State Dept Presser – Nov 6, 2023
The US State Dept held a press briefing on Nov 6, 2023 with Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel fielding questions. The Q-A on B’desh and Pakistan is tweaked to appear upfront.
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have anything off the top
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Vedant. Nice to see you up here. The Bangladeshi people, they want a free and fair election. U.S.A., from this room, they declared the C-3 visa policy, and now ongoing vandalism and destruction of public properties by Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists on the pretext of exercising democratic rights in contributing to the – disrupt the peaceful political environment to upheld the next parliamentary election in Bangladesh. Will you ask nationalist party to stop the violence and participate the upcoming general election? And I have another one.
MR PATEL: We continue to closely monitor the electoral environment in Bangladesh leading up to this January’s election, and we take any incidents of violence incredibly seriously. We are engaging and will continue to engage with the government, with opposition parties, with civil society, and other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. And I’ll be – Peter Haas, the honorable ambassador, in a really difficult situation. Last week, when the nationalist party leaders, they bring an U.S. citizen to their head office on the camera to declare that he is the adviser of President Biden and he has everyday connection with 10 to 15 times with President Biden. And then the – another party leaders, BNP leader, has been telling, calling Peter Haas an avatar, as a rescuer for the nationalist party. Will you categorically deny this claim from the nationalist party, please? Thank you.
MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that report. And I’m going to be honest – I really have no idea what you’re talking about. So let me just say this —
QUESTION: Just to give you —
MR PATEL: Please don’t interrupt me. We have an incredibly talented team at our embassy in Dhaka, led by an experienced ambassador who is well-versed not just working in Bangladesh, but also the broader region largely. And as I have said, we are closely monitoring their electoral environment in Bangladesh, leading up to January’s election.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Countrywide protests going on in Bangladesh. They’re demanding the resignation of the ruling prime minister, and the regime is in a sense declare war against the main opposition, BNP and protestors. Over 8,000 people have been detained, including BNP secretary general and all rank and file. At least 11 people killed since protests began on October 28. Ruling Prime Minister Hasina instructed her party members to throw opposition party members into fire or burn their hands. As the United States and the international community in Bangladesh are committed to creating a peaceful and credible environment for upcoming elections, for creating that environment, will you be with the people of Bangladesh and reflect their will under a new caretaker government?
MR PATEL: So it’s important to remember – and you’ve heard me say this a number of times before, including in answering your friend’s question – that the U.S. does not support any political party in Bangladesh. We don’t favor any one political party over the other. Right now our focus continues to be closely monitoring the electoral environment in Bangladesh leading up to January’s election, engaging appropriately with the government, with opposition leaders, with civil society and other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people.
QUESTION: Sir, election commission of Pakistan – one more question, please.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: Election commission of Pakistan finally announced the date for the general elections. You always talked about the free and fair elections in Pakistan and all around the world. But many analysts in Pakistan have their doubts because these elections are happening without the most popular leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Any thoughts about that?
MR PATEL: Again, don’t have an assessment on the makeup of candidates or the representation of any specific political party. That is for the people of Pakistan to decide. Our focus continues to be on ensuring and supporting that there are free and fair elections that are conducted in a way for the benefit of the Pakistani people.
QUESTION: Could I ask you to follow up on the Secretary’s remarks today in Ankara?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: He said that there’s U.S. effort to get more aid in. Could you give us an update on that? There’s been some slowdown in the aid getting in there. How optimistic is the U.S. for getting more assistance into – in through Rafah?
MR PATEL: Look, I would echo what the Secretary said earlier today, that we continue to push through this aggressively. We know that there continues to be a dire need for humanitarian assistance, and we’re going to continue to work those efforts to ensure that that can happen. I would also use this opportunity to note that as of November 6th, approximately 476 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies had entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. That number, the number of trucks arriving in Gaza, has been steadily increasing over the past recent days, thanks in large part to Special Envoy Satterfield’s important work and the coordination role that he’s playing between Egypt, Israel, and humanitarian partners to scale up the delivery of assistance.
We also recognize that that is not enough and we know that more is needed, and we’ll continue to work with partners in the region as the Secretary has been so that we can work to increase and sustain assistance as this progresses.
QUESTION: I’m sure there’s follow-up on that, but on the Americans who are – that’s another part of this equation. I think the latest figure we’ve heard was more than 300 U.S. citizens or green card holders or relatives. Do you have an update on how many Americans are – have been able to leave and how many more might be still waiting to leave?
MR PATEL: So that continues to be the figure that we’re tracking. [As of] November 1st we’ve assisted more than 300 U.S. citizens, LPRs, and other eligible individuals to depart. We expect these numbers will continue to grow, and we’ll have more updates as, of course, that progresses. And for impacted American citizens we’ll continue to remain in close touch with them as opportunities to leave continue to present themselve
QUESTION: Vedant. Can you update us specifically today on Rafah Crossing? Is it in fact open today? And if so, why did it close? At whose instruction did it close over the weekend?
MR PATEL: So our understanding is that it was open today till sundown in the region, and as for the day-to-day updates of opening and closing, I’m just not going to get into that. Obviously this is something the Secretary and Matt have spoke to as well, but it’s important to remember that this is not a crossing we control, and so we’re continuing to work in the region to ensure, one, that humanitarian assistance can flow appropriately into Gaza to help civilians; but also, American citizens who are interested in departing are able to do so at the appropriate cadence that these crossings are open.
We are in contact with U.S. citizens and their immediate family members and are keeping them informed of the shifting conditions. We’re acting – we’re asking impacted U.S. citizens to not just keep an eye out for contact from the department but also keep an eye out on the Palestinian general authority crossing and borders Facebook page, where some of these lists are being updated on a regular basis about who’s going to be eligible to cross or not.
QUESTION: So there are reports that Hamas insisted it be closed in order to secure a commitment from Israel that it would not strike ambulances. There are reports that Hamas wanted to get assurances that wounded Palestinians could get out. Can you weigh in at all on the validity of those reports?
MR PATEL: I can’t. I don’t have any confirmation or assessment to offer on those. I think broadly, of course, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that the impact on civilians is as minimal as possible, and we’re continuing to coordinate in the region to assist impacted American citizens.
QUESTION: Okay. Just two quick other ones.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Of the 476 trucks that you said entered since – as of November 6th, did any of those go today? Were there any aid trucks going —
MR PATEL: I don’t have – for operational security reasons, Olivia, I’m just not going to parse into specific breakdowns beyond what I’ve shared.
QUESTION: It had been the practice of the department to update us regularly on the number of trucks going in and people getting out.
MR PATEL: As we have more metrics to share, we certainly will be in a place to do so, but I’m not in a place to parse these more specifically at this moment.
QUESTION: Okay. And one last one: Was the Secretary able to secure a commitment from the Israelis about fuel getting into Gaza? That has been a top concern – hospitals facing shortages, if not completely devoid of fuel. Did the Israeli Government make any commitment about the provision of fuel into Gaza?
MR PATEL: So fuel is obviously something that we are continuing to pay close attention to. It is urgently needed in Gaza. It plays a critical role in enabling the desalination and distribution of clean water. We understand that there are legitimate sensitivities around that, and so we’re continuing to work through Special Envoy Satterfield and others and discussing directly with our Israeli counterparts, our Egyptian counterparts, and others of ways that we can allow fuel into Gaza in a way that will benefit civilians but not potentially empower Hamas or be diverted in a way – in such a way.
QUESTION: Two questions if you don’t mind. According to State’s website, right now we’ve got 70 countries at a Level 2, 20 countries at Level 3, and 20 countries at a Level 4 Travel Warning, indicating that Americans are now either at increased risk or completely unsafe in 110 countries in the world. How concerning is that to the State Department?
MR PATEL: I would actually take issue with how you are characterizing our Travel Advisory warnings. They are not – they are – they are assessments of what our recommendation is for travel to those regions. And then on specific countries, there are specific breakdowns of what those potential risk factors could be. Level 4, the highest level, indicates it is a country that we do not believe is safe for American citizens to travel to. And
going down from 4 to 1. So, it’s a little bit more nuanced than the way that you characterized it.
QUESTION: Well, the big picture is that there’s 110 countries, right, which is, I think, more than half the countries that the U.S. recognizes around the world, where Americans are at increased risk right now. Is that concerning to the State Department?
MR PATEL: There are a variety of factors that go into assessing what the Travel Advisory is for a specific country. Obviously risk for violence, arrest, wrongful detention, public health factors – these are the many things that go into an ultimate travel designation. And when circumstances change in a particular region, as you saw us do for Israel and the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the horrific October 7th attack, we will update our Travel Advisories to ensure that American citizens have the most up-to-date and best information possible. But I would – I would not say that there is some kind of trend or anything like that. What this is about, each country is different; we make those assessments based on the in-country conditions and we make sure that the American people have the best information possible.
QUESTION: So does it not – is it not concerning overall? Is that – how would you categorize looking at the big picture right now?
MR PATEL: This isn’t about the big picture. This is about the specific travel indicators and safety indicators in a specific country, and each country is different and the circumstances in some countries are different than others. So this is not about the big picture. This is about assessments and indications that are in each unique country, and when those circumstances and those situations change, we adjust our Travel Advisory warning for that specific country. It is on a country-by-country basis. In some countries it is even on a province-by-province, on a region-by-region basis. That is the specificity and the seriousness by which we take this.
I understand, like, what you’re trying to ask. I just categorically reject that this is some kind of broad brushstroke trendline. This is about individual, specific countries and the parameters that exist in certain countries that make them a Level 1, a Level 2, a Level 3, or a Level 4.
QUESTION: Can I ask a quick follow-up —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — on the aid question?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: How confident is the administration now that Hamas is not – I mean, I asked the same question last week and the answer was that Hamas had not, as of that time, diverted or stolen any aid that had gone in through Rafah. Is that still the status quo?
MR PATEL: That continues to be – that continues to be our – that continues to be our understanding. There have been no reports of the diversion of aid. There’s been no reason for us to believe that there’s been a diversion of aid to Hamas. Both the State Department and USAID, we have a robust process in place to mitigate that risk. We work collaboratively to vet partners in the region, to vet assistance partners and things like that to ensure that aid directly or indirectly does not benefit Hamas or any other potential terrorist group in other parts of the world where we have aid as well. We take this responsibility to the American taxpayer incredibly seriously.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Yesterday The New York Times attributed to a U.S. official concurring with the figures that are stated by the health ministry in Gaza on the number of killed. This figure as of today is about 10,000-plus, including 4,000 children. Do you accept that figure? Do you concur with that figure?
MR PATEL: Said, that is a figure – that is one of the figures that is currently being used —
MR PATEL: — to assess the number of casualties in Gaza right now. And candidly, Said, of course any number above zero is heartbreaking.
QUESTION: I understand. I just want to ask you if you have other figures. I mean, you’re saying there are other figures. What are the other figures?
MR PATEL: I am not saying there’s other figures, and I think if you are referencing some of the comments made last week by the President and others about questioning those metrics, I think we were very clear that no one in this administration is questioning that fatalities have happened, that civilians have lost their lives in Gaza. What we are saying is that this is a ministry that is run by Hamas that just a number of weeks previously – please let me finish, Said – that just a number of weeks previously had unleashed a horrific terrorist attack on Israel, that has a track record of inflating and being inaccurate about fatalities.
And so the point that we are simply making is that there is that track record. That does not mean that these civilian casualties are not heartbreaking, that we – that does not mean we’re not doing everything we can to ensure that number stays as low as possible. There is not another entity counting casualties in the region right now.
QUESTION: Right, okay.
MR PATEL: The security parameters in the region right now make it difficult for other entities to be able to do so. So that is the number that currently exists. Of course, it is heartbreaking for any number —
QUESTION: Right. I understand all this.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I just want to let you know there is actually a system, because COGAT controls all these things. Everyone born, everyone that dies in Gaza, is listed by the authority for the territories and Gaza in Israel. But that’s up to you. I’m not asking – I’m not arguing this issue. I’m saying, do you accept what was said in The New York Times, attributed to a U.S. official, that they actually do concur with the figures that were stated or listed by the government – the ministry of health in Gaza?
MR PATEL: Yeah. And again, Said what I would just say is that no one in this administration, myself included, questions the humanitarian crisis that is happening in Gaza or that there has been a significant loss of civilian life.
QUESTION: Okay. I —
MR PATEL: As it relates to that specific number, again, I’m aware of that specific reporting, and it continues to be a number that we are also including and looking at and assessing in our own internal assessment and parameters of the situation that’s ongoing.
QUESTION: A couple of other issues if I may.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: If my colleagues indulge me. On the issue of the West Bank and the guns that are going to Israel, the new M-16s and so on, are you confident that these will not be handed to the settlers, as Ben-Gvir promised?
MR PATEL: Said, we have been incredibly clear to our partners in Israel that steps need to be taken to address the extremist violence that we have seen in the West Bank. And we heard the Israeli Government, and the Secretary has been deeply engaged in this directly as part of his travels, making these – we’ve heard the Israeli Government making these commitments and understanding that there is a responsibility there. And we’re watching very closely to make sure that it happens.
QUESTION: Okay. And let me ask you something. I mean, we have seen in Washington a demonstration that probably have close to 300,000 – a lot of people out there. Do you take note of that? Do you take of this – these demonstrations in Los Angeles, in New York, across the globe as a matter of fact – 2 million people in Indonesia and so on – that are calling for a ceasefire? Do you actually take this into account, or you completely dismiss this public sentiment?
MR PATEL: Of course, Said, there are a number of factors that go into whatever this government response or viewpoint is going to be on any particular issue area in the world. And that of course includes the situation right now in the Middle East. Of course, first and foremost is what we believe to be in the interest of the American people and in the national security interest of the United States. But yes, of course, we are watching closely around the world as many are making their voices heard and exercising their freedom of speech and the First Amendment to make their points of view clear as it relates to this.
QUESTION: And do you believe – finally, finally, I promise. Do you believe that after the Secretary’s trip that he went through the region, that you guys would have a better idea what the endgame should look like, or what it should be, and when? I mean, this thing can go on forever, the bombing of civilians and so on.
MR PATEL: That continues to be one of the many things that is being discussed and is being looked at not just by the Secretary while he is in the region traveling but by others as well. Of course it is incredibly important to think about the steps that are being taken to ensure that Hamas cannot do this again, and what other things might look like for the region. But one thing that has been evergreen and consistent, Said, is that we have been clear that we continue to believe that the only sole viable path for durable security and durable peace for Israelis and Palestinians is a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Just kind of following up a bit on Said’s points and Olivia’s.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Looking at the civilian deaths mounting quickly to 10,000, and they keep mounting; looking at the humanitarian hang-ups, in terms of fuel and other goods; is the administration feel like it’s under pressure not just from protesters, from Democrats in Congress, from others, to change its message to Israel, to change – to use its influence with Israel to bring about a course change. Is the administration under pressure, and is there a limit, is there a point somewhere if the civilian casualties keep adding up or humanitarian goods don’t flow, where the administration might change its message to Israel?
MR PATEL: Will, what I can just say is that right now we are squarely focused on a number of things. First, that continues to be ensuring that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza and help the civilians that need it. No one in this administration – myself, Matt, the Secretary, the President – is trying to undermine or downplay the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza right now.
Number two, we’re continuing take steps to work with the Israeli Government and other partners in the region to ensure that hostages can be released, and that can be done so as swiftly as possible. And one of the messages that Secretary Blinken is carrying loud and clear in his travels to any country is that it cannot be as business as usual with Hamas, and any country who has – feels that they have a constructive role to play in the release of these hostages should do so.
And thirdly, we’re taking steps to continue to support our Israeli partners as they defend themselves and ensure that Hamas cannot do something like this again.
And of course, throughout all of that we are making it incredibly clear that there are international laws in which the ways these operations need to be conducted and that steps need to be taken to ensure that civilian – the impact on civilians is minimized as much as possible. We’ve been clear with that with the Israelis. It’s something that the Secretary has raised in his travels directly with his counterparts, and it’s something that we’ll continue to do so.
And meanwhile, Congress, others, the American people should continue to make their voices heard and to express their opinions about what’s happening around the world. We believe that’s incredibly important, too.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have three questions. The Jordanian air force managed to air drop last night medical assistance to Palestinians in Gaza. Why can’t the U.S. do the same, and you can add water bottles for example or food that can be dropped from the air that happens actually in many other conflict area like in southern Sudan, for example? That’s my first question.
MR PATEL: I’m not going to speak to the specifics of the security parameters, Nadia, that would allow such an operation to happen or not happen. I just don’t have the expertise to speak to that. So I can get back to you to see if we have anything additional.
QUESTION: But if – yeah, if it’s something that the U.S. can —
MR PATEL: Happy – happy to check. But what I will just note, though, that we have taken our responsibility as it relates to the humanitarian response incredibly seriously. As I said at the beginning of this briefing, 476 trucks have made it into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. We continue to do everything we can to ensure that additional humanitarian aid can get into the region. It’s something that the Secretary is incredibly engaged on as well.
And as you probably remember, in October the President announced an additional $100 million in U.S. Government support to continue to support humanitarian needs. Through USAID, we’ve also been able to provide pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies, and we have been – through the UN World Food Program been able to distribute electronic food vouchers and others.
I’m not at all saying that any of this is enough. As I have said, that this continues to be a dire humanitarian situation and more is needed, and the American people and people around the world can expect the United States to continue to take these kinds of efforts.
QUESTION: Yeah, because this operation at times, it was coordinated with the Israelis, so I guess it’s doable for the U.S.
Do you believe that Israel in this months-long war with 10,000 civilian dead, 4,000 kids, 720 people being displaced according to the last figure from the UN – do you believe that Israel has not violated any international law, humanitarian law, the Geneva Convention, with the staggering figures that we are citing today?
MR PATEL: We have been incredibly clear, Nadia, about the necessity of taking feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm, and we believe that that’s especially true when it comes to children and refugees. Our viewpoint is that deaths are not just – they’re not just metrics, they’re not just statistics. They are lost futures. They are lost dreams and lost potentials.
We have said publicly and privately dating back to October 7th that Israel has every right to defend itself, to defend its security. We also believe very clearly, though, that it is important for Israel to differentiate between Hamas terrorists and civilians even as Hamas continues to use civilian shields and Hamas continues to put their infrastructure and their rockets in places in civilian areas and have dug tunnels deep underneath critical civilian infrastructure in Gaza that has impacted protected sites like schools and hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. All of this is incredibly important and all of this are things that we are raising directly with our Israeli counterparts. When the Secretary travels around the world and meets with people like Prime Minister Netanyahu and his counterparts, that’s not just hyperbole. It’s not just for – to put a readout in your guys’ inboxes. It is direct, hand-to-hand diplomacy, face-to-face, making these issues that are incredibly important to the United States – putting them front and center as we continue to navigate this region.
QUESTION: Finally, just one last question. Sorry. On the settlers violence – there’s reports that actually the Israeli Government has been asking for a new shipment of rifles to arm settlers in the West Bank, and this has to be approved by the State Department. And I guess you have to inform Congress as well. How do you differentiate between the weapons that you provide to Israel, which clearly – the U.S. law says it cannot be used by civilians by any army, let alone by settlers? Will you consider it illegal in the West Bank?
MR PATEL: So I’m not aware of that specific report, Nadia, but what I would just say is – reiterate what I told Said. We are – while we pay attention to, of course, what’s happening in Gaza, we continue to be incredibly concerned about what’s happening in the West Bank as well, especially in the space of extremist violence. We have raised those concerns directly with the Israeli Government, and we have heard from the Israeli Government that they are going to make a commitment on dealing with extremist violence more effectively. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to. But as to your specific – this specific report, I’m not tracking.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple questions, if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The New York Times first reported that U.S. officials have sent messages to Iran and Hizballah to say that the U.S. would be prepared to intervene militarily against them if they launched attacks against Israel. Can you confirm on this report, especially that Iraqi prime minister visited Tehran after hours of the Secretary’s visit to Baghdad?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to speak to – first, I would say any notion that a message has been sent is categorically false. That is not true. But from the day one of this administration, Michel, we have been clear-eyed about the many threats that are posed by Iran, and since these October 7th attacks – and even prior to that – we have used a combination of deterrence, pressure, and diplomacy to continue to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities. And we continue to be clear-eyed about that and will take appropriate steps in the region as we need to.
QUESTION: And second, what’s your assessment for Hizballah secretary general speech? And do you take his threats seriously?
MR PATEL: We’re aware of his speech on Friday, and I’m certainly not going to engage in a war of words from up here. Look, we’ve been clear about this, that the U.S. does not seek to escalate or widen the conflict that Hamas has started against Israel. We and our partners have been very clear, and the Secretary has been clear about this message on his travels. Hizballah and other actors should not try and take advantage of the ongoing conflict. We don’t want to see this conflict expand into Lebanon or across the broader region. The likely devastation for the Lebanese people would be unimaginable and entirely unavoidable.
QUESTION: And do you take his threats seriously?
MR PATEL: We take, of course, any threat against the region seriously. It’s why the United States has reacted in the way that it has, ensuring that we’re taking steps to protect our personnel and our partners in the region. You’ve seen the Pentagon make a number of announcements about the assets that they have moved into the region since October 7, and so would just refer you to them for anything additional.
QUESTION: Are you still concerned that the conflict may expand to the region?
MR PATEL: It is something that we’re continuing to pay close attention to and it’s something that we are warning any country in the region, as well as partner countries, to take whatever steps they can to ensure that this does not spread.
QUESTION: The public is wondering why U.S., United States, still refusing ceasefire. More than 4,000 children killed in Gaza. Israel still, till now, targeting bakeries, school, hospitals, under the umbrella of self-defense, which is – they consider it is insulting their intelligence, you know?
MR PATEL: So —
QUESTION: And I need another question, please.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: It is about the Israeli minister who talk about dropping nuclear bomb on Gaza.
MR PATEL: Okay. I’m happy to answer both of those. First, we have been very clear about this. A ceasefire right now would prevent – would not prevent Hamas from continuing terror attacks and firing rocket attacks at Israel in the future. And on the contrary, it would let Hamas off the hook, allow Hamas enough time to regroup, and we can’t allow that. And no nation can be expected to tolerate those kinds of conditions. But one thing we have been very clear about, both the Secretary and the President, have been the need for a humanitarian pause to enable a sustained flow of aid and voluntary movement of civilians seeking to depart. It would also allow an opportunity for the potential release of hostages, which continues to be something that we’re calling for directly.
Again, and then as it relates to your question about that minister, I’m sure you saw Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Government have repudiated those comments, which we also found as wholly unacceptable. And we continue to believe that it is important for all sides of this conflict to refrain from hateful rhetoric that is going to further incite tensions.
QUESTION: Is it acceptable to destroy Gaza under the umbrella of self-defense?
MR PATEL: What we have been really clear about is that Israel has every right to defend itself and to defend its security, all while ensuring that Hamas is not able to conduct these kinds of terrorist attacks. Again, throughout all of that, we’ve also been incredibly clear that it is important for Israel to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians, and that continues to be something that we’re raising directly with our Israeli counterparts, and it’s something that we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Going back to Gaza —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — and the situation there. So the unequivocal support the U.S. is showing for Israeli self-defense, how does the U.S. plan to address the disproportionate responses and ensure that U.S. military aid does not exasperate the situation, the crisis in Gaza? And I also have a follow-up, which is about the humanitarian work. What are you doing? What steps are you taking to hold accountable all the parties who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid?
MR PATEL: Well, let me take your second question first. So first, as it relates to the Rafah Border Crossing, which continues to be a key conduit for the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, the fact of the matter and the ultimate and unfortunate truth is that this is not a crossing that the United States controls. And so the tools at our disposal are to continue to work with the region, with our Israeli partners, with the Government of Egypt to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid is possible.
As I said at the beginning of this briefing, 476 trucks carrying humanitarian assistance have been able to enter [as of] November 6th. We know that is not enough. And one of the reasons – one of the things that the Secretary is discussing on his travels is ways in which the United States can continue to bolster its humanitarian aid and support the civilians in Gaza who needs some of this help. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to look at from all angles and pursue lines of effort in whatever way we can. Earlier last month, the President announced $100 million in additional funding to support humanitarian efforts in Gaza. We’ll continue to work those lines of effort as well.
And to your first question, again, I will reiterate that we have been clear with our Israeli partners that, while they defend themselves and defend their security, it is incredibly important that they distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians. This is something that we will continue to raise with them directly and will continue to engage and conduct in the diplomacy that is required to make that clear. But again, it’s important to remember that no country would be able to condone the kind of terrorist attacks that were unleashed on Israel on October 7th, and it is of course – it is Israel’s responsibility to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians. And so we’ll continue to raise that directly with them.
QUESTION: Could I please just go back to this question of humanitarian pauses?
MR PATEL: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: Because for all of the directness with which the United States has confronted the Israeli Government on this, the clear answer from Prime Minister Netanyahu over the weekend is that there will be no pauses unless and until Hamas releases all of the hostages. I’m assuming that’s not within the realm of possibility in the immediate term, but correct me if I’m wrong. And if it isn’t, isn’t that a pretty clear rejection of consistent and clear U.S. asks in the course of this conflict?
MR PATEL: I don’t think that these circumstances and these situations are black and white necessarily, Olivia. We will continue to raise publicly, privately, directly with our Israeli partners what we believe to be avenues to allow for humanitarian aid to get into Gaza to support the Palestinian civilians who need it. And, of course, Israel will continue to conduct and make assessments about this operation, as they are the ones doing so. But the President, the Secretary have been very clear that a humanitarian pause allows – is an opportunity to allow for the sustained flow of aid and the voluntary movement of civilians who may wish to choose to depart. This is something that the Secretary raised directly on his travels, and it’s something that we’ll continue to work at through our diplomacy.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify what Olivia just said on – what is a pause? I mean, is there, like, a legal definition for a pause? We know what a ceasefire is; there are legal grounds for that. What is a humanitarian pause? Is it like five hours, 10 hours? What is it, in your view?
MR PATEL: That is something that would need to be determined through this process. In our view – in our view, Said —
QUESTION: Is there a legal definition for a pause in the fighting?
MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to assign a timetable or a —
QUESTION: No, I’m just curious. I just want to know.
MR PATEL: — or an assessment like that to it. What I will say, in our view, is that a humanitarian pause is an opportunity that will allow for the enabled flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, that will allow for the voluntary movement of civilians seeking to depart, and potentially create an opportunity and an avenue for the release of these civilian hostages who continue to be held and being detained by Hamas terrorists.
QUESTION: But respectfully on that point, so despite all of the public and private appeals by the U.S. to the Israeli Government, it appeals they’re going – it appears they’re going unheeded, right?
MR PATEL: Again, we’re not going to get into the specifics of our private diplomatic conversations. What I will just say is that this is something that we’re going to continue to raise directly with our Israeli partners, and oftentimes some of this diplomacy is best left behind the scenes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I’ll follow up on the international law question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Because on Saturday, an Israeli airstrike killed four children and three siblings of my colleague from Anadolu, Mohammad Al-Aloul. Their house was just completely destroyed when an Israeli airstrike targeted the al-Maghazi refugee camp. They were, of course, among the other – thousands of other Palestinians who were killed. You have been calling on Israel to act in line with international law and minimize harm to civilians, but does the U.S. – I mean, do you think that calls from the U.S. to Israel have been insufficient in terms of forcing Israel to act in line with international law?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of these ongoing diplomatic conversations that are happening. We have been incredibly clear with our Israeli partners that civilians need to be protected, that they need to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians, and we believe that we will continue to raise that, and we’ll continue to raise that directly with our Israeli partners.
QUESTION: Yeah, you have been saying that for a while – like, civilians needs to be protected. But I think millions of people around the world are waiting for a clear answer from the U.S. to that question, because you have been giving an unconditioned support to Israel. The question is: Does the U.S. support Israel’s such actions, but – or are you concerned by them?
MR PATEL: We believe that Israel has every right to defend itself and to defend its security. We believe that what transpired on October 7th is not something that any country in the world would be able to accept, and it is incredibly imperative that steps are taken to ensure that Hamas can’t carry out these kinds of attacks again.
Simultaneously, we believe that even though Hamas uses civilians as shield, even though Hamas has integrated its network of tunnels and its infrastructure amongst civilian infrastructure in Gaza, that Hamas has collocated itself in some of these key civilian areas like schools, hospitals, et cetera – in spite of all that, we continue to believe that it is incredibly important for Israel to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians. And we’ll continue to raise that directly and clearly with our Israeli partners. The Secretary will do that, and others in the administration will do that, and we’ll continue to engage in this diplomacy.
Diyar, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you, Vedant, and welcome back. Today the Iraqi prime minister was in Iran and he met with the Iranian supreme leader, and the Iranian supreme leader said that the Iraqi Government should put more pressure on the U.S. forces and also to the U.S. to make them make some ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel. And we learned that yesterday, that Secretary Blinken urged Iraqi Government to hold those groups accountable for attacking the U.S. forces and protect the U.S. bases there.
But since then, six attacks has happened on the U.S. forces in Iraq, in Kurdistan region, and in Syria. Do you think that the Iraqi Government is not holding those groups accountable? Do they have the ability to hold those groups accountable?
MR PATEL: We believe that the – we believe that the Government of Iraq does have the ability to hold those groups accountable, and we believe that that work is ongoing. The Secretary, as you said, urged Prime Minister Sudani to do that and that it was incredibly important to continue holding these groups who have been targeting U.S. personnel in Iraq accountable. They also talked about a number of other issues, including the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas as well as steps that can be taken to ensure that this conflict does not spread into Iraq as well.
QUESTION: And one more follow-up. Why you didn’t announce the Secretary’s visit to Iraq? That – were you concerned about any incidents happen during his visit to Iraq? And even when he visited the Iraqi Green Zone, he was wearing a bulletproof vest.
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into the security parameters that go into planning and announcing the Secretary’s travel.
Sam, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. President Lula of Brazil recently joined a growing list of world leaders condemning Israel not just simply for war crimes, not just simply for crimes against humanity, but for genocide. The late president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza which killed 2,000 Palestinians, advocated that the Genocide Convention be invoked in that case against Israel, saying that legally, for genocide, quote, “You don’t need to kill all of them. You just need to have the mental intent to kill part of them.”
Craig Mokhiber, who just resigned as director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that intent, usually the hardest part of genocide to prove, isn’t in this case. He wrote in his resignation letter, quote, “Explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli Government and military leave no room for doubt or debate.”
Finally, Francis Boyle, who successfully prosecuted – or who successfully represented Bosnia and Herzegovina in their genocide case against Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice, has similarly argued that the Palestinians or any other signer to the Genocide Convention should immediately instigate a – initiate a emergency legal process invoking the convention at the International Court of Justice, yet no government has done so.
My question to you —
MR PATEL: Do you have a question soon?
QUESTION: My question to you is: Has the U.S. Government pressured or bribed or threatened in any way, shape, or form Abbas, the people around him, institutions around him, from invoking this or any other legal mechanisms against Israel to stop its attack?
MR PATEL: I don’t even know where to start there, Sam. No, the U.S. has not been involved in pressuring or anything like that to any officials within the Palestinian Authority. What I will just say again in the context of this conflict: We have been incredibly clear that as Israel defends itself and defends its security that it is imperative that it continues to make a distinction between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians, and that’s something we’ll continue to raise directly with Israeli counterparts.
I will also note that we, within the U.S. Government, have a rigorous process for evaluating whether something constitutes genocide, and we have not made that assessment in this case. And it’s really important to remember that Hamas bears responsibility for sparking this war and they brought this tragic war to Gaza. They have compounded and perpetuated the suffering of the Palestinian people at every step of this crisis. And as I said, we continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself against these terrorist attacks by Hamas.
QUESTION: You claim – excuse me. You claim that you want Israel to make a distinction, but you don’t seem to be taking this – making the distinction.
MR PATEL: We absolutely make this distinction, Sam.
QUESTION: If I might – I didn’t interrupt you. I didn’t interrupt you. The Center for Constitutional Rights just put out a statement: “Legal Organizations Put Members of Congress on Notice [for] Complicity on Genocide.” Quote: “Please take [note]” – this is a letter that they sent to members of Congress. Center for Constitutional Rights: “Please take notice that should you vote in favor of that package,” the Biden package for Israel, “you risk facing criminal and civil [liabilities] for aiding and abetting genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law, and may face investigation and prosecution.” Do members of the State Department face similar possibilities?
MR PATEL: Again, Sam, as I said, we have – the U.S. Government has a rigorous process in place for evaluating whether something constitutes genocide, and we have not made that assessment in this case.
QUESTION: But you continue to pretend —
MR PATEL: I’m going to – I’ve taken —
QUESTION: — that the bombing of hospital after hospital, bakery after bakery, university after university – and somehow you keep pretending that, oh, they’re just after military people of Hamas.
MR PATEL: I appreciate – I appreciate your questions, Sam. I’ve taken two of them. Now I’m going to work the room a little bit.
Go ahead. And I’ll come back to you, Shaun, after that. Then we’ll wrap.
QUESTION: Thank you. You just spoke in detail about the current Travel Advisory and the reasons, but we are witnessing a lot of hate and anger all around the world not only for Israel but also for United States of America, for the obvious reasons. But is it a concern?
MR PATEL: I’m sorry, is – for people traveling to the United States?
QUESTION: No, no, no. I’m asking there is – we are witnessing a lot of hate and anger —
MR PATEL: Ah.
QUESTION: — not only for Israel but also for United States because of the situation in Gaza. Is it a concern that there’s growing hate?
MR PATEL: What I will just say is that first and foremost, of course, we respect, encourage, and appreciate people’s ability to exercise their First Amendment rights for the – for the freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, and things of that nature. We of course, though, take issue with any of those demonstrations turning violent that put people in harm’s way. And specifically as it relates to Travel Advisories to any of the countries that exist, we’ll continue to make adjustments and update our Travel Advisories as conditions in countries potentially change.
Shaun, go ahead.
Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about U.S.-China nuclear talks, which I think China has already spoken about it publicly, but apparently was to happen in the building soon?
MR PATEL: Yeah, sure. Thanks for your question, Shaun. So this – I would view this as a little bit of a follow-on. When Director and Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Washington, D.C., we talked a little bit about additional bilateral consultations that may take with the PRC in the days, weeks, months ahead. And these meetings are part of those ongoing efforts to maintain an open line of communication with the PRC on a full range of issues.
So assistant secretary for the Bureau of Arms Control, Deterrence, and Stability Mallory Stewart and an interagency team from the U.S. Government is hosting PRC Director General Sun Xiaobo at the department today. We have continually called on the PRC to substantively engage on arms control issues and reducing strategic risk, and this engagement will continue efforts to responsibly manage the relationship and ensure competition does not veer into conflict.
And I – we’ll have more to share on the contents of that meeting once it’s concluded.
QUESTION: Could I just ask briefly —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — does this relate at all to New START and the ideas of perhaps bringing China into New START?
MR PATEL: I would not go as – so far to necessarily to say that, but I think we’ll have more to share after the meeting has concluded.
QUESTION: And if I could just follow up on one other U.S.-China thing?
MR PATEL: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: John Kerry meeting his counterpart, Xie, in Sunnylands. Can you just say whether the meeting’s still underway, and is there any assessment, again, that you can say about that?
MR PATEL: My understanding is that the meeting is still underway, and so I think we’ll have more to share at the conclusion of that. But Shaun, I would just again say that in the follow-on of Secretary Blinken’s trip to Beijing in June we spoke about how there would be continued exchanges at these various levels bilaterally between senior officials from our government and senior officials from the PRC. This is just another example of that, and we expect that to continue.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you. Could you speak a little more about what channels of cooperation you’d like U.S. and China to engage and talk more about?
MR PATEL: Well we have long said, and this is nothing new to anybody in this room, that there continue to be a number of areas in which we believe that there is opportunity for cooperation between the United States and the PRC. Examples that you’ve heard us talk about, to use Special Envoy Kerry for an example, is of course the climate arena. As two of the world’s largest emitters, it’s incredibly important that we cooperate with the PRC in order to address the climate crisis that’s facing the world. Another area you’ve heard many in this department talk about is addressing the fentanyl precursors and the role that fentanyl has played in our country. We believe that the PRC has a role that they can play there.
But beyond that, this kind of cooperation is what the international community expects from the United States and the PRC as two major powers.
QUESTION: One more, if I may?
MR PATEL: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: So Secretary Blinken will attend the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Japan the 7th and the 8th. What can you tell us about the expected statement on Israel and Gaza, particularly as Japan refrained from the initial G7 statement in support of Israel? And in particular, what role do you envision Japan playing?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s trip. I know he will be there soon enough and will have lots to talk about with his foreign minister counterparts. I fully anticipate that the war between Israel and Hamas will be something that is talked about, but I’m just not going to get ahead of that.
And then – final question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Blinken visited Cyprus, where he met with President Christodoulides? How do you see Cyprus’s proposal for delivering aid to Gaza through a maritime corridor?
And second question: 45 members of Congress in a letter to Secretary Blinken asking him to pressure Türkiye to cut ties with Hamas. Did the Secretary raise this – the Hamas issue during his meetings with Mr. Fidan?
MR PATEL: So we have been very clear to any country that it can no longer be business as usual with Hamas, and we have been – the Secretary has been clear about that in all of his engagements.
And on your first question, I’ve not seen that specific report, but we take our responsibility seriously about ensuring the access of humanitarian aid and make sure that that flow continues into Gaza. And so we’ll continue to work at that.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)
- Book Review DESTINY OF A DYSFUNCTIONAL NUCLEAR STATE
- Book ReviewChina FO Presser Where is the fountainhead of jihad?
- Book ReviewNews Pak Syndrome bedevils Indo-Bangla ties
- Book Review Understanding Vedic Equality….: Book Review
- Book Review Buddhism Made Easy: Book Review
- Book ReviewNews Elegant Summary Of Krishnamurti’s teachings
- Book Review Review: Perspectives: The Timeless Way of Wisdom
- Book ReviewNews Rituals too a world of Rhythm
- Book Review Marx After Marxism
- Book Review John Updike’s Terrorist – a review
Recent Top Post
- CommentariesTop Story The Occupation of Territory in War
- CommentariesTop Story Pakistan: Infighting in ruling elite intensifies following shock election result
- CommentariesTop Story Proforma Polls in Pakistan Today
- CommentariesTop Story Global South Dithering Away from BRI
- News Meherabad beckons….
- CommentariesTop Story Hong Kong court liquidates failed Chinese property giant
- CommentariesTop Story China’s stock market fall sounds alarm bells
- Commentaries Middle East: Opportunity for the US
- Commentaries India – Maldives Relations Nosedive
- Commentaries Shortcomings of India’s jugaad mindset