Armenia’s Parliamentary Elections

22 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

The United States congratulates the people of Armenia on their June 20 parliamentary elections. We welcome the overall positive assessment by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. We are pleased that ODIHR’s preliminary conclusions noted voters’ human rights and fundamental freedoms were generally respected, contestants were able to campaign freely, and that ODIHR assessed election-day vote counting as positive. We share ODIHR’s concern regarding intense polarization and inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants.  We urge Armenians of all political affiliations to respect the results of these elections once certified, employ the legal election grievance process to address issues of concern, and avoid political retaliation as Armenia continues to pursue a sovereign, democratic, peaceful, and prosperous future.

The United States is committed to strengthening our partnership with Armenia based on shared democratic values. We commend Armenia for the progress it has made with respect to reforms and anti-corruption efforts and encourage Armenia to continue along this path, in line with the aspirations of the Armenian people, as expressed in the spring of 2018. We urge all parties to respect the rule of law and democratic principles and look forward to working with the new Government to grow our bilateral relationship and cooperation.

We commend Ambassador Lynne Tracy and U.S. Embassy Staff in Yerevan for their strong, ongoing support for Armenia’s democratic development. Through their dedication and hard work, we will continue to advance the U.S.-Armenia partnership.

Department Press Briefing – June 21, 2021

22 Jun

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:35 p.m. EDT

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everyone. We have just a couple items at the top before we get started. We’ll start with World Refugee Day. Yesterday, of course, was World Refugee Day and I’d like to underscore the message shared by the Secretary as well as the department, a message reaffirming a commitment we have every day to alleviate the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people through our global leadership in humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.

We stand in solidarity with refugees and we recognize the courage and resilience of the more than 26 million refugees forcibly displaced worldwide.

We also recognize the generosity of communities that host them, and the united global response of international humanitarian partners who work diligently to help them.

The United States is once again taking up the mantle of leadership on refugee resettlement, including through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which has settled more than 3.1 million refugees since 1980.

As the world’s largest single humanitarian assistance donor – providing more than 10.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 globally, including for refugees – we play a crucial role in promoting and fostering the international response to displacement crises.

The United States will maintain our diplomatic efforts to promote access to international protection for people in vulnerable situations regardless of their location. We’ll be a reliable partner to address the drivers of forced displacement and instability to create conditions for people to prosper instead of fleeing for their lives.

Next, we’ll move on to Belarus. And today, the United States, in close coordination with Canada, the EU, and the UK, we have taken action to impose costs and to promote accountability on the Lukashenka regime as well as on its enablers for the forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight but also for the ensuing repression.

Jointly with the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, we have taken action against a total of 62 Belarusian individuals and five entities. We continue to demand accountability from the Lukashenka regime until the repression stops.

We have been very explicit about the steps that must be taken. We call for an end to the crackdown, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a genuine dialogue with the opposition and civil society as called for in the OSCE Expert Mission report, and free and fair elections with international observation.

We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

And with that, we will move on to questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1, then 0 on your telephone keypad.

MR PRICE: Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP. Do we have you?

QUESTION: Hello? Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: Yes. Go ahead. We hear you, yes.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the travel ban with the presidential proclamation for people coming from Europe due to COVID restrictions. I know the administration has now these working groups, but can you give us any idea of a timetable on when a decision could be made on reopening? Because Europe has now reopened to Americans who want to go to Europe. The pandemic is much more under control on both sides of the Atlantic. Vaccination is getting progress on both sides of the Atlantic. And moreover, we knew what the criterias were on the European side because they set a number of cases for 100,000 inhabitants to reopen. We don’t know what the criterias are on the American sides to reopen, so then we have no perspective.

And moreover, again, it’s not only about tourists, but it’s also about all those people who are in the U.S. with a visa who doesn’t make them residents, and even though they pay taxes, have children here, work here, they can’t go back to Europe because they can’t come back to the U.S. to work if they get stuck. So it’s much more than only tourism. It’s a lot of people in a very difficult situation. Do you have any idea when that will change? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks for the question. And I would start by saying that of course, we look forward to the resumption of transatlantic travel as soon as the science permits, and that’s really the key. That’s also why I’m not able to offer a precise sense of timing for when that would be. As we said all along, even before the creation of the working group that President Biden announced following the EU summit, that our decisions when it comes to travel would be guided by the science, by the best medical and expert advice from places like the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Of course, the Department of State is also engaged in this working group, but I’m not able to put a specific timeframe on it only because it will depend in large part on the course of the epidemiology, on the response to the virus around the world, developments including the impact and the presence of variants. And so the working group will take a close look at all of the factors. It will, again, make those decisions in a way that puts the health and safety not only of Americans, but all travelers, including in this case European travelers, first. And as soon as we have a better sense of when that might – when we’ll have updates or what any sort of reopening would look like, we’ll let you know.

We’ll go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks for doing this. Firstly, can you tell us when Ambassador Sullivan will be heading back to Moscow, if you have a specific date?

And then separately, what are the status of the talks in Vienna? Did the Iranian presidential election have any impact on the future of those talks? And Foreign Minister Zarif said over the weekend that he expected the talks to be concluded while Rouhani is still in office. Does the U.S. share this assessment? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks Jenny. So when it comes to Ambassador Sullivan, he will return to Moscow this week, and that’s in part because we remain committed to open channels of communication with the Russian Government, both as a means to advance U.S. interests but also to reduce the risk of miscalculation between our two countries. And that’s precisely why President Biden thought it was so important to meet with his counterpart, President Putin, in Geneva last week.

And after such an important summit like that, we look forward to Ambassador Sullivan returning to Moscow to lead the very strong team at U.S. – at our embassy in Russia as we implement President Biden’s policy directives outlined in Geneva. And those, as we’ve discussed, include strategic stability, human rights, and ultimately, testing the proposition that we can arrive at a relationship with Moscow that is more stable and that is more predictable. I’ll also add that we’re aware of and we welcome Ambassador Anatoly Antonov’s return to D.C. I understand he returned to D.C. to take up his post within the past day or so.

When it comes to Iran, what I would say is that we will continue discussions with our allies and partners on what we’ve been aiming for this entire time, and that, of course, is a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. As you know, the sixth round of Vienna talks adjourned on Sunday and delegations are returning to their respective capitals for consultations. That includes Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley and the delegation. I understand that Rob is currently in transit back to the United States. The timing for the seventh round has not yet been announced, but I will – I would expect the team will return to Vienna in advance of that.

Look, the broader point is that our Iran policy is designed to advance U.S. interests, and that is regardless of who is chosen as Iran’s president in a policy – in a process that we consider to be pre-manufactured. This was not a free and fair election process in which Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders. And when it comes to our diplomacy, we’ve always said that it is absolutely in our interests to arrive at a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA precisely because it would allow us to once again permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That was in our interests before the Iranian election. It is manifestly in our interests after the election.

And then finally, I would make the point that even though Iran will have a new president in the coming weeks, ultimately it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues. Iran will have, we expect, the same supreme leader in August as it will have today, as it had before the elections, as it had in 2015 when the JCPOA was consummated for the first time.

So as I said before, the seventh round of negotiations – indirect negotiations with the Iranians we expect will take place in Vienna in the coming days and we’ll remain engaged in that process going forward.

Let’s go to the line of – let’s see – Arshad Mohammed, please. Arshad, do we have you?

QUESTION: Yeah. A couple of follow-ups on Iran: You just said that you expect the seventh round of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna to take place in the coming days. Normally, that would mean within the next week. Is that right? Because you had just said that the timing had not yet been announced.

Secondly, are there any circumstances under which the Biden administration could give Iran an assurance that a future U.S. administration would not leave the JCPOA, as the Trump administration did? Unless you were to sign a treaty – and even treaties typically have exit clauses – it’s not clear to me that the Biden administration could make any such assurance. But I’d like you to be on the record on that.

And then finally, bearing in mind what the White House has said about President-elect Raisi being held accountable for human rights violations going forward, he has of course been sanctioned by the United States in the past for past such violations. Does the administration yet have any position on whether it might grant a visa to, once he’s in office, President Raisi to attend UNGA, given the U.S. host nation obligations but also given his past sanctioning? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Let me start on your last question first, Arshad. And you may have heard this from the White House, but I think it bears repeating, and that is that we strongly urge the Iranian Government, regardless of who is in power, to release political prisoners and to improve respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Iranians. We have been very consistent in that. We have also been consistent in saying that we will continue to hold the relevant Iranians accountable for the human rights abuses that take place under their jurisdiction or on their watch.

The new president will be accountable for gross violations of human rights on his watch going forward. You heard this very forcefully from the President last week in a different context but making the point that the United States of America will always stand up, we will always champion human rights, we will always champion universal values, including those we share with like-minded democracies around the world. Of course, President-elect Raisi is not even inaugurated yet. It would be premature for us to speak to any sort of travel he might undertake once he assumes that office.

When it comes to the broader point of the United States going forward, I would start by making very clear that successive administrations of both parties – although perhaps with the exception of the last – have long agreed that we must find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program, that only through diplomacy can we permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It was with that understanding that the Obama-Biden administration embarked on the diplomacy that culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal. It was an arrangement that had, of course, not only the backing of the United States but also our closest allies in the world as well as important partners – in this case, the other members of the P5+1.

Those were just the parties formally involved in the negotiations. Dozens and dozens of other countries around the world – the vast majority of countries around the world – supported the JCPOA in 2015, and, of course, it was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council.

And that is because it was an arrangement, again, that addressed a concern, a shared concern on the part of the international community. Iran’s nuclear program is not only of a challenge to us, it’s not only a challenge to Israel, it’s not only a challenge to those in the region. In some ways, it is a challenge to countries well beyond the region because a nuclear program that is unconstrained would give Iran a greater degree of impunity to take on the kind of actions that we also find so objectionable and seek to counter. We’ve already talked about human rights abuses, Iran’s support for proxy groups in the region, Iran’s support for terrorist groups, and Iran’s ballistic missile program.

And so that is why while, of course, this administration can only speak for this administration, it is not immaterial that the rest of the world has largely been behind this arrangement before. The rest of the world is largely behind a return to compliance for compliance now. And the rest of the world will, I would expect, be behind this going forward.

Once again, there is no other means to verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There may be ways to set it back temporarily, but only through diplomacy can we achieve our goals for the duration that we need to do so. That’s why we support diplomacy, that’s why the rest of the world supports diplomacy, and that is why we hope and seek to achieve a return to compliance with the JCPOA – a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, I should say.

And just very quickly on your question about the seventh round, you’re right; the timing for it has not been announced. But as soon as we do have travel to announce for Special Envoy Malley and his team, we will be sure to let you know.

Let’s go to the line of Missy Ryan, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Ned. Thanks. I just wanted also to follow up on Iran. And forgive me, my phone went out for a second, so if somebody asked this specific aspect. Can you just comment on the comments that he has made since becoming the president-elect about the – their missile program and their proxy activities being non-negotiable or sort of suggesting that they wouldn’t allow that to be part of an eventual expanded discussion? Thanks.

MR PRICE: Happy to. So President Biden, even before he was inaugurated as president, has held that his first goal is to return to a mutual compliance with the JCPOA, chiefly for the reason I was alluding to, because it is a means to permanently and verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It is a means to verifiably ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is no longer galloping forward in ways that we have seen it during the course of the last administration and since Iran has distanced itself from the nuclear deal in recent years.

As we’ve said, every challenge we face with Iran becomes more difficult if Iran’s nuclear program is unconstrained and if Iran is able to become closer and closer to the breakout point that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so in short order.

But the President has also been clear that with the return to mutual compliance he would seek to address those other areas of concern, including Iran’s ballistic missile development and proliferation and its support for terrorist groups and proxies throughout the region with follow-on diplomacy. And we are consulting closely with our allies, with our partners in the region, on ways to address this going forward. It’s very important to us that our partners in the region be a part of this.

Now, ultimately – and I made this point before – it is Iran’s supreme leader who determines Iran’s policy on a range of important issues. This is the same supreme leader who was in place in 2015; he was the same supreme leader who was in place before the election; and presumably, he’ll be the same supreme leader who is in place in August when the new Iranian president is inaugurated.

But I would make one final point, and that is that we are confident that after – if we are able to return to JCPOA compliance, from there we will have the tools, additional tools we need to address issues outside of the nuclear deal, and in fact, we’ll be better positioned than we are right now while we’re out of compliance with the JCPOA. We know that our other concerns have not gotten any better and, in fact, in many cases they have been exacerbated. But if we are able to achieve a mutual compliance, a mutual return to the JCPOA, and Iran’s nuclear program is once again constrained and subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, that will allow us – working, again, with our regional partners, with our P5+1 partners and allies in this case – to take on in a concerted and unified way the other areas of concern that we’ve spoken to.

And unified here is very important because for too many years the United States was not at the negotiating table together with our closest allies and partners. We were sitting on opposite sides of the table. If we are able to achieve that mutual return to compliance, we will have done so in lockstep, in partnership, with the P5+1, with those important allies and partners who will be so important to working with us to address through follow-on diplomacy these other areas of concern, as will our regional – as will our regional partners.

Let’s go to the line of Nick Wadhams, please. Do we have Nick? It does not sound like we have Nick.

QUESTION: I am here.

MR PRICE: Ah, great.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me? Hello? Hey. So just to follow up on the Iran questions, if Iran refuses to agree to enter into negotiations or follow-on negotiations on a longer and stronger deal, would that mean that the U.S. was unwilling to sign a deal to return to mutual compliance? You guys have suggested in the past that Iran would need to agree to follow-on negotiations as part of that deal, but what happens if they don’t?

MR PRICE: Yeah, thanks for the question, Nick. What I would say there is, as I just did, we have made very clear publicly but also privately that we deem the JCPOA to be necessary – necessary to once again ensure Iran’s program, nuclear program, is back in a box, once again subject to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime every negotiated. But we’ve also made the point that to us it’s insufficient. It is insufficient because we need to ensure that these other areas of concern will be able to be addressed. That includes the ballistic missile program. That includes Iran’s support for terrorist groups and for proxies in the region. It includes the human rights abuses that we’ve spoken to.

So the Iranians have no doubt about how – where we stand on the issue of this follow-on diplomacy and the need to address these other – these other areas. It will – it will not come to a surprise to them. They have heard it and they have heard it in no uncertain terms as well.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat. Do we have Said? It doesn’t sound like we have Said. Let’s go to the line of Barak Ravid. Operator, do we have these callers?

QUESTION: Hello?

OPERATOR: One moment while I try to locate —

QUESTION: Hello?

MR PRICE: Okay. Yes. Could you identify yourself?

QUESTION: Ned? It’s Barak Ravid.

MR PRICE: Yeah. Hey, Barak. Okay, great.

QUESTION: Great, thank you. I’m not sure that this is a term that was used before the State Department briefing, but the head of opposition in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said today that Foreign Minister Lapid in his phone call with Secretary Blinken last Thursday committed that Israel will not take military action against Iran without notifying in advance the U.S. and asking for permission. Can you confirm that such a commitment was given and comment about Netanyahu’s remarks?

And second question is: What does the U.S. see as a no-surprises policy? What does it mean when it comes to Israel and Iran?

MR PRICE: Thanks very much, Barak. I wouldn’t want to – what I would say is that we issued a readout of the call between the Secretary and the Israeli foreign minister. And, in fact, the answer to your two questions is one and the same: We have an incredibly close relationship with Israel. Israel is, of course, among our closest partners in the world. We share any number of values, we share any number of security concerns, and it’s on those questions of security where our relationship has and will continue to be rock solid.

This administration is seeking ways to deepen that relationship and, in fact, that cooperation. We, as you know, have provided in the aftermath of the recent conflict assurances that the United States will work with Israel to replenish the Iron Dome, for example. This is in addition to the security assistance that successive American administrations have provided to Israel under the most recent MOU, which was signed under the Obama-Biden administration and that we are proud to stand by.

So when it comes to your question of no surprises, when it comes to the comments from the opposition leader, what I would say is that Israel is a close security partner. We share information, we work together across a range of shared concerns and shared challenges, and it is in that context that we work together and will continue to do so, again, across a wide array of mutual threats.

Let’s see here. We’ll go to Michele Kelemen.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR PRICE: We can.

QUESTION: Okay, great. So first of all, just a point of clarification on the Iran story: Do you need assurances that Iran will discuss these concerns about missiles before you agree to lifting sanctions, or is that not a prerequisite?

And then on Russia, the ambassadors returning is just one of the many issues in this diplomatic relationship. Can you talk about the other issues that still need to be resolved? Who’s going to lead those negotiations? Is that Sullivan or somebody else?

MR PRICE: Thanks. So on your first question, what I would say is that for us, return to the JCPOA, a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA is necessary, but it’s not sufficient. And it is not sufficient precisely because we do have these other areas of profound concern. I would hasten to add that if and when we are able to achieve that mutual return to compliance, we will be in a stronger position to, through diplomacy, take on these other areas that are – that have been such a challenge: the ballistic missile program, support for proxies and terrorist groups, and human rights, among others.

So we do see a return to compliance as necessary but insufficient, but we also do see a return to compliance as enabling us to take on those other issues diplomatically, working with, importantly, our P5+1 allies and partners as well as our regional partners, again, from a position of strength. If we are able to put Iran’s nuclear program back into the box, if we’re able to ensure it is once again subject to the strictest verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated, we will be able more effectively to take on these other areas of concern.

To your second question, when it comes to the outcome of the summit, of course, the President and President Putin of Russia were able to discuss a number of priority areas in a session that I think both sides described as practical, as constructive, as productive. I think it really underscored the President’s belief that there is no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy and there’s no substitute for us laying out American priorities and American values in a face-to-face setting.

There – as you heard from the President himself, as you heard from the National Security Advisor, as you’ve heard from senior State Department officials, there was a lot of ground covered during the summit with President Putin, but it is not akin to flipping a light switch with the Russian Government. It’s going to take some time to see if the areas of potential cooperation actually do produce results. In fact, I think you heard from the President himself that this meeting was about testing the proposition of whether we can achieve a more stable, a more predictable relationship. And that test will play out over the coming month – I think he said six to twelve months.

So again, I don’t think we have a dispositive verdict coming out of the meetings last week even though the sessions were practical and they were productive. As directed by President Biden, we are preparing a strategic stability dialogue with Russia. We’re in the process of scheduling the first meeting. A high-level Department of State official will lead the U.S. delegation, and we plan to discuss next steps and nuclear arms control and other strategic topics. And we’ll be guided by the principle, as you saw in the joint statement between the two countries, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, even in periods of tension. And we are in one now. The United States and Russia can reduce the risk of armed conflict and the threat of nuclear war. This is precisely the principle that guided the discussion of strategic stability in the context of that summit.

We regularly, as you know, have diplomatic meetings with the Russian Government, and we welcome more open channels of communication between our governments, including through our respective embassies. And that’s why it was so important for us as well as for the Russians to have our ambassadors return to their respective capitals. As I said before, Ambassador Sullivan will travel out this week. Ambassador Antonov is now back in Washington.

There are a number of other areas that were touched on during the summit that will continue to be areas of discussion between the United States and the Russian Federation, a number of the priority issues – whether it was Ukraine, whether it was humanitarian access in Syria, whether it’s the fuller staffing posture of our respective embassies – those are issues that will continue to be the topics of discussion at the working level throughout our government, including in many cases being led here at the State Department.

Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ned, for the call briefing. My question is on Hong Kong and then on Taiwan. We took note of your comments last week on Hong Kong. I’m wondering if you had fresh comments on Hong Kong and then on Taiwan, given there are new developments. The pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily may be forced to shut down this week. How concerned is the United States on the chilling impact on media operation and democratic space in Hong Kong? Meanwhile, staffers working at Taiwan’s office in Hong Kong started leaving on Sunday after Hong Kong authorities demanded them to sign a document supporting Beijing’s “one China” claim to Taiwan. Do you have anything on that? Thank you very much.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, Nike. As – you are absolutely right that we have spoken out very forcefully about what has and what is taking place in Hong Kong. We are – and we continue to be deeply concerned by the Hong Kong authorities’ selective use of the national security law. We’ve seen it used in appalling ways, including to arbitrarily target independent media organizations. These charges, which include, quote, “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security,” these are purely politically motivated. We are, I would say, broadly concerned by increased efforts by authorities to use this tool to suppress independent media, to silence dissenting voices, to stifle freedom of expression. All of this undermines Beijing’s own obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which, in fact is a binding international agreement. It’s an international agreement to uphold Hong Kong’s, quote, “high degree of autonomy,” what should be Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and to protect the rights, freedoms, the universal values of all of those in Hong Kong.

And so yes, we continue to call on authorities to stop targeting the independent press, efforts to stifle media freedom, to restrict the free flow of information. It not only undermines Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, but it really does set back Hong Kong’s viability as an international business hub. We will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong. We will continue to stand with those who are seeking to do nothing more than to exercise what should be a universal value: freedom of expression, as manifested in a free press. That is something we will always stand by.

When it comes to Taiwan, as you know, our support for Taiwan – it’s rock solid. We – as I think you have seen over the course of this administration, we’re committed to deepening our ties with Taiwan. It’s a leading democracy. It’s a critical economic and security partner. You, I think, saw our demonstration of the partnership we seek with Taiwan in the new contact guidance for interactions with Taiwan that the Department of State issued in recent weeks. That is something that is already put into practice. It provides clarity throughout the U.S. Executive Branch of how to implement our “one China” policy when it comes to Taiwan.

Of course, Beijing has continued its efforts to intimidate the people on Taiwan. We continue to stand with them. We will stand by Taiwan in the face of such intimidations, just as we will stand with the people of Hong Kong in the face of Beijing’s efforts to stifle freedom of expression and to stifle dissent in Hong Kong.

Let’s take perhaps the final question. We’ll go to Jiha Han.

QUESTION: Is my line open?

MR PRICE: Yes. Jiha, can you hear us? Well, we heard you for a moment. Why don’t we go to Soyoung Kim?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) special envoy for North Korea Sung Kim’s recent trip to South Korea. Did he try to reach out to the North by any chance? And it looks like both the U.S. and North Korea are playing kind of waiting games until one side takes a major step first. So what actions will the Biden administration take if there is no response from the North?

And just one quick follow-up question: Do you think Sung Kim will stay in both positions as an ambassador to Indonesia and then – and special envoy for North Korea for good, or it depends on the progress with the North? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Thanks very much for that question. We have spoken to the outcome of our DPRK policy review. And the policy that we outlined, the resulting policy that we outlined, as you’ve heard, takes a calibrated, practical approach, but it’s an approach that’s open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make progress that achieves what we seek. And that is increased security for the United States, for our allies, and for our deployed forces.

We’ve said before that we have reached out to the DPRK in line with our policy of openness to diplomacy. We certainly hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime, without preconditions. That is precisely what Ambassador Kim said as he – in his travel to Seoul, where he is emphasizing the fundamental importance of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation in working toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, protecting our shared security and prosperity, upholding common values, and bolstering the rules-based international order.

When it comes to Ambassador Kim, he is actively engaged in his role as envoy for the DPRK. He is at the moment also serving concurrently as our bilateral ambassador in Indonesia. We don’t have any changes to preview or to announce, but certainly Ambassador Kim will be leading this policy effort for us. And if there is an opportunity for face-to-face or direct diplomacy with the DPRK, I expect Ambassador Kim will be deeply engaged in leading that going forward.

With that, I want to thank everyone for joining today, and we look forward to speaking to you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:18 p.m.)

 

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Atlantic Council’s Front Page Pride Edition Virtual Conversation with Jonathan Capehart on “Pressing for Equality: Engaging on LGBTQI Issues Around the World”

21 Jun

Office of the Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

MR CAPEHART: Hello and welcome to this special edition of AC Front Page, the Atlantic Council’s premier live ideas platform for global leaders. I’m Jonathan Capehart, a journalist with The Washington Post and MSNBC. Thank you for joining us today.

Across the country and around the world, the month of June is dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the LGBTQI community from all walks of life. However, both at home and abroad, there are significant challenges that affect the everyday lives of LGBTQI individuals. In his first year in office, President Biden and his administration have an opportunity to advocate for the social, economic, and political equality for sexual and gender minorities. Already the State Department has encouraged U.S. missions abroad to fly the pride flag in solidarity with a global LGBTQI community and by taking a more assertive approach to LGBTQI foreign policy, so that the U.S. Government has a chance to effect change and move the needle on human rights around the world.

Today, I am delighted to be joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hear more from him about the Biden administration’s priorities for protecting and promoting the LGBTQI community, starting at the State Department and reaching beyond our borders. Secretary Blinken served as deputy secretary of state for President Barack Obama from 2015 to 2017 and before that as President Obama’s principal deputy national security advisor. Mr. Secretary, I’m looking forward to your remarks and our conversation.

This event is hosted by the Atlantic Council which, through its LGBTI Advisory Council and LGBTI in Foreign Affairs Fellowships and Out in Energy network, is promoting LGBTI leadership throughout the foreign affairs and national security community. The event is also co-hosted by GLIFAA, the LGBTQI+ employee affinity group for the U.S. State Department and other foreign affairs agencies. GLIFAA has been working for nearly 30 years to ensure LGBTQI employees can serve their country proudly and with dignity. We welcome you to engage in the conversation using the hashtag #ACFrontPage.

Mr. Secretary, before we begin our discussion, your opening remarks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jonathan, thank you very, very much. First of all, Happy Pride, everyone. I am delighted to be part of this conversation. And I especially want to thank you, Jonathan, for serving as moderator today.

And thank you to the Atlantic Council and all of my friends there for many, many years for helping to bring us together, and to GLIFAA for bringing us together as well for what is an important discussion.

So let me just say a few words to get us started, and then look forward to having a conversation with you and other colleagues who will join in.

One of the leading human rights issues of our time is the treatment of LGBTQI people around the world. You know this better than I do. In many countries, they face violence, harassment, stigma, rejection. They aren’t protected equally by laws – in fact, they’re often targeted and scapegoated by those who make and enforce the laws. They’re denied equal access to health care, housing, employment, justice. And for some, simply living openly as their true selves can be incredibly dangerous.

And I’m not just talking about far-off places. Here at home, LGBTQI people have had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of progress. And there are still painful setbacks. There is still hate and violence. There is still too much bias across our society in workplaces, in schools, in churches, in households, and in our government.

This matters to me as a person and an American. It also matters to me as Secretary of State. One of our country’s greatest strengths is our identity as a place where freedom, justice, opportunity are available to everyone. When that rings true, when we make progress toward those ideals, the world notices. When we fall short, well, the world notices that too.

Our ability to stand up for human rights and democracy in other places depends on whether we’re strong on those fronts here at home. And by standing up for human rights worldwide, we’re not only delivering for people in other countries, we’re also delivering for the American people, because human rights and democracy are intrinsically linked with stability, broad-based prosperity, peace, and progress. And that’s all in our interests.

But most important, defending and advancing human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI people, is simply the right thing to do. And at our best, the United States does the right thing.

That’s why a few days after taking office, President Biden signed a memorandum instructing all U.S. agencies engaged in diplomacy and development to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world.

Specifically, it named combating the criminalization of LGBTQI status or conduct; protecting vulnerable LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers; ensuring that our foreign assistance protects human rights and advances nondiscrimination; responding swiftly and meaningfully to human rights abuses; and building coalitions of international organizations and likeminded nations – that is, using our convening power to advance global support for the human rights of LGBTQI people.

So here at the State Department, we’re now putting those provisions into action across our bureaus, across the department, on everything from our refugee programs to our global COVID-19 response to our multilateral engagement. For example, this week, we’re sponsoring our first-ever side event at the United Nations on the rights of transgender and gender-diverse people worldwide. Because again, this is a core human rights issue, and we believe the United States belongs at the forefront of the fight, speaking out, standing up for our values. And we couldn’t do that without our people.

I want to give a special thank you to all the members of GLIFAA, past and present, who have blazed the trail, one step at a time, often in the face of great resistance, to change our country and the State Department for the better.

We still have a great deal of work to do before the human rights of all people everywhere are respected. That’s a mission we’re proud to undertake. And I am very grateful to all you for being part of it.

With that, I’m eager to have a conversation, also to hear from some of you. So, Jonathan, over to you.

MR CAPEHART: Well, Mr. Secretary, again, thank you very much for being here. And before we get to the topic at hand, I do, of course, have to ask a news of day question.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’d expect nothing less. (Laughter.)

MR CAPEHART: The New York Times is reporting that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is moving fast on legislation to get visas for folks in Afghanistan who helped the United States. Earlier this month, you told the House Foreign Affairs Committee the administration is looking, quote, “at every possible contingency.” Have you narrowed those contingencies, and do they include evacuation to a third country while they await U.S. visas?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first just to emphasize the point because it is vitally important, we have an obligation, a debt, to help those who helped us. We have people in Afghanistan who worked side-by-side with our diplomats, with our soldiers, as guides, interpreters, translators, put themselves on the line, put their lives on the line, put the security and well-being of their families on the line, and we owe them. It’s a simple as that.

And as part of that we’ve had, starting in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, a program to – for so-called Special Immigrant Visas to put folks who’ve helped us in a special place where they can apply, hopefully in a more expedited fashion, to come to the United States. We are doing everything we can to make sure that that program can move forward with the resources it needs to answer the demand that exists.

Just to give you a sense of where this stands, there are about 18,000 people who have expressed interest – or more – in using this program to come to the United States. In other words, 18,000 people who worked directly with our soldiers, with our diplomats in Afghanistan. About 9,000 of those are just in the beginning of the process. They’ve expressed interest, they’re looking at it, they haven’t filled out the forms. Another 9,000, though, have filled out the forms. They’re working through the process, and we’ve got a number of them that are awaiting approval by our embassy in Afghanistan and others who are actually in the immigration process itself.

We’ve surged resources to make sure that we could make good by the people who are seeking these Special Immigrant Visas. We’ve added about 50 people here at the State Department. A lot of the work actually gets done here at State. We have additional people in the field. We’ve reduced and in fact eliminated some backlogs that existed.

We’ve got challenges. We’ve actually got a new COVID emergency in Afghanistan where we’ve had to pull back a little bit on some of the work that we’re doing in country. But the work that happens out of country, which is actually the bulk of it, is going forward.

So that’s basically where things stand. We’re going to Congress to get more of these visa allowances. At the same time, to your point, Jonathan, we continue to look at every possible contingency to make sure that, one way or another, we can accommodate the demand. We haven’t ruled anything – anything out. And right now we’re focused on making sure that we actually can make good on the folks who are in the system, and as it stands today that’s what we’re doing.

MR CAPEHART: Thank you for that response, Mr. Secretary. So as you mentioned in your opening remarks, you and the President have made it clear that LGBTQ+ issues are a part of U.S. foreign policy. How specifically is that manifesting itself 152 or so days in – to the Biden administration?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So there are a few things that are happening. First, on one level it’s show me your talking points and I’ll show you your priorities. This is now something that is much more integrated in the day-in/day-out work that we’re doing in the department in our engagements with countries wide and far. We’re doing it – we’re engaged on these issues on a bilateral basis when we’re dealing country to country. We’re dealing much more on a multilateral basis in international organizations. I mentioned this first-ever side event at the United Nations to put a spotlight on some of the challenges. We are working to coordinate more with likeminded countries.

And a lot of this involves programmatic support as well, making sure that we’re getting assistance out to groups that can help put a spotlight on challenges, on issues; emergency assistance to people who are in need and who are threatened by violence, by discrimination; and across the board trying as well to empower some of the local groups and local movements that are trying to make good on the agenda.

So what you’re seeing is actually integrating all of this work into what we’re doing every single day. And this is not just – it’s not just me. It’s not just other senior colleagues. We’re trying to do this spread out across the department.

MR CAPEHART: So – I have a a symbolic question and then a substantive question in terms of manifestation. Symbolically, during the Obama-Biden administration one of the hallmarks was the pride flag being flown at embassies around the world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.

MR CAPEHART: The previous administration did away with that, in some ways very proudly doing away with the pride flag at embassies. I saw, I believe somewhere on social media, the pride flag flying at an embassy around the world. Is that a stated policy at the Blinken State Department that if you are an ambassador anywhere at an American embassy around the world and you want to fly the pride flag, fly the pride flag?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The answer is yes. We’ve made that clear. We’ve given our chiefs of mission, our ambassadors around the world the authority to do that. When we’re trying to advance, defend, support the protection of LGBTQI persons around the world, we want to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that takes into account the specific situation, conditions in a given country. But in every single country where we’re represented, our chiefs of mission, our ambassadors, our charges – whoever’s in charge – have the authority to fly the pride flag on an exterior, external-facing pole at the embassy.

And I think that’s hugely important because this is, again, the strength, the power of our own example, the willingness to speak up, to speak out, to show the strength of our own diversity, including at our embassies, I think sends a hugely important message.

One thing that I can actually announce today for the first time is that we’ll be flying the progress flag, a symbol that encompasses the diversity and intersectionality of LGBTQI persons and communities around the world at the State Department later this month.

We’ll fly the flag from June 26th to the 28th, and that’s a period that I know – as so many know – marks a couple of important turning points in our history for LGBTQI rights: June 26th, the anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges, which ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples and is the law of the land; June 28th, I think everyone knows, marks the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall riots, which in many ways back in 1969 was the genesis of the global LGBTQI rights movement. So I think this is going to be a significant couple of days and we will see the progress flag flying at the State Department.

MR CAPEHART: I’m going to just rib you for a moment, because how did the Agriculture Department beat you to this? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, in the category of maybe sometimes a little bit better late than never, look, I’m glad. This is great that we have our administration, our government – across the administration, across the government – firing on all cylinders. And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that President Biden set the tone from day one. So if we have to play a little catch-up, we are.

MR CAPEHART: So in February the State Department – your spokesperson, Ned Price, from the podium – expressed concern over two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia and returned to their homeland. You just got back from Geneva, where President Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Did the – did Russia’s LGBTQ rights record come up at that meeting? Did the President push that issue with President Putin?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The President pushed human rights, including LGBTQI rights, with President Putin. And I think he referred to this in his press conference as well. What he told President Putin is that as an American president, where for all of our challenges – many of which are manifest in recent months and recent years – this is something that is basically stamped into our DNA and he would be abdicating his responsibility as President, as an American president, not to raise these issues. Now, we didn’t get into specific cases in that meeting, but he made very clear to President Putin that this is fundamentally who we are, and who he is, and what we’ll do, and will continue to do going forward.

MR CAPEHART: What was President Putin’s response?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to characterize his response. You should ask the Russians.

MR CAPEHART: (Laughter.) You were in the room.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it wouldn’t be fair of me to say what he said or didn’t said. But I think it’s fair to say that there was at least an acknowledgment of that basic fact of life. This is what an American president should do. This is who we are, and this is what we represent to the world.

MR CAPEHART: You’ve said a couple of times in responses, but also in your opening remarks, about how at home and abroad the LGBTQI community is facing all sorts of pressures. Here in the United States right now, there is the Equality Act that passed the House, is sitting in the United States Senate awaiting a vote. No vote has been scheduled. I know it’s either highly unusual or never that a secretary of state gets involved in domestic politics, but could you talk about why for foreign consumption it’s important that the Equality Act be passed by Congress?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I really can’t get into – you’re right, I can’t get into domestic politics. I won’t. It’s one of the maybe some would say luxuries of the job, but I think it’s one of the necessities of the job that I not do that. And one of the things I’ve made very clear in taking the job was that politics stops at the C Street doors, where we are here at the department.

But what I can say is this, because it goes to the larger point: I know as I’m traveling around the world – and thankfully we’re now able to really start to do that – that the effectiveness, the impact of our foreign policy is directly tied to our strength at home. And the power of our example, as President Biden likes to say, is as important as the example of our power. And so when we’re seen as making progress at home, when we’re seen as getting a little bit closer to achieving our ideals, something we’ll never fully achieve – forming a more perfect union by definition says that we’re constantly in that quest. But as we’re seen as trying to do that, that gives us so much greater standing around the world to try to advance rights for all day in, day out.

So I know that my foreign interlocutors are looking to this all the time. So I can’t speak to specific pieces of legislation or laws. I can say that our progress at home is directly tied to our ability to be a force for progress around the world.

MR CAPEHART: So, Mr. Secretary, we have questions from the audience, and I’m going to go to the first question, which is from Meghan Luckett, a public affairs officer from the U.S. Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, and thank you very much for this opportunity. My question is this: Since 1999, there have been 13 out LGBTQI+ ambassadors, with President Biden nominating three more. However, all of them have been white, gay, cis men. Keeping in mind that the State Department has rightly centered its DEI focus on the importance of intersectionality and representation, what can and should the department do to ensure the full spectrum of the LGBTQI+ identities and experiences, including black indigenous people of color, are reflected at the highest levels?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Meghan, thanks very much. First of all, thanks for your work and service, and second, thanks for the question. And I think it’s an important one. My belief is that when all is said and done, when you see the appointments that the administration makes in senior positions across the department, as well as abroad, that we’ll be able to show a real reflection of the diversity of the community itself in those appointments. So I can’t get into specific names and positions right now. It’s a lengthy process – I think you know that as well – in terms of getting people in place. But I hear what you’re saying and I think – I expect that what you’ll see will be an answer to that question.

MR CAPEHART: All right, our next question–

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR CAPEHART: — sorry – our next question comes from Austin Richey-Allen, deputy consular chief at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal.

QUESTION: Hello, sir. Greetings from Kathmandu. Thank you very much for engaging in this important conversation. As an openly transgender employee at the State Department, I’ve spoken to other trans and non-binary employees, as well as those with trans or non-binary family members. The top concerns that I’ve heard relate to the availability of gender-affirming medical care while assigned abroad, policies related to workplace protections, and access to passports and other documents that accurately represent our identity.

Could you talk about what is on the horizon in the State Department to foster a supportive and inclusive environment for gender-diverse people? And if any trans people are watching now who may be considering a career at the State Department, do you have any particular (inaudible) for them? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thank you, and again, thank you as well for everything that you’re doing and for your service. Let me pull this back a little bit, and then address the question more specifically. When it comes more broadly to diversity and inclusion in the department, I’ve made – I’ve made that a priority for however long I’m in this job. And I’ve said this repeatedly, I’ve said it publicly as well as privately, that I’ll consider it a mark of my success or not in this job whether by the time I’m done we’ve put in place a stronger foundation to have a genuinely diverse department that truly reflects the people that we’re supposed to represent. And a lot goes into that, as you know. But one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve appointed for the first time ever a chief diversity and inclusion officer. And that office will – is actually an office with a team. It reports directly to me, and it has the responsibility of making sure that across the board the department is genuinely addressing and making progress on building a more diverse and inclusive – and that word “inclusive” is usually important – department so that, again, we reflect the people that we represent.

This starts with recruiting and making sure that we’re actually reaching out really early on in the pipeline to open people’s eyes and hearts and minds to the possibility of serving the country, and serving the State Department, serving our foreign policy. A lot more to follow on that. But we know that even once we get people through the doors here at C Street, that’s not enough. In fact, we’ve seen time and again that people coming from diverse communities get into the State Department and then leave, because we’ve done a bad job in addressing the particular concerns and particular challenges faced by people coming from diverse communities that many of us are simply not in tune with or aware of.

And so one of the responsibilities as well of the chief diversity and inclusion office is going to be making sure that we’re focused on some of the cultural challenges that come to making sure the department is genuinely inclusive across the board, and that people feel that they’re at home, they’re respected, and that they can actually make a real career out of the department, they can see the possibility of advancing, that they can see the possibility of having the most senior jobs over their careers. And that ties into making sure that, again, our appointments, including at the most senior levels, reflect that diversity.

Finally, accountability. And that starts with me. We’ve got to make sure that as we’re working to create a more diverse department, to put in place a foundation that will sustain that diversity going forward, that we actually have accountability, and that comes with making sure that we can actually show the progress, that we have data that’s disaggregated, which has been one of the challenges in the past, and that’s true across different communities.

Now, when it comes to the LGBTQI community in general, when it comes to transgender, gender-diverse persons in particular, this too is an area I think of particular emphasis, of particular need. We put out guidance back in April regarding transgender employees and management rights and responsibilities on – in the workplace. What’s so important here is that that guidance was the product of a consultation with GLIFAA. We wanted to make sure that we had the input going in, not just presenting something on the landing, that we actually had it on the takeoff. Which is another reason, by the way, why this diversity across the board in our department is so important. If we don’t have colleagues here in the department who can help us with internal policy choices and decisions, we’re not going to get it right.

I think the guidance is a good start. It addresses a number of issues, I think, of real importance, where we needed greater clarity, greater understanding, actually needed policies addressing, for example, the use of pronouns, dress codes, usage of bathrooms in accord with identity, et cetera. And it’s also the first means by which we’re actually providing resources to people who have questions, have concerns, have issues. I hope that’s going to be something that sends a message to future colleagues about the environment, the culture, the welcoming nature of this institution.

As I mentioned, we have this – just in a couple of days this first-ever side event in the United Nations that I’m proud to be able to participate in. And beyond that, I think you’re going to see some broader policy announcements that go beyond the State Department that will be coming out of the administration soon, all of which I hope send a very clear, very strong message that not only do we welcome, we want to be part of – this administration to be part of our government, a workforce of talented people that reflect the true diversity of our country.

MR CAPEHART: Austin Richey-Allen, thank you very much for your question. The next question comes from Coco Lim, a program associate for Latin America and the Caribbean at Freedom House.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for your time today. So according to Freedom House freedom and the world reports and analysis, the quest to secure greater protections for LGBTQ people in Latin America has lost momentum over the past few years with some Latin American governments pursuing hostile legal frameworks, jeopardizing political and civil rights, especially the rights of trans women as the crimes against this population often go unpunished and sometimes uninvestigated, for instance, in the most recent murder of Guatemalan activists Andrea Gonzalez and Cecy Ixpata.

So in that context with your new leadership in Washington, how can the U.S. help to revitalize efforts to put an end to violence, discrimination, and impunity on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, and perhaps specifically violence against trans folks throughout the Latin American region?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I read the Freedom House reports very, very carefully every year. And I think, look, you put your finger on something that unfortunately is very stark and very powerful, and that is a wider trend that Freedom House has done more than any other organization to document of this democratic recession that we’ve been seeing around the world, a recession that’s been going on and getting deeper, going on for the past dozen or more years, 15 years or so – and as I said, getting deeper unfortunately over the last few years.

And this is an issue of profound concern to me, to the President, to the administration. And it’s not surprising that one of the markers of that recession has been exactly what you cited, which is not only a slowing of progress, a diminution of progress for the LGBTQI communities around the work, but in a number of cases actual regression, moving backwards when it comes to violence, when it comes to discrimination, when it comes to legal frameworks. And the two cases that you’ve actually cited I’ll be speaking to in a couple of days at the United Nations.

And for us, in terms of what we can do about it, it really starts with putting democracy and human rights, including the rights of the LGBTQI communities, at the heart of our foreign policy. And that goes back to what we were talking about just a few minutes ago, that it is on the agenda in our conversations country to country, that it’s on the agenda in what we’re doing in multilateral institutions around the world, that it’s on the agenda in terms of our programs and the resources that we dedicate, whether it’s emergency assistance to people from these communities who are in need, in danger, or the support that we’re giving to civil society and organizations that stand up for and advance LGBTQI rights. All of that goes to the heart of our foreign policy and what we’re trying to do.

We have in a whole host of countries efforts underway to push pack against discriminatory legal frameworks and laws. This is one of the most pernicious things in many ways that we’re seeing beyond overt instances of violence, discrimination. When you have a legal framework that actually institutionalizes this, that’s maybe the most fundamental problem of all.

We’re working on this day in, day out, country to country as we speak. I’m particularly sensitive to the plight of transgender people, especially people of color, and especially when we’re seeing within this overall regression particular instances of violence and discrimination against that community. So this is something we’re giving a particular focus to.

But the bottom line is this: It has to be and it is integrated in our foreign policy. Unfortunately, it’s not like flipping a light switch. I don’t think we’re going to see or show results from Friday to Monday, but if we’re doing it in a sustained, focused, and determined way, my hope is that over the next few years we’ll actually start to turn the corner and see progress again, not regression.

MR CAPEHART: Thank you very much, Coco Lim. We have one more question. This one, Mr. Secretary, comes from Michael Castellano, Associate Director for Strategic Partnerships at Heartland Alliance International. Unfortunately, he cannot be on camera because of a train mishap. He’s fine.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good.

MR CAPEHART: But he can’t be with us, so I’m going to ask his question for you. And in your response to this, fold in your final remarks because we are running out of time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.

MR CAPEHART: He asks: President Biden’s memorandum committing to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad underscores five priorities, one of which is funding efforts to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world, which you’ve mentioned earlier. For those of in civil society engaged in the implementation of such programs in collaboration with LGBTQ partners in the field, can you elaborate on how the Department of State under your leadership will leverage foreign assistance funding to support LGBTQ human rights programming?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think there are a number of things. And I appreciate the question but also very relieved to hear that everything’s okay.

MR CAPEHART: Yes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So that’s good.

There are a number of ways we’re doing this. Look, we have our efforts, ongoing efforts as a founding member, to lead and administer something called the Global Equality Fund, and that is a pretty unique and I think effective public-private partnership that provides emergency assistance, for example, to LGBTQI organizations and persons that are under threat and as well as supporting human rights programming for grassroots organizations to try to catalyze positive change, and it’s operating in more than a hundred countries. So this is something that really covers a lot of ground.

Tenth year that we’ve been involved in this, and what we’re seeing is – as I said, it’s a public-private partnership – we’re drawing strength and support from like-minded governments around the world, businesses, foundations, the – a number of other organizations. And that’s been an essential resource that we’ve actually been able to help catalyze and provide about $83 million thus far to amplify, support local efforts.

As I alluded to earlier, we’ve also got a number of other programs that are part of our budget, that are in our foreign policy toolkit that go to this. And then more broadly, our efforts to advance across the board human rights and freedoms and democracy hopefully have positive effects as well. So it’s a long way of saying we’ve got this effort ongoing in our programs that are funded in one way or another, and in our day in, day out diplomacy that we’ve already talked about.

Jonathan, last thing I’ll say is this: We have, over the course of however long we’re in this position, over the course of this administration, I think both a tremendous opportunity but also an obligation to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to advance human rights and democracy more broadly and to support and advance and stand strong for LGBTQI rights more specifically.

And it’s simple. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. We know from our own experience that the diversity of this country is at the heart of our strength. And so when we’re actually drawing on it here at home, we’re going to be in a much stronger position to advance the same issues, causes, challenges around the world.

And we also know the reason it’s smart besides being the right thing to do is that countries that actually act on reflecting their own diversity are likely to be at peace, likely to actually be successful, drawing on the full talents of their societies, and that’s good for us. That’s good for the world. So that’s why this is at the heart of what the President wants to do. It’s a big part of our agenda. But at the end of the day, like with most things, we’ll get judged by results. So we’re committed, we’re focused, we’re determined, and my hope, my expectation, is that over the course of these next few years, we’ll actually make progress.

MR CAPEHART: And with that, we’re going to have to leave it there. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, thank you very much for being here and for your – the conversation and your comments on the global importance of protecting and advancing universal human rights, including those of us in the LGBTQI community.

I’d also like to thank the Atlantic Council and GLIFAA for hosting this important event in celebration of Pride Month. Please join the Atlantic Council at their next AC Front Page event with the director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, this Wednesday, June 23rd, at 8:30 a.m.

And to the audience, thank you for being a part of today’s conversation. Have a good day.

Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Francis

21 Jun

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman met today with Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister David Francis in Washington, D.C.  During their discussion, Deputy Secretary Sherman and Foreign Minister Francis emphasized the strength of U.S-Sierra Leone relations and our longstanding relationship based on the shared values of improving democratic governance and respect for human rights, combatting corruption, and improving Sierra Leone’s investment climate.  The Deputy Secretary and the Foreign Minister highlighted the importance of multilateral cooperation in contributing to a prosperous democratic future in the region.

 

On Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, State Parties Highlight Direct Payments Soon Going to Millions of Working Families — Thanks to Democrats

21 Jun

It’s Child Tax Credit Awareness Day! Thanks to President Biden and Democrats, starting mid-July, American families will begin receiving direct payments through the Child Tax Credit, putting money in the pockets of most families. For a working family with two kids, that’s $500 or more on the 15th of every month this year. Experts estimate this historic expansion will cut child poverty in half, no thanks to Republicans in Congress who unanimously voted against the American Rescue Plan.

President Biden knows that we need to do even more, and that it is not enough just to restore where we were prior to the pandemic. In order to create a tax system that works for middle class families, we must make this benefit permanent by passing the American Families Plan. See below for what state parties are saying on Child Tax Credit Awareness Day: 

Democratic Party of Wisconsin: Wisconsin Democrats Celebrate Child Tax Credit Awareness Day

“The Child Tax Credit follows the basic principle that we should be supporting Wisconsin families and children and building a better future for the next generation. This credit is a direct result of having leaders like President Biden and Governor Evers, who are dedicated to bettering the lives of Wisconsin families. The Child Tax Credit is just another example of Democrats delivering for Wisconsin families.”

Ohio Democratic Party: On Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, Ohio Democratic Party Highlights Direct Payments Soon Going to 2.3 Million Ohio Families

“Thanks to President Biden, Senator Sherrod Brown and Ohio Democrats, the American Rescue Plan will soon deliver major tax relief for working families with children through a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Despite opposition from Ohio Republicans, the expanded child tax credit will lift 132,000 children out of poverty here in Ohio, help bolster financial security and spur economic growth in our state,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokesperson Matt Keyes.

North Carolina Democratic Party: On Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, NCDP Highlights Direct Payments Soon Going to Over Two Million Families

“Thanks to President Biden and Democrats, the American Rescue Plan will soon deliver major tax relief for working families with children through a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit, and families will start to see those checks in their bank accounts next month. Despite opposition from the entire Republican delegation from North Carolina, including Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, the expanded child tax credit will lift 137,000 children out of poverty here in North Carolina, help bolster financial security, and spur economic growth in our state,” said NCDP Chair Bobbie Richardson. 

Pennsylvania Democratic Party: Child Tax Credit Awareness Day: Payments Soon Going to Three Million Families Across the Keystone State

“Thanks to President Biden and Democrats, the American Rescue Plan will soon deliver major tax relief for working families with children through a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Despite opposition from every Pennsylvania Republican, the expanded child tax credit will lift 140,000 children out of poverty here in Pennsylvania, help bolster financial security and spur economic growth in our state. Thank you to President Biden and congressional Democrats for putting our working families first,” said Nancy Patton Mills, Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairwoman. 

Virginia Democratic Party: On Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, DPVA Highlights Direct Payments Soon Going to Families Across the Commonwealth

“Thanks to President Biden and Democrats, the American Rescue Plan will soon deliver major tax relief for working families with children through a historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit, and families will start to see those checks in their mailboxes next month. Despite opposition from Glenn Youngkin and Virginia Republicans, the expanded child tax credit will lift 85,000 children out of poverty here in Virginia, help bolster financial security and spur economic growth in our state,” said DPVA Communications Director Grant Fox. 

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YIKES: Donald Trump Loyalty Test Causing More Problems for the GOP

21 Jun

Republican lawmakers’ decision to sell their party out to Donald Trump, a loser president who cost them the House, Senate, and White House, is looking worse and worse every day. Across the country, voters in critical swing states are rejecting the chaos from Trump and the GOP playbook in favor of calm and stable leadership from President Biden and Democrats.

Politico Magazine: “‘As Long as the Party Embraces Trump, It’s Going to Have Trouble’”

  • “It’s the story of how the GOP playbook—which often defaults to the tactic of demonizing cities as bastions of out-of-touch liberal elites—has missed an important shift: Suburbs aren’t at war with their cities any longer, and claiming they are has alienated potential Republican voters.”
  • “It’s the story of a Republican Party in something of an identity crisis; of downballot Republicans who have found success while embracing diversity and are utterly flummoxed why the rest of the party is moving in the other direction; of the once-in-a-generation talent named L. Brooks Patterson, who made Oakland County into a Republican political behemoth first by perfecting the art of culture war, and later by trading away grievance-based politics for business-oriented conservatism only to see that traditional approach banished from the Trump-era GOP.”

NBC News: “GOP candidates’ acts of loyalty to Trump underscore ex-president’s grip on the party”

  • “Another way to look at all of it: When a party no longer offers a new party platform or new public-policy ideas, the way for its politicians to distinguish themselves is through symbols, gestures, performance art and — above all — loyalty to the former president. Even seven months after that former president’s defeat and five months after Jan. 6.”

NBC News: “Trump’s influence on Republicans faces key test in Michigan”

  • “Early dynamics shaping the Republican primary highlight the tensions playing out in other states and high-stakes contests across the country. Would-be candidates for governor are proceeding with caution as they calculate how far, if at all, they can stray from Trump, his mixed pandemic messaging and his incessant lie that a second term was stolen from him.”

Politico: “Chaotic N.C. Senate primary tests Trump’s sway over the GOP”

  • “Trump’s surprise intervention has been the foremost drama so far, creating sore feelings among his party’s candidates and causing dissension among North Carolina Republicans.”
  • “If Republicans nominate a weaker general election candidate in a single state like North Carolina, they could end up blowing their shot at taking back the Senate.”
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Holding the Lukashenka Regime and its Enablers to Account

21 Jun

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

The United States has taken action against dozens of Belarusian individuals and entities in response to last month’s forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight between two European Union member states and the politically motivated arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofiya Sapega. These steps are also in response to the continuing repression in Belarus, including attacks on human rights, democratic processes, and fundamental freedoms.  These actions, coordinated with Canada, the European Union, and United Kingdom, seek to promote accountability for the Lukashenka regime’s transnational repression and its affronts to international norms.  These coordinated designations demonstrate the steadfast transatlantic commitment to supporting the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations.

Specifically, the U.S. Department of State took action pursuant to Presidential Proclamation (PP) 8015 to impose visa restrictions on 46 Belarusian officials for their involvement in undermining or injuring institutions in Belarus, making these individuals generally ineligible for entry into the United States.  These individuals hold key positions in the Presidential Administration, State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Belarusian KGB), Ministry of Internal Affairs, Investigative Committee, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Sport and Tourism, State Border Committee, Ministry of Health, Constitutional Court, Prosecutor General’s Office, and district courts in Minsk.

In addition, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated an additional 16 individuals and five entities pursuant to Executive Order 13405.  The persons designated today have harmed the people of Belarus through their activities following the August 9, 2020 fraudulent presidential election and the subsequent brutal crackdown on protesters, journalists, and the political opposition or have otherwise supported Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repressive policies within Belarus and abroad.

These officials have played a significant role in blocking independent media; led politically motivated arrests, prosecutions, and sentencings of peaceful protesters, journalists, and political figures; were involved in unjustified raids on members of the opposition’s headquarters and homes; and participated in the severe abuse of those unjustly detained, including reports of torture.  Since the fraudulent August 9, 2020 election, the State Department has designated 155 Belarusian and Russian nationals under PP 8015.

The United States continues to support international efforts to investigate electoral irregularities in the 2020 Belarusian Presidential election and the violent crackdown and abuses that ensued.  We stand with the people of Belarus in support of their fundamental freedoms.

Joint Statement on Belarus

21 Jun

Office of the Spokesperson

The text of the following statement was released by the Governments of the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, and the European External Action Service.

Begin Text:

We are united in our deep concern regarding the Lukashenka regime’s continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law.

Today, we have taken coordinated sanctions action in response to the May 23rd forced landing of a commercial Ryanair flight between two EU member states and the politically motivated arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega, as well as to the continuing attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms.  We are committed to support the long-suppressed democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus and we stand together to impose costs on the regime for its blatant disregard of international commitments.

We are united in calling for the regime to end its repressive practices against its own people.  We are disappointed the regime has opted to walk away from its human rights obligations, adherence to democratic principles, and engagement with the international community.  We are further united in our call for the Lukashenka regime to cooperate fully with international investigations into the events of May 23rd; immediately release all political prisoners; implement all the recommendations of the independent expert mission under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism; and, enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue between the authorities and representatives of the democratic opposition and civil society, facilitated by the OSCE.

End Text.

DNC on Child Tax Credit Awareness Day

21 Jun
Today is Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, aimed at ensuring parents know about the American Rescue Plan’s historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit and how it will benefit their families. In the United States in 2021, the tax credit will increase for most families to $3,000 for each child between six- and 17-years-old and to $3,600 for each child under six-years-old. Experts estimate this historic expansion will cut child poverty in half. DNC Chair Jaime Harrison released the following statement in commemoration of Child Tax Credit Awareness Day.

“As a child who grew up in poverty, on an unpaved road, I know firsthand what the Child Tax Credit means for children and families across our country and the difference it will make in their lives. It means more money for food on tables and supplies in school bags. It means paid rents and paid bills. President Biden and Democrats delivered the American Rescue Plan and expanded this major tax relief for working families with children that is poised to lift millions of children out of poverty.

“President Biden’s economic plan is working and boosting financial security and economic growth for every family. But the American Rescue Plan is only the first step. We must pass the American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan to further extend this critical program and continue our progress on building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

“American families: help is here.”

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Ministerial Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS

21 Jun

Office of the Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will join Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio in co-hosting a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on June 28 to discuss efforts in the campaign to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS.

Ministers will discuss ways to sustain pressure on ISIS remnants in Iraq and Syria, and to counter ISIS networks elsewhere, including in Africa. They will also assess priorities for the Coalition’s lines of effort related to stabilization, foreign terrorist fighters, counter-ISIS financing, and counter-messaging efforts.

The 83-member Global Coalition, of which the United States is a leading member, remains unwavering in its commitment to the enduring and global defeat of ISIS.