1:02 p.m. EDT
MR PATEL: Happy Wednesday. It doesn’t feel like a Wednesday, but it is one.
QUESTION: What day does it feel like to you?
MR PATEL: Well, it depends how it feels for you, probably, also, Matt. (Laughter.) I have one quick thing at the top and then I’m happy to dive right in.
We were alarmed to learn this week that Darya Losik, wife of political prisoner Ihar Losik in Belarus, has now been jailed herself, reportedly for facilitating extremist activities by granting an interview to an independent media outlet that the Belarus authorities had deemed extremist.
Meanwhile, Ihar has been serving a 15-year sentence since December of 2021 due to his work as a blogger and journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus bureau. The Losiks’ four-year-old daughter is now without either of her parents, whose only crime was to dream of and work toward a democratic, sovereign, prosperous Belarus for her generation. Darya’s detention represents yet another attack by the – Lukashenka’s brutal regime on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Darya and Ihar Losik and all political prisoners, including the currently over 1,300 individuals unjustly detained by Belarusian authorities.
And with that, Matt, if you want to kick us off.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks, Vedant. So have you guys since yesterday figured out exactly why Iranian drones being used in Ukraine is – by Russia in Ukraine is different than Iranian drones being used by Iranian proxies in Yemen or in Syria, or Iranian drones being used in Ethiopia?
MR PATEL: We – these circumstances are not different. And as I said yesterday, the use and the transfer of Iranian-made UAVs in all of these circumstances, due to the reason that I laid out yesterday – the range of these drones that were clear in Annex B of 2231 – continues – would have made them a violation then, as they are a violation now.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, why then was there not an outcry before? Or are you suggesting that there was an outcry and people like us just didn’t pay attention to it?
MR PATEL: We have had – both now and then have a number of tools at our disposal to hold Iranian activities – its destabilizing and malign activities in the region, especially their support of the Houthis – we have a number of tools to hold them accountable. As it relates to the situation in Yemen, we have been committed to countering the flow of Iranian lethal aid to Yemen. In January of 2022, as I said yesterday, the UN Security Council’s Yemen Panel of Experts highlighted the U.S. Navy seizures of a number of lethal Iranian assets. We’ve also – I spoke yesterday about the Panel of Experts and their investigative work into the use of these drones in Yemen. So these – the use of these drones was problematic and a violation then. It is now.
I don’t have anything to offer on actions. We engage with our partners as it relates to Iran’s malign and destabilizing activities. We are doing it in this case in supporting our Ukrainian partners. We spoke about the transfer of these drones back over the summer, and we’ve done it with our partners in the Gulf as it relates to the destabilizing activities from the Houthis.
There are a number of tools and a number of sanctions and a number of designations at our disposal, and the – as it relates to Yemen, there’s – there were a number of other violations that this would have fallen under, not just 2231. So we have – this is something we’re continuing to be mindful of.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, leaving aside – let’s set aside the hypothetical of what might be a consequence for the current situation with these drones in Ukraine. What can you point to that the administration did with these same drones being used in these other places that both you and I have mentioned?
MR PATEL: Well, in the case of the transfers to the Houthis, these transfers violated the targeted arms embargo under Resolution 2264. Also, over the past 12 months, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee under Resolution 2140 sanctioned six individuals for the violation of targeted arms embargo and other actions that threatened peace and stability in Yemen. And as I said, we’re working closely with the UN Sanctions Committee and its Panel of Experts to facilitate their ongoing investigation of prior attacks in and from Yemen using these types of UAVs. As I said, we have a number of tools at our disposal as it relates to Iran’s malign activities.
QUESTION: Okay. Well —
MR PATEL: In this case, as you asked on Monday, we are clear that we view this, along with our British and French allies, as a violation of 2231. This would have been a violation of 2231 in the past as well, but that is not the only tool at our disposal.
QUESTION: Right, but you didn’t call it a violation of 2231 in the past, right?
MR PATEL: Well, did you ask? We’re talking about this, Matt, because you raised it —
QUESTION: It is – it’s up to me – it’s up to me or someone else to ask if you —
MR PATEL: I – again, I don’t have any specific – anything to offer as it relates to this reason.
QUESTION: Well, okay. So you mentioned Yemen. So – but there’s been no – but as it relates to Ethiopia, which you talked about yesterday, there hasn’t been anything done, correct? Or has there?
MR PATEL: Well, you raised this —
QUESTION: Well, raising it is one thing, but I mean actually doing something about it.
MR PATEL: We have raised this. We raised the transfer of these types of UAVs in the case of Ethiopia as well. I don’t have any actions to preview. We don’t have —
QUESTION: Well, not preview. I’m not – I’m not looking into the future. I want to go to the past, because it’s just curious to a lot of people why this all of a sudden now is a big violation of 2231 when you didn’t call it out as such before. And, I mean, you just said that you didn’t. You just said you used – it was a violation of a different – a different resolution, but in terms of Ethiopia —
MR PATEL: It would have been a violation of 2231 then, too.
QUESTION: But – yeah, but you never called it that. But anyway, so there was nothing done on – nothing done in terms of action on the drones being used in Ethiopia and nothing in Syria, and in Yemen the response was sanctions on six – entities? Is that —
MR PATEL: Six individuals.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is that – so I’m correct in —
MR PATEL: That – look, Matt, I think that this is —
QUESTION: Let me just – correct? Six – in terms of Yemen, sanctions on six individuals. Nothing on – no action on Ethiopia, no action in Syria. Is that —
MR PATEL: I don’t have the specific line item of actions to read out for you, Matt, but what I would reiterate, as I have reiterated over the course of this week, that as it relates to Iran’s malign and destabilizing actions in the region, we have a number of tools at our disposal to continue to hold them accountable. Some of them are UN Security Council resolutions, some of them are sanctions, some of them are other actions, and at every turn we have not hesitated to use these actions.
On the specifics of the UAVs, as I said yesterday, it would have been a violation back then. It is now in all of these cases, whether they are being transferred to the Houthis or the Russians. It would be a violation regardless.
Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Continue on this. Look at as well on the present with this. There’s a Security Council meeting today. Can you explain what the United States is looking for with this? What would be the consequences for, as you say, violation of the – of Resolution 2231?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Shaun. So I don’t want to get ahead of any potential actions or things that could come from a Security Council meeting. But to your question, yes, the U.S. will join the British and French in raising this issue at a closed meeting where the Security Council will hear from an expert briefer on the transfer of UAVs from Iran to Russia. As we’ve seen over the course of the past months, there is ample evidence that Russia is using UAVs in – from Iran in cruel and deliberate attacks against the people of Ukraine, including against civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. We will convey these grave concerns about Russia’s acquisition of these UAVs from Iran in clear violation of UN Security Council 2231, but I don’t have any specific actions to preview just yet.
QUESTION: Could you say whether so-called snapback of sanctions is something that you would – that you would support, a return of – or some further UN sanctions in response to it?
MR PATEL: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of this process and get ahead of our meetings and engagements with our partners in New York.
QUESTION: So just one more thing on that.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: The European Union has – is readying some sanctions on – regarding the drone transfer. Do you have any comment on that? Is that something that’s been coordinated with the U.S.? How do you – are you hopeful for the other countries also?
MR PATEL: So we have been coordinating closely with the EU, but I’m not going to get into the details of those diplomatic discussions. But we have been warning about these transfers since July, and we would welcome the EU sanctioning Iran for supplying weapons to Russia, and we are aware of reports that the EU is considering these actions. And also, I would again note and reiterate that the United States itself continues to have tools at its disposal that are practical, that are aggressive, that are useful in holding Iran accountable. And you have seen us take those actions as it relates to Iranian malign activity.
QUESTION: Same topic.
MR PATEL: Simon.
MR PATEL: Can I – since it’d be on the topic, then I’d come back to you, Simon, I promise.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I also have some – couple of other questions, but first, staying on this topic.
MR PATEL: Well, let’s try to work the room a little bit, Alex, today.
QUESTION: If you cannot – thanks so much. If you can’t give us specifics about potential U.S. response, can you at least tell us if the – if the Iranian Government is in violation of the U.S. sanctions against Russia? I know that the administration updated its policy on Friday – OFAC 1092 – called Russian Harmful Foreign Activities Sanctions. Is Iran in violation of those sanctions? And what would Iran – what would – what would you do if you – what’s your next step if you —
MR PATEL: Sorry, I didn’t hear the middle. Which sanctions specifically are you saying they are —
QUESTION: It’s called Russian Harmful Foreign Activities Sanctions that Treasury updated last Friday.
MR PATEL: I will let the Treasury Department speak to if these kinds of activities fall under a specific entity of their designation. I will let them speak to that. But I think the bigger picture here is that, as I’ve said consistently this week, Russia continuing to rely on countries like Iran for its unjust, its unlawful, and its barbaric invasion into Ukraine should be deeply troubling to the world, especially to those countries in the region. Iran has a very long track record of, as I’ve said, malign and destabilizing activities, not just in the region but across the world. And so this is something we’re going to continue to work closely with our allies and partners on, including at the UN, and we’ll continue to use and have at our disposal a various set of tools. But I’ll let Treasury speak to the specific sanctions.
MR PATEL: I’m going to go back to Simon and then we’ll work the room a little bit. Go ahead, Simon.
QUESTION: Sure, yeah. Thank you. On this – so there’s reporting that the U.S. and Taiwan are discussing coproduction of weapons in order to speed up production of weapons to Taiwan, I guess given the broader situation with China. Is that something that you can confirm is being discussed, and is this something that has been – that you are sort of more seriously considering given recent events?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Simon. I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything specific to offer as it relates to them. But what I would say broadly is that the U.S. is looking at all options on the table to ensure that the rapid transfer of defense capabilities to Taiwan can take place as swiftly as possible. And consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, as you know, we have made available various services and defense articles for Taiwan’s security, and the swift provision of these technologies and these services we believe are essential to Taiwan’s security. But I don’t have anything specific to offer on that report.
QUESTION: Has there been – is there any way you can acknowledge or confirm that there’s been an increase in – or a new round of discussions in that – towards that vein?
MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have anything specific to offer. This is something that we’ve long said. It’s something that we believe, again, is in the interest of Taiwan’s security and we’re continuing to look at various options.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. The Canadian foreign minister has invited her female counterparts from across the world to participate in a virtual meeting about women in Iran and the demonstrations going on that’s about them. Since Secretary Blinken doesn’t check one of those boxes, is the U.S. going to be represented at another level in that meeting?
MR PATEL: Thanks, Guita. So first and foremost, we as an entire government are continuing to pay close attention to Iran’s state-sponsored violence against women that we’re seeing all over their country. These protests are now entering their second month. I believe we’re approaching almost 40 days since the death of Mahsa Amini. And so what we have seen as we have seen Iran more violently and more aggressively crack down on these protests, we’re seeing the reports of hundreds killed, potential children being impacted, children being killed. So this is something that the entirety of this administration is paying attention to and focusing on.
As it relates to the Canadians, Secretary Blinken had the opportunity to discuss Iran and the protests with Foreign Minister Joly during their bilateral engagement about a week and a half ago. They were able – they spoke to this in their press conference. So I don’t have a specific U.S. representative to any potential meeting to share. If and when that happens we’ll be sure to make sure that this group is aware. But rest assured this is something we’re going to stay lashed up with our Canadian allies on and will remain in close touch with them.
QUESTION: Thank you. On North Korea, I have two questions on Korea. As you know, that North Korea fired 900 artillery rounds over four days, and also North Koreans’ military commanders still brand United States and South Korea for their provocations. Do you think North Korea’s provocations is simply a signal to attract attention for dialogue or action for aggression?
MR PATEL: Well, Janne, again, I’m not going to try and speculate or get into the minds of those in Pyongyang, but we have been consistent over the entirety of this administration that we believe dialogue without preconditions with the DPRK is a key facet of our ultimate goal here, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The shelling that we’ve seen over the course of this week is a serious – of serious concern. It is further destabilizing towards the region and has the potential for adverse impacts on our allies and partners, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea, with whom we continue to remain closely engaged on this. But I don’t have any other – I don’t want to get in the minds of those in Pyongyang.
QUESTION: And likely in the past, Kim Jong-un said that he would not engage in dialogue to give up their nuclear weapons. On that, what does the United States about sharing – I mean tactical nuclear weapons with South Korea for help maintained the nuclear balance between the two Koreas?
MR PATEL: I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to specific systems and their use and deployment. But I think you saw President Biden over the course of this administration affirm U.S. extended deterrence and the commitment to the ROK, using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities. But again —
QUESTION: So I mean, are you still pushing dialogue to North Korea?
MR PATEL: As I just said in the first part of your question, we continue to believe that dialogue without preconditions with the DPRK is an important aspect of our ultimate end goal here, which is the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.
I’ll come back to you, Alex. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Vedant. May I get your reaction to Turkish-Russian agreement to form a natural gas hub in Turkey?
MR PATEL: So first and foremost, I want to say that that Turkey is a longstanding and valued NATO Ally that has, over the course of the conflict since February, expressed strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s aggression. We have worked closely with our allies and partners to impose severe and unprecedented costs on Russia, including through sanctions, export controls, visa restrictions. We have urged Turkey and all of our allies and partners that no one should have become a safe haven for illicit Russian assets or transactions, and we will continue to make that case.
And as it relates to the energy conversation, we have continued to urge our allies to take steps to diversify their energy sources, to reduce energy reliance on Russia. And in the case of Turkey, we are working with them closely to assist in their own efforts to enhance energy security in the long term.
QUESTION: Are any talks going on right now that we may not have heard about?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific engagements to read out.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) two more questions on Ukraine?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: What do make of Putin’s announcing martial law in four annexed region?
MR PATEL: So it should be no surprise to anybody that Russia is resorting to desperate tactics to try and enforce control in these areas. The truth is – is that Russia is not wanted in these regions, and the people of Ukraine are rejecting Russia’s illegal invasion and seizure by force of what is Ukrainian territory. No matter what the Kremlin says or does, no matter what they try to enact via decree, via paper or otherwise, Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia are Ukrainian sovereign territory. And any claim that Russia makes over these territories is illegitimate. They have no legal claim whatsoever; there is no jurisdiction that they have over those territories. This is Ukraine’s land, and Russia has blatantly violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as violating the UN Charter, with their illegal acts.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) my last one on this one. The EU chief made a statement about Russia targeting energy infrastructure in Ukraine – as she called it, a quote/unquote “[act] of pure terror” that amount to war crimes. I know you guys are refraining from using the t-word, but the Defense Department already used it. Yesterday Pentagon said that Russia is trying to terrorize Ukraine. Do you agree with that?
MR PATEL: So I’ve not seen those specific comments, Alex. But what I would say is that over the course of this conflict we have seen very clearly members of Russian military and Russian forces partake in and conduct atrocities, and those are very serious and, again, another example of their barbaric and illegal and unjust action that they’re taking in Ukraine. But I haven’t seen those specific comments, so don’t have anything to offer there.
Kylie’s had her hand up for a while. Go ahead – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: So there is some increasing concern about Congress’s continued commitment to supporting more and more assistance for Ukraine in terms of security assistance and budgetary support and the like. So I’m just wondering what, if anything, the State Department is doing to prepare to engage with Congress next year in a different way on this. If there are more Republicans who are concerned about this, are you guys already having meetings with existing supporters of Ukraine support on the Hill? Can you just describe to us what efforts are underway?
MR PATEL: Sure, sure. So Kylie, I think, first, this is a little bit of a hypothetical. I would – certainly don’t want to get ahead of the process here. But we talk to Congress on a number of issues, including some of the many pressing foreign policy and national security topics in front of us. And we engage regularly with majority staff, minority staff. But I don’t have any sort of specific engagements to read out.
I think what I would use this opportunity to reiterate, though, is that President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been very clear that our commitment to our Ukrainian partners is not just unwavering but it is ironclad, and we’re going to continue to take steps and do what we can to ensure that Ukraine has everything that it needs to defend itself, to defend its territorial integrity, and put it in the best position possible at a potential negotiating table, whenever that may be.
QUESTION: And just one quick follow-up on that.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: One of the things that’s been discussed is the need for – or the potential need for additional oversight of some of the support that’s going to Ukraine, particularly the budgetary support. Can you just – is the State Department – do you guys do a review of all that assistance that goes out of the door from State and USAID to make sure that it ends up in the exact place where it was intended to end up without any corruption along the way?
MR PATEL: There are of course – in my understanding, there are parameters in place for how this aid is deployed and its use. I don’t have any specifics at my fingertips, but I can check with the team if they can get you some – a more specific or technical breakdown of how the process works.
QUESTION: Yeah, Vedant, I have a couple questions, one on Sudan. Reports say that Sudan’s military and a group of political opponents are close to a deal to resolve the crisis there. The United States is working in the mediation. Do you have anything to say about this?
MR PATEL: Sure, sure, Michel. So the U.S. is not mediating in any of the current initiatives as these are Sudanese-led processes. The U.S. is working to encourage and support the Sudanese-led inclusive dialogue that ultimately seeks to produce an agreement to form a civilian-led transitional government and guide Sudan towards free and fair elections, all in line with the Sudanese people’s aspirations for freedom, democracy, peace and justice, and prosperity.
QUESTION: That means there is no U.S. role in this mediation?
MR PATEL: Again, we are not involved directly. It is not – we are not mediating any of the current initiatives because they are Sudanese-led processes.
QUESTION: Another one on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. To what extent the differences between the U.S. and Saudi will affect the renewing a truce in Yemen?
MR PATEL: So I can speak to the United States perspective, which is that we are deeply concerned that the UN-mediated truce in Yemen expired in early October without the parties reaching an agreement on an extension. We’re glad that key elements of the truce have continued. They have offered serious tactical, tangential benefits to the people of Yemen. Special Envoy Lenderking was in the region last week to support these discussions and to ensure that they’re ongoing, and we of course welcome the Republic of Yemen Government’s support for the UN truce proposal as well as the efforts from our Saudi partners, from Oman, and from other regional countries to support the truce extension. And we frankly encourage and urge the Houthis to engage in negotiations in good faith and to work with the UN to come to an agreement on the extended truce.
QUESTION: And are you in contact with the Houthis to release the Yemeni employees who are in prison?
MR PATEL: As you saw, we – the Secretary put out a statement on this this morning. We – one year ago, as you know, Houthi forces breached the compound by the U.S. embassy prior to its suspension of operations in 2015 and became – detaining without justification Yemeni locally employed staff. We call on the Houthis to release these Yemeni citizens and return them to their families as a demonstration of their commitment to peace for the people of Yemen and willingness to participate in a future government that respects the rule of law. The ongoing detention of these employees shows a gross disregard for diplomatic norms and constitutes an affront to the entire international community.
QUESTION: And my final question. News reports say that Special Envoy Hochstein is going to Israel and Lebanon next week to sign the agreement between the two countries. Can you confirm that?
MR PATEL: So I don’t have any specific travel to announce, but what I would say is that Presidential Coordinator Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring this agreement across the finish line, and we are in fact finalizing logistics with the parties to confirm a final meeting in Naqoura, Lebanon. But I don’t have a timeline to offer or any other details on potential travel.
I’ll go back to you, Shaun.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I ask you about the Kashmiri photojournalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo? She won the Pulitzer Prize and according to her own account was refused to – was not allowed to leave the New Delhi airport even though she had a valid U.S. visa. Is the United States aware of this? Does the United States have anything to say? Does – do you believe that she had a visa?
MR PATEL: Yeah, we are aware of the reports of Ms. Mattoo being prevented from traveling to the U.S. and are tracking these developments closely. We are committed to supporting press freedom. And as the Secretary has noted, a shared commitment to democratic values, including the respect for the independence of press, is a bedrock of the U.S.-India relationship. But I don’t have any other specifics to offer, but we are tracking this closely.
QUESTION: Can you say if the U.S. has raised the case with the Indian foreign ministry?
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of and can’t speak to any diplomatic engagements on this, but when we have anything to update, certainly we’ll share it with this group.
QUESTION: Can I ask just about one more individual?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: A different case involving travel – an Iranian, Elnaz Rekabi, the climber who won – who was quite successful in South Korea – reportedly was flown back from South Korea to Iran. There are pictures of her today wearing a hoodie. She of course had appeared without a headscarf in an Instagram post. Is this something you want to weigh in on about her treatment?
MR PATEL: So the Iranian regime and its leaders have a long history of abusing the rights of women and violating their freedom of expression, including through threats, through intimidation, through violence. Reports of intimidation and threats to Elnaz Rekabi appear to be the latest inexcusable example of such tactics. The world and the Iranian people will be watching how she’s treated.
QUESTION: Could I ask – yeah, Iranian state media is saying 14 foreigners have been arrested during protests, what they call “riots.” That includes citizens from the U.S. as well as UK, Austria, France, Russia, Afghanistan. I wonder, are you able to confirm whether you know of any Americans arrested during the protests?
MR PATEL: Simon, I’m not able to speak to any specific American citizen equities as it relates to the protests. I’m happy to check to see if we have anything specific and can get back to you. But this is another example of the cruel and violent suppression of peaceful protest, and it shows that the Iranian Government clearly fears its own people. We continue to coordinate with a wide range of international partners to respond to Iran’s state-sponsored violence against women and the government’s ongoing violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you for a clarification on that?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Because you – it sounded as though your initial response is you don’t know about this. I mean, to be – and to be fair to you, this was literally reported within the last 10, 15 minutes. So are you saying that you are aware —
MR PATEL: No, I’m saying that —
QUESTION: — that there are these 14 foreigners, including U.S., Australian, British citizens —
MR PATEL: What —
QUESTION: — that you know that, or are you even aware of the report from the Iranian news agency?
MR PATEL: I am not aware of the report. And I’m happy to – what I said – was happy to check with the team —
MR PATEL: — if there are any specific American citizen equities, but was speaking to the crackdown on protests broadly.
QUESTION: Right. No, no, I just want to make sure that you’re not —
MR PATEL: Yeah, yeah.
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Regarding the prospect of use of nuclear tactical weapons by Putin in the Black Sea, UK defense secretary was yesterday having a meeting with Jake Sullivan over shared security concerns. And my question: Has Secretary Blinken been briefed about the meeting, and is he planning to talk to Secretary Cleverly, or did he talk already? So if you can just tell us something about that if you have it.
MR PATEL: Sure. So I don’t have any specific bilateral or diplomatic engagements for the Secretary to read out. He’s obviously – is paying attention to the issues surrounding the conflict in Ukraine quite closely and receives regular updates. I don’t have a specific to offer in this scenario. But what I would say again is that we have not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture, nor do we have any indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. We’re going to continue to monitor this very carefully. Of course, these threats, we take them quite seriously. The use of this kind of rhetoric is irresponsible, as we’ve said throughout the course of this conflict, but we’re not going to be intimidated by this rhetoric and we’re going to continue to pay close attention on this.
QUESTION: Can I just also ask about the Western Balkans, because today Gabriel Escobar is in Pristina and he’s going tomorrow to Belgrade? I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but if you are, can you tell us a little bit about the meetings that took place today in Pristina and the expectations for the meeting with the Serbian president tomorrow in Belgrade?
MR PATEL: Sure. Let me see if I —
QUESTION: That Serbia-Kosovo conversation.
MR PATEL: So to take a step back, the U.S. fully supports this EU-facilitated dialogue, and as you noted, deputy assistant secretary of state within our EUR Bureau – Escobar – is traveling to Pristina and Belgrade to support this process. As you all know also, the Secretary had a chance to speak with both the Serbian president and the Kosovo prime minister early last week, and the Secretary underscored the United States support for the EU-facilitated dialogue and urged constructive engagement to secure peace and stability across the region.
QUESTION: But nothing about the meetings that took place today?
MR PATEL: I don’t have anything to offer immediately, but we’ll see if there’s a more specific readout coming.
In the back.
QUESTION: Yeah, to follow up on the earlier question about dealing with a new Congress and aid to Ukraine, one criticism some Republicans have had is that the U.S. has depleted some of its stockpile of certain weapons: Javelins, Stingers, things like that. Just yesterday a Republican congressman gave a speech at a conservative think tank saying that we need to stop aiding Ukraine because – or saying we need to be concerned about aiding Ukraine because we’re giving up too much of our own stockpile; we’re not replenishing it fast enough. When you – if you have do have to deal with a new Congress or just in general when you hear those criticisms, how do you respond to that particular criticism, that we’re putting too much of the U.S.’s own stockpile? And is there – is there any rhyme or any criteria by which you would determine that we are sending too much and depleting too much, or are we just going to continue going forward indefinitely?
MR PATEL: Well, a couple of things. First and foremost, again, this is a little bit a hypothetical, so I don’t want to get ahead of that. Number two, as the Secretary and the President have been quite clear since February, our commitment to Ukraine is ironclad and unwavering. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that they have what they need to protect their defense to – for their self-defense to protect their territorial integrity, to protect their sovereignty. I will let my Pentagon colleagues speak to specific assets within – under the United States ownership, but I can guarantee you that we would not do anything to infringe on our own defenses and infringe on our own national security, even when robustly supporting another partner like Ukraine.
QUESTION: Yeah, very quick question —
MR PATEL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — on a different region. Do you have anything – any comments on the state of peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan following the deployment of EU monitoring mission this week? I know you in the past – you did praise that step, but do you think it will help to move the needle at this point to bring longtime peace to the region?
MR PATEL: That is our hope, Alex. And that is something that the Secretary and Ambassador Reeker and others from in this building continue to push for as they discuss this issue. I don’t want to get ahead of that process, but of course our ultimate goal here is a peaceful solution and resolution between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the statement yesterday? On Cuba.
MR PATEL: Yeah.
QUESTION: There was an announcement yesterday of $2 million in aid. Can you just say whether this is a one off, whether there’s any direct contact with Cuban authorities on this, whether you see this in any way leading to a broader process?
MR PATEL: Sure. So this is – this was a result of direct engagement with the Cuban Government, and of course other stakeholders as well. I don’t want to get ahead of that process, but we stand with the Cuban people as they work through this and recover from this disaster. And we’ll continue to monitor and assess humanitarian needs in coordination with our trusted partners in the international community, and we’ll take additional steps if it deems necessary, but I don’t want to get ahead of – get ahead of that process.
QUESTION: You stand with the Cuban people, but you don’t stand with the Cuban Government; is that correct?
MR PATEL: Matt —
QUESTION: You stand with the Cuban people in trying to help – trying to help them recover from the hurricane damage, right, but —
MR PATEL: Of course.
QUESTION: — you specifically don’t stand with the Cuban Government and trying to help it restore the – restore normality after all of the damage that was caused by the hurricane. Is that —
MR PATEL: Well, the —
QUESTION: Is that a fair characterization?
MR PATEL: It’s – through this aid, we intend to work with trusted, independent organizations operating in the country who have a long presence working in hurricane-affected areas. And we’re currently reviewing applications for organizations, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and the IFRC, to provide assistance as well.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean the – but the point is, is the Cuban Government has asked for aid. You’re not giving money – and this is rather a small amount of money, $2 million; it’s not nothing, but it’s a small amount of money. And it’s going to the Red Cross, not going to the Cuban Government. And I’m not suggesting that it should be going to the Cuban Government, but I want to make sure that I understand that when you say that you stand with the Cuban people, you specifically mean that you’re not going to stand with the Cuban Government.
MR PATEL: We have directed this aid through this mechanism because we believe it is the best vehicle for delivery and the best vehicle for having direct impact on helping the Cuban people rebuild from this disaster.
QUESTION: Okay. Because you know that the Cubans, although they have thanked you for this small contribution, have also said in preparation for their annual vote at the General Assembly on condemning the embargo that they have lost $3.8 billion – minimum – because of the embargo. And so when you say that you’re standing with the Cuban people to help them recover from the hurricane, I just want to make sure that your – position of the U.S. Government is still the same, that you’re not standing with the Cuban Government to help it help the Cuban —
MR PATEL: That is —
QUESTION: — its people.
MR PATEL: That is correct. I am not intending to change U.S. policy.
QUESTION: All right. Okay. Can we stay in the Caribbean then, for just one second?
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: I just want to find out if there’s any update that you have on Haiti and the —
MR PATEL: Sure. So I don’t have a specific update for you, but to reiterate what we discussed a little bit yesterday – and I believe our ambassador up there, Linda Thomas‑Greenfield, spoke about this – that the U.S. and Mexico have worked closely on two new draft resolutions that we hope the Security Council will unanimously support: one, to impose financial sanctions, a travel ban, and a targeted arms embargo on criminal actors inflicting suffering on the Haitian people; and the other resolution authorizing a non-UN international security assistance mission to approve the security situation and enable the flow of humanitarian aid. But I don’t have any specific updates to offer.
MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:43 p.m.)
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