Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson
MS PORTER: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining today’s press briefing. I just have two updates at the top, and then I will start with taking your questions.
Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC. For a quarter century, the United States has worked with its allies and partners to help rid the world of chemical weapons and also deter their use by anyone, anywhere, and under any circumstances.
In recent years the world has witnessed chemical weapons use that challenges the CWC’s core prohibitions: by the Assad regime and ISIS in Syria; by Russian Government operatives against the Skripals in the UK and Aleksey Navalny in Russia; and by the DPRK against Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia.
Syria remains in non-compliance with the CWC, and we will continue to work to hold the Assad regime accountable for its repeated use of chemical weapons against its own people.
We will also continue our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable for its non-compliance with the CWC, repeated use of chemical weapons, and ongoing efforts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its chemical weapons use. Furthermore, we will continue to closely monitor for the possible use of chemical munitions by Russian forces in Ukraine.
On this anniversary we renew our commitment to upholding the CWC, and also note the convention’s important role in contributing to U.S. national security.
And I’ll take a point of personal privilege to just acknowledge our State Department reporter colleague, Conor Finnegan of ABC. Conor, if you’re on, or even if you aren’t, I hope you get this message. We know this is your last day. I just want to take a moment to say thank you for all of your contributions, for your insightful and fair and consistent reporting. We certainly will miss you here, and wish you the very best on your next chapter.
Let’s start with Cindy Saine.
QUESTION: Could you please confirm a report that American citizen and former U.S. Marine Willy Joseph Cancel was killed in Ukraine, fighting along Ukrainian forces? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Cindy. Well, we are aware of these reports, and certainly stand ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the family. However, out of respect to the family during this very difficult time, we don’t have anything further to announce.
We also do want to reiterate that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine during this active armed conflict. It is a very dangerous situation – and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian Government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately, if it is safe to do so using commercial or privately available ground transportation options.
Let’s go to Matt Lee, please.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi, Matt. Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Hey. Okay. I got two things, both brief. Yesterday, the Secretary when he was on the Hill was asked about this Chinese memory chip company, YMTC, and whether it is violating laws that provide the – laws against providing technology to Huawei and others. He did not have an answer. I’m wondering if you guys have looked into it and do have an answer now and, if you do, what that is.
And the second thing is are you aware of an incident in Nepal recently, where you – in relation to a custody – child custody case. U.S. Embassy guards or officials were assaulted. I believe this happened on the 16th. Anyway, are you – this involves a child who was apparently abducted to Nepal by one of her parents. And anyway, I know that you probably won’t be able to talk about that because of privacy, but I want to know if you have anything on the assault on embassy officials. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks. I’ll start with your second question. So the State Department is aware of reports of an alleged child abduction case in Nepal involving a U.S. citizen, and we are providing all appropriate consular assistance.
To your point on assaults on staff, I am just now learning about that in real time, so I don’t have anything to offer. But what I will say is what we continue to underscore from here, that one of the department’s highest priorities is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas, and we also recognize that international parental child abduction cases are, by nature, extremely difficult. They’re also extremely complex, and we’re committed to doing everything that we can to assist in resolving these challenging cases.
To your first question, we don’t have anything to offer, but we’re certainly happy to take that back to the team and get you any updates as soon as possible.
Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. I hope you can hear me.
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Laura.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Have any State Department officials met with Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili while she’s here in Washington? And is the State Department concerned that Russian threats to Georgia pose a risk to the U.S. interests in the region? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. I don’t have any meetings to read out at this time, but what I can say from here on Georgia: from the beginning, the American people have stood in solidarity with the people of Georgia and their desire to be a free and sovereign country. Over the years we’ve also developed into strategic partners working together towards our shared vision of Georgia fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations, and as a part of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
Let’s go over to Conor Finnegan, please.
QUESTION: Jalina, thank you for your generous words. It’s been a privilege to be a part of this press corps.
Two questions for you. First, Secretary Blinken said yesterday, I think, during – or maybe on Tuesday, during his Senate testimony, that the upside for Afghan women is that the country has become relatively safer and more stable. We’ve seen yet another bombing in Kabul today. I’m wondering if you have any response to that bombing, and whether or not he stands by that statement.
And then second, if you can provide any update on the effort to return U.S. diplomats to Ukraine. Are they now overnighting in Lviv yet, and does the strike yesterday on Kyiv change that calculus at all? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Conor. So first I’m going to let the Secretary’s comments at his hearing speak for themselves, but what I’ll say from here is that we offer our sincere condolences to the families as well as the loved ones who were killed in these cowardly attacks. The United States condemns these attacks in what appears to be the targeting of members of minority groups in the strongest terms. The United States is also committed to supporting the ability of all Afghans, including members of religious minority groups, to practice their religion freely, without fear of violence against them. We are also extremely concerned about the rise of attacks in Afghanistan and call for an end to these cowardly attacks and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
As far as your second question on diplomats in Ukraine, I would say that earlier this week our deputy chief of mission as well as members of our embassy team traveled to Lviv to continue our close collaboration with key partners, and that would include our ministry of foreign affairs of Ukraine. Our diplomats are returning to Ukraine this week on a temporary basis, and we envision more regular travel in the immediate future. Planning is also underway to resume Embassy Kyiv operations as soon as possible.
And then, Conor, if we still have you, just in response to the strike, we’re closely following the reports of yesterday’s strike, and we are also very sad to hear that the strike killed Vera Gyrych of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Ukrainian Service journalist, and we express our most heartfelt condolences to her family as well as her colleagues. The Kremlin’s war continues to wreak havoc on Ukraine and its people, with dire consequences for those who continue to stand for justice and tell the truth about its brutality.
Let’s go over to Hiba Nasr.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the secretary general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said, that – threatened that that Iran could attack Israel directly and not through proxies. Do you have concerns over that, or how do you comment on this?
MS PORTER: Hiba, if we still have you, can you please repeat your question? The first part of your question was cut off.
QUESTION: Yes. Today the secretary general of Hizballah, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech that Iran could attack Israel directly and not through proxies. Do you have any comment on that? Do you have concerns also?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Hiba. We don’t have any particular response at this time. But if we have one soon, we’ll be sure to follow up.
Let’s go over to Mariana Sanchez.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. Can you hear me well?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Mariana.
QUESTION: Perfect. So this last week there was this high level with State Department visit in Brazil, and on that I would like to ask some questions. Could you confirm that Brazilian authorities requested help from the Americans with the American nuclear submarine technology, and what the U.S. officials answered concerning this matter?
And the second question, the U.S. authorities said that they are following the electoral process in Brazil and they trust the institutions there. Two days ago the Brazilian president said that the military should be directly involved in counting the votes for the next presidential election. Is the U.S. following these new events, and would the State Department provide any comments on that?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Mariana. So I won’t get into too much of the specifics of the discussions, but I will reiterate that we did have principals recently in the region, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and our Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Jose Fernandez.
What I will say from here is that shared goals were discussed to protect the environment, mitigation of effects of climate change, recovery from COVID-19, and ways to build supply chain resilience. We also reinforced our cooperation in security and defense, and promoting peace and the rule of law, as well as our appreciation for the vibrant partnership that the United States does share with Brazil.
And as far as your second question on elections, we have nothing specific to offer on – at that time.
Let’s go to the line of Endale Getahun.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jalina. Happy Friday to you. I hope you can hear me.
MS PORTER: Yes, thank you. Happy Friday to you as well.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks so much. I was just wondering if you have read the statement that was made by the Congress Bradley Sherman regarding – based on his tweet that said that he was waiting for the Secretary of State’s promise that he would probably publicly come up and determine for the – regarding the genocide take place in Tigray, Ethiopia or any statement that would be – because said he’s waiting, that the Secretary promised but so far has not made that publicly yet. And so do you have any comment on that?
My also second questions: Do you have any reaction to the Eritrean Government, which has still occupied the western Tigray, including the neighboring Amhara troops or groups in western Tigray? But Eritreans-appointed officials has visited Russia. Possibly there is a negotiation for new military arms for Eritrea and possibly also, according to sources, that the Russians, possibly a warship, could be docked in Red Sea close to Eritrea. As you know, Eritrea is still occupied with Ethiopian authorities and Amhara regime in western Tigray. What’s your reaction on that and if you have those – those are two questions that I have, and thank you so much.
MS PORTER: So Endale, to your second question, I just don’t have anything to offer on that.
What I would say to your first question on the determination, on the atrocity determination, our position hasn’t changed and we are following the situation in Tigray as well as across northern Ethiopia very closely. We’re also deeply concerned by reported human rights abuses and violations.
In response to these credible reports, we regularly issue statements condemning these incidents and also call for accountability. The Secretary acknowledged to Congressman Sherman on Thursday that the State Department, by law, has the prerogative to issue atrocity determinations and, as a matter of policy, will issue one if and when appropriate.
Let’s go to Jennifer Hansler, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me, Jalina?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much. I wanted to follow up both on Conor and Cindy’s questions.
On Conor’s, can you just confirm how many trips the embassy staff has taken into Ukraine this week? Has it just been the one-day trip or have there been multiple, and are they overnighting at this point yet?
And then I know the State Department doesn’t track the number of Americans who are abroad, but do you have a rough estimate of how many Americans have gone to Ukraine to fight on behalf of the Ukrainian forces there? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So we don’t have an exact number to preview as far as the trips to Ukraine and overnight. We’ll be happy to share that whenever we do.
And as far as Americans fighting in Ukraine, we don’t have anything to share today on that as well.
Let’s go to Eunjong Cho.
QUESTION: Hi Jalina, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Wonderful. I have two questions today.
South Korean NGO launched one million leaflets into North Korea by balloon this week, and South Korean Government said it will enforce the anti-leaflet law which bans sending leaflets across the border. What is the State Department’s position on South Korean NGO’s efforts to send leaflets into North Korea?
And then my second question: U.S. think tanks this week released analysis that North Korea is continuing work to restore its nuclear test site. What is State Department’s reaction to North Korea’s continued preparations for a nuclear test? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So we are aware of reports that the DPRK may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test in the coming months. And such an action not only would be dangerous but it would also be deeply destabilizing to the region. It would blatantly violate international law as set out in multiple resolutions of the UN Security Council. It would also undermine the global nonproliferation regime.
The DPRK has already launched 13 ballistic missiles this year, including at least three ICBMs, and we urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead choose to engage in serious and sustained dialogue.
As far as leaflets, we don’t have anything to share at this time.
Let’s go to Alex Raufoglu.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jalina, and Happy Friday. Couple of questions here, and let me start with the – your early statement on fallen journalist Vira Hyrych, who worked for a U.S.-backed outlet. Will the State Department be willing to lead the investigation around her death, as well as the deaths of other reporters during this war – be investigated as a war crime?
And my second question is about November G20 summit, whose hosts received confirmation today that President Putin plans to attend. Do you have anything on how Washington will approach that event?
And lastly, any result on meetings at the State Department with Belarus president elect Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Alex, to your first question, broadly speaking, so evidence of criminality is mounting, and those who have unleashed, perpetrated, and ordered crimes must be held to account. We strongly condemn apparent atrocities by the Kremlin forces across Ukraine. And we’ve assessed that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes, and we continue to monitor atrocities being committed in Ukraine.
To your second question on the G20, the United States continues to believe that it can’t be business as usual with regards to Russia’s participation with the international community or international institutions. The G20 president, Indonesia, is responsible for all the invitations, and outside of that we don’t have anything further to announce.
To your last question, we have issued a readout that’s found on our website.
We’ll take our last question from Hyejun So.
QUESTION: I’m not sure if you called my name, but did you call me? Hyejun So?
MS PORTER: Yes. Hyejun So.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. My question is very similar to the previous one from our colleague on North Korea, but it’s a – I saw a report that South Korean military authorities are closely monitoring North Korean military movement, judging from the assessment that there is a high chance of another test firing of missiles, possibly one of the ones that North Korea showed off at their military parade on the 25th. And I’m wondering if this kind of discussion or this kind of South Korean military authority assessment was discussed with U.S. in advance. Thank you.
MS PORTER: What I would say from here is that we continue to closely monitor the situation on the Korean peninsula, and I’ll just underscore that we urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead choose to engage in serious and sustained dialogue.
That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining. I hope you have a great weekend ahead.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)
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