East Asian and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary Daniel J. Kritenbrink and African Affairs Assistant Secretary Molly Phee on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Cambodia, the Philippines, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda

30 Jul

Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Molly Phee, Assistant SecretaryBureau of African Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much and good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for joining this call.  We’re very pleased to have the opportunity to preview the Secretary’s upcoming travel to Cambodia, the Philippines, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.  We’ll be departing on Tuesday.  The Secretary will be on travel from August 2nd through August 12th.  We have two briefers for you today.  We have Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee.  Just a reminder, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.  With that, I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink for some opening comments.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you, Ned, and good afternoon everyone.  It’s great to be with you again.  I met with many of you earlier this month ahead of the Secretary’s trip to Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan and of course traveled with many of you on that trip.  And at that time, I noted that this level of senior-level engagement in the Indo-Pacific reflects just how profoundly important the region is to America’s long-term security and prosperity.

And now we’re here just a few weeks later to announce yet another visit to the Indo-Pacific.  Secretary Blinken will first head to Phnom Penh, Cambodia on August 3rd to participate in three separate ministerials hosted by Cambodia as ASEAN chair this year.  This is a profoundly important time in our relationship with ASEAN.  At May’s U.S.-ASEAN Summit here in Washington, D.C., we agreed to elevate our relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.  The Secretary will discuss that matter with our ASEAN friends in Phnom Penh, which will lead up to the November U.S.-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit.

In Cambodia next week, again, I mentioned the Secretary will participate in three separate ministerials: first, the U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial, where we will highlight our enduring and committed partnership with ASEAN, our respect for ASEAN centrality, and our strong support for the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific, as well as our work with ASEAN partners on a range of shared challenges.

Secondly, in the East Asia Summit foreign ministers meeting, we will focus on strategic issues and global challenges.  For example, we’ll address transboundary challenges such as climate change and human rights.  We’ll also discuss the PRC’s growing coercive activity across the region.

And third and finally in the ASEAN Regional Forum, or ARF, the Secretary will address specific political and security concerns, encourage preventative diplomacy, and support ASEAN’s commitment to regional security and to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

At all three ministerials, as well as at the many bilateral engagements that the Secretary has planned, Secretary Blinken will urge our partners to step up pressure on the Burmese military regime following its horrific and heinous execution of four pro-democracy advocates.  This is just the latest example of the regime’s brutality.  The Secretary will also press all countries in the region to enhance support for the people of Burma, the pro-democracy movement, and all those working to restore Burma’s path to democracy.

The Secretary will also discuss Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.  America’s goal is straightforward:  We want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.  If Russia does not pay a heavy price for its actions, it will send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory and subjugate other countries.  It will put the survival of other peaceful sovereign states at risk.  There will, of course, also be discussions on issues related to food and energy security, which obviously have been negatively impacted by Russia’s war.

In his meeting with Cambodian leaders on a bilateral basis, the Secretary will stress his strong support for ASEAN and for the success of Cambodia’s chairmanship this year.  He will also underscore the U.S. desire to have a productive and positive relationship with Cambodia, highlighting strong bilateral cooperation on issues such as DPRK sanctions enforcement, law enforcement coordination, and condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  At the same time, however, the Secretary will also stress the importance of Cambodia’s being open and transparent about its security cooperation with the PRC and the need for Cambodian leaders to make meaningful progress to support multi-party democracy, respect for human rights, and to reopen civic and political space.

Next, Secretary Blinken will visit the Philippines, where he will meet with newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and the new Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo.  We welcome the statements that President Marcos recently made about the importance of preserving the Philippines’ territorial integrity.  Secretary Blinken will reinforce and underscore to our Philippine allies that our commitment to our Mutual Defense Treaty is ironclad.  He also intends to have important discussions on enhanced cooperation on trade and investment and on clean energy, as well as on advancing our shared democratic values and strengthening respect for human rights, including press freedom.

With that, I’ll pass the phone to my friends and esteemed colleague, Assistant Secretary Molly Phee.  I’ll look forward to your questions later.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  Thanks, Dan.  Great to be here with you.  Thanks, Ned, for organizing this.

We’re all excited about the Secretary’s upcoming travel to South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda from August 7th through 12th.  Each of these countries is a significant player on the continent and across the globe, so we’re looking forward to direct conversations and engagement about shared challenges and opportunities.

In South Africa, the Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue.  This dialogue will focus on health, environment, trade and investment, and infrastructure, priorities for both countries.  Given South Africa’s leadership role, it’s an ideal location for the Secretary to deliver a speech announcing and describing the U.S. strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary will meet with senior government officials as well as members of civil society to discuss efforts to hold peaceful, on-time free and fair elections in 2023.  He will want to hear the Congolese perspective about regional efforts to address the role of armed groups in eastern Congo and the recent spike in violence, including attacks against MONUSCO peacekeepers.

In both the DRC and Rwanda, the Secretary will highlight the need for respect for territorial integrity and explore how the United States can support efforts to reduce tensions.  In Kigali, he looks forward to the opportunity to meet President Kagame for the first time since he became Secretary of State to discuss a range of national and regional issues.  He will raise the case of Paul Rusesabagina, whom the Secretary has determined has been wrongfully detained.

At each stop, he will seek an exchange on the importance of democracy, good governance, and respect for human rights.  As you know, these are longstanding U.S. values that are part of all of our discussions, as Dan just described as well.

The Secretary is really interested in exploring how we can broaden economic prosperity.  As you know, we’re committed to contributing to efforts to build Africa’s self-sufficiency and resilience and to promote inclusive development.  To that end, we’re working with African governments and businesses, entrepreneurs, civil society, the U.S. private sector, and IFIs and MDBs to accelerate sustainable economic growth across the continent and to help Africans manage the disruptive economic shock of COVID and the food security crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finally, the Secretary will focus on the devastating impacts of climate change.  We are continuing to partner with African leaders to tackle the climate crisis and to work together on clean energy development and to provide needed tools and innovation to transition for the future.  We will want to consult on the decision to open up the Congolese rain forest to oil and gas exploration.  The consequences for the DRC, for Africa, and for the world are immense.  And we’ll also want to continue to work with the Congolese Government on how they can best diversify and grow their economy sustainably.

Just to note, we’ve had a lot of travel to Africa this summer.  In June, Under Secretary Nuland went to Somalia, Djibouti, Mozambique, and Nigeria.  Under Secretary Zeya just returned from a trip to Mozambique and Namibia.  Derek Chollet this week has been in Senegal, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is going next week to Uganda and Rwanda.  We’ll also have a lot of CODELs in August.  So all of this is designed to create opportunities for us to meet our partners in person and to collaborate on these critical issues.

Over to you, Ned.

MR PRICE:  Terrific.  We have time for a few questions.  Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.

OPERATOR:  Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, press * then 0 at this moment.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  We can.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Awesome.  Thank you.  Are there any plans for the Secretary to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov while they are both in Cambodia for the ministerial?  And then on Paul Rusesabagina, will the Secretary be warning about any consequences should they continue to detain him, and what would those consequences be?  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Jenny, I’ll start with your first question.  We have no plans to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov when they are in Cambodia.  I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Phee on your second.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  Thanks, Ned.  Yeah, I don’t want to get ahead of those discussions with President Kagame.  We’ve been very clear with the Government of Rwanda about our concerns about his case, his trial, and his conviction, particularly the lack of fair trial guarantees in his case.  And I’m looking forward to the opportunity for this issue to be discussed at a senior level.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Dave Lawler.

QUESTION:  Ned, a question on the last two stops, Rwanda and DRC.  I assume part of the reason for choosing those locations is to try to reduce tensions between them.  Can you talk a bit about that?  And you spoke about the need to respect territorial integrity; obviously, DRC has said Rwanda is arming and supporting the M23 rebels and so violating its territorial integrity.  I guess does the U.S. have any position on whether that is the case, and is it a problem for the U.S. if that is the case?  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  I think, as everybody knows, the situation in eastern Congo has tragically been volatile for about two decades, with over five million people who’ve lost their lives there, and a range of armed actors who also seek sanctuary in neighboring countries.

Recently, a few months ago, the Kenyans launched an initiative known as the Nairobi Process to try and work with the Congolese and neighboring countries to get a grip on the role of armed groups, including M23, and that effort has begun, I think, to address the concerns.  Angola also hosted both the – President Kagame and President Tshisekedi just a few weeks ago to help urge de-escalation in tension.  And I know that Secretary Blinken hopes to contribute to these conversations and see what the United States can do to reinforce these regional diplomatic efforts and to see how we can help calm the situation.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.

OPERATOR:  Simon, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Hi, thank you.  So the first question: Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink – I will – I just wanted to ask a couple of things on the Asia side of the trip.  One thing:  Is there any plans for a bilateral with Wang Yi during the Cambodia event?  And I wondered if you could give us an update given the recent developments in Myanmar with the execution of activists.  Does that change the thinking on potentially sanctioning the oil and gas enterprise?  Is that getting any closer to happening?

And I just wanted to follow up on the questions on Rwanda to Assistant Secretary Phee.  I just wondered, in the light of the letter that Senator Menendez wrote to the – to the Secretary about Rwanda, do – is there – is this sort of U.S. aid to Rwanda under discussion during this trip?  Is that something that – given those concerns about Paul Rusesabagina and also the Rwandan development with the M23 fighting, are you looking at reducing the level of aid that goes there?  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Dan, would you like to start?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Absolutely.  Thanks very much for the question.  Look, on your first question I would say at this point there are no formal or official plans to sit down and meet with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, particularly since the Secretary just saw him a couple of weeks ago, as you’re aware, in Bali, where they met for more than five hours and had a very candid and productive and comprehensive conversation.  But as you know, at these multilateral meetings there often are opportunities for pull-asides.  So we’ll see how things develop, but no formal plans at this point.

On your second question, on Myanmar, thanks very much for raising that.  Look, again, I’ll just reiterate: I think the international community is really horrified and incensed by these inhuman and heinous executions that were just carried out.  But really, this is just the latest demonstration of the regime’s brutality, which thus far has murdered more than 2,100 Burmese since the coup d’état.  What I would say is that you can see the depth of that indignation through the various international statements that have been issued.  Of course, the Secretary spoke, our friends in ASEAN issued a statement, the G7 has issued a statement, and other likeminded partners have as well.

As far as additional steps, this will be a real focus of our conversations at the ASEAN meetings in Cambodia.  I would just underscore that all options are on the table, including related to MOGE.  Certainly don’t have anything to announce today, but I think it’s fair to say that we’ll consider any and all means necessary to increase pressure on the regime in Burma and to cut off their funding streams that continue to fuel their repression.  And so we’ll continue to examine all of that across the board, and at the same time we’ll keep in mind that we want to make sure whatever we do, it doesn’t exacerbate the already difficult circumstances in which the Burmese people find themselves.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  So on Rwanda, Secretary Blinken had an opportunity a few days ago to speak to Senator Menendez about his letter, and he told him that he intended to raise the issues outlined in the letter when he has an opportunity to speak with President Kagame, that that would be part of the discussion of a range of topics that he hopes to review with President Kagame.

So, as I said before, I don’t want to get ahead of that discussion.  I think it’s great that we’re going to have the opportunity to engage at a senior level and explore what’s possible for our future relationship.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Ryohei Takagi.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me okay?

MR PRICE:  Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned and Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.  I just wonder whether he will meet his counterparts from the DPRK on the sidelines of ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia.  And secondly, you have mentioned the security cooperation between Cambodia and the PRC.  It has been reported that China is secretly building a naval facility in Cambodia.  So could you tell us some updates on it, and what is the U.S. position to it?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you for your questions.  I can say clearly that there are no plans to meet with North Korean counterparts.  You do point out rightly that North Korea is represented in the ASEAN Regional Forum.  I don’t have any information in front of me who may or may not be present representing North Korea, but no plans to meet with them, although I am confident that the Secretary will speak directly to the situation in North Korea during his intervention at the ARF.

You mentioned Cambodian security cooperation with the PRC, and I noted that in my opening comments as well.  Look, we’ve been crystal clear, and the Secretary has as well and the Deputy Secretary and myself publicly, that we have encouraged the Government of Cambodia to be fully transparent about the intent, nature, and scope of its project at Ream and the role of the PRC military in its construction there.  Certainly I think a number of us have significant concerns about that facility there, and in particular any exclusive PRC military presence at Ream would risk diminishing Cambodia’s autonomy and undermining regional security.  So again, we’ll have an opportunity to convey that message to Cambodian friends again, and I am confident that others in the region will as well.

MR PRICE:  Julian Pecquet.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Sorry, I had a similar question regarding, more specifically, on any sanctions or anything else that you might announce.  I know you can’t talk about that, but is Roger Carstens traveling with the Secretary?  And more broadly, can you talk about other people who might be on the trip to Africa in particular?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  The Secretary is taking several leaders to join him, particularly in South Africa, where we’re doing the Strategic Dialogue.  Under Secretary Jose Fernandez will be joining us; the head of USTDA, the Trade and Development Association, will be joining us; our new head of PEPFAR, who we stole from Africa CDC, the great Dr. John – I’m going to mispronounce his name – Nkengasong – I apologize; and also colleagues from HHS.  And Under Secretary Fernandez will also join the Secretary in Congo.  So Roger’s not traveling with the Secretary on this trip.  That’ll be a subject the Secretary himself will raise.

MR PRICE:  And we’ll conclude with the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ned, and thank you so much, Assistant Secretary Phee.  My question is regarding South Africa.  So as evidence has shown in several countries, if unemployment and indigenous land and indigenous wealth is not tackled, conflict can follow.  So could you possibly preview for us how does the Secretary plan to concretely address issues of unemployment?

And then also, do you think that he might address the notion of foreign powers being viewed as an increasing – by an increasing number of – in the population, including young people, as the second most significant driver of negative change in South Africa?

And I know that you have always said that human rights is part and parcel or threaded into your interactions.  Will he address brutality and the extent of xenophobic violence and human rights of migrants while he is there?  I’d appreciate your comments on these, Secretary Phee.  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE:  So thanks very much for your question and for highlighting those important concerns.  I wanted to draw your attention to the speech that he will deliver.  He spoke, as you may recall, when he was in Nigeria last November about U.S. policy and our approach towards Africa, and the formal announcement of this strategy is of course consistent with what he outlined and what we’ve been doing since the administration came into office.

But it will be an amplification of our conviction that partnership with Africa is really critical to meeting shared challenges.  And those shared challenges really include economic issues, and we recognize the incredible youth dynamic and the challenge that poses for African societies in terms of employment, and that’s why we’re working hard to mobilize greater trade and investment in Africa to help African economies develop in a way that addresses that youth bulge and also that is consistent with our shared climate change goals, as I said, to develop in a sustainable way.

So I think those themes will be very public while he’s there.  And again, as I said earlier, he always discusses – he believes passionately in human rights, and he always discusses it in all of his stops.

MR PRICE:  Excellent.  Well, thank you very much to our two speakers, Assistant Secretary Phee, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink, and for everyone for tuning in.  Just a reminder this call was on the record, and the embargo is now lifted.  Thank you all very much.

On the 2022 Elie Wiesel Act Report to Congress and New U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities

15 Jul

Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Anne A. Witkowsky, Assistant SecretaryBureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations

Isobel Coleman, U.S. Agency for International Development Deputy Administrator

Washington, DC

Burns Auditorium

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WITKOWSKY:  Good morning.  Thank you for joining us on this important day.  I would like to extend a warm welcome to representatives from our partner nation embassies in Washington, congressional staff colleagues across the government, including the Atrocity Prevention Task Force and our guests from civil society.

To those of you who I haven’t yet met, I am Anne Witkowsky, assistant secretary of state for Conflict and Stabilization Operations.  It is my pleasure to welcome our speakers this morning, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman.

Today we are announcing the release of a report and a strategy that encapsulate the past, present, and future of the U.S. Government’s work to anticipate, prevent, and respond to atrocities.  First, we are submitting the 2022 Elie Wiesel Report to Congress.  This is the fourth iteration of the report since the U.S. Congress passed the consequential Eli Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act in 2018.  The report illustrates our set of global concerns and our worldwide activities as a unified U.S. response – as a unified U.S. Government to prevent and respond to some of the worst crimes that humans can perpetrate against one another.

In doing so, we show our commitment to promoting respect for human rights around the world and reaffirm that atrocity prevention is not only a national security commitment for the United States, it is also a moral responsibility.  In addition, we are releasing publicly the first ever comprehensive U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities.  While the report covers the past year and present concerns, the strategy will guide our future work as we institutionalize a task force-based process and mobilize a true whole-of-government effort for atrocity prevention and response.

Let me now welcome the podium – to the podium, Deputy Secretary Sherman.  (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you all.  And you’ll notice behind me a small stool.  I’m back-challenged, as many of us are, so if I sit down on it you’ll understand why.

Good morning and thank you all so much for joining at this really, important moment this morning.  I particularly want to thank our Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Anne Witkowsky for not only her welcoming me and Isobel Coleman, but for all the incredible work she and her team – all of you, both inside and outside the department – all the work you’ve put in to not only today’s release of the 2022 Elie Wiesel Act Report and the launch of the Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities, but quite frankly all the work you are doing to make that report, that strategy, that effort real.

I know many of the civil society organizations here today and watching online contributed really, critical insights to the strategy in particular, and we thank you for your partnership.  Thanks also to Isobel, deputy administrator for USAID, for joining us this morning.  We were talking as we were getting ready that in many ways this goes back to efforts made by now Administrator Samantha Power some years ago to really recognize and work forward in this arena.

“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”  That’s what Elie Wiesel said when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  His words remind us that it is our duty as human beings to not look away from violence or atrocities, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  And those words remind us as well that it is also our duty – both as human beings and as governments – to do something about it.

Virtually every day, at this moment, we hear of new atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine as part of Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression – of schools and hospitals bombed, of grain silos destroyed and wheat fields set ablaze, of women and girls raped, and men and boys executed.  Smartphones and social media give the events in Ukraine a jarring sense of immediacy.  But we all know that Ukraine is not the only place in the world where people are suffering – and suffering mightily – as a result of atrocities and abuses of human rights.

They are occurring in South Sudan and Ethiopia, where we have heard reports of sexual and gender-based violence being used as a tool of conflict; in the People’s Republic of China, where genocide and crimes against humanity are being perpetrated against Uyghurs in Xinjiang; in Afghanistan, where the Taliban continues to abuse the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls, members of ethnic and religious minority groups, and other marginalized people; in Syria, where the Assad regime has committed war crimes; in Myanmar, where Secretary Blinken earlier this year announced his determination that members of the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya.

All too often, in the decades since we began saying, “Never again,” after the Holocaust, governments – including the United States – tended to be reactive, rather than proactive.  We took action, after atrocities had already occurred: documenting human rights abuses and making the findings known to the public, denouncing and sanctioning perpetrators, investigating and prosecuting them in court, providing support to the survivors and to their communities.

These measures are important.  Indeed, accountability is crucial to uncovering the truth, to punishing those who have done grave harm, to achieving some measure of justice for victims, survivors, and their families.  But accountability alone is not enough.  We must work to stop atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide from occurring in the first place, to protect victims by preventing them from being victimized.

In 2018, Congress passed the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act in recognition that atrocity prevention is a priority and a responsibility of the United States.  The 2022 Elie Wiesel Report, which we are releasing today, updates Congress and the public on the United States efforts to address genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in every part of the world, including specifically aligning our work to support evidence collection, impose sanctions, and hold perpetrators accountable in these and other countries.

And we are going further today as well by launching the first ever Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities.  This plan will help coordinate resources and direct activities not only at the State Department but across the federal government in three key areas.

First, anticipation.  We know from painful experience that the human and economic costs of atrocities are higher when we wait to respond, as opposed to when we can take early action to prevent escalation.  That’s why the strategy emphasizes the importance of data collection, observation, intelligence gathering, and analysis.  Under the strategy, we will work through the White House-led Atrocity Prevention Task Force to identify the countries and regions most at risk for atrocities and develop targeted plans for prevention and response.

Second, prevention.  We will use our foreign assistance dollars as well as our diplomacy to strengthen institutions and societies, provide emergency and humanitarian relief, and help address underlying tensions and advance justice in countries at risk of atrocities and escalation. We will deepen our work with allies and partners, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to coordinate our efforts and mobilize coalitions to take preventive action.  And we will train U.S. diplomats and foreign aid workers to recognize the warning signs that atrocities may be on the horizon.

Third, response.  As we know all too well, there will still be times when, despite our best efforts and those of our allies and partners, we cannot prevent atrocities from occurring.  We will continue to deploy the full range of tools we have available to then hold people and governments to account for atrocities and human rights abuses.

We know none of these measures is sufficient on its own, and we must be humble about what even this new strategy can achieve.  Despite the best efforts of the world, over the more than seven decades since the end of World War II, we have seen genocides in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Myanmar.  We have seen reports of sexual violence used as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in ISIS-controlled regions of Iraq and Syria, and now in Ukraine.  We have seen reports of extrajudicial killings in Colombia, in the Philippines, in Afghanistan.

But this new strategy makes plain to the world once again that the United States stands with the victims of these abuses, and that we refuse to give in to cynicism.  We refuse to accept that atrocities and human rights abuse are inevitable.  We can do better.  The world can do better.

To quote Elie Wiesel again, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  This strategy and our other ongoing work to prevent atrocities once again demonstrates the United States commitment to standing on the side of victims and survivors, and holding the perpetrators of atrocities to account.

Thank you again for joining us this morning and for everything you do, every day, to make progress on these tremendously challenging issues.

Now, please join me in welcoming Isobel Coleman, deputy administrator for USAID, who will share more about the important work USAID is doing to prevent and respond to atrocities.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN:  Good morning.  Thank you so much to Assistant Secretary Witkowsky for your introductory remarks, and to Deputy Secretary Sherman for your really, inspirational remarks, too.  And thanks to the entire interagency team for working and developing this very ambitious strategy and for producing the fourth annual report to Congress.  So, thank you.

As we look at the world, from Burma to Ukraine, it’s easy to feel like “never again” is an aspiration out of reach.  But we know, both from empirical data and from our partners’ passion and commitment when they put themselves on the line to fight for peace and human rights that prevention is possible.  We have seen time and again how U.S. Government efforts have helped address risk factors.

The comprehensive strategy we’re delivering today reflects the U.S. Government’s recognition that we not only need to address the crises in front of us, but we also need to invest in and work closely with local partners in places that are not making daily headlines.  This strategy gives us a framework to ensure the U.S. Government can effectively and proactively engage in atrocity prevention with our local and international partners, and when necessary, mitigate effects.

Atrocities are preventable.  They are not inevitable.  They are not random acts.  There are always risk factors and warning signs before an atrocity takes place.  The question is not if we can prevent atrocities; the question is whether we act early enough when prevention is still possible.  Through decades of reflection and analysis, we’ve learned that atrocities do not happen in a vacuum.  Rather, they are symptoms of larger challenges.  They manifest in the worst forms of violence and human rights violations, resulting from pernicious long-term development challenges like authoritarianism and democratic backsliding, lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law, conflict and political instability, gender inequality, and corruption.  These trends are all too familiar, but our strategy for atrocity prevention and response accounts for some of the most glaring risk factors, including eroding trust and intercommunal conflict, the proliferation of disinformation, poor governance, and efforts to undermine the rule of law and to walk back fundamental rights.

Development assistance is uniquely positioned to help prevent atrocities.  At USAID, even assistance aimed at other long-term goals in affected regions can support atrocity prevention.  Health programs can support those directly affected through psychosocial and medical care.  Economic growth programs can be structured to foster social inclusion.  Inclusive service delivery can improve governance.  At the same time, while development work may help strengthen the overall enabling environment for atrocity prevention, targeted interventions based on risk analysis and deep local knowledge and partnerships are essential.

In areas of greatest risk, good development simply isn’t enough.  We need dedicated atrocity prevention efforts and, when necessary, atrocity response.  USAID’s work to prevent, respond to, and support recovery from atrocities builds on many years of experience in the Balkans, Colombia, Burma, Ethiopia, Sudan, and elsewhere.  This work ranges from small rapid-response efforts to tackle specific risks to large multiyear comprehensive programs.  It covers countries that are currently low or medium risk, as well as high-risk countries and those currently experiencing mass atrocities.  Our work seeks to reduce the risks of violence and human right violations writ large while targeting specific groups facing heightened risks, such as religious and ethnic groups, groups targeted for who they are or what they believe; women, who are too often the victims of conflict-related sexual violence; and pro-democracy activists targeted by authoritarian leaders.

In Burma, for example, USAID is working to support the safety and security of hundreds of journalists, high-profile activists, and other civil society actors, and to improve civil society’s abilities to use information technology and cyber hygiene to counter disinformation and maintain a peaceful opposition.

In Ukraine, USAID is continuing its long-term support for government and civil society efforts to document human rights abuse, including atrocities; support truth-telling efforts; strengthen the legal enabling environment; build capacity of legal practitioners to investigate and prosecute these crimes; and provide legal assistance to conflict-affected civilians to ensure justice and accountability and put an end to impunity.

And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, USAID is helping to build partnerships among religious leaders of multiple faiths, diverse groups of youth, and community leaders to promote mutual respect and foster connections across different communities, strengthening their ability to maintain non-adversarial relations amid efforts to sow division.

Development assistance like USAID’s is necessary, but clearly not sufficient.  We know we must work in close coordination across the U.S. Government as outlined in the strategy.  We must avoid siloing this work and instead link it to related efforts, such as the Global Fragility Act; Women, Peace, and Security Act; and others.  We recognize the unique approach that each challenge requires, but we also increasingly see that all of these related interventions reinforce each other.

We must also work with other governments through multilateral fora and international working groups, and above all, we must support the leadership and engagement of local actors.  Our USAID missions have longstanding, deep relationships with local institutions, organizations, and actors who have the greatest understanding of complex local dynamics, whether in capital cities or remote areas.  These relationships are built on trust and allow us to support those who are most affected to determine their own futures.  Recognizing that states are duty-bearers for protecting human rights, we must use all diplomatic levers to engage government actors in countries at risk, which is why I’m so proud to stand today with my State Department colleagues here.

The challenges are immense, but our commitment is unwavering.  The U.S. Strategy to Anticipate, Prevent, and Respond to Atrocities is an important step towards atrocity prevention, and now all of us – all of our agencies – must work together diligently to make it a reality.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY WITKOWSKY:  Well, thank you both for those inspiring, moving, and informative remarks.  Thank you.

This concludes the formal remarks part of our program today.  We would like to invite the guests, who are here with us, to join us in the foyer for a reception.  We have some refreshments, and we also have copies of the publications that we’ve been discussing today.  For those of you online, the publications will be posted; and you can access them there.  Thank you all again for coming.  (Applause.)

Briefing on the Secretary’s Upcoming Travel to Indonesia and Thailand

6 Jul

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Daniel J. Kritenbrink, Assistant SecretaryBureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Ramin Toloui, Assistant SecretaryBureau of Economic and Business Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much, and thanks to everyone for joining this afternoon.  We’re pleased to have an opportunity to preview the Secretary’s upcoming travel, departing tomorrow for Indonesia and Thailand.  This call is on the record but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.  We have with us two speakers today.  We have our Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink; we also have our Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Ramin Toloui.  Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink will open it up and we’ll then turn it to Assistant Secretary Toloui, and then we will take your questions.

So with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Great.  Thank you, Ned, and thanks to all of our friends in the media for joining us.  It’s a real pleasure to be with you again, and I’m delighted today to be joined as well by my colleague and friend, Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui.

It’s been a very busy few months for us here at the department, of course, which I think reflects just how determined the Biden-Harris administration is to strengthening our partnerships and alliances throughout the world.  Nowhere else is that more evident than in the Indo-Pacific, where we’ve demonstrated, through sustained engagement both here and in the region, that the 21st century is the Indo-Pacific century.

As we announced just this morning and as Ned mentioned, Secretary Blinken will travel to Bali, Indonesia, to attend the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting.  Our Indonesian friends have done an admirable job as the G20 president, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting with his good friend, Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, for a bilateral meeting as well.  The Secretary, of course, just saw Foreign Minister Retno at the G7, and they’ll have an opportunity to discuss expanding our bilateral strategic partnership.  While in Bali, the Secretary will also meet with his PRC counterpart,  .

I’ll let Assistant Secretary Toloui speak further on the substance of the G20 itself, but following his meetings in Bali, the Secretary will next travel to Bangkok.  And as you may remember, the Secretary’s travel to Thailand was postponed at the last minute last December, and since then the Secretary has been very determined to get back to Bangkok to engage with one of our strongest allies in the Indo-Pacific.  Thailand, of course, is a key partner of the United States in many areas, including in achieving our climate goals and in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our mission in Thailand is one of the largest in the world.  It provides support to our many missions in the region and serves as a hub for our regional health initiatives, as we have more than six decades of public health cooperation with our Thai allies.

The U.S.-Thai Defense Alliance is of paramount importance.  Cobra Gold, the joint defense exercise that we co-host with Thailand, is the longest-running multinational military exercise in the region.  And our Thai friends have also done an impressive job as the APEC host this year, and we look forward to building on Thailand’s success as the United States prepares to host APEC in 2023.  Thailand is also an important partner as we work to return Burma to a path of democracy.

As I mentioned at the top, we believe much of the history of the 21st century will be written in the Indo-Pacific.  We think that’s particularly the case when it comes to trade and investment.  With more than half the world’s population, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and nearly 60 percent of global GDP, the region is central to our long-term strategic, economic, and commercial interests.  The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that the President launched in Tokyo in May is integral to realizing our vision for an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific, and we are delighted that both Indonesia and Thailand have joined IPEF.

With that, I will leave it here and I’ll now turn it over to my colleague, Assistant Secretary Toloui.  Look forward to your questions later.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI:  Thanks very much, Dan, and thanks also to the journalists joining today to discuss the trip and the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, which is taking place at a time of heightened global challenges and serves as a reminder for why we must also strengthen our commitment to working with international partners.

As Dan noted, we’re grateful to the Government of Indonesia for its leadership of this year’s G20.  The theme Indonesia has chosen – “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” – is particularly resonant as it focuses international cooperation on the priority areas that will define our present and shape our future: global food and energy security, global health security architecture, digital transformation, and sustainable energy.

As our response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates, the G20 is a critical force for catalyzing and reinforcing collective action.  When the pandemic was at its worst, G20 members came together to offer vulnerable countries assistance, and this important work continues.

We also appreciate that Indonesia has made food security a G20 priority, and indeed, our cooperation to meet this pressing global challenge stands in stark contrast to Russia’s unconscionable war against Ukraine.  The Kremlin has done intense – immense harm not only to the people of Ukraine, but also to many millions across the globe.  It’s Russia’s unprovoked war that has exacerbated the suffering now buffeting the world’s most vulnerable countries.  By laying waste to Ukrainian farms and grain silos, stealing Ukrainian grain, and blocking access to and from Ukrainian ports by sea, Russia has increased food security, malnutrition, and susceptibility to disease for the world’s most at-risk populations.  G20 countries should hold Russia accountable and insist that it support ongoing UN efforts to reopen the sea lanes for grain delivery.

The G20’s attention to issues like this and collective work to increase the humanitarian assistance and support to those suffering as a result of Russia’s war demonstrates our resolve to ensuring to – resolve to ensure that this aggression doesn’t go unchecked and that we reinforce our commitment to the rules-based international system that undergirds global stability and development.

And now, Dan and I are happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE:  Great.  Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.

OPERATOR:  Certainly.  If you’d like to join the question queue, you may press the number 1 followed by 0 using your telephone keypad.  That’s 1 and then 0, please.

MR PRICE:  Great.  Let’s start with the line of David Brunnstrom from Reuters.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  Can you hear me okay?

MR PRICE:  We can, yes.


QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you very much for doing this call.  I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what the purpose is for the meeting with the Chinese foreign minister.  I mean, what’s the real priority there?  And again, if there’s not going to be any meeting with the Russian foreign minister, what does that say about the relative state of the relationships between the two countries and U.S. relations with China vis-à-vis Russia?  And on China, will there be any discussing the tariff issue?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Well, thank you very much for the question.  I would say that our top priority in the Secretary’s meeting with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is to underscore our commitment to intense diplomacy and maintaining open lines of communication with the People’s Republic of China.  We have often stated that our goal is to manage responsibly the intense competition between the United States and the PRC.  So I would expect that in the course of that meeting we’ll be able to discuss having guardrails, so to speak, on the relationship so that our competition does not spill over into miscalculation or confrontation.

But at the same time, I would stress, as the Secretary outlined in his recent speech on China, that the United States also remains committed to exploring areas of potential cooperation, rather, where our interests require it.  So I would expect an exchange as well on our potential cooperation on issues such as climate change, global health, counternarcotics, and perhaps in other areas as well.

MR PRICE:  And just on your question on the comparison between the two countries – this is Ned – I would just add, as Dan alluded to, our bilateral relationship with the PRC is complex.  It is a relationship that is at times competitive, is at times adversarial, is at times cooperative.  And that is why continued engagement and dialogue is profoundly in our interest to establish and to reinforce those guardrails so that competition doesn’t veer into conflict.  In many ways, the current state of our Russia – current state of our relationship with Russia is simple.  It is simple because Russia is waging an unprovoked, brutal war against the people and the country of Ukraine.

And so for that reason, the time is not right for the Secretary to engage with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  You should not expect a bilateral engagement with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this visit.  We wish, we would like to see the Russians be serious about diplomacy.  We have not seen that yet.  We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine.

Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION:  Hey there.  Thanks as well for doing this call.  Just briefly to follow up on David’s question, and then something else.  The – with Russia and what Ned said about not meeting Lavrov, do you expect the Secretary to try to avoid him at all costs?  Will he not want to be in the same room as him?  What does this mean for broader sessions of the G20?  How far will that go to avoid him?

Can ask you about Myanmar/Burma?  As you know, Wang Yi actually was just in Myanmar, if I’m not mistaken, or held talks with the junta.  There and with him and within – in Thailand, where do you see – where do you see things going?  Do you – are you at all hopeful that there could be any progress with moving the junta along?  How – where do you see things going now and what do you expect this trip to accomplish or not?  Thanks.

MR PRICE:  Just in terms of your first question, Shaun, I mentioned before that the Secretary will be a full and active participant in the G20.  We’re committed to the success of this G20 ministerial.  We’re committed to the success of Indonesia’s stewardship of the G20.  Not going to speak at this stage to choreography, but we expect the Secretary can be a full and active participant while also staying true to another overriding objective, and that is the fact that it cannot be business as usual with the Russian Federation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  And on your question about Burma, I would certainly expect that both in a range of the Secretary’s meetings on the margins of the G20 and in his follow-on meetings in Bangkok that the subject of Burma will feature prominently.  And I would expect this is an opportunity for the Secretary to continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the Burmese military regime’s brutal actions since the coup d’état, the killing of nearly 2,000 people and displacing more than 700,000 others.  It’s also an opportunity for us to – again, to continue with our ASEAN partners to promote the ASEAN five-point consensus, to continue to increase pressure on the regime to cut off its sources of funding, and again, to apply necessary pressure to compel Burma to return to a path of democracy.

And I think that, for example, with our Thai partners as well, it’ll be an opportunity to express appreciation for what Thailand has done to assist vulnerable populations and provide cross-border assistance.  So again, I certainly think Burma will feature prominently in the Secretary’s discussion.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a couple more questions.  Let’s go to the line of Nike Ching from VOA.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for taking the call and briefing.  To follow up on David’s question on Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Wang Yi, do you have anything on the U.S. message to China regarding the wrongly detained Chinese Americans in China and the illegal exit bans?

And separately, do you have anything on U.S. plan to expand export bans on China over security and human right concerns?

And also, what is the U.S. message to China on Myanmar, as Beijing has a lot of influence over Myanmar’s military government?

And finally, Ukraine’s foreign minister was also invited to G20 ministerial.  Is there any interaction between Secretary Blinken and Kuleba?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Hi, Nike.  Dan Kritenbrink.  Look, on the subject of exit bans, we have always made clear the United States of America and the Department of State have no higher priority than the safety and welfare of American citizens abroad, and that certainly applies to the cases to which you refer.  And so I think you can fully expect that the United States will continue to engage vigorously on behalf of all American citizens, including the specific cases that you referenced.

Now, on the issue you raised, if I understood your question correctly, steps the United States might take in response to human rights and other concerns – and here, Nike, I would again just say issues of human rights also remain central to American foreign policy and to our engagement with the People’s Republic of China.  And I would fully expect when the Secretary sits down with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi that he will also have an opportunity to express our views and our concerns related to human rights.

MR PRICE:  And just on your final question, Nike, the Secretary will also take part in engagements, including bilateral engagements with other participants on the margins of the G20 beyond the bilateral with Wang Yi and beyond the bilateral with his Indonesian counterpart.  We’ll have more information on those engagements as the time gets closer.

Let’s go to Will Mauldin, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thanks so much for having this.  I wanted to ask, is it fair to say that given the economic realities and the war in Ukraine that food and energy will be main topics of the G20 since it’s somewhat an economic organization?  And then will the – will it be possible to get all 20 members to agree on anything such as stopping export bans or export restraints on food?  Is there anything broad on those topics or else – or something else that could be achieved?  And if not, then what will be – what do we hope to achieve in terms of putting pressure on Russia?  How can the G20 do that when countries are divided on many of these issues, many of those – our partners in the energy and food arenas with Moscow?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI:  This is Ramin.  I’ll take that one.  You are right that food and energy security are going to feature very prominently in the discussions.  The – one purpose of engaging in a forum like that is to first of all highlight the source of the problem, and one important source of the problem when it comes to food and energy security is Russia’s continued war in Ukraine.  In particular, I would point to the fact that Russian actions have trapped an estimated 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain and kept it from reaching global markets.

The UN is now undertaking an initiative to try to reopen the Black Sea to commerce to get Ukrainian and Russian foodstuffs and fertilizer to global markets.  We support that and we would like the G20 to hold Russia accountable for and insist that it support that initiative.  Whether that happens at the level of the G20 or the level of individual G20 countries, that’s an important point that Secretary Blinken will make when he engages his counterparts.

But at the same time, while Russia has been the source of this problem, the U.S. has tried to mobilize solutions.  And here Secretary Blinken hosted a ministerial focused on food security in May with the idea of kicking off a call to action and roadmap to address food security.  The – President Biden when he was at the G7 leaders’ summit committed an additional $2.76 billion of U.S. assistance as part of a G7 commitment of $4.5 billion to meet urgent humanitarian needs.  And so Secretary Blinken at the G20 will be seeking to mobilize additional G20 support to address critical food needs by mobilizing additional humanitarian and development assistance to try to mitigate the harmful effects of Russia’s war.

MR PRICE:  We will turn to John Hudson, Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Ambassador, you mentioned guardrails in the U.S.-China relationship.  Ned also mentioned it as well.  What does that mean in this context?  What would setting up a guardrail in the U.S.-China relationship actually look like in real terms?  And is the administration also going to use this G20 meeting to push for an oil price cap for – on Russian oil?  Is that going to be an objective?  What’s the State Department’s view on the oil price cap?  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you, John.  This is Dan Kritenbrink.  I would say first and foremost on the guardrails question, I think it’s absolutely critical that we have open lines of communication with our Chinese counterparts, particularly at the senior level; again, as we’ve said, to do everything possible to ensure that we prevent any miscalculation that could lead to – lead inadvertently to conflict and confrontation.  I think there’s no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy when it comes to having these kinds of conversations.  The Secretary has been in regular contact with PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, but this will be their first face-to-face meeting since October.  And of course, as you’ve seen, we’ve been regularly engaging in other senior channels as well, including at the presidential level and at the level of the National Security Advisor as well.

So I think first and foremost, again, to reiterate, guardrails means having sufficient channels of communication and then robust exchanges in those channels to prevent miscalculation.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY TOLOUI:  And as you know, the G7 leaders discussed the price cap as a way of achieving the objective of keeping global energy – keeping global markets supplied with energy while preventing the Kremlin from earning revenues that allow it to continue prosecuting its war against Ukraine.  And we expect that at the G20 this issue of energy security would be something that Secretary Blinken is discussing in not only the formal sessions but also with his bilateral counterparts.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a final question from Iain Marlow.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this.  I appreciate it.  Just in terms of the broader messaging at the G20 on Ukraine and some of these other issues, I’m just wondering what that communication will be like in terms of the Blinken-Wang Yi meeting, what the messaging will be from the Secretary on Ukraine in terms of how China fits into the picture.  We know that both Russia and China are sort of jockeying to kind of bring people onside, but I’m just wondering what the Secretary might expect on Ukraine-Russia in terms of Wang Yi, what the messaging might be.  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRITENBRINK:  Thank you.  Look, what I would say to that is – and you’ve this referenced publicly repeatedly – we’ve had a number of communications at senior levels with our Chinese counterparts about what we expect not just from the People’s Republic of China, but from really all responsible members of the international community regarding Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.  So I think this will be another opportunity, I think, to have a candid exchange on that and to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine.

MR PRICE:  Excellent.  Well, thank you, every – thanks again, everyone, for tuning in.  Just a reminder this call was on the record with Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink and Assistant Secretary Toloui.  And with that, the embargo is lifted.  Talk to you soon.


# # #


Briefing on the United States’ Updated Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy

21 Jun

Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security

Stanley L. Brown, Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of Political-Military Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much and good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining this call.  We’re pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the changes that we’ve announced today to U.S. anti-personnel landmine policy.  As a reminder, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

We have two speakers with us this morning.  You’ll first hear from Bonnie Jenkins, Dr. Bonnie Jenkins.  She is our Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.  We also have on the line with us Stan Brown.  He is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in our Bureau of Political and Military Affairs.

So without further ado, I will turn it over to Under Secretary Jenkins to kick us off.  Please, go ahead.

UNDER SECRETARY JENKINS:  Great.  Thank you, Ned.

Curtailing the use of landmines worldwide was a commitment that President Biden made as a candidate, and I’m extremely pleased to highlight the White House’s announcement today regarding the new anti-personnel landmine policy that achieves just what President Biden had promised.

The United States new policy on anti-personnel landmines is centered on people, the communities and the individuals around the world who seek peace and security.  It is a tenet of our humanitarian demining activities.  Our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, which I rolled out in April, is a great reminder of the United States’ global leadership, and I strongly encourage you to read it if you have not yet done so.

I know that you have a lot of questions about today’s White House announcement, so I will ask my colleague Stan Brown, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, to speak more about it.

Over to you, Stan.

MR BROWN:  Thank you, Under Secretary Jenkins.  I just want to take a moment to echo Under Secretary Jenkins’s comments and reiterate the importance of today’s announcement, which follows through on President Biden’s commitment to curtail the use of landmines worldwide.

After conducting a comprehensive policy review, the administration has announced a new U.S. policy to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines and align the United States’ policy and practice with key provisions of the Ottawa Convention for all activities outside the context of the Korean Peninsula.

As a result of the decision, the United States will not develop, produce, or acquire anti-personnel landmines, not export or transfer anti-personnel landmines except when necessary for activities related to mine destruction or removal and for the purpose of destruction.  They will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula, they will not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the context of the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity that would be prohibited by the Ottawa Convention, and undertake to destroy anti-personnel landmines and their stockpiles not required for the defense of the Korean Peninsula.

We will continue to pursue materiel and operational solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention, while we at the same ensure our ability to meet our alliance commitments.

The administration’s actions today are in a sharp contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where there’s compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive munitions, including landmines, in an irresponsible manner which is causing extensive harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there.

Lastly, just in a – here at – the United States is proud to lead the world in conventional weapons destruction.  We’ve invested more than 4.2 billion in more than 100 countries since 1993 to promote international peace and security through our conventional weapons destruction programs.  We’ll continue this important work and remain committed to continuing partnerships to address the humanitarian impacts of anti-personnel landmines.

With that just kind of as an opening statement, I’d be happy to take any questions from the group.

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much.  Operator, if you wouldn’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.

OPERATOR:  And once again, for any questions or comments, you may queue up by pressing 1 and then 0.  That’s 1 and then 0 for any questions or comments.

MR PRICE:  Great.  We’ll start with the line of Shaun Tandon, please.

OPERATOR:  One moment.  And your line is open.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thanks for doing this.  Nice to hear from you, Bonnie and Stan, and Ned of course.

Could I ask you about – of course, you mentioned Russia.  China as well, as far as I know, is not part of the Ottawa Treaty.  How much do you expect to press other countries to also give up their landmines?  Is this going to become more of a diplomatic priority?  And could I also ask you a bit more about the Korean Peninsula and the reason for this continued exception, as it was under the Obama administration?  Is it because of the real threat of North Korea, the threats there?  Is it also because of that the ROK really has control over the landmines there?  Could you explain the reasoning behind continuing that exception?  Thanks.

MR BROWN:  All right.  So first of all, to address the Korea exception, that’s owing to our specific defense responsibilities there and our defense partnership.  The – first of all, the United States does not maintain any minefields in Korea or on the DMZ.  They’re all owned by the Republic of Korea.  We have a responsibility for defense of South Korea.  With the requirements of the Ottawa Convention, where we can’t assist, encourage, or induce anyone to use landmines, we cannot meet the treaty obligations there due to those defense requirements.  So in that regard, we are basically falling back to the Obama administration policies to make sure that we can meet our requirements with Korea in that regard.

In the – in regards to the requirements of the convention, we are basically aligning ourselves with – basically it’s with Article 1 of the Ottawa Convention and the principles that have been laid out in the fact sheets and kind of the discussion points that we’ve laid out here.  We will be meeting those requirements as – everywhere in the world except for on the Korean Peninsula.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

OPERATOR:  One moment.  And your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks for doing this.  I just want to be clear whether today’s action fully returns us to the Obama-era policy of landmine usage, and does this direct the Defense Department to destruct landmines in its possession?  And also, you mentioned Russia.  How much of an impetus was the war in Ukraine on finally making this change to the Trump-era policy?  Thank you.

MR BROWN:  So part of the – so as the policy is being put in place, basically we’re not going to develop or produce or acquire anti-personnel landmines; we’re not going to export or transfer anti-personnel landmines; we’re not going to use them outside the Korean Peninsula.  We would – part of the policy is also to undertake to destroy all anti-personnel stockpiles not required for the defense of Korea, Republic of Korea.  And again, we would not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the context of the Korean Peninsula to engage in any activity that would be prohibited by the convention.

In that regard – I’m sorry, could you repeat the second part of that question?

MR PRICE:  I believe it was whether there – it would require the destruction of any anti-personnel landmines.

MR BROWN:  Right, and we said the policy does undertake to destroy all anti-personnel landmines in stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Missy Ryan, please.

OPERATOR:  One moment.

QUESTION:  Do you all hear me?

OPERATOR:  And your line is open.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thanks.  Thanks very much for doing this.  And I just wanted to get an idea from the officials who are briefing – can you give us an idea of how far along the United States is in developing alternate weapons that could be employed in the Korean Peninsula along the DMZ to allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention?  I haven’t been able to get a sense of whether those technologies are even in development, whether they’re close to being able to be fielded, or anything like that.   Any sort of context on that would be helpful.  Thanks.

MR BROWN:  I can tell you that it’s being worked on, but I would have to defer you to the Department of Defense for the specific acquisition and operational capabilities of future devices.

The – going back to the last question as far as the Ukraine war being the impetus for the decision.  The decision has been under review for – since the Biden administration in January of 2021.  We have just reached the conclusion, and the President’s been able to make the announcement today.

MR PRICE:  Chris Megerian, Associated Press.

QUESTION:  Hi, everybody.  So a clarification question on the potential destruction of landmines that are currently in the U.S. stockpile.  Number one, how many landmines does the U.S. have in its stockpile?  Number two, are all of them deemed necessary to defend the Korean Peninsula?  Do we not plan to destroy any of those?

MR BROWN:  The estimate of landmines in the stockpile is approximately three million.  In that regard, we – I would defer to DOD for what their operational requirements would be for what would be needed for defense of Korea.  And again, the policy states to basically look to undertake to destroy all anti-personnel landmines not needed for the defense of the Republic of Korea.

MR PRICE:  Daphne Psaledakis.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Also just a point of clarification.  Could you say when the U.S. last used anti-personnel landmines?

MR BROWN:  The United States last used anti-personnel landmines in 1991 during the Gulf War.  There was one single incident of one munition being used in the 2002 timeframe in Afghanistan.  But otherwise, the United States has not used landmines in – anti-personnel landmines in any significant way since 1991.

MR PRICE:  We have time for a couple of final questions.  Anton La Guardia.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Can you just clarify whether Ukraine uses landmines and how the policy not to assist, induce other countries to use landmines can be aligned with the policy of helping Ukraine to win the war?

MR BROWN:  Ukraine is a – actually a party to the Ottawa Convention, and cannot use landmines that are not – do not comply with the convention themselves.  So in itself, Ukraine is not using landmines, and we have not provided landmines to Ukraine that aren’t compliant with the Ottawa Convention.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Hye Jun Seo from Radio Free Asia.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for taking my question.  Just – follow-up on the Korean Peninsula. Was there any update on the numbers of the mines within the country?  And how concerned is the DOS on the possible incidents and casualties on the Korean Peninsula due to the extensive minefield?  Thank you.

MR BROWN:  The United States does not main any of the minefields in the Republic of Korea, so I would have to defer you to the Republic of Korea Government to get any numbers on the number of mines and the incidents in the minefields there.

MR PRICE:  And we’ll take a final question from Oskar Gorzynski, Polish Press Agency.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I was – I wanted to clarify something because the U.S. has – sorry, as I can remember – transferred some landmines to Ukraine, the Claymore mines.  How are – how is that compliant with the Ottawa Convention?  Can you explain that?

MR BROWN:  Yeah.  The – basically, the anti-personnel landmine in the Ottawa Convention policies are related to landmines that are exploded with the contact or presence of an individual.  The Claymore mines that were transferred by the U.S. Government to Ukraine are command-detonated with a person in the loop who can actually detonate them, which reduces the impact that landmines – that type of landline, which is Ottawa-compliant, has to civilian populations.

MR PRICE:  Terrific.  Well, that concludes this call.  Just a reminder this call was on the record.  You heard from Dr. Bonnie Jenkins, our under secretary for arms control and international security, as well as Stan Brown, our principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs.  With that, the call is concluded and the embargo is lifted.  Thanks, everyone, for dialing in, and thanks very much to Dr. Jenkins and PDAS Brown.


Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain on the 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom

2 Jun

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain

Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Franklin Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Today, the State Department is releasing the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report. This report offers a thorough, fact-based review of the state of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries and territories around the world. We produce this document every year since 1998, starting under the leadership of then Secretary Albright, whose life and legacy we continue to celebrate.

Back then, the Office of International Religious Freedom, which leads this annual process of drafting the report, was the only government entity in the world charged with monitoring and defending international religious freedom. Now, more than two decades later, we have more than 35 governments and multilateral organizations that have created offices that are dedicated to this goal.

And I’d like to thank the office for its efforts again this year under the leadership of Ambassador Rashad Hussain. This team has done remarkable work, and I very much appreciate the efforts.

I also want to thank the hundreds of State Department officials around the world who gather information, conduct the fact-finding that’s actually at the heart of this report. And all of us – all of us – are indebted to civil society, faith leaders, religious organizations, human rights groups, journalists, and others who share their perspectives and analysis, and who do the critical work of promoting religious freedom every day in every part of the world.

When Secretary Albright first introduced this report, she noted that from our earliest days, Americans had believed, and I quote, “that nations are stronger, and the lives of their people richer, when citizens have the freedom to choose, proclaim, and exercise their religious identity.”

Indeed, religious freedom is the first freedom enshrined in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It’s been recognized by nations around the world as a human right, including in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Respect for religious freedom isn’t only one of the deepest held values and a fundamental right. It’s also, from my perspective, a vital foreign policy priority. Here’s why. We know that when the fundamental right of each person to practice their faith or to choose not to observe a faith is respected, people can make their fullest contributions to their community’s successes; entire societies are better off.

On the other hand, when governments deny this right, it ignites tension, it sows division, it often leads to instability and conflict.

This year’s report includes several countries where we see notable progress, thanks to the work of governments, civil society organizations, and citizens. For example, last year the Kingdom of Morocco launched an initiative to renovate Jewish heritage sites like synagogues and cemeteries, and to include Jewish history in the Moroccan public school curriculum.

In Taiwan, authorities are making it easier to report employers who refuse to give their workers a weekly rest day in order to attend religious services.

In Timor-Leste, the new president, Ramos-Horta, recently pledged to defend the rights of all citizens regardless of religious background.

And in Iraq, national leaders welcomed Pope Francis for the first ever papal visit to the country, where he conducted Christian and interfaith ceremonies in Baghdad, in Mosul, and in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

One local leader from the city of Nasiriyah, Sheikh Haider al-Dubaisi, later reflected on the Pope’s visit, and he said, and I quote, “He came even though he could barely walk. He sent a message not only to Iraqis, but to the whole world, that Islam and other religions can sit together peacefully.”

Sitting together peacefully. Ultimately, this report is about spreading that kind of progress to more parts of the world.

Unfortunately, the report also shows that we have more work to do. In many parts of the world, governments are failing to respect their citizens’ basic rights. Some governments continue to use blasphemy and apostacy laws, which banned defamation and renunciation of religion, to police the language of religious minorities. Others curtail expressions of religious belief like restrictions on religious attire.

And all societies, including our own and across Europe, must do more to combat rising forms of hate, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

To highlight a few examples, in March, based on extensive legal review of the evidence, I made the determination that Burma’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity with the intent to destroy predominantly Muslim Rohingya in 2017 – intent that was evidenced by, among other things, attacks on mosques, the use of religious and ethnic slurs, the desecration of Korans, among, again, many other actions.

In Eritrea, only four religious groups are permitted to practice their faith freely, while members of other religious minority groups have been detained, arrested, forced to renounce their faith as a precondition for their release.

In Saudi Arabia, we recognize the important recent moves to increase interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. However, publicly practicing any faith other than Islam remains illegal, and the government continues to discriminate against members of religious minority communities.

China continues its genocide and repression of predominately Muslim Uyghurs and other religious minority groups. Since April 2017, more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang. The PRC continues to harass adherents of other religions that it deems out of line with Chinese Community Party doctrine, including by destroying Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, and Taoist houses of worship and by erecting barriers to employment and housing for Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners.

In Afghanistan, conditions for religious freedom have deteriorated dramatically under the Taliban, particularly as they crack down on the basic rights of women and girls to get an education, to work, to engage in society, often under the banner of religion. Meanwhile, ISIS-K is conducting increasingly violent attacks against religious minorities, particularly Shia Hazaras.

In Pakistan, at least 16 individuals accused of blasphemy were sentenced to death by Pakistani courts in 2021, though none of these sentences has yet to be carried out.

Beyond these countries, the report documents how religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities are under threat in communities around the world.

For example, in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship; in Vietnam, where authorities harass members of unregistered religious communities; in Nigeria, where several state governments are using antidefamation and blasphemy laws to punish people for expressing their beliefs.

The United States will continue to stand up for religious freedom around the world. We’ll keep working alongside other governments, multilateral organizations, civil society to do so, including next month at the United Kingdom’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

At its core, our work is about ensuring that all people have the freedom to pursue the spiritual tradition that most adds meaning to their time on Earth. It’s about giving people the chance to express themselves freely, which is part of being their fullest selves. That’s the progress. That’s the progress that this report hopes to help create.

So once again, I’d like to thank everybody whose hard work made this report possible. And with that, I want to turn the floor over to the person who’s maybe worked the hardest, Ambassador Hussain, to highlight a few themes from this year’s report. Rashad, over to you. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR HUSSAIN: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. I’d like to thank President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken for leading United States global efforts to defend and advance human rights, including international religious freedom for all people everywhere. And I’m grateful to our colleagues in governments and to thousands of civil society partners in the United States and around the globe, partners from all political and faith backgrounds, who were instrumental in developing the report.

Religious freedom is a critical part of the American story. Our nation was founded centuries around by individuals fleeing religious persecution. It is natural then that freedom of religion was enshrined in America’s founding documents, including in the First Amendment to our Constitution in our Bill of Rights. Freedom of religion is also a universal right enshrined in several international instruments and covenants, including in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Earlier today, we transmitted this year’s 2000-plus page Report on International Religious Freedom to Congress. And I’d like to thank Bob Boehme, his editing team, and our colleagues at embassies and posts around the world for their tireless work in collecting the information that’s in this year’s report.

The report gives voice to countless individuals around the world who have been killed, beaten, threatened, harassed, or jailed for seeking to exercise their beliefs in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. The United States will continue to stand for those who are oppressed all over the world.

On the pages of this year’s report are stories of individuals who have endured unspeakable persecution, governments that have sought to restrict religious belief, practice, and expression for people across a wide range of belief traditions. Non-state actors have targeted religious groups, attacked places of worship, and vilified religious, ethnic, and racial groups in their hateful narratives, including on social media platforms. From Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia; Jews in Europe; Baha’is in Iran; Christians in North Korea, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia; Muslims in Burma and China; Catholics in Nicaragua; and atheists and humanists around the world, no community has been immune from these abuses.

I’d like to lay out three key themes in the report.

First, too many governments use discriminatory laws and policies and abuse their own people. We have seen two genocides of religious minority communities in recent years – in China and in Burma.

Second, rising societal intolerance and hatred are fueling violence and conflict around the world. Governments must not sit silent or stand idly by in the face of such oppression.

Third, powerful collaboration among civil society, governments, and multilateral partners has led to some progress and provides hope in addressing these complex challenges.

To provide concrete examples of how these themes are playing out around the world: first, far too many governments remain undeterred in the repression of their citizens. It comes as no surprise that the People’s Republic of China is a glaring example here. The PRC Government continue to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs who are predominantly Muslim and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups. The PRC uses sophisticated emerging technologies such as AI and facial recognition to surveil and maintain control of its open-air prison in Xinjiang. Behind all the evidence and data, the many reports of deaths in custody, torture, and physical abuse, there are thousands of Uyghur family members – daughters and sons are desperate to know where their parents are, but are terrified of what news they could discover and are wondering whether they will ever be safely reunited.

The PRC Government also continued its crackdown on Tibetan Buddhists. Authorities arrested, tortured, and committed other abuses against Tibetans who promoted their language and culture, possessed pictures and writings of the Dalai Lama, or practiced their religion at Buddhist monasteries. Secretary Blinken recently determined that the Burmese military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Rohingya. Throughout Burma, already vulnerable communities, including civil society leaders and members of religious and ethnic minority groups, continue to face heightened risk of atrocities and other abuses.

Following its designation as a Country of Particular Concern for the first time last year, Russia has doubled down on its violations of religious freedom rather than reverse course. Russian courts regularly reach new milestones for excessive prison sentences against individuals exercising their religious freedom, and Russian authorities carry out hundreds of home raids against suspected extremists that frequently include violence. President Putin sought to justify the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine through the blatantly false pretext of de-Nazification. The world clearly sees through this lie and is instead witnessing Russia’s brutal suppression, including suppression of religious leaders and the appalling destruction of religious sites.

Religious Freedom conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated since the Taliban seized control. The Taliban regime and rival militant group ISIS-K have detained, intimidated, threatened, and attacked members of religious minority communities. And as the Secretary stated, in India some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship.

To elaborate further on the report’s second theme, there are a number of ways that rising societal intolerance and hatred are fueling violence and conflict around the world. Governments must speak out and protect the vulnerable and marginalized. Anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, and xenophobia are on the rise in many countries. Democratic backsliding and the rise of nationalism and nativist rhetoric and policies have been used to justify violence towards members of ethnic or religious minority groups and historically marginalized peoples. Social media platforms are used to spread hate speech and to incite violence by vilifying and threatening members of religious minorities.

And finally, I’d like to say a little bit more about the report’s third theme, how collaboration between civil society and government has created some progress. While this report paints a challenging picture of the state of religious freedom around the world, we remain hopeful about the future. Civil society groups and countries all over the world are essential to this report and to our work. Their advocacy changes laws, it lifts up the names of prisoners, provides lawyers to fight against spurious charges, and pushes governments including our own to do the right thing. I’ve had the opportunity to work with civil society on powerful initiatives, such as the Marrakesh Declaration, which affirms the rights of Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries, and the Istanbul Process, which rejects criminalization of blasphemy.

Independent and strong civil societies help governments solve problems and better serve their people by shining a light on the issues that matter most. Where civil society thrives, governments operate with more transparency and accountability, creating a tangible impact on the lives of everyday citizens. We must listen to and empower the voices of civil society, including those who dissent from majority views or criticize the government, as we work towards a more just and peaceful future for us all. Change is only possible with the hard work of the groups and individuals dedicated to fighting for these rights. Today, more than ever, we have tools at our disposal to facilitate the flow of information to keep individuals informed. We have mechanisms to shed light on abuses taking place, and we have the means to hold bad actors accountable.

We have more partners in this effort now than ever before, including religious leaders. And religion can be such a powerful force for good, and it should never be used to harm people. Our greatest hope is that together we can unite our efforts to ensure respect for freedom of religion or belief for all people around the globe, and we continue to stand in solidarity with all people seeking to exercise their beliefs.

Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you all. Appreciate the good work. (Applause.)

Telephonic Press Briefing with Juan Gonzalez, National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere and Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

2 Jun

Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere AffairsBureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Juan Gonzalez, National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere


Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State Media Hub of the Americas in Miami, Florida.  I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and across the region.  This is an on-the-record press briefing with NSC Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols.

Senior Director Gonzalez and Assistant Secretary Nichols will discuss the upcoming 9th Summit of the Americas.  They each will give opening remarks and take questions from participating journalists.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to NSC Senior Director Juan Gonzalez.

Mr. Gonzalez:  Good afternoon, everybody, and it’s always a privilege to share a stage with our senior diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, Brian Nichols, who has been a partner through and through.  I would like to start by, I think, first welcoming you all to the call and for your patience as we head toward what we know will be an incredible Summit of the Americas next week.  You know that the President, as you know, incredibly values personal engagement and looks forward to speaking with and engaging with the leaders and other representatives that will be attending.  The President is very much looking to hosting the 9th summit representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector to advance our common goals and find common ground.

The President specifically really sees an opportunity for leaders and key stakeholders to come together to address some of the core challenging challenges facing the people of the hemisphere, including economic prosperity, climate change, the migration crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic.  No other part of the world impacts the security and prosperity of the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere, and that is why the President has consistently said that he sees the objective of U.S. policy to advance a vision of a region that is secure, middle class, and democratic as something that is fundamentally in the national security interest of the United States.  But of course, we are joined with the hemisphere not just by geography but our economic ties, democratic principles, cultural connections, and familial bonds.

First, look, there’s 28 years have passed since the United States has hosted the 1st Summit of the Americas, and we’re obviously living in very different times.  Today we have the – we’re meeting against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a region that is still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, the lasting socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic and obviously the inflationary impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  And in a time when even before the pandemic there were ongoing protests by populations throughout the hemisphere that were really starting to question the value of democracy.

So against that backdrop, the President has really challenged the U.S. Government and engaged with partners to try to develop an ambitious agenda for the summit.  And the United States will announce some key actions that we intend to accomplish along five specific areas for the summit.  Without going into too much detail or getting out ahead of the President, I’ll go through them very quickly.

The first is our economic agenda, recognizing the connection between the region’s success and that of our own.  As I had mentioned, the President will use the summit to align regional leaders, the private sector, and civil society behind a new and ambitious economic agenda that builds upon our existing free trade agreements in the hemisphere to really help address some of the dislocations of trade, but addressing issues of equity and equality, supporting the global energy transition, the adoption of technology.  Health and health security systems are going to be fundamental, I think, that taking very concrete steps at the summit to make sure that we’re moving forward to build upon our existing free trade agreements.

Also developing – we’re updating tools that we’ve had.  We have, obviously, a multilateral system that was developed decades ago, and we need new tools to really help a predominantly middle-income region address some – a once-in-a-century economic crisis that has been the pandemic.  So that’s something that I think we’re very much looking forward to the President announcing.

The other is health, as a top national security priority for this administration to ensure that millions don’t continue to die from the COVID-19 pandemic.  That is why the United States has donated now nearly 70 million vaccines to the hemisphere without any strings attached, and at the summit the President will also launch an effort to promote health systems and health security in the region to prepare for future pandemics, strengthen the region’s health systems, and bolster health security supply chains.

The President will also announce a new partnership on climate and energy with Caribbean nations and will ask the Vice President to lead this effort just as he did as vice president with the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative in 2013.  The focus is on responding to the increasing climate energy challenges facing our Caribbean partners.

And we have also on food security and its effects on vulnerable populations.  This is a regional priority and directly linked to our cooperative efforts on migration and ensuring an equitable and sustainable-driven economic pandemic recovery in the hemisphere.  We have invested in key social safety nets to help reduce poverty and food shocks in the region through Feed the Future and other agricultural programs.  The United States is proud to contribute more funding for migration and food security needs that will improve the quality of life for people across the region.

And of course, closely tied to the economic agenda and everything else that I mentioned is really addressing the historic migration crisis in a way that is unprecedented for the United States and for the region, recognizing that migration is a symptom of a much broader challenge brought on by the economic and security challenges that the hemisphere has been facing for the last couple years.

Now, for the last couple of months the President has and the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security, the Vice President, and others have been all-hands-on-deck to mobilize leaders around a bold new plan centered on responsibility sharing and economic support for countries that have been most impacted by refugee and migration flows.  On the margins of the summit, the President will join other heads of state to sign a migration declaration, sending a strong signal of unity and resolve to bring the regional migration crisis under control.

While, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the deliverables that you can expect from the President, what I can tell you is that we’re looking forward to having you all join us and learn from him directly at the summit.  I’d just like to note that the five action areas I just talked about are different than the five political commitments, which have been a function of the Summit Implementation Review Group process that are also going to be at the core of what comes out of the summit.  And there’s also an overlap here significantly with what the President’s announcing with the political commitments, particularly in areas of democracy, governance, climate, energy, health, and digitalization.

And that concludes, I think, the main points.  I will now pass the conversation to my colleague, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols, who will speak to the collaborative work that the region’s governments will commit to and which are currently being finalized at the Summit Implementation Review Group.  Thanks.

Assistant Secretary Nichols:  Thanks so much, Juan, and it’s a great pleasure to work with you on this, and so your energy, creativity, and drive to help our hemisphere.  I’d also like to recognize the great work that our senior advisors Chris Dodd and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell have been working on as well as our summit coordinator Kevin O’Reilly, who is in L.A. now working on the final negotiations for the Summit Implementation Review Group.

Before I take your questions, I’d like to briefly preview what you can expect in terms of the political commitments from the 9th Summit of the Americas, as Juan said.  The United States is hosting the summit one week from today in Los Angeles, California, and we’re focusing on how we’ll deliver for average people in our region.  Juan talked about the action that our President is taking in five key areas.  Some of those are similar to the political commitments that I will discuss, but the difference is that those actions are the U.S. priorities for the region and things that President Biden is specifically going to deliver.

From June 8th to 10th, the heads of state and government from across the Americas will come together to adopt five leader-level political commitments which will set forth our mandate for building a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future by proposing and implementing actions under the summit’s five political commitments: democratic governance, health and resilience, the clean energy transition, our green future, and digital transformation.  Our region’s leaders and stakeholders can improve the lives of the people of our hemisphere in a demonstrable and meaningful way.

First, on democratic governance, the United States knows we all have to work – we all have work to do on building strong and inclusive democracies in the hemisphere, including here at home.  At the summit, our collective action can demonstrate our commitment to enhancing transparent and accountable governments that deliver democracy to the people of the Americas.

To this end, we will adopt a Plan of Action that calls for reaffirming our commitment to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, including establishing mechanisms to address new challenges to democracy; supporting the work of electoral observation missions, following up on our commitment at the 8th Summit of the Americas to promote transparency, accountability, and combat corruption; enhancing protections of human rights defenders, environmental defenders, members of the press, and whistleblowers; increasing the participation of civil society, private sector, and new stakeholders in democratic processes and decision-making.  These are just a few of the ways in which we’re working to bolster democratic governance as a region and build on the commitment we made 20 years ago when we adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Second, on health and pandemic resilience, the United States will propose that the hemisphere’s leaders take a whole-of-government approach to address systemic health issues by agreeing to draft an action plan on health and resilience to be implemented by 10th summit.  Components of the action plan will include: expanding quality people- and community-centered health services, strengthening of educational and training programs in the field of medicine, public health, nutrition, and biomedical science research; and examining financial systems to more efficiently, effectively, sustainably, equitably, and transparently improve public financing related to health systems.

Third, on the clean energy transition, we will discuss implementation of renewable energy goals and ways that the hemisphere can share technical knowledge and best practices to put the Americas at the forefront of the global clean energy transition.  These include:  collaborating with the private sector and other stakeholders to identify opportunities for manufacture or trade in clean energy goods and services; fostering the enabling conditions for the scale-up of renewable energy; and advancing sustainable, attainable, and responsible mining sector principles and securing the integration of mineral supply chains in our hemisphere.

Fourth, on climate change, our hemisphere will build our longstanding commitments on climate resilience and sustainability to strengthen the hemisphere’s resilience and adaptive capacity to withstand the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.  Our regional political commitment on our green future will include measures such as:  advancing the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forest and Land Use to halt and reverse deforestation; decreasing the amount of carbon emitted from land use activities and increasing carbon storage; harnessing the role of oceans and other bodies of water to mitigate climate change, as well as combatting ocean plastic pollution; accelerating climate change adaption and resilience by implementing national adaption plans or strategies.

Fifth and finally, on digital transformation, leaders will identify shared priorities and commit to specific actions building digital ecosystems.  This first-ever regional agenda for digital transformation creates a framework for governments and stakeholders to collaboratively create the jobs and industries of the future based on interoperable, resilient, secure, and reliable telecommunications networks which will drive innovation and expand access to goods, services, and information in new ways.

These include:  promoting policies to expand the internet access, particularly in historically marginalized communities, and drive digital innovation and social inclusion through increased access to digital government services; expanding digital technology’s role in promoting quality education, digital literacy, and digital citizenry; increasing a regulatory harmonization in areas like spectrum management and digital trade.

We look forward to sharing more details on these political commitments at the summit.  And both Juan and I will now take your questions.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question was submitted by Mark Stevenson from the Associated Press.  And the question is:  “Have Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mexico, or Cuba been confirmed as attending the Americas Summit, and who will they be sending?”

Mr. Gonzalez:  So I’m happy to take that one.  So we still have some final considerations, but we will, I think, inform people publicly soon about the final invitation list.  I think what’s really important for us in terms of the summit is why we are gathering, and that is to focus on our collective responsibilities to forge a more inclusive and prosperous future for the hemisphere.  So we’ve not been so focused on the – on who is and is not invited, and more really on the outcomes that we want to achieve at the summit.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to David Alandete.  Operator, please open line 95.  David.

Question:  Yes.  Can you hear me?

Moderator:  Yes, please go ahead.

Question:  Can you hear me now?

Moderator:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry about that.  So yeah, I have two questions.  One of them is like besides the fact that some details are still being finalized, I wanted to ask Mr. Gonzalez if in any case the option of inviting someone from the Cuban regime is still on the table, if it’s something that is being debated.  It’s something like quite important from the point of view of the whole continent.

And the second one is like the presence of Venezuela.  Could you explain how Mr. Guaido is invited, and when is he going to address the other leaders if he – or what is the nature of his invitation to the summit?  Thank you so much.

Mr. Gonzalez:  Thanks.  So I mean, again, I’m not going to enter the details, but what I’ll say is that we have just had very respectful and active conversations with Mexico and the Mexican president’s request that Cuba attend the summit.  The United States and Mexico have really partnered very closely on a number of issues, and the approach that we’ve taken is to talk with the leaders of the region, talk to Mexico.  But again, I’ll go back to the previous answer where I’ll just say that we’re still having some final considerations.  And then as soon as we — as soon as the White House makes a final decision on final invites, that’s something that we’ll be happy to brief folks and to provide our rationale.  Thanks.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question was submitted by Jason Calderon from NTN 24.  The questions is:  “What does the document for the Regional Migration Pact that President Joe Biden will propose as the main objective of the Summit of the Americas include?  And what is in the — what is new in this proposal?”

Mr. Gonzalez:  Yes, I can – so I’ll take the first part, and then Assistant Secretary Nichols has also been engaged on this.  We’ll invite him to say — to speak to this as well.

So look, while migration is, first, an important topic that’ll be discussed at the summit, it’s one of the several focus areas, all of which are important to the hemisphere.  But I think the key here is – point here is that irregular migration is a regional problem that touches nearly every country in the region, and often a symptom of other challenges that I’ve mentioned facing Latin America and the Caribbean.

So what we are hoping to do is – and have been, as I mentioned, engaging on this very actively with our regional counterparts is to look at the regional challenge from the context of responsibility sharing and the need to provide economic support to countries to have been impacted by refugee and migration flows, but also the importance of avenues and in-country processing avenues, expanding refugee protections, and also addressing, I think, some of the core drivers of migration, which are lack of economic opportunities and insecurity.

I will say also there is just a robust initiative to combat smuggling in there as well.  But at the – at its core, what this is, is something that is unprecedented in that the leaders of the region that are either source, transit, or destination countries for migration are really coming together behind a plan that recognizes that the migration challenge is not one that is – that is at the U.S. border, but it’s one that is actually impacting all the countries in the Americas, and that we need to work together to address it in a way that treats migrants with dignity, invests in creating opportunities that would dissuade migrants from leaving their homes in the first place, and provide the protections that migrants deserve.

Assistant Secretary Nichols:  Yeah, I’ll just add to that that this builds on Secretary Blinken’s participation in co-hosting of ministerial-level meetings in Colombia and Panama to talk about this unprecedented challenge globally.  There are more than 94 million people on the move as migrants.  This poses a challenge to nations around the world, but particularly in our own hemisphere.

And this declaration is going to allow us to focus on promoting stabilization in communities that are hosting migrants; helping those communities and the migrants that they are hosting; ensuring things like access to legal documentation and public services; promoting pathways for legal, orderly migration when appropriate; to ensure ethical recruitment for employment, for example; promoting humane migration management; and a shared approach to mitigating and managing irregular migration.

Those are some of the things that we’re focusing on.  And it builds on not only the ministerial meetings that have taken place, but the many agreements that have come both within our region and around the world to promote safe, orderly, humane migration.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Our next question, we’ll go to Rafael Mathus from La Nacion.  Operator, please open line 30.

Question:  Thank you very much for doing this call and for taking my question.  About the invitations for Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and so on, Juan, can you specifically say what are the final considerations of the government on this topic, because it has been discussed for several months now?  And what are your thoughts on the damage these issues are creating on both the summit and the agenda of the summit?  Thanks.

Mr. Gonzalez:  Well, look, I mean, I’m not going to get into the specifics of the considerations because I think fundamentally what this administration has done, whether it’s on this topic or on any topic, is treated the countries of the region as our partners that – whose views we have to take into serious account.  And certainly with Mexico and with others that have expressed a view, we have tried to engage in a conversation and been very respectful of the different perspectives.  And ultimately, it’s something that as the host’s prerogative we’ll make the final decision, and we’ll announce that once the decision has been made.

Is it a distraction from the summit itself?  Look, I don’t think so.  It’s hard to, I think, confirm anything until it actually happens.  But we are really confident that the summit will be well-attended, that our relationship with Mexico is – remains and will continue to remain positive.  We very much want President Lopez Obrador there.  The President of the United States very personally wants the President of Mexico there.  And that I think once folks see what is announced at the summit we’ll see that we’re really actually addressing, I think, what are rising to the challenge that is – that are many of the different economic, pandemic-related, and other challenges that the region is facing.  So I think we’ll let the results speak for themselves.

Assistant Secretary Nichols:  Yeah, I’d just like to add that we’re very much focused on addressing the issues that affect people in their daily lives in our hemisphere.  We will have attendance from leaders throughout our hemisphere, but we’re also going to have attendance from private sector leaders and CEOs, from members of civil society, from youth from across the hemisphere.  They are coming together in an unprecedented way, literally thousands of people, to talk about the issues of concern that affect people in their daily lives.

Can they get access to health care?  Can their kids get a good education?  Do they have the economic opportunities they need?  Are they able to benefit from broadband internet technology?  What are we doing to mitigate the shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensure people have reliable, affordable access to food?  And what are we doing to reorient supply chains to make sure that the disruptions that we’ve seen over the past few years are not repeated?  I think that’s what average people care about, and that’s what we’re focused on.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We will now go to Raquel Krahenbul from TV Globo.  Operator, please open line 7.


Question:  Yes, hello.  I am with Raquel.  She is just out of the room for one minute.  Can you please call on her in just another minute?

Moderator:  Sure.  Operator, thank you.  We will now go to Priscilla Alvarez from CNN.  We go to line 61, please.

Question:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

Moderator:  Yes.  Please go ahead.

Question:  Thank you for doing this.  You mention throughout the call that this is about creating regional partnership to address issues systemic to the hemisphere.  But if you are missing key partners like Mexico or Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, how do you – do you anticipate success or an outcome from this?  I mean, those are key partners.

And then also you mentioned earlier, and I just want to clarify, the Mexican president’s request that Cuba attend the summit.  Is that currently the state of play with those discussions, whether Cuba attends, and no longer a discussion about Nicaragua and Venezuela?  Thank you.

Mr. Gonzalez:  Sure.  I mean, I’ll be brief, and then Brian will have his views.

Look, I mean, with Mexico and those others, we have made very clear that participation won’t impact cooperation or even a level of ambition certainly before – well before the summit.  On the issue of migration, we’ve had very close cooperation with Mexico, and that will continue to be the case.  And just again on the invitations, we’re just – we’re still looking through – it’s continuing to engage in conversations with different countries.  And once we make a final decision, we’ll make an announcement.

Assistant Secretary Nichols: I’ll just add that countries throughout our hemisphere have been playing an active role in the Summit Implementation Review Group negotiation of the five political commitments that will be approved at the summit, and that includes Mexico.  The engagement across many levels, from ambassadors and department representatives to the Organization of American States to senior ministry officials to foreign ministers, around the goals for this summit has been active and intense and very constructive.  And I think we’re going to leave this summit with an incredibly strong mandate from this hemisphere to work on the issues that matter to people.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We will now go to Jaqueline Charles from The Miami Herald.  Operator, please open line 83.

Question:  Hi, thank you.  In regards to Haiti, which today is undergoing multiple crises and we are seeing it playing itself out with the migration both at the land and the sea borders, what will be a specific message or focus as far as Haiti is concerned during this summit, and what can we expect as far as deliverables in regard to Haiti?

Mr. Gonzalez:  Brian, do you want to take this?

Assistant Secretary Nichols:  So we’re focused on a number of things that will benefit Haiti.  Access to health care is one.  Changes to the way that we approach our engagement on some economic issues to ensure that we’re leveraging all the tools that we can to support partner nations throughout our hemisphere, which will benefit Haiti.  Obviously, migration is an area where we have to do more to support and engage Haiti, and I think we’re going to have some interesting things in that area.

And then more broadly, the commitments around democracy will benefit Haiti as it moves towards elections in the future, things like strengthening electoral oversight authorities in our hemisphere, support to candidates and political parties, respect for the role of ombudsmen and transparency-related authorities in country – all are directly applicable to Haiti.  And by taking those commitments and working them both bilaterally with Haiti among the countries of our hemisphere, multilaterally through the Organization of American States, through UN bodies, I think we’re going to be able to translate this into specific and concrete further assistance for the Haitian people who need it very much.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We will now go to Beatriz Bulla from Estradao.  Operator, please open line 63.

Question:  Hi, thank you all for doing this.  So I’d like to ask about the position of the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro.  You mention that the summit will discuss the core challenges to the people of the hemisphere, and democracy is one of them.  I’ll like to ask if President Biden wants to raise concerns or express his confidence on the Brazilian electoral process, considering that President Bolsonaro has made some comments about the Brazilian electoral process, and also because last year when the NSA Jake Sullivan was here in Brazil with Bolsonaro, you – the U.S. expressed great confidence in the Brazilian institutions and society with Bolsonaro, the importance of not undermining trust in this process.  So is the Brazilian electoral – is it going to be a topic during the summit or during the bilateral meeting with Biden and Bolsonaro?

Mr. Gonzalez:  So I’ll say the issue of the Brazilian elections is really up for the Brazilians to decide, and the United States does have confidence in Brazil’s electoral institutions, which have proved robust.  And – but the conversation with – between the President and President Bolsonaro is going to cover a wide range of topics that are bilateral and, frankly, global in nature given the importance of the U.S. relationship.  So whether it’s tackling food insecurity and economic response to the pandemic, health and health security, every single priority for the summit that we have are areas where Brazil plays an incredibly important role.  The topic of climate change as well is something that the President has made clear is a priority, is something that’s – so there is a very long list of issues that are going to be up for discussion between the President and President Bolsonaro.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We have time for one last question.  The last question goes to Jorge Agobian from Voice of America.  Operator, please open line 48.

Question:  Thank you so much for doing this.  We really appreciate it.  I have a question.  If the United States recognizes the government of Juan Guaido in Venezuela as the legit government of that country, why are there still additional considerations to be decided in this specific point?  And why haven’t they been invited to the summit, and how should it be interpreted?  Then, if they were not invited as the representative of Venezuelan government, if U.S. actually recognizes Guaido as the president?

Mr. Gonzalez:  Thank you.  So the United States does continue to recognize interim President Juan Guaido as the legitimately elected president of the – of the national assembly, which was the last democratically elected institution in that country.  And we engage actively with him, with his ambassador and his government as well as the representatives of the unity platform and we’re actually supporting a dialogue that produces outcomes that lead to free and fair elections in the country.

I’m not going to talk about the considerations with regard to invitations except to just underscore that there are – governments have different views on some of these topics, and we engage and consult with them.  And ultimately the host prerogative is important, but we also are wanting to facilitate a broad hemispheric discussion and want to make sure that we’re integrating all of the views of the members of the Organization of American States.  So again, we’re – for us, it’s most important that we’re gathering together and that the focus is on our collective responsibility to forge a more inclusive and prosperous future for the hemisphere, and that includes one for the people of Venezuela.

Moderator:  That concludes today’s call.  I want to thank Senior Director Gonzalez and Assistant Secretary Nichols for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Miami Media Hub at MiamiHub@state.gov.  Thank you and have a good day.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Democratic Republic of Congo Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula Before Their Meeting

1 Jun

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Democratic Republic of Congo Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula

Washington, D.C.

Thomas Jefferson Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  (Inaudible.)  Good afternoon again.  It’s very good to be here with the foreign minister from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Mr. Minister, welcome.  Bienvenue.  Very good to see you again.

We are very glad to be working with the DRC to advance our privileged partnership for peace, prosperity, and preservation of the environment.  So we have a lot of work that we’ve been doing and will continue to do on that.

I’m very much also looking forward to discussing how we can support peace and security and stability in the eastern DRC, which is under some challenge.  But we’re – we want to be very supportive of important (inaudible) efforts that are ongoing to deal with those challenges.  And I must say, in particular we applaud the diplomatic efforts that we see underway for the Nairobi initiative and pursuit of a lasting peace in the region, something the United States very much supports.

So, Mr. Minister, again, welcome.  Very good to be with you.

FOREIGN MINISTER LUTUNDULA:  (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, the United States of America are traditional friends of the DRC.  Since 1966, we gained independence.  Today the DRC has been independent for 62 years (inaudible), and at all the stages of our history, any time the DRC went through turbulences, the United States were – was always with us.  It is thus an important partner for the DRC.  It is also a friendly people, a traditional friend of the Congolese people.

My delegation and myself are looking forward to being here at the State Department today to look at matters of common interest, both bilaterally and multilaterally.  And I would like to also say on behalf of President Tshisekedi and of our other ministers, I would like to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for what you and President Biden are doing for our country.

We are going through difficult times at the moment, and all the efforts on the diplomatic front, but also in terms of financial contributions through the UN system – those agencies that are operating in the DRC.  We do know that the U.S. is the largest contributor, for example, with MONUSCO – all of this is a testament to how solid our friendship is, and it shows the hope the U.S. has in the possibility that the DRC will play a role in Africa to consolidate democracy, the rule of law, and to become an ally that will take part in building those values that our peoples and our countries are fighting for.

You talked about the various matters that we will be covering.  We will get into more details, indeed.  Just know that my president, my people, and my fellow ministers say that you can count on us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Merci.  Thanks, everyone.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn

13 May

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Prak Sokhonn, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister

Washington, D.C.

Treaty Room

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a pleasure to be here with the deputy prime minister of Cambodia.  I really want to thank you, Deputy Prime Minister, and Cambodia for your leadership of ASEAN and for everything you’ve done to make this such a successful special summit between the United States and ASEAN.

We’ve had an opportunity to deepen the work that we’re doing together, and to put out – I think, a very important vision statement for the future, and Cambodia’s work to bring us to this point is greatly appreciated.  We’re working very closely together as partners to try to advance a shared vision for the region, including regional security.  And of course, we welcome the leadership role that you’re playing in ASEAN on a number of issues, including hopefully working to restore the democratic path in Myanmar.

So, it’s very good to have you here.  Welcome again to the State Department.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER PRAK SOKHONN:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.  It’s a real honor, pleasure to be here to have this meeting with you.  It’s an opportunity for us to exchange views, especially to strengthen our bilateral cooperation.  And it’s a wonderful for Cambodia as a chair to have been able to organize – co-organize this summit between ASEAN leaders and the U.S.

I am ready to have a good discussion with Secretary Blinken, in order to strengthen our bilateral relationship and to push forward for solution in a number of regional issues.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, everyone.

Briefing with Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern On the First Annual Interagency Report on Implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World

28 Apr

Jessica Stern, U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) PersonsBureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for joining us.  And I’m especially pleased to introduce Jessica Stern – as you know, she’s our Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ persons – on this momentous occasion.

As you know, the administration has placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy.  And a year ago, in February of last year, President Biden issued his Memorandum on Advancing Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.  And last June, he appointed Jessica to this very important position.  And now today, Special Envoy Stern is with us to unveil the first annual interagency report on the implementation of the Presidential Memorandum.  This is a product reflecting a whole-of-government approach, led by the State Department.

And Special Envoy Stern will offer brief remarks and then will have an opportunity to take some of your questions.  So without further ado, I will turn it over to the Special Envoy.

MS STERN:  Thank you, Ned, for the very kind introduction.  And good afternoon to everyone, if it’s afternoon where you are, or hello if you’re in a different time zone.

As Ned noted, in his first weeks in office, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum entitled, quote, “Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.”  This memorandum makes clear that promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a U.S. foreign policy priority.

And today, I’m really happy to talk to you about the first interagency report, outlining how the U.S. Government has worked collectively towards fulfilling the memorandum’s goals.

This is a historic first for the United States.  The report outlines how U.S. Government agencies engaged abroad are working to become more LGBTQI+-inclusive.  And it shows that many individual actions across the U.S. Government, taken together as a whole, create institutional change and improve the daily lives of LGBTQI+ persons.  The report highlights the progress that is possible when we actively reach out to other governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society.

This work is essential, because LGBTQI+ persons face violence, stigma, lack of access to basic services, and, in approximately 70 countries, criminalization of their status or behavior.  And in many places, LGBTQI+ persons are targeted as a way of undermining democracy itself.

Through determined diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance, the United States is combating the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status or conduct, promoting protection of vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, responding to human rights abuses committed against LGBTQI+ persons, strengthening relationships with like-minded governments, engaging international organizations on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, and working to rescind policies inconsistent with our nation’s values.

So that being said, I want to highlight several successes, starting with the Department of State, which set a historic precedent as the first federal government agency to offer the X gender marker on an identity document by providing, as of April 11th, the X gender marker as an option on U.S. passport applications. The X signifies unspecified or another gender identity.

The Department of State also launched a flagship program as part of the Biden administration’s Presidential Initiative for Democracy Renewal – the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative, also known as GLIDE, that seeks to ensure democracies are inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, representative of their communities and families, and responsive to their needs and concerns.  The new initiative builds on the track record of success under the Global Equality Fund, which has provided over $100 million in financial support to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons in more than 100 countries since its inception.

The Department of State also led the successful expansion of a United Nations resolution on elections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, becoming only the second resolution in the history of the General Assembly to do so and the very first via consensus.

From the Department of State, I want to move on to the Peace Corps, where approximately 60 percent of Peace Corps posts reported implementing specific LGBTQI+ equity practices within their operations, like hosting LGBTQI+ human rights organizations to inform in-country strategy and volunteer placement.

From there, we move on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which now ensures that its Notice of Funding Award Guidance includes clear guidance to support nondiscrimination.

And then on to USAID, which reinstated a reporting mechanism to track overall foreign assistance which advances LGBTQI+ human rights.

And next onto the Department of Treasury, which is pursuing how to win shareholder support to promote strengthened safeguard protections for LGBTQI+ persons and how to foster stronger multilateral development bank implementation of existing safeguard policies for LGBTQI+ persons.

And then my last example for you comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which issued revised guidance to recognize informal same-sex marriages for the purposes of obtaining refugee or asylee status, even if they are not officially recognized by officials in countries of origin.

And as I draw towards my conclusion, I just want to say our work has only just begun, and throughout my time serving as the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons – which I think is the longest title in the State Department, but Ned can correct me if I’m wrong – I have found that colleagues at the Department of State and really at each agency to be eager and ready to advance the cause of protecting and promoting the dignity, inclusion, and human rights of every LGBTQI+ person.  And simply put, in the darkest places, we are finding the brightest lights.  Thank you.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.  Back to you, Ned.

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much.  It’s a long title but – and a very important one, an important position.  Operator, do you mind repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.

MR PRICE:  We’ll give it just a moment for people to filter into the queue.

OPERATOR:  Again, if you do have a question, please press a 1 then 0.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Bianca Hillier, please.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much, Special Envoy Stern, for speaking with us today.  I have a question:  What did those informal marriages to refugees and asylum seekers grant those people the ability to do?  How directly does that help people?  Thank you.

MS STERN:  Hi, Bianca.  I’ve followed your work but never met you.  Great to hear your voice.

It was a fact that stood out to me when I read the report as well, because I think it’s really significant.  As you’re probably aware, in approximately 70 countries worldwide, homosexual status or conduct is criminalized.  And the number of countries globally that have any form of recognition of equal marriage, civil unions, or family recognition in other forms for LGBTQI couples is few and far between.

So although I’m not versed in the technical specifications of the DHS policy, I can tell you this is a very important form of recognition.  And what it means is that for the sake of LGBTQI couples and their families, who have no access to legal recognition by their own government, the United States is recognizing grounds of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and recognizing that their families are valid and valuable.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MR PRICE:  Great.  We’ll give it just another moment.  If anyone else wishes to ask a question, please raise your hand now.

OPERATOR:  And again, if you do have a question, please press 1 0.

MR PRICE:   Okay.  Well, seeing no additional questions, I want to thank the Special Envoy.  I want to thank all of you for joining today’s call.  For those of you who have questions you wish to ask offline, I think you know how to contact us.  Please do reach out and we’d be happy to work with you from there.  Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

MS STERN:  Thank you.

ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING: Secretary Blinken’s Upcoming Travel to Panama

15 Apr

Brian A. Nichols, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere AffairsBureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

Marta Costanzo Youth, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant SecretaryBureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

Via Teleconference

MR BARTLETT:  Thanks very much and thanks, everyone, for joining us today.  We’re happy to have you for this call previewing Secretary Blinken’s upcoming travel to Panama.  The trip was announced earlier today, and the Secretary departs for Panama on Tuesday, April 19th.  Just a reminder again, this call is on the record but embargoed until the call is completed.  And we’ll of course focus on answering questions related to the trip.  And as we always do, we’ll post a transcript after the fact on state.gov.

If you would like to ask a question at any time, please dial 1 then 0 to enter the queue.  Again, that’s 1 then 0 to enter the queue to ask a question.

It’s now my pleasure to introduce on the line with us our Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth.  They’ll offer some opening remarks each, and then we’ll take your questions.  Again, 1 then 0 to ask a question.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Assistant Secretary Nichols to begin.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thank you and good afternoon.  Thank you all for joining us today as we preview Secretary Blinken’s upcoming trip to Panama City for a Ministerial on Migration and Protection and bilateral meetings with the Government of Panama.

On April 19th and 20th, Secretary Blinken will lead a U.S. delegation to Panama City to lead a ministerial conference co-hosted with the Government of Panama.  Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and I will join Secretary Blinken on this trip, as will a number of other State Department, National Security Council, USAID, and DHS leaders.

While in Panama, our delegation will join senior representatives from more than 20 other countries in the Western Hemisphere at the ministerial conference.  Secretary Blinken will also meet with Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo and Foreign Minister Erika Mouynes, as well as with civil society organizations and members of the press.

I note that this ministerial is part of our diplomatic build-up to the June Summit of the Americas, during which we will advance a number of initiatives that address irregular migration and its root causes and provide protection for refugees and asylum seekers.  With that for context, I’ll speak first about the Ministerial on Migration and Protection, and then detail our bilateral meetings.

In August of last year, Panama hosted a virtual migration gathering, and in October, 17 countries gathered in Bogota for a Ministerial on Migration and Protection.  Next week’s ministerial in Panama will further our shared commitment to collaboratively addressing the challenges of irregular migration throughout our hemisphere.

President Biden made addressing the challenges of irregular migration and providing protection a key priority for his administration.  In his first days in office, he outlined his vision for a comprehensive regional framework, which we further detailed in our Strategy to Address the Root Causes of Migration and our Collaborative Migration Management Strategy.  While we have made great progress in implementing that plan, this is a shared challenge.  And as Secretary Blinken said at the October ministerial, “It cannot be solved by any one country.  We have to solve it together.”

We must count on close collaboration with governments throughout the region to truly make progress on managing irregular migration and addressing the protection needs of the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere.  As mentioned, in October 2021, 17 countries from our region came together in Bogota in recognition of our shared responsibility.  At the conclusion of that ministerial, we all committed to continue the discussion and encourage more countries to join.

The United States has continued these discussions with many partners throughout the hemisphere, resulting in a bilateral Migration Arrangement with Costa Rica in March, and we are working on similar arrangements with a number of other countries.  This week in Panama we will meet the challenge set at the last ministerial with the addition of new national partners and further progress on our collective objectives.

In particular, at this ministerial we intend to focus on stabilization efforts for communities hosting migrants and refugees.  Countries hosting large migrant and refugee populations often need access to financing and assistance for development, humanitarian needs, public health, and climate resilience and adaptation.  This support is essential to enable migrants and refugees to integrate into host countries and rebuild their lives.  At the ministerial conference, we will discuss leveraging investments from multilateral development banks and international organizations to support communities in need.

We and our partners in the Americas understand the best way to address irregular migration is by generating opportunities and giving people a reason to build their lives at home.

We will also discuss the President’s framework for regional collaboration on migration issues and our intent to adopt a declaration on migration protection at the Summit of the Americas, which the United States will host in Los Angeles in June.

Given the expanding collaboration with our partners throughout the region in the past year, I am confident we will have fruitful discussions on this trip.

Turning now to the bilateral meetings for this trip, in his meetings with Panamanian President Cortizo and Foreign Minister Mouynes, Secretary Blinken will discuss issues of importance to citizens of both our countries, including migration, of course, and also Panama’s role as a regional leader in preventing democratic backsliding, promoting human rights, and tackling corruption, as well as the international response to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Beyond this bilateral leadership discussion, the Secretary will also attend a special event with anticorruption activists to exchange ideas and extend support for their important work, and visit the Panama Canal, a bedrock of Panama’s economy and a key node for U.S. trade.

With that, I’ll pass it to my colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth.

MS YOUTH:   Thanks so much.  Good afternoon.  I’m very glad to be on the line with Assistant Secretary Nichols today ahead of Secretary Blinken’s trip to Panama to participate in the Ministerial on Migration and Protection next week.  As the assistant secretary mentioned, addressing the challenges of irregular migration and providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers is a key priority for the Biden-Harris administration.

Ahead of the Secretary’s trip, I would like to elaborate briefly on what the United States is doing to build capacity and provide protection in the hemisphere in the context of our commitment to collaborating with partners from across the region to humanely manage migration.  The United States works with international organizations and multilateral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance and help integrate refugees, asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants into their host communities, and help support those host communities.  We also support efforts to build capacity in the region to provide asylum and other protections.

In addition, we’re strengthening international protection and other legal migration pathways to the United States and elsewhere.  We collaborate with partners from across the region to underscore our shared responsibility and to develop a set of priorities to strengthen humane migration management, provide protection to those who need it throughout the hemisphere, and reduce incentives for irregular migrations.

The bilateral Migration Arrangements Assistant Secretary Nichols mentioned allow us to target our capacity-building programs and humanitarian assistance, and strengthen our partnerships with other countries and international organizations and NGO partners.  They foster collaboration towards our shared responsibility to ensure migration is safe, orderly, and humane.

The United States Government is firmly committed to welcoming people to the United States with humanity and respect, and reuniting families.  We are working to deliver on our promise to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration from Central America through the expansion of legal pathways that allow individuals to seek humanitarian protection in the United States.

We have a shared responsibility.  The ministerial in Panama is another opportunity to convene with regional governments, multi-development banks, international organizations, civil society, and others to discuss the continued critical actions necessary to strengthen humane migration management, provide protection to those who need it, and reduce irregular migration throughout the hemisphere.  The Secretary’s trip is an opportunity to seek greater collaboration.

Thank you for your time.  Look forward to your questions.

MR BARTLETT:   Thank you both very much.  And again, if you’d like to ask a question of either Assistant Secretary Nichols or Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, please press 1 then 0.

We’ll first go to Ryohei Takagi from Kyodo News.

OPERATOR:   Mr. Takagi, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Can you hear me?


QUESTION:  Thanks for briefing.  Panama established diplomatic relations with China and protocol affiliations with – relations with Taiwan in 2017.  So I’m just wondering whether the relationship with Taiwan and China would be one of the topics the Secretary will discuss with his counterpart, Panama foreign minister, or not.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thanks very much.  In all of our conversations around the hemisphere, we talk about the importance of the shared values that we have as a region, the importance of respect for human rights, the rule of law, democracy, and we talk about being transparent and understanding what’s on offer when China is engaging with a country.

I’m sure that will be part of the discussions that we have in Panama.  The United States has a strong commercial relationship with China, obviously.  We’re not saying don’t trade with China.  What we’re saying is do so with your eyes open, understand what’s on the table, understand how China will use and its companies will use your data if they are in the data processing business like 5G.  And that’s a common conversation for us to have with all of our partners, and we just hope that people approach these issues with full knowledge and ask the right questions.

MR BARTLETT:  Thanks.  Let’s next go to Conor Finnegan from ABC News.

OPERATOR:  Mr. Finnegan, you are open.

QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you.  Two questions here.  First, will any representatives of the Maduro government be present for the ministerial?  And can any agreement – hemisphere-wide agreement solve the migration crisis without addressing Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crises?

And then second, the administration has announced plans to admit up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.  What impact would that have on your plans to admit – or process asylum claims at the border or otherwise address migration issues?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  So the Maduro regime will not attend the ministerial.  The – obviously the lack of access to opportunity, democracy, human rights, the rule of law inside the borders of Venezuela has led many Venezuelans to vote with their feet and depart that country.  Our goal is to encourage the Maduro regime and the interim government to return to the negotiating table in Mexico City where Venezuela negotiated and led solution to that country’s problems.  We continue to support that effort and believe it has the best prospects for a lasting solution to Venezuela’s problems.

MR BARTLETT:  Thanks.  Let’s next go to Gustau Alegaret from NTN 24.

OPERATOR:  Please, go ahead, Mr. Alegaret.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much for this opportunity.  A couple of questions.  Do we have to expect any announcement from this meeting, first of all?  And second of all, if I may, some analysts and people in Panama at the beginning of the war in Ukraine were requesting the government to block any Russian vessels or ships going through the canal as a kind of punishment or sanctions against the Kremlin.  Is that a possibility?  Is the United States supporting this idea?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Well, I think that we expect that all of the nations that are present will respect the sanctions that exist on the Russian Federation, financial institutions within it, and private companies operating with close links to the Russian Federation and the Putin government.  We believe that the private sectors of our region are already taking extensive steps to ensure that they respect those sanctions and other measures.  I can’t speak to the specifics of ship traffic, but I do believe that we will seek ever greater application of those measures by our partners and allies around the hemisphere and around the world.

The – I should just note that the unprecedented flow of migrants out of Ukraine has contributed to the larger global challenge of unprecedented levels of migration over the course of the past few months.  And we as an international community are working hard to manage that in a humane, safe, transparent, and legal way, and putting the resources in place both in Europe and certainly in our own hemisphere to address this new challenge while we continue to manage the migration situation and migrant flows around our own region.

MR BARTLETT:  Thank you.  Let’s next go to Priscilla Alvarez from CNN.

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing the call.  What does the State Department want to – or the U.S. want to walk away with?  Would it be an agreement?  An additional commitment from Panama or other attending countries?  What would sort of signify a successful trip?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  So this is for us an important opportunity to begin the home stretch as we prepare for the Summit of the Americas in June.  And as I said, we expect that we will have a broad migration compact or agreement that specifically helps us keep populations safe and integrated and in place where they are in our hemisphere that increases information sharing among the governments and migratory authorities of our hemisphere that leverages the resources of multilateral development banks and other international organizations like the IOM and the UN to support migration requirements throughout our hemisphere, that countries continue to take steps to regularize migration by instituting visa requirements, while appropriate that countries continue to invest in things like services for migrants at risk and shelters.  Those are all things that we’ve made significant progress on since the last ministerial, and we believe that that process will continue through Panama right up to June and the Summit of the Americas.  But perhaps my colleague Marta Youth would like to make a comment as well.

MS YOUTH:  Sir, I think you did a fantastic job covering it, but just to kind of sum up, I mean, this really – what we’re really looking at in Panama is really continuing the conversation that we began in the original virtual meeting that the Panamanian Government hosted last year and then the October migration ministerial which we co-hosted with Colombia in October.

This is – we really changed the narrative, I think, in the region in terms of understanding what is really meant by shared responsibility and how we can all work together on this really unprecedented challenge, which is really not just in this region but is actually a reflection of the challenges that we are seeing happening globally in terms of forced displacement throughout the world.  And this is an event where we can discuss and act on what we need to do together to address these challenges.  Over.

MR BARTLETT:  Thank you.  Let’s next go to Nick Kalman from Fox.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I just had a follow-up to my colleague Conor’s question on the Maduro regime, and you said that no representatives from that regime are attending the ministerial.  Could you just advise as to whether or not any representatives from the regime were invited to attend?  Thank you.


MR BARTLETT:  Thanks.  Let’s next go to Ted Hesson from Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi, all.  Thank you for having the call.  My question is similar to what Priscilla asked, and I’m hoping maybe you could give us some more practical examples.  I guess I understand sort of symbolically what you’re working towards, and there have been many meetings and you’ve been at this for over a year, but has there been any tangible result, and is there anything you can show us that’s affected migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, for instance, that’s come out of these talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Well, we’re working on addressing the root causes of migration as a collective effort, and one of the things that I think has been quite powerful in the near term has been Vice President Harris’ call to action, which has mobilized over $1.2 billion in private sector investment in Northern Central America and created thousands of jobs in that part of the hemisphere.  And we know that those people are not migrating.  We know that our efforts to provide COVID-19 vaccines to countries throughout the hemisphere – some 60 million vaccines in the Western Hemisphere – have helped countries recover more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic which was a driver of migration to our southern border.

We know that our efforts to provide assistance to communities that are hosting migrants in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile have all helped stabilize those populations to a greater degree.  But this comes in the context of literally millions of migrants on the move in our hemisphere; some six million Venezuelans are migrants outside of Venezuela right now, over five million of them in the Western Hemisphere.  There are half a million Nicaraguans who are displaced and living in Costa Rica right now, and I had the opportunity to meet with some of them when I was there a couple weeks ago.  We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrants in Chile, in Brazil.

There are really unprecedented challenges and I think that our assistance has helped to mitigate some of that migration movement, but the challenges did not begin yesterday and they will take time for us to resolve alongside our partners.  And as Marta signaled, one of the things we don’t hear anymore is that this is a U.S. problem.  What – no one has said that to me and they – all the countries that I have talked to very much accept that we have to work together to address this challenge, and that’s what we’re doing in Panama.

MR BARTLETT:  Thank you.  We’ll take a final question from Beatriz Pascual from EFE.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  You have mentioned a couple of times that this meeting in Panama is in preparation for the Summit of the Americas.  So I was wondering if the United States has invited Cuba and Venezuela to the Summit of the Americas.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  So the White House will determine which leaders are invited to the Summit of the Americas, and the White House has not yet issued invitations.  I will note that the Western Hemisphere is a part of the world that has a broad commitment to democracy, as enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  And I believe that as we move forward, we will see countries that share that commitment toward democracy as the key participants in the summit.

MR BARNETT:  Thank you both again.  Thanks to our speakers.  And thanks to our participants for your questions.  We’ll post this transcript shortly on state.gov, and you know how to get in touch with us if you have questions in the lead-up to or during the trip.  Thank you, everybody, and have a great day.