State Dept Presser -Nov 7, 2023
The US State Dept Principal Dy Spokesperson, Vedant Patel held a presser on Nov 7, 2023 and fielded a wide range of questions. The Q-A on Pakistan and Afghanistan is tweaked to appear upfront.
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Tuesday. I do not have anything off the top.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Pakistan deporting hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, including those who are waiting for their American visas. According to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, they tried to stop the deportation of 25,000 Afghan workers, but Pakistan rejected that list. You like to say something about that?
MR PATEL: So we join partners in urging all states, including Pakistan, to uphold their respective obligations in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and to respect the principle of non-refoulement. We strongly encourage Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, to allow entry for Afghans seeking international protection and to coordinate with the appropriate international humanitarian organizations.
QUESTION: Sir, we have seen the rise in violence and terrorist attacks in Pakistan, some of them claimed by TTP, some of them claimed by the newly formed group Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan. And in a recent attack at Pakistani air base, Pakistani security forces claimed that they recovered American-made weapons from TTP terrorist left by U.S. in Afghanistan. What kind of CT, counterterrorism, cooperation is going on with Pakistan? What do you want to say about these American-made weapons recovered from the terrorist?
MR PATEL: We are aware of the reports of multiple attacks on Pakistani security forces and facilities earlier in November and we offer our condolences to the families of the victims, but I want to be very clear about this: There was no equipment left behind by American forces during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I will also add that while large-scale military grant assistance remains suspended, we have partnered with Pakistan for more than 40 years to support law enforcement, rule of law, counternarcotics efforts, and other areas in the security space, and will continue to value our bilateral relationship.
Jalil, if you want to close us out, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Patel. This question, I want to dedicate it to a fellow journalist, a Pashtun journalist who started an English newspaper from Peshawar 40 years ago when the university didn’t even have a journalism department, Mr. Rehmat Shah Afridi.
The Pashtuns, who both in Pakistan and Afghanistan are about 50 million people – since Cold War, then the Taliban rule, then 9/11, it is one ethnicity that has suffered the most, whether it’s their culture, language, moving within the country. State Department takes many initiatives, studies, whether it’s reports – and can the Secretary be kind enough to study how – to study how the Pashtuns’ ethnicity has suffered since last 40 years as part of their culture and everything?
MR PATEL: Well, Jalil, I think it’s important to remember here that in any context as we talk about Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan, that we have been very clear that our commitment to the people of Afghanistan is enduring. The United States continues to be the single largest humanitarian donor to the people of Afghanistan, and of course within that there is, of course, the Pashtun people, that subgroup. But again, it’s important to keep that in mind.
QUESTION: Also, just one more question about former prime minister and known corrupt politician as well, Nawaz Sharif, has come back to Pakistan. He has been convicted by supreme court, a big, staunch opponent of Imran Khan. So does the State Department welcome Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s back to Pakistan politics? Anything to say about that?
MR PATEL: As I said just earlier, in any country, we are not supportive of one particular party or government over the other. And in the context of any election, it just continues to be paramount that elections are held in a free and fair manner and reflect the will of the people residing in that country.
QUESTION: Could I just start with American citizens and permanent residents and others who are leaving Gaza? I know there’s a new figure that’s been given of 400 we’re at. Can you just explain a bit more about that, the timeframe? Are they still coming out? Have there been people coming out today? And how many – presuming there are some, how many are still left as far as you know?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. So yes, we have assisted more than 400 U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and other individuals to be able to depart Gaza. We continue to work in partnership with the Government of Egypt and Israel towards safe passage for more U.S. citizens, their immediate family members, and U.S. lawful permanent residents. And we encourage those whose names may have appeared on previous lists that have been published by the Palestinian General Authority for Crossings and Borders to make their way to the border and attempt to exit. It’s our understanding that individuals whose names had been on previous lists published can present themselves and should be able to cross.
This, of course, is a very fluid and quickly evolving situation. There are three entities involved in controlling access to the border crossing: Israel, Egypt, and Hamas. And we’re continuing to work with Egypt and Israel to ensure that American citizens who have indicated a desire to depart are able to do so. As you’ve seen over the past number of days, the American citizens have been able to exit, and we expect this number to continue to grow.
QUESTION: Sure. If I could just pursue that —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that more – safe passage for more afterward. And the Secretary, I believe it is a week ago on the Hill, gave a figure of 1,000, including citizens, green card holders, relatives. Doing the math, is it safe to say 600 are still waiting, or is that – are the figures – have they been evolving?
MR PATEL: I mean, that is – if you were to do basic arithmetic, that is of course the number that you would get to, but I, again, just want to caveat. As we have in any circumstance that involves American citizens in any part of the world, we of course do not ask American citizens to register when they travel and so on and so forth. So I just want to – I’m hesitant to provide a pinpoint metric as, of course, this is an ongoing and fluid situation.
QUESTION: Sure. I have more but if some people want to —
QUESTION: Do you have an update on the aid trucks that have been able to go through Rafah?
MR PATEL: I do have an update on additional humanitarian. So as of November 7th, today, approximately 526 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing, as reported by the UN OCHA.
QUESTION: Okay. And then if I could ask about some comments that Netanyahu made yesterday —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — about who should govern Gaza when fighting is over, he said he thinks Israel for an indefinite period will have overall security responsibility. What’s your take on those comments? Have you sought any clarification from the Israeli Government about what they meant by that? Do you have any concerns?
MR PATEL: So we, of course, engage with our partners in the Israeli Government about a numerous number of things, especially currently as this situation continues to be ongoing. I would refer you to the prime minister’s office for further elaboration on that particular quote. Our viewpoint is that Palestinians must be at the forefront of these decisions, and Gaza is Palestinian land and it will remain Palestinian land. And generally speaking, we do not support reoccupation of Gaza, and neither does Israel. Secretary Blinken was fairly clear about that during his travels as well.
But it’s important to note that, at the same time, we agree with Israel that there is no returning to the October 6th status quo. Israel and the region must be secure, and Gaza should and can no longer be a base from which to launch terror attacks against the people of Israel or anyone else. And so we’re working with partners on various scenarios – on interim governance, on security parameters, on security situations in Gaza – for once this crisis recedes. But I’m not going to get ahead of that process or get into it from here.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with his office since his comments came out?
MR PATEL: As I said, we are engaging with our partners in Israel around the clock on a number of issues. I’m just not going to get into the specifics of the day-to-day diplomacy.
Olivia, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I follow up on the aid trucks, please?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Because last week the number of aid trucks getting into Gaza seemed to be increasing every day, and since the crossing closed for a time over the weekend, it seems like there’s been a significant curtailment both in people coming out and aid going in. The administration has voiced its frustration with the amount of aid going in as being insufficient. So can you provide us any insight into what the slowdown of the delivery of aid is attributable to?
MR PATEL: Well, on the – first, to take a step back, on the issue of basic math, the number that I’m providing today is an increase from the number that I provided yesterday that was reflective of the total [as of] November 6th.
Broadly though, there are a number of issues at play here, primarily being this is not a crossing that the United States controls. We are engaged directly in diplomacy with our partners in Israel, with our partners in Egypt, to ensure that aid can flow. We are working appropriately with the Israelis to develop inspection mechanisms that would allow trucks to move into Gaza quickly while still undergoing full inspection. The Secretary raised this during his visit. This is an area that also has been rattled with blackouts and other instances that have made both the entrance of aid and for the voluntary departure of civilians to somehow – to at some instances be slower than not just the United States but anybody would want in this circumstance.
But that is exactly why Special Envoy Satterfield is in the region engaging in diplomacy, working with the Israelis and the Egyptians on this – to ensure that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza. And simultaneously, we are working around the clock on the consular piece of this so that American citizens and their family members and legal permanent resident who choose to depart are able to do so and in an appropriate manner.
Of course, no one is trying to indicate the rate and the clip at which these have been happening have been satisfactory. We think more aid needs to be getting in; we’ve been very clear about that. We think American citizens who are interested in departing need to be able to do so swiftly, and we’re working around the clock to ensure that.
QUESTION: Okay. And acknowledging that an increase of 50 that you’re citing today, the goal had been 100 trucks, while still recognizing that number was insufficient. Is 100 trucks a day still the goal?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to put a specific metric on it. Our goal at this point is doing everything we can to ensure that Rafah opens at appropriate intervals to allow for the influx of humanitarian aid into Gaza, as well as for the safe departure of American citizens, LPRs, and eligible family members.
QUESTION: If I may, one question on hostages.
MR PATEL: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: So U.S. officials have said that the hostage releases that we’ve seen to date were sort of pilot cases to see if the pause-for-release system could work. Are we to take from the fact that no additional hostages since that initial release have been made to – as an indication that that system doesn’t work and won’t pave the way for the release of additional hostages?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of diplomacy beyond saying that the release of hostages has, of course, been a key and evergreen goal of ours since October 7. The Secretary has been incredibly clear about that, not just with his Israeli counterparts, but also any country in the region who may have a relationship with Hamas or who may have influence over Hamas, and has been sending a very clear message that all these hostages need to be released.
It’s exactly why this administration has been clear-eyed about its call for a humanitarian pause, so conditions can be created that could potentially lead to additional hostage releases, that could potentially lead to an influx of additional humanitarian aid as well. So this is something that we’re continuing to pursue.
QUESTION: And just quickly, is there an update on the hostage negotiations that have been ongoing?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to offer at this time.
QUESTION: I have one more on the reaction within this building, if you’d like to go around —
MR PATEL: Yeah, why don’t I – I can come back to you. That’s great.
Jalil, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Patel. This next question, I want to dedicate it to —
MR PATEL: Is it on the region or is it off topic?
MR PATEL: Okay. I will come back to you then. Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, good.
QUESTION: Are you aware, first, of an assassination attempt on President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Michel. So I saw those public reports as soon as – right before I came out here, so I unfortunately don’t have any specifics to offer on that. I’m saying this solely on public reporting. We are continuing to pay attention, and as we have more information from the United States’s perspective, we will certainly share that. From the public reporting, it seems that President Abbas himself has not harmed, but again, as we get more information and as this situation develops and we have anything additional to share, we’ll make sure to share it.
QUESTION: And my second question is on the attacks on the U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. There have now been 40 attacks in this region since October 17th. President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken, and other officials threatened Iran and its proxies not to do it. They have done it. What’s next?
MR PATEL: So Michel, I don’t think you need to look any further than how we have tackled the threat that has been Iran over the course of this entire administration. We have used a combination of deterrence, pressure, and diplomacy to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities. I will also note that we sent a very loud and direct deterrence message to Iran about our willingness to vigorously protect our personnel and our interests. Late last month, on October 26th, the U.S. military carried out strikes against two facilities in eastern Syria used by the IRGC and affiliated groups. These precision self-defense strikes were a response to a series of ongoing and largely unsuccessful attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, as you said.
So we’ve been very clear that, one, we will take any steps possible to protect our personnel and our interests in the region, but additionally we have been very clear to countries in the region that we are incredibly keen on ensuring that this conflict does not spread. And in the matter of Iraq, that’s something that we raised directly with Prime Minister Sudani on Secretary Blinken’s trip, and the prime minister has also called these attacks unacceptable and has committed to taking whatever possible steps they can to stop these attacks.
QUESTION: On the same topic?
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Yesterday the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, they attacked Erbil airport. And some civilian flights were cancelled because of these attacks, because these attacks destroyed – they are saying they were targeting the U.S. bases in the region, but they are endangering the people in the region, the civilian people, the civilian airport, especially in Erbil, the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Today the president of the Kurdistan region said that this is extremely dangerous development in the region, and we call to some solution and to hold those groups responsible. What engagements do you have with the Iraqi and with the Kurdish government to prevent these attacks, to not put in dangers the civilians and the people who are living in the region?
MR PATEL: Well, I’m glad you raise that. The impact on civilians of course in this context, but especially in these attacks that are being carried out in Iraq, is of course of importance to us and one of the aspects that we have raised directly with the Government of Iraq. It’s something the Secretary raised directly with Prime Minister Sudani. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but we – the prime minister himself called these attacks unacceptable, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to engage on with the Iraqi Government to take whatever steps we can to hold the perpetrators accountable.
QUESTION: And one more question on the same.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: And can you – what – where you are in your discussion with the Israeli Government on the humanitarian pause? And could you give us – speak about this humanitarian pause? What do you mean by that, and –
MR PATEL: On the what?
QUESTION: Humanitarian pause.
MR PATEL: Humanitarian pause. Again, and I touched a little bit about this yesterday, our goal, our end goal here I think is threefold – is first, we want conditions created that will allow for the entrance of additional humanitarian aid into Gaza. We want the conditions to be such that will allow potentially for additional hostages to be released by Hamas. And we also want the conditions to be such that Hamas is not able to use such a time to regroup, grow stronger, position itself in a way to further attack the people of Israel, to conduct further terrorist attacks.
So we can call it whatever we want, but that is what we are looking at, and those are the end goals that we are trying to achieve through our diplomacy, through these engagements that we’re having not just with our Israeli counterparts but with partner countries in the region as well.
(Inaudible), go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. There are some alarming reports coming out of Gaza with regards to a shortage of – fuel shortages. Many hospitals announced they won’t be operational without new fuel supplies. Do you have any updates on the U.S. efforts on getting fuel inside Gaza? Yesterday you said the U.S. continues to work on this, but do you have any updates since yesterday?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific updates for you. Again, we recognize that fuel is urgently needed in Gaza and the critical role that it plays in both the access to free water, clean water treatment, desalination, and things like that. We also understand the critical role that it can play in ensuring some basic needs and protecting public health, and that’s exactly why Special Envoy Satterfield is discussing ways with Israeli authorities, with Egyptian authorities, donors, and aid agencies on what mechanisms exist to enhance the flow of fuel into Gaza to benefit the civilians. But I don’t have any updates for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any information on Israel specifically turning away trucks that have tried to enter upon Israel’s inspection, including because they were carrying fuel, or any other reasons?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific reports to share. But what I can just say on the inspection mechanism – and I touched a little bit on this – is that that’s something that we’re working diligently with our Israeli partners on. It’s something that the Secretary raised during his travels as well. We’re working with them to develop additional inspection mechanisms that we hope will allow trucks and aid to enter Gaza more quickly and more efficiently, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to talk more about that in the coming days and weeks.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Very quickly on the Secretary’s trip – I want to get you out of the Middle East briefly. I know you will be lured back anyway.
MR PATEL: I think there’s quite another – questions on the – on the region, Alex.
QUESTION: Yeah, on the Secretary’s trip, though —
MR PATEL: So if this is not on the region, I’m going to have to come back to you.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, just very quickly on the trip, then come back to me on Ukraine and Russia.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: The Secretary, when he met with Turkish officials, did he get an assurance that Sweden will become a NATO member by the end of this month?
MR PATEL: That’s exactly the kind of question – that’s not on the region, Alex. I am just – I will take it because you just asked. Look, we have been very clear about our viewpoint on Sweden’s accession to NATO. We have long felt that they are ready to be a NATO Ally and we think that the agreements that were made under the Madrid Summit have been met, and so we’re going to continue to work and let this process play out. I have no doubt that it was something that was discussed, but I’m not going to get beyond the readout.
QUESTION: What is the Secretary’s understanding of why it is taking longer? Like, can you —
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics beyond that.
QUESTION: Come back to me.
MR PATEL: Sam, you’ve had your hand up patiently. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The group Democracy for the Arab World Now, founded by slain journalist Khashoggi, put out a recent statement charging that there’s a grotesque hoax by the Biden administration not just greenlighting but bankrolling ethnic cleansing. They specifically cite parts of the supplemental that the administration has sought that fund the proposed humanitarian aid to Palestinians who have been displaced from Gaza into neighboring countries, and they also highlight the fact that the Israeli Government appears imminently planning a permanent move of Palestinians permanently from Gaza to Egypt, and they cite a leaked Israeli intelligence ministry report along those lines.
MR PATEL: So —
QUESTION: What do you have on that?
MR PATEL: I —
QUESTION: I realize that earlier in your comments you seemed to distance yourself from this notion. You said that it was Palestinian land and that you are opposed to this, or that was the implication of your remarks. However, there – there it is; you’re asking for the money to do it.
MR PATEL: So let me just be clear about a couple things here, Sam. First, we continue to provide support to Palestinian refugees through the UN, through UNRWA, and the U.S. is going to also continue to support efforts for safe passage for civilians in Gaza seeking safety. As it relates to our foreign policy, the U.S. does not support any forced relocation of Palestinians outside of Gaza. It is not a policy we are pursuing. It is not something that is on the table.
QUESTION: So why are you asking for funding for it?
MR PATEL: I don’t – I don’t understand your question.
QUESTION: This group, Democracy for the Arab World Now, founded by Khashoggi, says that you’re asking for funding for new Palestinians – not just displaced from ’48, not just displaced from ’67, but displaced from this conflict from Gaza into Egypt and other neighboring countries. I think it’s an open secret that Israel has been attempting to —
MR PATEL: So we are – we are not engaging in any situation in which Egyptian land would be leased. I’ve not seen that letter nor am I going to get into the specifics of the funding request to Congress from up here. But forced relocation is not – is not something that we are looking at —
MR PATEL: — or is on the table or a policy that we support.
MR PATEL: Doc, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, I’m asking you about your funding package.
QUESTION: Yes, Vedant? Thank you, excuse me, Vedant. Thank you. How long of a pause in the ceasefire does the State Department and President Biden have in mind for Israel? And a brief follow-up.
MR PATEL: We’re not calling for a ceasefire.
MR PATEL: That’s not policy we’re pursuing.
QUESTION: Okay. Then following, why aren’t Secretary of State Blinken and President Biden asking Hamas and Hizballah for a pause – for a pause in their firing of rockets on Israeli communities?
MR PATEL: I —
QUESTION: The reasons for not —
MR PATEL: — don’t even know where to begin with that, Doc. We have – since the onset of this conflict, we have condemned Hamas for their destructive terrorist attacks on the Israeli people on October 7th. We have also been incredibly clear to Hizballah and any other malign actors that they should not use this opportunity to widen this conflict. And when we’re talking about a humanitarian pause, what we are talking about is conditions that simultaneously ensure that Hamas is not in a position in which it can regroup, restrengthen itself, position itself in a way to further conduct attacks on the Israeli people while also creating conditions that perhaps will allow for the further provision of humanitarian aid into Gaza that will perhaps allow conditions that other hostages can be released as well.
QUESTION: Well, Hamas is still firing – I’m sorry.
MR PATEL: Go ahead. I’ve taken two of your questions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to – thank you. Just to follow up on Sam.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: In March 2021, Secretary Blinken accused China of the crime of genocide for its alleged treatment of the Uyghur minority, but he didn’t accuse them of killing on any mass scale or forcible transfer. Now we see with Israel’s military assault on Gaza something like one out of every 200 people in the Gaza Strip has been eliminated, over 4,000 children killed. The ministry of intelligence, as Sam pointed out, in Israel has published a blueprint for the forced transfer of the entire Palestinian population to Egypt. We have the intent to commit genocide expressed at the highest level of the Israeli Government, including Netanyahu himself referring to the Palestinian population as Amalek, the biblical Amalek.
So I wonder, when you’re accusing one country of genocide without accusing them of mass killing, and then blocking ceasefires to enable another country’s military assault, what metric are you using to determine genocide? Or is this just political rhetoric?
MR PATEL: It’s certainly not political rhetoric. The department – and I talked a little bit about this yesterday – we have a rigorous process in place for evaluating whether something constitute as genocide or not, and that is true in any country that that situation might be being looked at.
That is not a term that we have assessed pertains to this current conflict. We are, of course, monitoring the evolving situation and are examining facts as they develop. This continues to be an incredibly challenging and fraught situation, but it’s also important to remember that Hamas bears responsibility for sparking this war, and they have brought this tragic war to Gaza.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, President Biden has accused the Russian Government of genocide for its actions in Ukraine, where in two years it has killed as many civilians as Israel has killed in one month in the Gaza Strip. So how do you account for that disparity, where you’re assisting one country and accusing the other of genocide when one – the country you’re assisting has systematically killed so many more people in one month?
MR PATEL: Those circumstances are totally and completely not the same, and to make a comparison like that, candidly, is incredibly inappropriate. We have been – please don’t interrupt me. We have been – we have raised directly with the Israeli Government about the need to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians. This is something that the Secretary has raised directly on his travels. He – we even laid out that we believe that there are commitments that can be made additionally on dealing with protecting civilian life more effectively, and we’re watching very closely to make sure that happens.
QUESTION: But you’ve referred to Palestinian civilians as human shields. Doesn’t that blur the distinction between civilians and militants?
MR PATEL: I am not – we have not referred to Palestinian civilians as human shields. We have said —
QUESTION: I have sat – I sat here and heard Matthew Miller refer to them as human shields.
MR PATEL: We have said – we have said – we have said that Hamas is using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t that be —
MR PATEL: That is not hyperbole. That is something that we have seen Hamas do, as they continue to integrate themselves into key civilian infrastructure across Gaza.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t that be blurring the distinction between civilians and combatants if you say Hamas is using civilians as human shields? Wouldn’t that be in some ways justifying the killing of civilians because they happen to be in the way, in their homes?
MR PATEL: We are not justifying – we are – there is no one in this administration that is justifying killing of civilians. Any civilian life lost is incredibly troubling, heartbreaking to us. Any number above zero is deeply troubling to us. What we are doing is we are working with our Israeli partners to ensure that steps can be taken to minimize the impact on civilian life. And we also have – believe that there is a moral imperative, there is a strategic imperative to take steps to minimize loss of civilian life.
I’m going to work the room. I’ve answered like four of your questions.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up – sorry – on your answer to the genocide question?
MR PATEL: Yeah. Yeah.
QUESTION: You said you’re monitoring the evolving situation and examining the facts as they develop. Is – are you confirming that the U.S. is examining Israeli bombardment of Gaza to see if its actions constitute —
MR PATEL: No, that’s not – I did not say that to indicate that there is some active, ongoing process. This is par for the course as we observe conditions and circumstances around the world.
QUESTION: So there’s no active process looking at this specifically?
MR PATEL: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: Given – just to follow on that briefly, given the circumstances, is one likely?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into internal deliberative processes that exist at State. I want to – is it cool I go to Shaun and then I can come back to you, before you, sir?
QUESTION: Sure, no problem.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s related somewhat.
MR PATEL: Okay.
QUESTION: Another aspect of this, the killings of journalists in the conflict – there’s a Committee to Protect Journalists report, I believe out yesterday, which is saying that 37 journalists have been killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians, in this conflict – I think another one today. The secretary-general of the United Nations said that this is the deadliest conflict for journalists in quite some time. To what extent does this – is there a concern about the killing of journalists, in terms of ways to avoid this and in terms of why this is actually happening?
MR PATEL: I would say of course, Shaun, that the impact of this conflict on journalists and our concern of journalists being among that could potentially be targeted when it comes to civilian casualties, that of course continues to be tantamount and something that we are paying attention to and have raised with actors in the region about this as well.
QUESTION: And so it’s been raised actively in terms of —
MR PATEL: It’s – when we talked about – when we talk about ensuring that civilians are not placed in harm’s way, of course, journalists are part of that. And we continue to believe that civilians, including journalists – that steps need to be taken to ensure that they are not impacted within this conflict, that they are not targeted or killed in this conflict.
QUESTION: And just finally, I mean, is there any concern that there has been a deliberate targeting of some of the journalists?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware nor have I seen any reporting to indicate as such.
QUESTION: About this building?
MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you because there have been multiple reports about the response and maybe in some cases the outcry within this building about the U.S. policy approach to this conflict.
So first, can you say whether you are aware of the formal submission of one or more dissent channel cables by American diplomats? And then secondly, if you could speak more broadly to how leadership here is responding to those with deep expertise in this building who believe that America’s foreign policy here may be ill-conceived?
MR PATEL: So first, I am just not going to speak to the specifics of the dissent channel out of respect to the integrity of the channel. What I will just say is that this is something that has been available to employees since the Vietnam War and we are proud that the department has an established procedure for employees to articulate policy disagreements directly to senior department principals in this building without fear of retribution.
I will also say just broadly that we understand and we expect people in our workforce to have different personal beliefs, different beliefs about what U.S. foreign policy should be. And in fact, we think that that is one of the strengths of this government and it’s one of the strengths of this department and our ability to engage with people who have different opinions. And we encourage individuals to continue to make those opinions known. It’s also important to remember that the President is who sets this policy, and we all – up here, at least – serve at his pleasure.
But we encourage everyone, even when they disagree with our policy, to make their leadership know; the dissent channel is one of those mechanisms. I will also note that we continue to take the responsibility to our workforce incredibly seriously and recognize that this is an incredibly taxing and trying time. This conflict is incredibly fraught. We have, like any workforce, ensured that the workforce knows what mental health resources are available to them in this trying time.
And I will also just add that throughout this deliberative process as it relates to UN – U.S. foreign policy, we have engaged directly, the Secretary has, with those who may have dissenting opinions or different opinions from what current U.S. foreign policy is. That’s democracy. That’s part of the process.
QUESTION: Just very quickly, because apart from the articulation of opinion or grievance, as it may be, are there people with expertise in policy whose views have been incorporated as the situation has unfolded? Have they effected a shift?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to – I’m just not going to read out the specifics of what deliberative process or what the interagency process is like. There are – of course, the ways that decisions are made in any administration involve the inputs of a lot of people across a lot of different agencies with a lot of differing equities. Ultimately, though, it is the President who sets the policy. But simultaneously, we have a number of mechanisms at our disposal available to the workforce for them to share their dissenting viewpoints, whether it be the dissent channel cable, whether it be discussing directly with department leadership, which there have been opportunities to do so as well.
Alex, go ahead. I will come back to you.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. A couple of questions that are not Middle East-related if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Ukraine. I’m sure you have seen multiple reports over the weekend that the U.S. is pushing Russia – or Ukraine to dialogue with Russia. There is speculation that’s been building up around it. So I want to give you a chance to clear the – clear up the air.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Have you guys done anything like that?
MR PATEL: So any negotiations, Alex, are up to Ukraine. And as we have said a number of times before, nothing should happen about Ukraine without Ukraine. We are not aware of any conversations with Ukraine about negotiations outside of the peace formula structure that you’ve already seen a number of engagements take place on. But it continues to be incredibly clear, Alex, that the Kremlin has no interest in negotiating or ending this war, and we are committed to supporting our Ukrainian partners.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to South Caucasus briefly.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Matt put out a tweet about what was going on in Georgia. A Georgian citizen was killed by —
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — a Russian – I don’t want to use “occupiers” – terrorist. My question is: The country has been ruled by a party that has been promoting Russian propaganda for a long time. Are you in a position to step in and defend Georgia, should Georgia become a target for Russia?
MR PATEL: Alex, I’m not going to get ahead of anything that happens. That would be incredibly inappropriate. But I will just echo what was in the tweet yesterday, which is that we condemn that killing, and it is another example of the destruction that is ongoing that’s being caused by Russia’s occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territory and elsewhere. And it’s something that we’ll continue to monitor and call out as well.
QUESTION: Thank you. My final question, Armenia-Azerbaijan.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: We were told in September in this building by senior officials that both Azerbaijan and Armenia had agreed to send their officials to Washington for another round of meeting. Now we are – we have seen lately they are engaged in carousel of forum shopping. Is Washington still an option for the next round of the negotiation?
MR PATEL: Of course. Look, Alex, outside of everything that of course is going on in the world that often sometimes takes up a lot of the oxygen in this room, peace between those two countries continues to be a priority for us, for Secretary Blinken, and it’s something that the department will continue to engage towards.
You had your hand up. Then I’ll come back to you, Shaun. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. So two questions regarding China and South Korea, if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: South Korea is a key U.S. security ally, and the State Department has been very clear in raising concerns over China’s human rights practices as well as its economic coercion toward other countries. So the State Department has also, in three different human rights and religious freedom reports, highlighted a particular issue in which the Chinese embassy in South Korea has been using its economic leverage to pressure theaters in South Korea, has tried to block performances by an American company Shen Yun Performing Arts. So it’s an American arts company whose classical Chinese dance shows have been banned in China because they include pieces portraying human rights persecution in China.
So my question is: Does it remain a concern by the State Department that, in such incidents like this, China’s – is using its economic pressure to influence the freedom of expression in an ally country?
MR PATEL: Broadly, I would say it, of course, continues to remain of concern. The PRC has a very clear track record of using economic coercion and otherwise in a wide array of countries, not just necessarily the ROK. But this is, of course, something that we’re going to continue to address in close partnership with the ROK, with Japan, with other countries in the Indo-Pacific as well.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — regarding Secretary Blinken’s trip later this week. So in addition to, of course, talking about countering threats from North Korea, does Secretary Blinken also plan to address countering China’s regional influence in his meeting with South Korean counterparts, and of course, like you said, meeting with other Indo-Pacific partners as well?
MR PATEL: You’ve heard me say this before, or I will say those in this room have heard me say this before – any aspect of our foreign policy, whether it be the Secretary’s current presence at the G7 or his soon-to-be presence in India with Secretary Austin, it is about our foreign policy and the foreign policy of those countries – and in the G7 case, the foreign policy of those member countries. It is not about anything other else. What we have long said, of course, is that we do not ask countries to choose between the United States and the PRC or any other country. It is about offering them a choice and continuing to show what a deepening partnership with the United States can look like.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions on Georgia.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any update about the long-term observation mission to Georgia from the U.S. for 2024 parliamentary elections? That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have the long-term mission. Any updates on that?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of any specific updates. Obviously, though, in any circumstances around any election, we would want to ensure that they are held freely and fairly and, of course, when applicable, in accordance with OSCE parameters. But I’m happy to check if we have anything more specific.
QUESTION: Thank you. And the second question. For a month, the ruling party of Georgia and the governing members of the Georgian Government claimed that the U.S. is providing funds for coup preparation through USAID. What is your reaction? And more generally, how do you perceive these claims coming from a government that receives millions of dollars annually from the U.S.?
MR PATEL: I think I spoke about this a number of months ago.
MR PATEL: And again, the answer is this is absolutely not true. In any country around the world, again, the U.S. does not favor any one political party or the other or one particular government outcome or the other. Again, our goal in any of these circumstances, any of these contexts, is ensuring that there is freedom and fair elections held in accordance with the appropriate standards.
Shaun, you’ve had your hand raised; go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I ask a few around the world? I’ll try to be succinct.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of the meeting – I know I asked yesterday, but the climate meeting in Sunnylands between John Kerry —
MR PATEL: I don’t – I don’t have a specific readout. I’m happy to check with the special envoy’s team to see if we have any specifics to share.
MR PATEL: But I will use this opportunity to again echo – as two of the world’s largest emitters, climate is a unique area in which the United States and the PRC have an opportunity in which their – I won’t say partnership, but their ability to work together can reap benefits for the entire world. And so that’s an area that we’ve long said is an area where we can continue to engage with the PRC on.
QUESTION: Sure. Let me just switch topics, although it also relates to China. Burma/Myanmar, if – do you have any comment on the fighting that’s in the north? The Kachin rebels, China said that one of its – some of its nationals have been wounded in this. Does the U.S. have any statement about – anything to say about the nature of the conflict or whether there are concerns about this —
MR PATEL: I don’t at this moment, Shaun, but I’m happy to check and take back.
QUESTION: Sure. Sure. And finally, could I go back to Ukraine?
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about President Zelenskyy saying this is not the right time for elections? Obviously, it’s already – because of the war there’s the martial law, but what – do you have any comment about his intentions?
MR PATEL: I think it’s important to remember that Ukraine is in this position because Russia continues to wage its full-scale illegal war against Ukraine. Ukraine and its people are fighting for survival.
It’s also important to remember in the context when we talk about elections that nearly 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory is occupied and tens of millions of its citizens are displaced because of Russia’s war, many of them outside of the country as refugees. On top of that, Russia continues to launch daily bombardments of civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. We also have made clear with our Ukrainian partners our commitment to supporting not just Ukraine in its fight but our commitment to support a careful and constitutional approach to keeping democracy strong in wartime.
QUESTION: Okay. Could I just pursue that some – I mean —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: But in terms of the actual decision not to go ahead with it in early 2024, is that from your viewpoint – the way you described it, it’s understandable. Do you have any —
MR PATEL: My understanding is that is – this is consistent with their constitution, so we’ll just leave it to the Ukrainians to share anything further on that.
Go ahead. Yeah.
Daphne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sorry, just quick for you on Gaza.
MR PATEL: No, you’re good. Yeah.
QUESTION: This meeting in Paris on Thursday to coordinate aid for Gaza – who from the U.S. will attend?
MR PATEL: So I don’t have a full delegation list, but I can share that that delegation will be led and headed by Under Secretary Uzra Zeya from the State Department.
QUESTION: And the possible creation of a maritime corridor is expected to come up, which is an idea that’s been put forward by Cyprus. Did Blinken discuss this in his meeting with the president of Cyprus? And is this an idea that the U.S. supports?
MR PATEL: So what I will just say on the delivery of aids and the various methods, the U.S. particularly, we use a number of methods, including trucks and overland routes, as well as airplanes and helicopters. I will let this convening discuss what options that might exist for a maritime corridor as one of those channels, but I’m just not going to get ahead of that process. We certainly have broadly felt that the provision of aid and any country’s ability to do so to the Palestinian people in Gaza would be a good thing.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Are you able to say anything about Amos Hochstein’s visit to Lebanon?
MR PATEL: What I can close out with, Michel, is that Senior Advisor to the President Amos Hochstein is in Lebanon today to meet with members of the Lebanese Government to demonstrate the U.S.’s continued support for the Lebanese people. In his meetings, Mr. Hochstein will continue to emphasize the U.S. is not interested in seeing this conflict spread to Lebanon.
All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 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