Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson
2:20 p.m. EST
MR PATEL: Good afternoon. Sorry about the technical difficulties. I don’t have anything off the top today. So Humeyra, if you want to start us off.
QUESTION: Okay, Vedant. Thanks. So I want to ask a little bit about yesterday’s events. We have a White House statement that basically says: we haven’t seen anything that would make us doubt what the Poles are saying. But we have Zelenskyy saying he has no doubt that it wasn’t a Ukrainian air defense missile. Why such a big discrepancy?
MR PATEL: So Humeyra, I would echo what our colleagues from the National Security Council said, which is that we have full confidence in the Polish Government’s investigation of the explosion near their border with Ukraine, and we commend them for the professional and deliberate manner in which they are conducting it. And as the NSC said, we have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.
As it relates to President Zelenskyy’s comments, we’ve seen those, we’re aware of his comments, and we’re going to continue to convey information to our Ukrainian partners as the facts on the ground and more information comes to light. But like I said, we don’t have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.
QUESTION: Right. So Secretary yesterday had a call with his Ukrainian counterpart. Was there any pushback there from him saying that, like, we think this is coming – this is Russian-fired? What was that conversation like? I’m asking because today we have this massive —
MR PATEL: Sure. Sure. So Secretary Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Kuleba last night, and the crux of that call was to continue to show our support to the Ukrainian people, but also exchange information. As part of these ongoing engagements with our partners, Secretary Blinken also spoke with Foreign Minister Rau of Poland, President Biden had the opportunity to speak with President Duda, and President Zelenskyy also had been in touch with President Duda to clarify facts as well.
To widen the aperture here a little bit, Humeyra, I think one important thing to be very mindful is that wherever the final conclusions may land, it is clear that ultimately the party responsible for this tragic incident is Russia. We are having this conversation because of Russia’s unjust and — and its barbaric assault on Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty. And specifically, we’re having today’s conversation because Russia launched a barrage of missiles on Ukraine specifically targeted towards civilian and energy infrastructure. And so, like I said, we’re continuing to engage with our Polish partners and our allies in the region, but again, we’ve not seen anything to contradict what President Duda had been saying.
QUESTION: Right, but are you guys a little bit surprised or confused by what’s coming out of Ukraine and Zelenskyy?
MR PATEL: Again, we’re aware of President Zelenskyy’s comments and we’re going to continue to convey information to our Ukrainian partners. But we do not have any information that would contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.
QUESTION: Just one last thing on this. When Secretary was speaking with his Ukrainian and Polish counterpart yesterday, was there any urge of calm and more measured public statements in any of those calls? Because the initial sentiment right after this happened – obviously, nobody knew anything – but was panic. So was there any urging from Secretary Blinken that, like – to take the temperature down?
MR PATEL: I’m not going to get into specifics of the conversations beyond what we read out. But I think you’ve seen, across the interagency, us speak in unison about the need to get to the bottom of the facts and a need to get all the information out there. And that’s what I indicated to you all yesterday when you asked about this, and I would reiterate again that we don’t want to get ahead of the work that is taking place, the investigation, and we remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts. But we have seen nothing to contradict what President Duda’s preliminary assessment was.
QUESTION: Have there been any conversations with Russian officials in the wake of this missile attack? General Milley said he was unable to get in contact with his Russian counterpart. So has anyone from this building been able to get in contact with the – them?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific conversations to read out with Russian officials.
QUESTION: Is that something that you’re seeking out at all to have a conversation around this?
MR PATEL: I think the broader concern here, Jenny, is, like I said, is that we are having this conversation in light because Russia decided to unleash a barrage of missiles on Ukrainian territory with the direct intent to target civilian infrastructure. And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners as they defend their territorial integrity and their sovereignty. And as it – as it relates to the events in Poland yesterday, we’re going to continue to engage with our Polish partners. As the President said yesterday in Asia, we’ve agreed to offer support throughout this whole process, and we’re going to continue to do that and remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts.
QUESTION: But Milley also said he sees there could be potentially a political solution environment between Russia and Ukraine right now to discuss diplomacy. Does the U.S. State Department agree with that assessment?
MR PATEL: Well, you’ve seen even President Zelenskyy speak about the need for this conflict to resolve through diplomacy and through negotiations and discussions. But we have not seen any kind of concerted effort from the Russian Federation to do so. And so the part that we’re going to play is that we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through security assistance, through humanitarian assistance, and we’re going to continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its actions, which we’ve done so through sanctions and export controls and other measures as well.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. I want to go back to your exchange with Humeyra. You said we have nothing to contradict President Duda’s comments. Is there any particular quote or comment that you’re referring to? I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here.
MR PATEL: Sure. So you saw clearly President Duda offered a preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that, unfortunately, landed in Poland. And what I was offering to Humeyra is that we have seen nothing that contradicts those preliminary assessments.
QUESTION: But you also have nothing to contradict what President Zelenskyy said, right? He said: I have no doubt that I was – it was not our rocket.
MR PATEL: Alex, we have seen President Zelenskyy’s comments and we are continuing to engage with our Ukrainian partners and convey information to them. That was in the large part of the crux of Secretary Blinken’s call with Foreign Minister Kuleba yesterday – is to convey information and to have that discussion. But as I said before, we do not have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings here.
QUESTION: We have these two – on this occasion, like, two contradicting statements from two neighboring countries. This doesn’t look good. I mean, it does create an impression that some side, in this case the West, is being part a cover-up. Can you just explicitly say if you are – are not going to at any point be part of any cover-up in this case?
MR PATEL: Alex, I think you’re trying to categorize something that’s not there. I will let President Zelenskyy and our Ukrainian partners speak for himself and themselves. We’ve seen those comments and we continue to engage with them directly as it relates to conveying information and offering information and facts as we – as those come to light in conjunction with our Polish partners. But again, we have not seen anything to contradict President Duda’s preliminary assessment on this, which was that this explosion was most likely caused by the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland.
But again, I would be remiss not to again reiterate that we are having this conversation because on – back in February, Russia decided to unjustly and illegally invade Ukrainian territory and assault Ukrainian sovereignty. Ukraine has every right to defend itself. And specifically in the actions of this week, we’re talking about this because Russia decided to unleash a barrage of missiles on Ukraine, directly targeting civilian and energy infrastructure.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Iran continues detaining children, 43 of them, based on New York Times. When does the U.S. plan to request the UN Human Rights Council convene to condemn Iran’s actions, especially children and killing of more than 300 demonstrators?
MR PATEL: So a couple of things. First and foremost, we continue to be deeply concerned about the reports of mass arrests and sham trials – and now death sentences – for protestors. For over two months since these protests have began, security authorities have killed hundreds of peaceful protestors, who are outraged – as we are outraged – by the death of Mahsa Amini. Many of these have been women and girls, and the bravery of Iran’s women and girls are – continue to be the face of these protests. And the violent crackdown and their resilience is an inspiration to the world.
Specifically on the UN, on – later this month on November 24th, the UN Human Rights Council will hold an urgently warranted special session to address the worsening human rights condition in Iran, especially as it relates to women, girls, and children. The U.S. strongly supports this call for a special session, which was requested by our German partners and our partners in Iceland. And the world is watching in horror as the Iranian regime continues to violently crack down on peaceful protestors by its citizens.
I will echo what Secretary Blinken said in September, which was that the Iranian Government needs to end its state-sponsored violence against women and to allow peaceful protest. The U.S. is going to continue to voice our support for human rights and our support for the Iranian people.
QUESTION: An unanswered question about the drones and missile attacks of Iraqi Kurdistan and targeting civilian camps of Iranian Kurds over there. Personally, I visited over there couple of times – no any military activities over there. And what’s your plan and how will be your respond to stop this kind of attack by Iranian regime? Because it’s targeting Iraqi Kurdistan as your partner, whole of Iraq, and happened couple of times.
MR PATEL: Sure. So —
QUESTION: And why I’m asking this question? Because Iraqi sky is under your control, and you are powerful country. And you have a technology, you have a stronger army, and —
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: — technology. Please.
MR PATEL: So you’ve seen us speak to this a number of times before. And what I would say as it relates to Iran and the continued malign and destabilizing activities that Iran takes part in, not just in its immediate region but in the world more broadly, we have a number of tools at our disposal to continue to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we’ve done that. You’ve seen the State Department and the Treasury Department do that as recently as today and as recently as this week.
But specifically on the attacks in Iraq, you saw we put out a statement on this very subject earlier this week, in which that we strongly condemn Iran’s continued missile and drone attacks against the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. And we call on Iran to stop these attacks and to refrain from further threats against Iraq’s territorial integrity. And we stand with our partner’s, the Government of Iraq’s, objective to preserve the country’s security, stability, and sovereignty.
QUESTION: But your ally and your partner believe statement is not work – you should do something.
MR PATEL: Like I said, we continue to have a number of tools at our toolbelt to hold Iran accountable. I’m not going to read them out from here, but we’ll continue to do what is in our power to hold the Iranian regime accountable.
Shannon, you had your hand up before?
QUESTION: Yes, is —
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran, just quickly
MR PATEL: Oh, let me do that and then I’ll come back to you. Go ahead, Humeyra. Yeah.
QUESTION: You just said for over two months since these protests have begun, security forces have killed hundreds of peaceful protesters. I heard you right?
MR PATEL: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is that an independent U.S. assessment?
MR PATEL: I will see what – the cite we have on that, but I believe that we’ve previously cited credible human rights organizations in the region who have been operating, who have been offering that statistic, but I will see if we have more specifics.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PATEL: Shannon.
QUESTION: Looking ahead to further engagement with China next year with the Secretary traveling there, wanted to ask you on the outlook of North Korea. Do you think that – or does the department think, rather, that China can step up and be a partner in countering North Korea as it moves toward what we anticipate will be a nuclear test and continues to fire missiles regularly?
MR PATEL: So in the bilateral meeting that President Biden had with President Xi, he raised concerns about the DPRK’s provocative behavior and noted that all members of the international community, including the PRC, have a vested interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly. And the PRC has a responsibility to make clear to the DPRK that Pyongyang should not engage in unlawful and destabilizing nuclear or ballistic missile tests. President Biden raised that directly. And we continue to be open to engaging with the PRC to manage the threat posed by the DPRK not just in the region, but the threat that they pose more broadly.
Our belief continues to be that we must limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its unlawful ballistic missiles program and its weapons of mass destruction program. And our goal continues to be, quite clearly, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we remain prepared to be engaged in sustained dialogue and serious diplomacy towards making that progress, whether that be with the PRC or other partners in the region, like our partners in the Republic of Korea and Japan who have also – we’ve been engaging quite closely on this. So, yeah.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Last Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans participated in massive pro‑democracy demonstrations across the country in defense of the independent electoral institute. What is the State Department’s position regarding these demonstrations?
MR PATEL: Thanks for your question. So we are aware of the “Don’t Touch the National Electoral Institute” protests throughout Mexico that took place this past weekend, as you mentioned, and our viewpoint is this: is that independent institutions free of political influence are a cornerstone of democracy. And nonpartisan electoral institutions in particular ensure that all voices are heard in fundamental, democratic processes. But I don’t have anything other specific to offer.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the same note. Senator Bob Menendez, the president of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, said this week that he expects that the Biden administration will ramp up its efforts to support Mexico’s democratic institutions. What is your reaction to this and to the senator’s concerns?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific actions to preview or to share that are coming down the pike. What I would say is that Mexico is an important regional partner on a number of issues, but as – again, as it relates to these protests, we’re aware of them and our viewpoint is that independent institutions that are free of political influence are a cornerstone to democracy. But I don’t have anything else to offer.
QUESTION: But you understand the senator’s concerns, right?
MR PATEL: Again, I have not seen the senator’s comments and I don’t want to get ahead of any potential American action or anything like that.
Go ahead, in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR PATEL: Him, then I will work the room. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan finally backed out of his allegations on the United States. In his recent interview, he said he no longer blamed the U.S. administration for removing him from power. What are your thoughts on this?
MR PATEL: So let’s take a little bit of a step back. The U.S. values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan and has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to U.S. interests. That remains unchanged. And we don’t have a position on one political candidate of a party versus another. We support peaceful upholding of democratic, constitutional, and legal principles. And ultimately, we will not let propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation get in the way of any bilateral relationship, including our valued bilateral partner with Pakistan.
QUESTION: What would you say about his recent statement, like – he is, like – he backed out.
MR PATEL: As we’ve previously said, there has – there is not and there has never been a truth to these allegations, but I don’t have anything additional to offer.
QUESTION: So in that interview, he also termed his Moscow visit as embarrassment. He said that it was embarrassing to visit Moscow on the day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Earlier, the statement was totally different. He was saying that it was in the national interests of Pakistan; that’s why he visited Moscow. So again, he’s backing out his previous statement, so any thoughts, your comment?
MR PATEL: I really don’t have anything else to offer on Foreign Minister – or former Prime Minister Khan’s comments on that.
QUESTION: His recent statements suggest that he’s trying to reconnect with the United States. And is there any recent contact with former Prime Minister Imran Khan or his party members? Because there were rumors that Ambassador – U.S. ambassador in Islamabad met with the leadership – with his party leadership in Islamabad.
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific meetings or calls to read out, but to the front part of your question, again, the U.S. values our longstanding cooperation with Pakistan. It has always viewed a prosperous and democratic Pakistan as critical to our interests not just in the region, but also the world more broadly.
QUESTION: And one last question, sir. The UN session – there was voting in UN – United States General Assembly and your close partner India was absent. Apart from India, there were, like, a total of 75 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, even Israel, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka were absent from the voting. I mean, what’s the reason United States not able to get these countries to vote against Russia?
MR PATEL: I will let our mission in New York speak more in detail about any potential resolution vote, but what I’ll say is this: is that since the first days of Russia’s unjustified and barbaric and unprovoked war against Ukraine, we have had continuous communications with our Indian counterparts about what we can do together to hold Russia accountable and to impose consequences for its brutal war. The Secretary had the opportunity to host External Affairs Minister Jaishankar here a number of months ago. They also had a bilateral engagement on the margins of the ASEAN summit as well. And although we may sometimes vary on our policy approaches, we – the United States and India – share a commitment to upholding the rule-based international order that respects territorial integrity and sovereignty.
MR PATEL: Sure.
QUESTION: Did Ukraine offer you through diplomatic channels anything to back the claims by President Zelenskyy that it was a Russian missile?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any other specific details to offer from readouts of calls that we’ve had with our Ukrainian partners. I will again reiterate what I’ve said to your colleagues in the room, which is that we are aware of these comments, but ultimately, as we’ve said before, we don’t have any information to contradict Poland’s preliminary findings.
But again, I think the important thing to remember here is that these actions – these follow-on actions are all a result of Russia’s unjust and barbaric war in Ukraine, and specifically these – the events in Poland are a result of Russia’s barrage of missiles on Ukraine, on Ukrainian territory, with a direct attempt to hit civilian infrastructure, energy infrastructure, which is appalling; we condemn it, and just another example of Russia’s barbaric actions.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. engagement in the investigation on the ground in Poland? And also, are there any measures that could be undertaken to prevent such accidents in the future if that was an accident?
MR PATEL: So I’m just not going to get ahead of the work that is ongoing as it relates to the investigation. We remain in close touch with our Polish counterparts. As you saw, President Biden spoke to this yesterday. He, as the United States, agreed to offer our support. These processes are ongoing and we continue to remain in close touch with our Polish and NATO partners as well.
QUESTION: Do you know what agencies are helping Poland?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get ahead of this ongoing investigation. And as we have said and as our colleagues at the National Security have said, we’ll continue to assess and share any new information transparently as it comes to light.
QUESTION: Actually, it’s the same topic.
MR PATEL: Let me go to Shannon then I’ll work the room. You got a couple questions already, Alex. Go ahead.
QUESTION: President Zelenskyy is saying that Ukraine should be allowed to participate in that ongoing election. Is that something the U.S. would support?
MR PATEL: You mean ongoing investigation?
QUESTION: Yeah, ongoing investigation. Pardon me.
MR PATEL: So I will let our Polish partners speak specifically to the ins and outs of what’s happening specifically on the ground. But again, what I will say is that we do not want to get ahead of this work and we remain in close touch with our Polish partners, of course our Ukrainian partners, and NATO as well as this process continues to unfold.
QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to follow up on the bilats today between President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Rishi Sunak. So does the U.S. trust Rishi Sunak to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol issue with the EU? And is – would you say that there is now a better understanding of the UK perspective on the issue?
MR PATEL: So I don’t have any specifics to offer about that bilateral meeting beyond the readout that the White House offered. But what I can say is that the U.S. is grateful for the extraordinary collaboration that we have with our ally, the United Kingdom, particularly as we work together hand in hand to address a number of issues in a number of areas of common interest, and that partnership and that collaboration of course transcends any one particular government in the United Kingdom.
I know that President Biden had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Sunak when his government was first formed. I know that they were pleased to be able to meet in person on the margins of the G20, and Secretary Blinken himself has had a number of direct engagements with his counterpart, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, at a number of instances as well, and this is a relationship we’re incredibly grateful for.
MR PATEL: We don’t have any additional updates to offer beyond what we read out when this event took place, but just to reiterate some of that information again, on November 14th armed individuals fired shots at a convoy that was made up of Haitian National Police vehicles, U.S. embassy vehicles, Haitian commercial vehicles during the morning. No embassy personnel were injured, and don’t have additional information beyond that at this time.
QUESTION: And is the U.S. any closer to finding a nation to lead this potential task force to Haiti under the auspices of the UN?
MR PATEL: This work continues to be ongoing, and we continue to work directly with not just our – the Government of Haiti but also other allies and partners as well. I mean, as you saw, last week through actions from the Treasury Department and the State Department, we have continued to hold those accountable who have been the cause for some of the humanitarian suffering that we’re seeing in Haiti. As you know, a U.S.-Canada joint operation played a role in delivering vital security-related equipment. That equipment specifically played an integral role in the Haitian National Police’s ability to end gang coalition control of the port of Varreux fuel terminal, which took place last week. You saw the Secretary speak a little bit about this in Münster. And so these work – this work and our efforts to support Haiti are ongoing and we continue to engage through bilateral relationships that we have, but also in multilateral fora, on steps forward.
Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you. My Ukraine question actually has been addressed. Shifting to South Caucasus if you don’t mind.
MR PATEL: Okay.
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of specific travel for Ambassador Reeker, Alex, but I can check with the bureau and see if we can get back to you and have any metrics to offer.
QUESTION: Anything on the Secretary’s – thanks so much. Anything on the Secretary’s phone calls to Baku and Yerevan last two days? He urged the sides to schedule further talks as agreed in Washington. Do you know at what level he wants the sides to meet next time? And also, is there any deadline?
MR PATEL: I don’t know if there’s any deadline. What I will say is that the Secretary’s continued engagement on this is a direct result of the United States commitment to promoting a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. I don’t think I have anything more to offer beyond those readouts, but this is something that of course this entire building and Secretary Blinken are paying close attention to and, ultimately, we believe that direct dialogue is key to resolving this issue and it’s why we continue to remain very deeply engaged on this.
MR PATEL: Well, you have seen even President Zelenskyy speak to the fact that an end to this conflict will likely need to come through discussion and diplomacy and negotiations. But we have yet to see any kind of concerted effort from the Russian Federation to do that. And so in the interim, what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through many of the lines of efforts that I spoke about early – continuing to offer security assistance, continuing to offer humanitarian assistance, continuing with our allies and partners to hold the Russian Federation accountable through sanctions, through export controls, through other measures. And any effort about this should not take place without Ukraine, and our belief continues to be nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine when it comes to Russia’s brutal invasion that continues to be ongoing.
QUESTION: If you will, one more question on this one.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: The (inaudible) CSTO, Collective Security Treaty Organization, is there any assessment on your end of how much it is involved in Russia’s – supplying its missiles and other arms that they’re using in Ukraine? I’m asking because Putin is planning to go to Yerevan next week to attend the summit of the CSTO.
MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate, Alex, or get into a hypothetical here. But what I would just say again is that it is Russia that is infringing on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and that Russia could end this war by leaving Ukraine, but if Ukraine did not stop fighting, Ukraine would end. And so again, what we’re going to do is we’re going to continue to support our Ukrainian partners through a number of lines of efforts that I just spoke about.
QUESTION: Have you been in touch with the CSTO members and urging them to refrain from helping Russia —
MR PATEL: I’m not aware of specific calls to offer, but we have been quite clear that any country – that it would be deeply problematic for any country to play a role in assisting Russia as it takes part in its unjust and barbaric invasion and brutal attacks in Ukraine.
QUESTION: Just one thing, Vedant – so the Polish president said both Poland and U.S. would have to agree for Ukraine to take part in the investigation into the whole missile incident. Given that there’s such discrepancy between you guys and what Ukraine is saying, does the United States want to give Ukraine access so that they can take a look at the wreckage or do their own investigation?
MR PATEL: I don’t have any specifics to offer about our role in the investigation beyond President Biden saying that we have of course agreed to offer support, but I’m happy to check to see if we can – we have anything additional to offer.
QUESTION: And do you know which part of the U.S. Government is taking part in these investigations and which part needs to approve Ukraine’s potential involvement?
MR PATEL: Again, I just don’t have any other specifics to offer on this right now.
One more, Jenny.
MR PATEL: I don’t have an update on this beyond what I addressed earlier in the week.
QUESTION: So you don’t know which penal colony she’s been sent to?
MR PATEL: So we continued – we through our lawyers are aware of her location and are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team, but formally, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest. Our embassy and our mission in Moscow has continued to press for more information about her transfer and her current location, and those requests continue to be ongoing.
QUESTION: Has anyone from the embassy been able to speak with her since she was relocated?
MR PATEL: Not to my understanding.
All right, thanks, everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:52 p.m.)
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