of India, and Indian officials, what they’re saying is that talks and terrorism cannot continue together. It has to be just talks, but Pakistan has to stop terrorizing India in any or all manners.

MR PATEL: Look, Goyal, I will let the Indian External Affairs Ministry add any additional commentary to Dr. Jaishankar’s comments. But broadly, what I would say is that the U.S. values its important relationship with both our Indian partners and Pakistan as well, and these relationships stand on their own and are not a zero-sum proposition.

QUESTION: Well, can you give us any more detail about when you knew, how you knew about this arrest of US citizen (Journalist Evan of WSJ) in Russia, and what you’re doing about it other than just reaching out to the Russian foreign ministry?

MR PATEL: Matt, we are still very much in the early stages here and so that is in fact what we’re doing. We’re trying to obtain and ascertain as much information as we can.  I, again, would say that we are immensely concerned over Russia’s announcement that it has detained a U.S. citizen journalist. …We have not yet heard back from the Russian foreign ministry affairs, but we reached out through the appropriate channels as soon as we were made aware of this reporting.

QUESTION: So, your understanding right now is there is no Privacy Act waiver for this person?

MR PATEL: That is correct.

QUESTION: Can I follow up? You said even citizens residing in Russia should leave. Evan was an accredited journalist there. Are you saying it’s not safe for even people who are accredited with the ministry or are working for international organizations to be there?

MR PATEL: Our message to American citizens residing in Russia is that the travel advisory warning is a Level 4, and that they should leave. And if they need assistance doing so, they can get in touch with our mission in Moscow.

Shaun, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just specifically a follow-up on this. The Russians have already said that the United States, in their words, shouldn’t use this as a reason to take action against Russian media in the United States. Do you have any comment?

MR PATEL: Well, broadly, I think quite clearly, we take the importance of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression quite seriously, and more broadly, what our focus here right now is to not take any action that is unrelated or to – simply just understanding as much information as we can, and most importantly, gaining consular access to meet with and visit this individual to ensure their well-being.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is the State Department engaging with Russia about the arrested Wall Street Journal reporter? And is there the possibility of there being a prisoner release like there was with the Brittney Griner situation, or any sanctions – or a sanction lift, any kind of – any kind of concession to get the Wall Street Journal reporter back?

MR PATEL: So to answer your second question, I am not going to speculate or preview any actions. Again, our number one priority continues to be seeking consular access so we can meet with this individual and ascertain their well-being and get as much information as we can.

And to your first part of your question, I think I just delivered a topper on this.

 Camilla, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do you have any reason to be concerned that this is some kind of tit-for-tat for the student – Russian spy that was attending Johns Hopkins University, or is it too early to tell?

MR PATEL: I just think hypotheticals at this point are unhelpful to the process.

 QUESTION: Just quickly, is there anything about Russia’s lack of response so far that gives you any indication that they’re either treating this similarly to previous wrongfully detained Americans in Russia?

MR PATEL: I don’t want to draw a conclusion or get into hypotheticals. What I will just reiterate again is that our priority and our focus is pursuing consular access as swiftly and as quickly as we can. That continues to be our priority and that’s what this entire department and our team in Moscow continues to be engaged on.

Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Is there anything you can say about the International Court of Justice ruling today on Iranian assets? The Iranians actually see some silver linings in this as well. Is there anything you have to say about the —

MR PATEL: Broadly what I would say, Shaun, is that this decision actually is a major blow to Iran’s attempt to avoid its responsibility, in particular to the families of U.S. peacekeepers who were killed in the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barrack in Beirut. We recognize the court’s important role and contributions to the rule of law, and the U.S. commends the court’s ruling related to Bank Markazi, which was the bulk of Iran’s case.

We are of course disappointed that the court has concluded that U.S. laws permitting the turnover of assets of other Iranian agencies and [instrumentalities] to U.S. victims of Iran-sponsored terrorism were inconsistent with the treaty. But broadly, we believe that today’s decision is a major blow to Iran.

QUESTION: I want to move on to Taiwan.


QUESTION: So the president’s visit – she’s in the U.S. at the moment and has said the relationship between the – between Taiwan and the United States is closer than ever. I wondered if you agree with that characterization of the relationship.

MR PATEL: We of course have a deep unofficial relationship with Taiwan, and our approach to Taiwan – the important thing to remember here – has remained consistent across decades and administrations. And we are guided by our “one China” policy as well as – which itself is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: And you’ve warned – sort of talked about urging China not to respond aggressively. Have you seen any signs of overreaction so far since she arrived in the country?

MR PATEL: Our message to the PRC continues to be that there’s no reason to turn this transit, which is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, into something that it’s not, or use it as an opportunity to overreact. There are – there is nothing about this transit that is changing the status quo, and we continue to feel strongly that cross-strait issues should be discussed and dealt with in a peaceful manner.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?


QUESTION: Another – Laura Rosenberger met, or greeted, President Tsai when she arrived in New York. Are there any plans for any administration officials to meet with President Tsai during her stopovers?

MR PATEL: I will let the president and her team speak to her scheduling. But it is my understanding that there are no plans currently.

Simon, go ahead.

QUESTION: — for Democracy Summit, you mentioned 121 countries were invited, right? I wonder if you had any sort of reflection on the – so I think the statement, the declaration that came out yesterday was signed 73 countries, with 12 expressing reservations or opting out of certain parts of the text. Does that – just for point of comparison, the Community for Democracies in 2000, when they launched that under Secretary Albright, had 106 countries sign up for their initial declaration.

So, I guess the point of this summit is to kind of gather together the world’s democracies, get behind these principles. The fact that you’ve only – perhaps you want to tell me that more countries are going to sign up. I’ll be interested to know when we’ll see that. But the fact that for now you only have 73 with some reservations, how does that speak to this administration’s goal of uniting democracies against autocracies?

MR PATEL: I would say a couple things to that, Simon. First, what I would say is that the day of the summit’s programming is not over yet. We still have a number of hours before the end of day.

But broadly, we launched the Summit for Democracy in early 2021 to put new and high-level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions, protect human rights, and accelerate the fight against corruption both at home and abroad.

And in the 15 months since we held the first Summit for Democracy if December of 2021, the world has witnessed a lot of change, and the events of 2022 put in stark relief what we already know: that democratic government grounded in the rule of law and the will of the governed remains the best tool to unleash our full human potential.

So, this is something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on not just through this summit, but it is something that the Secretary discusses frequently in his bilateral engagements around the world as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, a few questions about the Summit for Democracy just wrapping up now. What exactly is the criteria for being invited to the Summit for Democracy? Why weren’t two NATO Allies – Turkey and Hungary – invited when there are other countries that were invited that are, if you look at international monitors, significantly less democratic than those two countries?

MR PATEL: What I would say to that, Dylan, is that broadly speaking, we haven’t – we have built this invitation list in line with the same invitation list that the Summit for Democracy had last year, with the addition of – and I’m trying to see if I can get a specific list for you. We invited 121 foreign partners for the two-day summit, and that was reflective of partnerships with our co-hosts Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Zambia. This summit, our intent is to reflect the truth that people of the world share, which is to live in societies in which their voices are heard and human dignity is upheld. The invitation list and the co-hosts reflect a regionally diverse set of co-hosts that demonstrate the universal desire for accountable, transparent, and rights-respecting governance as well.

QUESTION: So you did add eight countries from – I believe was the number from the last summit. But why were those two not – at a – particularly at a time when you’ve stressed the importance of NATO being as strong as ever and needing these two countries’ cooperation to expand NATO, and they’ve been two of the roadblocks for that. Why were they not on that list of countries that were added? Because it’s not the same exact list.

MR PATEL: Well, to the contrary, Dylan, both Hungary and Turkey are moving forward as it relates to the protocol to have Finland join NATO. That is work that is ongoing, and we are eager to welcome both Finland and Sweden into NATO soon, and we continue to be very clear in our messaging with our Hungarian and Turkish partners that Sweden and Finland should both join NATO as soon as possible because it will not only strengthen the security of the Alliance, it will strengthen the security of Europe. But it would also strengthen the security of the United States as well.

QUESTION: Okay, just one more. So to go back to kind of the first question, the criteria for being invited to the Summit for Democracies is not just to be a democracy? That’s not one of the criteria?

MR PATEL: That is one of the pieces of the criteria to be invited to the summit.

QUESTION: Even though there’s countries invited that are not rated as democacies by the global Democracy Index?

MR PATEL: Dylan, I think I’ve answered your question.


MR PATEL: As I said, the invitations and the co-hosts are reflective of a regionally diverse set of countries that all share our universal desire for accountable, transparent, and rights-respecting governance as well.

Matt, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: I have two wildly divergent questions.

One is about Israel. Has there been any contact between people in this building and the Israelis since the kerfuffle, shall we call it?

MR PATEL: I have no specific calls or engagements to read out, Matt. But of course, as you know, this is something that we raise directly with our Israeli partners through a number of channels, and that effort will continue.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, I just – it’s been a couple days now since the House Foreign Affairs Committee delivered its subpoena for the dissent cable, and I’m just wondering if there’s anything – if there’s any update to that.

MR PATEL: Yeah, I will – let me say a couple things to that, Matt. First, many of you saw the Secretary during his hearings on March 23rd make clear his commitment to working with the House Foreign Affairs Committee to provide the information that it needs while upholding his responsibility to protect the integrity of the department’s dissent channel, a forum that was established in order to ensure that employees can share their candid and critical advice with department leadership.

We made clear and followed up with the committee to reiterate our willingness to provide a briefing about the concerns raised and the challenges identified by Embassy Kabul, including in the dissent channel. The committee instead chose to issue a subpoena.

We remain committed to providing the committee with the information it needs to conduct its oversight function, and we have already provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the committee’s request.

The important thing to remember here, Matt, is that the department’s concern is much broader than this cable or any single cable; rather, it’s to protect all dissent channel communications past and future to ensure that the channel remains a privileged and confidential vehicle for department personnel or embassy staff to share their candid feedback and advice. And ultimately, we believe that we can satisfactorily provide the committee with the information it needs to conduct its oversight function while still protecting this important institution.

QUESTION: Okay. But since the – since they issued the subpoena or since you got it, has there been any communication back and forth?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements with the committee to read out, Matt. But as you know, this continues to be an ongoing and iterative process, and we have been quite clear, including from – directly from the Secretary’s mouth, our willingness to provide a briefing on all of these very important matters.

Go ahead. You had your hand up.

QUESTION: Okay. And China and Brazil struck a deal on Wednesday to conduct trade in their own currencies instead of the dollar. Is the U.S. concerned about this de-dollarization trend pushed by the Chinese Communist Party? Is there a plan to prevent similar deals with other U.S. partners?

MR PATEL: Countries are going to make their own sovereign decisions as it relates to relationships with any country in the world, including the PRC. What I will say about Brazil is that it is a important partner of ours, an important partner as it relates to our priorities in the Western Hemisphere but also across the world. There is an important climate nexus between our two countries, an important trade cooperation. And our approach to our relationship with any country is continuing to provide and put on the table what a partnership with the United States can look like.

Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Today Treasury Department sanctioned Slovakian national for attempted arms deal between North Korea and Russia, and Secretary Blinken issued a comment. My question is: How much are you worried about the impact of North Korea’s support to Russia’s military operation in the war of Ukraine at present and in the future?

MR PATEL: Broadly, what I would say is that we of course have remained increasingly concerned about the deepening of Russia’s relationship with a number of malign actors, whether that be the DPRK or Iran. And what the takeaway would be from today’s actions is that we will not relent in targeting those who provide support to Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. And we will continue to take actions that deny the DPRK and other inputs that Pyongyang can utilize to further develop its weapons for mass destruction and ballistic missiles program. We’re going to continue to identify, expose, and counter Russian attempts to acquire military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.

Michail, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Yes, I wanted to go back to Sweden and NATO, et cetera. Any indication from Türkiye and Hungary when they will give the green light to Sweden to be part of NATO?

MR PATEL: We have made quite clear that Sweden and Finland are strong and capable partners and share NATO’s values and will strengthen the Alliance. We welcome the reports of Türkiye’s parliament voting for the ratification of Finland’s accession protocol. And we also encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s protocol as well.

QUESTION: There are a lot of people in Europe and here in Congress saying that Türkiye and Hungary are blocking Sweden’s entry in NATO. I mean, this blocking, it serves the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin. What is your take on this?

MR PATEL: Our message has been clear and consistent since the U.S. itself signed and affirmed our own accession protocol for both Sweden and Finland, and that is that we encourage Türkiye and Hungary to ratify Sweden and Finland’s accession as swiftly as possible. And we are confident that NATO will formally accept both of these countries soon. And as we’ve said and as I just said earlier today, Finland and Sweden are fulfilling the commitments made under the trilateral memorandum of agreement that was made on the margins of the Madrid Summit. And we look forward to welcoming both of these countries in NATO sometime soon.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)