US State Dept Press Briefing, Apr 21, 2023
The US State Dept held a press briefing on Apr 21, 2023 with Vedant Patel, Principal Dy Spokesperson fielding a wide range of questions
MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I’ve got two very brief things from the top and then I’m happy to dive right into your questions.
First, Sunday, April 23rd, is another sad day for U.S. citizen Emad Shargi and his family. That day marks five years since Emad was first arrested in Iran. That is five years unjustly separated from his loved ones; five years missing the opportunity to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Today, Emad remains wrongfully detained in Evin Prison on bogus charges after being tried in absentia with no access to the evidence himself.
Iran’s unjust imprisonment and exploitation of U.S. nationals for use as political leverage is outrageous, inhumane, and contrary to international norms. We have no higher priority than securing the release of U.S. nationals wrongfully detained overseas, and we are working relentlessly to secure the release of U.S. nationals wrongfully detained in Iran.
We once again call on Iran to cease its abhorrent practice of unjustly imprisoning foreign nationals for use as political leverage, and to immediately release U.S. citizens Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and Siamak Namazi.
Secondly, on Sudan, the reports of ongoing indiscriminate violence in Sudan threatens the safety of all civilians and jeopardizes the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic transition. We are very concerned about reports of continuing clashes, attacks on civilians, and looting, and urge the SAF and RSF to uphold the nationwide ceasefire through at least the end of Eid al-Fitr, Sunday, April 23rd. Secretary Blinken, as you all know, participated in a special ministerial session under the leadership of African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki yesterday, and the Secretary and participating leaders were unanimous on the urgent need for a ceasefire. The Secretary also made calls to Generals Burhan and Hemedti yesterday to urge full adherence to the ceasefire.
We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. Government personnel, their dependents, and private U.S. citizens abroad. And we have made very clear to both sides that any attacks, threats, or dangers posed to our diplomats are totally unacceptable. We continue to remain in close contact with our embassy in Khartoum and have full accountability of our personnel.
And as the Department of Defence announced yesterday through U.S. Africa Command, they are monitoring the situation and conducting prudent planning for various contingencies. As a part of this, they are deploying additional capabilities nearby in the region for contingency purposes. Again, we’ve been monitoring the situation very closely and will continue to pay close attention as well. We have been in close consultation with our allies and partners on this, and we will continue to remain deeply engaged.
We have advised Americans to not travel to Sudan since August 2021, and the U.S. embassy in Khartoum’s security alert on April 16th stated that due to the uncertain security situations in Khartoum and closure of the airport, Americans should have no expectation of a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation at this time. It is imperative that U.S. citizens in Sudan make their own arrangements to stay safe in these difficult circumstances.
Our expectation and what we have conveyed to Sudanese authorities is that they must uphold their responsibilities with respect to diplomatic personnel, facilities, and to ensure the safety of all civilians, UN, and other diplomatic personnel, and humanitarian workers. Additionally, we call on the SAF and RSF to allow safe and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies and their workers to support the Sudanese people, for Sudanese medical workers to access hospitals and receive vital medical supplies, and for civilians to access vital resources.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. Well, I don’t have a lot of hope – in fact, I have negative hopes – that you’ll be able to expand on that, on Sudan, at all, but let me just try. Have there been any incidents since the attack on a convoy on – earlier this week? Have there been any other incidents that you’re aware of?
MR PATEL: Not that I’m aware of, Matt. And as I said, we have been in regular contact with our team in Khartoum, including with Ambassador Godfrey, and we continue to have full accountability.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the whole consolidation process of bringing embassy staffers together to one secure location, Kirby at the White House said earlier that that was still not complete but is ongoing. Is that – is it complete now?
MR PATEL: I just wouldn’t get into the status of the operational security efforts that are ongoing. But what I can say –
QUESTION: But your colleague at the NSC will?
MR PATEL: What I will say is that we have been in close touch with the team in Khartoum and we continue to have full accountability. And they are of course undertaking appropriate security and safety measures.
QUESTION: And then this will fail, but do you have anything else to add on the situation in Khartoum or Sudan and contingency planning for a possible evacuation?
MR PATEL: Well, like I said earlier just now is that we are continuing to monitor the situation very closely. I have no other —
QUESTION: That’s what I’m getting at is that – are any questions that myself or any of my colleagues here – any questions that we ask, are they going to be met with any kind of a substantive response?
MR PATEL: I think some of these answers are substantive, Matt. We do our best to offer you the —
QUESTION: Well, is there anything new?
MR PATEL: We do our best to offer you the information that we can, given a very fluid security situation.
QUESTION: I understand. It’s not a criticism. I just want to —
MR PATEL: What I will say, and you heard my colleague John Kirby speak to this from the White House and I will say again, is that due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and the closure of the airport, it’s currently not safe to undertake a U.S. Government-coordinated evac. Americans should have no expectation a USG-coordinated evacuation at this time, and we expect that’s going to remain the case.
QUESTION: Thank you. Heavy firing continued in Khartoum after the army declared a three-day truce. Do you have any hopes at this point that this ceasefire will hold?
MR PATEL: In every communication that we have had with Generals Burhan and General Hemedti and others in the SAF and RSF, we have made clear that it is the United States’ desire, it is the desire of our partners and allies and other international organizations and regional stakeholders, that this stakeholder – this ceasefire be upheld, it be respected, and it be extended. And that continues to be our desire in the wake of the recent news that there was a three-day ceasefire agreed upon.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary have any calls planned today with Burhan or Hemedti?
MR PATEL: I have no calls to preview. But as you saw, he spoke to them yesterday, he spoke to them a couple of days before that, and he of course participated in the AU virtual ministerial on this. Again, from across the interagency, we’ve been deeply engaged on this matter and we’ll continue to remain in close touch, not just with our personnel on the ground but also the relevant actors as well.
QUESTION: Can you give a picture just on what diplomacy is happening today to try and get this ceasefire to take hold?
MR PATEL: Well, you saw us speak a little bit about this yesterday, and this has been a iterative process that has begun when this violence intensified. And those of you that were on travel with us on the Secretary’s recent trip saw that he has – he had the ability to speak to his engagements on these issues at the various iterations of our travels as the situation has unfolded.
But most recently, as I said yesterday, the Secretary and African, Arab, and other regional and international partners participated in this ministerial session under Chairman Faki. And what we heard out of that session was an unequivocal unison, unanimous call for the urgent need for a ceasefire that is extended through April 23rd. Obviously, the armed forces have spoken to this. It is now our hope that this ceasefire is adhered to, it is respected, and it’s extended even further.
QUESTION: Vedant, I was wondering just in the Secretary’s calls with the generals and with the AU and all that, beyond the call for a ceasefire – and the UN is calling for that – is there any possibility when you talk to the specific mediation from the U.S. part?
MR PATEL: Leon, we are going to continue to remain deeply engaged on this and deeply engaged with both of these generals and continue to communicate with the relevant actors here. I’m just not going to speculate or try to hypothesize where this goes. But as I said at the very beginning, this kind of violence is – it threatens the safety of civilians and it jeopardizes the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic transition. And that is exactly why we have been so clear-eyed and consistent and speaking unanimously with our allies and partners about the need for a ceasefire, for a ceasefire to be adhered to, and for it to be extended as well.
QUESTION: So the situation has been degrading over the last few weeks, right?
MR PATEL: Sure, yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So, I’m just wondering, with that as the obvious backdrop here, if the State Department believes that you guys should have evacuated personnel earlier than getting to this moment where there’s so much fighting that it makes the conditions even more challenging to do that. And I ask that particularly because in the document that the White House put out on the Afghanistan withdrawal and the lessons that were learned, one of the things that was explicitly stated in that was prioritizing earlier evacuations when faced with degrading security situations.
MR PATEL: Sure, Kylie. let me say a couple things, and let’s take a – let’s take a bit of a step back.
First, as it relates to our embassy in Khartoum – actually, let’s take even a bigger step back. We have been clear-eyed about how American citizens should not travel to Sudan for months now. Sudan has been a Level 4 country since, I believe, August of 2021. And since then, we have communicated to American citizens in the country about safety and security measures and precautions that they can take. We have intensified that process, of course, in the recent days as the violence – we’ve seen the uptick in violence. But we also lay out our concerns quite clearly on our Travel Advisory website. So that’s number one. We have not parsed our words or been ignorant or naïve about the delicate and fragile security situation in Sudan. So that’s number one.
Number two, throughout this whole process, even when you’ve heard the Secretary speak to this on travels, we have also been very clear-eyed and consistent about the – about the close attention that this department was – is taking as it relates to this, and we’re making appropriate – taking appropriate actions that are in line with previous lessons learned, not just as it relates to Afghanistan but in other circumstances where we have had personnel on the ground and they are in harm’s way.
So, we are still monitoring and paying close attention to the situation on the ground. A decision has not been made. But I would push back on the notion that we are acting too late. That is certainly not the case. We have – we have been working diligently, Ambassador John Godfrey and his team have been working diligently to take appropriate steps to keep his team and our personnel safe, and we’ll continue to do that.
Go ahead, Leon. Still on this topic, I assume.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Since the airport is obviously blocked or not usable and all that, is there any thinking that you could go do it by other means, terrestrial?
MR PATEL: I just, Leon, would not get into operational specifics or the various contingencies.
QUESTION: That’s what the EU is looking into.
MR PATEL: The EU can speak to that. I certainly am not going to get into the various contingencies and plans that are being considered as it relates to keeping our personnel safe. And I would reiterate again, and you saw Admiral Kirby say this as well, that we are paying close attention and assessing the situation on the ground, but an ultimate decision has not made – been made yet.
Anything else on Sudan? Rosiland, go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Larger-picture question: If this fighting continues between the army and the – Hemedti’s people, what’s the risk to regional security? And does the U.S. believe that regional partners are doing enough to try to prevent a spread of this violence into neighbouring countries?
MR PATEL: Rosiland, every – I will let other countries speak to their own engagements on this, but it is of course our observation that other capitals who have diplomats in the region are also paying – not only paying close attention to this but are deeply engaged on this subject as well. You saw the Secretary speak to this on a number of occasions, more than once, with his counterpart Foreign Secretary Cleverly on the margins of the G7 Ministerial in Karuizawa and again over the course of his travels, and since he’s returned to the United States, he has been deeply engaged on this with his allies and partners as well. He had the opportunity a number of days ago to speak to his Emirati counterpart, his Saudi Arabian counterpart. And so these kinds of engagements are going to continue to happen both at the Secretary’s level but at other levels of this department as well, and we’re doing this collaboratively, as you saw yesterday with the participation in the virtual AU ministerial.
But to go back to the crux of your question, absolutely, this kind of fighting and violence certainly contributes to destabilization efforts not just in Sudan but in the region broadly. It is not a good thing. This violence is harmful to civilians and it really jeopardizes the will, the aspirations, and the progress that the Sudanese people are hoping to see through some kind of transition to democracy.
QUESTION: Did this administration anticipate that the political rivalry between Hemedti and Burhan was going to collapse into violence that’s now spreading into the western part of the country, a part of the country which, as many people know, was riven by violence for the better part of two decades?
MR PATEL: This is – this is a country that of course we’ve had diplomatic relations with, that we have had personnel on the ground operating in. We’re of course continuing to pay close attention and engage directly on the ground. But what I would again say is that we have not been naïve about the fraught security situation on the ground, and I would point no further than to the fact that we have been at a Level 4 Travel Advisory warning for more than two years now given the fraught security situation. So, we have been clear-eyed about the kind of circumstances that we’re dealing with.
QUESTION: And my final question.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: A member of the International Organization for Migration was killed during an ambush in the last 24 hours. There are also local reports indicating that forces from both sides are looting humanitarian stocks and making it even harder for the people who are trying to provide food and medicine to Sudanese residents, making their job almost impossible. What is the level of concern? Does this give the United States and its allies additional leverage to put on Burhan and Hemedti to stop this violence?
MR PATEL: I am going to reiterate what I said yesterday. We are pursuing two very clear courses of action here. First and foremost, we are ensuring the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel that are on the ground and doing what we can to ensure their safety. And as I said, we’ve been in close and direct touch with the team in Khartoum and continue to have full accountability.
Additionally, beyond that, we have engaged directly with the generals through multilateral fora, through regional partners, to call for a ceasefire and insist that this ceasefire be adhered to and extended. Again, we are not naïve about the circumstances and the – that we are dealing with, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to be deeply engaged on.
QUESTION: Understanding that a decision to evacuate has not yet been made, what is the likelihood that such a decision will be made before Sunday when the ceasefire has been dismissed?
MR PATEL: I am just – I’m not going to box into a corner from here. This is a fluid situation, as you all have been covering this for many days now, are well aware of. So we’re continuing to pay close attention to the security situation on the ground as it develops, as it directly impacts our workforce, and decisions will be made in accordance to that.
QUESTION: And one more. So, who is included in the group of potential evacuees, and if it doesn’t include locally employed staff, what options are available to them?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into operational specifics as, again, a decision about diplomatic personnel has not happened yet. What I will reiterate, though, is that private American citizens should have no expectation of a U.S. Government coordinated evacuation at this time, and I expect that that’s going to remain the case.
Anything else on this subject before we move away?
MR PATEL: On Sudan, Alex? Go ahead.
QUESTION: The UN Security Council, if you have any expectation on the UN Security Council to weigh in at this point. I’m just wondering how much of Russia leading the Security Council complicates the council as a tool to get —
MR PATEL: Alex, we are focused on doing what we can to ensure that this ceasefire is adhered to and extended and doing what we can to ensure the safety and security of our personnel. If the UN Security Council is an auspice for important work in those matters to be done, we certainly welcome it, but we’re also not naïve about Russia having a track record of using their presidency time to further puppet and spread misinformation and lies.
QUESTION: And do you have any assessment that the U.S. and the Western nations are currently out of leverage in terms of stopping the fighting?
MR PATEL: I would not – I would not describe it that way. We have been directly engaged in this process. The Secretary has spoken to the generals himself a number of times, and you have seen at various intervals members of these armed forces agree to and adhere to a ceasefire. And as the ceasefires gets announced, we hope that they are extended. They – we hope that they are adhered to and honored as well.
Anything else on Sudan before I move?
QUESTION: Can you quantify in any way how many American citizens in Sudan have reached out to the embassy either for information or any detailed guidance on how they can leave the country?
MR PATEL: We are in touch with several hundred private American citizens who we understand to be in Sudan. And of those, many of those have – are registered through our Smart Traveller program, which, as I said, has been a mechanism in which we have been in direct communication with them to talk about security precautions and other measures that they can take on their own. But given the fluidity of this situation, I’m not going to get more specific than that.
On Sudan, Tetsuo? Go ahead.
QUESTION: There are also 63 Japanese citizens left in Sudan, and Japanese Government is sending transport airplane to Djibouti since earlier today. So, I’m wondering how closely you are exchanging information with allies and partners. Yeah, do you have any space for possible cooperation for rescue operation?
MR PATEL: We are deeply engaged with our allies and partners on this, of course, including Japan and other partners who have personnel in the region. We are collaborating closely on their plans. Again, I’m not going to get into specifics, operational specifics or what’s being discussed, but across this whole our engagement on this has been done in close coordination with allies and partners.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. working with the Government of Chad to help those that are fleeing Sudan? Is there any partnership with the U.S. and Sudan when it comes to rescuing Americans and other innocent civilians from the situation?
MR PATEL: Can you expand on – what exactly are you asking?
QUESTION: There’s just a lot of – there’s reports of people fleeing Sudan going into Chad. Is the U.S. working with Chad to, like, process those people, like rescue them, get them across the border, or even (inaudible)?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. There’s two —
MR PATEL: — pieces that are contributing to the very fluid security situation and has made a – made things more complex, and one of those, of course, is that Sudan’s border with Chad is closed. I don’t – again, I’m going to let other countries speak to their own engagements on this. I’m not going to get into that, but you have seen the Secretary engage with regional partners and other countries on this as it relates to the unfolding situation there.
Dylan, on Sudan?
QUESTION: To kind of follow up a little bit on whether or not you anticipated this degree of a breakdown there, there was a report that Israeli officials were of the belief last week that there was an agreement days or even hours away to appoint a civilian government, and then it broke down and then developed into what’s happening now. Was there – can you speak to what the belief was here in this building about situation there? How much advance time did you have knowing that there was going to be this violence breakout?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into operational specifics or our own on-the-ground intelligence assessments as it relates to the situation in Sudan. What I will say again and say to you, as I said to Kylie, is that Sudan has been a Level 4 country since the – August of 2021, and we have been – clearly and consistently been communicating with private American citizens registered in the Smart Traveller Program about the security risks that existed in Sudan previously. But also, since the violence has intensified over the past number of days, we have also been clearly communicating with them about security measures and precautions that they can take.
Anything else on this before we move away? All right, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have two questions on Korea and China.
MR PATEL: Sure. Yeah.
QUESTION: Regarding China’s attempt to change Taiwan by force, that the South Korean President Yoon mentioned about the Chinese wrong directions, changing to – I mean Taiwan, so the Chinese foreign minister is threatening South Korea that, quote, “if you play with fire you will burn to death.” And they said – they accused the South Korea of being dependent of the United States. Like on this point, can you share your view on this?
MR PATEL: Sure, Janne. Let me say a couple of things. We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan. The U.S. will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and the interests of the people of Taiwan. And of course, we will go about this in coordination with our important allies and partners, of which of course the Republic of Korea is one of them. And we will keep coordinating with friends and allies across the Indo-Pacific to advance what we believe is our shared prosperity and security values, including preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
QUESTION: On North Korea, do you know the Kaesong Industrial Complex facilities are South Korean’s assets. North Korea is asking China to attract investment while using facilities at the Kaesong Industrial Complex without permission. Do you see this as a violation of the UN Security Council resolution?
MR PATEL: Certainly, any country that is engaging with the DPRK and helping the provision of their – or the growth of their ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction program, that would, of course, be in clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. But beyond that, Janne, I think it’s important to take a step back here, in that we’ve been very clear that we seek to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang, and we remain committed to diplomacy. And the crux of what we want to see is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we have been clear about this from the get-go. We sent this message multiple ways. But as I’ve said before, to date, the DPRK has not responded, and it continues to show no indication of engagement.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Thank you. Two questions, please. One, as far as recently IMF and World Bank meetings of the finance ministers and finance secretaries came from around the globe, including of course from India, China, and now we also have a new president, Mr. Banga, next World Bank president. My question is that many smaller nations came to the World Bank, IM meetings begging and – for help, financial help, because they’ve been destroyed, smaller nation like by China, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They provide big loans, billions and billions of dollar loans, and they’re going to grab then their lands or asking them to pay back, and they cannot because these politicians and prime ministers and presidents, even they are being given billions of dollars, like in corruption or corrupt.
And then they – nothing goes to the people’s development in those countries, and now these countries – and least Pakistan and Sri Lanka and many other countries – are bankrupt and now asking IMF to forgive their loans. Every five, ten years, they come to the IMF and asking for billions of dollars in forgiveness because of the corruptions in those countries.
MR PATEL: I’m going to jump in, Goyal. First, I will let the IMF speak to its own distribution of loans and the provision of its policy. But I do want to talk about Ajay Banga and why we believe that he is the appropriate candidate to lead the World Bank. He is uniquely equipped to lead the World Bank at such a critical moment, and he’s an exceptional candidate. And his leadership skills and management experience, his experience in the financial sector, will help achieve the World’s Bank objectives by eliminating extreme poverty, expanding prosperity, while also doing so in a very evolving and dynamic global playing field, where we’re dealing with a lot of new and pressing issues and challenges, like climate change and global health challenges and other things as well.
QUESTION: And second, sir, going back to freedom of the press, many journalists around the globe are – many have been killed and many are under pressure because of their – they are just doing their jobs, including, of course, Russia and China, Iran, North Korea, and many other – those ill nations or corrupt nations. So many, of course, as you know – and you just made a statement earlier – that they are in jails in those countries because of their outspoken views about the developments in those countries. So where do we stand? Because particularly, China doesn’t believe as far as freedom of press, or Russia and all that. So now why do we have a “one China” policy unless they come up from the table and they are member of the UN Security Council and all that, but not believing in any of those things?
MR PATEL: Goyal, I think you’re connecting two very different and distinct issues, so let me get to the meat of your question, which I believe is press freedom. Look, we – at the core of the way that this administration attempts to operate is this idea of press freedom, and that is why on his travels, in as many countries as the schedule allows, in – with his foreign minister counterparts, Secretary Blinken takes your questions. He does so from this podium, from this room; he does so from upstairs when he hosts some of his counterparts as well. We – when we have seen actions being taken that infringe on press freedom, on freedom of speech, on freedom of expression, we have called it out.
I would point no further than your colleague, Evan Gershkovich, who’s currently being wrongfully detained in Russia for simply being an independent journalist and doing his job. And so, when we free infringements – see infringements on press freedom, we talk about it. We raise it directly with our colleagues and counterparts because it’s an issue that is not just really important to the Secretary but it’s important to the President as well.
QUESTION: Last Friday, the State Department made an announcement under its narcotics rewards program regarding fentanyl. Specifically, the department announced 27 rewards offers, including two for 10 million for the two sons of Chapo Guzmán, the Mexican drug trafficker. Based on your previous experience, do you expect to make a dent on fentanyl trafficking with these?
MR PATEL: So, the important thing about that announcement was not just the rewards announcement, it was – truly it was an interagency announcement about steps that we were taking to curb the illicit trafficking of fentanyl and fentanyl precursors. There was announcements that were part of that from the Department of Justice, from the Department of Treasury, from the Department of Homeland Security, and yes, this rewards program from the Department of State. We believe that through this rewards program, it can help us unearth information and evidence that has the potential to be prosecuted upon, and that’s why you saw such a strong interagency announcement on this.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary dispute the accuracy of the GOP letter sent to him on Hunter Biden? And then does he also plan to comply and respond to it by May 4th, the deadline?
MR PATEL: That is not a State Department issue, so I don’t have a comment for you on that.
QUESTION: Do you know who we can ask about it? Because we’ve asked the State Department to provide some sort of comment on this letter, and it’s not clear who else outside of the department we can ask, given it did happen before he was Secretary of State.
MR PATEL: It is not a State Department issue, and I don’t really have a comment on this from the State Department.
QUESTION: I have two questions on Russia. Today, the Russian foreign ministry said that Russia should consider increasing its strategic nuclear offensive arms potential amid the risks arising from the expiration of the New START. Do you have any comment here?
MR PATEL: Can you repeat the first part of your question? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Sure. The Russian foreign ministry today said that Russia should consider increasing its strategic nuclear offensive arms potential amid the risks arising from the expiration of the New START Treaty. You have any comment here?
MR PATEL: Well, Russia is the reason that it is not in compliant with the New START Treaty. Russia could take steps to come back into compliance. In fact, it’s the Russian Federation that is partaking in irresponsible rhetoric as it relates to nuclear warfare. The U.S. is ready to continue to engage with the Russian Federation on things related to being in compliance with New START, so I would reject the premise of your question.
QUESTION: And I have another question about visas for Russian diplomats. The Russian embassy earlier this week said that some members of the Russian delegation and all members of the media that are supposed to travel to the United Nations next week have not received their visas from the U.S. Can you explain why there is always a problem with visas for Russian diplomats who travel to the UN?
MR PATEL: Visa statuses is confidential, so I just wouldn’t get into the process or how that works.
You had your hand up. Yeah, go ahead. You, yeah.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on my colleague’s question. I know you said it isn’t a State Department issue, but he is the person that is currently serving as the Secretary of State, so what do these claims from this former CIA official, as well as the letter from House Judiciary Committee, mean in terms of the public trust in his position as Secretary of State now?
MR PATEL: Again, this is not an issue that is an issue of the State Department. It has naught to do with U.S. foreign policy or the work of this department, so I don’t have a comment for you on this.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: In the same speech that my colleague just mentioned, Lavrov also tried to blame Americans, he says, declaring a crusade against Russia and Russian traditions, whatever that means. May I get your reaction?
MR PATEL: Did the foreign minister offer any examples?
QUESTION: He did not.
MR PATEL: Well, I think that answers your question. What I will use this opportunity to say, Alex, is let’s not lose sight of what’s happening here. In the context of Russia-Ukraine, Russia is trying to totally erase and infringe the borders of another country, Ukraine. And they’re doing so by throwing the rules of the UN Charter, the rules of an international based, rules-based order, out the window. They are doing so with aggression. They are doing so by essentially wreaking havoc on civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. They are doing it – there is widespread reports of Russian armed forces committing atrocities. So let’s not try to put them – put this on the same page. Not that I’m indicating you are, but just using this opportunity.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) do you have any comment on Russia accidentally last night striking its own city of Belgorod?
MR PATEL: I don’t. That’s a question for Russian forces.
QUESTION: We also are seeing drone attacks on Kyiv, first time in 25 days. Any reaction to that?
MR PATEL: Look, the – Russia using drones – and I’m not specific – I’m not familiar with this specific attack, but obviously there is a – we’ve – spoken previously over the course of the past many months about Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for Russia to be using against civilian and energy infrastructure across Ukraine but also especially in Kyiv and surrounding areas. And that continues to be of deep concern to us and why we have condemned the provision of such drones and we continue to take steps to support our Ukrainian partners so that they can continue to defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Secretary Austin, I believe, either just concluded or is in the process of concluding another Defence Contact Group meeting at Ramstein, which has been at the forefront of some of the important work happening of arming, equipping, and training our Ukrainian partners so that they can defend themselves.
QUESTION: Are you in a position to confirm the reports on a potential ban by the Western countries of Russian-bound exports?
MR PATEL: I am certainly not going to get ahead of any announcement, Alex. But what I will say is that you have seen that actions by the United States and her allies and partners, sanctions, export controls, other measures, have had clear effect on the Russian Federation and on Russia’s economy. You are seeing Russia’s GDP shrinking. You are seeing multinational corporations choosing to leave Russia, choosing to do business elsewhere. So the actions that we’re taking are having an impact, but I’m – and we’ll continue to keep the drumbeat of that alive so that we can continue to hold Russia accountable while also empowering our Ukrainian partners. But I don’t have any other specifics to get into right now.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. China bought its first stake in a Qatari oil field last week, further expanding its control of Mideast energy markets and gaining ground with a long time U.S. ally. What actions is the administration taking to ensure it retains positive terms with its partners in the region and is not supplanted by China?
MR PATEL: Well, I will let the PRC and the Qataris speak to this specific tidbit. But what I will say is that we have never indicated that countries need to choose between the United States and the PRC or the United States and anybody itself – and any other country, for that matter. What we have – what we do through our diplomatic engagements, through the work that we do here at the State Department, is offer a country a choice and put on the table about what a partnership with the United States can look like and what a deep partnership and exchanges across a variety of spaces, whether it be energy partnerships, security partnerships, trade partnerships, what that can do to improve the lives of the American people but also the people of that country as well.
MR PATEL: One final question. Dylan, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, on the classified documents situation, about two months ago from the podium you guys said that your strategy in Ukraine is working despite admitting at the time there’s not any sign really of negotiations being – coming anytime soon. We’ve seen now in some of the leaked intelligence that there is a belief that there’s likely going to be a stalemate, more or less, in the conflict for the rest of this year, according to what we’ve seen. Is there a way to square the two beliefs there that there’s going to be a stalemate, that Ukraine can’t soon end the war or make substantial progress, and that the strategy that the administration is deploying is also working at the same time?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into information or things as it relates to the leaked documents. But as our – on our strategy in Ukraine, what I can say is that – and this is something that President Biden has been clear about, what Secretary Blinken has been clear about in his engagements with Foreign Minister Kuleba, is that the U.S. is going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners and help them defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty for as long as it takes.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Is it still your belief that there’s no negotiations coming soon that you’re aware of, no sign that Russia’s going to come to the table?
MR PATEL: Look, President Zelenskyy himself has been clear about the fact that this ultimately will need to end through a negotiated solution, but that needs to be on the terms of the Ukrainians. And again, what I would tell you, what I would tell – what I told Alex, is that it’s irresponsible to be putting these two countries, Russia and Ukraine, on the same level. One is trying to erase the borders of the other, and one is trying to defend itself for its life. So very different circumstances.
All right. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.)
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