1:32 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Hey everybody, good afternoon, and thank you so much for joining us via phone today. We thought with all the various building restrictions on campus today, we thought it’d be easier to get this group together via phone.
I don’t have anything off the top for you today, so I’m happy to dive right into your questions. Operator, if you could please repeat asking question instructions again. Thank you.
OPERATOR: Absolutely. Again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1-0 on your telephone keypad. And you can withdraw that question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. And one moment.
MR PATEL: Operator, let’s start with the line of Matt Lee with the Associated Press.
OPERATOR: One moment. Mr. Lee, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. Thanks. Two things real briefly. One is I had been under the impression – I guess misimpression, perhaps – that the Iran sanctions that were going to be announced today – well, that you just did announce – were related to the current crackdown and repression. Is there something else coming today, or – related to the – what’s going on inside of Iran now, with the protests and the clampdown?
And then secondly, how soon after Russia goes ahead and formally annexes or says that it has formally annexed these four regions of Ukraine, how long will the administration wait before taking action? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Matt. So first, I will note that the sanctions on – that you mentioned, just to take a little bit of a step back for those that might not know what we’re talking about, today the State Department imposed sanctions on two People’s Republic of China‑based entities, and the Treasury Department designated eight entities for their involvement in Iran’s petrochemical trade. This is standard enforcement of sanctions not related to anything other than just our standard enforcement of our sanctions.
As it relates to what is going on in Iran currently, we have taken a number of steps. As you all might be well aware of, we designated last week Iran’s morality police as well as seven senior Iranian security officials involved in human rights abuses, including violent repression of peaceful protests in Iran. On top of that, the U.S. also issued General License D-2, which opens the door for U.S. companies to provide tools for ordinary Iranians to better communicate with one another and the outside world using various software and internet products.
What I will note about the second part of your question is of course all options remain on the table when it comes to imposing costs on Russia in response to its atrocities and its continued invasion of Ukraine, and of course its recent reports on its sham referenda and the efforts around annexation. I don’t have anything to preview right now, but I will note that we will continue to use the various tools and levers at our disposal to hold Russia accountable and to continue to support the Ukrainian people. And we will never recognize those territories as Russian. They will always be Ukrainian and in Ukraine.
Next, let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon with AFP.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Also on Russia. NATO – well, also on – yeah, related to Russia. NATO today said that there was a deliberate, reckless sabotage on Nord Stream. I wonder if the U.S. on its own has any assessment of what happened. Do you have – can you cast the blame on anybody in terms of who actually did this? Will there be repercussions? And I think this was asked yesterday, but does this rise to the – rise to the level that it violates – that it invokes Article 5 of NATO? Thanks.
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Shaun. I don’t have any overnight updates to provide on this beyond what Ned said yesterday. Of course, any sort of apparent sabotage on key infrastructure entities would of course be of serious concern. But I’ll reiterate that we have been in touch with our European allies and partners about the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. We are supporting European efforts to investigate this.
As – and of course as you all know, these pipelines weren’t pumping natural gas into Europe at the time. Nord Stream 1 had been shut down due to Russia’s weaponizing of energy, and Nord Stream 2 was never operational. We are going to continue to work hand in hand with our European partners to get to the bottom of this, and I will also note we’re not going to let Russian disinformation distract us from Russia’s fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory either.
Next, let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis with Reuters.
OPERATOR: One moment here. And please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Vedant. Just back to the Iran sanctions that you guys just announced, I wondered – I know this is – these are Treasury designations, but it mentions in the statement that the State Department just put out from the Secretary these eight entities involved in Iran’s petrochemical trade. Is there any more information you can give us about what those entities were doing and whether, I guess particularly they’re in several countries, are you asking those countries to take action additionally against those companies? I’m specifically interested that India is mentioned as one of the countries where those – where the companies are. I wonder – an additional question – since the Secretary met with the Indian – his Indian counterpart this week, is that something came up or did the subject of enforcement of Iran sanctions come up generally? Thanks.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question, Simon. I don’t have any additional information to provide on the Secretary’s bilateral engagement with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar beyond what the two ministers spoke about in their press conference earlier in the week.
And as to additional specifics about the sanctions, I would really refer you to the Treasury Department to speak to more specifics, but I will note again here for everyone that the Department of Treasury designated eight entities for their involvement in Iran’s petrochemical trade. Those entities are based in Hong Kong, Iran, India, and the United Arab Emirates. And those designations were made pursuant to Executive Order 13846 which authorizes the imposition of sanctions with respect to trade in Iranian petroleum, petroleum products, and petrochemical products. But again, our colleagues at the Treasury Department, I’m sure, can speak to you further on this.
Let’s go to the line of Jenny Hansler with CNN.
OPERATOR: One moment. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks Vedant. I wanted to ask about the North Korean missile launches. Does the U.S. have any assessment of that and do you see it as extra provocative given that Vice President Harris was just in the DNC and in the region? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Jenny. So the United States condemns the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches this morning: two today and three earlier this week. These launches are a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and demonstrate the threat the DPRK poses to the region as well as the international community. We remain deeply committed to a diplomatic approach with the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue. I’ll also note that our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan – two of our key allies in the region – remains ironclad.
Next, let’s go to the line of Guita Aryan with Voice of America.
OPERATOR: And please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Vedant. Thank you for taking my question. I have a question about Iran as well but not the sanctions. Regarding the possible fatalities in Iraqi Kurdistan due to the Iranian missile attacks, do you have any updates – have there – do you know of any Americans having been among those killed? Because we have gotten information on at least one individual, U.S. citizen. And also the second part of my question, yesterday, the Iranian president said that the demonstrations are part of a U.S. plot. Did the Biden administration ask the people to go out on the streets and demonstrate? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Guita. First and foremost as it relates to the attacks, I want to reiterate that we condemn Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the genesis of your question – we can confirm that a U.S. citizen was killed as a result of a rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region yesterday, but due to privacy considerations I don’t have any further comments to provide.
And on your piece about the protests – these protests are not at all about the United States. This is about the Iranian Government and its efforts to cut or disrupt access to the internet, its efforts to crack down on peaceful protestors, its efforts to infringe on basic human rights. That’s what these protests are about. It is not about the United States.
Let’s next go to the line of Alex Raufoglu with Turan News.
OPERATOR: And please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thank you so much for doing this and happy Thursday. A couple questions here. May I get your reaction to Putin’s latest accusations, saying that the West was ready to provoke, quote/unquote, “color revolutions” and it was working on scenarios to fuel new conflicts in the post-Soviet space. I know you guys have, in the past, refuted these sort of Russian narrative. I want to give you a chance to respond to this latest example, him pointing fingers at the West.
And secondly, Russia also claimed today that it is considering talks on expanding key nuclear arms treaty. The spokesperson of the foreign ministry said that they are open to reviving inspections under New START Treaty and considering the possibility of in-person meetings to discuss nuclear arms. Do you have anything on that?
And lastly, if I may, Slovakia this week became the latest NATO Ally to ratify Sweden and Finland’s entry into the Allies. Now that you have two Allies left, Hungary and Turkey, that are last holdouts, do you have any message to them? Is the administration in consultations with both countries? Thank you so much for the opportunity.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your questions, Alex. Let me try to unpack those piece by piece.
First, on your second question about New START talks, I don’t have any additional updates to provide there.
Third, to your point about a NATO accession, we will leave it to our NATO Allies to work to their own internal legislative processes as it relates to NATO accession. As you know, the U.S. Congress was able to pass its – and play its part in NATO – in the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland, and I know that President Biden and Secretary Blinken were happy to see that, that major milestone take place. And we continue to look forward to this process playing out forwardly.
And look, as it relates to President Putin’s comments, I’ve not seen those comments specifically. But again, this isn’t about the United States. This is about Russia and Russia’s infringement on basic human rights, as well as Russia’s illegal and unjust efforts in Ukraine, its invasion of Ukraine, its sham referendum, and now its potential annexation of territory that is Ukrainian and will be – will remain Ukrainian. The U.S. will never recognize that territory as part of Russia.
Sorry about that. Let’s next go to the line of Said Arikat.
OPERATOR: One moment here. Said, your line is open.
QUESTION: I think – can you hear me? Hello?
MR PATEL: Yes, sir. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. I wonder if you have any comment or if you saw the story that the Israeli – Israeli soldier chased a Palestinian boy, seven years old, to his death this morning. I wonder if you have any comment on that. And second, yesterday, after you called on the Israelis to pull back from the brink, they seem to have upped the ante, and the chief of the army issued an okay, I guess, to go ahead and assassinate Palestinian activists and leaders using airplanes and drones. Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks, Said. So first and foremost, the U.S. is heartbroken to learn of the death of an innocent Palestinian child. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have repeated numerous times, Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom and prosperity. We support a thorough and immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the child’s death, and I believe the IDF itself has also indicated it will be looking into what has – what transpired as well.
And look, on the second part of your question, we call on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. And as we have said for some time, we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence.
Next let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly with The Hill.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. Going back to the leaks on the Nord Stream pipelines, are there any concerns that there’s any damage to transatlantic communication cables? And if I may, a second question, if there are any updates on the Israel-Lebanon maritime deal? Thank you.
MR PATEL: Thanks so much for your question, Laura. No updates to provide on the Israel-Lebanon maritime agreement. I – additionally not aware of any damage to transatlantic communication channels. But again, we are in close touch with our European allies and partners about the apparent sabotage, and we are supporting European efforts to investigate this.
Let’s go to the line of Barak Ravid with Axios.
QUESTION: Hi, Vedant. Thanks. I want to follow up on what Said asked on both of his questions. First, if you can again refer to the issue of the possible targeted assassinations by the Israeli military using drones and fighter jets in the West Bank. And second, Ned said yesterday something that sounded like a new policy when he said that the U.S. can – is willing to help, but it’s up to the parties themselves to stop the violence. And is this really a change in policy by the Biden administration – sort of you broke it, you fix it?
MR PATEL: Thanks so much, Barak. So first, I will say – reiterate what Ned said yesterday, which was not any sort of new U.S. policy, but what – reiterating what has been our belief for a long time on two fronts, which is that all parties should do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. And as we have said for some time, the United States and other international partners stand ready to help, but that cannot be a substitute for the vital actions by the parties to mitigate conflict and restore calm themselves.
Next let’s go to the line of Roj Zalla with Rudaw TV.
OPERATOR: One moment here for Roj, here. Apologize. Okay. Roj, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Vedant. So now that you confirmed that an American citizen was killed in the Iranian attack, what is the – how – what reaction should – will we see from the Americans? I know you said you don’t talk about the specifics of the case, but an American citizen killed by Iran, is that just gonna slip away, or is there something that we will be hearing from the U.S.?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question, Roj. Again, to reiterate, due to privacy considerations, I don’t have anything further to add. But I will note, first and foremost, we continue to condemn Iran’s violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On top of that, at the United States disposal continues to be a number of tools and a number of lines of efforts to continue to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing actions in the region. And we will continue to pursue those lines of efforts. I’m certainly not going to read out everything from here, but those options continue to remain on the table.
All right. We got time for one last question, so we’ll go to the line of Leon Bruneau with the AFP.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Leon.
OPERATOR: Yeah. Your line is open.
MR PATEL: Oh, yeah, yeah. Hi, Vedant. Thanks. Thanks for taking my question. Coming back to North Korea, the Vice President made some sort of extraordinary comments on the DMZ. I understand it’s a gaffe that can happen, but the optics of it at that location are quite extraordinary. Do you have any comment on that? Has there been any pushback as far as you know on this?
MR PATEL: Sorry about that, Leon – was struggling with mute. I will refer you to the White House and the Vice President’s office for any comments made during her trip.
But I want to use this opportunity to, again, condemn the DPRK’s multiple ballistic missile launches this morning. Again, that was two today on top of three that took place earlier this week. That is – these are all in clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and continue to demonstrate the threat the DPRK poses to the region and the international community. And we remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.
That’s all the time we have for today, everybody. Thanks so much for joining via phone, and we’ll talk to you all again very soon.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)