Travel by U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman

14 May

Office of the Spokesperson

Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has just completed his first visit to the region as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, traveling to Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia from May 4 to 13, 2021.

The Horn of Africa is at an inflection point, and the decisions that are made in the weeks and months ahead will have significant implications for the people of the region as well as for U.S. interests. The United States is committed to addressing the interlinked regional crises and to supporting a prosperous and stable Horn of Africa in which its citizens have a voice in their governance and governments are accountable to their citizens.

A sovereign and united Ethiopia is integral to this vision. Yet we are deeply concerned about increasing political and ethnic polarization throughout the country. The atrocities being perpetrated in Tigray and the scale of the humanitarian emergency are unacceptable. The United States will work with our international allies and partners to secure a ceasefire, end this brutal conflict, provide the life-saving assistance that is so urgently needed, and hold those responsible for human rights abuses and violations accountable. The crisis in Tigray is also symptomatic of a broader set of national challenges that have imperiled meaningful reforms. As Special Envoy Feltman discussed with Prime Minister Abiy and other Ethiopian leaders, these challenges can most effectively be addressed through an inclusive effort to build national consensus on the country’s future that is based on respect for the human and political rights of all Ethiopians. The presence of Eritrean forces in Ethiopia is antithetical to these goals. In Asmara, Special Envoy Feltman underscored to President Isaias Afwerki the imperative that Eritrean troops withdraw from Ethiopia immediately.

The political transition in Sudan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that can serve as an example for the region. As Special Envoy Feltman underscored to Sudan’s leadership, the United States will continue to support that country’s ongoing transition to democracy so that Sudan can claim its place as a responsible regional actor after three decades as a destabilizing force. We are also committed to working with international partners to facilitate resolution of regional flash points—such as the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and conflict on Sudan’s borders—so they do not undermine the fragile progress made since the revolution.

As Special Envoy Feltman discussed with leaders in Addis Ababa, Cairo, and Khartoum, Egypt and Sudan’s concerns over water security and the safety and operation of the dam can be reconciled with Ethiopia’s development needs through substantive and results-oriented negotiations among the parties under the leadership of the African Union, which must resume urgently. We believe that the 2015 Declaration of Principles signed by the parties and the July 2020 statement by the AU Bureau are important foundations for these negotiations, and the United States is committed to providing political and technical support to facilitate a successful outcome.

The Special Envoy will return to the region in short order to continue an intensive diplomatic effort on behalf of President Biden and Secretary Blinken.

Paraguay Independence Day

14 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the people of the United States, I congratulate the people of Paraguay as you celebrate the 210th anniversary of your independence.

In the face of the numerous challenges our countries have experienced this past year, we continue to strengthen our cooperation in critical areas such as health, economic prosperity, support for democracy, and security.  The United States has redoubled our efforts to support Paraguay’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic by providing intensive care unit beds, lifesaving medications, oxygen, equipment, and laboratory analysis support.  We will continue to stand by Paraguay as our two countries work together to end this global health crisis.  Our partnership will continue to play a vital role in advancing our shared objectives for peace, prosperity, and security throughout the region.

As we celebrate this momentous occasion alongside the Paraguayan people, we are proud of the long history of friendship between our peoples, from the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1861 to our present robust cooperation.  May this spirit of partnership and shared democratic values continue to deepen our historic relationship.

Secretary Blinken’s Travel to Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland

14 May

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Copenhagen, Reykjavik, and Kangerlussuaq from May 16-20.

Secretary Blinken will begin his trip in Copenhagen, Kingdom of Denmark, where he will meet with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod to discuss our strong bilateral ties, commitment to combating the climate crisis, and our shared interest in strengthening the transatlantic relationship.  The Secretary will meet with leaders and innovators leading the transition to green technologies and working to combat climate change.  He will also engage with Foreign Minister Kofod, Faroese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Culture Jenis av Rana, and Greenlandic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Business, and Trade Pele Broberg to discuss strengthening our partnership with the entire Kingdom and our common efforts in the Arctic and High North.

Secretary Blinken will then travel on May 17 to Reykjavik, Iceland, where he will meet with President Gudni Johannesson, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, and Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thordarson.  They will discuss the U.S.-Iceland relationship, a shared commitment to promoting human rights, action against the climate crisis, strengthening the transatlantic relationship, and Arctic security.  The Secretary will also tour Keflavik Air Base.

While in Rekyavik, Secretary Blinken will participate in the May 19-20 Arctic Council Ministerial.  The Secretary looks forward to joining the seven other Arctic States and the six Permanent Participant organizations representing indigenous peoples of the Arctic at this biennial gathering.  During the meeting, the Secretary will advance efforts to sustain the Arctic as a region of peace, free of conflict, where Arctic Council members collaborate on shared priorities to protect the wellbeing of Arctic communities and address the ever-growing threat and impacts of the climate crisis.  The Secretary will also have bilateral meetings with other Arctic States.  The Ministerial will mark the conclusion of Iceland’s two-year Arctic Council Chairmanship and will recognize the 25th anniversary of the Arctic Council’s creation.

Secretary Blinken will then travel to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where he will meet with Greenlandic Premier Múte Bourup Egede and Minister Broberg, together with Foreign Minister Kofod.  They will discuss the strong partnership between the United States and Greenland and our shared commitment to increase cooperation in the Arctic.

U.S.-ROK Pledge to Increase Cooperation on ASEAN and Southeast Asia

14 May

Office of the Spokesperson

The United States and the Republic of Korea committed to expanding cooperation in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific in support of ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific during the first U.S.-ROK Dialogue on ASEAN and Southeast Asia on May 12.  State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ambassador Atul Keshap and Director-General for ASEAN and Southeast Asian Affairs of the Republic of Korea Jae-kyung Park co-chaired the virtual Dialogue.  Representatives from USAID and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, as well as the ROK Ministry of Finance and ROK Ministry of National Defence also joined the discussion.

Ambassador Keshap and Director-General Park discussed expanding cooperation in Southeast Asia to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region, including through mobilizing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, confronting climate change, upholding freedom of navigation and overflight, and peaceful resolution of disputes. They also discussed respect for international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the South China Sea, advancing digital innovation and smart cities, addressing cyber issues, tackling cross-border challenges across the Mekong River Basin, and expanding cooperation in the maritime domain.

The United States and the Republic of Korea expressed support for ASEAN’s vital role in returning Burma to the path of democracy, called on Burma’s military to immediately end and refrain from violence and release all those unjustly detained, and emphasized the need for ASEAN to hold Burma’s military accountable for implementing the five-point consensus endorsed by ASEAN leaders on April 24.

The meeting was part of a U.S.-ROK dialogue series on the U.S. vision for the Indo-Pacific and the Republic of Korea’s New Southern Policy.

U.S. Department of State and Google launch Women Tech Founders Program

13 May

Office of the Spokesperson

The U.S. Department of State, through the Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise (POWER) Initiative, and in partnership with Google’s Women Techmakers, will host the Women Tech Founders Kick Off: #LoopHerIn on May 17, 2021 to launch the Women Tech Founders Program.

Over the course of 4 weeks, the Women Tech Founders Program will provide skills training for 50 women tech founders from the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.  The #LoopHerIn event will feature a panel discussion on how governments can support women’s tech entrepreneurship, with participation by Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology from United Arab Emirates, Dr. Rania Al Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation from the Arab Republic of Egypt, and Hala al-Ansari, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Women of the Kingdom of Bahrain.  The panel will be followed by a fireside chat with two tech pioneers, Rania Atef and Rola Fayyad, who will discuss their journey and achievements as tech founders of Make This! and Viavii respectively. Google Women Techmakers Ambassador Rayan Al Zahab will moderate the event, and opening remarks will be provided by Ambassador Jonathan Cohen from US Embassy Cairo, Charge d’Affaires Maggie Nardi from US Embassy Manama, Charge d’Affaires Sean Murphy from US Embassy Abu Dhabi, and Acting Assistant Secretary Peter Haas from the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

The event will be open to the public and broadcast on YouTube live. Registration is open now:  https://forms.gle/Y26RpPDJJfd5v7Ve9 

 

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry Travels to Europe

13 May

Office of the Spokesperson

Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry will travel to Rome, London, and Berlin, May 13-19, 2021, to meet with European government officials and business leaders on enhancing global climate ambition ahead of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change later this year.  In Rome, Special Presidential Envoy Kerry will meet with Italian and Vatican officials.  In London, he will meet with representatives of the UK Government, who will host COP26 this November in Glasgow.  In Berlin, Special Presidential Envoy Kerry will meet with German officials.

For media inquiries, please contact ClimateComms@state.gov.

Secretary Blinken’s Call with Palestinian Authority President Abbas

13 May

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  The Secretary and the President discussed the violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Secretary expressed his condolences for the lives lost as a result.  The Secretary condemned the rocket attacks and emphasized the need to de-escalate tensions and bring the current violence to an end.  The Secretary also expressed his belief that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equal measures of freedom, dignity, security and prosperity.  The Secretary conveyed his best wishes for Eid and that peace and calm may prevail.

On the Occasion of Eid al-Fitr

13 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

I extend my warmest wishes to all Muslims in the United States and around the world celebrating Eid al-Fitr.

On this Eid al-Fitr, we reflect on the values of charity, community, cooperation, and compassion, and, in the face of a global pandemic, we honor the Muslims worldwide who came together to pray and fast with their families, instead of with their larger communities.  These sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and have helped in keeping all communities safe and healthy.  We further recognize the contributions of Muslim frontline workers throughout the tragedy of this pandemic.  Their selflessness is an inspiration to us all.

We also keep in our thoughts those who have experienced hardships and have fled violence, along with those who have helped them on their journey, reminding us all to continue to work locally and globally – not just to save lives – but to restore dignity and understanding for all people, especially during this extraordinary time of need.

I regret very much that I am unable to host an Eid al-Fitr celebration this year due to the pandemic, but I will continue to forge and deepen the strong relationships we enjoy with diverse Muslim communities.  I wish you all a happy Eid al-Fitr.  Eid Mubarak.

DNC and State Parties Announce Historic Agreement

12 May
Agreement includes over $23 million in direct investments to state parties and grassroots infrastructure during 2022 election cycle

Today, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic state parties announced an historic four-year agreement that will guarantee more investment into Democratic state parties and grassroots infrastructure than ever before. At a minimum, this investment will provide $23 million to state parties as part of the DNC’s 2022 midterm strategy, and creates a first-of-its-kind program to focus additional investments in historically red states to build on Democrats’ 57 states and territories strategy.

As part of the agreement, the DNC will establish a brand-new, seven-figure “Red State Fund” to put Republicans on defense and build tailored programs for traditionally Republican states. The Red State Fund includes $2 million in direct investments and grants for states that meet two of the following criteria: no Democratic senator or governor, less than 25% of the congressional delegation are Democrats, and a supermajority of Republicans in their state legislature.

The contract also includes a data sharing agreement that increases investment in down-ballot races, solidifies another four years of historic investment in Democratic data, and anchors the DNC and state parties as the central hub of the Democratic data ecosystem.

“As a former state party chair, I know firsthand how critical it is that we invest in the grassroots to strengthen the Democratic Party as a whole — and we can’t leave a single community behind,” said DNC Chair Jaime Harrison. “With this agreement, the DNC’s new ‘Red State Fund’ will allow us to take the fight to Republicans as they fight among themselves by providing unprecedented resources to Democrats organizing in every corner of the country.”

“I am thrilled that the agreement announced today will empower state parties across the entire country to organize early and in the smartest way possible. This historic agreement will build the critical infrastructure we need to win up and down the ballot this year, next year, and beyond,” said ASDC President Ken Martin.

Additional investments in the agreement include:

  • $15.5 Million for State Partnership Program (SPP): The new agreement increases monthly SPP funding for 50 state parties and DC by 25% to fund critical party infrastructure including staff, tools, and programming in the states.
  • $5.5 Million for State Party Innovation Fund Grants: These grants will ensure innovation and early organizing by putting more boots on the ground throughout the country to help elect Democrats up and down the ticket in 2022. The program includes $5 million in funding for all 50 state parties plus the District of Columbia, along with an additional $500,000 for Dems Abroad and the territories. These competitive grants will primarily be used to hire staff in state to develop and implement innovative programs tailored for each state.
  • Reestablishes the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund: The agreement is contingent on the Democratic state parties rejoining the joint fundraising agreement that propelled the DNC to record-breaking major donor fundraising over the last four years, and allows the DNC to collect up to $875,000 per individual per year.
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Secretary Antony J. Blinken On Release of the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report

12 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

Press Briefing Room

MR PRICE:  Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.  I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce Secretary Blinken, who will speak to the Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.  We will then hear from Office of International Religious Freedom senior official Dan Nadel, who will be happy to take your questions on this year’s report.

Without further ado, I will turn it over to Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ned, thank you very much.  Good morning, everyone.  So let me start, first of all, by wishing everyone a good morning, and Eid Mubarak to all who are celebrating.

Before talking about the report, I want to just take a minute to discuss what is happening in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  We’re deeply concerned about what we’re seeing there.  Images that came out overnight are harrowing and the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy.  I’ve asked Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr to go to the region immediately to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  He will bring to bear his decades of experience and, in particular, he will urge on my behalf and on behalf of President Biden a de-escalation of violence.  We are very focused on this.

The United States remains committed to a two-state solution.  This violence takes us further away from that goal.  We fully support Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.  We’ve condemned and I condemn again the rocket attacks in the strongest possible terms.  We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and we’ll continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians, and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm.

Now, let me turn back to what brings us together this morning, and that is the report.  Today, the State Department is releasing the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report.  We’ve produced this document every year for 23 years.  It offers a comprehensive review of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world, and it reflects the collective effort of literally hundreds of American diplomats around the world and our Office of International Religious Freedom here in Washington, led by Dan Nadel, and he’ll be taking some questions from you today on the report.

Let me just say a few words about why this report matters.  Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human – to think freely, to follow our conscience, to change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so, to express those beliefs in public and in private.  This freedom is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It’s also part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Our country’s commitment to defending freedom of religion and belief goes back centuries.  It continues today.

Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal.  All people, everywhere, are entitled to it no matter where they live, what they believe, or what they don’t believe.  Religious freedom is co-equal with other human rights because human rights are indivisible.  Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak and assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right.  Indeed, they’re all interdependent.  Religious freedom can’t be fully realized unless other human rights are respected, and when governments violate their people’s right to believe and worship freely, it jeopardizes all the others.  And religious freedom is a key element of an open and stable society.  Without it, people aren’t able to make their fullest contribution to their country’s success.  And whenever human rights are denied, it ignites tension, it breeds division.

As this year’s International Religious Freedom Report indicates, for many people around the world this right is still out of reach.  In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 56 countries, encompassing a significant majority of the world’s people, have high or severe restrictions on religious freedom.

To name just a few examples from this year’s report, Iran continues to intimidate, harass, and arrest members of minority faith groups, including Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims.

In Burma, the military coup leaders are among those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities against Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, and other religious and ethnic minorities around the world.

In Russia, authorities continue to harass, detain, and seize property of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as members of Muslim minority groups on the pretense of alleged extremism.

In Nigeria, courts continue to convict people of blasphemy, sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or even death.  Yet the government has still not brought anyone to justice for the military’s massacre of hundreds of Shia Muslims in 2015.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world without a Christian church, though there are more than a million Christians living in Saudi Arabia.  And authorities continue to jail human rights activists like Raif Badawi, who was sentenced in 2014 to a decade in prison and a thousand lashes for speaking about his beliefs.

And China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.

Today, I’m announcing the designation of Yu Hui, former office director of the so-called Central Leading Group Preventing and Dealing with Heretical Religions, of Chengdu, for his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely, the arbitrary detention of Falun Gong practitioners.  Yu Hui and his family are now ineligible for entry into the United States.

I could go on; the examples are far too numerous.

More broadly, we’re seeing anti-Semitism on the rise worldwide, including here in the United States as well as across Europe.  It’s a dangerous ideology that history has shown is often linked with violence.  We must vigorously oppose it wherever it occurs.

Anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the United States as well as in Europe.

We have work to do to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds are treated with equal dignity and respect.

As this report notes, some countries have taken positive steps forward, and that, too, deserves comment.  Last year, the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan repealed apostasy laws and public order laws that had been used to harass members of religious minority groups.  Uzbekistan’s government has released hundreds of people who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs.  Just this past Saturday, Turkmenistan released 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses who are conscientious objectors and refused to serve in the military.  We understand the authorities will now offer conscientious objectors alternative ways to meet national service requirements.

We want to see more progress like that, and so our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world.  We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue.  We’re grateful for our partners, including likeminded governments, the UN Human Rights Council, and networks like the International Religious Freedom of Belief Alliance and the International Contact Group of Freedom of Religion or Belief.  We’ll continue to work closely with civil society organizations, including human rights advocates and religious communities, to combat all forms of religiously motivated hatred and discrimination around the world.

Thank you very, very much and we look forward to being able to get into the report in more detail.  I’ll take a couple of questions before I take off.

MR PRICE:  Wonderful.  Francesco?

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary Blinken.  It’s now clear that your calls for de-escalation haven’t been heard or at least haven’t been enough to stop it until now.  We’re now beyond an escalation.  Why are you just sticking to these calls to de-escalation and restraint?  What can you do further and to prevent a full-out, full-scale war?  And also, have you personally talked or tried to talk to the Palestinian leadership, to President Abbas or others?  And if not, why?  And who on the U.S. side has been in touch with whom on the Palestinian side?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, thank you.  A few things that are I think very important here.  We are deeply engaged across the board – the State Department, the White House, senior officials – with the Israelis, with Palestinians, with other countries and partners in the region to call for and push for de-escalation.  To be very clear, again, we strongly condemn the rocket attacks coming out of Gaza that are targeting innocent Israeli civilians, and Israel has a right to defend itself.  Palestinians have a right to live in safety and security, and the most important thing going forward now is to take down the violence, to de-escalate, and that’s exactly what we’re working toward.

Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, has been engaged with his counterpart; I’ve talked to Foreign Minister Ashkenazi; Wendy Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, has been engaged as well; and as I mentioned just a short while ago, we are sending our senior official responsible for Israeli and Palestinian affairs to the region.  We’ve been engaged with all parties, including the Palestinians, and that will continue.  But the most important thing now is for all sides to cease the violence, to de-escalate, and to try to move to calm.

MR PRICE:  Kylie.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this, Secretary.  Beyond engagement and calls for de-escalation, I just want to reiterate:  Is there anything more that the U.S. can do at this point?

And my second question is:  More than 50 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than a dozen children.  So given those casualties, do you think the Israeli response has been proportional?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, in terms of what we’re doing, the most important thing that we can do right now is exactly what we’re doing, which is to be engaged across the board and pushing on de-escalation not only with Israelis and Palestinians but also with other partners who are amplifying our voice.  And as I said, we’re sending a senior diplomat to the region to work on this, so that – I think that piece is very important and our voice, our diplomacy from senior officials across the administration, I hope will help have an impact.

There is first a very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets – in fact, targeting civilians – and Israel’s response defending itself that is targeting the terrorists who are raining down rockets on Israel.  But whenever we see civilian casualties, and particularly when we see children caught in the crossfire losing their lives, that has a powerful impact.  And I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything it possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people.  And as I said, the Palestinian people have the right to safety and security, and we have to I think all work in that direction.

So the single most important thing right now is de-escalation.  We will continue to carry that message to our partners and to – in Israel, to the Palestinians, and to partners in the region.  Thanks very much.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.