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Department Press Briefing – October 6, 2022 | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack | #hacking | #aihp


 

2:13 p.m. EDT

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. And sorry that we are running just a smidge tardy.

As I promised, we have a special guest with us today. Today it is my pleasure to introduce Ambassador-at-Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nate Fick, who started just a couple weeks ago and had his swearing-in ceremony earlier this week, on October 4th, just in time to kick off Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Last year and over the course of his tenure as Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken has laid out an ambitious modernization agenda to help the State Department lead in the policy areas that will define the coming decades. Cyberspace and digital policy are at the top of that list, and this is the arrival of our first-ever ambassador-at-large to lead our new Cyberspace and Digital Policy Bureau. And this is a key milestone in delivering on the Secretary’s agenda.

Ambassador Fick was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, has an impressive and impeccable record of leadership in both the public and private sector, and is an expert on many issue areas in the cyberspace and digital policy arenas.

I am pleased to have him here. He’s going to have some remarks for you, and then we’ll take a few questions, before he has to continue on with some meetings throughout the day. So Ambassador Fick, please. The floor is yours.

AMBASSADOR FICK: Thank you. Hi, everybody. I don’t know if you keep it like this in here to keep you brief or keep me brief, but it may have that effect. I hope we all have our flu shots. (Laughter.)

My name’s Nate Fick. I’m the new ambassador-at-large leading the Bureau for Cyberspace and Digital Policy. And as you heard, it is – this is my first week in the building. So I will play the new guy card shamelessly.

The – I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity to lead State’s newest bureau, to lead an organization focused on integrating and elevating the United States approach to technology diplomacy with our partners and allies, and to uphold a vision for how we can all use technology to enrich our lives and uphold democratic values.

I bring to this some personal, visceral convictions. I was a Marine earlier in my career, after college. I served in Afghanistan right after 9/11 and in Iraq in 2003 and witnessed firsthand the costs when diplomacy fails. And so I have, again, a strong visceral conviction in the intrinsic value of diplomacy. I believe diplomacy should be our tool of first resort in all things. And cyber and digital policy is the next frontier of diplomacy. It’s not a silo; it’s not a set of issues limited to any one bureau; this is a substrate that cuts across every aspect of our foreign policy.

And Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Sherman have made clear that that’s the case, that cyber and digital policy isn’t the work of only one bureau, and we need to make an understanding of digital policies a core piece of the department’s work and a core tool in the kits of our diplomats at every level.

So to succeed, we need to communicate what we’re going to do in the public, and so I am glad to have this opportunity to begin to talk with all of you on my fourth day here. So I look forward to finding new ways to highlight how we’re advancing this mission, and I’ll give you just one example from my first 10 days of how cyber and digital issues are already shaping the work of U.S. diplomacy. I was sworn in, got a passport, and got on a plane to Bucharest on three successive days in order to work with our U.S. delegation there in the days running up to the election last week for the secretary generalship of the International Telecommunication Union.

The ITU is 157-year-old organization that is responsible for settings standards that govern so many aspects of telecom, including things like 5G and fiber optic networks. And we had a very strong American citizen as candidate for secretary-general, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, and she won a landslide victory over her Russian opponent: 139 votes to 25, which I think gives her – we think gives her a strong mandate now to embark on her four-year term as secretary-general. And I know that she’s going to do a phenomenal job not only because she has the managerial and leadership experience inside the ITU, but also because of her commitment to connecting the unconnected, to closing digital divides, and advancing the principle of an open, interoperable, secure, reliable internet for people all around the world.

So there’s a lot to do, obviously, from countering malicious cyber activity and building resilience to promoting investments in secure telecom infrastructure and making sure that access to the internet is universally available in a way that advances human rights.

So I’m honored to work with a great team of experienced diplomats in the bureau. I look forward to building the relationships with my interagency partners. I look forward to working with our partners and allies around the globe.

And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions, as long as all of us can stand the temperature in here.

MR PATEL: Okay. So the ambassador will take a couple questions. Alex, you want to start us off?

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador. Thank you for being here. Congratulations on your new gig.

AMBASSADOR FINK: Thank you.

QUESTION: A couple questions on Russia. How do you assess the risk of Russian cyber retaliation, starting from Ukraine to the latest example of Russian-speaking, Kremlin-backed group attacking the U.S. states? Do you have an assessment on that and where is the response (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR FINK: Yeah. I think again, a few days into this, I may have to keep some of my comments at the level of principles. But I think that the idea of extending deterrence into the cyber domain is an important one across many facets of American foreign policy, including Russia’s war in Ukraine.

I think that the degree of unity of purpose across the NATO Alliance that we’re seeing is encouraging. Cyber deterrence is a part of that. And it is – to some extent it’s working, right? We haven’t seen yet a ton of lateral escalation using cyber means outside Ukraine by the Russians. Inside Ukraine is – one of the interesting success stories of early days is the – kind of the effectiveness of public-private partnerships on the ground with software vendors that have, in some cases, hundreds of millions of systems deployed in Ukraine and the feedback loop between them and the U.S. Government on things like threat intelligence sharing and then pushing patches out to systems.

I lived this on the other side of the table in the private sector for a long time, and I’m not accustomed to seeing it work as smoothly and quickly as it is right now. So I feel like we’re learning at least on that front.

MR PATEL: Kylie, you had your hand up?

QUESTION: Yeah, just two questions. Just to follow up on that, you mentioned that deterrence is working in Ukraine when it comes to any –

AMBASSADOR FICK: Deterrence is working outside Ukraine.

QUESTION: Outside Ukraine.

AMBASSADOR FICK: Deterrence is working in Europe and across the NATO Alliance.

QUESTION: Okay. And so do you think that that deterrence is one of the reasons that we haven’t seen more offensive cyber operations from Russia in Ukraine, or do you think that that is just a decision on their behalf in terms of how they approach this war?

AMBASSADOR FICK: So again, Kylie, with apologies, kind of at the level of principles, since I’m pretty new, I think that there is a robust deterrence framework that’s part of the NATO Alliance, and I would attribute that, at least in part, for why there haven’t been widespread Russian cyber attacks outside Ukraine.

Inside Ukraine, I think that there actually has been some meaningful degree of malicious Russian cyber activity, at least that they’ve attempted. And I think that one of the reasons that it hasn’t had the impact that the Russians hoped it would have is because of this tight feedback cycle that’s happening between the software vendors and hardware vendors who have stuff deployed in Ukraine and their partnership with the U.S. Government and the Ukrainian Government and NATO to convey that – to accelerate that feedback cycle.

QUESTION: And just one more question. When it comes to U.S. offensive cyber capabilities and operations, are you pleased to see this administration working on what appears to be reining in the – reining in those cyber operations and the levels of checks that they have to go through on the U.S. side before they’re actually able to be carried out so that the State Department has more visibility?

AMBASSADOR FICK: I think that cyber operations are an important tool of national power. I think that getting into any of the details on that topic right now is a little bit beyond my scope in the first few days.

MR PATEL: Roj.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, and congrats. What can your bureau – what role can your bureau play in getting internet access to the Iranian people, or is there anything that your bureau can do with private companies or anything to get internet access to the Iranians?

AMBASSADOR FICK: I think there’s – I hope that there’s going to be a lot that we can do from an advocacy standpoint globally to advance our belief that the internet is – internet access, access to reliable, secure information – is something that every human being on Earth should have. It’s one of the principles that Doreen is fighting for as – will fight for as secretary-general of the ITU. I think there are a lot of ways that we can operationalize that, and under my leadership I hope the bureau will be a strong advocate for it.

MR PATEL: Said, and then Nike.

QUESTION: Ambassador Fick, congratulations. How does deterrence work? I mean, we know how nuclear deterrents work. We – like this country has so many weapons and the adversary has so many weapons, and so on. But in this case, what, do you show them – like you shut off some of your adversary’s facilities and so on to show your capability in terms of deterrence?

AMBASSADOR FICK: I think that there’s the old adage that history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. I think that everything that we learned about nuclear deterrence over the course of the Cold War doesn’t translate perfectly into this domain, but it does rhyme. Some of the principles remain the same. There are unique challenges around attribution, for instance. The – we don’t have an array of satellites that are tracking missile launch plumes and able to ascertain in real-time where they came from, right? That’s not how this domain works.

When you’re talking about a cyber attack that’s bouncing through – launched by one country and bounces through servers in six other countries before it hits its target, it becomes a more challenging problem. But again, I think that some of the principles that have served us well in history will continue to serve us well: principles like proportionality; principles like noncombatant immunity; principles like stating that it may not be only cyber retribution, right, that deterrence – real deterrence – requires marshalling every ounce of our national power – informational power, economic power, diplomatic power. So —

MR PATEL: Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Congratulations, Ambassador, and thank you for the briefing. As the United States – as the U.S. midterm election’s approaching, what are you seeing from Russia, China, and Iran as far as cyber campaigns targeting on the midterms? And are you seeing other countries or non-state actors that are causing concern? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR FICK: So this is going to be a very near-term priority for me – working with our interagency partners to maintain the security of our elections and the elections in our allies and partners – but I am not far enough along to have more to say about it yet.

MR PATEL: I think the ambassador’s got time for one more question. Yes, one more – Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION: How confident are you in the security of the State Department’s own systems, and will you be undertaking any effort to improve the security here?

AMBASSADOR FICK: So my wife asked me how many days it would take before somebody at the department asked me to fix their printer. (Laughter.) And I guess the answer is four. The – our office is not part of the CIO or the IT shop at the State Department, and so I just don’t have any granular sense of the security of the department’s own networks. I’m sorry.

MR PATEL: Thank you so much, everybody, and thank you, Ambassador, for joining us. We appreciate it.

AMBASSADOR FICK: Okay, thanks very much.

MR PATEL: Okay. I’m happy to continue on with a regular scheduled briefing for you all. I’m not sure where our friend is, but Daphne, if you want to start us off.

QUESTION: If I could start off with OPEC, President Biden has said all options are on the table after the OPEC’s decision. Does this include arms exports to Saudi Arabia?

MR PATEL: Sorry, could you repeat that last part of your question?

QUESTION: Does “all options on the table” include arms exports to Saudi Arabia, cutting those off?

MR PATEL: So I would take a little bit of a step back here and reiterate what our colleagues from the White House and elsewhere have been saying as well, which is that this decision to cut production quotas is short-sighted, especially given what’s going – what’s ongoing with the global economy at the time dealing with the continued negative impact of the conflict in Russia.

Obviously, if there’s a price increase as a result of OPEC’s decision, it will particularly hit low- and middle-income countries. And yesterday’s announcement is a reminder of why it’s so critical that the U.S. reduces its dependence and reliance on foreign sources of fossil fuel, and with the Inflation Reduction Act we are making a historic investment here at home to accelerate clean energy – the clean energy transition as well.

QUESTION: Can you say any more about what options the U.S. is going to look at to respond to this decision?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to preview any specific options here.   As you’ve heard many from across the interagency say, there is – continue to be a number of tools in the President and the administration’s tool belt. Of course, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve release, which the statement from NEC Director Brian Deese and NSC Director Jake Sullivan yesterday alluded to. Also there continue to be a number of options on the table.

QUESTION: And just a technical question. Is MBS welcome in the United States?

MR PATEL: For – what do you mean?

QUESTION: Is MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, welcome in the U.S.? Like, is he able to travel to the United States if he wants to?

MR PATEL: I’m – visa records are confidential, so I don’t have anything to offer on that specifically. But – so I don’t have anything else to offer on that right now.

QUESTION: Can you – sorry, just on the response, you’ve seen calls from some members of Congress for a pretty dramatic slashing of U.S. cooperation with the Saudis in response to this. I’m sorry, did you address part that I —

MR PATEL: No, no, no.

QUESTION: Okay. In terms of withdrawing all U.S. security forces and personnel and equipment from Saudi Arabia.

MR PATEL: Yeah. Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: Is that – are those suggestions good ones? Do you –

MR PATEL: So we have no plans to do that at the moment. As you saw –

QUESTION: No plans to do what? Sorry.

MR PATEL: To withdraw arms or the – as you so indicated in your question. What I reiterate – and you saw Secretary Blinken speak to this on his travels – is that we have a multiplicity of interests with regards to Saudi Arabia. The President and the Secretary laid those out quite clear during their travels over the summer, and these priorities include everything from regional relationships, from improving relations between Arab countries and Israel, Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen, where we’re working with them very closely to try and continue the truce, and a number of other issues that were reflected during the President and the Secretary’s travels over the summer. And we’re working every single day to the best of our ability to ensure that energy supply from across the world meets the demand signals that we’re seeing across the market right now.

QUESTION: So this idea is a non-starter from the administration’s position?

MR PATEL: I simply – we have no plans to take such actions. If you’re speaking to specific legislation, I’m not going to get ahead of Congress or legislation that is still pending. But in response to whether we intend to take such actions, I have nothing to read out on that right now.

QUESTION: Just a brief follow-up.

MR PATEL: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: Have there been any high-level conversation with the Saudis, between American – high-level Americans and Saudi officials in the last 24 to 48 hours on this issue?

MR PATEL: I have no – I have no specific —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL: Sure, sure. I have no specific meetings to read out. But obviously Saudi Arabia is an important regional partner, as I said, over the course of a multiplicity of issues. And so we are in touch with them on a number of range of factors at regular intervals. But I don’t have any specific meetings to read out.

Anything else on this topic before we move away?

QUESTION: Just one last one.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, can you just address the – I think the gist of the criticism coming from the Hill is that the United States and Saudi Arabia have always had this relationship whereby the U.S. provides security guarantees, and the Saudis provide the oil. And a lot of the critics are saying that this was a sort of betrayal of that. And what would be your response to those criticisms?

MR PATEL: Well, I would say that that is a very black-and-white description and not indicative of the totality of our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As I said when answering Matt and Daphne’s question, we have a multiplicity of interests with regard to Saudi Arabia.

Of course, a piece of those is an energy relationship, but there is also a security relationship, and we talked about a lot of these issues over the President and the Secretary’s travels over the summer. And like I said, there is a regional security component; there is the aspect of improving relations between Arab countries and Israel. Saudi Arabia plays an important role in Yemen, where we’re continuing to work with them to extend the truce. So we have a multiplicity of interests as it relates to Saudi Arabia.

Nike?

QUESTION: Yeah. Can we switch to North Korea?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Tuesday, you said the U.S. was assessing the specific nature of North Korea’s recent ballistic missiles launch. Is there a conclusion from that already? And then do you have more to share with us on U.S. actions? And are sanctions working to deter North Korea from more ballistic missiles launches? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure, Nike. So again, we are still assessing the specific nature of the most recent launch, which I will reiterate posed an unacceptable threat to the region. And to take a step back, we, again, condemn the DPRK’s October 5th ballistic missile launch. This launch, along with the multiple other launches over the course of this week and in September, are a very clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and pose a direct threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community.

In terms of specific actions, I don’t have actions to preview for you, but I will note that the U.S. has responded to these. I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to these in more detail, but we almost immediately took part in military exercises with our allies in Korea and our allies in Japan. The USS Ronald Reagan is in the region for this exact reason. And of course, we continue to have a number of tools in our toolbelt – sanctions, other things – to continue to hold the regime accountable. But I don’t have any specific actions to preview, but the United States is monitoring and watching closely and ready to take additional action as well.

QUESTION: Okay. But one of the – one of the —

QUESTION: Pick up on North Korea?

MR PATEL: One second.

QUESTION: One of the problems with North Korea has been that they – you – that – now with North Korea is that in the past you have managed to get an international consensus. You mentioned the Security Council resolutions that they’re in violation of; all those were past.

But yesterday, we saw a situation where the Russians and the Chinese blocked any kind of meaningful action. Are you at all hindered in trying to get the North Koreans back to the negotiating table by the position that the Russians and the Chinese are taking, or do you think that you can – actions that you take on your own or in concert with your – with allies can be enough to do it?

MR PATEL: Well, first, to echo our UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Russia and China’s actions during the Security Council meeting yesterday, that was obviously deeply disappointing. And we saw the very loose use of rhetoric that the DPRK’s actions were provoked or something to that effect. That obviously and certainly is not the case.

But, look, Matt, to take a little bit of a bigger step back, our goal here still remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and dialogue with the DPRK without preconditions continues to be, in our viewpoint, a piece to that puzzle, and so we’re going to continue to pursue those things. However, we also are going to continue to hold the DPRK accountable through actions at our multilateral institutions and other actions otherwise. I don’t have anything to preview, but again, we have been reacting and we’ve been taking action to this directly.

Kylie.

QUESTION: I’m wondering if the administration expects that North Korea will carry out a nuclear test before the end of the year because administration officials were very clear in saying it was possible that they could be preparing for one when the President was in Asia earlier this year. They didn’t actually carry out a nuclear test. Do you think it’ll happen before the end of the year?

MR PATEL: Like I said, I – we’re still assessing the specific nature, and I don’t have a new or different assessment to provide from here. But I think the bigger thing is that we, again, condemn these very destabilizing and unsafe actions that we’re seeing come from the DPRK over the course of this week.

QUESTION: And just one more question.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you think that this incredibly high number of missile tests this year could be a tactic by North Korea to try and get you guys to pay attention and actually engage in talks?

MR PATEL: Well, we have continually at almost every interval in which this question has come to Ned or myself or others from the State Department – even non‑spokespeople – we’ve been quite clear that we continue to affirm that dialogue with the DPRK without preconditions continues to be a tenet of our approach when it comes to the denuclearization of the peninsula. So the offer is out there.

Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: A follow-up on that?

MR PATEL: Abby, go ahead.

QUESTION: Given the escalation, obviously, and what’s been in happening in recent weeks, is there any consideration of re-evaluating the policy, the strategy that you have been undertaking and perhaps looking at a higher-level – offering a higher-level meeting that – perhaps that had taken place in the past administration?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any meetings or any kind of engagement like that to preview, but I will – to the top of your question, our position on diplomacy and dialogue as it relates to our goal of the complete denuclearization of the peninsula has not changed, and that continues to be very much on the table.

Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: Yeah. So on meetings – speaking of meetings, reports from South Korea is saying that the U.S., Japan, and South Korea have agreed to have a trilateral meeting in Tokyo this month. Would Deputy Secretary Sherman attend the trilateral meeting?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Nike. I don’t have any meetings or any trilateral engagement specifically to announce, but as I noted earlier in this week, senior officials from not just this building but across the interagency have been in close touch with their counterparts, not just in – within the Republic of Korea, but Japan as well. And our defense and our commitment to them is ironclad, but I don’t have any potential other meetings to read out.

Shannon, you had your hat up – hand up for a while.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions. First on North Korea, that repeated offer for open engagement, I was wondering, just point of clarity, can you say that the course of this administration – have you ever received any feedback from Pyongyang directly, any communication?

And second, the CIA reportedly began distributing compensation to victims of Havana Syndrome in August. We know the State Department is engaged in a similar program. Do you have any updates on that rollout?

MR PATEL: Sure. Let me take your first question first. So again, I’m not going to read out specific diplomatic engagements or a specific back and forth, but at every interval, we’ve made clear that dialogue without preconditions continues to be our belief and, frankly, our priority. And we have a number of officials working directly with our allies and partners in the region to continue to work towards that goal.

And then on your second question, I do have an update for you. Just give me one second. So I am pleased to report that as of September 30th, the department has approved the first tranche of requests for payment in accordance to the HAVANA Act. We are reviewing other requests, and we’ll continue to do so as they are received. We are processing those payments and processing those things as expeditiously as possible, but I don’t have any other specifics to offer on that right now.

Anything else —

QUESTION: You can’t say how much State’s doled out?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any other specifics or assessments to offer on that right now.

QUESTION: Are those diplomats from – were they affected in different countries or in the same place?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have additional specifics to offer at this time, but I can see if we’ve got more metrics that we can provide to you.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Let me – two questions. Let me get a reaction to Putin’s announcing seizure of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant? Ukraine, of course, considers that a nuclear blackmail. What is the U.S.’s reaction to that? And I have another question on South Caucasus.

MR PATEL: Well, just like – to take a little bit of a step back, Zaporizhzhia belongs to Ukraine, the power plant belongs to Ukraine, and the electricity and the energy that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine. President Putin has absolutely no authority to take over a power plant in another country and a piece of paper issued by him or his government certainly doesn’t change that fact either.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. A second question on – as you know, in Prague today, there has been so many important events for South Caucasus: meeting between Turkey and Armenia, so – also meeting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What is the State Department’s reaction? What do you expect from those meetings? And overall, what is your expectations?

MR PATEL: So I actually – I’m going to have to follow up with you on that one and get back to you. I thought I had an update, but I am mistaken.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Can I ask Azerbaijan —

MR PATEL: Hold on. Let’s stay in the region. John, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: This interesting AP story that came out that “Two Russians fleeing military service take boat to reach remote Alaska island and seek asylum in the United States,” any reaction to these asylum requests by the two Russians?

MR PATEL: We’re aware of those reports, but I would refer you to DHS, which is responsible for managing arrivals at U.S. ports of entry.

Said.

QUESTION: I want to change topic.

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead. Oh, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, this gets back to the question that had been raised in a hypothetical sense. Would the United States – and you guys have a role because people don’t necessarily have to show up on a remote Aleutian island or even any place in the U.S. They can go to an embassy and request asylum. So what’s your understanding? Is fleeing conscription or Russian fleeing conscription from an unpopular war grounds for asylum? What’s the —

MR PATEL: That would be for the Department of Homeland Security to determine —

QUESTION: No, because, I mean, the State Department —

MR PATEL: — which adjudicates these requests, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Once they get here, yes, they do, but you guys have to make an initial decision if someone shows up in an embassy. So these people didn’t show up in an embassy, right? They showed up on, what, Attu or something like that, some Aleutian island? But presumably, there will be others who may seek asylum at embassies or consulates in Europe. So there must be a policy – an administration-wide policy that would apply to State and DHS about whether this is legitimate grounds for granting asylum – to claim asylum.

MR PATEL: On the adjudication of asylum, wherever it originates, that is ultimately a DHS decision. As you note, there are a number of legal pathways to ultimately get status in the United States. Some of those equities are within the State Department, others like the refugee programming system that falls within State. I don’t have any new assessments to provide, but the adjudication of asylum claims happened on a case-by-case basis and they live in the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.

Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the Palestinian issue, earlier today, the Israeli army raided a village called Deir al-Hatab, east of Nablus. They killed a young man, 21-year-old Alaa Zaghal, but they also injured two Palestinian journalists, two with the Palestine TV, Mahmoud Fawzy and Louay Samhan. Are you aware of this situation? Although they were dressed and clearly marked “press” markings.

MR PATEL: Yeah, thanks for your question, Said. So this administration has not shied away from voicing support for the freedom of the press and the ability for journalists to freely exercise that right without fear. We urge Israelis and Palestinian officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and emphasize the importance of maintaining stability in the West Bank.

QUESTION: Let me just – a quick follow-up on the visa waiver. Can you update us on the status of the visa waiver for Israelis?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates to offer on this at this time, but I’m happy to check to see if we have anything we can share.

Nick, in the back.

QUESTION: On Syria, last night U.S. forces conducted a raid there, killing an ISIS leader. That comes weeks after SDF forces did a counter-ISIS operation at the al-Hol displaced persons’ camp.

So two questions on last night’s raid: Was there any type of State-CT coordination that you can comment on? And then is State concerned still that the al-Hol camp could be a breeding ground for ISIS?

MR PATEL: On the first part of your question, I’m not aware of anything, and I would refer you to my colleagues at the Pentagon to speak specifically about the strike. And as it relates to your second question on the prison camp, our assessment has not changed.

Guita, you’ve had your hand up for a minute.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. But on today —

QUESTION: And that – sorry.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: And that assessment is what?

MR PATEL: That it could – still has the potential to be a source of terror and conflict.

Go ahead, Guita.

QUESTION: Thanks. Today the Biden administration announced a second set of sanctions against the Iranian security forces as it relates to the demonstrations. What is the Biden administration doing on the international level? Do you think it’s befitting that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN?

MR PATEL: Well, Guita, we continue to engage with our allies and partners not just in the region but across the world and are calling for very dire condemnation of the violent crackdowns that we’re seeing on the protests in Iran. As you so noted, we took action today by newly designating seven individuals across Iran’s government for their role in perpetrating violence against peaceful protesters and their crackdown on human rights. I’m obviously not able to speak to efforts by other countries, but other countries are continuing to take their own efforts to hold the Iranian regime accountable, and we of course welcome that. And we are doing so in close coordination and dialogue with them as well.

QUESTION: Is downgrading other countries’ relations with Iran something that you would consider asking the U.S. allies?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any new assessment or new insight to offer on that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR PATEL: Sure. Roj, go ahead.

QUESTION: So the sanctions – earlier President Biden announced that there will be sanctions this week. Was the sanctions that we saw today, is that all of those, or will there – be there more sanctions? And also, how do you measure if the sanctions are working, if they are slowing down the crackdown, and is there some sort of – how do you measure that?

MR PATEL: Well, first, Roj, I of course am not going to rule in or rule out the – any potential action. We of course continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold the Iranian regime accountable. The actions outlined today were, of course, a follow-up to President Biden’s statement earlier this week.

But as it relates to impact, look, what we are seeing is international condemnation and further isolation of the Iranian regime as a direct result of their violent crackdowns on these protests, of their crackdowns on what the U.S. believes are basic human rights, basic dignity, for that matter. And so our actions, as well as the actions of our allies and partners, are continuing to have an effect.

Abby, go ahead.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the mass shooting attack that took place in Thailand?

MR PATEL: So we are deeply saddened by the tragedy in Nong Bua Lamphu province, where a shooter took the lives of nearly 40 people, including 24 children. We stand with the people of Thailand, our partners in the region, and extend our deepest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones today. The U.S. is ready to assist our Thai allies in the wake of this horrible tragedy, and we continue to engage with not just our embassy there but the government as well and any offer – and any assistance that the United States may be able to provide.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea what kind of assistance that might be?

MR PATEL: I don’t. I don’t have any specifics to offer at this time. This obviously just took place earlier today. But it’s something we’re paying close attention to, and our thoughts and condolences go out to the Thai people.

In the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you. So President Duda of Poland has suggested in a interview recently that there are ongoing talks with the U.S. about including Poland in the nuclear sharing program. Can you confirm that or expand on that?

And also, secondly, President Biden seemed to suggest today that he might meet with President Putin in November during the G20, which would be a pretty big break from the current policy, and so is that on the cards and why? If so, why the policy change?

MR PATEL: Okay. So first, as it relates to your to your question on Poland, I want to take a step back and note that Poland is an important NATO Ally in the region. But as it relates to this specific request, we are not aware of this specific item being raised. And I can say that the United States has no plans to deploy a nuclear weapon on NATO member territory that had joined NATO post-1997.

As it relates to the second part of your question, I will let the White House speak to any of President Biden’s engagements. But I think the one thing that you have seen be pretty clear from across the interagency, including from the White House, is that it cannot be business as usual when it comes to Russia. And that has been clear in all of our engagements with our Russian counterparts that it cannot be business as usual in the wake of their flagrant and unlawful and unjust infringing on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and their sovereignty as well.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, does the administration still believe that Putin should not be part even as long as he wages a war on Ukraine?

MR PATEL: Like I said, this is not – this should not be business as usual. Our position has not changed.

In the back.

QUESTION: We can go to North Korea briefly?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The fact that North Korea launches so many missiles indicates that North Korea is capable of producing that many missiles. So how do U.S. assess the current state of the North Korean nuclear capability? And how can, with allies, stop these productions of missiles by sanctions?

MR PATEL: Well, I think, to take a little bit of a step back, like I said, we are still assessing the specific nature, and I don’t have any additional insights to offer on capability. But again, this is a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and we continue to have a number of tools available in our toolbelt to hold the DPRK accountable – both through U.S. Government efforts, but also continuing to work through our multilateral institutions as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. On Lebanon, please.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Israel rejected today the Lebanese request to add changes to the draft deal. Does the State Department have any reaction to this refusal?

MR PATEL: Sure. Thanks for your question. So Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein continues his robust engagement to bring the maritime boundary discussions to a close, and we are in close communications with the Israelis and the Lebanese. We are at a critical stage in these negotiations and the gaps have certainly narrowed, and we remain committed to reaching a solution, and we believe a lasting compromise is possible. I’m not going to get into private diplomatic negotiations, but again, we remain committed to reaching a solution and we believe that a lasting compromise is possible.

Abbie —

QUESTION: Just could I have a follow-up (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Said. No, I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you expecting any kind of announcement anytime soon? And will the announcement – I mean, will there be, like, a ceremony with the American envoy present and the Lebanese or the Israelis, or separately since they don’t have any relations?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, I think we’re getting a little cart before the horse, given that I just said that I’m not going to comment on diplomatic negotiations. And while we remain committed to reaching a resolution and having a lasting compromise certainly, I don’t have one to announce today.

Abbie, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the UN Human Rights Council rejecting this U.S. cosponsored resolution to debate China’s crackdown in Xinjiang? And then more specifically, is the U.S. disappointed that Ukraine abstained from the vote?

MR PATEL: So as you saw, Ambassador Taylor at our post in Geneva put out a comment on this. And to take a step back, the – we are disappointed that the council was unable to agree to hold a discussion about serious human rights concerns raised in recent independent discussions and assessments by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is very clear to everybody based on that assessment of what is going on in Xinjiang. And we’re going to continue to remain undeterred in our commitment to defend human rights, and we’ll continue to insist that the Human Rights Council can be a meaningful forum and a vehicle to discuss and hold countries accountable for human rights violations.

QUESTION: And on Ukraine? Any specific comment to their abstention?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific assessment to offer on any country, but we certainly are disappointed that the council was not able to get this accomplished in a way that would allow us to hold this discussion.

In the back?

QUESTION: Thank you. Could you give us, please, some background on the meeting in between Secretary Blinken and Pedro Castillo in Lima? And what are the main topics that U.S. is bringing to this conversation?

And regarding the summit, the OAS General Assembly, what the U.S. expect from Latin America countries in the summit?

MR PATEL: Sure. So I – there – we will have appropriate readouts for the Secretary’s engagement. But since you asked the question, in Peru today the Secretary will meet with President Pedro Castillo and Foreign Minister César Landa, and their discussion will focus on regional collaboration on a number of issues – migration, addressing the threat of climate change, economic factors like trade and investment, and of course continued engagement on human rights.

As also part of that itinerary, the Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation at the General Assembly of the OAS. He will underscore the United States’s commitment to the OAS, and he will chair a summit of the implementation of the review group and will co-lead a migration ministerial on the Los Angeles Declaration as well.

Nike.

QUESTION: Different topic, if I may.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: On Azerbaijan and Armenia. Azerbaijan said they has discovered what’s believed to be a mass grave of its soldiers being killed by Armenia forces. Do you have any comment on that? Thank you.

MR PATEL: Sure, Nike. Thanks for your question. So we are appalled by the loss of life over the course of this decades-long conflict and extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured. Many families have suffered and lost loved ones over the course of this conflict, and even as we, through our engagement, try to look through a different future, these families deserve accountability and closure for the losses they have suffered. Perpetrators must be held accountable; to reach peace, heal, accountability is needed. And we continue to support international efforts to promote truth and reconciliation, and we believe that these processes can run tandem with the ongoing peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which they have committed to themselves as well.

Go ahead. You had your hand up.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the truce in Yemen?

MR PATEL: It is something we are continuing to work for. We are deeply concerned that the UN-mediated truce in Yemen expired over the weekend without the parties reaching an agreement on the extension. Quite candidly, Yemeni men, women, and children were receiving lifesaving benefits under the truce. And the UN proposal for an expanded agreement would have offered even greater tangible benefits. This is something we continue to be robustly engaged on and continue to work with our allies in the region to work towards, but I don’t have any other updates to offer.

QUESTION: Do you have any proposal? Not the UN proposal, a U.S. proposal?

MR PATEL: Again, I don’t have any updates to provide. This is something we are engaged very deeply on.

All right. Thank you, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:58 p.m.)

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