HomeUnited StatesDepartment Press Briefing - January 24, 2024 - United States Department of...

Department Press Briefing – January 24, 2024 – United States Department of State

Article Index

1:16 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Wednesday. I don’t have anything off the top, Matt, so —

QUESTION: Really? Only Wednesday?

MR PATEL: — feel free to kick us off.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’ll just start off with something that I don’t think you’re going to be able to answer but I’ll ask anyway, because it is a topic of the day. This plane crash in Russia, what’s your understanding of what happened, if you have one? And do you have any way to independently verify or confirm how it went down, what was on it?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any independent verification to offer on any of this at this time. I have seen the public reporting, and our hope is that relevant authorities investigate the reporting to establish the facts around what happened, but beyond that I don’t have any other comments to offer or perspective on this.

QUESTION: Right. And who – and the relevant authorities in this case are Russian authorities?

MR PATEL: Correct.

QUESTION: And you’re – okay. So – and you’ll accept what their verdict is?

MR PATEL: Matt —

QUESTION: Because they seem to have already – I mean, the Russian ministry – Russian authorities already have said what happened. Are you saying that you don’t have any reason to doubt?

MR PATEL: No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I think what I would just say again, to take a step back, is that we don’t have any independent verification to offer on the public reporting that’s been out there and would just encourage both Russian and Ukrainian authorities to undertake their own respective investigations and establish facts, but I don’t have any other comment or perspective to offer at this time on this.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR PATEL: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just want to ask about NATO enlargement. So obviously Türkiye’s parliament approved Sweden’s NATO bid yesterday. Now Hungary seems to be the sole holdout. Has there been any outreach from this building or any other building in the administration to the Hungarian Government over the past couple of days, recently on this? What have you told them? Will you ask them to speed it up?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements to reach out – to read out to you, Humeyra. We of course continue to remain in close touch with our Hungarian Allies, and the Hungarian Government itself has publicly said that it supports Sweden’s accession to NATO. It’s also repeatedly said that Hungary would not be the last to ratify —

QUESTION: And here we are.

MR PATEL: — Sweden’s NATO accession. And so we look forward to Hungary concluding their ratification process and the Alliance welcoming Sweden into NATO without further delay, and of course we also welcome the steps that the Turkish parliament took earlier this week. We look forward to President Erdogan taking whatever steps he needs to within that system for – to formally finalize that process as well as look – we look forward to receiving Türkiye’s instrument of ratification in Washington.

QUESTION: Right. I mean, if they had asked you, would you have recommended Hungary to reconvene the parliament a little bit earlier than mid-February —

MR PATEL: This is —

QUESTION: — and get it done now?

MR PATEL: This is not a U.S. process. Of course, we view the NATO Alliance as critical, but it is not – we are not the only country at the table here. And each respective member of the Alliance needs to work through their respective processes to get this done. We of course welcome the progress that we saw in Türkiye this week, and we look forward to our Hungarian partners also moving along on this process also.

QUESTION: Right. And I just note what you say about President Erdogan. Like, he said doing whatever he needs to; it’s basically he needs to sign and it needs to be published in the official gazette —

MR PATEL: Correct.

QUESTION: — and receiving the instrument of accession. Can I – so is it fair to say that U.S. does not consider this process – Sweden’s NATO ratification by Türkiye – as complete before all of those things happen?

MR PATEL: It’s not. And it’s not just about U.S. opinion or not. I mean, just purely the procedural steps that need to take place, it’s not. Now, that being said, again, this is an incredibly welcome step for the Turkish parliament to ratify the accession protocol, and we look forward to receiving Türkiye’s instrument of ratification in Washington once that process is complete on the Turkish end.

QUESTION: Right. And my final one on this is, like, once that – once you receive that document, given the administration has openly said that it supports the sale of F-16s to Türkiye, can you commit that the State Department is going to send the formal notification for the F-16s once that process is completed?

MR PATEL: I have no timeline to speculate or offer on – to – from here.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for timelines. I’m saying, like, once that is complete, can you commit – can the State Department commit to sending the formal notification?

MR PATEL: What I will say – what I will say, Humeyra, is that – and this is no surprise to all of you that have been covering the State Department and this issue for some time – President Biden, Secretary Blinken have been very clear of our support for modernizing Türkiye’s F-16 fleet, which we view as a key investment in NATO interoperability. But beyond that, we also recognize that Congress has a key role in reviewing arm sales, but I’m just not going to confirm or get ahead of proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Congress’s role in this arms sale. We are aware that certain congressmembers linked Sweden’s NATO bid with the sale of F-16s to Türkiye. So based on your engagements with congressmembers, now that the Turkish parliament has ratified – ratified Sweden’s NATO bid, do you think that Congress will no longer oppose this sale?

MR PATEL: I am not an employee or a member of Congress, so I’m not going to speculate. I —

QUESTION: But you know that you are – you have been engaging with the Congress on it.

MR PATEL: I would – just on the – just on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue is a very large white Capitol Building, which I am sure they’d be happy to speak to you about this. Look, all jokes aside, Congress has a key role in reviewing this sale. I am not going to get into or comment on the proposals until those sales have been formally notified. Broadly, though, Congress has an important role to play and we work with them on a variety of issues that are in front of the State Department, and I’m sure they’d be happy to speak to their point of view on this.

But again, what I can say from up here on behalf of Secretary Blinken and the State Department is that the steps that the Turkish parliament took this week were welcome ones. We believe that Sweden is a highly capable defense partner, one that we are ready to welcome into the NATO Alliance, and we look forward to Türkiye finalizing this process as well as our Hungarian partners as well and getting – welcoming – formally welcoming Sweden as a member of the Alliance.

QUESTION: Just one more on that.

QUESTION: One more follow-up on that.



QUESTION: Thank you. So do you have anything to say on the significance of this ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid by the Turkish parliament in terms of the relations between Türkiye and the U.S.?

MR PATEL: Do I have anything to say – what? I’m sorry, can you speak up?

QUESTION: On the significance of this ratification by the Turkish parliament in terms of the relations between Türkiye and the U.S.

MR PATEL: Türkiye is a key NATO Ally. We believe that Türkiye also views the NATO Alliance as critical, and they have been incredible security partners in the region, not just through the Alliance but outside of that as well, and we look forward to continuing to have a close collaborative relationship with our Turkish partners. As you know, the Secretary has had regular conversations with Foreign Minister Fidan and had the opportunity to meet with President Erdogan a number of times, and we look forward to continuing to work with Türkiye in a number of key areas. And as I said, this step that the Turkish parliament took was a welcome one, and we’re eager and looking forward to this process continuing.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Thank you. Do you expect the Congress to impose any conditions on this prospect sales of F-16s? And does the administration support include the sale being unconditional?

MR PATEL: I’m starting to sound like a little bit of a broken record here, but again, I am just not going to comment on proposals or proposed defense sales or transfers until they’ve been formally notified to Congress. I will reiterate again that Congress has a key role to play in these sales, and that, yes, certain members of Congress have publicly said that Türkiye’s approval of Sweden’s application to join NATO is of key interest to them. But beyond that, I would refer you to Congress to speak to more of their point of view.

QUESTION: Does the administration support this sale being unconditional?

MR PATEL: This – what this is about – and you heard me just talk about this – President Biden, Secretary Blinken view this, the investment, the modernization in Türkiye’s – of Türkiye’s F-16 fleet, it is about NATO interoperability, which we believe is critically important to the strength of the Alliance as well as strengthening our security overall.

QUESTION: Can you – can you mention about any time limitations, like will Türkiye receive in one years, two years, five years?

MR PATEL: I have – I have no timeline to offer or speculate on from here.

Anything else on this before we move away to different topics? I’ll come – I’ll make sure to get to you, Said. Don’t worry.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I have a couple of questions. North Korea launched several cruise missiles into the west coast yesterday. Do you think is North Korea’s intention behind its series of missile provocations?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into North Korea’s intentions, but to take a step back, Janne, we again call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocative, destabilizing actions and return to diplomacy. It’s important to remember that the United States, we have been incredibly clear about the fact that we harbor no hostile intent towards the DPRK and continue to be open to diplomacy without preconditions. This is also an avenue for us to continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, and other allies and partners about how to best engage the DPRK, how to deter some of their aggressive and destabilizing behaviors. And I would also just point you back to the Camp David trilateral summit that President Biden hosted in the summer as another important step that we’re taking to defer – to foster closer collaboration with relevant and likeminded partners in the region.

QUESTION: State Department has always said that – I mean U.S. always said that it is open to dialogue with North Korea, but Kim Jong-un blocked all dialogue channel between South Korea and North Korea. If U.S. were to talk with North Korea, what specific dialogue would be possible?

MR PATEL: Our goal here, Janne, has remained the same over the course of this administration. We are eager to engage in substantive discussions on identifying ways to not just manage military risk but create lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as our continued stated goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And I’ll say again we remain open to engagement on these issues with the DPRK without preconditions.

QUESTION: Any dialogue is possible, right? Or —

MR PATEL: You just heard me say that we’re open to dialogue without preconditions.

QUESTION: All right.

MR PATEL: Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I please follow up?


QUESTION: Does the United States assess the recent moves and rhetorics from North Korea leader Kim has anything to do with the elections? Meaning there are election – legislative elections in South Korea this year, and there are – there is a presidential election in the United States.

And then can you also comment on the demolishment of a significant – a major monument that was torn down?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate on theory of the case here, Nike. What I can say is that we find these kinds of activities destabilizing. We find them risky. We find them incredibly dangerous and again call on the DPRK to return to diplomacy, and we stand ready to engage with them on a number of key issues and simultaneously will continue to collaborate closely with the ROK and Japan on ways that we can deter the DPRK and strengthen our alliance in the region as well.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Switching gears to the Palestinian issue.


QUESTION: First of all, do you have anything – any update on the Palestinian American killed by the Israelis on – a couple days ago?

MR PATEL: I have a slight update, Said. We continue to remain in close touch with the Government of Israel to understand the circumstances of his death. It’s been communicated to us that the investigation will be led by the Israeli National Police, and we expect a thorough and expeditious investigation and we are eager to see the result of what this investigation will find. Beyond that, we continue to remain in close touch with the family to offer all appropriate consular assistance both through the embassy in Jerusalem as well as the Office of Palestinian Affairs.

QUESTION: Will there be an investigation by the American security coordinator?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to offer on that.

QUESTION: All right. A couple of things. Do you have any update on the negotiations that are ongoing either in Egypt or elsewhere to release the hostages and the prisoners?

MR PATEL: Our hope and our call is for hostages to be released immediately. That’s been our call since October 7th. Hamas could make this easier for everybody and release hostages as soon as possible.

QUESTION: So has there been any progress in Brett McGurk’s effort, as far as you know?

MR PATEL: I’m sure the White House would be happy to speak at greater length to Brett’s travels, but I don’t have any updates to offer from here beyond just reiterating – and you’ve heard the Secretary talk about this quite regularly – that we believe the hostages should be released immediately. We continue to work closely with partners in the Israeli Government to do what we can and to help assist in that effort. As you know, a number of American citizens continue to be unaccounted for since October 7th, and so we’ll continue to work tirelessly. There is no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens.

QUESTION: Do you believe there is any other way other than direct negotiations or third way negotiations between Hamas and Israel to release those hostages and the prisoners?

MR PATEL: The easiest way would be for Hamas to simply just release those hostages and prisoners.

QUESTION: I understand. I’m just saying that the Israelis said all along that they want to do this – they want to free them by force. Do you think that this is still feasible?

MR PATEL: Do I think what is still feasible?

QUESTION: Do you think that the Israeli army can free those hostages forcibly, as they have said to begin with?

MR PATEL: Said, these discussions and conversations are ongoing, and we continue to believe that we’ll work around the clock in close coordination with the Israelis to do what we can to help this line of work.

QUESTION: A couple more, if you’ll indulge me. There are – about half a million Gazans are suffering from acute hunger. Do you have anything on that? I mean, it seems that one out of four trucks is allowed to go in after a very tedious kind of inspection and so on.

MR PATEL: Said, we have underscored the urgency of the dire need for humanitarian aid and other supplies to be allowed into Gaza and to be distributed throughout the Gaza Strip. While certainly immense work has been undertaken, especially by the United States, to enhance and increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, we know that this is not enough and more needs to be done, and we’ll continue to work with the Government of Israel and other relevant partners to do so. The Secretary reiterated this on his travels to the region not too long ago in Jordan, where he met with the UN World Food Programme to talk about these very key issues, and we’ll continue to push for much more humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza, including what we believe to be lifesaving food products also.

QUESTION: So you believe that there are enough steps that are being taken to prevent a looming famine?

MR PATEL: That is not – that’s not what I said, Said. What I said is – was I was very clear that the steps that have been taken have not been enough. We want to see more aid, more food, more lifesaving supplies to be allowed to enter Gaza.

QUESTION: And finally, I asked you on the artifacts on Monday —


QUESTION: — that the Israeli soldiers stole from the Israa University before blowing it up. It seems that they are showing it in warehouses and so on. Do you have any comment on that? There – should there be some sort of a commission that can ensure the retrieval of those artifacts stolen by these —

MR PATEL: On the specific report that you mentioned the other day, Said, we still have not been able to verify those specific reports. But to take a step back and to just address the issue of artifacts broadly, not in the context of this specific situation, our view is that cultural artifacts in Gaza should remain in Gaza. But again, the report that you noted, I don’t have any U.S. Government verification to offer on that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: Go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: Robert Moore with ITV News.


QUESTION: You may have had the chance to see some of the footage shot by our cameraman in the Gaza Strip widely shared online, showing a group of men waving a white flag, representing no threat whatsoever, unarmed, and moving south to try and reach some relatives. The IDF opened fire, as you can see on that video, and killed one of them, Abu Sahloul. I wonder what your response to that is, and whether you think from watching that video, whether that potentially represents a war crime.

MR PATEL: I have seen that footage, but I am not going to comment on the specifics around that given I am not aware of the full circumstances on the ground. And as we’ve said before, this is not an American operation. But beyond that —

QUESTION: That’s true, but nevertheless —

MR PATEL: Beyond that – please don’t – I’m happy to take your questions, if you’ll allow me – if you allow me to answer. I don’t interrupt you, and I ask you to not do the same.

As a general matter, though, we have not parsed our words about the moral and strategic imperative that the Government of Israel and the Israeli security forces have to take every effort possible to minimize civilian casualties and minimize impact on civilians. As it relates to the footage that your organization has shared, again, I’m just going to refrain from commenting on specific operations as we do not have full circumstances of what – on the ground from here. This isn’t an American operation. I’m not on the ground there to speak to the full parameters of the situation.

QUESTION: It’s not – it’s not —

MR PATEL: But again, any civilian death – any civilian death is heartbreaking, and any civilian life lost is one too many. And we have made that clear with the Israelis, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Beyond that comment about it being heartbreaking, which is a platitude we often hear, are you – would you urge – given that you support, broadly support the IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, would you support an Israeli investigation of what happened in that video?

MR PATEL: That is for —

QUESTION: Given that they’re waving a white flag and they represented no threat?

MR PATEL: That is for the IDF to undertake and determine based on the circumstances of that situation. What I will say is that we have been clear to our Israeli partners that they need to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm during an operation and investigate credible allegations of law or of war violations when they arise. But that is for our Israeli partners and the IDF to speak to.

QUESTION: Just on this, Vedant.


QUESTION: You said that we don’t have the full facts or something like that in a minute. Like, did you – did you actually reach out specifically to Israel about this footage and try to get whatever the facts that you guys are seeking?

MR PATEL: This footage just arised earlier this morning, so I don’t have any specifics of our diplomatic conversations around this to speak to.

QUESTION: All right, well, how about the footage that arose last week, and the week before, and the week before, and the week before, and the week before, where there have been if not similar, awfully close instances? Have you ever gotten an explanation from the Israelis?


QUESTION: Have you ever gotten a finding from the Israelis of what their investigation, if they promised one —

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speak to private diplomatic conversations, Matt. But this is something that we raise continuously with the Israelis. The Secretary has done so, other officials in our government have done so, and we’ll continue to do it.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, have you ever gotten an answer from the Israelis when you ask questions?

MR PATEL: I am just not going to – I’m not going to speak to the privacy of certain diplomatic conversations, Matt. But we have been clear that there is a moral and strategic imperative to take as many steps as possible to minimize civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Well, that’s all well – that’s fine. That’s fine that you say that, but then when you are asked specific questions like this relating to specific footage – and this is not the first time that this has happened; you’ve been asked repeatedly about this, and then you – you come back and say, “Well, we’ve raised questions; we’ve asked the Israelis questions.” Have you ever gotten a response to any of those?

MR PATEL: We – these conversations are —

QUESTION: I am not asking you for the details; I just want to know if you’ve gotten a response.

MR PATEL: We have. These conversations are private.

QUESTION: You have.

MR PATEL: We have raised with the Israelis specific circumstances, and we have received —

QUESTION: And you have gotten answers?

MR PATEL: Correct. I am not going to speak to those conversations right now.

QUESTION: And – but you can’t just say – in any case are you aware that the Israelis say, “We screwed up here”?

MR PATEL: I am just not going to speak to the private conversations, Matt.

QUESTION: And on this one.


QUESTION: Just to close this, since you – it sounds like you haven’t had a chance to ask about this one, are you planning to ask about this particular instance, or no?

MR PATEL: I am just not going to speak to specific diplomatic conversations. What I will just reiterate, Humeyra, is that we talk to our Israeli counterparts all the time, regularly, from various interlocutors across our government, and we’ll continue to do so. And front and center, part of those engagements will continue to be the moral and strategic imperative that our Israeli partners have to minimize the impact on civilians.


QUESTION: Yeah, Vedant, just on the same line of questioning —


QUESTION: — do you have any comment, reaction to the UNRWA saying that a UN shelter was shelled by tanks in Khan Younis today, killing nine people? They say what is UN shelter – they’re calling it a blatant violation of the rules of war. Would you agree?

MR PATEL: It’s incredibly concerning – incredibly concerning, Leon, and we deplore today’s attack on the UN’s Khan Younis training center. You’ve heard me say it before, you’ve heard the Secretary say it before, but civilians must be protected, and the protected nature of UN facilities must be respected. And humanitarian workers must be protected so that they can continue providing civilians with the lifesaving humanitarian assistance that they need.

QUESTION: So – and so have you asked the Israelis to look into this?

MR PATEL: We – I’m not – Matt, I am not going to read out every single conversation that we have with the Israelis or read out every issue that happens —

QUESTION: I don’t think that you even have to have every single – I don’t think you’re asked – being asked about every single conversation you’ve had.

MR PATEL: — or every issue that happens in the region —

QUESTION: Look, you’ve been – like twice here in the last three minutes, you’ve been asked about two specific incidents. Have you raised either one?

MR PATEL: We continue to raise with the – our Israeli partners the need and the responsibility that they have to protect UN facilities and to protect humanitarian workers so that they can continue to carry out and conduct the lifesaving work that they’re doing in the region.

QUESTION: Right. I think you need to go back to NEA or whoever is in charge of this and get a definitive answer about whether you’re asking about specific incidents —

MR PATEL: We are asking —

QUESTION: Yeah? Well, then —

MR PATEL: We are asking and engaging about specific incidents, Matt. I am not going to specifically read them out to you from up here.

QUESTION: Okay, well then, when the Israelis respond to you, if they respond to you, you need to come back and tell us what they say. And if they don’t respond to you, which it sounds like you’re – may very well be the case, you should say that.

MR PATEL: Matt, certain conversations, diplomatic conversations – sensitive, tough diplomatic conversations – are best kept private. I assure you, though, we are raising these issues directly with Israeli counterparts and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Well, Vedant, assurances mean a whole hell of a lot if you’re not able to say that you’ve gotten any response to them. I mean, you are the biggest supporter of the Israeli Government – not you personally, but the United States is.


QUESTION: If you can’t – if you ask questions about troubling incidents, which you said – just said that this one is Khan Younis was incredibly concerning and we deplore the attack – if you can’t get an answer from them on this, what does that say about where – what the — U.S. position?

MR PATEL: Matt, we’ll intend to – continue to have these conversations with the Israeli Government and raise these very tough and difficult situations.

Diyar, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Today the Iraqi foreign minister, in a post, said that we received a very important letter from the U.S. Government and we will discuss that very important letter. I understand that you are not going to talk about the details of that letter, but in general, what correspondence, what message do you have for the Iraqi Government about these militia groups that are attacking you every day and also you are attacking them?

MR PATEL: So we continue to remain in close touch with the Iraqi Government and have been very clear that these Iran-aligned militia groups that continue to put not just coalition forces but also Iraqi forces in harm’s way need to be held account. And the United States will take appropriate action to do so. As you’re so tracking, Diyar, on Tuesday night, U.S. military forces conducted necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by KH and other Iran-aligned militia groups in Iraq. These strikes are a direct response to a series of escalatory attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: And I’m not sure if you saw the Iraqi Government statement on that. What they say – they condemned your attack and they say this attack has determined the security and stability in Iraq and it’s an aggressive act. So if you are there on the Iraqi invitation, so why you don’t have any coordination and cooperation with the Iraqi Government to face these groups in a way that the Iraqi Government tells you this is unacceptable and this undermines the cooperation and coordination between us and the United States?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple things here. First, U.S. military forces remain in Iraq, and we’re there working alongside Iraqi military forces. We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government in order to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. I will also note that there is absolutely no equivalence between the steps that the United States has taken to protect Iraqi and coalition personnel between the strikes that Iranian-aligned militia groups are undertaking in Iraq. Again, we are defending ourselves, defending our personnel, and Iranian-aligned militia groups are targeting civilians.

QUESTION: Are you violating the Iraqi sovereignty, which they are saying that? The Iraqi Government says that.

MR PATEL: Again, I will just say we are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi military, and we will not hesitate to take appropriate steps to protect our personnel, as well as the personnel of Iraqi military forces as well.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Syria?

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MR PATEL: Yeah, Alex, go ahead. I’ll work through them. Don’t worry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a couple. Please bear with me. Staying on Iran, Iran yesterday killed another protestor, Mohammad Ghobadlou. Will Iran face any reaction – accountability?

MR PATEL: We condemn again the Iranian regime’s use of the death penalty to punish people for what we believe to be just exercising their human rights. There have been, Alex, widespread reports of torture, forced confessions, and restrictions on legal counsel. All of this, we believe, undermine any shred of credibility in the decisions handed down by Iranian courts. The U.S. will continue to take actions to support the people of Iran in practical ways, both seen and unseen, in close coordination with our allies and partners in the region as well.

QUESTION: You still haven’t sanctioned Iran’s supreme leader for gross human rights violations. You had Magnitsky sanctions last month. Was it a missed opportunity?

MR PATEL: Alex, I’m just not going to preview any actions from up here, and I will just note that when it comes to holding the Iranian regime accountable for its malign activities, including its repression of its own people, we will not hesitate to take action. We have a pretty clear track record of doing so.

QUESTION: Thank you. And in New York, Russia and Iranian foreign ministers met, and they called for a ceasefire in Gaza. What do you make of the fact that Iran (inaudible), but Russia keeps murdering Ukrainian civilians even as we speak, calls for ceasefire in the Middle East?

MR PATEL: As it relates to Israel’s ongoing efforts in Gaza, a ceasefire is not a policy that we’re pursuing. It’s not the first time you’ve heard me say this. We continue to believe that it is critically important that steps be taken to degrade Hamas so that tragedies like October 7th cannot be repeated over and over again.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a – did you have —

MR PATEL: Yeah, I’ll come back to you, Alex. I’ll work the room.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Guita, you’ve had your hand up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Yes, thank you. The Iranian president has been disqualified for taking part in the elections for the Assembly of Experts. I was wondering if the U.S. – if the administration or the State Department has any opinion on that? Do you see a crack in the system?

MR PATEL: Well, on the Assembly of Experts decision, I really don’t have any specific comment to offer, Guita. But to be clear, the world has recognized for some time now that Iran’s political system features undemocratic and nontransparent administrative, judicial, and even electoral systems. We also have no expectation that Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections will be free and fair. Thousands of parliamentary candidates were already disqualified in November through what we believe to be an opaque process. And simply, this is the same kind of things that we can expect from an – from an undemocratic regime that suppresses its own people to retain its own grip on power.

QUESTION: Now on the foreign minister of the same —


QUESTION: — government that you’re talking about, the administration gave him a visa. He came to New York. He blasted the U.S. on the same day that they executed two people. I was wondering if – at the same time, it seems like the U.S. is in a proxy war with Iran through the Houthis and the Iraq – and those groups in Iraq. How much longer is the Biden administration going to allow Iranian diplomats to come to the United States?

MR PATEL: Let me unpack that in a couple ways. First and foremost, as it relates to the other things going on around the world, the United States is certainly not interested in seeing any kind of escalation. And the steps that we’ve taken, whether it be in the Red Sea or in other parts, have been about deterrence, defense, and degradation, and ensuring that malign groups are held accountable.

But coming back to the UN, Guita, let me just be very clear about something: Iran is an adversary. It is the world’s largest exporter of terrorism. It has a clear and potent track record of destabilizing behavior not just in the Middle East but elsewhere. It is a serial human rights violator. And nothing has changed about our approach to Iran.

And when it comes to Iranian diplomats and the foreign minister’s presence at the UN, while specific visa records are confidential, we take our responsibility as the host of the United Nations and our obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement, we take those things very seriously. And so while we may not love hosting Iranian diplomats on American soil, it is a responsibility that we believe to be consistent with the obligations that we have as the host country with the United Nations. But broadly our approach to the Iranian regime and the steps that we will take to hold them accountable – both unilaterally but also in close coordination with allies and partners – has not changed.

QUESTION: But there is precedence that visa was not issued to an Iranian diplomat, foreign minister basically, and at that time the relations – the situation was not this bad. The two countries were not at each other’s throats. So when the situation is so much worse right now, how can you issue visas even given your obligations to the UN?

MR PATEL: It is because of that obligation, and we take that obligation very seriously. I’m not going to speak to specific circumstances or specific diplomats as visa records are indeed confidential, Guita, but this is a responsibility we take seriously. And simultaneously, we continue to view Iran as an adversary, and we’ll continue to take steps to hold them accountable.


QUESTION: They’re confidential until the guy actually shows up on U.S. soil, right? Are you going to say that you denied him a visa and he just showed up illegally?

MR PATEL: I think it’s fair to assume, Matt.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Vedant.


QUESTION: Yesterday the U.S. President was interrupted around eight times in a speech by protesters calling for a ceasefire. This is happening at home. Does this concern you about how the U.S. is viewed in the region, in the Middle East? And does this also – how do you think this would affect the U.S. leverage in the region, in the Middle East?

MR PATEL: The Secretary, as you know, is on travel on the African continent now. He earlier in the month was on travel in the Middle East region. Since the October 7th attacks, he has visited the region four times. And on every trip what the Secretary and the traveling team hears consistently from countries around the region, some of whom may have different points of view on specific policies that we are pursuing or have different points of view on specific pieces of this conflict, have talked about how important American diplomacy has in – has been and the indispensability of the role that American diplomacy has played.

I will remind you that it was American diplomacy that allowed humanitarian aid to be able to flow into Gaza. It’s been American diplomacy that has allowed for the safe departure of more than 1,400 American citizens, legal permanent residents, and eligible family members. And over the course of this process, we will continue to engage not just with the Government of Egypt and the Government of Israel, but other regional partners, including the Kingdom of Jordan and others, on this very important issue.

But what we’re hearing on the ground is that leaders want to see the Americans and this building, our government, engage more, not less.

QUESTION: Sorry, one more question, please.


QUESTION: It has been your assessment that Hizballah doesn’t want a wider war on the northern border, but do you think that the Iranian, given what’s happening in the Red Sea and on the Lebanese front, do you think that the current – they want the current situation, they don’t want to go back to October 6? I mean – I mean war on a small scale.

MR PATEL: I couldn’t possibly speculate what the —

QUESTION: Assessment.

MR PATEL: — Iranian regime wants or doesn’t want, but what I can say if we just sort of take some of these – take some of these actions – the actions that they’re taking or the actions that Iran-aligned militia groups are taking are contributing to greater instability and risk in the region. Let’s take the example of the Red Sea. This is a vital waterway which has 15 percent of all seaborne trade flowing through those waters, 30 percent of all container shipping flowing through those waters. When international vessels performing legitimate commerce flowing through those waters are put under risk, are put under – put under danger, firing on those vessels does nothing to help Palestinian civilians. It does nothing to create better stability, better integration in the region. In fact, it does the opposite. We’re putting a further burden on international commerce, making things pricier, making goods more difficult to get to their final destinations.

Doc, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. On Nigeria, given that Christians represent 46 percent of Nigeria’s population, what steps has Secretary Blinken taken this week while in Nigeria to demand Christian persecution in Nigeria stop in exchange for aid, since more than 52,000 Christians have been butchered for being Christian since 2009 and over 100 Nigerian Christians were slaughtered in December of last year? This is according to a recent Fox News report. And why the silence on this?

MR PATEL: So we’ll —

QUESTION: And a follow-up.

MR PATEL: We continue to carefully monitor the religious freedom situation in every country, including, of course, Nigeria, and a key component of our diplomacy is engaging not just with government entities but also outside groups, humanitarian organizations, and civic society leaders, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Well, a follow-up is: What are Secretary Blinken’s reasons for not placing Nigeria on the Countries of Particular Concern, that CPC list?

MR PATEL: The assessment was made that the country did not meet the threshold for designation, but Doc, I’m happy to check if we’ve got more specifics —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: — and get back to you.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Today is International Day of Education, and nowadays in Afghanistan more than a million girls and women are banned from school and university by Taliban, just – I wanted to note – who are watching this press briefing, and I wanted to know what you have to say to them at this specific day?

MR PATEL: What I will say is that the U.S. will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that – and hold to account the Taliban for the very egregious human rights violations that we continue to see taking place, and that’s something that we’ll continue to work in close coordination for. A number of officials in our department are deeply engaged on this issue, in addition to the Secretary, including our envoy – one of our envoys for this issue, Rina Amiri.

Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, sir. Sir, Financial Times reports that U.S. is asking China to urge Iran to rein in Houthis, stop attacks on shipping in Red Sea. Do you have any other details about this conversation with China?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific diplomatic engagements to offer. But it is in the interest of any major economy – including, of course, the PRC – to make sure that these waterways are a place for responsible, safe, and legitimate international commerce to take place.

You just heard me say to one of your colleagues these are vital waterways where 30 percent of container shipping happens, 15 percent of seaborne trade. It is in the interest of any country to make sure that these waterways are safe so that goods that are getting to places around the world – sometimes, often, to places with vulnerable populations – can get these products.

QUESTION: The OIC, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, expressed concerns about the construction and inauguration of the temple at the site of razed Babri Mosque in India. Many other countries also raising their concerns, terming it a violation of religious freedom. Do you have any comment on that?

MR PATEL: Look, we strongly support freedom of expression and the freedom of religion or belief for all. We also are continuing to monitor the religious freedom situation in countries around the world.

QUESTION: Sir, after the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar and failed assassination attempt on Pannun, Mr. Pannun here in U.S., the Sikhs for Justice are holding Khalistan referendum here in the U.S. The voting is to be held on January 28th in San Francisco. I remember you told us that it’s a matter of free speech, but what is your position on the official Khalistan referendum here in the U.S.?

MR PATEL: We’re just not going to comment on what is an unofficial referendum. But let me just say our relationship with India is an important strategic and consequential partnership, and we’re looking forward to working with India in a number of key, important issues going forward.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Excuse me. I have two questions related to Egypt. Like today the Egyptian President Mr. El-Sisi, like, he said – officially he sweared in, like, in conference that Egypt is not principal for preventing aid to get from Rafah to Gaza. And Israel, in international court, like they blamed Egypt that – or like implicitly that they are not responsible for – or like they are not preventing any aid coming from Rafah to Gaza. So what is your, like, perspective as a country, as USA, in this disagreement? Like who is responsible for letting the aid – like not just 200 trucks, like appropriate number of trucks for aid, humanitarian aid – to get in Gaza? Is it Egypt or is it Israel? Both are blaming each other now officially about who is responsible for preventing this aid. And you as a country keep saying that you are – care about humanitarian, you need like more aid coming in, and stuff like that. But both are blaming each other and both are ally with USA. So who’s responsible about this aid?

The second thing, officially Egypt as well like warned or urged Israel to not occupy the Philadelphi access, while the Israeli perspective is to occupy the Philadelphi access, which is like the border between Gaza and Rafah. And U.S. perspective, what do you think is better for solving this conflict? Is it like Israel occupying the Philadelphi access —

MR PATEL: Okay. I think I got your question. Yeah.

QUESTION: — or like no, like stay away of this —

MR PATEL: I’m going to jump in, because I understand what you’re asking and want to make sure to get to other people.

QUESTION: Because there are two questions.

MR PATEL: I know. I heard the two questions. First, let me just say this. It’s important to remember Rafah border crossing is not American border crossing. It’s not a crossing which we control. That being said, both the Government of Egypt and the Government of Israel are important and key partners and conduits for not just the entrance of humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza but also for the safe mobility and departure of American citizens and other nationals who may be interested in departing Gaza. And we’ll continue to work closely with both countries on both of those pieces.

Separately, on your next question, I think the Secretary was quite clear in the principles and outlines he laid out in Tokyo in the fall, which is that we do not want to see any reduction in Gazan territory and we certainly don’t want to see any reoccupation of Gaza from Israel either. We believe that these are two pieces that would be – run counter to what we hope to see for the region and take us further away from greater peace and stability.

QUESTION: Yeah. So you are blaming Israel that they are not letting the, like, humanitarian aid to move quickly —

MR PATEL: That’s not what I said. That’s not what I said.

QUESTION: Okay. So I —


QUESTION: Okay. So how we solve this problem of letting the appropriate – appropriate humanitarian aid to get in Gaza? Like, two of your allies are blaming each other. Like —

MR PATEL: This is something that we are continuing to work around the clock in close coordination with the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt. I will also just note for you that on January 23rd, 185 trucks with food, medicine, and other supply —

QUESTION: That’s not enough.

MR PATEL: I’m not saying it’s enough. What I’m saying is that 185 trucks with food, medicine, and other supplies entered Gaza. And we’re going to continue to work with the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt on this very key and important issue.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but you are aware that —

MR PATEL: I’m going to move on. I have given you two questions. I’m going to go to some of your —

QUESTION: Okay, let’s —

MR PATEL: I’m going to move. Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: I wanted to go back for – to North Korea, specifically the missiles that they’re transferring to Russia. I the joint statements from a couple of weeks ago, you said that “Russia’s use of DPRK ballistic missiles in Ukraine… provides valuable technical and military insights [into] the DPRK.” So can you say anything about what you’ve learned about it and about the effectiveness and the effect that these missiles have had on the ground?

MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things. First, deepening cooperation and the unlawful arms transfer between Russia and the DPRK is something that should be of great concern to anyone interested in maintaining peace and stability across Europe as well as the Korean Peninsula. We also believe that it is important to anybody who is interested in upholding the global non-proliferation regime and supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom.

But it is also something that we are paying close attention to and will continue to watch for in terms of developments. It’s clear that the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin, stands ready to benefit from the relations with the DPRK, as they are not only getting ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine but also artillery shells. So this is something we’re watching very closely, and we’re also monitoring North Korea’s own pursuit of advanced military capabilities as well.

QUESTION: And have you —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Have you heard any indications that North Korea has got – received something from Russia for these missiles?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to offer.

Nike, then Alex, and we’re going to wrap. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any update on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Alsu Kurmasheva has also been granted U.S. consular visits yet?

MR PATEL: We are following closely the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva in Russia. We remain incredibly concerned about the extension of her pretrial detention. I will – can also note that our request to visit her was denied on December 20th. The U.S. embassy in Moscow continues to seek appropriate consular access. But as we have said before, when it comes to dual nationals who may be detained or arrested, Russia has no legal obligation to inform us of the detention of U.S. citizens who are dual nationals.

Russia has acknowledged her detention to us, to consular officials. But again, our request for consular access continues to be denied.

QUESTION: Thursday marks 100 days since she has been detained. Is the State Department closer to designate her case as wrongfully detained?

MR PATEL: I have no updates to offer on any specific designation, but we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Very quickly on that one, then I have another follow-up on Russia. On December 20th, on what grounds did they deny them? Did they give an explanation, when they denied you and —

MR PATEL: I don’t have any additional specifics to offer.

QUESTION: And there’s reason why the U.S. has Levinson Act to impose against this such behavior. Will you take any sanctions against Russia if they keep denying your consular request?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview or speculate any actions from up here.

QUESTION: Okay, and another question on Russia. Does the department take any issue with the fact that Apple company just paid $13 million to Russian state budget – the very budget that is being used in Ukraine to murder and terrorize Ukrainians?

MR PATEL: I don’t. That’s something that you would have to speak to the company about.

Okay, thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: But just as a grim reminder – just a quick follow-up – grim reminder to why activists believe that the State Department should impose certain business advisory on Russia, because an American company has —

MR PATEL: Alex, we have not hesitated – since Russia’s unjust invasion, we have not hesitated to use the various arsenals that exist in the U.S. Government to hold the Russian Federation at account. That includes through sanctions, export controls, and other steps, and I’m certainly not going to preview anything else from up here.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)

Stay Connected
Must Read
Related News