US State Dept Presser

US State Dept Press Briefing, Mar 29, 2023

16 Min
US State Dept Press Briefing, Mar 29, 2023

 The US State Dept held a Press Briefing on Mar 29, 2023 with Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson, fielding a wide range of questions.

Some Excerpts

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one very brief thing and then we’re happy to dive into your questions.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will transit through New York over the next few days enroute to Central America. Taiwan has also confirmed President Tsai will again transit through the United States on her return to Taiwan next week via Los Angeles.

Transits by high-level Taiwan authorities are not visits. They are private and unofficial, and they are not new. Every Taiwan president has transited the United States. President Tsai has transited the U.S. six times since taking office in 2016. This will be her seventh transit.

These transits have always been consistent with longstanding U.S. practice, consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan, and consistent with the U.S. “one China” policy, which remains unchanged.

According to media reports, high-level Taiwan authorities have typically met with members of Congress, which is of course a separate and co-equal branch of government, and engaged in other public and private activities during past transit.

Our approach to Taiwan and transits by its senior authorities have remained consistent across decades and administrations, and we have a longstanding “one China” policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.

The U.S. opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo by either side, and we do not support Taiwan independence, and we expect cross-strait differences to be resolved by peaceful means.

With that, Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I won’t even bother to ask my persistent question about what is convenient about flying from Taipei to Central America through New York because I know you won’t answer it, so  let me just ask you one thing: Why do you say “according to media reports,” high-level members of Congress have met with various Taiwanese presidents? Are you not —

MR PATEL: I just – I wanted to make sure to not be speaking for the president’s schedule, and so we’ll let her and —

QUESTION: No, no, but this wasn’t about the future. This wasn’t about future meetings. You were – you used that attribution, I think – unless I’m wrong – with respect to past meetings that —

MR PATEL: Correct. I meant to also make the point that in relation to any potential scheduling or as it relates to her programming during this transit that – again, that’s something that she and her team can speak to.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you very briefly about   this New START. Are you at all concerned by  what appear to be the latest developments, the comments made by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on stopping notification of actual launches?

MR PATEL: We saw Mr. Ryabkov’s recent remarks, and I would refer you to the Russian Federation on whether it will continue providing notifications per the 1988 agreement. We have not received any notice indicating a change…

QUESTION: Okay. So, in other words, you’re not particularly concerned, at least at the moment, because you haven’t gotten notified officially?

MR PATEL: Broadly, Matt, of course, we have across the board been concerned about Russia’s reckless behaviour as it relates to the New START Treaty, but specifically on Mr. Ryabkov’s remarks, we have not received any notice indicating a change.

QUESTION: I’ll follow up on Taiwan.  … do you have any message for Speaker McCarthy and has there been any communication with him on whether it’s a good idea, whether it’s no problem to go ahead with the meeting with President Tsai?

MR PATEL: Shaun, Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government, and I will leave it to members of Congress, including Speaker McCarthy to speak to any aspect of their own schedule.

QUESTION:  China is saying that there be counter measures to this if Speaker McCarthy meets with President Tsai. How do you characterize that?

MR PATEL: I would reiterate what I said at the top, that transits of the United States are based on longstanding U.S. practice consistent with our unofficial nature of relations with Taiwan. There is no reason to take countermeasures. There’s no reason for Beijing to turn this transit, which is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, into something it’s not or to overreact. As I said previously, we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We don’t support Taiwan independence, and we continue to expect that cross-strait differences be resolved through peaceful means.

Andrea, go ahead.

QUESTION: Overnight, officials summoned reporters to a rare late-night briefing apparently and issued threatening language – I don’t have the exact quotes, about this visit. Do you have a reaction to how seriously they seem to be taking this in contrast to past reactions?

MR PATEL: What I would say, again, Andrea, is that there is no reason to overreact or to make any suggestions of any kind of aggressive or provocative actions. The truth of the matter is  that this has been a longstanding thing that has happened across administrations, across decades. This transit is longstanding U.S. practice. And I would also remind anybody covering this that we are not seeking any changes to the status quo from either side.

QUESTION: Let me just question you: I don’t recall another transit that wasn’t a single visit and then an exit. I don’t recall coming to New York, having meetings, going to Central America, coming back in, going to LA, potentially giving a speech, maybe having more meetings, potentially with the Speaker. This seems like more than just, quote, “a transit.”  Could that not be why it is deemed provocative by Beijing?

MR PATEL: I would reiterate the fact that – and disagree with you. This is in fact a transit. As it relates to the specifics of the president’s schedule, I will let her and her team speak to that. I don’t have any assessment to offer there on the ins and outs of the flights or anything like that, but broadly this – continues to be something that is longstanding with U.S. policy, and again, we don’t intend to change the status quo and there’s no reason to overreact to something like this.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, are you concerned – if the President Tsai meets with the House Speaker, are you concerned any, like, retaliations might bring down the U.S.-China relations, just like last time when Speaker Pelosi went to Taiwan?

MR PATEL: Again, the important thing to remember here is that every Taiwan president has transited the United States. Before this transit, President Tsai herself had transited the United States six times since taking office. This, of course, would be her seventh. And the important thing to remember is that nothing has changed about our “one China” policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three communiques, and the Six Assurances.

 Nike, I imagine you want to stay on the same topic before we pivot away?

QUESTION: Yeah, just curious – you had mentioned that the longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy, “one China” policy, and I understand U.S. officials say that Washington’s “one China” policy is different than Beijing’s “one China” principal. And you also mentioned Six Assurances, Taiwan Relations Act, and all the communiques. My question is: Are there language in those Taiwan Relations Act, Six Assurances, or three communiques prohibit a democratically elected leader, Taiwan president, to transit through any city in the United States?

MR PATEL: The important thing to remember here, Nike, is that we are not intending to change the status quo, and what I can say about our “one China” policy is that it has not changed and it continues to be governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three communiques, and the Six Assurances.

QUESTION: Russia said that it suspended all sort of nuclear notifications, and you just said you haven’t received any formal notification from them. Is it how it’s supposed to be, or will you be expecting since you haven’t received anything formally?

MR PATEL: That’s a question for the Russian Federation, Alex. What I can say is that we have seen Mr. Ryabkov’s recent remarks, and I’d refer you to the Russian Federation to expand on them, but we have not received any notice indicating a change.

As you do probably recall, Russia has informed the U.S. that it will no longer provide notifications under New START as it relates to ballistic missile launches, but it will continue to provide missile launch notifications under the 1988 Ballistic Missile Launch Notifications Agreement, and they have not notified us of any changes to that approach. Of course, we also have seen Mr. Ryabkov’s comments, but I will leave it to you to seek clarification from him.

QUESTION: And if they continue not notifying you without formal notification, will you consider it as a violation of the treaty from Russia’s side?

MR PATEL: We believe Russia to already be in violation of the New START Treaty, but broadly, the U.S. is going to continue to evaluate next steps with regard to Russia’s noncompliance with New START. And we’ll consider additional countermeasures which will be informed by our own national security impact of Russia’s violation and our strategy for bringing Russia back into compliance.

The important thing to remember here, Alex, is that the U.S. – that this is a treaty that is of importance to us. We believe it offers and enhances the security of not just the United States but also the world largely, but also, in fact, Russia as well. And that’s why we continue to do what we can to try and bring all parties back into compliance.

QUESTION: Broadly speaking, Vedant, just why do you think Russia chose at this moment to go back to nuclear rhetoric, whether it’s about START II or Putin’s statement on Belarus? Is it just talk? Is his strategy, do you think, to just replenish the strength periodically, or is there any particular reason? Just had Chinese president visiting Russia and they did have sort of an agreement to not revisit nuclear threat.

MR PATEL: That’s a better question for them, Alex. I’m not going to opine on that.

Simon, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just to clarify, do you think that – your understanding is Russia is in breach of the limits of the treaty, or just in breach of the treaty in terms of the sort of correspondence requirements and –

MR PATEL: The correspondence requirements, is my understanding.

QUESTION: But as to the limits imposed by the treaty, the U.S. doesn’t believe that Russia —

MR PATEL: Correct. We’ve seen no indication that Russia is intending to change or exceed those limits either.

QUESTION: I wanted to move on to Myanmar, where they’ve – the military junta has —

dissolved opposition – well, not opposition parties, parties including the National League for Democracy. I wanted to get your response on that, and whether – does this change your calculation in terms of your policy towards Myanmar at the moment?

MR PATEL: So, Simon, we strongly condemn the Burma military regime’s decision to abolish 40 political parties, including, as you so noted, the National League for Democracy. Any election without the participation of all stakeholders in Burma would not be and cannot be considered free or fair. And given the widespread opposition to military rule, the regime’s unilateral push towards elections likely will escalate instability. We continue to support efforts by all of those working to establish genuine and inclusive democracy in Burma.

QUESTION: So the elections that they’re planning to hold, what is your view on them? There’s no chance of them being considered as free and fair?

MR PATEL: Well, if you are going to remove 40 parties from their ability to participate in those elections, essentially having elections without the participation of all of the appropriate stakeholders, then yes, that is an election that would not be considered free and fair. And given, as I said, the people and public’s opposition to the military rule, the regime’s unilateral push towards elections will unfortunately lead to increased instability.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: A couple questions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and then one on Syria.  First of all, has there been any update or what is the status of the visa waiver? Are there – for Israelis?

MR PATEL: Said, I appreciate your question. I don’t have any update to offer. To reiterate what I have said previously, is that we view Israel’s future admission into the visa waiver program as something that’s mutually beneficial to the U.S. and Israel. And we continue to work on this issue. We continue to work with our Israeli partners towards fulfilling all of the requirements. But at this time, Israel does not meet all of the eligibility requirements. And to be eligible for the visa waiver program, Israel still has significant work to complete on a short timeline in order to meet all of those requirements in advance of the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30th.

To be clear again, Said, reciprocity for travel is a fundamental requirement to enter this program. And we require equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens – regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity – who are seeking to enter or transit through Israel. And I’ll remind you, Said, that this is not a – this is not something that is unique to just this country; it is something that we have held consistently with all visa waiver program requirements that we may have with other countries also.

QUESTION: Thank you for that thorough answer. Let me ask you, last night, or yesterday, the President gave some strong words about not inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu any time in the near future, and that Israel was going the wrong path, and so on. How would you describe – I mean, and then, of course, there were equally strong words from the prime minister of Israel himself. How would you describe the relationship between you and Israel at the present time?

MR PATEL: The important thing to remember here, Said, is that our commitment to Israel is ironclad – our commitment to Israel’s security, our commitment to Israel’s democracy. And you saw the President speak about this, of course, over the course of this week, but also when he had the opportunity to visit Israel last summer. Israel is a key and important partner as it relates to not just the region but our efforts across the world.

QUESTION: Yes. But it seems that whatever tensions that may have risen in the last 48 hours and the last week – over the last few weeks, as a matter of fact – is not really related to Israel’s continued occupation, Israel’s continued maltreatment of Palestinians. The settlement just yesterday – there were a couple of settlement outposts that were settled and so on. It seems it has everything to do with Israel’s internal politics, but not Israel’s obligation to end this occupation.

MR PATEL: Said, our messaging on this has been quite consistent, including from the President on down. What you saw the President say and reiterate again is something that you saw me and the Secretary speak to as well, which is that we’ve been clear that the best way to move forward is for Israeli leaders to reach a compromise with the broadest possible base of popular support. And it’s a message we’ve been raising in public, it’s one we’ve been raising in private, and we’ve been quite clear-eyed about this.

And on your question about the occupations and outposts, we have also been long clear that it’s critical for Israelis and Palestinians to refrain from unilateral steps that incite tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. And this, of course, includes settlement activity and the provision of outposts as well.

QUESTION: According to Tom Friedman in today’s New York Times, pointing to Netanyahu’s son’s Twitter account and the accusation that the State Department was funding and was behind the protests, and Tom Friedman – at least in The New York Times – is saying that a senior Israeli official traveling with the prime minister to Paris – was it Paris or Rome, excuse me – to Europe last week was saying the same thing to reporters on his plane, and that that person was the prime minister. What’s your response to the Netanyahus – father and son – accusing the State Department of financing the protests?

MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question, Andrea. And I spoke a little bit about this earlier in the week, but I will reiterate what I said, which is that these accusations are completely and utterly false. The NGO in question, the Movement of Quality of Government – first, it is – it’s an NGO. It received a modest grant from the State Department. This grant was actually initiated in the previous administration, and the latest dispersal of funds to this NGO took place in fall, in September of 2022, which was before the last Israeli election. This grant supported an educational program for Jerusalem schools that supplemented and supported their civic studies and civic engagement curriculum. And as you know as someone who’s covered the department for a long time, we support a wide-ranging plethora of programming by civil society actors around the world, not just in Israel, and we view this as something that can strengthen awareness for human rights and for democratic values.

But any notion that we are behind this is just utterly false.

QUESTION: Well, aside from the falseness of the accusation, what does it say about America’s ally, recipient of billions and billions of dollars for decades, that this accusation would be made at such a high level, on such a serious matter which the prime minister has said was verging on civil war?

MR PATEL: Andrea, our commitment to Israel is ironclad and steadfast, and that will continue to be the case. And as even the prime minister noted, sometimes the best of friends can disagree. But broadly I would just reiterate that these accusations are false.

Go ahead. Then I’ll come to you, Vivian. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to kind of continue on this line, President Biden yesterday said with regard to Israel that: “They cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear.” You say that the relationship is ironclad, but I’m wondering, what does that mean, that they can’t keep down this road? What are the consequences if this continues? Will the U.S. review the relationship, review any of the aid that goes to Israel? If you could just flesh that out a little bit.

MR PATEL: Yeah, Vivian. The message that you heard from the President was a message you’ve been hearing from – all along from this podium and from other members across this administration. We strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise, and as soon as possible. And we’ve been clear that the best way to move forward is for Israeli leaders to reach a compromise with the broadest possible base of popular support. And the President was clear that he hopes Prime Minister Netanyahu will work to find a genuine compromise.

But ultimately, as I spoke about earlier this week, this is for the Israeli leaders and for Israeli people to decide the best path forward. And as a close friend of Israel, we urge them to reach a compromise with the broadest base of support.

QUESTION: Earlier today, the Mexican president, Mr. Obrador, accused Secretary Blinken of lying last week when he told the Senate Appropriations Committee that drug cartels have control of certain parts of Mexico. Was Secretary Blinken lying?

MR PATEL: I have no different assessment to offer than what the Secretary said in his hearing.

QUESTION: And that assessment is based on media reports, intelligence reports? What is it based on?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into specifics or parse the Secretary’s comments, but of course even in relationships as deep as the one that we have with Mexico, which is an important partner, sometimes we disagree, and the Secretary was asked a question in a hearing and he responded to it.

Go ahead, Vivian. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just a really quick one. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine told the AP that he intends to extend an invitation to Chinese President Xi. Has the department gotten any word of an invitation? And if so, or if not, what is your assessment about the role that China can play, what the Ukrainians are hoping to get out of the Chinese? Any analysis or assessment would be great.

MR PATEL: I will let our Ukrainian partners speak to the extension of any specific invitation, but what I will say broadly, of course, is that if any country – we would welcome any country being able to play a constructive role when it comes to Russia’s unjust and barbaric assault on Ukraine, so as long – so it’s happening in conjunction and close coordination with our Ukrainian partners. The important thing to remember, though, however, is that when it comes to the PRC’s purported, quote/unquote, “peace proposal,” that is ultimately up to Ukraine. And a proposal that is going to allow Russia to refit its forces or something that’s going to lead to a further assault certainly would be a nonstarter for us.

QUESTION: There’s a report, I believe by Bloomberg, saying that North Korea is disguising agents as journalists, including from, I believe, VOA and The New York Times, maybe other outlets. Is this something that you have any comment on? Is it something that you could confirm that has been a concern?

MR PATEL: I certainly wouldn’t be in a place to confirm any assessment like that. But what I would say, Shaun, broadly, is that, of course, the DPRK is known for taking a number of destabilizing and malign steps. Of course, those – these most recently have manifested themselves as unsafe missile launch tests and things of that sort. But, of course, this is something that we are being vigilant about, because we continue to be mindful of that.

Go ahead in the back, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in an interview today said Iran might set a deadline for the nuclear talks, and he said that the window of the talks to return the JCPOA won’t remain open forever. What’s your comment on that? And if Iran closed the window of the talks, are you following them to name the JCPOA a dead deal?

MR PATEL: You have heard us say this before, and I will reiterate it again: The JCPOA is not on the agenda. Right now, the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses and crackdowns and its proliferation of weapons to Russia and for use in cruel and deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine are at the top of our agenda when it comes to the Iranian regime. We of course continue to be greatly concerned by Iran’s nuclear advances, and President Biden is absolutely committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but we have been clear that we have not removed any option off the table.

QUESTION: If Iran closes the window, what will be your options?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to engage or get into hypotheticals. Of course, though, like I said, the JCPOA is not on the agenda. But we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal, and we continue to believe that diplomacy is the best path forward. This President, this Secretary, and this administration is committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Very quick questions. One is: What is the administration’s reaction to Saudi Arabia joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? And then second, yesterday there was a UN vote to form an independent investigation of the Nord Stream explosion. Only China, Russia, and Brazil voted in favour. Why did the U.S. abstain?

MR PATEL: First, as it relates to the – your question about the Shanghai Corporation, we’d refer you to the Saudi Government to discuss the formalization of it as a dialogue partner. This is not a new development. As you know, Saudi Arabia’s SCO dialogue – SCO status as a dialogue partner has been pending for some time. As you know, each country has its own relationships, and I would of course let the Government of Saudi Arabia speak to that.

On your question about Nord Stream, the Nord Stream investigations, give me one second here. I’m going to have to follow up with you on that question. We can check with the team and follow up with you afterwards.

QUESTION: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s wife is planning to visit White House next month to meet Jill Biden. Does the State Department have any information for this, or is there any discussion going on with Japanese counterpart?

MR PATEL: I will let the prime minister’s office and the First Lady’s office speak to any potential bilateral engagement between the two of them.

Thank you, Michail.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much, sir. Senator Menendez and Congressman Meeks, as I see, made the proposal a while ago, and I wanted your comment. They say that – especially senator said that just as we should require universal background check in the United States, we should consider human rights records before providing arms and defence services abroad. And they introduced the Safeguarding Human Rights in Arms Export Act. Do you agree with Senator Menendez and Congressman Meeks to arm countries considering the human rights records instead of the strategic interests?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to weigh in or opine on pending legislation, but what I would say broadly is that human rights continue to be a priority of this department and this administration. It’s something that we continue to raise regularly with countries around the world, including those in which we have bilateral engagements and bilateral relationships with.


QUESTION: Any comment on Russia threatening Sweden during past couple of days on its NATO bid? Just latest comment came from Russia calling them a legitimate target if they pursue with their application.

MR PATEL: Well, we feel that both Sweden and Finland should be in NATO. We think that their – them joining NATO will not only enhance our security – it’ll enhance European security; it’ll enhance the Alliance security. These are two countries that are advanced democracies, Finland and Sweden. They work with NATO regularly, and we welcome – hope to welcome them into NATO formally very soon. You saw the United States move quickly as it relates to its own protocols as well.

QUESTION: But no reaction to Russia’s bullying a country —

MR PATEL: You have seen dangerous and unsafe rhetoric come from Russia before. I’m not going to opine on this specifically, but again we feel that Sweden and Finland are ready to join NATO.

QUESTION: Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Jamaal Bowman submitted a letter to Secretary of State Blinken calling for an investigation of how Israel uses its arms – the arms that it receives from the U.S. against the Palestinians. Are you aware of this letter?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of congressional correspondence that we have with them.

All right. Thanks everybody.

(The briefing concluded at 2:45 p.m.) ###