Department Press Briefing – May 13, 2024


MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR PATEL: Sorry. All right. I have one very brief thing at the top, and then I’m happy to dive into your questions.

With that, Daphne, you want to kick us off?

QUESTION: Great, thanks. Has the Secretary had any more conversations with Israeli counterparts since yesterday? I saw the readout of his conversation with Israel’s defense minister. Can you provide any more detail on what they discussed as well? The readout didn’t go beyond the usual lines.

QUESTION: And what has the tone of these latest conversations been?

MR PATEL: Well, we have been pretty clear – both publicly and privately – that as it relates to a potential military operation in Rafah that we would be opposed to one that does not address our very serious concern about humanitarian aid, about the more than a million people who are seeking refuge, as well as Rafah being a region that is key to the facilitation of the safe departure of foreign nationals.

And so we are continuing to have conversations about that, continuing to have conversations about ensuring that every measure possible is pursued to ensure the increase of flow of humanitarian aid so that more aid can get into Gaza, and we’re continuing to discuss areas in which we can continue to collaborate to ensure the defeat of Hamas and that the October 7th terrorist attacks can’t be repeated.

QUESTION: Has Israel provided any assurances to the U.S. that the operation in Rafah will remain limited?

MR PATEL: So again, we have yet to see a credible plan for a military operation in Rafah that addresses the areas of concern that I just laid out.

QUESTION: And you say you haven’t seen a credible plan, but how much detail does Israel provide on its plans in its conversations?

MR PATEL: I am just not going to get into that level of specificity of our diplomatic engagements.

QUESTION: And then I just have one more on Gaza. Sorry. There’s some footage on social media reportedly showing protesters blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza at the Tarqumiyah crossing and damaging its contents. Are you aware of this, and have you raised this with Israeli officials?

MR PATEL: So we are aware of these reports and we have raised this with officials in Israel. You saw in the Secretary’s readout of some calls that he had last week of this being raised as well, but I will reiterate it here. It is our strong view that aid cannot and must not be interfered with. We have raised this incident with the Government of Israel, and we expect them to take appropriate action.

QUESTION: Sure. Can I go to the memo that was released on —

QUESTION: — Friday, the NSM-20? I’m sure lots of people have questions on it. In it, the State Department says it’s reasonable to assess that there could be violations, but of course saying not – that there’s no evidence of it. If it’s reasonable to assess that there are violations, how does this affect State Department planning going forward? Should there be greater concern and greater restrictions potentially on weapons going forward?

MR PATEL: So there’s no policy change to announce, Shaun. What the report makes clear is that – first, to take a little bit of a step back, the report makes clear that this is a very complex and complicated battlefield. It is a very dense and urban setting. We are also dealing with a belligerent – in this case, Hamas – that has a clear track record and history of co-locating itself with civilians and civilian infrastructure, using civilians as human shields. We’ve also made clear in the report that the IDF has taken – undertaken steps to implement international humanitarian law obligations for the protections of civilians in the current conflict, including requirements that are related to distinction, proportionality, and others.

But we also are clear in our report that it’s reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under the National Security Memorandum have been used by Israeli security forces in instances that are inconsistent with its IHL obligations. But we also have no direct indication of Israel intentionally targeting civilians.

But to take us back – a step back, Shaun – and I guess this addresses kind of your broader question – a country’s overall commitment to international humanitarian law is not necessarily disproven by what may be individual IHL violations. And the most important thing here is that Israel does not – Israel does have a number of ongoing, active criminal investigations pending, and there are hundreds of other cases under administrative review. Israel has taken steps to – and is taking steps to – hold itself and its actions accountable.

Simultaneously, we also continue to have tools are our disposal that existed before the National Security Memorandum and existed afterwards, things like the CHIRG process, the Leahy process, the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, end-use monitoring, and other things, to continue to assess and continue to look into instances that are reported to us that may be concerning. The same is – can be said about humanitarian aid. We continue to monitor that situation very closely, and we’ll continue to assess the Government of Israel by its actions as it relates to humanitarian aid.

QUESTION: Sure. Now, when you say you have lots of tools at your disposal, I know you said that you think that the Israelis have taken action on their own, and that it’s – and in the State Department’s view it’s – there’s no intentional – there’s no intention there. But if it’s reasonable to assess there have been – that things have gone against the spirit of international humanitarian law, are there – is there more that can be done, and particularly with this, if it’s a question of not actually having evidence of it? Will the State Department continue to probe and see if there’s a – there is —

MR PATEL: So we’ll continue to look at the circumstances on the ground, as we have prior to the National Security Memorandum was even signed. The – it’s important to remember that the NSM did not outline or create any new parameters or mechanisms. Really, it was another assessment tool, and the tools that we have at our disposal will continue to exist.

But again, Shaun, it’s important to remember that, given the nature of what is happening on the ground and given the nature of Hamas’s track record of co-locating itself with civilians, using civilians as human shields, we are unable to make a conclusive determination as it relates to violations of international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Just one for – one more for me on this.

QUESTION: I mean, the – in terms of the message that’s being sent from this, what message do you expect Israel in particular to see from this, the fact that you’re saying that they’re – not you personally, but the State Department is saying that there are potentially violations of the spirit, things that are going against international humanitarian law, but there are no – there’s no firm evidence here and no repercussions? What message do you think should be taken from this? Do you think there should be a sense of they should do more? They should do more to – they could do better, potentially?

MR PATEL: Absolutely. Our message continues to be what our message has been for some time, which is that the United States stands with Israel in its effort to defeat Hamas and hold the terrorists accountable, for those that were responsible for the October 7th terrorist attacks. But simultaneously, there is a moral and strategic imperative to take every possible step to minimize civilian casualties, steps that we know that the IDF has the tools and the capability to undertake, things that, unfortunately, are not being met in certain instances, but simultaneously, that this is also a belligerent that is using civilians as human shields, and therefore we’ve not been able to come to any kind of conclusive conclusion on this.

And on the humanitarian aid front, we’ll continue to press all regional partners, including the Government of Israel, to do everything we can to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just sticking on the National Security Memorandum —

QUESTION: — would you – I mean, you say – you’ve mentioned CHIRG; you’ve mentioned that the State Department has its own internal process of assessing cases for Israel and other countries that are in conflict. Would you say that the National Security Memorandum has at least been a useful tool for the State Department in being able to bring forward some of these conclusions in a public light, whereas perhaps your other internal processes wouldn’t have necessarily done so or wouldn’t plan on doing so anytime soon?

MR PATEL: So I think the important thing to remember here, Camilla, is that no new standards were imposed. Instead, the National Security Memorandum was a tool that spelled out already existing standards set by U.S. policy and set by international law, including the Law of Armed Conflict, that countries must adhere to. This is – we view the National Security Memorandum as now another tool in our toolbelt to assess circumstances on the ground and to, in this particular case, assess the use of U.S. security articles in a particular battlefield.

But I think the important thing to remember is that we didn’t issue this memorandum because we thought any country was necessarily violating the standards. Instead, we wanted to be transparent about the standards that we require countries to adhere to and offer an assessment of a certain time period that the National Security Memorandum is consistent with.

QUESTION: Can I just – just one on something that was mentioned —

QUESTION: — in the report released on Friday. It said that 40 percent of the Israel/Gaza-related cases within the State Department’s CHIRG process are now closed. Can you give us an idea of what closed means? Does that mean that some of them have gone through to the Leahy process? Have others gone – other cases been deferred back to Israel for them to come to some kind of conclusion or agreement on what could be improved or done better? How do we assess the word “closed” now with those 40 percent?

MR PATEL: So I will check for specifics, Camilla, but the important thing to remember about the CHIRG process is that there are a number of outputs that can be at the end of the CHIRG process, some of them including the Leahy process. Some of it could be consultations with the government through our bilateral relationship. Some of those outputs could be additional training. So I’m not going to speak to the deliberative process in specificity beyond just saying that we continue to have tools at our disposal to look at this, and we have every intention to do so. And we make that very clear in the national security memorandum, that we’ll continue to use the tools at our disposal to continue to look at the situations on the ground, look as the – this conflict develops, but also look at the flow of humanitarian aid and the protection of civilians as well.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify a couple things you said?

MR PATEL: Sure. Let me do it, and then I’ll come to you, Said.

QUESTION: On the raising with Israel the incident on aid trucks, that was today’s incident? Is that right?

QUESTION: Clarifying you didn’t mean more generally. And then who raised with who?

MR PATEL: As you know, I’m not going to get into the specifics of these conversations. But we talk to our partners in Israel all the time, around the clock, and have no – and intend to raise issues like this when they – when they come up.

QUESTION: And then you told Shaun that a country’s overall commitment to international humanitarian law is not necessarily disproven, but by what may be individual IHL violations. There have been accusations for dozens of incidents; if all those end up being violations, can you still say Israel is fulfilling its commitment to abide by IHL?

MR PATEL: That is – I’m just not going to get ahead of a hypothetical. We are talking about things that are still mid-process in some instances. But again, in the context of the national security memorandum, given the circumstances on the ground, we have not been able to make a conclusive determination. But again, just given what we are seeing, it is fair to assess that there have been instances in which Israel has not held up its obligation of complying with international humanitarian law.

We will continue to pursue these kinds of things through the tools that exist in the United States, but Israel has also indicated that it will continue to pursue accountability through the mechanisms that exist in its own government. And they have indicated to us that they have hundreds of cases open, including some that are in administrative review, and some that are in the middle of prosecution. And we’ll let them speak to those processes.

QUESTION: But given all that, do you still feel Israel is fulfilling its commitment to IHL and that it is committed to it?

MR PATEL: That is – that’s our understanding, yes. That’s what we believe.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just to follow up on Camilla’s point, now you’re saying that – okay, they likely broke the law, but not enough to change policy. So what is the point of the report? I mean in simplest terms, what is the point?

MR PATEL: I think I answered that question, Said.

QUESTION: I understand, I just want to hear –

MR PATEL: If you understand, then why are you asking?

QUESTION: No. I want to hear your justification for if you have a report there, the policy is not going to change, there is to be breaking the law and so on, you are likely to have –

MR PATEL: That’s not what we – that’s not the – that’s not what we – that’s not what the report says, Said. The report is public —

QUESTION: The report says they’re not – they did not likely break the law?

MR PATEL: The report says – first of all, let me just be clear about what this is. The national security memorandum does not impose any new standards. It is a – we spelled out the existing standards that have already existed, set by U.S. policy and international law, and that – what we expect countries and partners to adhere to when they receive weapons from the United States.

As it relates to Israel, the report does not determine that Israel has violated international humanitarian law. But we believe, through various assessments of instances, that it is likely that in these instances there have – they have failed to meet their obligations of meeting international humanitarian law. But that is a process that’s going to continue, both through the tools that are at our disposal and the tools in which the Israeli Government has to hold itself accountable.

QUESTION: So when the president of Israel, Herzog, says there are no civilians in Gaza – that’s what he said; when Gallant says they’re human animals and we’re going to wipe out Gaza – those were his words; when the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, says the Amalekites spare no one, kill the children, do all that – that is not enough evidence that they were planning —

MR PATEL: Said, this is not —

QUESTION: — that they were planning – they were planning – they were planning to —

MR PATEL: As upsetting as it might be for you, this is not an – this is not a report on rhetoric, okay? That’s – this is a —

QUESTION: Okay. So you consider that to be rhetoric?

MR PATEL: This is a report on the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground are there are civilians in Gaza.

MR PATEL: So I would dispute with anybody making that claim. But two, what we’re talking about is what the facts are. And the facts are that we are dealing with a belligerent that uses civilians as human shields, has a long track record of co-locating itself with civilians –

MR PATEL: — and civilian infrastructure, and thus it has not been possible to make a conclusive assessment. However, we do not determine that Israel has violated international law, but what we are saying, Said, is that, one, Israel has had to confront an extraordinary military challenge; but that simultaneously, it is reasonable to assess that Israel – Israeli security forces, since October 7th, there have been instances that are inconsistent with its international humanitarian law obligations. And the United States will continue to look at instances on the ground through the tools that are at our disposal, but also our partners in Israel have indicated to us that they will continue to take steps to look into this through their own system as well.

QUESTION: Let me – just a couple more questions, if you indulge me. The President said yesterday – I mean, we’re talking about the negotiations and is there a deal in the offing or no deal. The President said that Hamas could have a ceasefire now if they wanted to, if they release the hostages. But there was deal, basically the American deal, to which Hamas agreed that would have done this last week or 10 days ago and so on, but it was rejected by Israel. Isn’t that the case?

MR PATEL: That’s absolutely not the case, Said.

QUESTION: Not the case. So what is the case?

MR PATEL: Said, again over the course of this it has been very clear that Hamas has continued to move the goal posts on this. And we’ll reiterate what you’ve heard many others say from up here, including the Secretary, that this conflict could be over yesterday —

MR PATEL: — if Hamas simply came out of the tunnels, laid down its arms, or at minimum took the deal that had been on the table for quite some time. We’re going to continue to work at this. We continue to think a ceasefire is possible, one that is coupled with the release of hostages and additional humanitarian aid.

QUESTION: Right. So the ball now is in Hamas’s court?

MR PATEL: That is correct. It has always been in Hamas’s court, Said.

QUESTION: Always been. Okay. One last thing. I don’t know if you saw the CNN report on the prisoners they “Strapped down, blindfolded, held in diapers: Israeli whisteblowers detail abuse of Palestinians in shadowy detention center.” Are you aware of this report?

MR PATEL: I’ve seen those reports, Said, and we’re concerned by them. Our – we’re looking into these and other allegations of abuse against Palestinians in detention. And we’ve been clear and consistent with any country, including Israel, that it must treat all detainees humanely, with dignity, in accordance with international law, and it must respect detainees’ human rights. And so we have asked – we have reiterated that Israel has an obligation to thoroughly investigate credible violations of international humanitarian law.

Gillian, go ahead, you’ve had your hand up for some time. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: That’s okay. I wanted to get a response. Senator Chris Van Hollen said, after reading the report, that there’s enough on the books to be able to point to specific cases and make specific determinations, and on that score the administration is ducking the hard questions in the report. Do you have a response to that?

MR PATEL: So we are pretty clear in our report that the nature of conflict in Gaza and the fact that Hamas uses civilian infrastructure for military purpose makes it difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents. So while we found it reasonable to assess that there have been instances where Israel has not acted consistent with IHL or acted consistent with best practices for civilian harm mitigation over the course of the conflict, the report doesn’t reach a conclusive finding because of this very difficult and challenging battlefield environment, as well as the kind of belligerent that we are dealing with. And we have been very clear about that.

We have also laid out in the full national security memorandum the other tools that we have at our disposal to assess situations on the ground, not just in Israel but in any conflict zone, as we do when it comes to violations of international humanitarian law. Those processes continue to be ongoing.

QUESTION: So you keep mentioning that the report makes the administration’s position and findings clear. I guess on the flip side of the coin, you have folks like Senator Tom Cotton; his reaction to the report was – he said it’s very clear there is no evidence Israel is violating international law; all civilian casualties in Gaza are solely the responsible of Hamas.

Given these divergent, like, interpretations of this report, do you think the State Department’s going to take any steps to clarify those findings further with the Hill, or —

MR PATEL: Well, I really can’t speak to the general confusion among Congress. That’s for them to clarify or seek clarification on what is confusing for them. Our report lays out pretty clearly the – and lays out pretty clearly especially the section on the conflict in Gaza. But of course in the course of this whole conversation, we’ll continue to engage with Congress on areas of concern or on questions that they have, and I have no doubt that that process will move forward. But I don’t have any specifics to share on that.

QUESTION: Is that the – is that – what Senator Cotton laid out, is that the correct or accurate – is that an accurate reflection of the report’s —

MR PATEL: I will let the senator clarify his own comments. What I can say from here is what I have reiterated to your colleagues, which is that there have not – we have not been able to reach or assess conclusive findings on individual incidents, but we find that it is reasonable to assess that there have been instances when Israel has not acted consistent with international humanitarian law or acted consistent with the best practices for civilian harm mitigation. But we’ll continue to look at this conflict through the tools that we have at our disposal, and Israel has indicated that it will do so as well.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Rafah crossing? Did you ask Israel to open it, and do you support an American company to manage it or to control the (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: So we certainly – we certainly want it to be open, Michel, for reasons that you’ve heard me talk about a great time before – one, just Rafah is a region that more than a million people are seeking refuge. It is a region that is an important conduit for humanitarian aid. It is – the Rafah crossing is the crossing for foreign nationals to safely depart Gaza. Unfortunately, this is not a border crossing that the United States controls, but we are continuing to work around the clock with the Government of Israel, with the Government of Egypt on whatever we can do to make sure that Rafah gets open.

Obviously, to reopen such a crossing requires some kind of security and operational control on the Gaza side of the border, and we’re continuing to work with our partners in Israel and Egypt for that to happen. Kerem Shalom is open and we are in the meantime trying to maximize as much input through Kerem Shalom as possible, but fully acknowledging that that is not enough and that we need to see Rafah reopened as soon as possible as well.

QUESTION: Did you get any promise from Israel that —

MR PATEL: So this is something that we’re continuing to work with them and work with them directly on. I don’t have any updates.

QUESTION: And on an American security company to control the crossing, do you support that?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any assessment to offer on that, but beyond saying that I think the President and the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have been pretty clear that we’re not going to see American boots on the ground in Gaza.

QUESTION: Private company, not the government.

MR PATEL: I’m just not – this is the first time of hearing such kind of talks, Michel. I don’t even know if that is a real thing being considered, so I don’t have a comment for you.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the number of American citizens who might still be in Gaza and want to come out, particularly given Israel’s start of its operation in Rafah?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have an update on specific numbers, Camilla, but this is fluid and quickly evolving situation. So far, over the course of this conflict, we have assisted over 1,800 U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and family members to depart Gaza through Rafah entering into Egypt. As long as – for when the crossing is open, we expect those numbers to continue to grow. Yeah.

QUESTION: Follow-up on —

MR PATEL: Ryan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, at The Intercept we’re hearing that there are two medical missions of American citizens, doctors, who are at the European hospital in Khan Younis facing dehydration. At least one of them is on an IV drip now. It’s – our understanding is that relatives have been in touch with the State Department, U.S. administration. Is there anything you can say about efforts to get them out? And was the UN vehicle that was on the way to the European hospital part of those efforts?

MR PATEL: So let me start with the second part. I’m not sure of the operational and logistical specifics of what was involved in those specific efforts or not, but I can say is that we’re aware of these reports of U.S. citizens, doctors and medical professionals, currently unable to leave Gaza. As I have said before, we don’t control this border crossing and this is a incredibly complex situation that has very serious implications for the safety and security of U.S. citizens. But we’re continuing to work around the clock with the Government of Israel, with the Government of Egypt, to work on this issue, not just to address the very serious humanitarian assistance concerns that I just talked about, but as you so pointed out – and I and Matt have addressed before – Rafah is a conduit for the safe departure of foreign nationals, which is why we continue to want to see it get opened as swiftly as possible.

QUESTION: And what does it say about conditions more generally in Rafah and in Khan Younis if American doctors who only arrived there recently are already suffering from dehydration and malnutrition?

MR PATEL: So look, we have not been unambiguous about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is a crisis. No amount of humanitarian aid at this moment is enough. We need to be doing everything we can to get more, to get more humanitarian aid, food, medicine, water, other appropriate supplies, into Gaza. And that is why you have seen this administration champion really an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to humanitarian aid. We have been engaging directly with partners in the region to ensure that every crossing possible that can allow for the access of trucks and other things is able to make its way into Gaza. You have seen us undertake air drops, you’ve seen our partners in Jordan undertake air drops. And we’re continuing to press and hope that this maritime corridor is a conduit, and we believe that will be the case very soon as well.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Said’s question —

QUESTION: — on the CNN report regarding the human rights violations at the detention center in Israel. You asked Israel to investigate itself, but would you support an independent investigation into those allegations?

MR PATEL: So on this situation, Rabia, I don’t – don’t have additional circumstances beyond what has been in the public reporting, so at this time I don’t have any additional independent investigation to call for.

QUESTION: And one thing on the State Department’s report released Friday. You say that you do not currently assess that Israeli Government is restricting the aid, but I want to go back to the April 4 phone call between Biden and Netanyahu, after which Israeli Government opened more aid corridors into Gaza and increased the – immediately increased the number of aid trucks, and after Biden pressured Netanyahu. So how do you explain Israel’s refusal to take these steps like six months ago, and does this suggest that Israel was deliberately restricting aid?

MR PATEL: It does not, Rabia, and I think one of the things that is probably most confusing to me up here from the lines of questioning we’re getting is that this – these issues are not black and white, and certainly this is not a region in which the issues are black and white. Multiple things can be true. Since October 7th, it is correct we have had deep concerns about the kinds of actions that Israel was taking that contributed to a lack of sustained and predictable delivery of needed assistance at scale, and aid needing to reach the Palestinian civilians who need it. But simultaneously, that does not mean that the government was prohibiting or restricting the delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance.

We will continue to always want to see more. We want to press for more, and over the past few weeks we have seen some steps in the right direction, some – some that David Satterfield came and talked to you all about. Those improvements need to be sustained now, and we need to continue to see more. But wanting to see more is very different than dealing with a situation in which a country is restricting the flow of aid, and we have not seen that in this case.

QUESTION: But again, you mentioned the steps that were taken by Israel recently, but how do you explain that Israel could have certainly taken these steps like six months ago, right? Do you agree?

MR PATEL: Certainly, we don’t disagree with that assessment. But when you are talking about the legal and the policy jurisdiction over this, what we are talking about is whether we have seen a prohibition or a restriction of humanitarian assistance. And while even in the immediate weeks and months following October 7th we certainly were not satisfied with what we were seeing, we did not see a restriction or prohibition. That is what we are talking about, and that continues to be where we are today. We do not see a prohibition or a restriction on humanitarian aid. We don’t see enough going in and we continue to be pressing every possible way to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza, but we do not see a prohibition and restriction.

QUESTION: Just final one.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the number of trucks currently going into Gaza, daily number?

MR PATEL: I don’t have an update for you today, but I am happy to check the team and see if we have any additional for you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. A question on Iraq. Iraqi prime minister —

MR PATEL: Can I come back to you? I think there might be a couple other Gaza questions, then I’ll come back to you.

MR PATEL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: The UN has lowered the number of – the estimate of women and children who’ve died in Gaza. Does the U.S. have confidence in those numbers?

MR PATEL: So I’ll let the UN speak to any revised number that it is assessing. Our urge has been clear that every step possible needs to be taken to protect civilians and adhere to international humanitarian law to prevent further loss of life. Candidly, and any loss of life, particularly of innocent civilians is tragic, it’s heartbreaking and unacceptable to us.

QUESTION: But the U.S. does not have its own estimate?

MR PATEL: This is something we’ve talked about before. There is not – aside from the Gazan ministry of health, there is not another metric or count out there when it comes to the deaths that have transpired in Gaza.

QUESTION: Vedant, just to caution, this report attributed to the UN seems to be false, just so you know.

MR PATEL: Pardon me, Said?

QUESTION: This report attributed to the UN seems to have no veracity.

MR PATEL: I will let the UN speak to that. Again, what I —

QUESTION: No, I’m just – I’m just bringing that up so people are aware.

MR PATEL: Thanks for your clarification.

Go ahead in the back. On Gaza?

QUESTION: You say there are instances where the Israelis have acted which are not consistent with international humanitarian law, but you can make no definite conclusion. A lot of people will be asking: Where’s the gap? Why can’t you make a definitive conclusion? And is it a political gap rather than a legal gap?

MR PATEL: It is absolutely not a political gap. It is a gap rooted in the circumstances on the ground and the kind of belligerent that we are dealing with. We are unable to make a conclusive determination because of the kind of hostilities that the Israelis are engaged in right now. We are dealing with a belligerent – Hamas, a terrorist group – that has a long track record of co-locating itself within hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, other kinds of civilian infrastructure, using civilians as human shields.

So we’re unable to make a conclusive determination; but like I said, we do think it’s reasonable to assess that there have been instances in which our partners in Israel have not met their obligations for abiding by international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: And follow-up on that —

QUESTION: How do you have better visibility in Ukraine, when there’s a belligerent in far as the U.S. is concerned with Russia, but you don’t have that same level of visibility when you’re dealing with an ally in Israel?

MR PATEL: Your question is rooted in the premise that these are – we’re talking about apples and apples here, and that is just simply not the case. We are talking about two very distinct circumstances. Let me just give you one example. First and foremost, not now, not ever has the Russian Federation ever proven itself to be an entity that can hold itself accountable, that can police itself, that can bring perpetrators to justice within its own system.

Israel, on the other hand, is taking steps consistent with its own system to hold people accountable, to bring people to justice. I would just point back to the World Central Kitchen tragic incident. In the immediate days after that, you saw the Government of Israel take appropriate action as it relates to a number of officers within its own Israeli security services. We have never seen the Russian Federation do something similar.

Your – also – question is rooted in the premise that Israel and Russia are somehow the same, which they absolutely are not. And if we want to talk about this, let’s talk about how Hamas is, again, co-locating itself within civilian infrastructure, co-locating itself in places like schools and hospitals, using civilians as human shields. I will say that there is so much space and so much night and day between the Ukrainian army and Hamas, but that is not even something – that’s not some of the Ukrainian army is doing. So I appreciate that people in the media enjoy making this comparison between Israel and Russia and the conflict in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza, but we are – we’re not even talking about apples and oranges; we’re talking about apples and candy bars. They are two different – yeah.

QUESTION: So we’re talking about enemies – we also seem to be talking about enemies and allies.

MR PATEL: We are talking about two very distinct and different circumstances that are not even comparable.

QUESTION: May I have a follow-up on that?

QUESTION: But his question was not about what Ukrainians and Russian are doing, or what Israel and Hamas are doing. His question was about your visibility, how couldn’t you have the visibility in —

MR PATEL: Our visibility into whether – our visibility into whether a government has the ability to hold itself accountable is absolutely something that, like, is – plays into this.

QUESTION: But it’s not —

QUESTION: Then you – it’s not – it’s not about the Government of Israel, the Government of Russia. How could you have eyes in Ukraine to determine? Because I – a technicality – I think what you mean by violating international law, that you have to prove intent. This is the standard, right – intent to violate. But how did you have the intent – to find the intent with the Russian army to violate international law when you concluded that the Russian army did war crimes in Ukraine, and you couldn’t find that with your allies?

MR PATEL: So again, we are talking about two very different and distinct circumstances. And the things that we are seeing in Ukraine, the things that we are seeing Russian security forces do in Ukraine – mass executions, things like Bucha, the conscription and the forced relocation of children – it is – I am not at all saying that Gaza is not in crisis, that it is not a humanitarian major area of concern. But these are two very different and distinct circumstances, and the actors in both of these situations could not be more different.

And again, a big piece of this is that we have never seen the Russian Federation try and hold itself accountable, to hold its security services accountable, to bring perpetrators within their own system to justice. And we have seen, and we have heard from our Israeli partners that they are doing so.

QUESTION: Sorry, one – just one really quick question on this.

QUESTION: So was this an independent U.S. investigation to decide whether or not Israel had broken international humanitarian law, or was this a U.S. investigation aided by the Israelis?

MR PATEL: The Israelis were not involved in the production of the United States’s national security memorandum.

QUESTION: That’s not an answer to the question.

MR PATEL: Go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Can we move to another topic?

MR PATEL: I think there’s probably a couple other questions on Gaza. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Friday the – UNRWA shut down its office in occupied East Jerusalem because of two Israeli arson attacks. The Israeli police and fire departments didn’t come out to put out the fire; took a long time for them to come out, and the employees of UNRWA had to put up the fire while Israeli mobs were outside chanting with sticks and throwing rocks at the UNRWA employees. Israeli police said that they couldn’t prosecute because they – it was apparent to them that these were minors that did this, these arsons. And they said that, according to Israeli law, they do not prosecute minors. Do you have anything on this? I have a follow-up to this but do you – are you aware of this?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware of this report, and I would defer to local officials and authorities to speak to this. What I can say is that any kinds of actions like these certainly are not helpful for peace and stability in the region. They take us further away from a two-state solution, which has continued to be this administration’s goal. I will say UNRWA continues to be an important humanitarian player in the region and a key distributor of humanitarian aid, and one that does important work. But this is a largely localized issue. I don’t have anything for you on —

QUESTION: Well, it’s UNRWA, but on – now, on the other hand, the Government of Israel has a policy or – of detaining minors, Palestinian minors, in the West Bank. Between 400 and 600 are the estimates every single year. And my question is: Given this difference – which many international humanitarian or human rights organizations say that Israel is an apartheid state and is practicing apartheid in the West Bank and in Gaza, and in Israel itself – how does the United States not acknowledge this apartheid when it’s very, very obvious that there are two different treatments of minors?

MR PATEL: When it comes to detention, we have been clear with our partners in Israel that they need to abide by international humanitarian law and human rights need to be protected when it comes to its detainees. But the decision of prosecution or not or how our partners in Israel or the PA or otherwise or any entity – how they choose to enforce their local laws, I’m just not going to get into that.

QUESTION: But, I mean, it’s a consistent practice. It’s not something that happened one time or two – over years, many years. It’s very consistent and obvious and it reflects —

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to speak or comment on this specifically. What we have been clear about is that actions like these, they detract from our ultimate goal of peace and stability in the region and getting us towards a two-state solution.

MR PATEL: I’m going to work the room a little bit.

MR PATEL: Let me see. Is there anything else on Gaza before we move away? Okay.

QUESTION: It’s just a – it’s a very quick one.

QUESTION: Hamas is saying that it lost contact with one – with a group holding one American hostage or hostages, including one American, because of the bombing. Is that something you’re aware of?

MR PATEL: I would – just wouldn’t speak to those kinds of assessments from up here.

QUESTION: Are you aware of it or is it —

MR PATEL: I don’t – I don’t have anything on that. I’m happy to check though, Shaun.

MR PATEL: So first and foremost, let me reiterate what you’ve heard me say before, is that President Biden, Secretary Blinken will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, period. We continue to assess, though, that Iran is not currently undertaking the key activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device, and we don’t believe that the supreme leader has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge Iran suspended or stopped at the end of 2003. But again, we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, period.

QUESTION: But knowing that Islamic Republic is a threshold – nuclear threshold state, do you have any new strategy for now about that? Because the negotiations at the moment is going nowhere. There is no negotiations based on what we hear from you, not based on what we hear from Islamic Republic. They are claiming that there are ongoing, behind-the-curtain negotiations. So what are you doing at the moment about a country that we know it’s a nuclear threshold state?

MR PATEL: So let me just say this, that we have ways – by ways of communicating with Iran when it’s in our interest. I’m not going to comment on them, but I will just reiterate that we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon, period. And I’m just going to leave it at that for now.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

QUESTION: — and also the risks of militia groups that becoming stronger and gaining more power in Iraq?

MR PATEL: Yeah, thanks for your question. So the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq – that was a mandate that was established back in 2003. The U.S. has strongly supported the mission’s work in providing not just electoral assistance but facilitating regional dialogue, ensuring appropriate delivery of humanitarian assistance, and supporting the voluntary returns of displaced Iraqis. But it has also served as a mechanism to advance progress on the return of Kuwaiti property and the national archives and the repatriation or return of all Kuwaiti and third-country nationals.

So we are working with the Government of Iraq and fellow Security Council members to ensure an orderly and responsible wind-down that meets not just the needs of the Iraqi people but also maintains progress towards the final resolution of outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait.

QUESTION: And may I ask a question on China and U.S. —

QUESTION: — meeting in Geneva? Yeah. Does that meeting in Geneva with the Chinese on AI – it’s to voice concern about where they pose threats to U.S. national security, or there will be discussions with aims at promoting technical collaboration on frontier research between the U.S. and China?

MR PATEL: I’m going to let these conversations happen first, and then I’m happy to circle back and give you a sense of what was discussed.

MR PATEL: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL: And then I’ll come to you, Shaun. I’ll work – get a couple. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Thanks so much to you both. Just very quickly on Ukraine —

MR PATEL: So Russia continues to press its aggression, and we anticipate that Russia will attempt to press forward within Kharkiv as well, and it’s possible that Russia will make further advances in the coming weeks. But we do not anticipate any major breakthroughs, and over time, the additional influx of U.S. assistance and continued support from partners will enable Ukraine to continue to withstand this kind of aggression. We continue to feel strongly that Ukraine retains the key advantages in this fight, and its military remains a brave and effective fighting force that is imposing significant costs on the Russian military.

QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to Georgia, if I may.

MR PATEL: So, Alex, I think this is – the common throughline here is that the kind of actions that we’re seeing, they are inconsistent with the self-stated aspirations of the Georgian people – not something that other countries or the United States are saying, but the self-stated aspirations of the people of Georgia. More than 80 people – 80 percent of the – sorry, not 80 people – more than 80 percent of the Georgian people want EU membership. We support that aspiration, and we urge the Government of Georgia to continue on a path of EU integration and one that’s consistent with that.

The Georgian Government has said that it wanted to join the EU and have a relationship with transatlantic alliances such as NATO, but this kind of legislative activity that’s being pursued – this kind of government action, its current activity – it is inconsistent with those stated goals, Alex.

QUESTION: Given that and given it’s clear that the GD government, the Kremlin-backed government, is departed from that aspiration, what is your message? Like, there’s a messaging crisis here. You are urging them not to do it because it’s going to damage the U.S. and European relationship with the GD – which is their goal, one would argue – without suggesting any real consequences (inaudible).

MR PATEL: Well, Alex, we’re certainly not going to preview any kind of consequences or actions publicly. That’s now how we’ve gone about it. But we think that raising alarm of these kinds of actions is certainly enough of a fire alarm, we hope. And we’ll continue to consult closely with our partners in Europe on this.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the two American citizens that have been illegally detained and brutally beaten by the GD government?

MR PATEL: So we’re aware of those reports, Alex, of U.S. citizens detained in Tbilisi. Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained abroad, we stand ready to provide all appropriate assistance. But, given privacy considerations, I’m just not able to talk more about this.

QUESTION: Has the embassy reached out to them or —

MR PATEL: Again, given privacy considerations, I’m just not able to talk more.

QUESTION: Maybe just briefly to expand on that. I mean, are you explicitly calling on Georgia not to go ahead with the foreign interference law?

MR PATEL: So that ultimately is a decision for the Georgian Government to make, but what we are saying is that this kind of law – not only is it inconsistent with their own aspirations, it is, in fact, consistent with the kind of repressive legislation that we have seen in other – come from other regimes, whether it be the Kremlin or otherwise.

MR PATEL: So I’ve seen the reports of the reshuffle in the Kremlin, Shaun. Our point of view is that this is further indication of Putin’s desperation to sustain his war of aggression against Ukraine, despite it not just being a major drain on the Russian economy and heavy losses of Russian troops, with some estimates as high as 315,000 casualties. The Kremlin’s mobilization of its war of aggression against Ukraine caused – has caused so many families in Russia to suffer. And Russia started this unprovoked war against Ukraine. Putin could end it at any time by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine instead of continuing to launch brutal attacks on the Ukrainian people every day.

QUESTION: I could expand on that, but just in the interest of time, a completely different topic.

MR PATEL: So we’re aware of these reports that Iran and India have signed a deal concerning the Chabahar port. I will let the Government of India speak to its own foreign policy goals vis-à-vis the Chabahar port as well as its own bilateral relationship with Iran. I will just say, as it relates to the United States, U.S. sanctions on Iran remain in place and we’ll continue to enforce them.

QUESTION: Does that mean including against Indian firms, potentially, about just —

MR PATEL: So broadly, Shaun, you’ve heard us say this in a number of instances, that any entity, anyone considering business deals with Iran, they need to be aware of the potential risk that they are opening themselves up to and the potential risk of sanctions.

QUESTION: So there’s not an exemption for this specifically?

QUESTION: Just one on Brazil.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any conversations to read out. We’re continuing to engage within our interagency and other partners. We stand ready to support the Brazilian Government and the Brazilian people; we stand ready to assist them. But I just don’t have anything to preview or announce at the moment.

QUESTION: There’s reporting that the U.S. ambassador to Germany has informed colleagues that she’ll be returning to the U.S. this summer, leaving a major vacancy. Can you confirm this, and are you concerned about this vacancy at this point?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any personnel announcements to get into right now.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I may ask two question about Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu visiting —

MR PATEL: It has not. A lot of factors go into who our government officials meet with or not – the schedule, time of day, lots of other things. Assistant Secretary Lu is on a swing through a number of South Asian countries – specifically India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. He is there to strengthen bilateral cooperation with each country and to demonstrate U.S. support for a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. In Bangladesh, he will meet with government officials, civil society leaders, and other Bangladeshis to talk about deepening our U.S.-Bangladeshi cooperation, including deepening our economic ties in ways that we can collaborate further to address climate issues.

MR PATEL: Go ahead – you had your hand up, in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MR PATEL: So I don’t have any specific engagements to read out. What I will just say is that when it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, we continue to believe that peace is possible. It’s something that the Secretary and others continue to remain deeply engaged on. I don’t have any updates on the negotiations between the parties, but we will continue to support this process.

QUESTION: And, I’m sorry, in the upcoming visit of Mr. Bono to the region?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any travel to preview.

All right, thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)

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