State Dept Presser, Oct 7
The State Department held a press briefing on Oct 7, 2022 with Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson fielding a wide range of questions.
2:09 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: I have two very brief things for you at the top and then I’m happy to take your questions.
So first, I wanted to share that yesterday, USAID Administrator Samantha Power visited Ukraine to convey the United States’ steadfast support for the people of Ukraine. Sshe met with President Zelenskyy, where she reaffirmed the U.S. Government’s unwavering commitment to help Ukraine prevail in the war and reiterated that the U.S. will never recognize Russia’s purported annexations of Ukrainian territory.
The administrator also had an opportunity to meet with farmers in Ukraine to hear first-hand about how the conflict has affected their livelihoods.
Additionally, she met with the mayor of Kyiv and visited a neighborhood and school which was previously used as a makeshift bomb shelter.
Administrator Power also took the opportunity to announce an additional $55 million investment in Ukraine’s heating infrastructure that will keep – that will help support repairs and keep the heat on through the winter.
And one more thing. As many of you may have seen earlier today, our administration released the United States’ new National Strategy for the Arctic Region.
Despite the challenges to international cooperation resulting from Russia’s war, the National Strategy will help us sustain institutions for Arctic cooperation, including the Arctic Council, for years to come.
And with that, Matt, I’m happy to have you kick us off.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. expressly communicated to Russia what the repercussions would be if it used nuclear weapons? And can you detail, like, what that would look like?
MR PATEL: I am certainly not going to detail what they would look like. But yes, we have communicated directly with Russia about the catastrophic consequences that would take place should they decide to use nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: President Zelenskyy suggested that the West ought to do pre-emptive strikes. I’m sure you’ve heard his statement.
MR PATEL: Right. Right. So —
QUESTION: So is that kind of pushing the envelope a little bit?
MR PATEL: So, Said, President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been very clear about this, that so – as long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we are not going to get directly engaged in this conflict either by putting American troops to fight in Ukraine or attacking Russian forces.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one question on the referendum?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, you call it a sham and so on. But quite honestly, it’s not much different than the referendum that you supported back in Kosovo when Kosovo broke away from Serbia. I mean, all Serbs that lived in the region boycotted it at the time, but the Kosovars voted for it. Is there any similarity between the two?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any comparisons to offer. But as it relates to the referenda in Ukraine, it’s very clear that these are a sham and these results are – have been manipulated by Moscow, and they are certainly not something that this administration or this country will ever recognize.
QUESTION: It has been a number of times that we have heard administration officials, including yourself on this podium, that are referring to some indications. Does that mean the administration believes that there might actually be clear indications out there or warning lights will turn red that you will refer to? I’m not an expert on these issues. But do you guys really – are there any particular indications that you are looking at?
MR PATEL: I’m certainly not going to get into what assessments, as a government, we look at when determining our strategic nuclear posture or other things. But what I will use this opportunity to reiterate is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, and nor do we have any indications that Russia is preparing to eminently use nuclear weapons. What I would say, though, again is that the President’s comments and our paying close attention of this is just indicative of how seriously we take this issue.
QUESTION: Yeah, Iranian drones are becoming increasingly problematic. So just yesterday, the Ukrainians put out some numbers out there saying that they have shot down 20 drones. In terms of legality of this issue – I know that there are several bureaus or units at the State Department are involved in war crimes. Are you also to planning to bring Iran into this picture when you are looking into war crimes in – because the Iranians’ drones are —
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate on the legal aspects of that yet, but I will check and see if we can offer additional assessments.
QUESTION: On North Korea, the United States continues to demand unconditional dialogue with North Korea, but far from convincing North Korea, China and its pro?North Korean followers is shifting the blame to the United States. Who do you think is responsible for tensions on Korean Peninsula when North Korea is taking military actions instead of dialogue?
MR PATEL: Well, if your question is who is responsible for the destabilizing actions, that is very clear: it is the DPRK which this week we have seen a number of ballistic missile tests, all of which are in clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and not just pose a threat to its immediate neighbors but also the region.
On October 5th at the UN Security Council, we held a meeting to join our allies in denouncing these actions, and as many of you saw earlier today, the Department of Treasury announced a new package of sanctions newly designating individuals and entities connected to the unlawful delivery of refined petroleum to the DPRK. So we are going to continue to pay close attention to this and engage with our allies and partners. As a matter of fact, Special Representative Sung Kim had the opportunity to speak to his counterparts within the ROK and Japan today, and so this is, again, something we’re going to pay close attention to and continue to monitor.
QUESTION: As the demonstrations in Iran continue, the Iranian suppression continues as well. What’s new now today, and yesterday basically, is that the Islamic Republic is giving one version of the cause of death with at least two of the people who have been killed, whereas the family members of these two are providing a totally different reason. They’re denying the Iranian claim that these two were – had medical issues to begin with, and so they’re fabricating – the Islamic Republic is fabricating the cause of death. France and Denmark are sending stronger messages. As you know, France and – a French national has been detained recently. Denmark today issued a travel warning to its citizens. So is it time for a stronger message to Iran?
MR PATEL: Well, we have been sending a very strong message to Iran from not just the public comments coming from this administration but also through various interagency sanctions and packages. And we continue to have tools in our toolbelt to hold the Iranian regime accountable.
To the deaths that you mentioned, the Iranian Government has now killed more than 100 people in its bloody crackdown on peaceful protestors across the country. And this is according to credible human rights organizations. The nationwide protests, as you know, were sparked by the so?called morality police’s murder of Mahsa Amini, who should be alive right now, but now even more young girls have been added to the list of those dead, including teenagers Sarina Esmaeilzadeh and Nika Shakarami, which is just horrific.
We condemn Iranian authorities’ arrest of peaceful protestors, the targeting of journalists, the crackdown on human rights activists, teachers, and others, as well as the continued disruption of internet inside Iran as well. This cruel and ongoing suppression of peaceful protestors is – it just shows that the regime is – clearly fears its people. We are going to continue to coordinate with our allies and partners and respond to Iran’s violent crackdown, as well as frankly its state sponsored violence against women that we’re seeing take place all across the country.
QUESTION: You said that you’re going to be consulting with partners and allies. Would that include taking action on the international organizations?
MR PATEL: What do you mean?
QUESTION: Like where – like I asked yesterday that Iran is – has a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and this whole development in Iran is about women – started with women.
MR PATEL: Sure. So I don’t have any actions to preview, but Iran’s membership on the UN Commission on the Status of Women is, frankly, laughable. We have been always clear that it is outrageous that some of the worst human rights abusers, like Iran, sit on certain UN commissions. And this is a perfect example. And we’ve been clear in joining the global condemnation of Iran’s violent oppression of women and the violent suppression of protests. As you saw, we were one of the 54 countries that issued a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for Iran to stop this violent crackdown.
So again, I don’t have any specific actions to preview, but we are going to always work with our partners in the international community to respond to Iran’s actions.
QUESTION: Okay, on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. First, today the Israeli forces killed a 14-year-old boy, Muhammad Ibrahim, near Ramallah. And I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but as the election campaign heats up in Israel it seems like everybody is trying to sort of bolster their credentials and so on by attacking the Palestinians. They’re not listening to you. They’re calling for calm and so on, but they’re not listening. And there is a high Palestinian official in town. You guys met with him. I mean, this thing really is getting out of hand. Are you – do you feel concerned? Are you calling on them to back off this kind of heavy-handed approach with the Palestinians?
MR PATEL: We of course find any loss of life concerning. I’ve not seen that exact report. It must have happened right before I came out. But what I would say is that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exasperate tensions and undercut efforts that would advance a negotiated two-stated solution. And so that continues to be our belief. We’ve said this a number of times. I’ve said it from here. But I don’t have any other assessment to offer.
QUESTION: This has just happened like in the last hour or so. Second, I mean, yesterday they forcibly evicted a Palestinian family near Hebron owned by al-Hroub family. They evicted them. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PATEL: Again, the eviction of families from their homes would certainly be something that would exasperate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. And so we again believe that it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that could exasperate such tensions and undercut these kinds of efforts.
QUESTION: Lastly, I just wanted to ask on the Lebanese —Israeli deal. It seems that – to be faltering. Do you have any comment on that?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to comment on private diplomatic negotiations, and I don’t have a different assessment to offer from yesterday. But Special Presidential Coordinator Hochstein is in touch with the parties and continues to work to resolve outstanding differences as the negotiation enters a final phase. We remain committed to reaching a resolution, and we firmly believe that a lasting agreement is possible and is within reach. But I don’t have any other updates to offer.
QUESTION: I could ask you further on that, but I probably know the answer. Just I mean, what makes you guys believe or be optimistic that a resolution is within striking distance or that can be reached? And how much bandwidth does, I mean, the special envoy for – Presidential Coordinator Hochstein have with everything else going on in terms of the energy – looming energy crisis?
MR PATEL: Sure, Joseph. So again, I don’t have specific color to offer on diplomatic negotiations, but this is something that Special Coordinator Hochstein is deeply engaged on. He’s in touch with the parties. And as I said, we believe that a lasting agreement is possible and is in within reach, and we’re going to continue to work towards that.
QUESTION: Just a second one.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Last week a group of bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Blinken calling for sanctions on government officials in Algeria for arms deal with Russia. I know you guys don’t comment on congressional correspondence, but any comment on that? Is that something the administration is considering because of the deal with Russia?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any actions to preview, and as you so note that we’re not going to comment on congressional correspondence. But of course, any country continuing to support Russia as it relates to its conflict in Ukraine right now, its unjust and its unlawful infringement on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, would be deeply problematic. But I don’t have any actions to preview.
QUESTION: Well, a couple of different questions. First, it’s just kind of for the record. Is there any indication that U.S. and international condemnations, expressions of outrage, and even sanctions have budged the – have impacted the Iranian Government on its treatment of protesters? Have they – is there any sign that it’s had any impact?
MR PATEL: Well, condemnation and sanctions further isolate the Iranian regime from international recognition, from their place in the international order, so I would reject the premise of the question a little bit. I mean, these things do —
QUESTION: Well, no, but is there any suggestion that they are changing their behavior?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any metrics to offer for you right now, but we are going to continue to use actions like these at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable for human rights abuses, for crackdowns on violent protests, for a lot of what we’re seeing in Iran right now.
Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. On Armenia and Azerbaijan, just curious if you have anything for me following yesterday’s meetings in Prague. The French side put out some statement declaring that both sides have taken some obligations, but particularly, most notably recognize each other’s territorial integrity is something like – is a harbinger for a pathway for peace. What is the U.S.’s position on this, like, in general, on latest developments?
MR PATEL: Sure, Alex. So, on the specifics of the engagements in Prague, I’d refer you to the European Political Community, which hosted that meeting.But to take a little bit of a step back, we are encouraged by the meeting of the president and prime minister of Armenia and Azerbaijan yesterday, and we welcome the efforts of President Macron and European Council President Michel to build momentum behind a comprehensive peace process. And we are particularly pleased with progress on an EU observer mission to the region, and this mission has the potential to build confidence between both sides and continues to bolster negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Daphne, you had your hand up.
QUESTION: On the conflict in Ethiopia, African Union-led peace talks proposed for this weekend have been delayed for logistical reasons. Is the U.S. concerned about this delay, and do you have any information on what caused it? And then any update on Special Envoy Hammer’s engagements in Ethiopia and what his message will be on airstrikes given the strike today?
MR PATEL: Sure. So, a couple of points. First, we are aware of the delay. I don’t have any additional comments to offer on why the reasoning; would refer you to the AU. But Special Presidential Envoy Hammer is in the region. He is currently in Nairobi consulting with the Kenyan Government as well as other regional and international partners to prepare for this AU-led effort. Special Envoy Hammer met with President Ruto on October 7th, earlier today in Nairobi. He also met with former President Kenyatta and expressed support for his participation in the AU-led mediation effort as well.
Going back to Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you. Recently, North Korea and China are doing the cargo trains, and Russia and North Korea started to open railroads. It was reported that it was for the transport of the North Korean ammunition. Do you have any suspicious movement for these countries?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any assessment on that piece of news, but I believe we spoke to this in a briefing a number of weeks ago, about Russia purchasing North Korean ammunition for their conflict. And so I would just refer you to our comments on that.
QUESTION: Just quickly, on the Iran nuclear deal talks, Special Envoy Malley – it was published this morning – was saying that the Iranians are still looking for guarantees for many – U.S. guarantees from any future administration that they won’t be sanctioned again, and so forth. First of all, is that still the main sticking point? And second, do you have any updates? Are they any travel plans for Special Envoy Malley to revive these stalled talks, or where are we at?
MR PATEL: Yeah, so I don’t have any travel to preview or anything like that, and I certainly am not going to get into the specifics of our diplomatic engagements and negotiations as it relates to the JCPOA. But we’ve been quite clear that if Iran continues to take positions that it knows neither we nor our E3 partners can possibly accept, then things are going to continue on the current course. And this means strictly enforcing our sanctions and increasing Iran’s international isolationism. And the choice is ultimately theirs. But I don’t have an update beyond that.
QUESTION: On the – so on Monday, as you know, there will be Russia annexation vote. Are you hopeful in terms of expanding a coalition on territorial integrity? And what countries in particular, like, are you focused on? Are you working with Global South, countries surrounding Russia? Any expectations from them, any messages to him?
MR PATEL: I am not going to prognosticate, but our desire is that as many countries as possible join us in condemnation of Russia and their unlawful annexation of territory that is clearly, lawfully, legally Ukraine. But my colleagues at the mission in New York can speak more to the vote next week.
QUESTION: Thank you. Have a good weekend.
MR PATEL: Enjoy a long weekend, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)
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