Department Press Briefing – October 18, 2022

October 18, 2022

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile
  • Military


Vedant Patel

Author's Title: 

Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Related Country: 

  • Russia
  • Ukraine

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Moving on to Ukraine and specifically with the Iranian drones – can you explain why it is that you and the French believe that the Iranian supply of these drones to Russia for use anywhere, but obviously Ukraine, is a violation of UN Security Council 2231?

MR PATEL: Sure. So, as I said yesterday, Iran’s supply of these specific types of UAVs to Russia is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and it is an issue for the UN Security Council. The reasoning for that – and as you know, Matt – 2231 remains in effect. Various aspects of it, of course, have phased out, but a specific aspect called Annex B has not. And paragraph 4 of Annex B has made clear its distinct restriction remains in effect. And what that is, is: in Annex B, it’s laid out that it prohibits the transfer from Iran of all items, materials, equipments, and goods, and technology unless approved in advance by the UN Security Council on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, both of the types of UAVs that we spoke about earlier in the summer that Iran had been provisioning to Russia meet the parameters under Category 2 because they are capable of a range equal to and greater than 300 kilometers. I would also note that the manufacturer of one of these drones, Qods Aviation, is subject to the asset freeze provision of paragraph 6 of Annex B 2231. And all states are required to freeze the funds or financial assets of these designated entities when they’re under such restrictions.

QUESTION: Okay. So, if that’s the case, why did you not say anything when these same drones were used in Yemen, in Syria, potentially Libya, dating back to 18 months ago, at the very least? Why is it now, when they’re being used in Ukraine, that you’re saying this is a violation?

MR PATEL: We would have said they were a violation then, too.

QUESTION: Well, you were actually asked in December of 2021. The Saudis asked you, the Israelis asked you, and I believe the Emiratis might have as well, after the first round – or one round of drone attacks, not just in Yemen but also inside Saudi and inside the UAE, to bring this up. And there was silence. So, the question is: Why now? Why not then? This is a repeated pattern of behavior.

MR PATEL: So, I think – first and foremost, I’m not going to get into specifics of diplomatic engagements that we’ve had with other countries. But what I can say is that the transfer of the specific UAVs by Iran would be a violation of paragraph 4 of Annex B. Whether they were sent to Houthis, whether they were sent to Russia, absent advance permission on a case-by-case basis by the UN Security Council, this would be a restriction. And in the case of the transfers in Yemen that you mentioned to the Houthis, these transfers would also have violated Resolution 2264.

And on the topic of Yemen, we are working closely with the UN Yemen Sanctions Committee panel of experts to facilitate their ongoing investigation of prior attacks in and from Yemen with the use of these types of UAVs. But I will also note that when we have assessed that Iran has transferred these same types of UAVs in the past, we have informed the UN. As in this case and as it relates to Yemen – but also, we have informed the UN about Iran’s transfer of the Mohajer-6 UAVs to Ethiopia last summer. I can’t speak to any public messaging around that. We – I certainly didn’t work here at the time, but this kind of transfer would fall under this restriction and would be subject to it.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then – but you’re making the case now publicly. So why didn’t you make the case prior, in the previous cases, publicly? Was it because you still had some hopes for getting – to revive or resurrect the JCPOA? Or was there something else going on that you didn’t think that it was a possibly a violation of 2231?

MR PATEL: Again, I’m not going to speculate on diplomatic engagements, because —

QUESTION: Okay. I’m not asking you to speculate. I just want – I want to know why it’s a big deal now, and it wasn’t a big deal then.

MR PATEL: It was a big deal then, but it is also a big deal now.

QUESTION: Because you just said that you weren’t going to comment on —


QUESTION: — you weren’t going to – you didn’t raise it publicly.

MR PATEL: As I said, that the assessment of these transfers even back then would have been subject to these restrictions. I can’t comment on previously, but what I would say right now is that – and as I said yesterday – Russia becoming more reliant on a country like Iran, a country known for its destabilizing actions in the region and across the world should be deeply concerning to the world. And anyone doing business with Iran that could have a link to unmanned aircrafts systems or ballistic missiles development should be very careful and do their due diligence.

QUESTION: That’s a broader point though that, that has to do with your interpretation, your analysis of Russia running low and – on its own weapons and needing to rely on what you – on Iran or whoever. My question is specifically why didn’t you make a big deal about this when these same drones were being used to kill civilians in Yemen and in Syria?

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, I can’t speak to whatever decisions were made around then other than to reiterate, as I just said, that it would be our assessment that these transfers would be problematic and would have fallen under these restrictions back then as well, because these are the same types of UAVs.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then can you —

MR PATEL: And when we’ve found that, we have raised it appropriately with relevant countries.

QUESTION: Well, in fact – but it was raised by the Saudis and others back in December of 2021, and nothing was done.

MR PATEL: Again, Matt, we engage with countries on these very important issues. We don’t read out every single one of these engagements. As I’ve said, we raised these with the United Nations —

QUESTION: All right. I’ll stop —

MR PATEL: — when we have found –

QUESTION: I’ll stop after this: what are you – you’ve raised this with the Security Council now?

MR PATEL: We are working with our allies and partners, including at the UN, to address the escalating threats posed by Russia and Iran, and we’ll take appropriate actions as necessary. I’m not going to preview —

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry, I said I would stop. And if you were a betting — sorry, I said I would stop, but this is really the last one. If you were a betting man – well, even if you’re not a betting man, you’re going to bring this to the Security Council, asking for Security Council action to punish Iran and Russia for Russia taking – or Iran transferring these drones to Russia. What do you think the chances are of getting anything through the Security Council?

MR PATEL: Matt, I’m just not going to speculate on hypotheticals or get ahead of any previewed actions here.


QUESTION: On this?

QUESTION: New topic?

MR PATEL: Actually, can you stay on the region? Sure.


MR PATEL: Go ahead, Daphne, and then I’ll come to you Michel.

QUESTION: We’ve reported that Iran has promised to provide Russia with surface‑to‑surface missiles in addition to more drones. Does the State Department have any information on Iran providing these missiles to Russia? And how would the U.S. react to such a move?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any specific assessments to offer on what you raised, but as I said, Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something the entire world, especially those in the region, should view as a profound threat. And we will continue to take practical, aggressive steps to make these weapons sales harder, including sanctions, export control actions against any entities involved. For instance, as you all know, in early September, we sanctioned several Iranian persons involved in the productions of UAVs and weapons, and we have extensive tools available at our arsenal to disrupt not just Iranian arms transfers but also to continue to hold Russia accountable for their preposterous acts in Ukraine as well. But I’m just – I don’t have anything else to offer on this specific reporting.

QUESTION: How quickly do you expect you’ll act in response to this?

MR PATEL: Again, I am not going to preview a timeline or preview any specific actions on this.


QUESTION: This was my question.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on this one?

MR PATEL: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) very quickly on this very issue? Have you seen or you heard the statement by former Russian President Medvedev about manufacturing these drones in Russia? Have you heard anything about that?

MR PATEL: I have not – I have not seen that report.

QUESTION: And how would you react if they begin manufacturing these very drones with the same technology, and apparently very cheap, like $20,000 each?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, the crux of this issue is that Russia is using them in Ukraine, and they are using them in a country that they have illegally invaded. They’re using them to kill civilians. Some of the reporting we’ve seen that – over the past couple days of children being killed, pregnant women being killed. So, it really doesn’t – I don’t have any comment specifically on his actions, but their actions writ large in Ukraine, including the use of this kind of weaponry, is deeply troubling and should be a concern for everyone. And that’s why you’ve seen this department and this administration react so strongly.

QUESTION: And quickly, in your – I didn’t understand in your response to Matt on the connection with the JCPOA. Is there – these drones can, let’s say, jeopardize any effort to go back to the JCPOA on behalf of this administration?

MR PATEL: So, look Said, we continue to view diplomacy as the best path forward to contain Iran’s nuclear program and as the best measure to put verifiable and accountability measures and metrics on Iran’s nuclear program. As you’ve seen, the Iranian regime continues to pursue parameters that are extraneous to the JCPOA, parameters that are unacceptable to the United States and its E3 partners. So really ultimately, it’s up to Tehran, but we continue to view diplomacy as an avenue to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

Anything else on the region before we move away?

QUESTION: On this topic, on this topic. Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Iran?

MR PATEL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, thanks so much. Back to the question on shipping missiles, if Iran and Russia have agreed to have this type of engagement – according to media reports they have, based on the October 6 agreement – then we’re in a different territory. I mean, transferring missiles requires ground transportation, right? It’s not like they can fly it as drones. That also means you need to start working with the countries located in between Iran and Russia, which is Armenia, Azerbaijan, and others. Do you think they have clear understanding of potential consequences if they allow their territories to be used for this sort of engagement?

MR PATEL: Thanks, Alex. I’m not going to speculate on how other countries might feel about one country or the other, but I would use this opportunity to reiterate again that Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world, including those in the region – including some of the countries that you mentioned, should view as a profound threat. On one hand, you have Russia, which is taking part in a barbaric, illegal, and unjust invasion of another country; and on the other hand, you have Iran, one that is known for partaking in destabilizing, violent actions in the region as well. So, the entire region should be – should be concerned.


QUESTION: Yeah. I have colleagues in Europe reporting that European Union countries are still reviewing evidence to fully certify that it was Iranian drones that were used, and they’re looking to get a new sanctions package together by the end of the week. Is the U.S. involved in any of that verification and has any new sanctions coming down potentially?

MR PATEL: So broadly what I would say is that we continue to have a number of tools in our toolbelt to continue to hold both Iran and Russia accountable. I am not going to preview or speculate anything on that.

As it relates to your question about the EU, we are aware of those reports, but I’m not going to – I don’t have anything to offer, and not going to get into specific diplomatic engagements on that.


QUESTION: Let’s assume the – it is proven that it is Iranian-made drones sold to Russia, the subject is taken to the UN Security Council. How is a statement or even more sanctions going to help stop the transfer of these drones and the Russian attacks subsequently against Ukraine?

MR PATEL: Well, Guita, I think in both instances, both as it relates to Iran and Russia, our sanctions and our – the actions that we have taken have had an impact. In Russia specifically, you have seen Russia and the Russian economy contract. You have seen major multinational corporations choose to leave Russia, choose to stop doing business there. And in – as it relates to Iran, sanctions potentially could further isolate them, and it could have further impacts on their country as well. But I’m not going to speculate or preview anything.

But again, this is something that we are deeply concerned about and we’re going to continue to take practical and aggressive steps to not just make these weapon sales harder, but also potentially use sanctions, export controls against any entities involved, as you’ve seen us do so as recently as last month.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

QUESTION: On this, Vedant, if the sanctions are working on Iran, how are they able to do such drones and transfer them to Russia?

MR PATEL: Well, Michel, I didn’t mean to indicate that it’s black and white. I think what we are seeing, through a lot of the destabilizing and problematic actions that we see in Iran, is condemnation and actions being taken in unison – not just by the United States but by our allies and partners, actions that further isolate Iran. As you saw even in the light of the protests over the past month, you’ve seen the U.S. take a number of actions to continue to hold Iran accountable as well.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL: Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba says that Ukraine will move to sever diplomatic relations with Iran. Is that something that the United States has any comment on, has any support or opposition to?

MR PATEL: Well, Iran’s provision of these weapons for use inside Ukraine and as part of Russia’s illegal and unjust invasion of Ukraine is abhorrent, and we would support whatever President Zelenskyy wanted to do in that regard.