Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Martha Raddatz of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos

18 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

QUESTION:  Let’s take all of this to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Thanks for being with us.  Mr. Secretary, you’ve heard the reaction from the generals who’ve commanded troops in Afghanistan, including the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and David Petraeus, who went on to become CIA director, who say this will leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats, with Joe Dunford saying it would also have a catastrophic effect in Afghanistan itself.  Your reaction?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, Martha, I just got back from Kabul.  I met with President Ghani.  I met with other leaders there.  That was just after coming from NATO, meeting with all of our allies.  And across the board I heard support for the President’s decision and the path ahead.

Here’s the reality – and by the way, I have great respect for General Petraeus, General Dunford, and others.  But we had a very deliberate and fully informed process leading up to the decision by the President, and the fact is this: We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago, and we went because we were attacked on 9/11, and we went to take on those who had attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the United States or any of our allies and partners. 

And we achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve.  Al-Qaida has been significantly degraded.  Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States now from Afghanistan is not there.  And of course, Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago.  So the President felt that as we’re looking at the world now, we have to look at it through the prism of 2021, not 2001.  The terrorism threat has moved to other places, and we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to COVID, and that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.

QUESTION:  To that point, I’ve heard for decades the military talk about how hard it was to train Afghan forces, asking for more time and more time.  But there’s also the argument that clearing out all of our forces leaves us with intelligence gaps.  You had the new CIA director saying that it was simply a fact that our intelligence capability will diminish.  Do you agree with that?  And what do you do about it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think if you look at the full statement, including from the CIA Director Bill Burns and also what you’ve heard from the National Security Advisor and others, we will have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a re-emergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan.  We’ll be able to see that in real time with time to take action.  And we’re going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against the potential re-emergence.

By the way, the Taliban in the agreement reached by the Trump administration with the Taliban is also committed not to allow al-Qaida or other terrorist groups that might target the United States to re-emerge.  We’re going to hold them to that commitment.

QUESTION:  But you yourself have said you don’t really trust the Taliban.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, that’s exactly why we’re going to make sure that we have assets appropriately in place to see this coming if it comes again, to see it and to be able to deal with it.  This is, again, a very different world than the one we had in 2001.  We have different capabilities, different assets, and I think a greater ability to see something coming with time to do something about it. 

But look, the other thing is this: We are very much invested in trying to pursue the peace process for Afghanistan, to bring the parties together to see if they can come to some kind of political settlement.  Ultimately, it is in no one’s interest in Afghanistan, whether it’s the Taliban or anyone else and certainly not the people of Afghanistan, for the country to descend once again into civil war, into a long war.  And if the Taliban is going to participate in some fashion in governance, if it wants to be internationally recognized, if it doesn’t want to be a pariah, it’s going to have to engage in a political process. 

And our goal ultimately is an Afghanistan that finds a just and durable settlement to this conflict that has been going on for four decades.  And in that situation and that environment, terrorism is less likely to emerge.

QUESTION:  I want to go back to the Taliban again and talk about women and girls in Afghanistan.  We’ve talked to many people about that.  The Director of National Intelligence says the Taliban is likely to attempt to retake power by force if we leave.  And right now, in some of the Taliban-held areas you have young women, you have girls who are beaten; there’s no chance for an education.  Why is that acceptable?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s not acceptable.  And when I was in Kabul, I met with some extraordinary women who are leading as a mayor, a member of parliament, a youth activist, and doing other things.  And what they’ve done with our support is quite remarkable.  And I think Afghanistan in many ways is a transformed society. 

But again, here is the thing: No one, starting with the Taliban, has an interest in going back to a civil war, because I think what everyone recognizes is there’s no military resolution to the conflict.  So if they start something up again, they’re going to be in a long war.  That’s not in their interest either.

Second, we’re going to be continuing to support the Afghan Security Forces.  We’ve trained more than 300,000 over the years, and it’s a strong force.  It’s going to continue to have international support, including ours.  We’re going to be engaged in the peace process to see if we can move this in a better direction.

And the final thing is this, and I want to repeat it: If the Taliban has any expectation of getting any international acceptance, of not being treated as a pariah, it’s going to have to respect the rights of women and girls.  Any country that moves backwards on that, that tries to repress them, will not have that international recognition, will not have that international status, and indeed, we will take action to make sure to the best of our ability that they can’t do that.

QUESTION:  And I want to move on to refugees.  The Biden administration is poised to break a major promise to increase the number of refugee admissions to 62,000, calling it unlikely; instead signing an emergency presidential determination that keeps the cap at 15,000, which was President Trump’s historic low number.  Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said the President’s decision to reaffirm the refugee admissions calling – ceiling of his predecessor is deeply disappointing.  Now, I know on Friday the White House said there was some confusion with that, and we’ll talk about it again in May.  Can you please clear that up?  Is the cap on?  And how far could it go?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, Martha, one of the biggest problems we faced was inheriting a broken system.  And the refugee system that we found was not in a place, did not have the resources, the means, to effectively process as many people as we hoped.  But what we’ve done now, what the President has done now in signing the initial directive, is to make sure we can start the process of actually bringing – bringing people in, and beyond that lifting restraints and – that the previous administration had imposed so that no one, for example, from Africa or the Middle East could come in.  That has now been eliminated.

QUESTION:  I know what you’ve done in that.  But how many refugees do you think will be let in this year?  And if you don’t make that 62,000, will there be 125,000 next year, which was your goal?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think what the President has – and the White House have said today is that based on what we’ve now seen from – in terms of the inheritance and being able to look at what was in place, what we could put in place, how quickly we could put it in place, it’s going to be very hard to meet the 62,000 this fiscal year.  But we’re going to be revisiting this over the coming weeks.  I think there’ll be an additional directive coming out in the middle of May and – but the good news is we’re now starting, and we’re able to start to bring people in who’ve been in the pipeline and who weren’t able to come in.  That is starting today.  And we’re going to revisit it in the middle of May.

QUESTION:  A hundred and twenty-five thousand next year, is that your goal?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, look, the President has been clear about where he wants to go, but we have to be focused on what we’re able to do when we’re able to do it. 

QUESTION:  Okay, thanks so much for joining us this morning, Mr. Secretary. 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Martha.  Thanks for having us.

QUESTION:  You bet.

Statement on Georgia’s Political Impasse

18 Apr

Office of the Spokesperson

The text of the following statement was released by the Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State and the Spokesperson for External Affairs of the European Union.

Begin Text:

After nearly six months of negotiations, the citizens of Georgia have made clear that they want the political crisis to end, and for all elected Members to work together in Parliament and address the serious challenges facing the country, including the regional challenges, COVID, and the economic crisis.

With this in mind, the European Union and the United States call on all Members of Georgia’s Parliament to sign the agreement that European Council President Michel will propose today. This is an agreement all Members can sign in good faith rather than a unilateral action that undermines the goal of a broad-based agreement.

The institutional reforms in the agreement represent important progress for Georgia’s democratic development and are of significant benefit for its citizens, helping to create a more independent judiciary, stronger electoral processes, and a Parliament that can better reflect the voices of all people of Georgia.

Accepting this compromise demonstrates courage and a commitment by all parties to put the needs of the citizens of Georgia first, ahead of the interests of any one political party.

End text.

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Zimbabwe Independence Day

18 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States, I offer congratulations to the Zimbabwean people on the 41st anniversary of your country’s independence.

The United States supports all Zimbabweans who aspire to a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future.  To that end, we will join with the Zimbabwean people to strengthen democratic institutions, promote equitable economic growth, boost public health, and improve food security.

As the people of Zimbabwe celebrate their Independence Day, we recognize their continued struggle to secure the rights and freedoms enshrined in their constitution.  We encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to support reforms to advance these constitutional rights and embrace an inclusive national dialogue that upholds the universal values Zimbabweans have fought so hard to gain.

Please accept my best wishes on this auspicious day.

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Sentencing of Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists for Unlawful Assembly

17 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The United States condemns the sentencing of seven pro-democracy leaders on politically-motivated charges. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are targeting Hong Kongers for doing nothing more than exercising protected rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

Today’s sentences are yet another example of how the PRC and Hong Kong authorities undermine protected rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration in an effort to eliminate all forms of dissent. The seven pro-democracy leaders – Martin Lee, Jimmy Lai, Albert Ho, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung – participated in a peaceful assembly attended by 1.7 million Hong Kongers. The sentences handed down are incompatible with the non-violent nature of their actions.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration, a binding international agreement, guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and people in Hong Kong are entitled to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Joint Declaration and Basic Law. We will continue to stand with Hong Kongers as they respond to Beijing’s assault on these freedoms and autonomy, and we will not stop calling for the release of those detained or imprisoned for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) review of latest evidence of rare adverse blood coagulation events with AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine (Vaxzevria and Covishield)

16 Apr

A very rare new type of adverse event called Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS), involving unusual and severe blood clotting events associated with low platelet counts, has been reported after vaccination with COVID-19 Vaccines Vaxzevria and Covishield. A specific case definition for TTS is being developed by the Brighton Collaboration1. This will assist in identifying and evaluating reported TTS events and aid in supporting causality assessments.

The biological mechanism for this syndrome of TTS is still being investigated. At this stage, a ‘platform specific’ mechanism related to the adenovirus-vectored vaccines is not certain but cannot be excluded. Ongoing review of TTS cases and related research should include all vaccines using adenoviral vector platforms. The GACVS noted that an investigation has been initiated into the occurrence of TTS following the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered in the United States. The TTS syndrome has not been linked to mRNA-based vaccines (such as Comirnaty or the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine).

Based on latest available data, the risk of TTS with Vaxzevria and Covishield vaccines appears to be very low. Data from the UK suggest the risk is approximately four cases per million adults (1 case per 250 000) who receive the vaccine, while the rate is estimated to be approximately 1 per 100 000 in the European Union (EU). Countries assessing the risk of TTS following COVID-19 vaccination should perform a benefit-risk analysis that takes into account local epidemiology (including incidence and mortality from COVID-19 disease), age groups targeted for vaccination and the availability of alternative vaccines.

Work is ongoing to understand risk factors for TTS. Some investigators have looked into rates of TTS by age2.  GACVS supports further research to understand age-related risk because while available data suggest an increased risk in younger adults, this requires further analysis. On the issue of sex-related risk, although more cases have been reported in females, it is important to underscore that more women have been vaccinated and that some TTS cases have also been reported in men. Therefore, further analysis is required to determine any sex-related risk. GACVS recommends further epidemiological, clinical and mechanistic studies to fully understand TTS. 

Thrombosis in specific sites (such as the brain and abdomen) appears to be a key feature of TTS. Clinicians should be alert to any new, severe, persistent headache or other significant symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain and shortness of breath, with an onset between 4 to 20 days after adenovirus vectored COVID-19 vaccination.

At a minimum, countries should encourage clinicians to measure platelet levels and conduct appropriate radiological imaging studies as part of the investigation of thrombosis.  Clinicians should also be aware that although heparin is used to treat blood clots in general, administration of heparin in TTS may be dangerous, and alternative treatments such as immunoglobulins and non-heparin anticoagulants should be considered.

There may be a geographic variation in the risk of these rare adverse events. It is therefore important to evaluate potential cases of TTS in all countries. Countries are encouraged to review, report and investigate all cases of TTS following COVID-19 vaccinations. Countries should assess cases according to the presence of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia and the time to onset following vaccination, using the Brighton Case Definition of TTS.

Whilst we have some information on Comirnaty, Moderna (mRNA-1273), Vaxzevria and Covishield vaccines, there is limited post-market surveillance data on other COVID-19 vaccines and from low- and middle-income countries. GACVS highly recommends that all countries conduct safety surveillance on all COVID-19 vaccines and provide data to their local authorities and to the WHO global database of individual case safety reports. This is urgently needed to support evidence-based recommendations on these life-saving vaccines. 

Open, transparent, and evidence-based communication about the potential benefits and risks to recipients and the community is essential to maintain trust. WHO is carefully monitoring the rollout of all COVID-19 vaccines and will continue to work closely with countries to manage potential risks, and to use science and data to drive response and recommendations.

Joint Statement on the Attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan Region

16 Apr

Office of the Spokesperson

The text of the following statement was released by the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America following the April 14 attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region:

Begin Text:

We, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America condemn in the strongest terms the April 14 attacks in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.  Together, our governments will support the Government of Iraq’s investigation into the attacks to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable.

We are united in our view that attacks on U.S. and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and reiterate our steadfast commitment to the fight against ISIS.

End text

U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking Returns from Travel to Germany and the United Arab Emirates

16 Apr

Office of the Spokesperson

U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking returned on April 16 from travel to Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  In Berlin, he met with representatives from the UN Security Council permanent member states, as well as Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the EU to discuss the importance of reaching a lasting solution to the conflict and taking action to mitigate the humanitarian and economic crisis.  These next steps include ending the Houthi assault on Marib, facilitating UN inspection and repair of the SAFER oil tanker, and supporting the Republic of Yemen Government’s efforts to stabilize the Yemeni economy and ease the humanitarian crisis.  German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and German Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for Near and Middle East Dr. Philipp Ackermann expressed Germany’s full support of the UN-led peace efforts in a joint meeting with the Special Envoy, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Robin Quinville, and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.

In the UAE, Special Envoy Lenderking met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the importance of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and a united Republic of Yemen Government.

Special Envoys Lenderking and Griffiths continue to work side-by-side to encourage the swift delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks with the support of the Government of Oman.  We need all parties to commit seriously and negotiate in good faith.  People are suffering.

For any questions, please contact Vanessa Vidal at NEA-Press@state.gov and follow us on Twitter @StateDept_NEA.

Imposing Visa Restrictions on Ugandans for Undermining the Democratic Process

16 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The Government of Uganda’s actions during the recent electoral process undermined democracy and respect for human rights. Today I am announcing visa restrictions on those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda, including during the country’s January 14 general elections and the campaign period that preceded it.

The Government of Uganda’s actions represent a continued downward trajectory for the country’s democracy and respect for human rights as recognized and protected by Uganda’s constitution. Opposition candidates were routinely harassed, arrested, and held illegally without charge. Ugandan security forces were responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters, as well as violence against journalists that occurred before, during, and after the elections. Civil society organizations and activists working to support electoral institutions and transparent electoral processes have been targeted with harassment, intimidation, arrest, deportation, and spurious legal charges and denial of bank account access. The government limited accreditation for international and local election observers and civil society, but those who were able to observe the process noted widespread irregularities before, during, and after the election, which have undermined its credibility. This electoral process was neither free nor fair. Nevertheless, we continue to urge all parties to renounce violence and respect freedoms of expression, assembly, and movement.

The Government of Uganda must significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed election conduct, violence, and intimidation. The U.S. government will continue to evaluate additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda, as well as their immediate family members. The United States also emphasizes that we strongly support the Ugandan people, and we remain committed to working together to advance democracy and mutual prosperity for both our countries.

U.S.-Norway Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement

16 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Today in Oslo, the United States of America and the Kingdom of Norway concluded the Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement (SDCA), which will allow our countries to deepen bilateral security cooperation, strengthen NATO operations, and increase Transatlantic security.

The SDCA builds on the 1951 NATO Status of Forces Agreement to facilitate further development of opportunities for U.S. forces to train and exercise in Norway, promoting improved interoperability with Norwegian and other allied forces. This agreement reflects decades of close U.S.-Norwegian security partnership and our shared commitment as NATO Allies to Transatlantic security.

America’s alliances are a tremendous source of strength. The United States and Norway work closely together on a wide range of issues important to both nations and to the rest of the world. The SDCA reflects our commitment to reaffirming and reinvigorating America’s alliances to meet common security challenges and protect shared interests and values.

IN THE STATES: Local Media Highlights Need for American Jobs Plan Across the Country

16 Apr

DNC billboards reminding Americans that “help is here” thanks to President Biden and Democrats continue to get attention

This week, local media across the country highlighted the need for the American Jobs Plan — the once-in-a-century and overwhelmingly popular investment in America that not only meets our current infrastructure needs, like rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges and making sure every American has access to broadband and clean water, but also invests in research and development, so that we can make 21st century products in the U.S. and sell them around the world. Meanwhile, the DNC’s “Help is Here” billboard campaign continues to attract attention as it reminds voters that Democrats are delivering relief, no thanks to a single Republican.

Here’s a look at what voters in states across the country were reading — and seeing — this week:

Local media continued to highlight the DNC’s billboard campaign, which reminds Americans that help is here thanks to President Biden and Democrats, who delivered needed relief to working families through the American Rescue Plan.

In Oregon:

Portland Tribune: Democrats praise Oregon senators, Biden bucks on billboards

By Zane Sparling

April 14, 2021

The nation’s top Democrats have an all-caps message for Oregon motorists: Help — and more importantly, cash — is on the way.

The Democratic National Committee is spreading that message with a new posting on a billboard near Exit 16 in Wood Village alongside Interstate 84.

“HELP IS HERE. $1,400 CHECKS. $$$ TO REOPEN SCHOOLS. $$$ FOR VACCINES,” the billboard proclaims.

Across the country, local media and state Democratic parties highlighted the critical need to pass the American Jobs Plan and how it would benefit their state’s infrastructure and economy.

In Arizona:

Cronkite News: Biden cites infrastructure needs in Arizona, other states, to push plan

By Haleigh Kochanski

April 12, 2021

In Florida:

Florida Democratic Party: ICYMI: HOW THE AMERICAN JOBS PLAN HELPS FLORIDA

CBS 4 Miami: A Look At The Infrastructure Needs President Biden’s American Jobs Plan Would Address In Florida

By CBSMiami.com Team

April 12, 2021

Florida Phoenix: Biden administration previews what its American Jobs Act would mean for FL: more than roads and bridges

By Michael Moline

April 12, 2021

Orlando Sentinel: Biden spending plan for Florida: bridges, trains, veterans, broadband, healthcare and more

By Kevin Spear
April 12, 2021

In Georgia: 

WSAV: Biden administration: Georgia bridges and roads need repair, bill promises funding

By JoAnn Merrigan

April 12, 2021

In Indiana:

WTHR: Here’s where the money will go in Indiana if Biden’s ‘American Jobs Plan’ passes

By WTHR.com staff, The Associated Press

April 12, 2021

In New Hampshire:

In North Carolina:

North Carolina Democratic Party: NCDP Chair Statement On President Biden’s American Jobs Plan

Spectrum News: Broadband, bridges and buses: What’s in the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan for N.C.?

By Charles Duncan

April 12, 2021

ABC11: Administration lays out proposals specific to NC, as Biden pushes infrastructure plan

By Jonah Kaplan

April 12, 2021

NC Policy Watch: Biden administration spells out exactly what the American Jobs Plan would mean for NC

By Rob Schofield

April 12, 2021

In Ohio:

Spectrum News: Biden looks to invest billions into Ohio’s infrastructure under American Jobs Plan

By Lydia Taylor

April 12, 2021

WTOL: Ohio infrastructure receives grade of C- on federal Infrastructure Report Card

By WTOL Newsroom

April 12, 2021

In Pennsylvania:

Philadelphia Democratic Party: NEW REPORT HIGHLIGHTS HOW PA WILL BENEFIT FROM PRESIDENT BIDEN’S AMERICAN JOBS PLAN

WPXI: Here’s how President Biden’s infrastructure plan would impact Pennsylvania

By WPXI.com News Staff

April 12, 2021

The Morning Call: Pennsylvania earned a C- on its infrastructure report card, with White House noting a ‘systemic lack of investment’ in the commonwealth

By Stephanie Sigafoos

April 13, 2021

In Wisconsin:

Patch: Biden’s American Jobs Plan Highlights Wisconsin’s Needs

By Feroze Dhanoa

April 12, 2021

WMTV: Wisconsin infrastructure has plenty of room to improve, White House finds

By Nick Viviani

April 12, 2021

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