Mar 28, 2023

State Dept Holds Press Briefing Following Russian Announcement To Station Nuclear Weapons In Belarus Transcript

State Dept Holds Press Briefing Following Russian Announcement To Station Nuclear Weapons In Belarus Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsState DepartmentState Dept Holds Press Briefing Following Russian Announcement To Station Nuclear Weapons In Belarus Transcript

Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel held a State Department press briefing. Read the transcript here.

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Vedant Patel (00:05):

Good afternoon everybody. How’s everyone doing? All right. Actually I don’t have anything off the top for you today. So Matt, if you want to take us away.

Matt (00:16):

Yes, please. First, and I know-

Vedant Patel (00:24):

I love you just jumped on that very quickly. No [inaudible 00:00:25].

Matt (00:24):

Well first I noticed, you noticed it when you walked in. What’s the deal with the [inaudible 00:00:27]

Vedant Patel (00:26):

[inaudible 00:00:27] they feel a little closer.

Matt (00:30):

They don’t just feel a little closer. They are a little closer. What’s going on?

Vedant Patel (00:34):

Wasn’t me? I don’t know.

Matt (00:36):

All right.

Vedant Patel (00:37):

We’ll adjust them to appropriate length for you tomorrow. So it doesn’t impact your focal distance or anything.

Matt (00:43):

It’s quite all right. Just curious. So let’s start with Israel. And I realize that you’re not going to have much more to say, if anything more to say than what your colleague at the White House just said. So [inaudible 00:00:59], but I’m wondering if you do have anything more to say about the latest developments and the Prime Minister’s decision to put a pause on that.

Vedant Patel (01:09):

Yeah, Let me say a couple things to that, Matt. First, we welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise. And compromise is precisely what we have been calling for and we continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that it’s the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens and democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest base of popular support. What I will also add, Matt, is that this is something that the President had the opportunity to recently discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu that democratic principles have always been and must remain a hallmark of the US Israel relationship.

Matt (02:00):

So I don’t want this briefing to turn into a repeat of the White House briefing, but obviously again, I don’t know because it’s still going on if she was asked about the allegations, the accusations that have been made by some commentators that the US somehow funded the protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, these allegations, accusations were repeated or retweeted rather by the son of the Prime Minister.

Vedant Patel (02:34):

Let me also say a couple things to that, Matt. These accusations are completely and demonstratively false. The movement of quality government is an NGO and it received a modest grant from the State Department that was initiated during the previous administration. And the latest dispersal of funds came in September of 2022 prior to the most recent Israeli election. And this grant supported an educational program for Jerusalem schools that supplemented their civic studies curriculum. As you know, Matt, the department supports a wide range of programming by civil society actors around the world on strengthening awareness for human rights and democratic values. But any notion that we are propping up or supporting these protests or the initiators of them is completely and demonstratively false.

Matt (03:26):

Well, I mean, do you think that it’s irresponsible for people to repeat these kinds of things or to even make the accusation in the first place?

Vedant Patel (03:32):

I’m not going to characterize anybody’s comments, Matt, but what I’m here to say in to affirm what we said over the weekend on this as well is that these accusations are completely and demonstrably false.

Matt (03:44):

Well, have you made that point to the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister’s son?

Vedant Patel (03:48):

We talk about our bilateral relationship and our relationship with our Israeli partners at a number of levels. I’m not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements on this issue are another one. But again, just reiterate what I’ve previously said just now that these accusations are false.

Matt (04:05):

Do you know if anyone in the department actually has any contact with the Prime Minister’s Son?

Vedant Patel (04:11):

I’m not aware, but again, the important takeaway here, Matt, is that these accusations are false, but also broadly we have a deep relationship with our Israeli partners. We discuss with them a wide range of issues. But I couldn’t speak to any specific discussions on this.

Matt (04:29):

Last on Israel, just want to check on, and I think this will be, your response will be very short. The embassy, the US Embassy in Israel is always open, right?

Vedant Patel (04:38):

That’s my understanding. Yeah.

Matt (04:40):

Thank you.

Sean (04:40):

Just as a follow up on that.

Vedant Patel (04:43):

I’ll come back to you Sean. Sayed, go ahead

Sean (04:45):

On the same topic, just briefly.

Vedant Patel (04:46):

Go ahead.

Sean (04:48):

When you said that you’re open to pause, is a pause enough? I mean, is this something that it could just be a delayed talk. Is there a position that perhaps these reforms begin with weren’t consistent to?

Vedant Patel (04:59):

Well, Sean, broadly, we continue to monitor this situation. We continue to monitor the developments out of Israel and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts and we continue to urge strongly with our Israeli partners to find a compromise as soon as possible. And we believe that that is the best path forward for Israel and it’s citizens. Sayed.

Sayed (05:23):

Thank you. Just to follow up, first of all, let me ask you about the Israeli embassy in town. I mean, they said they suspended their operation for today and so on. How were they informed about that? What is that? I’m just curious to know what are the channels that are normally-

Vedant Patel (05:38):

Sayed, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we communicate with foreign missions as it relates to them communicating their operating procedure here in the National Capital Region or otherwise. But our Israeli partners, this morning were quite communicative publicly about their decision to close their mission here in DC. I also believe that they have since stated that it’ll be reopening tomorrow. So I’ll let them speak to that.

Sayed (06:10):

Yeah. Okay. Now I know that the Prime Minister just suspended the judicial order and so on. So what do you expect, what should happen next or what would happen next or what would you like to see happen next?

Vedant Patel (06:25):

Sayed, I’m not going to prejudge or offer an analysis or prediction of what will or should happen next. This is for the leaders of Israel and the Israeli people to determine. And what I would say, is reiterate what I told Sean and Matt, that we’re continuing to monitor these developments coming out of Israel. We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and we continue to urge strongly for a compromise to be found as possible because we believe that is what’s in the best interest of Israel and its citizens. And as I said, this is something that the President had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu, how democratic principles are and have always been a hallmark of the US Israel relationship.

Sayed (07:11):

Does it strike you, I mean, all these demonstrations that have been going on for three months now almost, for many, many weeks, absent from these demonstrations and protests and so on is the occupation, which is the big elephant in the room. Do you think that Israeli’s may have missed an opportunity to make its position known on this occupation that has gone on for too long?

Vedant Patel (07:38):

Sayed, I’m just not going to offer a, I’m not going to attempt to speak on behalf of those protesting or anything like that as that would be inappropriate.

Sayed (07:49):

I have one last question.

Vedant Patel (07:50):

Okay. Then I’m going to work the room a little bit, Sayed. Go ahead.

Sayed (07:53):

Can you give us the status of Mr. al-Hadimi? Is he in town? Is he, because he was meeting with Palestinians I think last week or so?

Vedant Patel (08:01):

I believe he is in DC but I don’t know for a hundred percent sure. But I’m happy to check and we can follow up with you, Sayed. Go ahead, Simon.

Simon (08:12):

Yeah, just to sort of follow up on Sean’s question really, but you mentioned once again that you want them to build consensus. Can you just clarify is that the US position is that there should be consensus no matter what the outcome? If they’re able to build consensus, but they do go ahead with judicial reforms that strip the Supreme Court of the oversight role over the government, is that okay?

Vedant Patel (08:41):

Simon, it just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to prescribe any kind of outcome here. And I think what I would reiterate again is that we are urging Israeli leaders and our partners in Israel to find a compromise as soon as possible. Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances. That’s something I’ve been very clear about. The Secretary has, as has Ned when he was briefing up here, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of support. But again, it would be, I’m not going to prescribe any kind of outcome or offer any kind of end scenario that the United States is wishing or hoping for other than to say that we believe that finding compromise is the best path forward.

Simon (09:27):

I think the concern is that there may be concessions that have been given to the right wing, to Ben Gvir in this is order to agree to this delay?

Vedant Patel (09:39):

I’m just not going to speculate on that, Simon. Jenny, actually, before I call you, anything else on this question. Yeah. And then I’ll come to you after. Go ahead Kelly.

Kelly (09:50):

I’m just wondering, just basically, does the Biden administration still have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu?

Vedant Patel (09:58):

We have, Kelly, let me say a couple of things, Israel has enjoyed a strong democracy since its founding 75 years ago. And as I told Matt and Sean, the hallmark of the US Israel relationship, a big piece of it, has always been democratic principles. And that is something that President Biden had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu recently. And we continue to support Israel’s security and our commitment to Israel security and democracy continues to remain ironclad. And we work with our Israeli partners on a number of issues, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Kelly (10:40):

So you’re still confident in his leadership capabilities at this time?

Vedant Patel (10:44):

I have no different assessment to offer. Go ahead.

Speaker 1 (10:50):

Thank you. What terms would be acceptable to the administration as it pertains to Israel’s attempt at judiciary reform?

Vedant Patel (10:58):

I think I just your question when speaking to Simon, it would be inappropriate for us to prescribe any kind of outcome here. That is for the leaders of Israel and the citizens of Israel to determine. What I’m here to say is that we continue to believe that Israeli leaders should find a compromise as soon as possible because we believe that that is the best path forward. And we’re continuing to monitor the developments out of Israel and we remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts. Jenny, go ahead.

Matt (11:35):

Before we leave this, I just want to ask about the Summit for Democracy.

Vedant Patel (11:38):

Sure. Go ahead, Matt.

Matt (11:39):

Right. So there’s no change given this development, in other words, the Prime Minister agreeing to a pause, which he welcomed, there’s no change?

Vedant Patel (11:50):

Israel is an invitee to the Summit for Democracy this year as it was last year.

Matt (11:55):

That won’t change.

Vedant Patel (11:56):

I have no change in programming to announce.

Shaun (11:58):

Can I piggy back that question?

Sean (11:59):


Shaun (00:00):


Shaun (12:00):

… just in terms of other democracies invited to the summit, India, Rahul Gandhi, the opposition leader, has been expelled from parliament. Do you have anything to say about that? Is that consistent with democratic values?

Vedant Patel (12:11):

Thanks for your question, Shaun. So respect for the rule of law and judicial independence is a cornerstone of any democracy. And we’re watching Mr. Gandhi’s case in Indian courts, and we engage with the government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values, including of course, freedom of expression. In our engagements with our Indian partners, we continue to highlight the importance of democratic principles and the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression as a key to strengthening both our democracies.

Shaun (12:42):

Can I just follow up briefly?

Vedant Patel (12:43):


Shaun (12:44):

You just said engaging with the government of India. How about with Mr. Gandhi himself? Is the United States still engaging with him as the opposition leader?

Vedant Patel (12:51):

I don’t have any specific engagements to read out Shaun. But as I’m sure you know as somebody who’s covered this department for some time, it is normal and standard for us to engage with members of opposition parties in any country where we have bilateral relationships. But I don’t have any specific engagement to read out.

Speaker 2 (13:09):

Summit of Democracies?

Vedant Patel (13:11):

Sure. And then I’ll come back to you, Janne. Go ahead.

Speaker 2 (13:13):

Thanks. Is Mexico still invited to the Summit of Democracies, considering that President Obrador is also pushing for these legal changes to undermine the independent elections body in Mexico?

Vedant Patel (13:26):

I’m not aware of any change in invitation status, but we’ll check specifically and see if we have any updates to get back to you.

Speaker 2 (13:35):

Do you have anything to say about the latest developments on that issue of the undermining of the independent elections body in Mexico?

Vedant Patel (13:41):

What I would say is that Mexico is a close and valued partner of the United States, and we work together to address a number of shared challenges that span not just our hemisphere, but all areas of bilateral cooperation. Through the commitments made at the North American Leader Summit, through the Bicentennial Framework, our countries have worked closely to promote human rights, to promote democracy and to protect vulnerable populations as well.

Janne, go ahead.

Janne (14:10):

Thank you, Vedant. Two questions. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently said that the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea should be considered. Do you think it is possible to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea for stronger extended deterrence?

Vedant Patel (14:36):

Janne, specifically as it relates to our deployment or any posture, I will let our Pentagon colleagues speak to that. But the one thing I want to be very clear about is that our exercises and our cooperation with the ROK are longstanding, they are defensive, and they are routine. And as it relates to the DPRK, the US harbors no hostile intent and we’re committed to the security of the ROK and our alliances combined defense posture. But I will let the DOD speak to specific postures.

Janne (15:12):

Okay. Now, North Korean foreign ministry announced that it will respond with nuclear weapons if anyone forces CVID complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement on North Korea. How would you comment on this?

Vedant Patel (15:32):

Well, I didn’t hear the first part of your question, Janne. What did the foreign minister say?

Janne (15:37):

The North Korea foreign ministry announced that it will respond with the North Korean nuclear weapons if anyone forced CVID to North Korea.

Vedant Patel (15:50):

Janne, what I would say is that we are committed to diplomatic approach with the DPRK and we harbor no hostile intent. And our ultimate goal here continues to remain the same, which is the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to our partners of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.

Nazira, go ahead.

Nazira (16:15):

Thank you, sir. There is a problem from the Afghan girls. Still Taliban are not able to reopen the school for them. And Afghan woman, they were in the street and Taliban respond them, and they put some of the Afghan woman and Afghan girl in the jail. What’s your respond?

And number two, Dr. Zal Khalilzad, US former representative in Afghanistan, yesterday – actually, yeah, yesterday he confirmed that Taliban killed two leader of ISIS in northern Afghanistan, Mazar-e Sharif. And he said that I think – he thinking, Dr. Zal Khalilzad thinking – that Taliban keep their commitment in Doha agreement, and if they continue to commit to their commitment, Doha commitment, he satisfy. The State Department has the same opinion? What’s your respond?

Vedant Patel (17:12):

Let me say a couple of things, Nazira. First, as it relates to your announcement about the schools, we deplored the edicts that the Taliban have promulgated regularly, that fundamentally repress the right of Afghan women and girls. And we’ve seen this now time and time again denying them education, denying them the ability to work, denying them the ability to participate in the provision of humanitarian assistance that benefits all Afghans. And it’s safe to say from conversations among countries around the world, to the extent that the Taliban is looking for more normal relations with countries around the world, that will not happen in a long time so as they continue to advance these repressive edicts against women and girls.

I’ve not seen those specific comments that you’re referring to, Nazira, but what I will say is that broadly, the Taliban’s recent actions have demonstrated a total disregard for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan and their lack of interest in normal relations with the international community. And we hope that they understand the implications of some of these disastrous decisions like banning women from schools and things of that sort.

Go ahead.

Matt (18:26):

Wait a second, before you move on. Do you understand that the complete, I don’t even know how to say it. You say that if the Taliban wants to have better relations with the rest of the world, they need to reverse these policies. And then two sentences later you say they have demonstrated absolutely no interest wanting to do this. So why-

Vedant Patel (18:53):

By the pursuit of these policies-

Matt (18:54):

Well, exactly. It’s a hope that you think the Taliban might change their policies because they want better relations with the rest of the world. And at the same time-

Vedant Patel (19:14):

That is their own-

Matt (19:15):

… you admit and concede that they haven’t shown any interest in it and don’t want better relations with the rest of the world. So I think the question that she’s asking is what are you going to do about it?

Vedant Patel (19:29):

Well, Matt, we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Taliban accountable.

Matt (19:33):

Like what?

Vedant Patel (19:34):

I’m not going to preview actions from here, which is no surprise to you-

Matt (19:39):

You don’t have to preview anything. What tools do you have?

Vedant Patel (19:41):

We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal, visa restrictions and otherwise, to hold the Taliban accountable, as well as tools that we can pursue with our allies and partners. And the point that I was making, Matt, was that this is a self-prescribed goal by the Taliban of normalization of relations with the international community. And yes, the steps that they are taking as it relates to women and girls runs contrary to what is the expectation of them from not just the United States, but also from our international partners as well.

Matt (20:19):

All right.

Vedant Patel (20:20):

Go ahead, in the back.

Speaker 3 (20:22):

On China Could you please provide a readout of Deputy Assistant Secretary Rick Waters’ trip to China?

Vedant Patel (20:28):

I don’t have any specifics for that for you right now, but I’m happy to check with the team.

Speaker 3 (20:36):

Can you confirm this trip?

Vedant Patel (20:36):

Again, I don’t have any travel to offer any confirmation on, but I can check with the team, see if we have anything else for you.

Speaker 4 (20:43):

Follow-up China question?

Vedant Patel (20:45):

Go ahead.

Speaker 4 (20:47):

Thanks, Vedant. Honduras switched its relations from Taiwan to China last week. Does the State Department have any comments?

Vedant Patel (20:54):

Well, this is ultimately a sovereign decision. And an important thing to note is that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remains unfulfilled. And there are many recent ongoing examples of such behavior in Latin America and around the world. Regardless of this decision, though, the US will continue to expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our long-standing “one China” policy.

Speaker 4 (21:23):

Thank you.

Vedant Patel (21:23):

Alex, go ahead.

Alex (21:24):

Couple questions. Let me start with the democracy summit. Assistant Secretary Zeya just posted early this morning that they’re going to be focusing on the US partnership to prevent conflict and to promote stability. Now, look at this list. I see some of the countries that did not work along with the US during the last UN vote on Ukraine are part of the summit. Where do you draw the line? How much of this conversation will be focused on the conflicts and democracy versus autocracy, particularly focusing Ukraine topic? And secondly, did Putin just jeopardize your first year of action?

Vedant Patel (22:02):

Can you repeat your second question?

Alex (22:05):

The first year of action that you announced, did the war just jeopardize… Is it your view that the war jeopardized your goals when you look back to the first summit and look forward?

Vedant Patel (22:15):

Certainly not Alex. And I think what the conflict and the war in Ukraine has highlighted is the importance of respecting a rules-based order and respecting the UN Charter and having respect for territory integrity and sovereignty. But broadly, of course, the conflict in Ukraine will be an important topic of a discussion in the Summit for Democracy. But there’s also a number of other issues at stake as well. And President Biden has spoken about this previously that we’re currently at an inflection point when it comes to the future of democracy, both within the United States and globally.

The defining question of this age is whether democracies will continue to deliver for their people in a rapidly changing world. And this was a summit that launched last year, or sorry, the first year of this administration, in early 2021, to put new and high level focus on the need to strengthen democratic institutions.

Alex (23:18):

And how much of war will impact the conversation this week?

Vedant Patel (23:22):

Again, Alex, I’m not going to prescribe it, but of course Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine will no doubt be a topic of discussion, I’m sure.


Alex (23:32):

Can we move Russia, if you don’t mind? A couple questions on Russia as well.

Vedant Patel (23:34):

Can I come back to you a minute? Camilla’s had her hand up. Go ahead.

Camilla (23:37):

Just on Secretary Blinken’s hearings last week. Can you confirm whether or not the State Department will hand over the requested dissent cable that Mike McCaul has asked for by close of business today?

Vedant Patel (23:49):

So let me say a couple of things broadly, Camilla. The first is that the department is committed to working with congressional committees with jurisdiction to appropriately accommodate their need for

Vedant Patel (24:00):

…for information to help them conduct oversight for legislative purposes. And the department has provided more than 200 briefings to bipartisan members and staff on Afghanistan policy since the withdrawal. As Chairman McCullough said previously, he and the secretary have had a constructive conversations about this. The secretary reaffirmed his commitment to cooperate with the committee’s work and we have provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the chairman’s request regarding Afghanistan. On the dissent cable specifically, we, of course… I want to make clear that we are working to provide all the information that Congress is looking for and that is that its oversight responsibilities authorize it to look into. But on the dissent cable, the tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished here in the department and goes back decades. It is a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it without fear or favor, and they do it by the regulations we have established for these cables in a privilege and confidential way.

It’s vital to us that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel, the Secretary reads every dissent channel that he gets and responds to every dissent channel cable that he gets as well. And so we have… You saw the secretary speak to this in his hearing, we understand appreciate that there is a real interest in the substance of this specific cable. And in the spirit of that we are prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available, including through briefings or some other mechanisms. And again, we understand the importance but I don’t have a specific to offer beyond that.

Speaker 5 (25:52):

And is the department prepared for a subpoena if it is issued?

Vedant Patel (25:55):

I’m just not going to get into hypotheticals. Again, we recognize the importance and we recognize the keen interest in this cable, and we’re prepared to make the relevant information in the cable available through briefings or some other mechanisms. I’m going to go in the back. Alex, I’ve called on you a couple of times already. Yeah. No, you go ahead. Mikhail, yeah.

Mikhail (26:18):

Thank you. Thank you. Mr. Kalin, the advisor of President of Turkey says that first that you have to find the formula for the 16 with the Congress and especially with Senator Menendez. And at the same time, he threatens United States saying that they will not approve the text, Sweden’s membership, if you do not give them the F-16s. What is your answer to it?

Vedant Patel (26:50):

Whose comment are these?

Mikhail (26:52):

Mr. Kalin, he’s number one advisor of President Erdogan, President of Turkey.

Vedant Patel (26:58):

Well, let me say a couple of things. I’ve not specifically seen those comments but as you saw me speak to last week, Mikhail, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement that he will send Finland’s NATO extension protocols to the Turkish parliament, and we look forward to a prompt and positive conclusion of that process. And we also encourage Turkey to quickly ratify Sweden’s protocols as well, we believe that Sweden and Finland are both strong capable partners that share NATO’s values and will strengthen the alliance and contribute to European security as well. Go ahead.

Speaker 6 (27:36):

Thank you. The International Chamber of Commerce in Paris decided last week in favor of Iraqi government against Turkey in regards to KRG oil exporting to the international market through Turkey. As of now, the KRG oil exporting is halted which about half a million burials per day, and some of the companies who were and are working on extracting and exporting the oil are the American companies. We know that there were some correspondence from the Congress last year to resolve the issues between Erbil and Baghdad, especially on oil and gas. The first, how does the US views this decision and do you have any engagement with Erbil and Baghdad to overcome their gas and oil issues?

Vedant Patel (28:24):

Well, let me say a couple of things to that. First, I don’t have a comment for you on the merits of the case or the court’s decision, but what I would say broadly is that since the ruling we have urged the governments of Turkey and Iraq to resume the flow of oil through the Iraq-Turkey pipeline. Disruptions to global energy supply would not serve anyone’s interest. We also understand that the Kurdistan regional government is in discussion with the government of Iraq to find a mutual acceptable path forward on related budget and hydrocarbon issues. As was discussed during the February US- Iraq higher coordinating committee in Washington, US officials continue to urge the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to resolve their budget and hydrocarbon disputes in a matter that will benefit the Iraqi citizens.

Speaker 6 (29:15):

My second question.

Vedant Patel (29:15):


Speaker 6 (29:16):

Your Consulate General in Erbil shared a report in LinkedIn that was published on foreign policy, and the title of the report said Iraqi-Kurdistan’s House of Cards is Collapsing, and there were a lot of reactions in the Kurdistan region towards this re-sharing the past, later he removed the post. The question is that, has the US policy towards the Kurdistan region changed? What is your comment on sharing a report title like that by your Consulate General in Erbil?

Vedant Patel (29:45):

I’ve not seen that specific social media post, but what I will say broadly is that Iraq, including the Iraqi Kurdistan region is a strategic partner of the US and we have a long-term commitment to this region. And we reaffirm this fact in July of 2021 in the strategic dialogue that was held when representatives of the two countries met to discuss strengthening our long-term strategic relationship, not only in security but also in economic and trade issues, culture, education, environment, healthcare and more as well. Go ahead.

Speaker 8 (30:17):

[inaudible 00:30:17] from [inaudible 00:30:19] Ambassador [inaudible 00:30:21] Khalil-Hazzad in his recent statements is seen advising Pakistani government and Pakistani supreme court regarding the political situation of Pakistan. There’s a general perception in Pakistan that his statements expressing the sentiments of US government. I know he’s not a part of the current administration, but could you clarify that his statements is not a…

Vedant Patel (30:41):

Well, I think you just hit the nail on the head. Mr. Khalil-Hazzad is a private citizen and any social media activity or comments or tweets that you might reference, those are done in his private capacity. It does not represent US foreign policy and he does not speak for this administration.

Speaker 8 (31:01):

What is your opinion about the current political chaos in Pakistan? The Interior Minister of Pakistan issued death threats to former Prime Minister Imran Khan live on the public TV.

Vedant Patel (31:11):

So we’ve previously stated that any implication of violence, harassment or intimidation has no place in politics. And as we do with our partners all around the world, we encourage all sides in Pakistan to respect the rule of law and allow the people of Pakistan to democratically determine their own country’s leadership, pursuant to their own constitution and laws. And specifically for any reaction to the comments, you would have to go to Mr. Sanaullah, that’s not for me to speak to.

Speaker 8 (31:41):

One last question about the largest democracy in the world. Indian official disqualified leader of Congress party, Mr. Rahul Gandhi from his seat in the parliament for calling Modi a thief, he was also sentenced to two years in prison for the same reason. So what are the comments on this specific issue and about the freedom of speech?

Vedant Patel (32:02):

I’m not sure if you were late to the briefing or not, but Sean already asked the question about Mr. Gandhi’s case so you can check the transcript for that. Go ahead.

Speaker 7 (32:14):

[inaudible 00:32:14] has our [inaudible 00:32:15] Chinese state company to upgrade international airport. I’m just wondering how is the State Department view or see this event?

Vedant Patel (32:29):

I didn’t hear the first part of your question, if you could speak up.

Speaker 7 (32:35):

Of course. The Solomon Islands has our Maldive [inaudible 00:32:36] contract with a Chinese state company to update international port. How do you State Department see this event?

Vedant Patel (32:43):

That’s a question for the government of the Solomon Islands as well as the PRC. What I can say is that our partnerships and our relationships with any country is about deepening partnerships with the United States and what a partnership with the United States can look like. Deputy Secretary Sherman had the opportunity to visit the Solomon Islands and the region mid till the fall of last year, if I recall correctly, and had some important engagements and important discussions. It’s an important region for the United States and we’ll continue to work cooperatively in the region as well. Go ahead, Simon.

Simon (33:25):

I wanted to just follow up on an answer you gave a while ago about Honduras and the PRC.

Vedant Patel (33:29):


Simon (33:30):

You mentioned the PRC offer makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled. Do you want to give some examples of that?

Vedant Patel (33:41):

Well, I think the track record is pretty clear, Simon, not just necessarily in Latin America but around the world, whether it be projects for its Belt and Road Initiative, loans that end up saddling countries with very complicated and bad debt partnerships, and deepening of cooperation on infrastructure projects that end up bearing no benefit to job creation for the local economy and the local workforce. There’s a number of examples like that around the world.

Simon (34:20):

Is there something that you’re aware of in the Honduras case, a promise that was made?

Vedant Patel (34:27):

No. Again, I would reiterate that this is a sovereign decision but it’s also important to note that the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled.

Simon (34:42):

So you’re not concerned that… Recognition of Taiwan is something that you guys would like to see more around the world presumably? It’s sounds a little bloodless the way-

Vedant Patel (34:51):

These are sovereign decisions, Simon. These are sovereign decisions, Simon. What I can speak to is what the United States is interested in, and that is we will deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our One-China policy. We believe that Taiwan is a reliable like-minded and democratic partner, and its partnerships around the world provide significant and sustainable benefits to citizens of those countries. Shannon, go ahead.

Shannon (35:20):

Kiev has indicated multiple times in recent days that a lack of ammunition is holding back its planned defensive. I’m just wondering, does the US assessment match that, that Kiev is lacking ammunition or other equipment to carry out an offensive right now? And if so, are there any plans in place to address that need?

Vedant Patel (35:37):

Shannon, I’m not going to get into battlefield assessments from up here. And in fact, some of our Pentagon colleagues might be better positioned to speak to that. But what I will say and this is not something new, is that we have over the course of this war since February of last year, even before, have offered

Vedant Patel (36:00):

… security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. And we have done so through assessments of what makes the most sense for the current status of the battlefield, and we’ll continue to do that. We recently announced another security assistance package and we’ll continue to support our Ukrainian partners on this as well.

Go ahead in the back. Yeah, you’ve had your hand up.

Speaker 9 (36:23):

Thank you.

Vedant Patel (36:23):

Yeah, go ahead.

Speaker 9 (36:24):

Will Russia’s decision to place tactical nuclear arms in Belarus have any impact on US policy on new start agreement?

Vedant Patel (36:34):

Well, let me say a couple of things. First is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. But candidly, this announcement is one that we condemn. This is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia. No other country is inflicting such damage on arms control, nor seeking to undermine strategic stability in Europe.

Russia’s decision led to the termination of the INF Treaty in 2019. It recently purported to suspend participation in New START. No other country has raised the prospect of potential nuclear use in connection with this conflict. Let’s remember, no country is threatening Russia or threatening President Putin. And as the G7 has made clear, any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in this conflict would be met with severe consequences.

Speaker 9 (37:34):

Also on the issue…

Vedant Patel (37:35):


Speaker 9 (37:36):

EU Foreign Policy Chief Borrell, on Sunday said that EU is ready to impose more sanctions on Minsk and Moscow, for a place in nuclear arms in Belarus. Does the US also plan to do this?

Vedant Patel (37:49):

I will let the EU speak to its own comments. But over the course of this war, we have had a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners and we’ll continue to do so. I’m not going to preview any actions from here, which is pretty standard.

Speaker 10 (38:11):

Can you just hold on one second?

Vedant Patel (38:11):


Alex (38:11):

Give us a little bit, expand on the previous question on your answer. In light of Nikolai Petrushev, today’s comments, threatening the US that we can actually hit… we have reference to hit the US. And also in lot of Putin’s attempts to draw some similarities between his plans and the US presence in Europe?

Vedant Patel (38:28):

So again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic posture, nor any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We are going to continue to coordinate and consult closely with our allies and call on Russia to deescalate, starting by ceasing its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Go ahead.

Speaker 11 (38:51):

I have a very quick one on China.

Vedant Patel (38:52):


Speaker 11 (38:53):

Is there any discussion or preparation being done to resume Secretary Blinken’s trip to China?

Vedant Patel (38:59):

As we’ve said previously, that trip will be rescheduled when conditions allow, but I don’t have any specific scheduling update to offer.

Kylie, go ahead.

Kylie (39:08):

Just a quick follow up on what she had asked you earlier about Rick Waters being in China last week. Why can’t you guys give a readout of those meetings if they’ve already taken place?

Vedant Patel (39:18):

I’m just going to want to make sure we get the most updated information for you, so we’re happy to follow up afterwards.

Speaker 10 (39:25):

You have a question here.

Vedant Patel (39:26):

Sure, Saed. And then I’ll come back to you, Sean, and then we probably have to wrap. Yeah, go ahead.

Sayed (39:30):

What do you make of all the Bashar that is happening right now? From the Saudi, Turkey is trying to reach out to Syria, to President Bashar and so on. And there’s a movement, and there are countries, many of them are your allies. So what is your take on that? And second, I want to ask about the military confrontation a couple of days ago?

Vedant Patel (39:52):

Sure. So our stance against normalization remains unchanged. And we have been clear about this. I was clear about this as recently as last week. Our consistent messaging to regional partners who are engaging with the Syrian regime has been that credible steps to improve the situation for the people in Syria should be front and center in any engagement. And we continue to be very clear about that.

Sayed (40:19):

So what kind of an outcome should there be and what process, to lead to the outcome that you want in Syria, should be taking place right now? And why isn’t it taking place?

Vedant Patel (40:32):

Saed, we have been very clear about this. The United States has been very clear that our goal here is a political outcome that is reflective of the will of the Syrian people and improves the lives of the Syrian people. But broadly speaking, Saed, we also have continued to be the largest humanitarian donor to the people of Syria. We continue to have a presence in Northeast Syria because we continue to believe that the degradation of ISIS is a key priority, not just for Northeast Syria, Northern Syria, but the broader region as well.

Sayed (41:12):

But you don’t set as a precondition that the current regime in Syria, should not be part of any political process that would arise in that?

Vedant Patel (41:22):

I’ll reiterate what I just said, which is that we feel that improving the situation for the Syrian people needs to be front and center in any engagement anyone has with the Assad regime.

Sayed (41:34):

And lastly, yesterday Mr. John Kirby Admiral John Kirby told Face the Nation, “I believe that the American troops are in Syria to stay.” Basically, that’s what he said there, “We are there to stay until the mission is over.” What is the mission? When can this mission be declared over?

Vedant Patel (41:55):

Saed, I just spoke to this, but the degradation of ISIS in the region has been a key priority for the United States. Our presence in Northern Syria has been a key aspect of that, but I will let our colleagues at the Pentagon speak to more details on that.

Sean, go ahead.

Shaun (42:19):

Sure. Today, speaking of democracy’s potential problems.

Vedant Patel (42:23):


Shaun (42:23):

Kenya, I was wondering if you have anything to say about the situation there? There’s some violence today. The government has banned protests by the opposition, it’s a dispute over the election. Is there anything you have to say about that, particularly about the ban on the opposition protest justice?

Vedant Patel (42:39):

I don’t initially, Sean, but I’m happy to check if we have any updates on the ground and we can follow up with you.

Go ahead.

Speaker 12 (42:47):

Thank you. On this high dialogue with Colombia, are you expressing to the Colombian delegations any concerns of the new approach on drugs and explanations of the drug administration?

Vedant Patel (42:59):

So this dialogue serves as a flagship opportunity for the US and Colombia to deepen our cooperation across a broad set of bilateral issues. All discussions are focused on what we view as shared goals, and that of course includes cooperation and areas of migration, security, counter narcotics, human rights, equity, education, deepening economic opportunities, deepening energy cooperation and addressing the climate crisis as well.

Let’s go in the back.

Speaker 13 (43:30):

Thank you so much. I want to follow up on question on Honduras and China.

Vedant Patel (43:36):


Speaker 13 (43:36):

Honduras established ties with China, while Taiwanese President Tsai plans to transit the US this week. Do you think this timing of announcement of establishing diplomatic relations was related to Thai’s trip and China tried to put pressure on the US and Taiwan?

Vedant Patel (43:57):

So again, that’s not something that I’m going to speak to, but as I previously said that the government of Honduras’s action is a sovereign decision. And on President Tsai’s transit, what I would say is that this transit is consistent with a long-standing US practice, the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan and US policy, which remains unchanged. Transits are taken out of consideration for the safety and dignity of the passenger and are in line and consistent with our One China Policy, which also remains unchanged.

Alex, you had your hand up.

Alex (44:34):

Russia, Iran. You probably have seen immediate reports on Iran receiving advanced digital surveillance technology software from Russia in return for their drones. Do you have any reaction to that?

Vedant Patel (44:47):

I’ve not seen that reporting, Alex, but what I will say is that of course, Russia is deepening of relationships with malign actors like Iran, continues to be a deep concern. And it should be a concern for countries, not just neighboring Russia and Iran, but the world broadly. We have seen the havoc caused by Iranian made drones that Russia has unleashed on Kyiv, targeting energy and civilian infrastructure. So of course this relationship is one that we are paying close attention to.

Final question.

Alex (45:27):

My final question on… If I may ask a question?

Vedant Patel (45:29):


Alex (45:29):

Explain for me, on the latest situation on the ground?

Vedant Patel (45:33):

Sure. So assistant secretary, Karen Don Fried, spoke with foreign minister by arm mob this morning and expressed concern over Azerbaijani military movements. She emphasized the US’ commitment to Armenia Azerbaijan peace negotiations, as the secretary has also spoke about this quite repeatedly. Direct dialogue is key to resolving this issue and reaching a lasting piece. There is not a military solution to this conflict. We’ll continue to facilitate discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan bilaterally, as well as with partners and as well as throughout multilateral organizations as well.

Go ahead.

Speaker 14 (46:14):

So two questions. Has the United States seen any proof that Vladimir Putin has put nuclear weapons in Belarus?

Vedant Patel (46:25):

So I spoke to this a great deal already, but I will reiterate what I said, which is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. That being said, we strongly condemn this announcement by President Putin and it is the latest example of irresponsible nuclear rhetoric that we have seen from Russia since its full scale invasion. No other country…

Speaker 14 (46:57):

What will the administration do, if Putin follow through on his announcement?

Vedant Patel (47:02):

We continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Russian Federation accountable. You have seen us take action over the course of their unjust and barbaric war in Ukraine, but again, we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications that Russia is planning to use nuclear weapons.

Speaker 14 (47:22):

What tools, put on?

Vedant Patel (47:23):

We have a number of tools at our disposal.

Speaker 14 (47:25):


Vedant Patel (47:25):

Sanctions, export controls. I’m not going to preview or be prescriptive about tools from here.

Gita, I think you had your hand up, or was that…?

Speaker 11 (47:33):


Vedant Patel (47:33):

Nope? Okay. Thanks, everybody.

Speaker 14 (47:36):

Thank you.

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