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Department Press Briefing – April 30, 2024 – United States Department of State

1:17 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PATEL: Let’s see. I have – I don’t have anything off the top, so Daphne, do you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu said today that Israel will carry out an operation against Hamas in Rafah regardless of whether or not —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR PATEL: (Laughter.) Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, regardless of whether or not a ceasefire and hostage release deal is reached. Is it still the case that the U.S. hasn’t seen a credible plan for entering Rafah? And what will you do if they go ahead, as Netanyahu is warning?

MR PATEL: That is correct. We – it continues to be the case that we have not seen a credible plan that would address the varying areas of concerns that you’ve heard me talk about a number of times from up here and others, primarily the ability to address the serious humanitarian concerns surrounding – again, Rafah is a region with more than 1 million people seeking refuge, so that an area that continues to be an important conduit for humanitarian aid as well as the safe departure of foreign nationals. And so any kind of operation that’s – that does not address some of these key concerns would certainly be opposed by us.

I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals, but this is something we’re continuing to engage with our partners in Israel. Conversations continue to be happening at all levels, and we continue to press forward on those conversations and asking for what their plans may or may not be as it pertains to Rafah.

QUESTION: And are you concerned that this warning that they would go ahead with whether or not a ceasefire and hostage deal is reached could derail hostage talks?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate on that. What I can say, Daphne, is that we remain committed to reaching a deal for the immediate – for an immediate ceasefire that secures the release of hostages and allows for additional steps to be taken in terms of surging humanitarian aid, and something that we hope will help bolster the protection of civilians as well.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR PATEL: Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Israel’s track record in heeding to the U.S. statements or calls could be arguably not great. What gives you confidence or what makes you think that Israel would, in fact, listen and hear your calls not to go into Rafah?

MR PATEL: I’d dispute, though, the premise of that a little bit, Leon. Over the course of this conflict, there have been a number of endeavors in which the United States has pressed for that we have seen our partners in Israel undertake, dating back to the beginning of this conflict even in the early days of this conversation that we were having around humanitarian aid. We also continue to see steps being taken as it relates to their cooperation on a number of other lines of effort in the humanitarian aid space.

But both – look, when it comes to humanitarian aid, when it comes to the protection of civilians, and when it comes to a potential operation in Rafah, our answer continues to be we need to see more, we need to see more steps being taken. And as it relates to an operation in Rafah, we have yet to see a credible plan that would address the underlying concerns that I laid out to Daphne.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL: Olivia, go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Just because the Secretary was also asked about this not long ago. He said that the U.S. views on this were well known. But he didn’t address part of the question that – whether Israel had in fact committed to present a military and humanitarian plan. So absent the plans themselves, has there been a formal commitment from the Israeli Government to present those plans before launching any – an invasion?

MR PATEL: I am not going to be a spokesperson for the Government of Israel. Through the Strategic Consultative Group that you have seen National Security Advisor Sullivan and Secretary Blinken undertake their consultations with counterparts in Israel, discussions at those levels and through other interlocutors as part of those engagements, those conversations are ongoing. As the Secretary said, the United States position on this could not be clearer. For how long we’ve been talking about this, we have expressed our serious concern about any kind of operation that does not address some of these key pieces, and we’ll continue to stress and raise these very important issues.

QUESTION: Thank you. I mean, I totally appreciate not asking you for the Israeli perspective on this, only whether the U.S. has actually received a commitment from the government to have formal plans presented prior to any invasion.

MR PATEL: I am just not going to speak to further specificity about this process.

QUESTION: Okay. Two others on the region, if that’s okay.

MR PATEL: Mind if I jump to Gillian?

QUESTION: Sure.

MR PATEL: And then we can – we’ll – I’m sure we’ll get to everybody. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I’m just wondering if State has any comment or any information, anything today on the anti-Israel protests across the nation now, really going from California all the way to New York. A lot of these student protesters are accusing the Biden administration of being complicit in genocide. Wondering if you – if diplomatically —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — foreign-policy-wise, you guys have —

MR PATEL: Yeah, so I’ve spent a number of the last few daily press briefings talking about this, and I’m happy to reiterate what I said before. First, I will echo what the Secretary said in talking to one of your colleagues on the margins of his trip to Beijing. Demonstrating – demonstrations, I should say, expressing your opinion about any kind of government action, expressing your opinion about foreign policy, exercising your First Amendment right – none of those things are problematic or antisemitic or Islamophobic, in their own right. It is when those things are coupled with the use of certain language, and rhetoric, and insults that we have seen and have been part of some of these demonstrations.

Beyond that, those kinds of things of course we would condemn and take issue with. But we believe that every American has every right to express their points of view, to exercise their First Amendment right. When it comes to policies that are – that as it relate to any particular campus, those campus officials are better suited to speak to those policies that they have in place both in terms of dealing with expressions of First Amendment rights or otherwise. I am not in a space to speak to that.

But of course, everyone has every right to make their point of view heard, and from our perspective across this administration we’ve made clear that we insist that these happen in a peaceful, nonviolent manner. And any kinds of these demonstrations, when they are paired with or coupled with rhetoric, language that is antisemitic, Islamophobic, essentially insults or target someone for just who they are, that’s deeply problematic.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: One thing that’s kind of new as far as I’m aware is you’re seeing regimes now like the Iranian regime, China has started to weigh in – the government, and criticize the Biden administration’s response to these protests. We saw overnight the Chinese saying that the way the U.S. Government is responding is violating these students’ rights. Do you have a comment on these adversaries kind of using it as an opportunity to criticize?

MR PATEL: Look, the policies and procedures as it relates to demonstrations, protesting, things like that that may or may not exist on a particular college campus, or may or may not exist in a particular town, city, or municipality, it is certainly not in the remit of the State Department so I am not going to even delve into that.

QUESTION: Isn’t it hypocritical though —

MR PATEL: There’s other agencies that are better suited to speak to that. But what I can say broadly, we of course support anybody to be able to express themselves and to exercise their First Amendments rights. They should not and cannot become violent, not peaceful. And in those particular circumstances, we believe it is the right of the appropriate law enforcement and – enforcement and security officials to take appropriate actions consistent with the policies of that jurisdiction. Again, we are delving far away from foreign policy and into law enforcement, which is not the remit of this – of this department.

QUESTION: No, because what I’m asking really is: Is it not from a foreign policy, foreign relations, diplomacy perspective, isn’t it, I mean, hypocritical of the Chinese and the Iranians, some of the worst human rights violators in the world, to be criticizing the Biden administration’s policy response to America?

MR PATEL: I don’t think anybody in this administration is interested in taking a human rights lesson from the Iranian regime, or the People’s Republic of China for that matter. And both of those regimes’ crackdowns on self-expression, on free and fair press, on basic human rights, is clear.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: The image that it’s giving —

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on a couple of things.

MR PATEL: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on.

QUESTION: The image that it’s giving of the United States with the protesters being arrested is not necessarily the one you would want to have.

MR PATEL: Leon, there are laws in this country. Again, we are delving away from the topics that are discussed in this department. But if laws are being broken on certain college campuses, in certain municipalities, in certain towns, in certain cities, in certain counties, it is will within the right for the officials of those jurisdictions to enforce whatever laws that are so appropriate as it relates to that region. Beyond that, we fully support anybody’s ability to exercise their First Amendment right and make their opinions as it relates to any action or policy the government may or may not be taking and making their points of view heard.

QUESTION: Vedant —

MR PATEL: Said.

QUESTION: Thank you, I just have quick follow-ups and then I have a couple questions of my own.

Now, in response to Gillian, you said there are certain things that are being said in these protests that you have issue with. Could you share some of those with us?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to repeat them from up here, Said, but —

QUESTION: But you made an assertion that you are obviously in command of. What are these statements?

MR PATEL: Said, there have been a number of these demonstrations in which the imagery, in which the language that has been written on some of the poster material, has either been akin to what I would believe to be antisemitism. But we’ve also seen expressions, rhetoric, signage that is akin to Islamophobia and the targeting of Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans, as well. Of course any kind of language or rhetoric in that space is concerning, troubling, and unacceptable. But again, we fully support people’s ability to peacefully make their – express their First Amendment rights.

QUESTION: Now on the statement by the Israeli prime minister on Rafah, I mean, he is saying very plainly that whether there is a deal or there is no deal, I am going storm Rafah. And you don’t have a position on this? I mean, he’s not waiting for a deal to be arrived at.

MR PATEL: I think our position on Rafah – I really don’t appreciate you, Said, twisting my words or the words —

QUESTION: I’m not.

MR PATEL: — of the Secretary or other officials up here. We have made our point of view —

QUESTION: I am quoting what the prime minister of Israel said. I’m not —

MR PATEL: I understand. I understand your question. And in response to your question, and Daphne’s question, and the number of times that we have asked – been asked about a potential operation into Rafah from up here, we have been unambiguous about the concerns that we have when it comes to the more than a million people seeking refuge in that region, when it comes to this region in particular in Gaza being an important conduit for the delivery of humanitarian aid, it being a region in which foreign nationals at least at the beginning of this conflict were able to use, are able to use consistently for safe departure.

So any kind of operation that does not address these concerns would be a non-starter for us. And you’ve heard me say this. You’ve heard the Secretary say this. You’ve heard Matt say this; you’ve heard Admiral Kirby, Karine, the President. We have been consistent on this.

QUESTION: Yeah. So would it be appropriate for the United States of America to say, whether there is a deal or not a deal, we find that the storming of Rafah is unacceptable?

MR PATEL: I – we have been pretty clear about that, Said.

QUESTION: Very clear?

MR PATEL: We have been very clear that many – any kind of military operation into Rafah that does not address these concerns would be unacceptable to the United States.

QUESTION: Right. Now I have a question on the humanitarian situation. Officials at the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, leaked a – they leaked a document that says that the Israeli Government intently sort of put obstacles in the way of these humanitarian aid convoys or whatever, getting food to Gaza. Now are you aware of that report?

MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to comment on leaked documents, Said.

QUESTION: Why won’t you comment on this document?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to comment on leaked documents, on things that continue to exist under a deliberative process. I will just say that the Secretary and the leaders of this administration, they hear a diverse range of views from across this department, from across the interagency. When it comes to processes that are within the deliberative process, we take those points of view into consideration, but beyond that, I am just not going to speak to purportedly leaked documents.

QUESTION: Okay. Would you agree that there is a – almost a common opinion among professionals and experts and so on that Israel is in fact – and the prime minister of Israel are in fact – take measures day after day to sort of make these humanitarian aids, including American – large portions of American aid —

MR PATEL: I would disagree with your characterization.

Julia.

QUESTION: Thank you. I know the State Department and Secretary Blinken have made clear that the ICC doesn’t have jurisdiction in your view over the Palestinian conflict. But I wanted to get your response to remarks from Netanyahu just today, especially in context of the conversation we just had about the campus protests. He said, “Branding Israel’s leaders and soldiers as war criminals will pour jet fuel on the fires of antisemitism, those fires that are already raging on the campuses of America and across capitals around the world.”

Do you agree with that assessment that it’s antisemitic for the ICC to pursue Netanyahu? And what do you make of him connecting this to the campus protests?

MR PATEL: So fundamentally, at the heart of this, Julia, we do not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction over this issue, and that’s the crux here. Beyond that, I’d let the prime minister and officials within the Israeli Government clarify or offer any commentary on his comments.

But at the crux of this for the United States is that we do not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction on this. That being said, we work closely with the ICC on a number of key areas. We think that they do important work – important work as it relates to Ukraine, Darfur, Sudan. But again, on this particular incident – instance – in this particular instance, I’m sorry, they just do not have jurisdiction.

QUESTION: If I may, another on Saudi Arabia.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: There have been reports that Saudi Arabia has decided to normalize relations with Israel but is waiting to determine when they do that based on the U.S. election and the results of the election. What do you make of Saudi Arabia potentially weighing this presidential election so much, when the urgency is now?

MR PATEL: So I would – I’d defer to officials in the Saudi Government to speak to their position. I’m not a spokesperson for them. What I can say from the United States is that we also have been unambiguous about how we feel that a greater – a more integrated Middle East region is better for not just the interests of the United States, but it is better for peace and stability in the Middle East region. It is also something that we believe other officials across the Middle East region and Arab world view this as well.

We are continuing to work this. We think that Israel’s further integration in the Middle East region can unlock additional benefits. It can offer greater security, which is in the interests of the United States. It’s in the interest of the people of Israel, and it’s also in the interest of other partners as well.

But of course, we also are continuing to stress and underline the importance of doing everything we can to reaching a deal for an immediate ceasefire – one that releases the hostages, one that allows a surge of humanitarian aid into the region as well.

Go ahead, Nadia.

QUESTION: I don’t know if somebody asked you about this or not, but I want to ask you about the Amnesty International report.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So basically, Amnesty just published its report. I don’t know if you’ve seen it in details. But they say there is a reasonable evidence that Israel has committed war crimes, a gross violation of international – of human rights and violation of international humanitarian law. I’m just wondering – I mean, with something as serious as this from a very reputable organization, that normally use it to talk about rogue states, et cetera, when they finding and they publish their reports – why the State Department still now has not published anything to either contradict or to support other human rights organizations been talking about what’s happening in Gaza? Basically —

MR PATEL: So first, I’ve not seen that specific report, Nadia. But I think you were in the briefing room just about a week and a half ago in which we – when we unveiled the 2024 Human Rights Report, in which there was, in fact, a section outlining Israel and the Palestinian territories.

When it comes to the current conflict in Gaza – and I have spent a number of days talking about this – we are continuing to assess what is happening on the ground. We have a number of tools at our disposal to look into what is happening on the ground and, if required, hold appropriate and relevant parties accountable. You’ve heard us talk a great deal in this briefing room about Leahy. You have heard us talk a great deal in this briefing room about the CHIRG process. We continue to have those options as well as other avenues under the Foreign Assistance Act to look into these things. And as in any conflict zone, Nadia, this work is ongoing and we are feeding into that process in close coordination with not just our embassies and consulates, but also civil society, independent media reporting of such things, and, of course, NGOs as well.

QUESTION: Can you just assure us that, actually, you treat Israel the same way as you treat any other country that found in violation of international law? Because what we hear from you is all the statements and some actions, like we see with the settlers, but many believe that when the prime minister of Israel pick up the phone, call the White House, the finding is changed and delayed and pushed, just like we heard about – even the Secretary, we were together in Italy when he assured us that we’re going to hear about this report – about the Leahy report and the violation of using U.S. weapons. But we haven’t heard about it. So I just wanted an assurance from you that actually you’re taking these things seriously.

MR PATEL: Well, I spent about 50 percent of the daily press briefing yesterday talking about it, so I would take issue with how you laid that out. There are absolutely – we hold Israel to the same standard that we hold any country with, and that is with – in Gaza, outside of Gaza, anywhere. International law, international humanitarian law needs to be followed, and it needs to be abided by. And when we find violations or when we find issues that are concerning, not only do we raise them with the Israeli Government, we will take appropriate actions consistent with the systems and tools that we have in the United States to take appropriate actions.

I spent a great deal of yesterday talking about the Leahy process in which we found five violations of – gross violations of human rights. So when we see issues, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action. There is no different standard or different set of rules when it comes to any country on which we have a relationship with.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one final clarification.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary said that the offer they gave to Hamas is generous. Who decide what is generosity? Is it the United States and Israel? What is it – is it Arab partners in the Saudi summit that they decided it was generous? I mean, I guess my question: How do you define what is generous and what is (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: So Nadia, over the course of this conflict, we have seen Hamas move the goal post, renege on agreements that they have made as it – as relates to part of this deal. And so the Secretary was simply underlining the fact that we are in this position in which Hamas has a generous offer on the table, and it’s imperative for them to move and to act on it as swiftly as possible.

Olivia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just one point of clarification on Leahy, which I know you amply addressed yesterday, but you mentioned yesterday that the process was open-ended, right? It was subject to the MOU that exists between the Israeli Government and the United States. This new information that Israel has provided with regard to the fifth unit, is – can it continuously supply new information with regard to that unit until the U.S. sort of adjudicates in a particular direction? Or is this a finite set of information on whose basis the U.S. will decide whether to take punitive action?

MR PATEL: I would say the information is definitive and it is more that, consistent with the memorandum of understanding that we have, we are bound by that to consult and engage with officials in Israel on the process, on steps that they may or may not be taking, and we are assessing all of those things to ensure that they are in standard with what is laid out in the Leahy Law. And if not, as I said yesterday, there will, of course, be a resistance of applicable – a restriction on applicable U.S. assistance.

QUESTION: Okay. And then a separate question on aid.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Secretary from Jordan earlier mentioned the opening of new crossings into northern Gaza. I was hoping you could just update us on the overall metrics, on the volume of aid that’s going in, and how that compares to what the U.S. believes is necessary.

MR PATEL: So look, we are still very much in the same place that we were when David Satterfield came and talked to you all. We have seen some measurable steps in the right direction. Northern crossings including Erez and Zikim are preparing to reopen. We are seeing that routes from Jordan and Ashdod are showing progress, but not fully yet realized. And southern crossings, specifically Kerem Shalom and Rafah, have seen some fluctuating numbers of trucks, but trending in the right direction.

This is all to say that we still need to see more. And some metrics that I can offer is that April – on April 25th, approximately 303 trucks entered Gaza according to the UN; 282 trucks via Kerem Shalom, and 21 trucks via Rafah. That is not nearly enough, but it is a step in the right direction. We want to continue to see more. And I know also we spend a lot of time up here talking about trucks and their inflows and outflows, possibly because it might be the most digestible metric out there when talking about this issue.

But ultimately, when we talk about humanitarian aid, it is great to see trucks enter Gaza; it is even better when the humanitarian aid that enters Gaza is getting to the Palestinian people, to Palestinian civilians who need it. And we will continue to work closely with the Government of Egypt, Government of Jordan, Government of Israel, and relevant NGO partners, including the United Nations, to ensure that that final step is happening and it’s getting to the places it needs to go.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ve asked several times about the right to defend one’s self for Palestinians, and out of this room we’ve heard that the U.S. does not exhibit any double – double standards. And today in the West Bank there – the Israelis’ occupation forces chased, beat, and threw off a roof a 32-year-old man – Palestinian man, Hassan Mansiya, near – in the Hebron district. Also, the Israeli forces attacked at least two schools with tear gas, two – inside and outside schools in the Hebron and Jenin districts, where students were, and teachers, and some of them experienced some suffocation. Since October 7th, we’ve – I mean, we’ve had, like, what is it, 95 minors that have been killed in the West Bank. I asked before: Do Palestinians have a right to defend themselves? I’m not talking about rogue individuals. I’m talking about as far as a legal authority to defend Palestinians. Do they – does the State Department view that Palestinians have a right and duty to defend themselves?

MR PATEL: So look, I have not seen those reports that you outlined. I’m happy to look into them, and I have no doubt our partners in the IDF may be able to share more. What I can say is that actions like these, if true, they are destabilizing. They contribute to a deteriorating security situation, and they are not in the interest of Israel’s own security. And when we have seen actions like this, when we see actions from – we believe quite strongly that these kinds of activities take us away from a two-state solution, and they feed into further instability.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: That —

QUESTION: But does – does the Palestinian Authority have the right to defend its citizens?

MR PATEL: Absolutely it does. Absolutely it does.

QUESTION: It does? Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: A follow-up on the campus protests.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a question. The U.S. Government, everybody from President Biden on down to here at the podium has been quick to call out antisemitism at these protests, but there’s also been an enormous number of examples of Islamophobia and racism from counterprotesters. Why doesn’t the administration denounce that as well, and would you do that here?

MR PATEL: I did. You can check the transcript. I did.

QUESTION: Well, and let me ask you about Netanyahu’s – the news on Netanyahu today —

MR PATEL: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — where he said that even if there’s a hostage deal, they’re still going into Rafah.

MR PATEL: Ryan, you’ve got to be on time. You’ve got to come to the briefing on time.

QUESTION: Did you get asked about that this morning?

MR PATEL: I spoke to that too. Come on, man.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today photos of pier in Gaza were published. My question: Will the Palestinian Authority, PA, be the one who will control this pier?

MR PATEL: Sorry, you —

QUESTION: The port.

MR PATEL: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Today I – there is photos of this port published. I wonder if the PA, the Palestinian Authority, will control this port in Gaza.

MR PATEL: I do not believe that the Palestinian Authority has a role in the maritime corridor, but I am happy to defer you to my colleagues at the Defense Department and USAID to speak to this process in a little bit more specificity.

QUESTION: Don’t – just one – don’t you think this port will build over the Palestinian territories, and should Palestinian people have the authority over this port?

MR PATEL: So broadly, when we are talking about the future of Gaza and the future of a two-state solution and ensuring that Gaza is no longer a launch pad for terrorism against the Israeli people, part of that for us, of course, includes a Gaza that is reunited under the Palestinian Authority. But as it relates to this maritime corridor, I do not believe that they have a specific role. But that being said, my colleagues at the Pentagon and USAID may be in a better place to speak to some of the more logistical components of this.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. I just wanted to ask about the Erez border crossing.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: It’s also reopening in the north weeks after POTUS’s call with Netanyahu. What should we read into the timing of this opening considering that Blinken is now there to request more aid, and also this ceasefire deal hangs in the balance?

MR PATEL: I would not read anything into the timing of this beyond us just stressing, again, that all of these things need to happen as swiftly as possible. But we also fully understand that there may be steps that need to be taken in when factoring in vetting, safety, other things as it relates to crossings that are used for the inflow of aid. We are not naive to the fact that this is a process, but look, we have been clear that we need this to happen as swiftly as possible.

QUESTION: And I just want to touch on some of the other questions as well.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was it the U.S.’s aim to try to beat the clock on a Rafah invasion by getting the ceasefire deal in place beforehand? And if so, have Netanyahu’s comments this morning altered that at all?

MR PATEL: It’s not about beating any clock. We – if you go back and look at the history and trajectory of this conflict, there have been a number of instances in which we have been hoping, encouraging, working tirelessly for a deal that would release the hostages that we hope would be partnered with some kind of ceasefire. That has been our position for quite some time. And simultaneously, as it relates to Rafah, it has also been our position for quite some time that any kind of operation that does not address the sort of various components of humanitarian concern that we have would be unacceptable to us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Go ahead in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Any comment on John Bass’ trip to Doha and Islamabad? Was the meeting with Taliban official in his schedule?

MR PATEL: So, as you so noted, acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs John Bass is on travel to Doha and Islamabad. In Doha he’ll meet with senior Qatari officials and other diplomatic missions to discuss support for Afghanistan and other shared security interests in the region, and in Islamabad we expect him to meet with senior Pakistani officials and discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues as well.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR PATEL: Go ahead next. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know the State Department already talked about the Kurdistan Region’s local elections —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — some time ago, as it has been scheduled for June 10th. So now there’s a discussion that should be postponed for at least three months, so what’s your comment?

MR PATEL: So we understand that President Barzani and various Iraqi authorities and other political parties are actively considering next steps. From our point of view, we would encourage them to schedule free, fair, and timely elections, and we hope that process takes place, but I don’t have anything to offer beyond that.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have two questions on two separate topics.

MR PATEL: Great.

QUESTION: At the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, the President called on Putin to release RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva. I was wondering if the State Department is following up her case into seeing whether she’s been – she can be identified as wrongfully detained.

MR PATEL: So first, let me just say we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas, and in the case of Alsu Kurmasheva, we remain deeply concerned about her detention in Russia. And to echo the President, we believe she should be released, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and other civil society actors.

In terms of a wrongful detention designation, I’m just not going to get ahead of our process. There is a deliberative and fact-driven process underway. That process continues to be ongoing, and we constantly review circumstances surrounding detentions of U.S. nationals, so I don’t have anything to offer there.

QUESTION: How often – can you tell us how often you may review cases?

MR PATEL: I – we – I am not going to speak to the specifics of this process.

QUESTION: Okay, another one on Burkina Faso.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Voice of America and BBC have been banned there. I was wondering if the State Department is doing anything in that regard.

MR PATEL: So we are very alarmed that Burkina Faso’s Superior Council of Communication has suspended multiple independent outlets, including Voice of America and BBC, for covering the Human Rights Watch report about some recent massacres. You’ve heard the Secretary say, and including from this very podium, that far too many governments use repression to silence free expression, particularly against journalists and media organizations, for simply doing their jobs. Freedom of expression, particularly for media, is critical for accountable and transparent governance.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: You should allow more journalists as well, Mr. Vedant.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

QUESTION: I mean, one is – when you talk about free journalism, are you going to give a chance (inaudible) —

MR PATEL: You’re interrupting your colleague, Jalil.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

QUESTION: This is my third time and you have not given me a chance. Is this free journalism?

MR PATEL: You’re – I’m happy to come to you – I’m happy to come to you after.

QUESTION: Please.

MR PATEL: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks so much, Vedant. Can you please clear up – either validate or keep alive – some of the reports claiming that the U.S. has eased some of the sanctions on Russian banks, including central bank, to allow some energy-related operations? Why?

MR PATEL: I’m not sure what reports you’re referring to, Alex. What I can just say broadly, though, is that when it comes to our efforts to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its infringement on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our Ukrainian partners, we have not taken our foot off the gas, going back to February of 2022 since this invasion occurred. And we will continue to take steps both to continue to support our Ukrainian partners, but also through sanctions, export controls, and other measures hold the Russian Federation accountable.

QUESTION: So there is no shift at all in that policy?

MR PATEL: There is no policy shift at all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Poland, Poland today handed official request to United States to host nuclear weapons in Poland. Do you have any reaction?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any comment for you on that. I’m sure my colleagues at the Pentagon can speak to that greater.

QUESTION: Sure, thank you. And final topic on Armenia-Azerbaijan. The Secretary spoke with both leaders over the weekend. Any reason to why he called this – any, like, intel or any concern did he want to convey? And separately on Azerbaijan and human rights, a portion of the discussion was about human rights, but hours after that call Azerbaijan arrested another civil society leader. So how much is it the reflection of functional relationship?

MR PATEL: So first let me just say, Alex, it should come to no surprise to you that this is an area of the world that the Secretary himself is personally deeply engaged on. And over the course of his time as Secretary, he has had regular engagements at regular intervals with both of these countries. And our engagements with both of them are ongoing, and we continue to believe that a peace and – is possible here. And that’s something that we’re going to continue to work towards.

On the second question that you raised, we are deeply troubled by the continuing arrests of members of Azerbaijani civil society, most recently Anar Mammadli. And we urge the Azerbaijani Government to immediately release all individuals who are unjustly detained.

Jalil, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Vedant, and thank you very much, State Department, for bearing with me these nine years. Just one question, and then if you’ll allow me, I’ll ask another question.

How do you feel – when journalists here are friends with the same podium people from the U.S. since last two decades, and you guys – this administration since last two years – if a journalist doesn’t agree – agree with you, you just ignore them. I mean, this is the beauty of this newsroom. This is the beauty of this press room. Why you guys like – you guys not feel bad to be treating somebody like this? Like, what’s the reason?

MR PATEL: I’m sorry. Who are we treating in what way?

QUESTION: I’m talking about this gentleman right here. Since last two years —

MR PATEL: Did something happen to you?

QUESTION: Sir, I feel very ignored. I ask one question, and you pass me, you are —

MR PATEL: First of all, it is never a guarantee that everyone gets a question every day. We try our best to get to everybody, but sometimes we’re dealing with the confines of time. And I will just say, Jalil, in my time up here and Matt’s time and Ned’s time, we have taken questions from you pretty regularly.

QUESTION: I don’t agree. But anyway, thank you very much.

MR PATEL: Rabia, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just have a question about —

MR PATEL: You just used your one question, so I’m going to move – I’m going to move on now. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sir, I had a follow-up question on Kabul expansionism.

MR PATEL: That’s fine.

QUESTION: Under secretary is going there. The region has terrorism going on.

MR PATEL: Then you should ask that question, Jalil.

QUESTION: Half of the country is —

MR PATEL: Then you should —

QUESTION: Half of Afghanistan is under no education for girls. The under secretary is going. How do you feel talking to a nation where terrorism is once again growing up? Today in Kabul, six people were killed. Every week there is terrorism. Why is the under secretary holdings talks with the Taliban if the girls do not have education and what’s your interest there?

MR PATEL: So let me just say a couple things. First, I will just – since you’ve gotten us way off topic, if you have a question, you should ask a question, not waste your colleagues’ time about other things.

Secondly, I’m not aware of any travel to Afghanistan by any undersecretary, but let me just say that when it comes to our engagements with the Taliban, we engage when it is in the United States interest to do so. This is the best way to not just protect U.S. national interests but also support the Afghan people. Engagement allows us to speak directly with the Taliban, and it’s an opportunity for us to continue to press for the immediate and unconditional release of U.S. nationals in Afghanistan including those who we have determined to be wrongfully detained. We’ll also use those opportunities to directly talk about the Taliban’s commitments to counterterrorism, and of course, as always, human rights is also on the agenda.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR PATEL: Rabia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: A quick one: Do you have anything on the talks between Türkiye and the U.S. – U.S. energy firm ExxonMobil? A Turkish energy minister said that they are interested in diversifying Türkiye’s national gas supplies. What is your comment on this? And was this a topic of discussion between the two countries?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any more specifics to offer as it relates to the Secretary’s engagement with Foreign Minister Fidan, but let me just say I’ve seen those public reports, and I’m not going to offer anything additional on potential commercial negotiations, but from our vantage point we would encourage any country to diversify its energy supply and curb dependence on Russian energy. And to just broaden the aperture a little bit, Türkiye has played a very important role as the host of the Southern Gas Corridor in helping diversify European energy supplies and European gas supplies away from dependence on Russia, and as the host of multiple LNG liquification facilities which have received a lot of American LNG since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine.

QUESTION: Can I have a quick one on Middle East?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Hamas and Fatah leaders meeting in Beijing at the invitation of China? What is your comment on dialogue between Hamas and Fatah?

MR PATEL: So our message on this has been what it was since October 7th. If any country purports to have influence or relationships with Hamas, the message is quite clear: release every single hostage and it can no longer be business as usual. They should call on Hamas to lay down their arms, and that is the best and fastest way to get us where we need to be.

Taka, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the family of the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea met State official this morning. Do you have any detail about the meeting? Who met the families? How do you describe the meeting?

MR PATEL: So I’m happy to check if there’s any specific officials that we can share, but the U.S. stands with the long-suffering relatives of Japanese abductees, and we continue to urge the DPRK to right this historic wrong and provide full accounting of those that remain missing. And we don’t have any other meetings on this to announce at this time.

QUESTION: Details?

MR PATEL: I’m happy to check some more specifics but I don’t have anything for you at the – go ahead, Diyar.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You talked about the Kurdistan Region’s election —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — but I need a clarification on that. What do you mean when you say that you encourage them to schedule a free and fair election? Because it’s already been scheduled for June 10. Does the U.S. support rescheduling that election?

MR PATEL: Our understanding is that President Barzani and various other authorities are actively considering next steps, and we will let that process play out before commenting further.

QUESTION: Do you support rescheduling this election?

MR PATEL: That’s not for us to decide. What we would encourage is for these elections to be scheduled and for them to be free, fair, and credible. But beyond that, our understanding is that President Barzani and various other entities are actively discussing additional next steps.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Pakistani ambassador in Washington, D.C., (inaudible) Masood Khan, recently talked about the importance of Pakistan-U.S. security cooperation and the need to bolster Pakistan’s defense capabilities due to regional challenges. Do you have any – something to tell us, what kind of strategy or initiative both of our countries are working on to enhance security cooperation?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So the United States and Pakistan have a shared interest in combating threats to regional security. And we support Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism and ensure the safety and security of its citizens in a manner that promotes the rule of law and protection of human rights. Our partnership with Pakistan on security issues includes, of course, a high-level counterterrorism dialogue, funding robust counterterrorism capacity, and building programs and supporting a series of U.S. and Pakistan military-to-military engagements.

QUESTION: Sir, The Washington Post’s latest article revealed that Indian Prime Minister Modi inner circle, including spy chief Samant Goel and even the national security advisor, were aware of the assassination plot on a Sikh activist in New York. So how concerning is this for you?

MR PATEL: So we continue to expect accountability from the Government of India based on the results of the Indian inquiry committee’s work, and we are regularly working with them and enquiring for additional updates. We’ll also continue to raise our concerns directly with the Indian Government at senior levels, but beyond that I’m not going to parse into this further and will defer to the Department of Justice.

Julia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Sudan, I had a follow-up on —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s comments calling it a – the potential for a large-scale massacre. And she also said that the U.S. is appealing to countries, including the UAE, to stop support for the warring parties. Has any progress been made with the UAE and other countries, and what is the U.S. doing to try to prevent this catastrophe?

MR PATEL: So to put it bluntly, as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said yesterday, this – we certainly do not view this as conjecture, and we are seeing the possibility of history repeating itself in Darfur in the worst possible way. There are credible reports that the RSF and its allied militias have razed multiple villages west of El Fasher and are planning an imminent attack on El Fasher, putting 500,000 internally-displaced persons at risk on top of the 2 million Sudanese who call El Fasher home. We also know, as the ambassador said, that both sides are receiving weapons and other support to fuel their efforts. And we’ve directly raised our concerns about reports of UAE support to the RSF with our Emirati partners, and we have made clear that the provision of arms to either side only deepens and prolongs the conflict.

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

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: You said all – you said you’d take everybody’s questions.

MR PATEL: That’s not what I said. I said I would get to as many people as I —

QUESTION: You didn’t even —

MR PATEL: I said I’d get to as many as I can.

QUESTION: That’s not what you said.

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Daphne.

QUESTION: The Philippines today said a coast guard ship and a fisheries vessel were damaged by water cannons used by Chinese coast guard ships. This comes right after Blinken’s trip to China. Do you have any comment on this, concerns?

MR PATEL: So the repeated harassment of Philippine vessels near Scarborough Reef is detrimental to regional peace and stability, and our belief is that the Chinese coast guard installation of these barriers also endangers Philippine fisherfolk’s livelihoods and prevents them from exercising their legal rights to fish in those waters. These are rights that were set out in 2016 in a final and legally binding judgment in the Philippines-China arbitration brought to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, and consistently – and this is something that the Secretary made clear on his travels as well – is that we urge the PRC to respect the navigational rights and freedoms guaranteed to all states under international law.

All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

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