USA News

Department Press Briefing – July 26, 2023

1:16 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one very – actually, I don’t have anything at the top. I don’t know why I said that. So happy to dive right in.

As the only person in this row, go ahead, Daphne.

QUESTION: If I could start with Niger.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the events that are happening in Niger violate – would violate U.S. law barring aid to coup regimes at all? And is that why you’re avoiding coup language and statements on this?

MR PATEL: So this is an evolving situation, and the situation remains incredibly fluid, and thus it’s too soon to characterize the nature of ongoing developments. What I can say is a couple things.

First, we are closely monitoring the situation and are in close communication with our embassy in Niger. What I can also share is that the embassy has conducted a full accountability for all official personnel and family members. But these events continue to evolve. As such, we’ve also publicly advised U.S. citizens to limit unnecessary movement and avoid some of the affected areas until further notice as the situation develops.

But broadly, let me just reiterate, since you asked – we are gravely concerned about the developments in Niger. We strongly support the democratically elected president, President Bazoum, and we condemn in the strongest terms any efforts to seize power by force and disrupt the constitutional order. We also call for the immediate release of President Bazoum and respect for the rule of law and public safety.

QUESTION: Are you concerned this might have an impact on security assistance to Niger going forward, though?

MR PATEL: Again, I think this is just – it is still an evolving situation and I don’t want to speculate or be speculative about this as it unfolds.

QUESTION: And has the State Department had any contact with President Bazoum or the Nigerien military?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls or engagements to read out.

All right. Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. The Palestinian issue. Yesterday Israeli settlers, aided by soldiers, apparently, went into the homes of Palestinians in al-Abid and a couple of other places too, but I don’t have it, and basically stole goods and things from there and threw them out. My question to you is this happens, of course, day in and day out. This is not just one incident. But absent any kind of judicial recourse for the Palestinians, especially with the new – these new judicial reforms and so on, would you support the Palestinians going into the ICC or other international bodies for seeking justice?

MR PATEL: Said, you’ve heard me previously say that we have not viewed the ICC as the appropriate mechanism for some of these deliberations. Our position has been very clear. We believe that Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live safely, securely, and deserve to enjoy equal measures of freedom, justice, dignity, and prosperity. We also remain deeply concerned about the level of violence in the West Bank, and condemn all extremist violence.

We also, Said, are troubled by rising reports of settler violence. Such violence has led to at least four Palestinian communities evacuating their villages. Our viewpoint is that accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence, and we expect the Israeli Government to ensure full accountability for those responsible for such attacks, including legal action and restitution for lost homes and property, as appropriate.

QUESTION: Do you have any evidence that the Israelis have done this in the past, that there was actually accountability? People that committed these crimes were held accountable, restitution was paid? Because I fail to see it. I’ve never seen it. So – and absent these – this judicial recourse or accountability recourse and so on, what should the Palestinians do to protect their property, to ensure that they are not being ethnically cleansed or children being abruptly arrested and so on? What are they to do?

MR PATEL: Said, we have been incredibly clear about our concern about the levels of violence and the increasing levels of violence in the West Bank, and we’ve condemned all extremist violence. I’m not here to offer some kind of metric or assessment on efforts to ensure full accountability and to hold those responsible accountable. But we’ve been very clear that that is what we expect of the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: And one last thing.

MR PATEL: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There are many reports that predict either the imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian Authority losing any kind of legitimacy or ability to conduct itself. Are you aware of these reports, and what is the United States doing in terms of to aid the PA?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not aware nor would I speak to any of these specific reports. What I can just say is that we believe very clearly, and you’ve heard me say this before, that we are incredibly committed to a two-state solution. And of course part of that is engagement with the Palestinian authorities about issues that are important to this whole conversation, and ensuring that appropriate humanitarian assistance and aid can flow appropriately. And we will continue to support the Palestinian people.

You have seen, over the course of Secretary Blinken’s travels, the President’s travels to the region, us talk about how important direct engagement with the PA and the Palestinian people is – how important it is. We’ve also done – ensured to take steps to announce steps to deepen our support for the Palestinian people as well.

Leon, coming back to the front. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry, I —

MR PATEL: No, no, no, you’re all good.

QUESTION: There was no two-minute warning, so —

MR PATEL: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: — I missed the beginning. So I assume you’ve talked about Niger and all that —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — so I’m not going to go back, obviously, there since I missed it. Just a question on Cambodia, maybe.

MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the fact that Hun Sen, the prime minister, is resigning and appointed his son as the new leader of the – Cambodia? How does the United States view that?

MR PATEL: So the department put out a statement earlier in the week, Leon, and we continue to be troubled that the elections were neither free nor fair. These elections on July 23rd and the Cambodian authorities’ pattern of threats and harassment against the political opposition throughout the electoral process denied the Cambodian people a voice as well as a choice in determining the future of their country. We’re going to continue to monitor any developments post-election. We’ll do – we’ll do so carefully. We also understand that Cambodia’s new cabinet will be sworn in in late August.

As the Cambodian People’s Party forms a new government, authorities have an opportunity to improve the country’s international standing, including restoring genuine multiparty democracy, ending politically motivated trials, and reversing convictions of government critics and allowing independent media to reopen and function without interference.

QUESTION: But specifically on the new – on the fact that his son is going to take over the government there?

MR PATEL: I think I was pretty – pretty clear, Leon, in —

QUESTION: Are you ready to work with him regardless?

MR PATEL: — in that – I think we were incredibly clear that we were troubled by these elections and we have not found them free nor fair, and certainly the way that they were conducted denied the Cambodian people a voice and a choice in determining the future of their own country.

Julia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to ask if you had any updates to share regarding the Rob Malley House Foreign Affairs request. We’ve seen reports that the State Department reached an agreement with them to have a briefing behind closed doors this week, perhaps even today. I was wondering if you could share a status update with that.

MR PATEL: We continue to be in communication with Congress and be in communication about their requests for additional information and briefings on this matter, including correspondence with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We anticipate that we’ll be providing them additional briefings shortly, but I don’t have any other specific updates to offer on that.

QUESTION: Thank you. And then I – shifting gears a bit.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Georgia, I was wondering if you could comment on the accusations from the Georgian Government that U.S. embassy staff in Tbilisi participate in lobbying activities on behalf of the former imprisoned president. And how do hostile incidences impact the U.S.-Georgia relations?

MR PATEL: Sure. So to be – and I want to be incredibly clear about this: The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi has never engaged in lobbying on behalf of former Georgian President Saakashvili. The embassy meets with a wide variety of people and organizations, as do our embassies and consulates across the world. While I certainly would not get into the specifics of private diplomatic meetings, we can confirm again that the embassy has never engaged in lobbying on behalf of the former Georgian president.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So according to a previous statement from the State Department today, the U.S. officials will meet Taliban representatives in Doha this week. I was wondering if you could have any further details in this meeting, and does this meeting in Doha indicate any change in the U.S. position towards Taliban?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any additional details to offer beyond what was laid out in the media note that we shared indicating travel for Special Representative Tom West and Rina Amiri, but also know this does not indicate any change in policy of the United States. We have been very clear that we will engage with the Taliban appropriately when it is our interest – in our interest to do so. This does not – this is not intended to mean any kind of indication of recognition or any kind of indication of normalization or legitimacy of the Taliban. The comments I made yesterday very clearly about our continued concerns about backsliding in Afghanistan, the egregious human rights abuses that the Taliban is undertaking, their marginalization of Afghan women and girls – all of those things and many others continue to be of immense concern to the United States.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Your people, on the – on the military level and also on diplomatic level – they met with the Peshmerga forces in Kurdistan region about the process of reforming the Kurdistan region, then including the recent meeting between (inaudible) and also Peshmerga coordination meeting. Then the question is that have you gave any deadline to the Ministry of Peshmerga to come up with a solid result for their reform? And the second: What will be the next step that the U.S. will take against the Peshmerga forces if they are not meeting – if they are not meeting the goals that you set with them before the annual review in September this year?

MR PATEL: I’m going to have to get back to you on that. I don’t have any updates to offer at the moment.

QUESTION: It’s expected that President Erdogan will visit Baghdad next week, and then they are discussing two main issues – three main issues. One of them is water conflict between Iraq and Türkiye, and also the other one is oil exporting. (Inaudible) that you were engaged with both Ankara and Baghdad on the oil exporting, the (inaudible) oil exporting. Then are you still engaging on this? What’s your engagement on that? And what do you expect on this visit when President Erdogan meet with the Russian —

MR PATEL: Sure. So I’m just not going to get into the specifics of diplomatic conversations and engagements that we’ve had, either with our Turkish or Iraqi partners. And as it relates to the visit itself, I would let those two countries speak about what they intend to discuss. I don’t have —

QUESTION: With regard to the oil exporting stoppage from the Kurdistan region (inaudible)? This is the fourth month, and do you have still engagement with both countries on this matter?

MR PATEL: I just don’t have anything additional to share on that at the moment.

Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Circling back to Said’s questions on the Palestinian question.

MR PATEL: Sure, yeah.

QUESTION: Fatah and Hamas leaders met today in Türkiye. I was just wondering, is that something that you guys were tracking? Have you spoken to your contacts in Fatah – sorry – about the contents of that meeting? And then separately, but staying in the region, Algeria and Tunisia facing devastating wildfires. Are there any plans to send aid over there?

MR PATEL: Sure. So first, let me take your first question. Echoing what I said to Said is that we continue to remain absolutely committed to a two-state solution, and we continue to stress that any Palestinian Government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations. And the U.S. rejects terrorism in all its forms, and we’ve been very clear that Hamas remains a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.

In terms of the wildfires, we are continuing monitoring the situation, and of course are operating in close coordination with allies and partners in the region. I don’t have anything to preview in terms of any potential aid or the provision of such, but we’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and engage as any requests come in.

Yeah, Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. I have a couple questions on Ukraine, but (inaudible) Georgia.

MR PATEL: I’m sure you do.

QUESTION: Can you expand a little bit on what’s your assessment on why – what motivates them to go after the U.S. embassy? Any assessment on —

MR PATEL: I am not going to offer a psychological assessment up here on why they choose to say anything one way or the other. What I want to just reiterate again, as I said answering Julia’s question, is that the embassy in Tbilisi has never engaged in lobbying on behalf of the former Georgian president.

QUESTION: It’s also part of a larger campaign that we have noticed lately; they go after critics, reporters who ask questions about Georgia. I was just wondering if this causes any cracks in your relationship, or potential it might cause any cracks in your relationship.

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speculate on that, Alex. Again, as it relates to the crux of your question, we have never engaged in lobbying on behalf of the former Georgian president.

QUESTION: On Ukraine. You guys are back to UNESCO. Yesterday the Secretary made a statement about that; congratulations. Now that you raise your flags, I’m just wondering if you think that Russia deserves to be in UNESCO, given everything it has done, most recently last weekend in Odesa.

MR PATEL: So Alex, whether entry into UNESCO or not ultimately is not just a singularity, a decision for the United States; it would be up to the entirety of the organization. So I will not speculate on that or give any additional thoughts there.

But to your point, Alex, yes, it is absolutely – it was concerning last weekend, it continues to be concerning, that in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative we saw within days and hours attacks on Ukrainian ports, attacks on Ukrainian grain infrastructure, continued efforts to target civilians and civilian infrastructure – efforts that we see as very black and white that are ultimately weaponizing food, which we have been very clear that the back – Black Sea Grain Initiative has been an important tool for the world in an effort to get grain to the countries and places that it needs to.

QUESTION: Did you guys take part at today’s NATO-Ukraine Council meeting?

MR PATEL: Today’s what?

QUESTION: NATO-Ukraine Council meeting today. It was —

MR PATEL: I’m not sure what U.S. representation there was. I am sure there was, but I can – we can check and get specifics for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks so much. My final on Ukraine: Yesterday there was another announcement of U.S. military aid. We still did not see ATACMS nor F-16s. As Secretary rightfully keeps saying that if Russia stops the war, there will be no war. But there are also critics saying that if Ukraine obtains F-16s and ATACMS there will be no war, there will be peace. Do you have any reason to explain why would you not provide Ukraine with those weapons that might be essential to stop this war?

MR PATEL: So over the course of this entire war through the Department of Defense contact group process and other mechanisms, we have offered the types of military assistance that we feel is best suited for the various states of this conflict. I will note that the U.S. is the world’s leading provider of arms and equipment to Ukraine and will continue to use the wide range of tools available to support Ukraine’s armed forces as they defend Russia’s aggression. I will also note that we are going to continue to take steps to do all that we can to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, including launching new joint efforts with our partners to train Ukraine’s pilots on F-16s, as we announced a couple months ago. We will support a joint effort with allies and partners to train them on fourth generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s, to further and strengthen the capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. If I could go to Bangladesh media report, the ministry of foreign affairs summoned the heads of 13 foreign missions, including the United States, United Kingdom, and the EU, for their recent condemning of the recent attack on the Dhaka-17 by election independent candidate. And earlier, July 20th, they summon even resident coordinator. So you were urging for free, fair and election and all the Western allies and the development partner, they’re urging free, fair election, but government is doing the other way around. They’re summon diplomats in Dhaka. So what is your comment and what is your reaction on that?

MR PATEL: So we’ve been clear that political violence has not place in a democracy and that the U.S. favors no political party. We support Bangladesh’s goal of holding a free, fair, and peaceful election. And I will note, though, that we’ve always emphasized the importance of the United States and Bangladesh working together to achieve Bangladesh’s goal of free and fair elections. It’s an important aspect of our bilateral relationship. And we believe that free and fair elections are a shared priority, and many Bangladeshi Government officials, including the prime minister, have themselves said that it is their goal.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So TikTok is set to be launching an e-commerce platform in the U.S. to sell goods made in China, and I’m wondering if you have any comments on that?

MR PATEL: I don’t. That really doesn’t fall into the purview of the State Department, the provision of whether an app and its follow-on products related to it are available for consumption in the United States or not. What I can say is from the State Department’s point of view, we’ve been clear – at least as it relates to TikTok – that they are not available or sanctioned to be used on State Department and U.S. Government devices. And so I would just leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On China as well, do you have any updates on the operations of the State Department’s China House? And has anyone been chosen or replaced Rick Waters as its head?

MR PATEL: I have no personnel updates to announce for you, but of course our team in China House continues to be working directly with bureaus across the department to work on issues related to, of course, the PRC and the nexus of issues between the PRC and other regions of the world. It’s something, of course, that ties into Secretary Blinken’s modernization agenda for the department, and we believe an important avenue to continue doing important work related to this department’s China policy.

Julia.

QUESTION: Any comment on – I’m sorry – on the dismissal of Foreign Minister Qin Gang?

MR PATEL: I spoke about this yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, any new developments now that —

MR PATEL: No new developments. I will just reiterate what I said to your colleagues yesterday, that it is up to – which I think you were here, Said —

QUESTION: Yeah, I was. I’m just saying —

MR PATEL: — so I don’t know why. (Laughter).

QUESTION: — that things have changed.

MR PATEL: Have they?

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, the —

MR PATEL: Okay. I’m not sure about that. As I said yesterday, it is up to the PRC to decide who their foreign minister is. Secretary Blinken also spoke to this at his press conference in Tonga. He has known Foreign Minister Wang Yi for a long time and has the opportunity – has had the opportunity to engage with him over a number of instances, including most recently in Jakarta and in Beijing before that. We think it is important for us to continue to maintain open lines and open channels of communications with PRC officials.

Julia, and I’ll come back to you, Leon. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about reports that the Pakistani foreign minister spoke with Sergey Lavrov about the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Is that something the State Department’s aware of and are there any updates on that front?

MR PATEL: I will leave it to those two countries to read out any calls or engagements that they might have had. What I can share is that Secretary Blinken – and I believe I spoke a little bit about this yesterday – had the opportunity to speak with Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari as well. They spoke earlier in the week and they of course discussed a number of issues that I talked about yesterday: a commitment to the people of Pakistan, highlighting the economic success of Pakistan, how that remains a top priority for the United States. They also of course discussed the destabilizing effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine and how that is a shared priority for the United States and Pakistan, and of course food security and Russia’s weaponization of grain in the context of all that of course continues to be a top priority for us as well.

QUESTION: And quickly, any predictions for the U.S. Women’s National Team match tonight?

MR PATEL: I feel like if I make a prediction and it doesn’t go well, you guys are going to come back to me tomorrow, but I think they’re going to win. I think this is a phenomenal team. If you watched the match earlier in the week, I think they – just the – had amazing performance against Vietnam, and so looking forward to catching it later this evening. So I think they’re going to do great.

Leon.

QUESTION: Maybe the Secretary will give them some luck since —

MR PATEL: Well, he had the opportunity – some of you probably saw – he had the opportunity to speak with them briefly yesterday, so I know we’re all really excited about that.

QUESTION: Vedant, I – obviously we talked about this yesterday, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, if it hasn’t been asked already, just an update on two cases, the one of Trevor Reed and Travis King.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Trevor Reed, do we know anything more about the circumstances to which it happened and what his health condition is right now?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any other updates on this, Leon, out of privacy concerns. I spoke a great deal about this yesterday but don’t have any other updates, and out of private concerns we really won’t have any additional information to share.

QUESTION: And on Travis King, any communication or something from the North Koreans?

MR PATEL: No updates or news to share or anything to read out. What I will just reiterate again is what I said yesterday, is that his well-being and getting as much information as we possible about his status and well-being continues to be a top priority for the United States.

Did you have your hand up?

QUESTION: No, (inaudible).

MR PATEL: Okay. All right, one – then we’ll —

QUESTION: Will you brief the House Foreign Affairs in Congress about Rob Malley this week?

MR PATEL: Julia asked that question a couple minutes ago, so we’re going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Okay, and then is there any —

MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody. We’re going to wrap. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)

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