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US State Dept Presser, Sept 7

12 Min
US State Dept Presser, Sept 7

QUESTION: …If I could start with the grain deal, is the State Department concerned about Putin’s comments saying he wanted to discuss the grain deal being reopened and accusing the West of deception? I have a follow-up as well.

MR PATEL: Sure. So, a couple of things. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. The U.S. did not offer, nor did it provide, any sanctions relief in exchange for Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. As a matter of fact, U.S. sanctions have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets, and Russia must continue to live up to its commitments to the Black Grain Sea Initiative.

And some of these other allegations that we’ve seen, that, one, global food prices are rising, just aren’t the case. In fact, global food prices have fallen, as a result of the Black Sea port arrangement. Additionally, I believe there were allegations that grain was not going to countries that needed it. That simply is not the case either. Because of this arrangement, grain has been able to reach global markets and gone to countries that need it desperately.

QUESTION: Okay. And UN and Russian officials met in Geneva today to discuss Russian complaints that Western sanctions were impeding the ability to export grain and fertilizer. Did the U.S. also meet with UN official Rebeca Grynspan in Geneva on the issue? And have you discussed this with the Russians, like what specific sanctions relief are they asking for?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I don’t have any additional specifics to readout on any potential meeting, but what I would reiterate, again, is that we did not provide or offer any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in this initiative. And as I’ve said, there has always been a clear exemption for food and fertilizer, and our sanctions never target humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Staying on Putin, he made a number of statements today. Broadly speaking, do you see his statements as part of his war strategy – particularly when he was talking about lift the sanctions or else, that language. Do you think – based on your assessment, is he blackmailing the West?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to categorize his comments one way or the other. I think what it’s important to look at here is Russia’s actions, and what their actions have been – have been deeply problematic, starting with the unjust and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, their initial reluctance to allow grain to leave ports of Ukraine. What this is really about is their actions. And so, what I would reiterate again is that this Black Sea Grain Initiative is a humanitarian arrangement to bring desperately needed food to the world’s hungriest populations. And any allegation or notion that our sanctions are standing in the way of that are just simply not true because we have always had clear exemptions for food and fertilizer.

QUESTION: But back to the filtration questions, if you don’t mind.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: You mentioned some technology, tools, equipment. Based on your assessment, is Russia alone in this, or is Russia cooperating with China, Iran?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond what I shared initially at the top.

QUESTION: The report of the IAEA on Zaporizhzhia. Now the Russians are saying that the inspector had determined that the attacks are, actually, Ukrainian attacks on that plant? Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: We continue to appreciate the extraordinary efforts of the IAEA in their efforts to continue to maintain a presence at the ZNPP to assess its safety and security. I will note again, as I noted yesterday, that it is Russia that is unjustly and illegally and unlawfully infringing on Ukrainian territorial integrity and Ukrainian sovereignty by being present at the ZNPP. I know the IAEA put out a report yesterday. Our experts are continuing to review that report and its recommendations, and we continue to call on and support Ukraine’s call for a demilitarization zone around the ZNPP facility.

Janne, you had a question?

QUESTION: Yes, on sort of Russia’s – Russians’ ambassador to the United Nations refutes U.S. claims about the Russia’s purchase of arms from North Korea. How would you response this?

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any comment to offer on that, but what I will reiterate again, and what we said yesterday, is that we believe the Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, which is in large part a consequence of our export controls and sanctions, and we expect that Russia could try to purchase additional North Korean military equipment going forward.

QUESTION: He said this is not true, is false. So how are you going to verify —

MR PATEL: Well, we believe that it is true, and this is rooted in the important work being done by our Intelligence Community. But I don’t have anything else to offer on that from here.

Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So, the Israeli press are reporting that the administration told Prime Minister Lapid that any potential deal with Iran is off the table. Yesterday, the EU chief diplomatic – to Iran said that – Mr. Borrell said that the deal could be in danger. So where are we? Are you still confident that we are actually on track for any potential return to the 2015 deal? Are you still optimistic, like you’ve been talking about the last few days?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, this obviously is a negotiation and it’s a very complex set of circumstances, and we’re continuing to work through that process.

On your question about President Biden’s call with the Israeli prime minister, I’d refer you to the White House’s readout of that call. In general, we don’t get into specifics beyond that. But as we have said, part of this diplomatic process is regular engagement with our allies and partners, including our allies in Israel. And as we’ve said before – late last week – Iran’s response did not put us in a position to close the deal. We continue to work through that process. We are reviewing Iran’s response, and we hope to have an update soon. But this is something that we’re going to continue to pursue because we continue to believe and affirm that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA continues to be not only in the national security interest of this country; it’s an important step to contain Iran’s nuclear program; it is an important step for regional stability as well.

QUESTION: So, you’re saying it’s wrong to conclude that the deal is off?

MR PATEL: As I said, this is an extraordinary complex set of issues. It is unfortunate that Iran’s response to us took us backwards, and we of course are not going to conclude a deal that is not in U.S. national security interest. But this is something that we’re continuing to pursue.

QUESTION: Does Israel have veto power over the deal, whether it goes or does not go? Because that is in – that’s really the essence of the story. Do they have a veto power over whether this deal, or returning to the deal, see the day of light or it doesn’t?

MR PATEL: Well, like I said, Said, engaging with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance to the JCPOA continues to be a key component of this, and that of course includes engaging with our Israeli partners. But like I said, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations from here. We continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA is not just in the national security interest of this country, but it continues to offer important non-proliferative benefits that will contain Iran’s nuclear program.

QUESTION:  Does the Israeli election slated for next month play a factor whether the deal is gone back to now or thereafter?

MR PATEL: I think there is really, only one ultimate end goal of this deal, Said, and that is to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. And that continues to be our vision forward and the reason why we continue to pursue this because we believe that a mutual return to compliance will help us get there. It will put restraints on Iran’s nuclear program, and it’s an important step for regional stability and in the national security interest of the United States.

QUESTION:  Can you just comment more specifically on the IAEA report today about Iran having moved closer to having more of its enriched uranium to near weapons grade? Is that not a red line for the U.S. yet with this —

MR PATEL:  So, we continue to seek a full implementation of the JCPOA precisely because of Iran’s nuclear activities like the ones that you described. And under a JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear activities would be strictly limited and fully monitored by the IAEA. As you said, and as the IAEA report indicated, Iran now has a substantial amount of highly enriched uranium for it – which it has no credible civilian use. But in a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, Iran would need to get rid of all of its enriched uranium stockpile, aside from the limits that were laid out in the JCPOA.

QUESTION:  Israel signalled opposition today to U.S. calls to review rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank. The U.S. has repeatedly called for accountability over journalist Shireen Abu Akleh’s death. If Israel resists reviewing the rules of engagement, how will accountability be achieved?

MR PATEL:  Again,  I don’t have anything additional to provide beyond the extent that – which I talked about this yesterday. But to reiterate, we continue to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement and consider additional steps that will mitigate risk in this circumstance.

QUESTION: Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that a document about a country’s nuclear defense information was recovered from Mar-a-Lago. Has the State Department been briefed on which country this was, the contents of that document, and are you concerned it could damage bilateral relations with whatever country this is?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer on that. This is a Department of Justice activity, and so I would refer you to them and let them speak to this.

QUESTION: Yeah. Any readout from the Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf in Iraq today?

MR PATEL: I do have an update for you on that. So, as we noticed over the weekend, Assistant Secretary Leaf is in Iraq and is meeting with a range of Iraqis and Iraqi political leaders both in Baghdad and Erbil. In her meetings, Assistant Secretary Leaf expressed U.S. support for Prime Minister Kadhimi’s call to hold a constructive dialogue to help resolve the current political and economic crisis and urged all parties to attend. She is focused on advancing U.S. support for Iraq’s sovereignty, stability, and security; and this includes working to advance the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement to support areas in which we can collaborate together, including energy, education, and infrastructure as well.

Lalit, let’s go to you.

QUESTION: Assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs is in India these days. Do you have a readout of his meetings, who he met and what he discussed there?

MR PATEL: Yeah. Assistant Secretary of State Lu is leading a U.S. delegation to India from September 5th to 8th. This is to deepen the U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. This delegation will meet with Indian officials. They will discuss ways in which the U.S. and India can expand our cooperation to support a free, open, connected, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific. We also understand that Assistant Secretary Lu will engage in roundtable discussions with senior business executives about how India can realize its full economic potential over the next 25 years and become a central hub in global supply chains as well.

QUESTION: On Assistant Secretary Leaf’s visit to Iraq, I know you just had the readout, but where does the U.S. stand on the political impasse? Do you see in the current political environment that the Iraqi leaders can form a government?

MR PATEL: As I spoke to this a number of weeks ago, we do not view this as a U.S. issue. It’s an Iraqi issue, and our posture has continued to be calling on calm and calling for peace amid some of the demonstrations. And ultimately, what we want to see is a strong, united, resilient, and sovereign Iraqi state. We regard Iraq as a vital partner on a number of issues and a partner with whom we do many things across the region, whether it be food security, water security, addressing climate change, and among other things as well.

QUESTION: And then in Erbil she also discussed energy issues between Kurdistan region and Baghdad. I know that you’re saying the Iraqi formation of the government is not a U.S. issue, but then this one has some sort of U.S. angle where there are a lot of American companies – or some American companies – that are working in Kurdistan region and threatened by Iraqi supreme court’s ruling. Where do you guys stand on that? Do you want to see the continuation of American energy companies working in Iraq?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, to take a little bit of a step back for the rest of the room, as you mentioned, Assistant Secretary Leaf is taking a number of meetings with political leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan to strengthen the enduring relationship between the U.S. and the people of the IKR. Assistant Secretary Leaf is emphasizing the urgency of resolving Iraq’s political impasse in an inclusive way, including the importance of unity among the Kurdish parties in a – in forging a more secure, democratic, and prosperous future.

On your question about the energy, we encourage the parties to determine a way forward that supports existing and future investment and advances the interests of the Iraqi people, including those in the Kurdistan region as well.

QUESTION: In addition to the purchase, Russia had asked North Korea to send workers to reconstruct Donbas and the eastern region of the Ukraine. So, what is your reaction to Russia and North Korea strengthening their ties? And does the U.S. consider any additional sanctions against North Korea?

MR PATEL: Well, we’re certainly not going to preview any actions, and I think in recent weeks we have seen Russia rely on states like the DPRK and Iran in ways that are deeply problematic. And everyone, not just in the region but around the world, should be concerned with Russia closening alliances to such countries.

But on your questions about the workers, I think we addressed this a number of weeks ago. But to reiterate, DPRK workers dispatched overseas, including to Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, would be in clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and these resolutions highlight that the revenue generated from overseas DPRK workers would essentially contribute to the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles program, and all UN member?states are required to repatriate DPRK nationals pursuant to this.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, the presidential elections there should happen between now and the end of October. So far, no reforms and no new government after the elections, and the parliament doesn’t look ready to elect a new president. What is the U.S. view on this?

MR PATEL:  This is for the Lebanese people to decide who is in their government, and we call on Lebanon’s leaders to hold a free and fair presidential election, in a timely manner, in a way that is in accordance with the Lebanese constitution. We want to see a government in Lebanon that is capable of restoring the trust of its own people and committed to implementing the political and economic reforms needed to effect meaningful change, promote good governance, and rescue Lebanon’s economy as well.

Nadia.

QUESTION: My two questions also on Lebanon. Iran offered to give free fuel to Lebanon to avoid sanctions and any transaction. Would you welcome that? What’s your comment on that? Do you think that’s a good idea?

MR PATEL: Well, we think that any activity that could skirt sanctions would be deeply problematic.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Do you have any concern on Turkey’s parroting of Russian propaganda, which raised eyebrows in the region? As I mentioned yesterday, they blamed sanctions for energy crisis, and today President Erdo?an was quoted as saying that the West is “provoking,” quote/unquote, Russia. How much do these statements reflect the current state of Turkish-U.S. relationship? Is there any miscommunication, lack of coordination? Where is this coming from, your assessment?

MR PATEL: So, I think it’s important to note that we view Turkey as a vital and key NATO Ally and partner, and they played an – a really important role in the implementation of this Black Sea Grain Initiative, which, again, I would reiterate is a humanitarian arrangement bringing desperately needed food to the world’s hungry populations. And again, there has always been clear exemptions on food and fertilizer, and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Chile?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Sunday there was a referendum on a new constitution, and Chileans overwhelmingly rejected —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — a left-leaning constitution after three years of debate and so on. Do you have any comment on that? Did you issue a statement?

MR PATEL: Chilean people have again demonstrated Chile’s commitment to democracy, and we remain committed to supporting Chile as it continues the democratic process of building a more perfect nation that expands prosperity and opportunity for all Chileans.

Let’s finish up with Leon.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to the Erdo?an question. …. he’s clearly, publicly said – accusing the West of imposing sanctions on Russia that are not helpful – provocative is a word he used. So, I mean – and you’re saying now that he’s – of course, Turkey is an ally and they did this Black Sea deal and all that. But do you disagree firmly with those comments? Do you find them helpful, not helpful? I mean, give us some feedback.

MR PATEL: What’s important to note, to any country and to anybody talking about this, is that the U.S. did not offer or provide any sanctions relief in exchange for participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. And we have been clear from the very beginning that we have exemptions for food, for fertilizer; and our sanctions have never targeted humanitarian assistance. We want to see food and fertilizer reach global markets. We think this has been a very important development that has allowed grain to get to people in countries who need it most, and now it’s up to Russia to live up to its commitment of this initiative.

All right, thanks, everybody###.