US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser- Oct 3, 2023

15 Min
State Dept Presser- Oct 3, 2023

Vedant Patel Principal Dy spokesperson of the US State Dept held a presser on Oct 3. The Q-A on South Asian issues is tweaked to appear upfront.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you what your thoughts, the administration’s thoughts, are about the apparent escalation in this India-Canada dispute.

MR PATEL  I don’t really have anything new to sort of offer on this that both Matt and the Secretary haven’t spoke to already, I would say, in the number of times it has come up before the press in the past week or so. I would just reiterate again we are, and continue to be, deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau, and we remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. And it’s critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice. We also have, as we previously said, publicly and privately urged the Indian Government to cooperate in the Canadian investigation and cooperate in those efforts.

QUESTION: Yeah. But are you not concerned that if Canada reciprocates in terms of mass expulsion of Indian diplomats from Canada, that this will trigger a – kind of an avalanche-type effect?

MR PATEL: So I’ve —

QUESTION: And that could impact your Indo-Pacific strategy?

MR PATEL: I’ve seen the reports on the diplomatic staffing levels for the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. But I don’t have anything further to offer on those reports, and certainly don’t want to get into hypotheticals and take this process one step at a time. As it relates to our Indo-Pacific strategy and the focus that we continue to place on the region, that effort and that line of work is going to continue; and of course, with India, we are partners with them in the Quad and in many other fora. And we continue to work with them and other countries in the region on a number of important issues.

But as I said at the top of this, we take these allegations very seriously, and we continue to not just work closely with our Canadian partners, but have, as I said, publicly and privately urged the Indian Government to cooperate with Canada also.

Simon, go ahead.

QUESTION: India, a slightly different India topic. There was a raid on the offices of a news outlet called Newsclick, and some of the journalists for the outlet had their homes raided, I believe, as well. So, on one hand there’s been some outcry about – from press organizations in India, saying this is an infringement on the free press. So I’m interested in your response to that.

But separately, well, relatedly – there is also an allegation related to this that this news outlet was part of a Chinese influence operation that’s funded through a network, according to The New York Times, of an American businessman. So I guess on those two separate points, do you want to respond to – do you have any comment on these raids? And do you have any information on the potential Chinese influence operation that might be connected to this?

MR PATEL: Let me take your second question first. We are aware of those concerns and have seen that reporting about this outlet’s ties to the PRC, but we can’t comment yet on the veracity of those claims. Separately of course, though, the U.S. Government strongly supports the robust role of the media globally, including social media, in a vibrant and free democracy, and we raise concerns on these matters with the Indian Government, with countries around the world, through our diplomatic engagements that are, of course, at the core of our bilateral relationship.

And we have urged the Indian Government, and have done so not just with India but other countries as well, about the importance of respecting the human rights of journalists, including freedom of expression both online and offline. I don’t have additional information, Simon, though, about this particular circumstance or any of the underlying issues that may or may not be related to this outlet, however.

QUESTION: Could I stay with an India theme for now?


QUESTION: Maldives.


QUESTION: I know there was a statement, I believe, over the weekend on the election, congratulating the winner. But the president-elect of Maldives has spoken today about removing Indian forces from there. He’s widely perceived as being a bit more of a tilt toward Beijing. Does the U.S. have anything to say about this?

MR PATEL: I don’t. This is a matter between the Maldives and India, of course. What I will just say broadly is what we have – this is consistent around the world – is that we have never tried to imply one way or the other that any country is required to make any kind of decision about the kinds of exclusionary partnerships that it enters in through its bilateral relationships, whether it be with China or the United States or India or any other country.

MR PATEL: Jahanzaib, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Jahanzaib from ARY. You just spoke in detail about India-Canada tensions, but what is U.S. position on the Khalistan issue? Because there are thousands of Sikhs living in United States and there is a U.S.-based education group Sikhs for Justice managing the Khalistan referendum. So, is there any policy on that or it’s just a matter of free speech?

MR PATEL: We’re not going to comment on the unofficial referendum. What I will just say is that, broadly across the board, individuals have the right to freedoms of speech, right to peacefully assemble in the United States, all of which are in line with our First Amendment protections and adherence, of course, to any appropriate federal and local regulations. I will just leave it at that.

QUESTION: Pakistan ordered all illegal immigrants, including 1.73 million Afghan nationals, to leave the country as soon as possible. A Pakistani official says that 14 of 24 suicide bombings in the country this year were carried out by Afghan nationals. Are you concerned that the huge number of Afghan nationals is being —

MR PATEL: I’ve not seen that comment or the specific reporting that might be rooted in that specific statistic. What I will just say, though, is that Pakistan has been an important partner when it has come to the resettlement of Afghans who are fleeing and looking to resettle. They’ve been an important stopover in that process and we’ll just leave it at that.

QUESTION: I have one last question if you are —


QUESTION: Thank you so much. Sir, in the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, the chairman of the committee, McCaul, said that the Biden administration officials attempting to downplay the Taliban’s terrorist ties in an effort to exclude them from an update Authorized Use of Military Force, AUMF. Would you like to respond to that?

MR PATEL: There is nobody in this administration that is attempting to downplay the Taliban and the type of organization that they are. They’ve been labelled an FTO. There’s been no change in that. So, we’ll see if we have anything more to add on that, though.

QUESTION: Just on Armenia, Armenia joining the Rome Statute for the ICC. Obviously, the U.S. is not part of that, but this is something that’s gotten quite a reaction, particularly from the Kremlin.

MR PATEL: Right.

QUESTION: Do you have any general comment on Armenia doing this, and what it means?

MR PATEL: Well, we respect Armenia’s sovereignty and independence, and we’ll leave it to Armenia’s Government to comment on its legislative processes, of course. We respect the right of every country to join the ICC and have been encouraged by many states, including Armenia, that have undertaken commitments to promote justice, accountability for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

QUESTION: Still on the South Caucasus?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Welcome back to the podium.

MR PATEL: Thanks.

QUESTION: Same topic. We have seen increasing rhetoric coming out of Russia, threatening Armenia for the very step it has taken. Will the United States step up and defend Armenia against potential Russian aggression, either directly through its army or through its proxy forces, like there are reports about Wagner being present?

MR PATEL: That is quite the hypothetical, Alex, that I don’t want to get into. What I will say, though, is that the United States is going to continue to play a role in engaging with Azerbaijani and Armenian leadership at the highest levels to pursue a dignified and durable peace.

And you’ve also seen us, over the course of this past week and beyond, reiterate our call for a longer-term, independent, international monitoring mission in Nagorno-Karabakh to provide transparency and reassurances that the rights and securities of ethnic Armenians will be protected, particularly for those who may wish to return, and for the protection of cultural heritage sites, which all of course is in line with Azerbaijan’s public statements and their international obligations as well.

QUESTION: On that line, let me ask you about Russian presence in Karabakh. Last week, Matt told us that you guys didn’t find it helpful during the events that happened previous week. The question is: Do you subscribe to concerns that Russian army, particularly after Armenians population have left the region, is there – for not maintain the peace in Karabakh but to keep the piece of Karabakh?

MR PATEL: To keep the what?

QUESTION: The piece of Karabakh. Not for peace in –

MR PATEL: Ah. Interesting wordplay there, Alex. Again, I just don’t want to speculate. I, again, would echo what Matt said – of course, that that kind of presence continues to be concerning. But the United States is going to continue to remain focused on engaging with Azerbaijani and Armenian leadership on this, and doing whatever we can to continue to have a dignified and durable peace on this.

QUESTION: According to the UN spokesperson yesterday, the UN team visiting Karabakh did not see any damage to civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and housing, or to cultural and religious sites. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: So we certainly appreciate that – those comments from the UN spokesperson. But that does not change the United States’ point of view on this. As I just said to Alex, we continue to believe, even in the light of the UN visit, that there is a strong desire and a need for a longer-term, independent international monitoring mission in Nagorno-Karabakh. We think that that will provide transparency; we think that it will provide the appropriate reassurances for the various rights and securities that we continue to be deeply concerned about.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I have a couple of questions. First, on the normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.


QUESTION: The White House announced on the weekend that there’s a basic framework for the normalization. Can you elaborate on that?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get ahead of this process, Michel. So, what I will just leave it at is that many of the key elements of a pathway towards normalization are now on the table, and there is broad understanding of those elements, which we’re certainly not going to get into the specifics of these diplomatic engagements publicly.

What I will also say is that this requires – the specifics require an incredible amount of legwork, diplomacy, discipline, rigor, and all of the stakeholders being deeply engaged in this. I will note, though, we don’t have a formal framework and we don’t have the terms ready to be signed. There’s still lots of work to do, and we’re continuing to work that process.

We believe, though, as part of our efforts to advance a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous and stable Middle East region, that continuing our support for full normalization with Israel and continue to talk to our regional partners about how more progress can be made. And that’s going to – what we’re going to continue to stay focused on.

QUESTION:  You just said it requires an incredible amount of diplomacy, discipline, and rigor? Is that right?

MR PATEL: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Is there another word in there that I missed?

MR PATEL: No, I think that’s it.

QUESTION: Is this a new phrase?

MR PATEL: No, no. It’s just how we are describing the —

 QUESTION: Yeah. On this very issue, although Matt’s question is really very important. Rigor – does that mean like ongoing, non-stopping kind of an effort, the full steam ahead? Is that what it means?

MR PATEL: The point that I’m making, Said, is that this is an incredibly mounting task in front of us, one that we think, as the Secretary has said recently, could be transformative for the region, one that we, of course, are continuing to be deeply engaged on and work towards as well. I just don’t want to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: Okay. So on this very point both the former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, and the former Jordanian ambassador to the UN, Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, wrote an article, lengthy article, in Foreign Affairs that says what a Saudi-Israeli deal could mean for the Palestinians. And they are warning you, saying that the real aim of the judicial reform and so on is it’s a ploy that they want to basically form – have an Israeli state from the river to the sea. That is the aim of the right wing. That’s what they’re saying, right wing government of Israeli currently.

And they’re suggesting to you that whatever you want on the Palestinian issue – they list the three components, which is the – whatever, defense-backed and the nuclear issue and so on. But on the Palestinian issue, that you must extract that before you go ahead with any kind of normalization effort. Do you have any comment on this? Do you feel that something must be sort of gotten from the Israelis, cast in concrete, before moving ahead with any normalization?

MR PATEL: Said, a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia will and should include a serious component dealing with the fundamental issues between Israelis and Palestinians. But as I said in answering Michel’s question, I don’t want to get ahead of the process or what that might look like. This is an effort that is ongoing. Again, as the Secretary said, we believe that reaching a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia could be transformative for the region. But much work continues to lie ahead, work, as Matt says or points out, that we said is – will require discipline and rigor and a continued engagement of diplomacy. And so we’ll let that process play out.

QUESTION: I mean, going back to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, it really is a normalization plan. But it is predicated on the creation of a Palestinian state. So what is the difference between this step-by-step kind of normalization and that one that was really, really grandiose? In other words, it was for all the Arab and Muslim countries to recognize Israel, have wonderful relations and so on, on the premise that there’s a Palestinian state at the end. And that’s what you keep saying. You keep saying that you are committed to the two-state solution. So what is the difference?

MR PATEL: Said, we are committed to a two-state solution. We’ve been very clear about that. But on the subject of this, I don’t know if there – how many different ways I can say it, so I will just be very blunt. There’s still lots of work to do ahead, and we’re working through it, and we’ll have more to share and talk about as this – progress on this proceeds.

 Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic in Iran, doesn’t seem to agree with the Biden administration’s view of expanding the Abraham Accords. He actually has called – has said that the Arab countries are gambling, those who want to sign on, and that they’re, quote, “betting on a losing horse.” Any comments?

MR PATEL: No, not really. What I will just say is that I’m not sure that we are really interested in the supreme leader’s point of view on this, when it comes to what we think could be a potentially transformative normalization agreement for the region. What I will also just add is that part of this, of course, with these countries – with Israel, with, of course, Saudi Arabia – the nexus of our bilateral relationships with both of these countries is, of course, the role that they play in countering and combating against the malign and destabilizing activities that the Iranian regime partakes in in the region.

QUESTION: Today, Iran’s foreign minister has commented on something that happened during the previous U.S. administration, and that is the —

MR PATEL: Which previous U.S. administration? The immediate previous?

QUESTION: The Trump, yes. The immediate.

MR PATEL: Got it.

QUESTION: The Trump administration. He was talking about the killing of Qasem Soleimani and that after that the U.S., the White House communicated with them on a number of occasions telling them: don’t retaliate; we’ll lift some sanctions on you or that – let us tell you how to retaliate. And then eventually, when Iran did attack the Ayn al-Asad base in Iraq, the White House said – communicated with them again and told them that: all right, that’s enough, stop it. So do you have – does this administration have any comments, any insight into that?

MR PATEL: Does this administration have any comment on something that the former administration did as it relates to their engagements with Iran?

QUESTION: Well, do you think the Iranian foreign minister now, at this point in time, talking about that – does that – what does that tell you? What do you think?

MR PATEL: I try not to get in the minds of foreign interlocutors and certainly not in that country in particular is probably one that I would avoid as well. So I really don’t have anything to offer on that.

  QUESTION: They also unveiled a new type of drone today and they’re talking about electronic warfare. Do you see that electronic warfare as a possibility with Iran, boosting its capability not only in case there is any interaction with the U.S., but also with regards to export of its goods to Russia and other countries?

MR PATEL: Of course. I think the use of Iranian military equipment, whatever it may be – I certainly don’t want to get into the technical specifics – but the use of any of it of course poses a risk of it continuing to play a bigger role in the already existing malign and destabilizing activities that the Iranian regime already partakes in. We have seen – we spent so much of this past year and the year before talking about the deepening security partnership with – between the Iranian regime and the Russian Federation. And so of course, any kind of new potential system of course poses the potential risk to make worse these already deeply violent and destabilizing activities that we know the Iranian regime is going to partake in.

What the U.S. is going to do is we’ll continue to use the tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable and we’ll do so in close conjunction with our allies and partners both through the E.U. and the E3 and the other relevant multilateral organizations that we engage with so closely to hold the Iranian regime accountable.

Olivia, go ahead.

QUESTION:  The readout of the Secretary’s call with his Swedish counterpart today noted that the two discussed final preparations for Sweden’s accession to NATO. I’m just wondering what the expectation here is for the timing of that accession given that the Turkish parliament has delayed that vote apparently.

MR PATEL:  I have been doing this long enough to know not to assign too finite timelines on anything. What I will just say – and we have been clear about this going back to even before the NATO Summit in Vilnius earlier this summer – we believe that Sweden is ready to formally ascend to NATO. We believe that they have met the conditions that they have been in discussions with our Turkish partners as well.

So again, we’re just going to continue to engage deeply on this and let this process play out. I don’t want to assign a timeline to this.

QUESTION: Okay. Where do the discussions on the F-16s to Türkiye stand?

MR PATEL: As we have been very clear about before, that’s an issue before Congress and so I’m just not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: So no update on that one?

MR PATEL: I have no updates for you.

QUESTION:  Nishant for Nikkei. I just wanted to get your thoughts on Leader Schumer’s planned delegation to China and what the goals of this trip – how the goals might contrast from the goals of previous senior administration officials’ visits earlier this year.

MR PATEL: Well, it’s a totally different entity of the U.S. Federal Government, so you’ll have to ask them. Again, Congress is a separate but co-equal branch of our government. Of course, when a CODEL travels to any foreign location there of course is a State Department component in helping coordinate any necessary logistics and things like that, but on outcomes for the visit, goals, things like that, I would encourage you to speak to Senator Schumer’s office.

QUESTION: President Biden has said to be supportive of the trip. Do you think it could be used to lay the groundwork for a potential Biden-Xi summit at APEC?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to – don’t want to speculate or get ahead of any scheduling. And again, this is something that the senator’s office can speak more to.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. We’ll go back to Georgia, if you don’t mind.


QUESTION: You know the Georgian ruling, pro-Russian party is pursuing with its initial plan to go after the president, impeaching her for her trip to Europe. Now, let me get your reaction to that. But broadly speaking, yesterday, we were discussing with Matt how Georgian Government is targeting the USAID, U.S. embassy, civil society, journalists who ask questions, just name it. Does it require a policy response from Washington?

MR PATEL: So let me boil down specifically unto the mention of USAID that you just highlighted. Our embassy in Tbilisi put out a very clear statement about this, and – which I’ll just reiterate here, in that allegations against one of our assistance projects are false and are – fundamentally mischaracterize the goals of our assistance to Georgia. As always, our assistance is transparent. And we will continue to support Georgian organizations that work to secure fundamental rights provided by the Georgian constitution and Georgia’s international commitments and obligations.

QUESTION: And anything on the impeachment of the president that they just started the process…..

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: And one more, if you don’t mind. Last week marked 30 years from occupation of Abkhazia. As you know, 20 percent of Georgia is under occupation. The fact that Georgian pro-Russian regime is in bed with Russia doesn’t take away from the fact that 20 percent of the country is under occupation. Is the U.S. still part of the peace process, like Geneva process, and who is in charge of the process from the U.S. side? I haven’t seen Ambassador Louis Bono going to Georgia lately.

MR PATEL: Alex, let me broaden the aperture a little bit. The Russian-occupied regions are integral parts of Georgia, and we fully support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized border. I will also note, Alex, that we continue to partner with the people of Georgia as they pursue a democratic, prosperous, peaceful, and Euro-Atlantic future. And we urge the Georgian Government to implement the necessary reforms to acquire EU candidate status, and we stand ready to assist the government in doing so.

 All right. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)###