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Department Press Briefing – August 15, 2023 – United States Department of State

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12:09 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: All right. Kylie, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m gonna ask you the question I was going to ask the Secretary. It just occurs to me that he spoke about this weekend, the trilateral summit, and a broad range of issues that need to be addressed – economic, security wise. And many of those are inherently related to China, but even in response to Matt’s question, he avoided saying the word “China” throughout his discussion of the trilateral summit. So I’m just wondering why the Secretary is apparently avoiding outright saying that this weekend will be about the China threat in some way, shape, or form.

MR PATEL: So I will say a couple of things about that. First, the important thing to remember is that our approach to the PRC has been consistent from the beginning. And part of that – and you’ve seen the Secretary and others talk about this – is not just investing within ourselves, within the United States, but also deepening our alliance and convergence with our partners and allies, including, of course, the ROK and Japan. And to be clear, as you’ve heard us say before, we do not seek conflict or confrontation or a new Cold War, and you’ve seen consistent efforts on this from this administration to manage our competition with the PRC responsibly.

But another piece of this, Kylie, is that we are not asking countries to choose between the United States and the PRC. What this is about is offering countries a choice of what partnership with the United States could look like, what a shared vision for a free and open world and a free and open Indo-Pacific can look like. That’s not hyperbole; that is, in fact, our approach when it comes to the PRC, when it comes to countries around the world.

And I think where we are seeing that in fruition is examples of this trilateral engagement, where of course an aspect of this is deeper alliance with important regional partners like the Republic of Korea and Japan. But there’s also areas of immense cooperation that are important for the people of our three countries, some of these areas that you mentioned: climate, energy, economic cooperation, further security partnerships as well. A lot of these things I think you’ll see the leaders speak to at the tail end of this week, so I’m not going to get ahead of that process.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Can I follow up (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Olivia. Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, I think – we recently saw an historically large naval exercise jointly conducted by the Russians and the Chinese. So what effect do you think that these longstanding commitments that are expected to be made this weekend are going to have on what appear to have been really painstaking efforts by this administration to re-establish communication channels with China, coming as they are on the heels of other moves that Beijing has said or it views as provocative? And does Russia in particular stand to gain from a military standpoint here?

MR PATEL: Olivia, I would say that these things are not mutually exclusive. I think, one, we believe that it is important for us to manage our relationship with the PRC responsibly. It’s not just something that we expect of the PRC and ourselves; it’s something that the international community expects of us also. But through that, we also can continue to invest in ourselves, invest in our alliances and partnerships with countries in the region like Korea and Japan as well. But we also have been clear about the continued concern of the PRC and Russia closening their relationship and the steps that they’ve taken as well. So I don’t think these things are zero-sum. We can continue to pursue all of these things appropriately.

Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate during the summit that Travis King will come up in conversations since he’s being held in North Korea? Are there any concerns that the summit, which is expected to anger North Korea, might create danger for King and worsen his circumstances?

MR PATEL: So the second part of your question, I think, is a little bit of a hypothetical. I am just not going to speculate on that. What I would say broadly on the circumstances of Private King, I have no updates on this for – at this point. The Secretary spoke about this a little bit about a week and a half ago, as did Matt Miller, so no updates on that. And I will just let the summit go forward before previewing anything that might come out of it.

But I think to your point, Shannon, potential provocative action, potential activities by the DPRK that can be deemed as irresponsible and reckless, as destabilizing to the region, is one of the many things for why such a trilateral engagement is so important, and why we are taking the steps to further deepen our partnerships with the ROK and Japan.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Two questions. First questions: Today, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu said that military cooperation between North Korea and Russia did not pose a threat to other countries. How can you comment on this? Is that threat or what they say, it is not a threat?

MR PATEL: Well, Janne, you’ve heard us speak about this a little bit before, and we continue to remain deeply concerned that the DPRK continues to provide military support to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. And the Defense Minister Shoigu, as you noted, traveled to the DPRK to convince North Korea to sell more munitions to Russia to support Russia’s war. Another piece of this is Russia having to rely on the support of interlocutors like the DPRK, like Iran, who has provided them drones, as you’ve heard us talk about before. I will also note that our information indicates that Russia is seeking to increase this kind of military cooperation with the DPRK.

And so, again, any kind of security cooperation or arms deal between North Korea and Russia would certainly violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Vedant, one more quick on the —

MR PATEL: Nike, I’m – I’ll come to you right after.

QUESTION: I said two questions, I had two –

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION: To counter the U.S.-South Korea-Japan summit, Chinese and Russian ambassadors met and held talks in Seoul, Korea and Pyongyang. What symbolism you think this is?

MR PATEL: Sorry, could you repeat the first part of your question?

QUESTION: So the Chinese and Russian ambassador met and had talks in – between Seoul and Pyongyang —

MR PATEL: Got it, got it. So I think I spoke a little bit about this, so I will just reiterate that we are concerned about the PRC’s continued alignment with Russia. I will let those two countries speak to their respective bilateral engagements. But this is something that we are continuing to pay close attention to, and we have been clear to the PRC that providing lethal aid to Russia or providing Russia the means to systemically evade our sanctions would have serious implications.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the trilateral summit.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the extended deterrence amid the threats from North Korea? The United States and South Korea held its first Nuclear Consultative Group talks under the Washington Declaration. And will such bilateral cooperation be expanded to trilateral cooperation on extended deterrence?

And also separate, I have a separate question I will ask later.

MR PATEL: Okay. I think we’ll move to your separate question really fast, because the – this is all to say I’ve been doing this long enough to know to not get ahead of the President. So I will let the Camp David summit take place and let the leaders speak to any deliverables or announcements that are going to be coming out from that. What I can just say, and I would echo what you’ve heard the Secretary say, is that this is an important opportunity to deepen, strengthen some of the work that he started when he was deputy secretary of state with partners in the region, the ROK and Japan.

But why don’t you ask your next question?

QUESTION: Right. Can you talk about the improving ties between Japan and Korea? As you know, today is the National Liberation Day of Korea, where Korean people celebrate or commemorate its independence from the colonial rule of Japan. Can you talk about recent visits between these two countries? How does that help the trilateral cooperation?

MR PATEL: So I will let these two specific countries speak to their own bilateral relationships. But what I will just say is from the United States perspective as the third part of this trilateral engagement, that of course it is a good thing to see and something we certainly welcome to see the Republic of Korea and Japan deepening their partnerships as well.

QUESTION: And China has criticized the upcoming Camp David summit as an attempt to create a mini-NATO. Would you like to comment?

MR PATEL: So, again, what this summit is about is getting countries together that share a vision of a free and open world, a free and open Indo-Pacific, an area that is interconnected where people and goods can flow appropriately, where countries are free from coercion and able to choose their own path. And that is what we’re looking forward to having the leaders discuss this – at the end of this week at Camp David. And I’m sure that they will have more to announce from there as well.

Vivian, I know you’ve had your hand up patiently.

QUESTION: I was actually going to ask about China’s claims that this is a mini-NATO. But what assurances, if any, has the U.S. given China that this is not meant to be a provocation directly against Beijing, but it’s more about strategic alliances in the region? I mean, anything that has sort of eased that concern with them. Obviously, we saw Russia had similar concerns about the real NATO and claims – uses it as its claim or its justification for its actions against Ukraine.

MR PATEL: There’s —

QUESTION: And so what, if any, efforts are you doing to kind of prevent that from happening in East Asia?

MR PATEL: So there is no reason to view this summit as a provocative or any kind of step or effort to incite tensions. What this is about is deepening our partnership and collaboration on a number of areas that we believe are in the mutual, shared interest of our three countries. And a lot of those are going to be in a lot of various spaces. Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the President, and so I will let the summit speak for itself.

Said. You had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you. Switching topics.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions on the Palestinian issue and then a question on Julian Assange. I want to ask you the question that I would have asked the Secretary, had I been given the opportunity. I mean, he often talks about the two-state solution. The President talks about that. But now – I mean, it is probably easier to establish a colony on Mars than – at least – than a state for the Palestinians. My question to you: What practical steps has the United States taken in the past few months to reverse the settlement process, the balance that the Israeli occupation is inflicting on the Palestinians, the stealing of the land, terrorists that you call terrorists that are being let out the following day, and so on? What have you done in terms of practical steps, pragmatic steps away from all the rhetoric and your commitment to the two‑state solution? What have you done? And one last comment on this.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You have a normalization envoy, you don’t have a peace envoy. You don’t have a peace envoy, which the United States has had for decades, where you sort of started negotiations, brought people together, talked about this issue. You only have a normalization – so the effort, the focus is on normalization between Arab countries and Israel. So please just give me your thoughts on that.

MR PATEL: So let me start with your second question. First, the – I would just say in a broad brushstroke sense as it relates to all of U.S. foreign policy, the particular designation of somebody in a specific role or a personnel decision to assign someone to a specific portfolio is not necessarily indicative of the weight that our government places on an issue. And to that point, Said, I would say that we have been quite clear from every corner of this administration from day one of how integral we see a negotiated two-state solution as a peaceful resolution to the current situation.

I will also note that part of this, Said, is not having some sort of glitzy rollout of major policy steps or steps that we’ve taken. It is – to your question about what pragmatic steps —

QUESTION: Right. Right.

MR PATEL: — have we taken, it is about pragmatic diplomacy, which is something that this Secretary and others across this department, including individuals that you ask about —

QUESTION: Right.

MR PATEL: — Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf, Special Rep Hady Amr, others – have been engaged on quite directly. And so that is how we continue to see as the best path forward to getting us to a two-state solution is negotiating, discussing, raising these directly with the appropriate interlocutors. And that’s what we’ll continue to do. And when steps have been taken that we view take us further away from that, we across this administration have been vocal, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Yet not one settlement has been rolled back – please allow me. So I wanted to ask you, can you share anything more with us about appointing or nominating Jack Lew to – as the next ambassador to Israel?

MR PATEL: I have no personnel updates to announce at this time.

QUESTION: All right. And Julian Assange —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The ambassador – the U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said that there may be a plea bargain in the making. Could you share with us anything that is ongoing at the present time to have him finally released?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to share on that. I would let the Department of Justice speak to any of those pieces. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Two questions on Ukraine and one on the South Caucasus. Secretary in his opening statement urged the Congress to approve supplemental request. I’m just wondering if there’s any concern on your end that this might not happen, or is there any – what does traffic look like between this building and the Hill?

MR PATEL: So I’m just certainly not going to preview or try to look into a crystal ball. Our belief is, is – our view – let me take a step back. If you look at the support that we’ve seen for our Ukrainian partners from Congress, it’s been clear that it has been not just bicameral; it has also been bipartisan. And we expect that to continue to go forward. We think that the supplemental is an important opportunity to continue to support our Ukrainian partners. Of course, when it comes to continuing to help them defend their country and defend their territorial integrity – but also in a number of other areas, Alex, like supporting food security efforts, supporting energy resilience efforts, all of these things that we know that our Ukrainian partners need support on – we are in touch with Congress regularly on this issue and on many other things. We stay in close touch with them, and so we’ll continue to engage with them on that.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. was quoted by the media as saying that they are purchasing five new Patriots to be delivered next year. When should we expect from the State Department to send out a congressional notification of purchase? Are you guys working on that?

MR PATEL: I have no updates on additional announcements of security assistance, Alex. What I would just say – and if you look back at – over the entirety of this conflict – we have assessed the kinds of needs that our Ukrainian partners need, and we have attempted to meet those needs with the various provision of systems, either through us or either through allies and partners. And of course, that’s – you can expect that kind of engagement to continue, but I don’t have anything to preview.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. And moving to South Caucasus, if I may.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Armenia-Azerbaijan. Headlines suggest that tension is deepening despite your efforts to bring about peace. How bad is the situation in your opinion, and why is it so bad?

MR PATEL: So what I would say, Alex, is that we remain deeply concerned about the continued closure of the Lachin corridor, specifically its closure to commercial, humanitarian, and private vehicles. The halting of this kind of humanitarian traffic, in our opinion, it worsens the humanitarian situation and it undermines the efforts that have been in place to build confidence in the peace process. And so we urge the Government of Azerbaijan to restore free transit of commercial, humanitarian, and private vehicles through this corridor. We’re also aware that the UN Security Council has a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh, and we expect further discussions to take place there as well.

QUESTION: What is the U.S.’s position on that very issue at the UN? Do you have any message to send out to both sides?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to get ahead of the meeting, Alex. But we have consistently emphasized and reiterated the fact that direct dialogue is essential to resolving this longstanding conflict, and we think that any engagements that ultimately bring peace and stability to the people of South Caucasus would be a good thing and a positive step forward.

Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Vedant, I just want to follow up on the stuff that the Secretary said about Niger.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: He talked about the diplomacy that you guys are pursuing. But Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland was there, that meeting went rather poorly, and I’m looking at headlines saying West African army chiefs will meet in Ghana to prepare for a possible military intervention. So can you talk a little bit about or explain what kind of, like, diplomatic avenue is left that U.S. is pursuing right now?

MR PATEL: We continue to work with ECOWAS, with the African Union, with other partners around the world as well as regional partners to get this situation back on track and to maintain Niger’s hard-earned democracy. The Secretary, as you all know, has had the opportunity to speak with ECOWAS leadership. He’s obviously had the opportunity to speak with President Bazoum a number of times. Others in this department have had the opportunity to engage. We continue to want to see a diplomatic resolution to this. That’s something we know that is shared by ECOWAS and other regional partners, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to work towards. I don’t have a specific metric to offer you than, beyond to say that this is something that we continue to believe is an avenue, and we will continue to work towards that.

QUESTION: What about that window that we talked about in the past few weeks about the window of opportunity to try to reverse this? Is it – like, how open it is, I guess —

MR PATEL: We —

QUESTION: — or are you guys less hopeful?

MR PATEL: We continue to believe that that window is open. But of course, Humeyra, every day, every minute that President Bazoum and his family continue to be detained, and this – and every day that Niger’s hard-earned democracy is not respected, that window closes a little bit. And that is why we’re so actively engaged in this and why we’re hoping to find a diplomatic resolution to this.

QUESTION: All right. And finally, is there – like, specifically on this meeting between West African army chiefs that’s going to happen Thursday, Friday, do you guys have any specific plans to engage with them and ECOWAS afterwards to just sort of get some sort of a briefing perhaps or be involved in the (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: I will say I am not – I am not – I don’t have anything to offer on specifics as it relates to that meeting. But what I will say is that we are in constant touch with ECOWAS and ECOWAS leadership, and we anticipate to remain deeply engaged in this through ECOWAS, through the African Union, and through, of course, our mission in Niamey as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I —

MR PATEL: You had a follow-up? Go ahead.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up to that? I understand that given the nature of how President Bazoum was unseated, it makes it very complicated for the U.S. to express any kind of optimism for the current government, but the U.S. obviously has very significant national security interests in Niger. And so I’m wondering, absent any kind of dramatic change in the situation, would the U.S. be potentially open to some sort of constructive alliance with the coup leaders, for lack of any better options, just given U.S. national security interests?

MR PATEL: Vivian, we have been incredibly clear throughout the duration of this about the two outcomes that we would like to see, and that is, first, we want to see and ensure that President Bazoum and his family are kept safe, we want to see them released, and we want to see the hard-earned democracy of Niger respected. And that continues to be our point of view and what we are calling for in our engagements, and it’s a point of view that we know is shared by ECOWAS and the African Union as well.

Probably only do a couple more. Go ahead, Jahanzaib, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir, so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News Pakistan.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTION: So Pakistani authorities recently highlighted concerns over the $7 billion of military equipment left in Afghanistan. Pakistani Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Masood Khan claimed that this military equipment now being used against Pakistan by TTP, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, and Daesh/ISIS. So could you please elaborate on the measures being taken to effectively address the issue and strengthen Pakistan’s capabilities in countering these terrorist groups?

MR PATEL: So we are in regular communication with the Pakistani leadership to discuss Afghanistan in detail, including through our counterterrorism dialogue and other bilateral consultations. We have a shared interest with Pakistan, quite candidly, in combating threats to regional stability and remain ready to work with Pakistan to combat militant and terrorist groups. We also support the government’s own efforts to combat terrorism and ensure the safety and security of its citizens in a manner that promotes the rule of law. I don’t have anything additional to offer. Obviously, our Department of Defense colleagues can speak to specific systems and assets.

QUESTION: So what is the United States perspective on the new prime minister of Pakistan? His caretaker government is responsible to hold elections in next 90 days. How do you see this?

MR PATEL: So we’re aware that the PNA and government have been dissolved and note the announcement of Senator Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, and he has been named the caretaker prime minister, and we look forward to working with the interim prime minister and his team as they prepare to hold elections. We, of course, will continue to partner with Pakistan on areas of mutual interest, including our interest on Pakistan’s economic stability, prosperity, and security, and the conduct of free and fair elections and the respect for democracy and the rule of law.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hey, Vedant. Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Taiwan’s vice president transited through, will be transiting back through later on in a few days. There’s been the response from the Chinese foreign ministry, which is – usually does respond to these types of things. Has the United States noticed a change or evolution in the way that China has been responding to these types of transits?

MR PATEL: So I’m not going to assess or analyze actions that the PRC may or may not have taken from up here. What I will just say – and I touched a little bit on this yesterday – is that there’s no reason for Beijing to turn this transit, which is, as I – I will reiterate it is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy and practice – into any kind of pretext for coercion or any kind of provocative activity. We do not intend to change the status quo. Such transits are consistent with our “one China” policy, and that will continue to be the case.

Okay, last question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Thank you, sir. Saudi Arabia announced the appointment of its ambassador to the Palestinian Authority and a non-resident consul in Jerusalem. Next, the Israeli foreign minister said they will not allow opening a Saudi diplomatic mission of the – to Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. What’s your comment? And is this Saudi step related to the normalization with Israel?

MR PATEL: So I would refer you to the kingdom and the Israeli Government for comment about their own diplomatic interactions. As a general matter, we continue to support our full normalization with Israel, we – our support for full normalization with Israel, and continue to talk with regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, about how to make progress in that space. We continue to believe that regional integration benefits U.S. national security, it benefits national security interests, as well as the interests of our regional partners and the people of the United States.

QUESTION: Just one more on —

MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Just one more?

MR PATEL: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:37 p.m.)

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