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Department Press Briefing – November 15, 2022 – United States Department of State

22 min read

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

3:03 p.m. EST

MR PATEL: Apologies. How is everyone doing?

QUESTION: There’s a little button you could have —

MR PATEL: Yeah, no, no, I know. I know. Just this is great. I actually don’t have anything off the top today so I’m happy, Matt, for you to kick us off.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks. All right. So let’s just start with the breaking news, right? Poland, these missiles – what do you know? I realize that the Pentagon and the NSC have already said that you’re looking for information, but what can you tell us? Has the Secretary been involved in any calls? Anyone else?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any calls from the Secretary to read out and would echo what our colleagues at the White House have said on this as well, which is that we have seen these reports out of Poland and are working with the Polish Government and our NATO partners to gather more information. We can’t confirm the reports or any of the details at this time, but I can assure we will determine what happened and what appropriate next steps would be. But I don’t have anything additional to offer at this point.

QUESTION: Okay. I guess that pretty much is going to end this line of questioning, at least from me because I don’t think you’re going to say anything else. So I’ll pass it on to someone else.

MR PATEL: All right.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Vedant, just the President basically multiple times said every inch of NATO territory will be defended. Are you able to recommit to that from the podium today regardless of what this is?

MR PATEL: Look, I don’t want to speculate about hypotheticals as this just happened within the past hour. And as I said, we have seen these reports out of Poland, and we’re working with the Polish Government and our allies and partners to gather more information and assess exactly what will happen. We’re going to do that. We will determine what will happen and determine appropriate next steps, but I just don’t want to speculate about any hypotheticals just yet.

Shannon.

QUESTION: Asking a more broad strokes question then, generally, will the U.S. look into the intent? How important is that in determining response if a strike is accidental versus if something is deemed to be intentional when consulting with NATO Allies?

MR PATEL: Of course that is something that would be of importance. And as I said, we will determine what happened and we will determine appropriate next steps. But like I said, this just happened within the past hour, and so we are still taking the important time to figure out the exact facts.

Kylie.

QUESTION: Logistics – on logistics. When it comes to triggering Article 5 of NATO, I know you don’t want to get too far ahead of where things stand now, but because this department knows really well how that process would work, could you just lay out a little bit of how you guys would go about that process and what it would look like for folks as we’re in this moment of trying to figure out what’s next?

MR PATEL: I certainly appreciate that question, but I do want to be very careful of not getting ahead of hypotheticals. I am happy to see if we have a specific sort of sequencing to share with you, but again, I want to be very, very careful about not getting ahead of hypotheticals here as we continue to take time to determine what happened.

Alex.

QUESTION: Vedant, has the department reached out to Polish officials? Do you have any communication with Poland?

MR PATEL: Like I said, I don’t have any – like I said to Matt, I don’t have any calls to read out at this point. But of course Poland is an important ally and partner, and like I said, we are working with them to determine what happened and assess next steps as well.

QUESTION: In a broader context, what is your confidence level that Putin is not targeting NATO, given his latest statements?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to try and speculate or try and get in the mind of President Putin or his intentions. What we do know is that this war has been one that is unjust. It’s been brutal. It has affected millions of lives, not just in Ukraine but across the world as well. And as you guys saw, in response to President Zelenskyy’s speech at the G20, what President Putin did was he met Ukraine with another round of cruel attacks that killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure.

So what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to stand with the government and the people of Ukraine who have stayed strong in the face of Russia’s brutal and needless onslaught for months, and we will continue to support Ukraine.

Camilla.

QUESTION: When you say you’re working with – obviously with the Polish Government and allies and partners, can you confirm that this department is speaking to Ukrainian officials and trying to get more insight from them as to what this might have been and whether or not they have responded at all?

MR PATEL: Camilla, we’re talking to a range of partners. But like I said, this just transpired so I don’t have specific calls or line item actions to read out for you. But again, I want to assure that we will get to the bottom of what has happened. We’ll determine what’s happened and determine appropriate next steps.

Leon.

QUESTION: Yeah. Before Article 5 is Article 4, which is on emergency consultations. Would the United States be ready to call for emergency consultations on this issue?

MR PATEL: Look, Leon, we of course are ready to stand with our NATO allies and partners, but I want to again be very clear that we do not want to get ahead of hypotheticals. We do not know what has happened yet. We have seen the reports out of Poland. They of course are incredibly concerning, and we’re working with our partners in the Polish Government and our NATO partners to get more information and to assess what has happened. And we will make that determination and we will determine appropriate next steps as well.

QUESTION: And just to follow up, certain media are quoting U.S. intelligence officials on their story. So I’m assuming that you are in contact with those officials.

MR PATEL: Leon, what I can say from this podium in front of you all on camera and on the record is that we’ve seen these reports and that we are working with the Polish Government and other partners to asses and get more information. We cannot confirm the reports of what has happened or the details, but we are working through that process to determine what happened and determine appropriate next steps.

In the back.

QUESTION: Marcin Wrona, TVN Warner Bros. Discovery from Poland. So you repeated a few times that you are working with the Polish Government on this issue. Who are you talking with, at what level if you don’t want to give any specific names? And also, if this is confirmed, should this trigger an immediate increase of the numbers of U.S. boots on the ground in Poland, maybe sending additional Patriot batteries fortifying eastern flank?

MR PATEL: I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but again, I do not want to get ahead of hypotheticals or get into a tit-for-tat of potential actions. What I can say is that we will determine what happened and we will determine what appropriate next steps to take. We are engaging directly with our partners in the Polish Government. I don’t have specifics to offer in terms of who and at what level. But like I said, Poland is an important partner, an important NATO Ally, and so we are continuing to work through this process and engage on this.

QUESTION: Okay, follow-up. Will Secretary Blinken want to talk to Minister Rau? Is a contact at this level possible?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any calls to preview, or read out yet for that matter, so we – I’m just not going to get ahead of that process.

In the back.

QUESTION: So not getting into hypotheticals, but President Biden did say and Secretary Blinken also has repeatedly said that U.S. is going to defend every inch of NATO territory, so can you just repeat it today as in principle? And do you have any reaction to just the overall attack, the barrage from Russia today? It’s been reported that it’s the largest one so far, the largest missile attack. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR PATEL: Yeah, I think I spoke to this a little bit in responding to Alex’s question. But first, to your first question, of course we stand by NATO and our NATO Allies and partners. This administration views NATO as one of the most important transatlantic defensive alliances out there. But again, I am not going to get ahead of hypotheticals as we continue to work through this process and determine what’s happened and determine appropriate next steps.

On the barrage of strikes that we saw take place in Kyiv, as I said, while President Zelenskyy spoke at the G20 about a path to a just peace and for ending this war, what we saw was Russia unleash a barrage of attacks that have killed civilians and destroyed critical infrastructure. And it is no surprise that after the Ukrainian liberation of Kherson that Russia has gone down the path of attempting yet again to plunge Ukrainian civilians into darkness.

But what the United States is going to do is going to continue to stand by the government, and the people of Ukraine and our commitment to our Ukrainian partners is unwavering.

Anything else on this?

QUESTION: One more question on this.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I know you don’t want to get ahead of this, but Russia is already trying to spin the situation here with the defense minister putting out a short statement saying that the reports of Russian missiles landing in Poland are, quote, “a deliberate provocation aimed to escalate the situation.” Do you have a response to what they’re saying about this right now?

MR PATEL: Well, the United States is certainly not trying to escalate or incite the situation at all. And like I said, we have seen these same reports that you all have, and we are working with the Polish Government to gather more information. And we are not at a point where we can confirm some of these reports that we are seeing, and that’s why I’m telling you that we will determine what exactly has transpired and we will determine appropriate next steps as well.

Let’s go over there.

QUESTION: I’d like to —

MR PATEL: Still on the region, or are we moving away?

QUESTION: On China.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine and —

MR PATEL: Let me do one more, and then I’ll come back to you. And then we’re going to work through them, Alex.

QUESTION: Thanks so much.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: In response to Putin’s terrorist attacks you just mentioned – over one hundred missiles have been – struck Kyiv and around – is it time for the department to revisit its decision on Russia’s SST designation?  And if not – if not now – then when?

MR PATEL: Alex, we have spoken about this quite, quite regularly, and our answer continues to be the same. And that is that we have – we have a number of tools in our tool belt to hold the Russian Federation accountable and to support our Ukrainian partners. We have done that through sanctions and export controls on Russia. We have done that through security assistance and humanitarian assistance to our Ukrainian partners. And we continue to assess that a specific state sponsor of terror designation would largely be a redundancy to the many lines of efforts that the United States has already undertaken.

Additionally, as I said to you about this a couple of weeks ago, we have – it’s been raised to us that a number of humanitarian organizations operating in the region – it would make their work more difficult if a specific state sponsor of terror of designation were to take place.

But I will remind you that we have continued to do everything possible to support our Ukrainian partners, including additional drawdowns earlier this month, as well as USAI packages. And we’ve continued to take steps to support our Ukrainian partners and to bolster their efforts to defend their sovereignty and defend their territorial integrity. I will also add that our sanctions and export controls are having a direct impact on the Russian economy and the Russian Federation. And so we will continue pursuing these lines of efforts as well.

QUESTION:  And let’s not forget Moldova as well.

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room, Alex.

QUESTION:  Moldova also got impacted today.

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room.  We’ve got a lot of questions. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Could you confirm that Secretary Blinken is going to visit China early next year? And what is going to be his mission?

MR PATEL: So in the follow-up of President Biden’s bilateral meeting with President Xi, it was determined that Secretary Blinken will travel to China at some point. And currently we are working diligently with our counterparts in the PRC to schedule a visit, which is tentatively planned for early next year. But I’m not at a point to offer any additional specifics on that.

QUESTION: And in terms of – on the talks between the United States and China, which have been suspended, do you have a timeframe? When are they going to resume, especially the climate talk? Has it started already?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a specific timeframe for you. I will note that Special Envoy Kerry has been engaging directly with his counterparts in Sharm El Sheikh at the COP27 conference. But to take a little bit of a step back, both – President Biden underscored that the United States and China must work together to address some of these transnational challenges, including addressing climate change, addressing health security, addressing global food security, and global macroeconomic stability. I don’t have a specific timeline to offer, but this was a key point of the bilateral talk.

QUESTION: And lastly, President Biden told President Xi in detail that the “one China” policy hasn’t changed. Does it mean Taiwan is part of China, and is this the message you are going to convey to Taiwan after the summit?

MR PATEL: Well, President Biden was quite clear in his remarks and in his press conference that our “one China” policy has not changed and that we oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo and have a commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Our position remains the same. We have this longstanding “one China” policy which is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.

Gitte.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Still on Asia or shifting away?

QUESTION: No.

MR PATEL: Okay.

QUESTION: Shifting away – Iran.

MR PATEL: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Special Envoy Rob Malley is – was in Paris today meeting with his counterparts from France, Britain, and Germany. Do you have a readout of the meeting?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer, but what I can say is that I can confirm that Special Envoy Malley is in Paris meeting with E3 partners, discussing a wide range of issues, but don’t have any other specifics to offer.

QUESTION: So it’s not just a one-day trip or – do you know?

MR PATEL: I don’t have additional specifics to his travel, but I can confirm that he is in Paris meeting with his – with our E3 partners.

QUESTION: Also it’s about two weeks now since Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the U.S. will support expulsion of Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Has there been any movement on that front?

MR PATEL: So – let me see if I – I believed – I thought I had an update for you on this. Let me check back on this, Gitte, for you specifically, about a timeline. I thought I had an update, but I can’t find it. We’ll circle back afterwards.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Staying on Iran —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — is there any more you can share about today’s redesignation of Wagner Group and the IRGC’s aerospace force?

MR PATEL: Yeah. So today the Department of State – and in conjunction with the Department of Treasury – imposed sanctions on eight targets in response to Iran’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, which included Tehran’s transfer of unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia, which are being used by Moscow to strike civilian infrastructure and cities in Ukraine. We designated a total of three Iranian entities, including those manufacturing and delivering the UAVs supplied by Iran to Russia. That includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace forces; it also includes Qods Aviation. And Treasury is also designating Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center. We are designating these – these actions include third-party designations involved in the transfer of Iranian UAVs to Russia, and this is, again, in the line of that we have been warning since July that Iran is planning to sell UAVs to Russia for use against Ukraine. We exposed this publicly, and this action is our latest effort to implement and enforce all U.S. sanctions on both the Russian and Iranian arms trade, and to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons.

Dylan.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we go back to China for one second? You mentioned health security just now, when talking about the topics that were discussed. The White House, they said that this was a topic that was discussed with the President and President Xi. Could you just expand maybe a little bit on what that means exactly, health security? What are some of the details of that and what you guys are working on there?

MR PATEL: I will let my colleagues at the White House and the National Security Council expand on any specifics that they can offer about the bilateral meeting. But what I can say and what is no secret is that between the United States and the PRC exist a number of challenges that impact not just our two countries, but countries around the world, and that addressing these challenges transnationally together is a better result for both of our people, but also for the world broadly. And that of course includes climate change. It includes global health. It includes health security. It includes global macroeconomic stability. But I don’t have anything other specific to add.

QUESTION: So you – so does that not include, like, things related to COVID-19, the origin of the COVID pandemic? Is that something that’s on the radar for when Secretary Blinken will be visiting next year?

MR PATEL: Of course global health security is on the agenda and on the radar, and of course ensuring that as a planet we are best prepped for any future public health crisis that may transpire.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PATEL: Okay. Oh, go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: No – (laughter) – I’ve got two. First, what kind of discussions have you had or what kind of notifications have you made to the Israelis about – regarding a potential FBI investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh?

MR PATEL: That would be for the Department of Justice to speak to, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, what kind of conversations have you had with the Israelis about this?

MR PATEL: As it relates to any potential law enforcement activity, that would be a matter for the Department of Justice, for them to raise.

QUESTION: So when the Israelis come to you and ask you what’s going on, what do you tell them?

MR PATEL: We would – it is for the Department of Justice to speak to law enforcement and any investigation.

QUESTION: Is there an investigation that – as far as you know – that the FBI is conducting into this?

MR PATEL: That is for the Department of Justice to speak to. That – I’m not going to get into that from here.

QUESTION: Okay. You have gotten into previous investigations into the deaths of American citizens, though, so let me just make that point.

Secondly, on a different issue, can you offer anything more than the – what was in the couple-paragraph readout of the Cuba migration talks today? Was anything significant achieved or agreed to?

MR PATEL: Well, Matt, these migration talks —

QUESTION: No, you don’t have to read the statement if that’s – unless someone for TV wants it.

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything additional to offer beyond what was in the robust media note that involved the topics discussed —

QUESTION: Robust? (Laughter.)

MR PATEL: — and the – that involved the topics discussed and that were raised in these routine migration talks with Cuba.

QUESTION: Okay. Speaking of robust statements, then, last night you guys put out a readout of the Secretary’s telephone call with Kenyan President Ruto, which was then immediately followed up with – immediately followed by a tweet from the Secretary saying he had an important conversation with President Ruto, about Ethiopia among other things. But the readout was literally two sentences long. Is there anything you can add to that?

MR PATEL: I don’t have anything specific to add as it relates to the Secretary’s call, but what I will use this opportunity to say is that we certainly – especially the Secretary – welcome the November 12th declaration by Ethiopian Government and Tigrayan regional leaders in Nairobi to advance the implementation of the November 2nd cessation of hostilities that were agreed upon in Pretoria. And we strongly urge them to honor the cessation of hostilities and expedite unhindered humanitarian assistance. But don’t have anything specific to offer beyond that when it comes to the call.

QUESTION: Vedant?

MR PATEL: Yeah, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Can I just ask about —

MR PATEL: One second. Do you have anything else, Matt, before I —

QUESTION: No. No, no, that was it.

MR PATEL: Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just about Shireen Abu Akleh.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: So U.S. has repeatedly called for accountability over her killing. At this point in time, does the United States believe that accountability has been achieved?

MR PATEL: Let me — I will answer your question, Humeyra, but let me just take a little bit of a step back, because I don’t want my answers to Matt be taken out of context here.

QUESTION: What —

MR PATEL: If you’ll allow me. Any action from the Department of Justice, law enforcement or investigatory, would be for them to speak to. That’s not a State Department equity. The State Department, its authority into investigations, is generally limited into the deaths of U.S. Government employees, their eligible family members, and security responsibilities as it relates to the Secretary of State and other principals. Whether the Department of Justice takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun, that is for them to speak to. That is not an equity here for the State Department. That is not something I am going to be able to speak to.

On your question, Humeyra, we continue of course to underscore the importance of accountability in this case, and we continue to call and press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, to protect journalists, and to ultimately prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

QUESTION: You had raised these rules of engagement with them earlier. Did you get any positive feedback or any sign that they would actually review this and make any changes?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific readouts to offer as it relates to our engagements on this.

QUESTION: Do you assess or think that it is within U.S.’s right to launch its independent – its own investigation on this?

MR PATEL: That’s for the —

QUESTION: This is a U.S. citizen.

MR PATEL: That is for the Department of Justice to determine. That’s not for the State Department or, frankly, any other entity of the interagency to —

QUESTION: Can I – just – you – tell me if I got this wrong. This is what my Otter transcript says that you just said. “Whether the Department of Justice takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun, that is for them to speak to. That is not an equity here for the State Department.” How is that possible? On any subject under the sun?

MR PATEL: I don’t understand your question, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand your response. This is a —

MR PATEL: Whether they – whether they decide to pursue a law enforcement —

QUESTION: That’s not an equity? It is not an equity for the State Department if there’s an investigation into the murder or the killing of a U.S. citizen?

MR PATEL: The —

QUESTION: That is certainly number one priority of this department and has been for decades and decades and decades, is the protection or the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.

MR PATEL: And it still is. And it still is.

QUESTION: Okay. So then what – then whether – then I don’t understand why you say that whether the department takes part in any law enforcement activity on any subject under the sun is not for you to speak to. Of course it’s for you to speak to if you think that there needs to be an investigation into it that’s – especially if it involves a U.S. citizen. Right?

MR PATEL: I would just disagree with that characterization. Whether the Department of Justice decides to investigate something, that is for them to speak to. That’s not for us to speak to.

QUESTION: Fine, but it’s not like you don’t have any equities at all.

MR PATEL: Sure. Sure. I perhaps —

QUESTION: The safety – the welfare and safety of American citizens —

MR PATEL: Of course the safety – of course the —

QUESTION: — overseas is the Department of State’s number one priority.

MR PATEL: Of course, and it continues to be. But whether the Department of Justice chooses to pursue law enforcement activity into something like this is for them to speak to. That’s not something I am going to get into here or anything that I have to offer on that is the point that I was trying to make.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR PATEL: Camila.

QUESTION: Vedant, just staying on this for – when you and Ned have spoken about accountability, you’ve talked about it in the context of working with Israeli partners on their investigation, with the Palestinian Authority on their investigation, and now you have a U.S. investigation. So there seems to have been a shift in what this department thinks and what the Justice Department is doing. Would you characterize an FBI investigation as unusual or unprecedented, what they’re doing with Israel? And also, did the Department of Justice give this department a heads-up that that’s what they were going to do?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to characterize that one way or the other, and I don’t have any interagency conversations to read out specifically.

In the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m curious because yesterday the White House said in its readout from the – from the meeting between Presidents Biden and Xi that they both underscored their opposition to the threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but the Chinese readout didn’t include that. Do you have any comment on that, why —

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to something that —

QUESTION: I mean —

MR PATEL: — exists or doesn’t exist in the Chinese readout. But what I can say and that – what we reiterated in ours and you saw the President speak to in his remarks in Indonesia was that the President, President Biden, and President Xi both reiterated their understanding that a nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won, and underscored their opposition to any use of – threat of use of nuclear weapons in relation to the war in Ukraine.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Moldova was also impacted by Russian massive missile attacks today. As you know, it caused —

MR PATEL: Can you – can you repeat the first part of the question?

QUESTION: Yeah, Moldova also got impacted by Russian massive attacks today. It’s caused electricity disruption in Moldova. I want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about Russia’s threat that going beyond Ukraine given its latest actions in Ukriane.

MR PATEL: I’ve not actually seen those reports, Alex, so I’m going to have to follow up with you afterwards and see if we can get you something specific there.

Did you have a question?

QUESTION: Vedant, did you guys pin down whether or not Brittney Griner has reached the penal colony? Do you have any latest update on – do you have any update on her exact whereabouts?

MR PATEL: We are aware of the reports of her location and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team, but the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest and disagree with. The – our mission in our embassy in Russia has continued to press for more information about her transfer and her specific current location. Following this sham trial and the unjust sentencing, the Russian Federation is transferring her from a prison to a remote penal colony.

QUESTION: Are you able to say anything about what Bill Burns talked when it comes to her and Paul Whelan with his Russian counterpart yesterday in Ankara?

MR PATEL: So, from the very beginning we have been very open about the fact that we have channels to communicate with Russia on managing risk, especially nuclear risk and risks to strategic stability. And as part of that effort, CIA Director Bill Burns went to Ankara to meet with his Russian intelligence counterpart. He conveyed a message on the consequence of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and the risks of escalation to strategic stability. He also raised the cases of unjustly detained U.S. citizens, but I don’t have any other specifics to offer at the moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: All right. Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)

More from: Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

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