MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. We are going to try very hard to wrap expeditiously so you all can catch the Secretary’s remarks at UT. So that means I will be cutting off some of your pontificating so we can get to enough people in the room.
QUESTION: There is only one person in this room who pontificates, and it’s the person who stands behind the podium, not who sit in front of it.
MR PATEL: Go ahead, Matt. I don’t have anything off the top.
QUESTION: I don’t have anything, either.
MR PATEL: All right. Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can we talk a bit about funding for Ukraine?
QUESTION: Obviously, events yesterday raised some more – even more questions about where the next money is coming from. I know you – the administration has said that there’s money in place for the next little bit; I wonder if you could be more specific on when exactly the money that is currently available will last until, and what is the plan if new funding is not made available in that time?
MR PATEL: So I’m just – again, I’m not going to get into the specifics on this. I think we’ve talked a great deal about the importance of why we think we need to continue funding – this kind of funding. And as you know, President Biden convened a call with allies and partners to coordinate the ongoing support for the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal invasion. The leaders discussed efforts to provide Ukraine with the ammunition and weapon systems it needs to defend its territory against Russian aggression, to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses, to protect its critical infrastructure from Russia’s aerial assaults in the coming months.
I will just reiterate, though, as the Congress works through its various mechanisms and procedures, we cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted. A lapse in support for even a short period of time could make all the difference in the battlefield, and so this is something that we’re going to continue to work closely with our partners in Congress on and continue to coordinate directly.
I am not going to get ahead of a speaker’s race, but it’s been clear to us that there is a majority in both the House and the Senate that support continuing to help and support our Ukrainian partners. That is still the case. Nothing there has changed, and Congress should keep the commitment it’s made to the people of Ukraine to fight against this kind of aggression.
QUESTION: And that call with allies, was there any sort of – has there been any commitment to say, okay, you guys are struggling with funding; we’ll step up? Is that what – is that really what you’re asking countries – other countries to step in where the U.S. has this kind of political chaos, and you’re basically asking allies, can you cover us for a little bit?
MR PATEL: I certainly – it was certainly not that kind of call. It was a convening call to discuss ways in which both us and the alliance can continue to support our Ukrainian partners, but also ways in which we can continue to support one another. I will just note, though, that President Biden, under his leadership, we have developed and established quite the coalition that has been able to provide our Ukrainian partners with the kind of systems and assistance that it has needed to continue to defend itself, and that’s also in large part about what this call was about.
QUESTION: Vedant, funding-related.
QUESTION: Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has blocked the $235 million in military funds to Egypt until Egypt makes progress in human rights issues. What will happen now with the package that the Secretary has already waived the sign or the block on? And did the department answer Senator Cardin?
MR PATEL: So we – we’re going to continue to engage closely with not only the Egyptian Government but also Congress about how these funds will be used, consistent with our commitment to a U.S.-Egypt strategic partnership that advances our shared vision for a secure and prosperous region, and one that enables tangible and sustained progress on human rights issues.
I will just note, Michel, that Secretary Blinken stands by his decision that it is in the U.S. national security interest to waive certain military – certain conditions related to the Fiscal Year 2022 Foreign Military Financing assistance for Egypt, the 235 million number that you laid out. We have obligated a total of 1.215 billion in FMF funding that Egypt will receive for FY 2022. We’re continuing to work through these issues with Congress and our partners in Egypt, and that is going to continue to be the case; I’m not going to get ahead of that process.
QUESTION: And what effects this block will have on this aid?
MR PATEL: Again, this is a process that we’re working through with the Congress and look forward to continuing to engage with Chairman Cardin and SFRC on this as well.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Happy Wednesday. Moving to Azerbaijan-Armenia, if you don’t mind.
QUESTION: Can we just close in on a now-disclosed and confirmed secret meeting took place in Istanbul on September 17, reportedly between the U.S., Russia, and the EU? What is your best version of what happened there? How was that born and what were you hoping for?
MR PATEL: Well, I would – I’d perhaps take – first take issue with the characterization of it being a secret meeting. Alex, as you know as someone who’s covered these issues for some time, we engage with stakeholders and interlocutors in the region quite regularly, and the meeting in Istanbul on September 17th came together to address specifically urgent humanitarian issues and the provision of potential humanitarian aid in Nagorno-Karabakh. That’s what that meeting was about. But broadly, the U.S. remains deeply engaged on the situation and we continue to be committed to helping the parties achieve a lasting peace in the South Caucasus.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) confirm – was it a meeting of the meeting of Minsk Group co-chairs?
MR PATEL: It was – it took place at the working level, Alex.
QUESTION: Who initiated that?
MR PATEL: Again, I’m just not going to get into the specifics of this beyond what I already outlined.
QUESTION: And was there any – I’m just curious. This is the first high-level meeting between U.S. and Russian officials out —
MR PATEL: Again, I just called it – it was a meeting that took place at the working level, Alex, and again, this was a specific topic on the issue of humanitarian needs in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. That was the scope and the context of this meeting. I would not expand it or overinterpret this to mean anything else. `
QUESTION: Yeah. I wonder how frustrated are you that two days after that meeting, the dominos started falling?
MR PATEL: Broadly, this is a situation that we have continued to be deeply concerning about. I don’t want to boil down on one specific moment. But we’re of course concerned by the situation after the recent hostilities, and it has resulted in over 100,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh region into Armenia, and we’re closely monitoring the situation on the ground. Of course, we continue to be concerned and paying close attention to the humanitarian impacts. That’s why – part of the reason why this meeting had been taking place.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Nagorno-Karabakh – it’s just very detailed —
MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit given the hard out.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Very quickly, the Israeli authorities, the Israeli military authorities, prevented British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly from visiting the Palestinian village of Ein Samiya. I wonder if you’re aware of that, if you have any comment on that. They also prevented other European diplomats. This village had recently been basically emptied of Palestinians.
MR PATEL: Let me say a couple of things, Said. As a general matter, we acknowledge that Israel makes determinations relating to its security, and our understanding – our limited understanding of this is that this was a decision made around – it was a security decision made in coordination with relative security partners. So the Government of Israel and of course our partners in the United Kingdom can speak more specifically about the foreign secretary’s travels and anything about his trip.
But what I will just say is that the U.S. remains committed to engaging Israeli leadership on this issue, on the issues of settler violence, and we continue to have robust engagement, including engagement on the ground to visit and engage with these affected communities.
QUESTION: But you agree that Israel should allow foreign diplomats, including American diplomats, to go into villages and places —
MR PATEL: Again, Said —
QUESTION: — in the West Bank that – where crimes are – crimes against —
MR PATEL: — this was a – this was a —
QUESTION: — the public —
MR PATEL: — decision made rooted in security, and so I will just leave it at that.
QUESTION: Okay. Just two quick – on the Palestinian issue. Israel, every time there is a holiday, Israel closes all Palestinian neighborhoods and so on. I mean, couldn’t they just celebrate whatever rituals they can without basically imprisoning the Palestinians’ home and making life very difficult – life is already difficult – making it far more difficult during the holiday? Do you have any comment on that?
MR PATEL: Said, as a general matter, we believe that authorities should respect peaceful prayer and assembly. I’m certainly not going to stand up here and tell any community how they should observe any religious holiday. That would be improper for me to do so.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.
QUESTION: The U.S.-backed forces, Syrian Democratic Forces, they denied their involvement in the recent attack in Türkiye. And the SDF commander, Mazloum Abdi, in a tweet says that Türkiye is looking for a pretext to legitimize its ongoing attacks on the region, and he urged the United States and also the international community to take appropriate position to this Turkish preparation for extending its military operations into northwest Syria. What’s your comment and position on that?
MR PATEL: So we recognize the legitimate security threat that the PKK poses to Türkiye. The U.S. also remains concerned about the military escalation in northern Syria. In particular, we’re concerned about the impact on civilian populations and the effectiveness that it could place on the efforts that have been ongoing to defeat ISIS. We continue to advocate for de-escalation and the maintenance of ceasefires as a key pillar of our policy in the region, and we continue to coordinate with Türkiye and that they should coordinate its actions with Iraq in a way that supports and respects Iraqi sovereignty.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: The Turkish foreign minister today said that two PKK/YPG terrorists who attempted Sunday’s terror attack in Ankara came from Syria. He also said that the PKK/YPG terror group facilities in Iraq and Syria are legitimate targets of Türkiye. Do you have anything on that?
MR PATEL: So the U.S. stands firmly with our NATO Ally Türkiye and the Turkish people in their fight against the PKK, which has been designated an FTO by the United States. On these specific claims, though, we have not received enough adequate information to confirm those, so I don’t have anything to offer from here.
QUESTION: Well, hold on. Just stay on this for one second.
QUESTION: I want to make sure that I get this —
QUESTION: — a hundred percent right. You say you stand firmly with Türkiye on the threat that the PKK poses.
QUESTION: But you have left out the YPG, which is – the Turks conflate the two. Is it still the U.S. position that these are separate and that – then that – and that the YPG does not pose a threat to Türkiye?
MR PATEL: That is the case. I am not here to change longstanding U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t stand firmly with Türkiye.
MR PATEL: We stand firmly with Türkiye —
QUESTION: You stand firmly with – on the PKK, but you don’t stand firm – I mean, on their broader position, you don’t agree with.
MR PATEL: Matt, we can splice this a million ways, I’m sure. But —
QUESTION: I don’t know that we’re splicing anything. It’s just you don’t agree. They say the PKK and the YPG are both threats to them.
MR PATEL: We recognize —
QUESTION: And you don’t agree with the second part of that, right?
MR PATEL: We recognize the legitimate security – the threat that the PKK poses to Türkiye. We stand with them on the specific claim that she asked.
QUESTION: Let me ask the question then directly.
QUESTION: Does the YPG – do you think the YPG – excuse me – poses a threat to Türkiye?
MR PATEL: I don’t have a security assessment like that to offer from up here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Türkiye assessment that YPG poses a threat to Türkiye (inaudible), and you support them. Why?
MR PATEL: Again, I will just say that we have been very clear about the PKK. We have designated them as an FTO. We stand with our Turkish allies on this. On the claim that you mentioned about the origination from Syria, I just don’t have anything for you on that.
MR PATEL: And then I’ll – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. You see YPG and PKK as two different groups, or do you think there is any links between these two groups?
MR PATEL: I think I answered that question when speaking to Matt. I have no updates to offer, no – they’re two separate entities.
QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant. Quickly on Iran. The UN arms embargo is expiring later this month. I know we discussed it in this room a couple times leading up, but obviously the time is – there’s a time crunch. Can you update us on any plans on what you guys plan to do, if you’re looking to extend the arms embargo or not?
MR PATEL: So we continue to have a number of tools at our disposal to hold Iran’s dangerous development and proliferation of missile-related technologies and UAVs – to hold those things accountable. Obviously, UNSCR 2231 is not the only tool that is at our disposal. We have our own sanctions authorities. We have export controls. We have bilateral and multilateral engagements. We have already effectively targeted the same networks and individuals that would have been covered under a 2231 UNSCR violation, and we’ll continue to use our own sanctions authorities to hold the Iranian regime accountable.
QUESTION: So are you prepared to just let it expire if you’re not able to reach an agreement with your allies?
MR PATEL: I just – I don’t have anything to preview on that right now. But, again, we have pretty credibly – if you look at our track record on this since the inception of this administration – have held the Iranian regime accountable for its malign and destabilizing activities, and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: And just quickly, just to follow up – sorry, I’m not – this morning —
QUESTION: — earlier CENTCOM announced that earlier this week they – there were seized weapons from Iran heading to Yemen’s Houthis that they have now transferred to the Ukrainians. Can you say – previously you’ve said that you’ve seen these weapons transfers continue. Can you speak to any – have you seen that – have you seen more of that in recent months, and are you looking to any other weapons that have been seized? Are you guys looking to transfer those to Ukraine as well?
MR PATEL: So the Pentagon can speak more on this. Of course, this – CENTCOM put a statement out. I don’t have anything else to offer. I think what I will just note is that we’re continuing to monitor the situation. As it relates to anything else on this, the Pentagon can speak to.
QUESTION: Well, on that, does the embargo – I mean, was it ever asked with – inside the administration or in this building or elsewhere that you’re aware of whether the transfer of Iranian weaponry, the export of it by a third country, meaning the United States, violates the arms embargo?
MR PATEL: Well, Matt, I’m very glad you asked about the legal mechanism on this. In the legislative language authorizing the Department of Defense’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which they, of course, I’m sure would be happy to speak to you more about, the Secretary of Defense is authorized, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, to make available to the Government of Ukraine weapons and other defense articles from the United States and other sources. This obviously is one of those other sources.
QUESTION: Well, that’s wonderful, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that there’s a UN arms embargo. So was there any discussion of whether this might be a – I realize it’s not Iran sending —
QUESTION: — weapons to Ukraine such – like they had sent weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, but it’s still Iranian weaponry leaving their country and going to a third one. And so that’s not a – I mean, I was wondering if it came up.
MR PATEL: That’s our understanding. Correct. That’s our understanding, that it’s not.
QUESTION: So it’s not a violation of the embargo?
MR PATEL: Yeah. Alex, go ahead. Janne, and then I’ll come to you after. I’m so sorry.
QUESTION: Just to follow on that, is this – and it is State that announces the PDA. So I understand that we can ask DOD, but a lot of this does have to do with State. Do you expect this – these seizures and these transfers then to Ukraine to be part of an ongoing strategy, a larger strategy, at a time when, obviously, the Ukrainians have low levels of all kinds of ammunition and there are huge questions about American funding? Is this something that we’re going to see more of, going forward?
MR PATEL: Well, first, broadly, this – as you know, this is not the first time that we have seized Iranian security systems or assets historically. But I don’t want to just speculate or offer an analysis on the provision of our – a new strategy when it’s our – when it comes to the provision of our security assistance to our Ukrainian partners. I think we have a very clear track record of ensuring that our Ukrainian partners have the systems and the assets that they need to defend themselves, and I don’t want to speculate on if there will be more or less of these kinds of transfers.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the Egypt question?
QUESTION: To put a finer point on it – and apologies if I didn’t understand – that 235 – is that done? My understanding was that it had expired, gone back to Treasury, because of the end of the fiscal year. Are we still discussing that same tranche? Does the national security waiver trump the hold that Senator Cardin put on this?
MR PATEL: These are cross – these are things that are – that we are actively engaging Congress on. We are engaging on them on this. As I said, the Secretary continues to stand by our decision to waive the certain conditions in the U.S. national security interest for this 235 million. I, again, would view this not as a singular moment in time decision. This is something that we are engaging on with Congress, and the Egyptians on as well.
QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Two questions on China and North Korea. It is reported that a sanctioned North Korean oil tanker (inaudible) settles in Chinese port. Do you think that China is violating UN Security Council?
MR PATEL: A North Korean tanker is at a Chinese port – is that the question?
MR PATEL: I just don’t have anything on that for you.
QUESTION: Because this is already a sanctioned ships in the Weihai Chinese port, because Chinese is against the UN sanctions.
MR PATEL: Certainly. If it’s a sanctioned vessel, any kind of subversions of sanctions against that would, of course, be concerning. But I’m not aware of this specific scenario. We’ve long said that as it relates to the DPRK we believe that Beijing has a – can have a constructive role to play in reining in some of their destabilizing activities, and that continues to be the case.
QUESTION: North Korea. Kim Jong-un criticized the United States, saying that the reason they traded arms with Russia is because the United States acting hostile towards North Korea. What is your reaction to this?
MR PATEL: I think I’ve said this a number of times before, and it continues to be the case. We are not, in any way, harboring any hostilities towards the DPRK. In fact, when we talk about our ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we are very clear in the fact that we continue to believe that we’re ready to engage with Pyongyang without preconditions, and that continues to be the case.
You had your hand up. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Verdant. So last week I asked the State Department about the possibility of U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of radical groups in Ukraine, and Matt Miller told me there are systems to track and monitor this. But I just did a brief scroll through the Azov Battalion’s Telegram channel, which is a neo-Nazi group within the Ukrainian military, and they weren’t even really hiding it. I mean, there are high-resolution photos of U.S.-manufactured, U.S.-provided MaxxPros, which are large, armored personnel carriers. And so my question is how could this have snuck by our monitoring systems? And is there a process for, now that we know they have them, to work with Ukraine and get them out of the hands of a radical group like Azov Battalion?
MR PATEL: So I’m not going to comment on just a specific scenario like this one because I’ve not seen the reporting that you’re speaking of. So I will just reiterate again what Matt said, is that we have systems in place to ensure and track the appropriate use of our assets and the security equipment that we’ve provisioned to our Ukrainian partners.
I will also just note that the people of Ukraine have also been clear about their desire for good governance and transparency, and that we continue to see strong and decisive action from Ukraine’s government and anti-corruption institutions. I’m not trying to imply that – I’m not trying to link this to the situation you described. I’m just saying broadly, in the context of this conversation, that continues to be our point of view.
QUESTION: Could you share a specific on kind of how they’re tracked and how they’re monitored? Because this is – and I can show you after. It’s straight from their social media page, like the Azov Battalion social media page.
MR PATEL: I’m sure our colleagues at the Department of Defense will be happy to walk you through the systems and procedures and protocols that they have in place for this.
QUESTION: Very quickly on Karabakh and one more on Georgia. Do you have anything on Azerbaijan refusing to attend upcoming Karabakh summit hosted by the EU?
MR PATEL: We note that President Aliyev will not participate in the proposed meeting in Granada. And we’ve consistently been clear though that dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan is essential to resolving this longstanding conflict. This is something that the Secretary and others here continue to be deeply engaged on and we will continue to work on this.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. And on Georgia. Georgia parliament today approved amendments that restrict freedom of gathering and (inaudible) from demonstrations. Do you have any position on that – the opposition calls it second Russian war.
MR PATEL: I’ve not those items, Alex, so I will just refrain from commenting.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a quick – quick follow-up? He mentioned Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: France yesterday announced that they were going to provide arms, military aid to Armenia, irking some of our allies, including Türkiye. And does the State Department plan on increasing any military aid? Do you have anything to – not to announce specifically, but is there any change in posture after the recent developments that happened? And from the Hill, you’ve got Senator Cardin today also calling for a halt to military aid to Azerbaijan.
MR PATEL: I have no change in posture to announce. Again, we continue to believe that dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues to be incredibly important to finding a dignified and durable peace for the South Caucasus. It’s why the Secretary has engaged on this so personally, continuing to speak with counterparts and interlocutors in both countries.
QUESTION: Have you guys consulted with – did the French consult you before this decision?
MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into private diplomatic conversations.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)