Department Press Briefing – April 25, 2023 – United States Department of State
1:35 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Paper book today, everybody, so that’s going to be really interesting for all of us. I have three very brief things, and then we will dive right into your questions.
Yesterday, the United States took further action, concurrently with the UK and the EU, to promote accountability for the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses. We imposed sanctions on four key commanders in Iran’s IRGC and law enforcement forces. These individuals were linked to units implicated in some of the worst human rights abuses during the violent crackdown on protests last year. We also designated Seyyed Mohammad Amin Aghamiri, the Secretary of the Supreme Council for Cyberspace. Additionally, we imposed visa restrictions against 11 Iranian Government officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses.
This is the eleventh round of U.S. sanctions actions targeting the Iranian regime and its security elements officials involved in the brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, since the nationwide protests began in September 2022. We, along with our partners and allies, remain committed to holding the Iranian regime accountable for its human rights abuses and violent crackdown against peaceful protesters.
Some updates on Sudan, from over the weekend. I know many of you joined our call on Saturday night, but to reiterate, following the successful evacuation of our Embassy Khartoum personnel, we are working on two urgent lines of effort related to the crisis in Sudan. The first is to assist U.S. citizens in Sudan and to coordinate with our allies and partners on efforts to secure their personnel. We are in close communication with U.S. citizens and individuals affiliated with the U.S. Government to provide information on all available departure routes for those seeking to depart safely. We are providing the best possible advice we can about conditions, safety, and security so that they can make their own decisions with the most information possible. We also continue to coordinate with allies and partners who are conducting their own operations and work to include our citizens in those efforts.
The second line of effort is pressing for the SAF and the RSF to implement and fully uphold a ceasefire and allow unhindered humanitarian access. Following intense diplomatic efforts, the SAF and the RSF agreed to implement a nationwide 72 ceasefire – 72-hour ceasefire – starting at midnight yesterday. To move beyond temporary ceasefire commitments and achieve a more durable end to the fighting. We are coordinating with regional and international partners and Sudanese civilian stakeholders to assist in the creation of a committee to oversee the negotiation, conclusion, and implementation of a permanent cessation of hostilities and humanitarian arrangements in Sudan.
And lastly, I wanted to take this opportunity to welcome our new State Department Spokesperson, Matt Miller. I got to work with Matt when I was at the White House, when Matt was at the National Security Council, where he served as a special advisor leading communications and legislative affairs efforts on the war in Ukraine. Many of you probably got to know Matt over the course of the Biden transition, where he ran Secretary Blinken’s confirmation. So, he’s no stranger to the important work being done by this department. In addition to some time on the Hill, he’s also served as the director of the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice and as Attorney General Eric Holder’s spokesperson. I am glad to be working with Matt again, someone who has a reputation of being immensely talented. And I know the department is looking forward to working with him as well. I also know he’s eager to get up here and start briefing soon enough. So, we’re looking forward to that also.
And Matt, if you want to – Matt Lee, if you want to take us away.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PATEL: (Laughter.) A lot of Matts.
QUESTION: Welcome, Matt, namesake. I’m sure that I – don’t – you might wish to get up here quickly, but you might want to hold off a little bit. We’ll see how things go.
Vedant, on Sudan.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You mentioned in your opening, you said you’re working with – or talking to U.S. citizens in Sudan and quote/unquote “individuals affiliated with the U.S. Government.” What exactly is an individual affiliated with the U.S. Government?
MR PATEL: There –
QUESTION: Is that a Sudanese person who worked for the embassy, or –
MR PATEL: That’s correct. It could be locally employed staff. It could be U.S. Government officials that may not necessarily – or U.S. Government-affiliated individuals that don’t fall into the Chief of Mission cone for our security responsibilities. But I don’t have the specifics to get into, Matt.
QUESTION: All right. Well, when you say specifics, you’re not like – can you give us a rough number of these people who are affiliated with —
MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific number to offer, Matt. But as you know, for American citizens, when we ask them to travel, they don’t register. But we’ve been in close touch with American citizens in country.
QUESTION: And then secondly, you are aware that some private American citizens have, in fact, made their way to Port Sudan?
MR PATEL: Correct.
QUESTION: And some have, in fact, made their way from Port Sudan out of Sudan. Can you tell us how many private American citizens the consulate in Jeddah has been assisting in —
MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific number to provide, Matt. But in our latest —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, is it – how about it’s not a – like is it a dozen?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just – I’m just not going to put a specific metric on it, as the situation is fluid. But you are correct. In our latest Travel Advisory alert that was issued, I believe early this morning, we indicated to private American citizens that, should they be able to make it to Port Sudan and get to Jeddah via ferry, we have consular offers in Jeddah available to assist them, should they need it.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that – have you beefed up staff in Jeddah, or is that just the regular contingent?
MR PATEL: That – those lines of efforts are underway, of taking what steps we can to bolster efforts there. I’m not going to get into specifics, as that work is still happening. But we, of course, are taking appropriate precautions to support American citizens how we can.
MR PATEL: Shaun.
QUESTION: Could I ask about the ceasefire itself?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The 72-hour ceasefire – do you believe that it’s holding? I mean, there are some reports of sporadic violence in Sudan, not necessarily in Khartoum. What does the U.S. feel? Does it feel that it’s still in place and still successful?
MR PATEL: It’s our hope that this ceasefire not just be durable, but it be adhered to and that it be extended. We think that a ceasefire is really important to not just to be representative of the will of the Sudanese people, but for allowing the access of humanitarian aid and for the appropriate next steps to take place for us to get this from a ceasefire to a specific cessation of hostilities between these two generals.
QUESTION: You say you hope that that’s the case, or you hope that the ceasefire is durable. Is it your indication or the State Department’s indication that the ceasefire is actually holding?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to offer specific assessments from the ground, Shaun. But we continue to be deeply engaged on this, from the Secretary, from Assistant Secretary Molly Phee, of course Ambassador Godfrey. We continue to be directly engaged with the parties on the ground as well as other Sudanese stakeholders as well.
QUESTION: Vedant, just to push you a little bit more on that, how does the U.S. envision the path from this shaky ceasefire to a permanent cessation of hostilities? Who’s going to do what? How is that going to be achieved? What are you guys going to tell these two generals differently that they’re going to agree to?
MR PATEL: Well, look, Humeyra, I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic conversations. But we remain in close contact with Sudan’s military and civilian leaders. And what we want to do, through the Secretary and through others’ engagements on this, is help them identify a path; a path to reach a sustainable cessation of hostilities that, of course, includes humanitarian arrangements and is an extension and a step forward from the ceasefire that was agreed to out of respect for Eid this past weekend.
QUESTION: And just to look back a little bit because there has been a lot of criticism on social media about how the Western powers did not see this coming – I don’t know if you’ve seen some of that criticism. There was one that was very striking, and I want to read a little bit. Quote, “You put us in this mess. Now you’re swooping in to take your kinfolk, leaving us behind to these two murdering psychopaths.” I mean, is the U.S. doing any reflection on the past process, on what went wrong, and drawing some lessons for the future? What can be done differently? There’s criticism that Western powers were not perhaps tough enough with the generals. Do you accept that?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Humeyra. First, that over this past weekend – from communications that you’ve seen from the Secretary and others – we have been quite clear in saying that we – the Sudanese people are not giving up and neither are we. And one of the key tenets of that is that this suspension of operations is temporary, and our commitment to the people of Sudan and our commitment of getting a ceasefire extended in hopes that it turns into a cessation of hostilities, in hopes that we can get back to a transitional government, those desires endure. And we’re going to continue to work those lines of efforts unhindered.
Specifically on the security situation, Humeyra, we have also been very clear that the situation in Sudan has been delicate for quite some time, and it has been a very fluid and fraught security situation. It’s been since August 2021 that Sudan was deemed a Level 4, Do Not Travel, country. And so, we have not been naïve about the challenges that exist within the country, as it relates to our own goals but also the goals of the Sudanese people as well.
QUESTION: Should we expect a little bit more, tougher stance from U.S. towards the generals? There’s an expectation – not an expectation, but some people are suggesting that U.S. should have sanctioned them and all that. How – are you guys accommodating or entertaining any —
MR PATEL: I’m certainly – you know just as well as everyone else here, I’m not going to preview sanctions or get ahead of actions from behind this podium. But we, of course, are looking at this from all angles. And looking at ways that we can continue to support the Sudanese people, and take active steps that gets us to a ceasefire that is extended, adhered to, and eventually towards a cessation of hostilities as well.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Does the number “some dozens” still stand from yesterday that the Secretary referenced in terms of Americans reaching out to try to get out of Sudan?
MR PATEL: Jenny, I’m just not going to get into specific numbers, as the situation is quite fluid. And as you know, we’ve talked about this before, that we don’t ask American citizens to register when they travel to any country, when they arrive in a country, when they’re residing in a country, or when they depart. What I can say is that we continue to remain in close touch with American citizens. That continues to be the case, offering them best practices on security precautions, on other measures that they can take, and ways that they might be able to safely depart the country as well.
QUESTION: Okay. I know the embassy has repeatedly warned that there would not be a U.S.-Government-facilitated evacuation, due to conditions on the ground. But if this 72-hour ceasefire was to hold, would that calculus change? Is there any discussion of potentially deploying assets from the Port of Sudan to Khartoum to get people out?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate or go down that rabbit hole yet, Jenny. I think what I will point to is what National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said yesterday, which is that it is not standard practice for the U.S. to send U.S. military into war zones to extract U.S. citizens. Obviously, we have a responsibility for the safety and security of our personnel, and an assessment was made by the – based on the security assessments on the ground to suspend operations and evacuate U.S. personnel. And we’re continuing to be engaged with private American citizens, and ensuring that they can take appropriate steps to get to safety, to depart the country should they choose to do so; but by and large doing what we can to keep them safe as well.
QUESTION: Vedant —
MR PATEL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: — you see the way out of this mess as going back to the transitional agreement, correct, as it was before the fighting began? Or should it be amended or renegotiated, and should there be any guarantees that this could actually happen?
MR PATEL: Said, the first thing that we want to see is see this ceasefire that was announced yesterday extended and adhered to, and we want to see it transition into a cessation of hostilities, and then we can assess what appropriate next steps need to be taken. As we have been quite consistent, what we are interested is seeing the will of the Sudanese people be reflected, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work towards.
QUESTION: So as far as now is concerned, there’s nothing beyond the ceasefire ongoing? There are no negotiations, whether between you and the – those who are fighting?
MR PATEL: Said, I’m just – I’m just not going to get into private diplomatic conversations. What we – what this department has been tirelessly working towards for a couple of weeks now – this started when the violence intensified early last week; the Secretary was personally engaged on this and ensuring that the two generals could take steps towards a ceasefire – and that continues to be a main line of effort, as I indicated in my opener this morning.
MR PATEL: Courtney. I’ll come to you, Michel, after this. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you just explain why the U.S. thinks that this ceasefire has a greater chance of becoming permanent? And, also, just kind of give us any more detail on the composition of this committee that is envisioned to work toward making it a more durable cessation of hostilities?
MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific makeup to offer, but I would suspect that a number of officials who have been engaged in this issue for the past many weeks will continue to be engaged, people like Assistant Secretary Molly Phee and others. We’ll see if we’ve got some more updates on that over the course of the week, but I don’t have anything to offer right now.
I’m, again, not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements that we’ve had with the two generals. But, at every instance, we have been clear to them that they have two responsibilities here: a responsibility to stop the violence; a responsibility to the – to ensure that our diplomatic personnel as well as the diplomatic personnel of our allies and partners, of the UN, of humanitarian workers, of civilians and others, do not fall to harm over the course of this process.
Anything else on this subject before we move away? Nike, go ahead.
QUESTION: Biohazard. Is the United States tracking any biohazard material being used in the fighting?
MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any operational updates to offer from the ground. We’ve seen those reports that certain facilities might have been impacted by the violence. We’re still looking into those reports and seeing what impact it may or may not have.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the creation of the committee to oversee negotiations and the implementation of the permanent ceasefire?
MR PATEL: I think I answered that question when talking to Courtney. I don’t have any specific updates to offer on the makeup right now.
QUESTION: On Wagner, can you see any – can you say anything about its activities? And Foreign Minister Lavrov consider it a private company; and said it can function in Sudan if they want.
MR PATEL: Well, what – I would say two things. Any entity that is taking actions in Sudan that is going to contribute to further destabilization, contribute to further violence, that’s something that the United States would certainly not welcome. I don’t have any assessment to offer on the group’s role in Sudan, but what I will say broadly is that – and you’ve heard me say this before – that on the Wagner Group: When we see them engage in any country, we find that country end up being more vulnerable, more prone to destabilization, more prone to threats. And so, we are working collectively with our allies and partners to curb the influence of the Wagner Group, of course on the African continent but elsewhere as well.
QUESTION: Can I quickly follow up on this?
MR PATEL: Janne, on this – on Sudan or on another topic?
MR PATEL: Okay. I’m going to work this and then I’ll go – go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Given what you just said about Wagner, is it your assessment that Wagner Group might actually benefit from this crisis? And the second question —
MR PATEL: That’s a very speculative question, Alex. I’m just not going to engage on that.
QUESTION: Is there anything that State is doing at this point, either through private channels or some different channels, to restore internet service at least for the U.S. citizens who are stuck in —
MR PATEL: What kind of services?
QUESTION: Internet services, internet connection.
MR PATEL: Internet services. So, look, as you know, Alex, we – there’s been a suspension of operations, so I don’t have any – there’s no services to offer in Sudan at this point from the embassy. But we have a consular team here, we have a consular team from other parts of the world, including Jeddah, that are deeply engaged in helping American citizens get to safety, helping American citizens with best practices and advice for the safety and security situation on the ground. But I don’t have anything else to offer there.
QUESTION: Is there any concern that once the foreigners are out that Sudan’s warring parties will act with even less restraint; that this conflict could turn more deadly once diplomats aren’t at risk of being caught in the crossfire?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate or hypothesize on that, Elizabeth. That is – what I will say is that we are – continue to be deeply engaged on the cessation of hostilities and ensuring that this ceasefire is extended and adhered to. That’s what continues to be our focus because that’s what we’d like to see happen.
QUESTION: Just on Sudan, as well, the Secretary said yesterday that we’re looking at options. We have to perhaps resume diplomatic presence in Sudan, including Port Sudan. Can you give any idea on how far along that planning of resuming operations in Port Sudan has come along?
MR PATEL: So, the Secretary spoke to this yesterday in his press conference with the Kenyans. I will reiterate what he said that we’re just not at a point to assign a timeline on it. Obviously, you have seen almost every single administration official be clear about the fact that this suspension is temporary. We hope to get back to Sudan at some point, and so we’ll continue to look into these matters as well.
Anything else on Sudan before we shift away?
QUESTION: Yeah, I have one more just logistically.
MR PATEL: Okay. Let me go to Dylan and then I’ll come back to you. Dylan, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just on something you said earlier about it not being standard procedure to have a government-run evacuation – in these kind of situations, but it is something that’s happened before in certain cases. So, is the reason it’s not happening in this case purely security reasons, purely that this is not deemed safe and possible to do so, or some other reason?
MR PATEL: That of course is one of the many factors weighing into this, Dylan. You saw Under Secretary Bass speak about this on Saturday night on how – about how the very fraught and delicate security environment makes travel via overland routes, as well as travel through the air, incredibly risky. And even the operation that our servicemembers conducted on Saturday to evacuate our personnel was also something that was a high-risk situation. And so, this was an assessment that was made based on the delicate and fragile security circumstances on the ground. You saw Jake Sullivan speak to this yesterday as well. But the important thing is that we are going to be – continue to be engaged with American citizens in the region who are seeking advice, who are seeking how to seek safety, and who are – who may be seeking to depart the country as well.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: So, there have been a handful of countries – Germany, France, Italy, Japan – that have airlifted civilians out of the country, that have carried out these kind of operations that the U.S. is not necessarily planning to do. So why is it the case that those countries are able to airlift their people out and the U.S. —
MR PATEL: Each country is going to make its own sovereign decision based on their own interpretation of the security apparatus and the security situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Yeah, just logistically in terms of the embassy compound in Sudan. I recognize you say that this is a temporary suspension of operations, but there have been a lot of temporary suspensions of operations that have not ended yet: Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela. So, I want to know in light of that fact, have you started talking with anyone about being a protecting power? And if you – whether you have or not, who is looking after the embassy compound and the U.S. Government-owned or rented housing?
MR PATEL: I will say a couple things, Matt. The suspension of operations is not an indication of any cutting of ties, when it comes to diplomatic relations. As I have said, we continue to be deeply engaged with stakeholders in Sudan, with Sudan’s military leaders, with these two generals specifically. I’m not aware of any potential protecting power conversations that would need to take place in light of that.
QUESTION: So, who is —
MR PATEL: And I will see – I will see if I can get you a specific on the compound itself. I don’t have an update on that from here.
Moving away from Sudan?
QUESTION: Yeah, different country.
MR PATEL: I’m going to do Janne, and then I’ll come to you, Shaun.
Go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Two questions. Russia requested volunteer army support from North Korea for the war in Ukraine, and they announced that Russia provide advanced missiles and fighters to North Korea. As you know, Russia says it will retaliate if South Korea provide arms to Ukraine. What do you think of the give and take between North Korea and Russia?
MR PATEL: So, Janne, I have not seen that specific report – but if you’ll let me take a little bit of a step back to widen aperture, we have not parsed our words on the deep concern we have about the closening of relations between Russia and the DPRK, especially in the context of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. We have talked openly before about the DPRK’s provision of ammunition, and so this is something that we’re going to continue to pay close attention to, specifically the DPRK’s provision of lethal aid. But I don’t have anything on the specific reports, but it’s quite concerning the closeness that these two entities continue to have.
QUESTION: And China.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think South Korea should participate in the U.S.’s semiconductor containment against China?
MR PATEL: Can you expand on that, Janne? Are you referring to something specific?
QUESTION: Yeah, because yesterday I think United States more containment against China to semiconductors (inaudible) actually start.
MR PATEL: Got it. So let me say a couple things. First, this is ultimately a decision for the Republic of Korea to make, but this administration and the administration of President Yoon have together made historic progress in deepening our relationship. We have an immense cooperation on national security, on trade, on addressing issues like climate change, and this of course includes efforts to coordinate on the semiconductor sector as well. So, we expect the state visit, which is set to begin on Wednesday, to deepen these very important conversations as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Shaun.
QUESTION: Can we talk Venezuela?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Juan Guaidó, the opposition figure in Venezuela, says that he went to – he fled to Colombia, and that Colombia then expelled him to the United States. First of all, can you confirm that he’s on his way here? But more broadly, what do you think of particularly the Colombian decision not to have him there at the conference?
MR PATEL: So, we are aware of reports that former interim President Guaidó entered Colombia and then traveled to the United States. Once he was in Colombia unannounced, U.S. diplomats worked closely with the Colombian Government to help him get to – safely to the United States. And we are thankful for the government – to the Government of Colombia for supporting Venezuelans fleeing their country due to persecution and the humanitarian crisis inside Venezuela. But I don’t have any other updates to offer on this situation.
QUESTION: Can I just press on it slightly?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The – you say you – of course, Colombia hosts millions of refugees. But in terms of not having him participate in this, for the past few years the U.S. has supported Guaidó in his role. Is there a signal in that? Is that something you’re comfortable with, with Guaidó not participating in this conference?
MR PATEL: I would not view this as any kind of change or indication on our policy when it comes to Venezuela. We continue to be clear-eyed about that, that we expect the regime in Venezuela to make significant progress when it comes to some of the humanitarian and human rights concerns that we’ve consistently raised about the regime.
QUESTION: On the same topic?
QUESTION: China? China?
MR PATEL: Let me go to the same topic, and then I’ll come to you, Nike. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Venezuela. And the Colombian Government said that you helped him to travel to Miami. Is this true? And if it is, why did you?
MR PATEL: I think I just said that, that through U.S. diplomats we worked closely with the Colombian Government to get him to the United States safely.
QUESTION: And do you know if Juan Guaidó has asked for asylum or protection here in the U.S.?
MR PATEL: Anything like that would be confidential, so I just wouldn’t be able to speak to those kinds of things.
QUESTION: Yeah. So U.S. ambassador to China, Ambassador Burns, tweeted today that he presented his credentials to PRC President Xi Jinping. What is the reason that he presented credentials more than one year after he issued office?
MR PATEL: Nike, that’s a question for the Chinese MFA. I will let them speak to their schedule on how they have their diplomats present credentials.
What I can say about Nick Burns, though, is that he is a world class diplomat, a seasoned veteran of this department, a veteran of this podium. And we’re very thankful that he is in Beijing representing the United States, and we’re very glad that he was able to present his credentials.
QUESTION: Can you please remind us, what is the protocol of a U.S. ambassador? Does he or she usually present or request to present such credential upon arrival?
MR PATEL: My understanding is that the presentation of credentials and the provision of those is likely determined by the host country, but I am happy, Nike, to see if we’ve got a specific on how exactly that happens.
QUESTION: Is that fair to say it’s a retaliation from the PRC to see him one year – more than one year?
MR PATEL: I don’t think so, because he’s been in the country. I mean, I’m not going to speculate, but Ambassador Burns has been in the country doing important work for quite some time now. So again, on the sequencing and the scheduling, I will let the MFA speak to that. But if we have specific guidance on how – in a standard sense, we go about this, I’m happy to check on that as well.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I switch to the Palestinian issue?
MR PATEL: Sure, yeah.
QUESTION: Today the PA foreign minister, Ryiad al-Maliki, spoke at the United Nations, and he said that the whole international principle is based on two principles, basically: the right to self-determination; and the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force, by an occupying force. So as – and he also called to end the Nakba, to end the Palestinian Nakba. And there are enough international laws and resolutions and so on that have been passed to actually effectuate it, today. Do you agree with him that the Palestinian Nakba, the time has come to end it?
MR PATEL: Said, we have been clear and consistent from this podium, from across this administration, about the need for a negotiated two-state solution, a state for the people of Israel, a state for the Palestinian people. So that continues to be our administration’s approach to this.
QUESTION: But you know, I mean – and that’s fine, but when? When should this take place? When should it happen? When should serious negotiations begin, in your view?
MR PATEL: Said, we believe that serious negotiations should persist. We would want a resolution to this, as soon as one is possible. And that is why we have spoken to this quite consistently before.
QUESTION: Yeah, well, but just to follow up on what you just said, today there is a bipartisan resolution in Congress that basically omits the Palestinians completely. I mean, it talks about Israel. It talks about the celebration of independence, and so on. But even the lip service that was paid in the past for the two-state solution was not even mentioned altogether. Does that disturb you, that this is taking place in Congress?
MR PATEL: Said, I have not seen this specific resolution and I am not one to comment on pending products coming out of our Congress. But what I will say is two things. One, we would congratulate Israel on its upcoming 75th anniversary. But also, you have seen us – this administration – be quite clear about our views on a two-state solution as well as our views about ensuring the dignity and the equal measures of prosperity, of equal measures of justice, when it comes to both the Israelis and Palestinians as well.
QUESTION: On this issue, I have —
MR PATEL: Go ahead. Oh, still on – hold on.
QUESTION: On this issue —
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I have a comment.
MR PATEL: You have a comment, or a question? This is not really a place for you guys to offer comments.
QUESTION: We talked – or you talked a lot about the two-state solution and negotiations that lead to, go back to the negotiation. Why you always keeping the issue of an occupation sort of on the shadow or away? Why is – why it is not on the table? Is it not urgent?
MR PATEL: Of course, it’s urgent. And I would not say that it’s on the side as well. It is on the table. And in our conversations about pushing for a negotiated two-state solution, it is something that we raise directly with our Israeli partners, with the Palestinian Authority. It’s something we raise quite directly.
Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you so much. A gathering of Afghan leaders in Vienna is discussing the roadmap for opposing the Taliban. What’s your take on it, and does the U.S. support any opposition to the Taliban?
And second, do you intend to convene a conference on dealing with the Taliban on May 1st in Doha? Their recognition might be a topic. Will Thomas West also attend, and what will be his stance?
And last one. What’s your response to Russian statement blaming the U.S. for leaving weapons in Afghanistan and the concern that militant groups may use those for destabilizing the region?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, I’m not aware of any forthcoming travel, or don’t have any travel to announce.
On the topic of these two conferences, I believe I spoke to them late last week. And what I would say is that any kind of recognition of the Taliban is completely off the table. It is not supposed to be the purpose of either of these engagements.
Number three, your comment about weapons left in Afghanistan – Admiral Kirby and the Department of Defense has – have spoken a great deal about this, so I would point you back to their previous comments. I don’t have anything different to offer on that.
Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Just real quick, last – late last week, President Museveni said that he was going to send the anti-homosexuality act back to the Ugandan parliament. Any comment on that?
MR PATEL: We have spoken quite clearly about the legislation broadly. I don’t have any specifics or update to offer on the sequencing. But we have been clear that we believe that any legislation that reduces or retracts the basic human rights for those of the LGBTQI+ community is something that we certainly would take issue with. And it’s something that we’ve been quite clear on as well.
QUESTION: And as a quick follow-up, is there any further discussion about potentially cutting aid to Uganda if this bill were to be signed into law?
MR PATEL: I don’t want to get ahead of the process here as this is still something that’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. So, as you mentioned last week that the recognition of Taliban is not on the table, then what is the next step for the United States? So, is that going to keep it as it is right now under Taliban’s control as a de facto government? Or what is the next plan for the Biden administration?
And the second part of my question is that lately The Washington Post reported that ISIS is planning to attack the United States’ interests from Afghanistan. It was based on the documents that were leaked. So, what is the United States plan to prevent another terrorist attacks from Afghanistan?
MR PATEL: Let me a say a couple things. First on your second point, the degradation of ISIS in the region continues to be a top priority for this administration and it’s something that we continue to work collectively on with our allies and partners and others in the region.
To your first question, our commitment to the people of Afghanistan endures. We have been incredibly clear about that. The United States continues to be the single largest humanitarian donor to the people of Afghanistan, and we have ways to do that and NGOs and experts that we work through to ensure that that funding does not find its way to the Taliban.
On the Taliban broadly, we have been very clear, and we take issue with a number of their recent – not recent, a number of their continued human rights abuses, especially abuses towards women and girls. And that continues to be one of the key roadblocks to their own self-proclaimed desire for international recognition.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. So, the UN said that if Taliban don’t allow women to work, women who worked for the UN in Afghanistan, they may pull out from Afghanistan next month. So – and then what’s next for you, for the Biden administration?
MR PATEL: I will let the UN speak to specifically their own protocols and steps that they’re going to take place, but we of course would broadly agree with this notion that when you are barring half of your population from participating in society, from participating in the economy, that is most certainly going to be a unbreakable roadblock towards, I think, prosperity and advancement for the Afghani people.
MR PATEL: Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, Chairman McCaul just asked that the State Department declassify the after-action report on Afghanistan or release it publicly. Is this something that’s under consideration?
MR PATEL: There are no plans to do that at the moment. We have, through the AAR – and Admiral Kirby spoke about this, a number of weeks ago – communicated these reports to Congress through appropriate mechanisms. You also saw the White House put out a summary document as well. And so, we continue to be deeply engaged with Congress as it relates to legitimate oversight functions on Afghanistan.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you, but – thank you, Mr. Vedant. Just a couple of related questions. One of them is that Pakistan just recently purchased its first oil from Russia. Your reaction to that?
And second, now when we see that this whole war thing is not producing any good results, don’t you think the U.S. should also adopt a different strategy?
MR PATEL: A different strategy on Russia and Ukraine?
QUESTION: With regard to Ukraine. Yeah, yes, Russia and Ukraine.
MR PATEL: And what would that different strategy be?
QUESTION: Like a peace strategy?
MR PATEL: Got it. So, I think an important thing to remember here – and I spoke about this a little bit last week – is that there is one country here trying to erase the borders of another. That is Russia. Russia is unlawfully, unjustly aggressing against Ukraine, against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And so, what the United States is going to do is continue to support our Ukrainian partners through humanitarian assistance, through security assistance, through energy assistance – and we’re going to continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable through the ways that we have done – through sanctions, through export controls.
On the purchase – Pakistan’s purchase of Russian energy – look, each country is going to make its own sovereign decisions as it relates to its energy supply. One of the reasons that the United States, through the G7, has been a big proponent of the price cap is to ensure that steps are not being taken to keep Russian energy off the market because we understand that there is a demand for supply. But we also need to take steps to ensure that Russians – Russian energy markets are not turning out to be a windfall for Putin’s war machine. And so, again, countries will make their own sovereign decisions. We have never tried to keep Russian energy off the market.
QUESTION: One more, please.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Just like my colleague earlier mentioned about the weapons that were left in Afghanistan, so one of the U.S.-funded radio station, Radio Free Europe, had a couple of weeks ago reported that a lot of that weapon has landed in the TTP hands. When I asked Mr. Kirby, he says that that’s not the – that’s not the reality and a lot of weapons was wasted and – or made not to be used. So, what’s —
MR PATEL: That’s correct.
QUESTION: So, Mr. Kirby version – that U.S.-funded radio version is not correct, right?
MR PATEL: That is correct. As the Department of Defense and Admiral Kirby, when he was there, have spoken a great deal about is that any assets or weaponry that were left in Afghanistan were no longer usable. So, this is something this administration has spoken to a number of times before.
MR PATEL: Michel, let me – on the same topic? Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: On Russia, any comments on the reports that Iran is shipping ammunitions to Russia?
MR PATEL: This is – the Russian Federation’s deepening of relations with the Iranian regime also continues to be something that is deeply concerning to us and something that we are continuing to place – pay close attention to. I’ve seen those reports that the Russian Federation is continuing to seek lethal aid from Iran. This is not the first time that we’ve seen this happen. Over the course of this conflict, we have seen the Russian Federation unleash Iranian-made drones on Kyiv, targeting critical civilian and energy infrastructure. So, it’s something that we’re going to continue to monitor and pay close attention to as well as take action on in conjunction with our allies and partners as well.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The report – Wall Street Journal’s report explicitly suggests that Iran has been resupplying Putin’s army in Ukraine through the Caspian Sea. Is there anything the U.S. Government can do to prevent this from happening in the future?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into such specific operational updates or actions from here. But look, what I will say is that, Alex, you needn’t look further than the work that we’ve done through this department in conjunction with Treasury and other cabinet agencies that are involved in holding the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ll continue to do so and take action as appropriate.
QUESTION: Can I also ask about the South Caucasus, please? A quick question.
MR PATEL: I’m going to – he’s had his hand up. I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Please come back to me. Yeah.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Russia.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: John Kirby said yesterday that Russian state-owned media outlets are propaganda organs, and that’s why they didn’t get visas for the UN session. Is it a new administration policy with respect to Russian journalists? Or does it mean that Russian state-owned media will not be issued visas in the future?
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things. First, as you know, the United States is the host nation for the United Nations, and we take seriously its obligations as a host country of the UN, under the UN Headquarters Agreement. I will note that in relation to Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to the UN for Russia’s presidency, the United States issued nearly 100 visas for Russian nationals, including for a number of journalists.
But yeah, while we’re on the subject, when we talk about the ability of journalists to do their work, it is worth pointing out that Russia’s ongoing repression of independent media and freedom of the press has led to an exodus, and not only of foreign journalists, but also Russian journalists as well.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. South Caucasus – the statement that you guys have put out on Sunday suggests that the high-level negotiations that senior administration officials have been conducting in Baku and Yerevan throughout last week didn’t pan out. Was that the case?
MR PATEL: Alex, you know firsthand that this issue in the South Caucasus is something that the Secretary himself deeply values and places a lot of importance on. And as you saw us say over the weekend, the department is deeply concerned about the establishment of a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor. Frankly, Alex, it undermines efforts to establish confidence in the peace process, and we are of the viewpoint that there should be free and open movement of people and commerce on the Lachin corridor. But Senior Advisor Bono, Assistant Secretary Hogan, the Secretary – we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged on this.
QUESTION: But department see this coming? Because you guys were in the midst of negotiation on the ground.
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into specifics of diplomatic assessments on the ground or the specifics of the conversations that we’ve had.
QUESTION: Briefly, do you have anything to say about South Africa saying it’s going to withdraw from the International Criminal Court at The Hague (inaudible)?
MR PATEL: That is a question for our South African partners. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Okay. We’ll go to Janne, and then I think I have to wrap. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just quick question. Do you think North Korea’s launch of military reconnaissance satellite is imminent?
MR PATEL: North Korean what? Pardon me?
QUESTION: Military reconnaissance satellite is —
MR PATEL: So, I have no assessments to offer from up here, Janne. But we know that the DPRK takes part in a number of malign and destabilizing activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific region but in the – across the world broadly, and that’s something that we, in conjunction with our allies and partners, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea, are going to work in a trilateral, coordinated effort to continue to undermine. Our commitment and our goal here continues to be the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We hope to engage with Pyongyang in dialogue without preconditions to reach this goal, but they have yet to engage in good faith.
MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)
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