Department Press Briefing – April 9, 2021

9 Apr

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining the briefing today. I have two announcements to make and then I will resume taking your questions.

We’re deeply saddened by the news of the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

He was a true friend to the United States. Throughout his decades of service, he met and counseled presidents, vice presidents, and other public officials and leaves behind a legacy of inspiration for people all around the world.

On behalf of the American people, I wish to offer my deepest condolences to the royal family and to the people of the United Kingdom.

Our thoughts are also with the people of Saint Vincent as we continue to closely monitor the situation regarding the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano. USAID disaster experts are closely monitoring increased activity of the La Soufriere volcano. Local authorities are evacuating up to 19,000 people.

And with that, I’ll leave a few minutes for the queue to fill so we can start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 and then 0. Your line will be entered into the queue. Your name will be called when your line is ready to be opened. Please allow for me to tell you your line is open before speaking. Once again, for questions, press 1 and then 0. And one moment, please, for the first question.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: — for taking my question. Actually, this is a two —

OPERATOR: Pearl, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, Pearl, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you so much. It’s a two-part question. African troops on the African continent have often defended United States interests, including Chad. Now we’ve got three countries who are having elections. Today was Djibouti, and over the weekend we will see Chad and Benin who will have elections, and it’s expected that continued terms into the sixth and fifth term are expected for some of these. I just wanted to find out if you’ve got any readout that you may have regarding elections in these countries and elections on the continent in general.

And then my second-part question is: The IMF and the World Bank were having their annual spring meetings, and I wanted to find out since South Africa has the chairmanship over the African Union, do you – do you think that things are getting better or worse with their leadership, or what is – do you have any readout on that, too? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, to answer your second question, we don’t have any specific readout on the situation in South Africa.

But to address your first questions on elections that are taking place today in Djibouti and also this weekend in Chad and Benin, I’ll just say that the United States supports the rights of the people of Chad and Benin to exercise their freedom of expression as well as their freedom of assembly as granted to them in their constitution as well as the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

The U.S. regularly conveys our concerns about the adherence to human rights as well as limits on democratic freedoms to the people of Benin and Chad authorities so that citizens can meaningfully engage so that they’re able to influence their government and their democratic process. And again, we continue to watch these elections closely, and we call on everyone who are there to remain peaceful.

Can we go to the line of Laura Kelly, please?

OPERATOR: One moment. And Laura, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. I have two, if you don’t mind. Since the State Department announced resuming assistance to Palestinians, when are those funds expected to be delivered or available for use, and are you receiving any pushback from Congress?

And my second question: Is the State Department concerned that countries in Africa receiving vaccines through COVAX do not have enough money to ensure administration of vaccine shots? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Laura. We’ll have to take your second question back.

But just to address your first question, the U.S. definitely plans to restart aid for Palestinians with economic and development assistance programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as security assistance and humanitarian assistance through UNRWA. And this step, of course, aligns with U.S. values and interests as well as for those – and our allies and partners. And again, this assistance will be provided in a manner that is always consistent with U.S. law.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neill, please.

OPERATOR: One moment. And Casey, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks so much and hi, Jalina. Happy Friday and thanks so much for doing this. Two questions for you.

So first on Burma, earlier today during a meeting of the Security Council, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated that, quote, “Only concrete action will change the military calculus,” unquote, with regard to the situation in Burma. The situation, as you know, continues to deteriorate daily. So my question is: What additional concrete action is the U.S. willing to take to pressure the junta to cease its violent crackdown, which, as you know, has included the slaughtering of hundreds of civilians, including children?

And then my second question for you, switching gears, on Belfast: Do you have any diplomatic engagements to real out that Charge Lempert in London has been involved in vis-a-vis the current situation in Northern Ireland? Thanks so much.

MS PORTER: Thank you. I will start by taking your first question on Burma first. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of what Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has already stated, but we will continue to underscore that the regime’s message demonstrates military leaders’ biggest concern, and that’s clearly an unprecedented movement of people rising up across the country and plain and simply rejecting the military rule. We know that the people of Burma are united in their rejection of the military’s actions and continue to call on the regime’s actions to lead to greater stability as well as look out for mounting economic, health, and humanitarian crises that are – continue to be on the rise, as you have said already.

And to your second question on Belfast, we don’t have any diplomatic readouts at this time. But when we do, we’ll be sure to publish those as well.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham, please.

OPERATOR: One moment. And Jiha, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. Thank you. I have a question on North Korea. Ambassador John Bolton, former national security advisor, said yesterday during an interview with VOA Korean Service that the prospects for efforts to achieve denuclearization of North Korea through diplomacy remain slim. I understand the review is still ongoing, but could you tell us whether you assess that the U.S. still can achieve a denuclearization of North Korea through the diplomatic efforts? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I won’t speak to any comments made from Mr. Bolton, but I definitely want to reinforce and underscore that the United States remains committed to the denuclearization of North Korea. As you know, this is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration. And again, the review is ongoing, but we will continue to focus on reducing the threat to the United States as well as our allies, and we’ll also continue to strive to improve the lives of North and South Korean people.

Let’s go to the line of Matt Lee, please.

OPERATOR: And Matt, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you, Matt.

QUESTION: Happy Friday if you can hear me. If not, still Happy Friday. Anyway, earlier today you guys put out two readouts of calls the Secretary had with the French and the German foreign ministers that focused on Ukraine and Russia. I presume they also talked about Iran, but I guess we can get into that in a later call. So just focusing on the Ukraine and Russia, without repeating word for word or even – without repeating what’s in the – those readouts, has the situation on the border with the buildup of Russian troops reached a point where you guys think that it is no longer just the Russians moving troops around in their own country and that it is a serious threat of invasion or something else? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, Matt, and Happy Friday to you as well. And again, as you said before, we already gave readouts on this, so that information is already readily available on our website, so of course, I won’t repeat any of it word for word. But what I will say is that, again, we continue to be concerned about the actions Russia has taken to escalate the tensions in Ukraine, and of course, we commend the Ukraine for its ongoing restraint in the face of Russia’s provocations in that current situation. Again, any – I would direct anyone to our website specifically to learn about what happened in those readouts.

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan, please.

OPERATOR: One moment. And Rosiland, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks so much for the call, Jalina. First, is there an update on the ongoing peace talks in Doha? Do you have a readout on anything that Ambassador Khalilzad is doing?

And two, to follow up on Matt’s question about the phone calls to Foreign Ministers Le Drian and Foreign Minister Maas, there’s also this rumor about the U.S. military moving vessels possibly into the Black Sea. Would it be fair to say that the Biden administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Moscow to not doing anything untoward in Ukrainian territory? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Rosiland. I’ll take your first question first. As we noted for Ambassador Khalilzad, he actually wrapped up in his time meeting in Doha. He’s actually currently in Kabul at the moment, continuing his ongoing meetings with Afghan leaders as well as civil society on accelerating progress for peace in the region.

To your second question, I wouldn’t categorize – specifically categorize what you said the administration is doing, but I’ll just continue to underscore that the United States is concerned by the actions the Russian is – the Russians are taking that are escalating the tensions in Ukraine. And we also continue to monitor the situation closely in coordination with Ukrainian officials as well as our allies and partners in the region. But when it comes to Russia specifically, we have made clear that our engagement with Moscow – that it needs to refrain from any escalatory actions. And we’ll continue to hold them accountable.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak, please.

OPERATOR: One moment. Janne, your line is open.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, Jalina. I actually have two questions for you. One is China and then one is North Korea. And as we all know, China is a broad alliance with North Korea, and the United States and South Korea are allies. How do you analyze the impact of the strategic cooperation, partnership between South Korea and China on the U.S. and South Korea alliance?

Secondly, as you know, the former President Trump exchange letters from (inaudible) to North Korean leader Kim Jung-un actually delayed the resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. Will you reconsider such (inaudible) for carrots and sticks for the new U.S. policy toward North Korea? And what is your groundbreaking plan for the new North Korea policy that will allow North Korea to come to the table for denuclearization? Thank you very much. (Inaudible.)

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Janne. When it comes to the alliances you mentioned with – between China and North Korea, I’m not in a position to comment on that specifically, but what I will say and underscore is the commitment that we have with the Republic of Korea and our commitment to strengthening our alliance there in the Indo-Pacific region when it comes to promoting peace, security, and prosperity around the world.

Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin, please.

OPERATOR: And Will, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for having this. I just wondered on – Secretary Austin is doing a trip to Israel this weekend and other places. Just wondering if Secretary Blinken has any plans to visit Israel or why he’s not going there with Secretary Austin. And also Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Defense Minister Gantz have said that they have concerns and won’t support any Iran nuclear deal – new deal that doesn’t – that doesn’t keep Iran away from a nuclear weapon. They won’t support anything that provides only a temporary, brief halt to Iran’s nuclear activities. Do you see that being a problem for the nuclear talks currently going on in Vienna? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Will. To your first question, we don’t have anything to preview as far as the Secretary’s travel, but obviously as already mentioned, the trip to Israel is for Secretary Austin, and Secretary Blinken has already made a trip, a two-for-two visit, in the Indo-Pacific region previously. But we have nothing to preview as far as any future trip for the Secretary at this time.

To your second question, of course, talking about the – referring to the talks in Vienna, at this time delegations are actually returning to their respective capitals for consultations. But we do anticipate that the resumption of working groups will happen next week. I wouldn’t want to go any further than that, because right before this call we actually released information for an on-background briefing with a senior State Department official discussing what’s happening in Vienna regarding the JCPOA, and that’ll actually take place at 4:45 p.m. today. So I suggest that you do tune into that for further details about what’s going on in Vienna.

Let’s go to the line of Albert Hong.

OPERATOR: And Albert, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. April 15 is – it’s a North Korean issue. The April 15th is Kim Il-sung’s birthday. So I’m concerned about the possibility of North Korea’s provocation. What is the State Department’s position on this? And when will the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea come out? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, again, I’ll just underscore that, again, that the policy is ongoing. We don’t have a firm timeline of when it will be finalized, but we’ll continue to stress that this administration is committed to denuclearization of North Korea, and we intend to promote the safety of American people, which is of paramount importance for this administration. We also, again, are committed to focusing on reducing the threat to not only us in the United States, but as well as our allies and partners.

Let’s go to the line of Mouhamed Elahmed.

OPERATOR: And Mouhamed, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. I have two questions, on Iran and Afghanistan. First, can you confirm if Special Envoy Rob Malley has returned to Washington, D.C., or is he still in Vienna? You said a couple of minutes ago the delegations are on their way back to their capitals. So I just want to confirm if he is still there, or he has already returned to Washington, D.C. And second, all the – since all the parties agreed that the first round of talks were constructive, is it fair to say that there is a breakthrough of some sort?

And my second question on Afghanistan: Ned said yesterday that he preparation for Istanbul conference are ongoing. Are you able to give us a heads-up about the level of the U.S. participation, and who would lead the U.S. delegation in this conference? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: So I can confirm that Special Envoy Malley is returning back to Washington and should be here today. To your second question on what’s happening in Turkey and in – what’s happening in —

(Interruption.)

Yeah, so we don’t have any other updates for you on Afghanistan, but we’ll be sure to let you know when we do.

Let’s take one last question from Samira Gharaei.

OPERATOR: And Samira, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you, Ms. Porter, for taking my question. It’s on Iran. My question is that there are talks and speculations of United States easing non-nuclear sanctions with Iran. How is that consistent with President Biden’s pledge to hold Iran accountable for its non-nuclear malign behavior? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just say that we’re prepared to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the JCPOA, and that would include lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with it. And, of course, the nature of sanctions-related steps that the U.S. would need to take to achieve this objective is still the subject of these talks. And again, I would remind you or welcome you that we do have an on-background briefing to preview a little bit more detail this afternoon at 4:45 if you’d like to dial in.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining, and everyone have a good weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – April 2, 2021

2 Apr

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, DC

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and thank you for joining today’s press briefing this Friday. I have two quick announcements at the top, and we’ll start with your question and answers.

First, we are deeply saddened by the loss of life and casualties from the train derailment in Taiwan on April 2nd, 2021. We extend our deepest condolences to all those affected and stand ready to offer all possible assistance.

We are working closely with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens were affected. We wish Taiwan peace and comfort during this difficult time.

Next, this weekend marks 2,000 days since Iran arrested Siamak Namazi for being a U.S. citizen. Siamak Namazi was a businessman living in Tehran when he was arrested in October of 2015. When his father, 84-year-old Baquer Namazi, traveled to Iran to help free his son, the Iranian Government arrested him too.

Both Siamak and Baquer were arrested, were sentenced to 10 years in prison on baseless charges. As a result, the Namazi family has suffered for five and a half years while the Iranian Government continues to treat their husband, father, son, and brother as political pawns. This terrible milestone should offend all who believe in the rule of law.

We call on Iran to immediately and safely release all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including the Namazis, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz, who is a U.K. citizen. Iran must also account for the fate of Robert Levinson and other U.S. citizens who are missing or abducted in Iran. The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately – whether in Iran or anywhere around the world.

And with that, we’ll give it a few minutes before we start taking your questions.

Let’s go to the line of Carmen Rodriguez, please.

OPERATOR: One moment. Carmen Rodriguez, your line is open. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for this conference. My question is regarding what’s going on right now in El Salvador. You may see there is an – a confronted attitude from the president of El Salvador regarding all the Biden administration’s plans to fight against immigrations, or fight to combat the roots of immigrations. What will be the U.S. position in this matter, if this attitude continues and if there is no way that President Bukele sits with the U.S. to work against immigration?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Carmen. I’ll first start off by saying that the President is serious about working and discovering the root causes of migration and working through those challenges in a way that requires systemic change and political will from government leaders. And we’ll also say the United States stands ready to partner up with governments as well as the private sector and members of civil society who are ready and willing to rise to the situation at hand in El Salvador.

I’ll also say that the United States, we’re focused on working towards a more democratic, fair, and prosperous El Salvador, of course, where the people of El Salvador can thrive. And of course, we look forward to continuing to work with El Salvador to achieve these goals in the future.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak, please.

OPERATOR: And Janne Pak, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much. I have two questions for you. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes. As you know, the China is inviting foreign ministers from four ASEAN countries to talks at the same time as the U.S., South Korea, and Japan trilateral dialogue are held. The South Korean foreign minister and Chinese minister of foreign affairs talked – also talked today. I’m wondering why at this point the foreign minister of South Korea should go to China to talk with the Chinese foreign minister. Do you have any comment on this?

And secondly, what are the difference of view between South Korea and the United States in North Korea policy? And will the difference of view be reduced in this trilateral talk? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. I’ll start with your first one, Janne, and to say that we – we aren’t in a position to comment on the foreign minister’s – of Korea’s decision to engage in discussions with China. But to your second question, as you’re probably already apprised of, NSA Jake Sullivan is again welcoming National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura as well as National Security Advisor Hoon of Republic of Korea today in Annapolis, Maryland at the Naval Academy for these trilateral talks. And as you are well aware that our – the talks are ongoing, but it’ll – will be drawn to a conclusion soon. We don’t have any other announcements at this time other than that we remain committed to denuclearization of North Korea.

Please go to the line of Laura Kelly.

OPERATOR: Laura Kelly, your line’s open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. I wonder if you can give more details on the meeting next week in Vienna with signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, what U.S. officials are going to be at the meeting, and what type of sanctions relief may be proposed for Iran to take steps to reverse its breaches of the agreement. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. We don’t have any specific announcements to make about details of who will participate from the U.S. in that meeting. And just as a reminder, this is a healthy first step forward, and we kind of – we definitely want to underscore that. And obviously, when it comes to issues that are discussed, we’re going to talk about nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to a compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. And we won’t preview any specific sanctions, but we’ll definitely say that sanction relief steps that the U.S. would need to take in order to return to that compliance as well will be up for discussion.

Let’s go to the line of Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Can I just follow up on Iran? What exactly do you think will be the – what you’re looking for there? I know you mentioned actions by Iran. There’s been some talk by the EU of having some synchronized action. Is that something that you are going to look to do there in Vienna, to try to coordinate the action?

And if you don’t mind, could I also ask you the latest on Burma? There was an announcement yesterday by the junta of shutting down all internet connections, all internet service. Do you have any reaction to that? Is there any way to circumvent that? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you. To your first question on talks in Vienna, I won’t get ahead of the meeting, but I will underscore that obviously the goal is a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA.

When it comes to internet shutdowns, unfortunate internet shutdowns in Burma, we certainly condemn all that’s going on when it comes to internet shutdowns. This actually poses a serious security and health issue. As you know, using platforms as they’ve used before like Facebook and Twitter have been really crucial for the people of Burma to get what they need, and without access to internet they’re not able to get access to programs when it comes to health relief. We certainly condemn the use of military-imposed internet shutdowns, and again, we hope this won’t silence the voices of the people of Burma. But we will continue to encourage the military regime to push forward for Burma’s path of democracy.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

OPERATOR: Ms. Hansler, you’re open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much, and apologies if this was already asked. I had to drop off for a second. Can you confirm whether Rob Malley will be representing the U.S. at the talks in Vienna?

And then separately, given that the U.S. is vaccinating a lot of folks and there are these new CDC travel guidelines about folks who are vaccinated, are there any talks with the governments of Canada or Mexico about lifting some of the border restrictions for nonessential travelers? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Again, to your first question, I want to underscore that we don’t have any announcements to make at this time as far as U.S. representation or personnel at the talks in Vienna. When it comes to lifted restrictions on travel restrictions for coronavirus, I would have to direct you to the CDC.

Let’s go to the line of Ellen Knickmeyer.

OPERATOR: Ms. Knickmeyer —

QUESTION: Ready.

OPERATOR: — your line is open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I unfortunately joined a couple minutes into the call and heard you finishing a statement about the detainees. I don’t know if – about detainees held by Iran. I was wondering if it’s possible to get the substance of that again. And along those lines, are there – are issues like American citizens held in Iran or Iran’s intervention in the countries around it and other complaints against Iran going to be included in any talks next week and going forward in the Iran nuclear deal?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions. I’ll take your first one, and I’ll start off by saying that the safe return of all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained, whether they’re in Iran or anywhere in the world, is a top priority of the United States. And just because you missed the last portion of it, what we were discussing is this weekend marking the 2,000th day since Iran arrested Siamak Namazi for being a U.S. citizen as well as his father who came to try to help him and were imprisoned for 10 years simply on baseless causes. Again, we won’t underscore enough that we call on Iran to immediately and safely release all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran. And Iran must also take into account the fate of Robert Levinson and all other U.S. citizens who were actually abducted in the country.

Let’s go to the line of Joel Gehrke.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I have two very different questions. I’ll start with the Russia and Ukraine. One, I just – I saw of course that President Biden spoke to President Zelenskyy and there’s been a lot of focus on the military movements around the borders of Ukraine. I wonder, do you think that the Russian military is staging the kinds of forces that would be used in any kind of imminent – imminent invasion into Ukraine? Is that – is that your assessment right now?

MS PORTER: Well, I mean, I won’t make a firm assessment, but I’ll definitely say that we’re aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troops’ movements around their borders. And we’re discussing our concerns about this increased tension and a ceasefire violation as well as regional tensions with NATO allies. And again, we remain concerned about these recent escalations of Russian aggression and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine. And you had a second question?

QUESTION: Yeah, I wondered since we’re talking about Bob Levinson today – I wonder if you’re aware of his name has come up in – of course in the context of a controversy involving Congressman Matt Gaetz, who claims that he’s being extorted as part of a – as part of some kind of shadowy initiative to – where the people who approached him said they could – they could also help with the freeing of Robert Levinson. Have you heard anything about these allegations that would seem to implicate some of your equities if somebody were doing this? Is there any kind of – is there any kind of conversation underway to see what – what’s going on there, if anything?

MS PORTER: I can’t confirm that we’ve had any conversations when it comes to Mr. Levinson and Congressman Gaetz. And that being the case, I would have to refer you to the – either the campaign or the congressional office of Congressman Gaetz.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

OPERATOR: Okay, Jiha, your line is open. I apologize for the delay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said on Wednesday that he looks forward to seeing Washington to consider more positively on the idea of an end to the Korean War – so-called an end-of-war declaration. So what’s the State Department’s or this administration’s position on this idea?

Also, could you give us an update or tell us more details on the meeting of the three national security advisors? I know you mentioned about this earlier, but I’m wondering if you could share with us more. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. As far as meeting details from the trilateral meeting, I’ll have to refer you to the White House. I’m sure they’ll have a readout that they will publish after the meeting. And as far as your first question, we’ll have to take that back for you.

Let’s go to the line of Pranshu Verma.

OPERATOR: And Pranshu, your line is open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) confirm whether the Biden administration is going to reverse the executive order allowing – that President Trump passed authorizing sanctions on ICC personnel?

MS PORTER: We don’t have anything to announce at this time on the ICC, but I suspect we’ll actually have an announcement later today that will be published. Thanks.

Let’s go to the line of Mouhamed Elahmed.

OPERATOR: Mouhamed, you’re all open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. (Inaudible.)

MS PORTER: Hi, I’m having trouble – I’m having trouble hearing you, Mouhamed.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Okay, I can hear you now.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you for doing this. I have a question about Afghanistan. I’m wondering if you have any update about special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meetings and consultations in Doha. And also, how are the consultations and the preparations for the upcoming meeting in Istanbul going so far? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Mouhamed. And as a matter of correction, yes, Ambassador Khalilzad is currently in Doha and he is currently meeting with both the Islamic Republic and Taliban negotiating teams to push for further progress and a reduction in violence. And of course he’s meeting with other international partners to explore how the community can both help both sides accelerate the peace process.

Now, when it comes to the meeting, upcoming meeting in Turkey, Special Representative Khalilzad recently traveled to meet with Turkish counterparts on the upcoming conference on the Afghanistan peace process held in Istanbul. And we’re encouraged by the international community’s interest in accelerating the peace process. But for further details when it comes to Turkey specifically, I would have to refer you to the Turkish Government.

Let’s go to the line of Muath Alamri.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Happy Friday. Thank you for doing this and allow me to ask. My question is about Iran. Since the U.S. and Iran agreed to talk to each other indirectly, who is going to be the mediator, your back channel here? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you. This definitely seems to be a common question today, but I’ll just underscore that we don’t have any announcements today on who will serve as U.S. representation in that meeting. We’ll certainly share that when we do have those details.

Let’s go to the line of Soyoung Kim, please.

QUESTION: Oh, hello.

OPERATOR: Soyoung, you’re open. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. I was actually going to ask you a similar question regarding the trilateral meeting today, and then you answered. But if I could just make one – you said that the review of North Korea policy is complete soon. So when can we actually expect to see the result? And then, will there be, like, a report or a press briefing on this? So what kind of form that we are going to see the review. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We don’t have a specific timeline on when the review will be complete. But of course, when we do have an update to that, I’m sure obviously through our channels at the State Department as well as the White House we will be releasing that through specific statements. But we don’t have all those details ironed out at this time.

We’ll take one final caller from Joseph Haboush.

OPERATOR: Mr. Haboush, your line is open. Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Thanks. I wanted to ask if the U.S. consulted with its allies in the Gulf and in Israel ahead of next week’s talks. And secondly, will you guys be carrying any of their concerns into the talks next week? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So we certainly won’t preview any private diplomatic discussions. But again, I’ll reiterate what was shared earlier in that the issues that will be discussed are nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the terms of the JCPOA as well as the sanction relief steps that the United States would need to take in order to return to the compliance as well.

This concludes today’s briefing. Thank you all so much for joining today, and I hope you have a nice weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)

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Department Press Briefing – March 26, 2021

26 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:15 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and Happy Friday. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing. I have a few updates I’d like to share at the top, and then we’ll resume taking your questions.

The United States condemns the PRC’s state-led social media campaign and corporate and consumer boycott against companies, including American, European, and Japanese businesses, for their decision to avoid inputs using Xinjiang cotton because of forced labor. And we commend and stand with companies that adhere to the U.S. laws and ensure products we are consuming are not made with forced labor.

We continue – we support and encourage businesses to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The Department of State congratulates Bangladesh on its 50th anniversary of independence. Since the early days of Bangladesh’s independence, the United States and Bangladesh have invested in people-to-people, economic, and humanitarian ties that bind us to this day. The United States values its friendship with Bangladesh, which is based on a commitment to human rights and democracy. We look forward to enhancing our strong cooperation with Bangladesh as a partner on addressing some of the most pressing regional and global challenges, such as climate change and the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. The department extends its best wishes to Bangladesh on its milestone Golden Jubilee.

And finally, later today, Secretary Blinken will deliver closing remarks during the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting. This year’s National Meeting is virtual and brings together 1,000 private- and public-sector leaders who partner with the Department of State to implement international exchange programs in local communities across the country.

In 2020, the Global Ties U.S. Network worked with the Department of State to organize virtual exchange programs for over 2,300 participants in 185 countries. Secretary Blinken will highlight the importance of maintaining our connections with people from other countries and how citizen diplomacy is fundamental to achieving many of our foreign policy priorities.

Over the past 60 years, the State Department has worked with the Global Ties U.S. Network to foster international people-to-people ties through exchange programs such as the International Visitor Leadership Program.

And with that, I’ll give it a few minutes for those of us oncoming to get in the queue before I start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, just a quick reminder: If you do have a question, please press 1 then 0, and if you could pause for just a few moments after your name is announced to get our system to open up your line.

MS PORTER: Can we go to the line of Janne Pak, please?

QUESTION: You mean Janne Pak?

MS PORTER: Yes, Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Jalina. I’m Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea. I have a few questions for you on the North Korean missile launch and on human rights issues. First question is yesterday President Biden said that – about the North Korean launched missiles it’s going to be a diplomatic solution the U.S. will take it. But if North Korea doesn’t want a diplomatic approach, what options do you have?

Second question: Are you also on military option possible on North Korea?

And also another question for the human rights issues. Recently, South Korea was (inaudible) from the adoption of the UN Security Council North Korean human rights resolutions. How does the U.S. (inaudible)? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Janne. I’ll just start off by saying that the United States condemns the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile launches, and these launches certainly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and, frankly, threaten the region and the broader international community. And I know you mentioned the President’s comments yesterday. I mean, he was pretty clear in his press conference that we’ll just say that President Biden and the national security team are continuing to assess the situation, and we know that one of our greatest priorities right now is ensuring that we’re on the same page as our allies and partners when it comes to the DPRK.

Can we go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi, please?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I was wondering if you could tell us what the State Department thinks of the announcement by Addis Ababa that Eritrean troops will leave Tigray if it’s sufficient that – or if you ask more for going forward? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for the question. I’ll start off by saying that we’re certainly encouraged by Prime Minister Abiy’s announcement that the government of the state of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia. The immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region will be an important step in de-escalating the conflict as well as restoring regional peace and stability.

And as Secretary Blinken has noted before, we’re certainly grateful to Senator Coons for traveling to Ethiopia on behalf of the President and his role in making this happen. And we appreciate the time and the deliberation that Prime Minister Abiy has provided in meeting and with the senator and continuing to engage on our concerns with the ongoing crisis in the Tigray region.

Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jalina. I hope you’re well today. Immigration has been a topical issue for the United States. I wonder as the – your – as the Biden administration thinks about making changes, will there be any considerations in terms of, for example, Africans who are watching what is happening on the southern border but maybe already are in the United States, or is this mainly going to be a U.S.-Mexico issue?

Will you be considering asylum – African asylum speakers who perhaps have already been in the United States, say, for many years? We – I’ve been hearing from the Department of Homeland Security that they have been back – they have a backlog that maybe extends as far back as 2016. How far true is this? And what can Africans hope for in terms of immigration? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. I’ll just open it up by saying the Biden administration certainly prioritizes responsible and safe migration practices, and this doesn’t preclude anyone, whether you’re in the Northern Triangle or Central America or whether you are from Africa.

So we say to those in Africa who are looking at what’s going on along the border is that our primary message we’re sending to all of our foreign audiences is that the border is and always has been closed to irregular migration, and anyone seeking to come to the U.S. should seek to do so via legal pathways. And we’re also working to highlight the United States commitment to working with our partners – our government partners, NGOs, international organizations, as well as the private sector – to properly address the root causes of irregular migration.

Can we please go to the line of Matt Lee, please?

QUESTION: Hi, there. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hey, Matt. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. Happy Friday. Listen, I’m sorry, I kept getting – I kept losing – my line kept dropping, so I’m not sure if any of these have been asked. They’re very brief. They’re all about the Middle East, though.

One, is there anything you can say more specific than what Jen said at the White House briefing about what you guys might have offered or the Egyptians might have requested in terms of aid about the ship that’s stuck in the canal?

Two, the Iraqis say that the dialogue will resume virtually – the strategic dialogue on April 7th. Can you confirm that?

Three, the Palestinians: You guys announced yesterday $15 million for humanitarian aid for COVID. My question is about whether this signals that there’s going to be a resumption in aid to the Palestinian Authority. And then, related to that, I did get an answer to my question the other day about the threat from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade against Fadi – American citizen Fadi Elsalameen, but I’m just wondering if you guys have told the Palestinians or made any representations to the Palestinians about whether this needs to be condemned or not. And that’s it. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your rounds of questions, Matt. I’ll start with the first one, and probably reiterate what some of – our White House press secretary has already said. But the Biden administration is tracking the situation closely and we understand that Egyptian officials are working to remove the tanker as soon as possible and continue traffic. And as a part of the active dialogue with Egypt, we’ve offered U.S. assistance to Egyptian authorities to help reopen the canal, and we’re also consulting with our Egyptian partners on how best we can support their efforts. And if we do need to respond appropriately, then we’ll do so when and if necessary.

To your second question, on Iraq, and I’m not able to confirm any date of the dialogue, but I’ll just reiterate that the dialogues are a way to comprehensively review and discuss our broad strategic partnership, and that includes our cultural, economic, and diplomatic relationship. And again, we just – we certainly look forward to these discussions with Iraqi leaders.

To your last question, I will have to take that one back. We don’t have any comment at this time. But thanks for calling in.

Let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to just follow up on your statement at the top. What prompted this statement about forced labor in China? Are you hearing concern from U.S. companies? Just a little bit more context about that opening statement. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Well, I mean, the impetus for our opening statement is to simply support and encourage businesses when it comes to human rights and making sure that we’re standing with companies that are adhering to U.S. law when it comes to, like, proper labor practices and that, and make sure that we are doing our part to not in any way support forced labor.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan. Not there?

Let’s go to the line of Beatriz Pascual.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Great. I have a question about Venezuela. Yesterday, Ambassador James Story, he did an interview with a Venezuelan online channel, VPItv. He said that the administration is trying to locate in the United States some people who are connected to the Maduro government, and he mentioned that some of these people might be in Miami and he considered that those people should not have the opportunity to live outside Venezuela. Could you please provide me some details about this? Who are the people in this list and what type of criteria is being used to put people on this list? What are you looking for? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We’ll just candidly say that we’re not familiar with this list, I’m not familiar with this to give an official comment on it. But I’ll just reiterate that the overriding goal of the United States is to support the people of Venezuela, and that includes the peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela as well as free and fair presidential elections, and quite frankly, to rebuild the lives of their country.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to follow up on Francesco’s question about Ethiopia. Does the U.S. believe that peacekeeping forces need to be sent into Tigray once the Eritrean troops are out? And then, has anyone been named as special envoy for the Horn of Africa yet? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Jennifer. So no to your second question. Nobody has been named as a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. And we’ll certainly make that announcement when we have it.

To your first question on what’s going on in Ethiopia, again, we will continue to applaud Senator Coons for his travel and the work that he has done as the presidential emissary on behalf of President Biden. And again, we certainly welcome Prime Minister Abiy’s public commitment to hold accountable those who are responsible for human rights violations and other atrocities in the region.

Let’s go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. I want to ask you about Yemen. Can you tell us if the State Department, especially the – Tim Lenderking is in Muscat? Have you been in contact with the Houthis? Are you trying to entice them to come back to the negotiation table? If there’s any recent contacts that you had with them through mediators, like Oman? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I can confirm U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking is in Muscat, and it’s going to be the first stop on a regional trip. He is there meeting with government officials. And again, you might have seen this, but we had a media note that went out yesterday just highlighting this, but I’ll just reiterate that he’s there in coordination with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths as well. And again, this is going to be an ongoing joint discussion on our international efforts to promote peace and a lasting ceasefire in Yemen, and again, an inclusive peace agreement as well as to address our efforts of the country’s dire humanitarian crisis.

Can we please go to the line of Will Mauldin?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thanks so much for having this. I was just trying to understand a little bit more the China/Xinjiang statement. Is this essentially a warning to U.S. businesses not to back off from avoiding products with forced labor or Xinjiang cotton and that more U.S. businesses should do the same thing? Is that how the U.S. is reacting, or is it a warning to Beijing not to penalize U.S. or Western or Japanese companies for that behavior? And if it’s the latter, are there any tools or sanctions, or does State and Commerce have any levers to make sure China doesn’t discriminate against U.S. firms? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I mean, the way I would categorize it is that we are standing in solidarity with companies that are adhering to U.S. law and, again, these laws and making sure that the products that we’re standing by are not made with forced labor. So, I mean, I wouldn’t categorize it as anything other than that.

Let’s please go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION: Hello, Jalina. Happy Friday. Thank you. The Taliban have reacted pretty badly to President Biden’s comments yesterday. They issued a threat to resume attacks on U.S.-led international forces if they’re not out by May the 1st. So I’m wondering, is the administration trying to persuade the Taliban to extending the deadline? What kind of feedback has it received, and is it taking measures to increase the security for the U.S.-led forces there?

And my second, super-quick question is: Russian deputy defense minister met with the Myanmar junta leader and talked about strengthening military ties. What does the U.S. think about this visit at the time when you’re basically trying to build a coalition of countries and increase the pressure on junta to relinquish power? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Humeyra. I will take your first one first. I’ll just – I won’t get ahead of what the President already said. He was really clear in his press conference yesterday about the deadline and we won’t go any further than that.

But when it comes to your second question on Russia and what’s going on in Burma, we’ll just – again, we’ll continue to say that we condemn the continued attacks of the Burmese military when it comes to the people of Burma. And again, we’re – continue to be concerned when it comes to those who are unjustly detained, and the United States has called on the military to cease violence and unjust detentions specifically to journalists and many others who are there as well.

We’ll take one last question from Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, yes. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for taking my question. Thank you. I have two questions for you on North Korea. So as a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. would work with partners and members of the Security Council on significant measures to hold the DPRK accountable, I would like to ask you to elaborate on the significant measures. What measures are we talking about? Is there any specific measures you are considering?

And my second question is about your policy review on North Korea. So given the current situation where North Korea fired a ballistic missile, I’d like to know if it would affect your policy review and its outcome, because it seems like the situation is now much different. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I’ll just reiterate some comments that we said earlier to this, in that the United States condemns the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile launches. These launches clearly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the region as well as the broader community. North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs constitute serious threats to international peace and security, and they also undermine global nonproliferation regimes. I can’t underscore enough that the President and his national security team are continuing to assess the situation, and one of our greatest priorities right now is ensuring that we’re on the same page as our allies and partners.

So this concludes Friday’s press briefing. Again, thank you all for joining today and hope you have a good weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – March 23, 2021

23 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:02 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing. I have just a few updates I’d like to share with you, and then we’ll start by taking your questions.

As you know, Secretary Blinken arrived in Brussels yesterday evening to attend the NATO Foreign Ministerial, engage with European leaders, and meet with Belgian officials.

The Secretary’s program is well underway.  Today, he participated in a Moderated Conversation with Secretary General Stoltenberg and had a meeting with the Secretary General.  The Secretary noted our steadfast commitment to the NATO Alliance, which has been the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and stability for the transatlantic community for more than 70 years.  He also reaffirmed that our commitment to mutual defense under Article 5 is unshakable and noted that we would consult closely on common security challenges and work toward mutually advantageous ways to share responsibility for our common defense.  Secretary Blinken is also participating in the NATO ministerial sessions and has additional bilateral and multilateral meetings planned.

The Secretary looks forward to his additional meetings and engagements today, as well as to his meetings tomorrow and Thursday with European Union and Belgian Government leaders.

The Secretary’s engagements in Brussels emphasize the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance and reinvigorate our ties with allies and partners.

Moving on, today, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution to promote human rights in Sri Lanka.  The United States co-sponsored this resolution and together with the international community calls on Sri Lanka to safeguard the rights of ​ethnic and religious minorities, human rights defenders, and civil society actors, and to take credible and meaningful steps to address its past, promote reconciliation, and guarantee equal access to justice for all its people.

The resolution expands reporting requirements for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and includes a mandate to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes and expresses concern about the trends over the past year.  The long-term security and prosperity of Sri Lanka depends on respecting human rights today and committing to peace and reconciliation for the future.

With that, we’ll give it a few minutes for folks to join the queue and we’ll start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: And once again, it’s 1 and then 0 for your questions or comments.

MS PORTER: Let’s start off on the line of Matt Lee, please.

OPERATOR: And Matt, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yeah. Hey, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Matt.

QUESTION: Yes? Okay, great. I’ve got three really brief ones, or at least I expect they’ll be really brief.

In order, one, there were reports out of Iraq, out of Baghdad, that the Iraqis have asked for a resumption in talks about U.S. troop withdrawal. And I’m just wondering if you guys have gotten that request – apparently, it was sent to Ambassador Tueller – and if you have gotten it, if you have anything to say about it.

Secondly, after the Secretary’s tweets last night about having spoken with Senator Coons about his trip, the senator’s trip to Ethiopia, I’m wondering if you guys have anything more to say about that.

And then the last, I’m wondering if you are aware of – and if you are, if you have any comment about – death threats that have been issued to a Palestinian American human rights activist named Fadi Elsalameen that came from a branch of Fatah, which is the Palestinian president’s political party. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Matt. I’ll start off by saying we can definitely take your question in regards to Senator Coons and his visit to Ethiopia. For the other two, we’ll definitely have to get back to you.

But just to talk about that trip, Senator Coons had a successful visit when he traveled to Ethiopia, and obviously on behalf of President Biden. He went there, obviously, as a presidential emissary and expressed concerns – he expressed our concern for the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

And the reason we’re calling it successful is because Prime Minister Abiy publicly committed to deepening in a meaningful dialogue with the international community to address this conflict in Tigray, and he also shared publicly that he condemns the human rights violations that are going on. And again, we are grateful for Senator Coons traveling on our behalf to Ethiopia.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil.

OPERATOR: Casey, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks, Jalina. So just on China’s detention of the two Michaels, I’m sure we all saw the tweet that Secretary Blinken sent out earlier. But President Biden has pledged that the United States would play a “significant role” in assisting Canada with securing the release of the two Michaels. So with that being said, has Secretary Blinken or any other senior U.S. official discussed the case of the two Michaels with any senior Chinese officials? And two, why hasn’t the United States imposed sanctions on China specifically tied to the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Casey. As far as your questions concerning any conversations between the Secretary and PRC officials, we definitely don’t have any comment on that. But we can’t underscore enough that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for the immediate release of both Michaels, Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, and continue to condemn the lack of minimal procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

OPERATOR: Jiha, your line is open.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Hi, Jalina. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson today said sanctions and pressure on North Korea won’t solve anything. Do you have any comment on that? Also, this administration has been stressing the importance of coordinating with allies like South Korea and Japan when it comes to North Korea. How about China? How important is it for you to engage with China on this issue? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. I will just reiterate what we have said previously in that the United States has a vital interest in deterring North Korea, defending against its provocations or use of force, limiting the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs, and above all keeping Americans safe and keeping our allies and partners in the region safe.

I’ll just also say that the Biden administration is currently reviewing our approach when it comes a broader North Korea policy, and that’s all we’ll say about that.

Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.

QUESTION: Hello. Hi. Can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. I was wondering, the French President Macron just said that France will reopen their – its embassy in Libya, in Tripoli. I know this administration has been trying to coordinate steps with its Western allies, so I wonder if you guys have any plans to do the same, to reopen the embassy in Tripoli and not in Tunis. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi. Thank you for your question. I definitely want to just remind and reiterate some of the points we’ve talked about our embassy in Libya previously. And again, the history of it is that the embassy in Libya – our operations suspended there in 2014, but we do have an ambassador to Libya who works in our embassy in Tunisia. And obviously, he travels to the region periodically for meetings, and our intent is to begin a process of resuming the U.S. embassy operations opening in Libya as soon as the security situation permits. And again, when we have an update on that, we obviously will be sure to announce that, and you’ll be the first to know. Thank you.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, if you can hear me.

OPERATOR: Your line is open, Laura.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for taking my question. Is there worry within the Biden administration that the hardline stance against the Chinese Government contributes to attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community here at home, given the reaction to the shootings in Atlanta where six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent, and the protests that have taken place in the aftermath?

MS PORTER: Well, for that specifically I’d have to refer you to the White House, but I can’t say enough and can’t underscore enough that both President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made it abundantly clear that violence, particularly violence aimed at our Asian American citizens, is unwelcome in the United States of America. And yeah, for more details on that, I’d – again, I’d have to refer you to the White House.

Let’s go to the line of Nicole Gaouette.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) President Biden is going to be addressing NATO —

OPERATOR: Nicole, your line is open. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, please wait for me to announce that your line is open before you speak. Please, go ahead, Nicole.

QUESTION: Thank you. Matt has asked my question about Iraq, so I hope you share whatever answers you have widely. I wanted to ask when we might expect an announcement on Afghanistan, and whether it might come tomorrow, when I understand President Biden is set to address NATO virtually. And then I have a question about Haiti on behalf of a colleague.

MS PORTER: So I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the President, but I will say that we haven’t made any decisions about our posture in Afghanistan after May 1. But again, we’ll have to wait till President Biden makes his announcement from – directly from himself. And I’ll take your next question on Haiti, please.

QUESTION: Okay. And that is: Why is the U.S. supporting Haiti’s plans to hold a constitutional referendum this summer, given that changing the constitution by referendum is expressly forbidden in the current constitution?

MS PORTER: Well, I will say broadly that it’s the responsibility of Haiti’s government to organize elections that are free, fair, and credible. And the U.S. certainly joins the international community in calling Haitian stakeholders to come together and find a way forward, and that we know the Haitian people deserve the best opportunity to elect their leaders and to restore their democratic institutions.

Let’s go to the line of Erin Ji, Radio Free Asia, please.

OPERATOR: And Erin, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Just another follow-up on North Korea. North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged messages reaffirming cooperation, but North Korea has not responded to U.S. Government’s efforts to reach out. So I was wondering if you have any comment on North Korea seeking to reach out and strengthen its ties with China. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. We won’t comment on the relations between North Korea and China, but thank you for your question.

Let’s go to the line of Pearl Atibe.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for taking my question today, Jalina. I appreciate that. It’s a two-part question.

My first question is a follow-up to the statement yesterday by Ned Price on Zimbabwe. And I just wanted to find out if you have any comment for those of our audience who might say these are perhaps iterations of regime change, and at the same time you have a different audience who might say solutions to – for Africa by Africans is not working for the majority.

What kind of comment would you say in the face – for instance, this week, the president in Zimbabwe is putting forth two bills, one on cyber security which he intends to set up interception of communications of the population, and also amendments to the constitution which will basically serve to increase the powers of the executive at the expense of the legislature and the judiciary.

My second part of the question is: Does the Biden administration have an approach to countries in our region (inaudible) Africa, that are where you might compete with China and Russia when some countries are increasing their ties with China and Russia? Is that – does your administration have an approach to this phenomena? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions, Pearl. I’ll start off with your first one and say that this administration will continue to promote democracy of Zimbabwean citizens, and we will also call on the Government of Zimbabwe to comply with its obligation to respect these freedoms of expression and freedoms of association enshrined in their constitution.

Secondly, to your question on how we’ll approach Africa when it comes to competing with China and Russia, I can’t underscore enough that we will always come from a posture of strength when it comes to that. The Biden administration prioritizes Africa, and we definitely want those there to know that and then to understand that as well, and we will intend to engage African countries as partners in pursuing our shared interests and values. And that’s everything from security, global health, climate change, democracy, and again, shared prosperity. And so we want to make sure that our policies are including strengthening your democratic institutions and advancing peace, as well as developing trade, investment, and promoting sustainable health in the region. So I hope your listeners will be able to take that back, and thank you so much for calling today.

Let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen.

OPERATOR: Michele, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to follow up on Matt’s question about Ethiopia. Senator Coons said he was optimistic that there is going to be humanitarian access to the Tigray region now. Do you share that optimism?

And then one personnel question: Now that Deputy Secretary McKeon is in place, when will we see a nomination for the diversity officer – chief diversity officer and other assistant secretaries and other appointments? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I definitely want to reiterate that Senator Coons had successful meetings in Ethiopia, and they were productive. I mean, him meeting with Prime Minister Abiy on a range of issues, including making sure that Prime Minister Abiy’s views on human rights violations were public, that was – underscored how important those meetings were and how much we appreciate the senator for taking his time to travel there.

And we’ll also say that Prime Minister Abiy has consistently reiterated that – his government’s commitment to provide unhindered humanitarian access and to also move forward the notification system for humanitarian operators to travel throughout Tigray was welcomed from Senator Coons. And again, we will continue to underscore that – Prime Minister Abiy’s humanitarian operators’ need for both extended visas as well as to continue to progress on outstanding issues as well. So again, this was just a first step, but it was a first step in the right direction. So if there are any updates later, we’ll be sure to make those available.

To your second question on appointments and personnel, we don’t have any updates when it comes to personnel. And I think your first question was about the chief diversity and inclusion officer, and we can’t underscore enough that not only President Biden has made it a policy priority to include racial equity as a part of his term; and then, obviously, Secretary Blinken has made it very clear to the workforce that diversity, equity, inclusion will be embedded in every part of what we do, not only from creating this office but making sure that at the deputy assistant secretary level within every bureau that this is a top-down effort and that we’re all working to making sure that inclusion is a part of our national security priority because it strengthens us.

But again, when it comes to actually announcing the people for those positions, we don’t have anything to announce today, and what we – hopefully that will be soon, and we’ll be able to get that information to you as soon as we have an announcement to share.

Let’s go to the line of Nick Schifrin, please.

OPERATOR: And Nick, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jalina. Two questions related to COVID and global issues. One is vaccine diplomacy. The U.S. is now about a quarter of the world’s production but pretty much zero percent of the export. Do you have any updates on exporting of vaccines, whether it’s Mexico, Canada, or anywhere else in the world that the U.S. is considering or may be doing that I’m just missing?

And two, on AstraZeneca, as the Europeans know all too well, there are major concerns about that. Have there been any Americans in Europe, whether working for the State Department or not, that the State Department is aware of who have been getting AstraZeneca and/or are caught up in the questions about AstraZeneca in Europe? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Nick. So to your second question, we’ll have to get back to that, but to take your first question, as you know, the Biden administration has been very serious and very rapid when it comes to COVID diplomacy and being a leader in solving the global pandemic when it comes to COVID-19. And as you’re probably aware, but the United States is also the world’s largest single donor supporting COVAX, and to date the $2 billion represents nearly 40 percent of all commitments to COVAX, again, which pools the demand for funding, helping fund low and middle-income economies. And – but at the end of the day, we can’t do this alone, and we certainly call on others to raise the ambition for global access when it comes to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

OPERATOR: Said, your line is open. Said, your line is open. Please check your mute button. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hello? Can – okay. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very kindly. Very quickly, the Israelis revoked the travel document of the Palestinian foreign minister. I know I asked about this before and you guys had no comment, but I’m surprised that you have no comment, because if there’s anyone who is likely to travel and meet with the Americans and so on, whether – at any point, would be this foreign minister, Riyad Maliki. So you still don’t have any comment on the fact that the Israelis revoked his travel document?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. Our position on that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple of follow-ups. Also the Israelis are set to demolish maybe 200 homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area, which is part of East Jerusalem, maybe displacing a few thousand Palestinians. Do you have a position on that?

MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just say that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.

And with that, I’ll take one final question from Hiba Nasr.

OPERATOR: And Hiba, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina, for doing this. I wanted to ask, is the Secretary planning to meet his Turkish counterpart in Brussels? And I want to ask about a letter sent by senators to President Biden to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide. Is the administration considering taking such a step?

MS PORTER: From what I heard of your question, I believe you asked about Armenia, but we don’t have any change in our current policy to announce on that.

And with that, thank you all for calling in today, and I appreciate your time.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)

 

Department Press Briefing – March 22, 2021

22 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:10 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER:  Good afternoon, and thank you for joining today’s briefing.  I have three updates at the top, and then we’ll resume taking your questions.

Today, I’m happy to highlight the appointment of the new U.S. Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle Richard Zúñiga.  Special Envoy Zúñiga is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with extensive experience in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, at the National Security Council, and at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The special envoy will advise the Secretary and acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, coordinate closely with the National Security Council, and oversee the department’s comprehensive efforts to manage regional migration and address root causes of migration.

The special envoy will engage with regional governments, including but not limited to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, on a range of issues and will hold government actors accountable for their commitments to address root causes of migration and to address the increase of – in arrivals of unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border.  He will also keep Congress apprised of our efforts.  This is one of our highest priorities.

Next, the United States welcomes Saudi Arabia and Republic of Yemen Government’s commitment to a ceasefire and political process in Yemen. U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking has been extensively engaged with the UN, Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni Government, Oman, and other regional partners to reach a ceasefire and ease the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Discussions in support of peace efforts are ongoing.  We call on all parties to commit seriously to a ceasefire immediately and engage in negotiations under the auspices of the UN.

And finally, on Syria, the United States strongly condemns reported Assad regime artillery and Russian airstrikes that killed civilians in western Aleppo and Idlib yesterday, including the Al-Atareb Hospital.

Civilians, including civilian medical personnel and facilities, must never be the target of military action.  This violence must stop.  We reiterate our call for a nationwide ceasefire.

And we’ll give a few minutes for those coming into the queue before we start taking your questions.  Let’s go to the line of Matt Lee, please.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi, Matt. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Thanks. On the Yemen thing, I’m just wondering – it’s been a month, month and a half now since you guys lifted the FTO designation on the Houthis and removed the three leaders from the terrorism part of the SDGT list and the situation has gotten worse, not better, by all demonstrable means.  So I’m just wondering is this something, this Saudi proposal, Saudi/Yemen Government proposal for a ceasefire something that you guys have been encouraging?  Do you have any hope that it might improve either the humanitarian situation or the situation with Houthi attacks on Saudi soil? Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Matt. I’ll just reiterate what we said at the top, which was that the United States certainly welcomes Saudi Arabia as well as the Republic of Yemen’s Government commitment to a ceasefire and political process in Yemen.  And as you know, Special Envoy Tim Lenderking has been engaged with the UN and Saudi Arabia as well as the Yemeni Government and other regional partners to reach this ceasefire, and again, just end the suffering of the Yemeni people.  The discussions are – in support of peace are ongoing, and we call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire immediately and engage in negotiations under auspices of the UN.

OPERATOR:  We will now go to Nadia Bilbassy, Al Arabiya. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, Jalina, for doing this.  Just to follow up on Yemen again, you’re saying that you welcome the Saudi proposal to end the war, and you call on all parties to come back.  But I mean, part of this is the Yemeni Government and the Saudis, they already committed to a ceasefire.  So why you’re not calling the Houthis by name?  And what kind of leverage you have on them to bring them to the negotiation table now that everybody on the same page?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Nadia.  And again, I – we just can’t underscore enough that we call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire and engage in negotiations under UN auspices, which were in conjunction with U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking.  And that’s something that we’ll continue to do from here on out.

Let’s go to the line of Lara Jakes.

QUESTION:  The Houthi spokesman is saying in the region that the Houthis will not agree to discuss a ceasefire until Saudi Arabia first lifts its blockade, so this doesn’t portend for any progress on this particular new initiative.  I’m wondering what is new about it that might have any kind of influence or convince the Houthis otherwise to agree to a ceasefire.  As you know, there have been several attempts, all of which have been unsuccessful, over the last six years. Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Lara.  As we’ve said before, negotiations are ongoing, but again, this new step in the process with the announcement of Saudi Arabia committing to the ceasefire – again, this is one step in the right direction, and again, the U.S. welcomes Saudi Arabia as well as the republic of – Yemeni Government’s commitment to this ceasefire and the political process in Yemen.

Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks, Jalina.  I wanted to ask about the sanctions that were announced earlier with – on actors in Xinjiang and also some on Myanmar.  I was wondering to what extent were these coordinated with the Europeans and the Canadians.  And can you talk a bit about that coordination and how you think that will – what do you think this is going to achieve?  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thank you. I will start with your question on sanctions in Xinjiang.  So the United States, in unity with our partners, imposed sanctions under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program in connection with serious human rights abuses against members in the region’s ethnic and religious minority groups. Despite growing international condemnation, the PRC continues to commit atrocities in Xinjiang, and the United States reiterates its call on the PRC to bring an end to the suffering of the Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those who are arbitrarily detained in internment camps or detention facilities, and other abuses as well.

And to you question on Burma, I know we issued a statement earlier today. I can reiterate that a little bit, but I’d have to direct you to that as well.  Again, today’s sanctions against the Burma chief of police, special operations commander, as well as two army units underscore the United States commitment to promote accountability for those responsible for the violence against people in Burma, which we continue to condemn.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Triangle and the announcement today of a special envoy.  In your announcement, you mentioned that he will help coordinate the $4 billion plan by the President for the region.  Will any of that money go to President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s administration given the accusations against him by U.S. prosecutors?

And then second, is there any readout from Senator Coons’s trip to Ethiopia? Was he able to meet with Prime Minister Abiy?  And if not, why not?

MS PORTER:  Hi, Conor. So to answer your second question first, we don’t have any update to the trip.  If there is a readout, we will be sure to make sure that you receive that. And to your first question, specific to money in the region, we’ll have to get back to you on that.

Let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Saudi announcement.  And on Lebanon, the Lebanese, the political leaders are still fighting.  And the situation, the economic and financial situation, is deteriorating.  Do you have any comment on that?

MS PORTER:  So I didn’t hear the first part of your question, so I’ll answer your question on Lebanon and just say that we’re concerned by the developments in Lebanon and apparent inaction of the country’s leadership in faces of the multiple ongoing crises.  Lebanon’s political leaders need to put aside their partisan brinkmanship and form a government that will quickly implement critical and long-needed reform, restore investor confidence, and rescue the country’s economy.

QUESTION:  And on Yemen, is Ambassador –

MS PORTER:  I’m sorry, I only heard “Yemen” and the ambassador part.  It looks – it sounds like you were cutting out.  So if you want to email us directly offline, we’d be happy to take that.  Thank you.

Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin, please.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question specifically about coordination of the China and other sanctions that we’ve seen.  Is that fair to say that that’s a pattern of this administration?  What benefits or drawbacks, if any, does it have?  Is it different from the past administration to coordinate sanctions and release them simultaneously with other countries?  And should we expect it in the future with China?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Will. Well, I certainly won’t comment on actions made by the previous administration.  We just will underscore that we’ve taken this action today in solidarity with partners in the UK, Canada, and the European Union.  And again, our partners are making sure that these atrocities in Xinjiang and other countries are coming to an end.  And we’re doing this to demonstrate our ongoing commitment in working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights in shining a light on those in the PRC who are – and hold responsible for these atrocities.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil, please.

QUESTION:  So this weekend the AP broke a story on threats that Iran had made against Fort McNair and against the army’s vice chief of staff. Just wondering if you have any comment from the State Department on this and what this may mean for future negotiations with the Iranians.  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for that question.  For this specifically, I’d have to refer you to the Department of Defense.

Let’s go to the line of Nick Wadhams, please.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Jalina.  Foreign Policy had a story thing that the administration intends to point an envoy for the Horn of Africa, and that it’s likely to be Jeffrey Feltman.  I’m wondering if you can confirm that that’s the case.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for the question.  I’ll start by saying that the Department of State hasn’t appointed anyone to this position, first, but we will continue to engage with (inaudible) partners on a range of issues, pursuing our shared interests and values.  Again, consistent with our senior-level —

(Interruption)

MS PORTER:  Excuse me, I think someone is not on mute.

(Interruption)

MS PORTER:  If we could all put ourselves on mute, thank you.  I’m sorry about that, I’ll just reiterate again that the Department of State hasn’t appointed anyone for this position yet.

Let’s go to the line of Al Deron.

(No response.)

MS PORTER:  Let’s go the line of Jiha Ham, please.

QUESTION:  Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Oh, thank you.  So the North Korean national Mun Chol Myong is now in the U.S. facing a trial for his money-laundering activities.  We understand this is an action taken by the Justice Department.  Even so, do you have any concerns that this could cause or create difficulties with North Korea – I mean, for the State Department’s effort to engage with North Korea?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So I’ll just reiterate that the United States remains committed to denuclearizing North Korea, and any other details I would have to refer back.

Let’s go to the line of Jose Sanz.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I have two questions related with the special envoy announcement.  The first one is the fact that Nicaragua was not included in the special envoy priority countries.  Is that the focus for the United States, with the immigration and not democracy in the region?

And the second one, will Zúñiga participate in the inauguration of (inaudible), or make decisions on sanctions to the Central American officials?

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  To your last one, we certainly don’t preview sanctions.  And when it comes to this administration’s commitment in the region, we’re definitely committed to safe and humane migration and democracy overall.  We can’t underscore that enough.  And again, we certainly welcome the announcement of U.S. Special Envoy Zúñiga and look forward to his work.

We’ll take one final question from Ryo Nakamura.  Can we go to the line of Ryo Nakamura, please?

OPERATOR:  That person is not in the Q&A queue.  One moment.  Your line is now open.

QUESTION:  Okay, can you hear me now?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Okay, and thank you.  Thank you for taking my question.  I want to follow up about today’s sanctions on China.  According to Secretary Blinken’s statement, today’s action is taken in solidarity with the UK, Canada, and EU.  But the statement does not mention Japan, the other member of the G7.

Do you think Japan should take a similar action to show solidarity against China’s violation of human rights?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, let me just start off by saying that the U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.  But we certainly won’t make recommendations or legislate what Japan decides to do on their own.

Again, I will point you to the statement that went out earlier today on the impetus of what we did with these sanctions, and essentially that’s promoting accountability for the ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Thank you all for joining today’s briefing.  I appreciate you taking the time, and we’ll be back here at the same time tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – March 19, 2021

19 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

WASHINGTON, D.C.

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s press briefing. I have two quick updates I’d like to share at the top, and then we will go into taking your questions.

Today, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale represented the United States at a meeting of the Coalition for the Sahel.

During his remarks, Under Secretary Hale announced then more than $80 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to the crisis in the Sahel region.

This lifesaving assistance is critical for the survival of nearly three million refugees and internally displaced people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. It will provide them with vital protections, economic opportunity, shelter, essential health care, emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services. It will also help host communities across the Sahel.

The United States is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance both in the Sahel region and globally, and encourages other donors to contribute to these lifesaving efforts.

Next, we strongly condemn today’s drone attacks against Saudi Aramco facilities southeast of Riyadh.

We remain deeply concerned by the frequency of attacks on Saudi Arabia. We have seen that the Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks and condemn the Houthis’ attempts to disrupt global energy supplies by targeting Saudi infrastructure. This behavior shows an utter lack of concern for safety of the civilian population either working or living nearby the sites.

International voices have called for an end to the attacks and an end to the conflict in Yemen. Last week, the United States joined the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy in condemning Houthi aggressive acts directed toward Saudi Arabia and within Yemen itself.

This week, the Gulf Cooperation Council called for an end to the attacks and a return to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict and bring a lasting peace the Yemeni people deserve. And yesterday, the Members of the UN Security Council also condemned the Houthi offensive on Marib and the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia.

These attacks threaten peace efforts at a critical moment when the international community is showing an increasingly united front in resolving the conflict in Yemen.

We call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire and engage in negotiations under UN auspices, in conjunction with U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking.

With that, I will wait a few minutes while our queue populates and start taking your questions.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks so much for doing this again. Happy Friday. So just two quick questions for you, the first on Burma: Can you provide any update on the Department’s review, the interagency review that they’re undertaking – that you’re undertaking, excuse me, with regard to the Rohingya?

And then second question on Senator Coons’ trip to Ethiopia. I know I asked about it yesterday, but just wanted to follow up: Can you provide any additional information on State Department involvement in the trip, if any State Department officials are accompanying him and the like? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Casey, and a Happy Friday to you as well. To answer your first question, Secretary Blinken has committed to reviewing whether the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Burma constitute any specific atrocity crimes and has also expressed deep concern over the Burmese military’s longstanding impunity for past and ongoing abuses. And I’ll also say that the State Department continues to review information related to the military’s abuses against all Burmese people, which includes the Rohingya, to inform and develop policies that help address these abuses and also prevent their future occurrences.

To your next question about the – Senator Coons going to Ethiopia, again, there – we’ll just say that, again, he is there at the request of President Biden, and as you know, they have a close friendship and relationship. And he entrusts him to convey our concerns about the humanitarian crisis ongoing in the Tigray region in the Horn of Africa.

Let’s please go to the line of Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Alaska, if you’re able to talk about that. Obviously, there’s been a lot of reporting since yesterday about how sort of tense the initial encounter was. And there’s been discussions of – I think both sides have accused the other of breaking protocol in those initial exchanges. But I wonder if – does the State Department – based on the tone of that first meeting, does that give you any concern for the future of the relationship with China and the possibility of reaching some agreements or getting some achievables out of these meetings? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Simon, and just as a response to that, of course, as you know, Secretary Blinken and NSA Sullivan had their first meetings with Director Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi, and of course, are in sessions this morning. And these were serious discussions. Again, I’ll just reiterate something that NSA Sullivan said. And of course, to your point about it, the – being contentious or not, again, we – he said we don’t see conflict, but of course, welcome stiff competition.

Again, this was a single meeting, and again, we know that sometimes these diplomatic presentations can be exaggerated or maybe even aimed at a domestic audience, but we’re not letting the theatrics from the other side stop us from doing what we were intending to do in Alaska, which is lay out our principles as well as our expectations and have these tough conversations early that we need to have with the PRC.

Let’s go to the line of Edward Keenan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the Alaska meetings, the two Michaels, Kovrig and – the two Canadian Michaels who are being held as political prisoners in China, widely perceived as leverage against the United States, who are going to trial now as these meetings take place. Secretary Blinken and President Biden expressed their desire to see those two Michaels released when they met with the Canadian prime minister recently. I wonder to what extent those cases are up for discussion in Alaska right now, and if so, like, to what extent and how?

MS PORTER: Well, let me start off by saying that the United States continues to publicly call on the PRC to end the arbitrary and unacceptable detentions of the Canadians citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. And again, the United States is deeply concerned by the PRC’s decision to hold a closed-court hearing with the Canadian citizens. Obviously, no one from – no diplomat from Canada or the U.S. were involved in that. And we’re also deeply alarmed by a report that the PRC will commence the trial of Canadian citizen Michael Kovrig on March 22nd and we renew our call for PRC authorities to attend this trial.

We’ll always just reiterate that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release, and we also continue to condemn their lack of minimum procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention.

Let’s go to the line of Rosalind Jordan.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question about North Korea. Earlier today, the First Vice Foreign Minister of the DPRK, Choe Son-hui – and I may be saying his name incorrectly – issued a statement rebuffing the U.S.’s efforts to recommence contact. And I’m going to read a couple of quick quotes from his lengthy statement: “We make it clear…we won’t give it,” meaning the U.S., “such opportunities ,” again, my words, “as in Singapore and Hanoi again.” And the final statement: “e will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill.” All of that to say that the U.S. needs to stop its hostile actions. In the DPRK’s views, it needs to stop spying, military actions, sanctions, the whole list, before Kim Jong-un will decide to engage again with the Biden administration. Is there a response from the administration to this rebuffing? Does the U.S. believe that this is simply a way of the government trying to build domestic political support for its untenable position, as the global community has suggested?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question, Rosiland. We’ll – I’ll reiterate what we’ve said a few times this week in that the United States is conducting a thorough interagency review of the U.S. policy towards North Korea, and we’re also evaluating all the options available to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea as well as to its neighbors and, quite frankly, our international community. And we’re going to continue to lead a structured and detailed policy process that has an – integrated a diverse set of voices from the government as well as outside of the government, which includes think tanks and outside experts.

Let’s go to the line of Jeongeun Ji.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS PORTER: Hi.

QUESTION: Hi. I also wanted to ask about North Korea’s statement yesterday about Malaysia and the U.S. So North Korea said it will cut off diplomatic relations with Malaysia and the U.S. will pay a price because of the extradition of a North Korean to the U.S. So I wanted to see if you have any comments on this North Korea statement and the ongoing extradition process. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. When it comes to the extradition and just all of that tied to your question, I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice.

Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, and good morning to you, Jalina. My question is regarding the security trainings for forces in Uganda and Nigeria. Can you speak a little bit about the status of your relationship now? There was a report this week in a press conference accusing Uganda of more than 400 abductions, arrests, and so on. So I was wondering, do you feel that the trainings that were taking place in Uganda and Nigeria to take out the LRA and Boko Haram, respectively – do you think that that is working? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. I won’t comment specifically on trainings that are happening in country, but what we will say when it comes to just overall safety and security in the region, specifically to Nigeria and Uganda, that we will continue to support safety and security when it comes to – especially when it comes to children and people who have been targeted for kidnappings. And we remain concerned, especially in Nigeria, when it comes to an uptick in their kidnappings, especially for ransom.

We’ll also say that the United States remains engaged to respond to all the security challenges in Africa, specifically when it comes to Nigeria and Uganda as well, and the State Department currently funds the majority of U.S. Government peace and security assistance in Africa and remains committed to these efforts. Diplomatic and security engagement with U.S. partners in Africa, quite frankly, advances our interests and values. Enhancing our alliances and partnerships in Africa through diplomatic development and security initiatives only enables us to better protect and serve interests – U.S. interests in Africa.

Let’s go to the line of Beatriz Pascual.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I wanted to go back to China. The talks in Alaska are set to conclude today, so I wanted to see if you could please provide us some details about what specific issues are on the table today or some detail about the issues that were discussed yesterday. And also, what specific outcome does the U.S. hope to achieve out of these dialogues? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. Again, we’ll reiterate that Secretary Blinken and NSA Sullivan are in Anchorage having serious discussions. And the goal of the United States delegation coming to Anchorage was to lay out our principles, interests, and values, and that we animate our engagement with Beijing.

Knowing that the exaggerated diplomatic presentations in front of the media are aimed at a domestic audience, we will continue to map out our planned agenda. And again, as I said earlier, that’s to make sure that we will still come from a position of strength and, again, lay out our common interests and principles from the United States.

And again, as Secretary Blinken and NSA Sullivan have already emphasized, America’s approach will be undergirded by confidence in our dealings with Beijing, even as we have the humility to know that we are a country that’s eternally striving to become a more perfect union regardless of any of our shortcomings and challenges we’ve had. We’re always open to meeting these challenges, even in an open forum where everyone’s watching globally, and we know we’ll come out better because of that.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you. On your Human Rights Report on South Korea, not North Korea, there’s one part talking about South Korea’s law abandoning leaflet-sending activities. Some NGOs and North Korean defectors in South Korea argued that they were providing outside information to North Korean people by sending leaflets. What’s your view on this? Do you support these kinds of efforts – maybe not just the leaflets, but overall activities and efforts providing outside information to North Korea?

Also, could you tell us about the new Human Rights Report on North Korea? What’s the State Department’s position when it comes to improving the situation in North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I thank you for your questions. So we actually have not yet rolled out our Human Rights Report. We’ll actually – hopefully that happens soon. And we won’t, again, get ahead of that, and you’ll have an update when that does come out. But we’ll say more broadly speaking, as a global policy, we advocate for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. When it comes to – with regards to the DPRK, we continue to campaign for the free flow of information into the DPRK.

We’ll take one final question from Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thanks for doing this, Jalina. I want to go back to Yemen. I heard your statement, your opening statement, and we had several statements calling for the Houthis to stop attacks against Saudi Arabia. What is the next move? What’s your next move? Are you considering designating the Houthis again? Are you waiting until you sit with the Iranians?

And I have one other question on Lebanon, if you don’t mind, please. People are expecting a total collapse, maybe within weeks, maybe within months. Is the U.S. prepared for such a scenario?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. Again, we will always condemn the Houthis for their attacks on Saudi Arabia. And again, we will always call on them and all parties to commit to a serious ceasefire and engage in negotiations that are specifically UN auspices and also in conjunction with U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking.

I’ll just reiterate that President Biden made it one of his first foreign policy priorities to end the terrible war in Yemen, and in doing so, of course, appointing Special Envoy Lenderking. And he has been engaged with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Saudi Arabia and regional states to put together elements to put together a nationwide ceasefire.

And when it comes to Lebanon, again, we remain deeply concerned about the developments in Lebanon and, of course, the apparent inaction of the country’s leadership that face multiple ongoing crises. Lebanon’s political leaders need to put aside their partisan brinkmanship and form a government that will quickly implement critical and long-needed reform, restore investor confidence, and as well rescue the country’s economy.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you again for joining me this Friday. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you next week.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

# # #

 

Department Press Briefing – March 18, 2021

18 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:01 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing. I have three updates I’d like to share with you at the top, and then I will resume taking your questions.

Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin had positive meetings in Tokyo and Seoul from March 15th through 18th, reaffirming the United States commitment to strengthening two of our most important alliances and highlighting cooperation that promotes peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.

Later today in Anchorage, Alaska, Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with Director of the Office of Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi.  The meeting will follow the important work we’re doing in the region.

The meetings in Anchorage will be an opportunity to make clear our priorities and interests, and to continue to press the PRC on issues where the U.S. and the international community expect transparency and accountability, and to understand where we may have interests in cooperating, including climate change.

This will be a frank conversation in calling out Beijing’s actions to defy their international commitments, undermine the rule-based international system, and challenge the security, prosperity, and values of the United States and our partners and alliances. We are coming to these discussions clear-eyed about China’s unsettling track record of failure to keep its promises.

Next, the United States welcomes UN Secretary-General Guterres’s announcement yesterday where he named Jean Arnault of France to be his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues.

Mr. Arnault will assist with the achievement of a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, working closely with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as well as regional partners.  He brings decades of experience finding political solutions to some of the world’s most dire conflicts, including past service on Afghanistan and as the Secretary-General’s delegate to the Colombia peace talks.

The UN has a critical role to play in bringing the Afghan sides and regional stakeholders together to find a path toward a just and durable peace, and the United States strongly supports Mr. Arnault’s appointment to this important role.

Finally, today the United States announced nearly $52 million in additional humanitarian assistance to respond to the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. With this announcement, the United States has provided a total of nearly $153 million in humanitarian assistance since the crisis began.

This assistance from the American people will help some of the estimated 4.5 million people in need in Tigray and the nearly 62,000 refugees who have fled to Sudan. It will allow our partners to provide lifesaving aid, including urgently needed food assistance, and also help our partners re-establish contact between family members who have been separated due to the conflict.

We will continue to call for the immediate, full, safe, and unhindered access for humanitarian organizations and workers and to emphasize the need for a political solution to the conflict and the immediate cessation of hostilities. We have repeatedly engaged with the Ethiopian Government on the importance of ending the violence and allowing full and independent international investigations into all reports of human rights abuses and atrocities.

And with that, can we go to the line of Michel Ghandour?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) call. I have three questions, in fact. The first one, Iraqi President Barham Salih has said that the presence of the American and the Coalition troops in Iraq is about to end. Is there any American decision in this regard? And I will ask you the two questions later on.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Michel. I don’t have any specific comment to make on the prime minister’s remarks, but what I can say is that the topic is – the Coalition’s troop presence is at the request of our Iraqi partners and that we remain committed to maintaining a security partnership.

All right. Your other two questions, please?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) discuss the possibility of reopening the U.S. embassy in Tripoli with the new leadership with Libya during his last trip to Libya?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. So our embassy inside Libya suspended operations in 2014. However, we still have an ambassador to the mission and mission to Libya based in our embassy in Tunisia. Ambassador Richard Norland has been the ambassador to Libya since 2019, and even though he works from Tunis, Ambassador Norland and his team travel periodically to Libya for meetings.

And I’ll take your last question.

QUESTION: My last question: Is the U.S. considering providing any humanitarian aid to Lebanon or financial aid to the Lebanese army after the collapse of the financial institutions and the economy in Lebanon?

MS PORTER: Well, the United States has been long – has been a long-term commitment to the Lebanese people over several decades. And again, we’ll continue to stand with them as they face multiple and ongoing crises.

In fact, we’ve been the largest international donor, having donated more than $5.3 billion in foreign assistance since 2006. In the 2020 fiscal year alone, the United States contributed nearly $396 million in humanitarian assistance to provide support for the efforts of refugees in crisis as well as COVID-19.

Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly from The Hill.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for taking my question. It’s on U.S. and Russia relations. How would you describe the U.S. approach to relations with Russia in light of how areas of cooperation compare to areas of confrontation? How much are areas of cooperation at risk because of conflict?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question, Laura. We’ll say that our relationship with Russia, it will remain a challenge, but it’s something that we’re actually prepared for. But the goal of our relationship with Russia is one that we want to be predictable and stable down the line. When there are opportunities for us to be constructive and it’s in our interest to do so, we’ll definitely pursue them. But given Russia’s conflict – conduct in the past couple months, there will obviously be areas, elements of the relationship, that are adversarial. And we won’t shy away from those.

We believe that the United States as well as our partners must be clear and impose costs on Russia’s behavior that crosses boundaries that are respected by responsible nations, and we also believe that we should be guardrails on how these adversarial aspects of our relationship tend to play out.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil from Hearst.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Perfect. Thanks so much for doing this again. Just two quick questions for you. The first, I was just wondering if you could speak to State’s involvement in Senator Coons’s trip to Tigray that was announced earlier by the White House. And then the second question is just a very granular personnel question that I can ask after.

MS PORTER: Yes, thank you for the question on Senator Coons’s travel. You might have noticed before that NSA Sullivan did issue a statement on that, and we would guide you to that statement because everything about that is up to date. And I’ll take your second question, please.

QUESTION: Yes. So like I said, just a very granular personnel question. Regarding Special Envoy Kerry, I’m just wondering, is he based out of State, or is he working out of the White House?

MS PORTER: So on anything for personnel, I don’t have anything for you. But thank you so much for calling in.

Can we go to the line of Jiha Ham of VOA?

OPERATOR: Apologies. I don’t see that name.

MS PORTER: Okay, let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen of NPR, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. I have one question on Russia and one on Belarus.

On Russia, I’m wondering if the kind of spat between Biden and Putin has had any effect on Khalilzad’s diplomacy around Afghanistan in Moscow today.

And then on Belarus, is the State Department planning to have Ambassador Fisher move to Belarus to take up her assignment? Is it possible to do that without presenting credentials to Alexander Lukashenko? Thanks.

MS PORTER: So when it comes to you first question about Ambassador Khalilzad and his participation in Moscow today, again, this is an opportunity for him to explore our relationship with Russia where it can be constructive and, obviously, in our – with the forefront of our mutual interests to do so. When it comes to anything from the President or any of his comments, I have nothing more.

But again, as we engage with Russia that are in ways that advance American interests, we will always be clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses; and even as we do work with them to advance our own interests, we’ll still be able to hold them accountable.

And your second question I believe was on Belarus. What we’ll say to that is, again, the United States strongly condemns the Lukashenko regime for its use of violence and repressive tactics against peaceful protesters and quite simply calls for an end to their crackdown and release of all those who are unjustly detained, including political prisoners; the conduct of free and fair elections; and the peaceful transfer of power.

I believe we have Jiha Ham from VOA back on the line.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me now?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s good. Thank you. So not like the joint statement with Japan, the joint statement with South Korea doesn’t mention denuclearization of North Korea. Also while Secretary Blinken called for denuclearization of North Korea, the South Korean ministers used the term denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. So I was wondering if you had any disagreements with South Korea on this when you were coordinating the joint statement.

Plus, if I may, do you have any response to the statement issued by North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui yesterday? Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to answer your question, North Korea’s WMD programs, as reflected in multiple UN Security Council resolutions, are unlawful and constitute a threat to international peace and security. And again, to reduce tensions and explore potential for full diplomacy, the Biden administration has reached out to North Korea multiple times to restart that dialogue. And your – I didn’t catch the part of your second question, so we’ll have to take that back for you, okay? Thanks.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui yesterday was criticizing the U.S. about the reaching out.

MS PORTER: Yeah. So we don’t have any comment to the rest of your question, so we’ll move right along.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Alex DeMarban from Anchorage Daily.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thank you for taking my question. Our leaders here in Alaska, our state leaders, are asking for some relief on tariffs, including the blanket exclusion for U.S. seafood products. I’m wondering where the administration will fall in these talks on that question and also the removal – also tariff relief when it comes to timber. Can you talk about that?

MS PORTER: Thank you for calling. We’ll have to take that question back for you.

Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Jalina. I wanted to ask on Myanmar, a couple of points. The European Union is set to issue some sanctions on Monday. And I’m wondering if there’s – if we can expect anything more from the U.S. in line with that and how the – could they be coordinated with the EU for another package of sanctions, because when you’ve released sanctions in the past, you’ve said this – we are urging the junta to reverse course and we’ll ramp this up if they don’t, and things only seem to be getting worse there.

And second part of that, there were charges the other day brought by a Burmese court against Dr. Sasa, who’s the international representative of the CRPH group of MPs, who are sort of operating as a government in exile or an underground government. I wondered if the U.S. wanted to respond to charges of sedition against him, and do you support that effort to create a sort of alternative government rather than engaging with the military regime? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for the question, Simon. So to your first question on the EU and as it aligns with us, we certainly won’t preview sanctions from here, but we’ll just reiterate that the United States will continue to support the people of Burma and call for an end of the violence and atrocities. And we certainly support their right to freedom of assembly and peacefully protest, and we call on other countries, as well as our partners and allies, to speak with a unified voice against the violence in Burma.

Let’s go to the line of Kylie Atwood, please.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this once again. I am wondering if the administration has decided on what percent of ambassadors will be political versus career, and if there is a commitment on behalf of the administration to try and put career folks into spots where they can.

And then my second question is: Just what prompted Secretary Blinken’s statement on Nord Stream 2 today? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Kylie. So to your first question, we don’t have any personnel announcements regarding any type of staff person here at the department. But yeah, I will say to your second question on Nord Stream 2, and as I’m sure you’ve seen the statement and as the President has said and as Secretary Blinken has said before, that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. And again, the Biden administration is committed to complying with the legislation that’s already been out. That’s bipartisan legislation. And I would refer I think anyone else on the call who hasn’t seen the statement that was recently released to our website for that.

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan.

OPERATOR: I apologize, I don’t see that party.

MS PORTER: All righty then. Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Afghanistan. The first one is on the Moscow meeting. Do you have any readout? Is Special Representative Khalilzad satisfied with the outcome? Do you think that it help put an end to the stalemate of Doha – of the Doha talks?

And the other question is: Next week is the ministerial meeting of NATO. I know you haven’t announced any travel, but whether it’s in person or virtually, is the Secretary ready to share with the NATO allies its – the U.S. decision on the Afghanistan withdrawal that they are waiting for? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So to your first one, we don’t yet have a readout of Ambassador Khalilzad’s participation in Moscow and the conferences. But again, to your comment on Doha, this meeting won’t replace Doha. I mean, they are – what we’re engaged in are international efforts to support ongoing discussions, so I just definitely want to make sure that’s clear.

As far as your second question, again, there’s – our posture hasn’t changed about anything in Afghanistan, so there’s no announcement at this time.

It looks like Rosiland Jordan from Al Jazeera is back in the queue.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for the call. Regarding the statement on the death of the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, is the Biden administration concerned that the continuing government is up to the task or not up to the task of dealing with corruption in the wake of his legacy in that arena?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Rosiland. Let me start by saying that this administration strongly condemns corruption not only in Tanzania but anywhere around the world that it’s happening. And again, we’ll continue to extend our sincere condolences to all the Tanzanians who are mourning the passing of their president. And we certainly hope and – that Tanzania can move forward to a more democratic and prosperous path forward.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan, please.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me better today?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can. And let me just apologize for the name slip-up yesterday. I apologize for that.

QUESTION: That’s okay. That’s okay. Thanks, Jalina. I just wanted to try and follow up on my colleague’s questions on Ethiopia. Is there an intended deliverable in sending Senator Coons there, or is it just to convey a message of the seriousness with which the administration takes the issue? And can you clarify, does this trip preclude appointing a special envoy for the Horn of Africa, as the Secretary previewed in his House testimony?

And just quickly as well, do you have any update on the DART from USAID? Has their access to Tigray been adequate in your view?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So I’ll just say that Senator Coons on this trip – he’s going there to convey President Biden’s message and his grave concerns about the humanitarian crisis and all the human rights abuses that are going on in the Tigray region and the risk of broader instability in the Horn of Africa. And again, we’re – we continue to be gravely concerned by the reports of atrocities and overall deteriorating situation in Tigray and Ethiopia. We’ll always call for an end to fighting and those responsible for those atrocities and human rights abuses, and we call for those who are responsible to be held accountable.

And again, when it comes to your question on personnel or any envoys, we don’t have anything to announce at that time – at this time.

Can we go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. I’m sorry I joined late, so I don’t know if you answered my questions, but I have two.

Mr. Malley said that he – you guys are willing to negotiate with Iran through a third party. What does that mean? I mean, do we expect a lot of countries like Switzerland? What do you mean by a third party, and where are we from the negotiation with Iran?

And second, would you consider a decision by the Trump administration to consider products produced at Israeli settlements – to reverse that, because they consider it all Israelis, and that was a clear distinction between products in the settlements and products produced by State of Israel. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions, Nadia. When it comes to your question on what Mr. Malley said, I’ll just want to reiterate that we’re committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, and we believe in diplomacy and we implore them to meet us at the table of diplomacy. Whether that’s in coordination with our allies and regional partners or whether that’s bilaterally, either way, the best way to achieve that path is doing that together.

And to your second question, we just believe that it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions and further undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as annexation of a territory, settlement activity or demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) much. I wanted to follow up on my colleague Kylie’s question and see whether there were any conversations with the Hill on Nord Stream 2 prior to the Secretary’s statement being released today. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Jennifer. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any potential or private discussions with our partners on the Hill, but again, I would just guide people to our statement that came out recently, and again just reiterate that we strongly believe that – obviously, President Biden has said it, Secretary Blinken has said it, this has strong bipartisan support – that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for our European allies and partners.

Let’s go to the line of Soyoung Kim, and I’ll take this as our last question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. Actually, I was going to ask similar questions that Jiha did, but if I may, one additional question: Is the U.S. going to give another try to reach out to North Korea soon or waiting until the policy review is done?

QUESTION: Hello? Hello?

MS PORTER: Yes. Thank you, thank you. So again, I’ll just reiterate what we’ve said over the past few days: again, that we’re conducting a thorough interagency review of our policy towards North Korea, which includes evaluating all options available to address an increasing threat that’s posed by North Korea to its neighbors as well as the broader international community. And we’re going to continue to lead a structured and detailed policy process that’s integrated in a diverse set of voices from throughout the government as well as incorporated inputs from think tanks and outside experts.

But what we will say is that we’re – we remain concerned about North Korea’s nuclear activities and we are committed to denuclearization of North Korea.

Thank you, everyone, for joining today, and we will see you at the same – we will listen to you at the same time tomorrow. Have a good afternoon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

# # #

  1. that
  2. President’s

 

Department Press Briefing – March 17, 2021

17 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:07 p.m. EST

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s briefing. I have one update at the top, and then I’ll resume to taking your questions. Today, Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale met with Afghanistan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar and Tajikistan Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin for a virtual trilateral discussion on issues of mutual importance, including Afghanistan peace negotiations and regional security.

With Tajikistan’s and Afghanistan’s historical and cultural ties, overlapping political and security interests, including counterterrorism, and their shared eagerness for increased economic engagement, the meeting was an opportunity to collectively support the Afghan peace process and promote greater connectivity in Central Asia.

This meeting complements other trilateral engagements held separately last year between the United States, Afghanistan, and the governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Now, I’ll give it a few minutes for others to join the queue, and we’ll start taking questions.

All right. Can we go to the line of Nike Ching?

OPERATOR: I’m sorry. I don’t see that line in the queue.

MS PORTER: Nike Ching isn’t in the queue – VOA?

OPERATOR: Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you. One moment. That line is open.

QUESTION: Hello.

MS PORTER: Hi, Nike.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thank you very much for this call. I would like to ask about the Afghanistan peace process. How optimistic is the United States about the Moscow summit? Does the U.S. believe Russia can help the U.S. and allies with the peace process with the Taliban? And what are the priorities in Ambassador Khalilzad’s agenda for participating in the Moscow summit? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question, Nike. You’re correct. Ambassador Khalilzad will travel to Moscow tomorrow. And he’ll be there to share perspectives on ways to bring about political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. And, of course, we’re hopeful that the gathering will be productive, and we certainly welcome international efforts aimed at accelerating progress towards a just and durable peace in Afghanistan. When it comes to engaging with Russia, again, we’re clear that we’ll engage with them in ways that always advance American interests, but we’re also clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses. When there are opportunities for our relationship with Russia to be constructive and it’s in our mutual interest to do work together, we intend to do so. And this simply will be our mindset going into the meeting tomorrow.

Can we go to the line of Rich Edson of Fox?

QUESTION: On the sanctions announcement that came out last evening, just given that it was less than two days prior to this summit tomorrow, was the timing of those sanctions meant to send a message ahead of tomorrow’s meeting?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Rich. So yeah, as you saw yesterday, the Secretary released a statement announcing the update to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act report. And that simply underscores our deep concern with the National People’s Congress March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system. And again, we’ll always advocate and promote for a stable and prosperous Hong Kong that respects human rights, freedoms, political pluralism, and that serves the interests of Hong Kong, mainland China, and the broader international community.

Let’s go to the line of Kylie Atwood, please.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. Two questions for you. On China and their vaccine diplomacy, they’ve obviously exported dozens of vaccines to other countries, secured vaccine production agreements with many other countries. Does the Biden administration believe that they can surpass China’s vaccine diplomacy after taking care of vaccinations at home? And then I have a second question, but I’ll let you do this one first.

MS PORTER: So let’s talk about your first question, Kylie. Thank you. When it comes to vaccine diplomacy, we’ll just keep that centered on our own goals. Again, as you know, President Biden has been strongly committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as possible, and we’ve taken a lead role in beating this pandemic globally. As you know, we’ve provided $2 billion in COVAX with another $2 billion committed. At the same time, we know what work we had behind us with the amount Americans we’ve had lost, which has been half a million. But again, we’re also working with partners on ways that we can increase global capacity.

QUESTION: And then could I just ask one more question? There are reports that the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador Antonov, has been invited back to Moscow for consultations to discuss what to do and where to go in the context of U.S.-Russia relations. Do you guys have any response to that? And has Ambassador Antonov met with Biden administration officials? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, there’s certainly no meetings to read out. And we’re aware of Moscow’s recent announcement. But what we’ll say is that as we engage in Russia in ways that advance American interests, we also remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses. We can’t underscore that enough. And again, even as we work to – work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we’ll be able to hold Russia accountable for any of their malign actions.

Can we go to the line of Simon Lewis of Reuters?

QUESTION: Hi. Hi, thanks. I have a question on Iran. There’s a report in The Financial Times that the U.S. is planning to continue enforcing sanctions from the Trump administration on Iranian oil exports even though the Chinese are ordering and importing a lot more oil, and quotes a senior administration official saying there’s going to be no tacit green light for Iran’s oil exports. So I wondered if this is a policy that you’re able to confirm, and if so, is this something that you can reasonably expect to be able to enforce given how difficult it is to track oil tankers? And it seems like this is already happening without any enforcement action being taken.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question, Simon. We don’t have anything to report on that today, but we’re happy to take that question back and get back to you on that.

Let’s go to the line of Camilla Schick from CBS.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, yes. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for this. Yesterday the NSC and State in a briefing previewed some of the priorities, the topics that would be discussed at the Anchorage meeting between Secretary Blinken and Jake Sullivan and the Chinese. On that list wasn’t included specifically COVID or the pandemic. I wanted to ask what is the State Department’s current or if there is a new line on what you expect to come out from the WHO COVID origins report that is expected this week or next and whether that will also be something that the Secretary would address with his Chinese counterparts in Anchorage. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. Well, we certainly won’t get ahead of the outcome of the meeting. And when it comes to the WHO report directly, we expect transparency at the forefront of that report. And I’ll just reiterate that we’ll continue to press the PRC on issues where the U.S. and the international communities expect transparency and accountability; such as Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet, pressure on Taiwan, human rights, South China Sea, the Mekong, and COVID-19, as well as other issues. And again, we’ll explore all other avenues for cooperation in both of our nations’ interests.

Can we go to the line of Casey O’Neill, Hearst?

OPERATOR: Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Thanks, Jalina, for doing this. I actually just had two quick questions regarding Israel and the Palestinian Authority. So I don’t know if you’ve seen, but some of our colleagues at The National just broke a story on an internal memo that they got their hands on vis-a-vis Israeli-Palestinian affairs. So my two questions, quickly, just – can you confirm the $15 million in COVID aid to the Palestinians? Can you confirm that amount, and if that’s actually going to be going to them? And also related to this, is there any talk of reversing the administration’s previously stated position and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv? Thanks.

MS PORTER: So to your last question, our policy hasn’t changed. And to your first question, we don’t have any comments on that specific memo.

Can we go to the line of Jennifer Hansler of CNN?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask you, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said in an interview today that there is no – they see no reason to talk with the U.S. at this point, and they want to see this coordinated action of a return to compliance with the JCPOA. And he also said that the – Iran is prepared to exchange the Americans who are detained there for Iranians who are detained in the U.S. And I was wondering if State has comments on either of those statements. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, of course we are always ready for – to engage meaningfully, in meaningful diplomacy with Iran, and we welcome them to join us at that table. And simply, this is just one of the many issues that we’d like to discuss with Iran and that we’re open to doing so.

Can we go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you. Going back to Russia, is – more specifically, is the State Department considering recalling Ambassador Sullivan from Moscow for consultation as the Russians did with their ambassador? And also, after the President’s interview this morning saying that he does believe that Vladimir Putin is a killer, is that also the assessment of the State Department? Does the State Department thinks, considers that President Putin is a killer? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I have nothing to add – further to add on President Biden’s comments. Again, when it comes to your question on the recall to our ambassador of Russia, I’ll just reiterate what we said before. Again, as we engage in Russia in a way that advances American interests, again, we remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses, and even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we’ll also work to hold them accountable. And so when it comes to any recall from us, we have nothing to comment on that.

Can we go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy?

QUESTION: Actually, Francesco answered my – asked my question. But let me follow up on Russia as well. You’re saying that you – that you will cooperate with Russia when there is interest to the U.S. national security, but you’re saying also that Ambassador Khalilzad will be in Moscow tomorrow. But do you believe that the language that the President used will complicate matters? And are you sure now that the Russians will receive Ambassador Khalilzad? And are you able to work on common ties of interests – like Syria, and Libya, and Iran – after these comments?

MS PORTER: Again, I have nothing to – further to add on what President Biden has already said. But I’ll reiterate that what he did emphasize is that, again, when there are areas of cooperation with Russia, then there are – especially when they come – of the interests of American national security, then we will cooperate with them.

And when it comes to Ambassador Khalilzad, he has been engaging in meaningful diplomacy and his – again, his meetings in Moscow are obviously important in the region and they’re important to us, and we’re clear-eyed about anything that they are capable of. But again, this is a good opportunity to – for the ambassador to talk about our relationship with Russia to be constructive, and again, to work in mutual interest that – interests that allow us to work together when we intend to do so.

Let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour.

QUESTION: One on Yemen. Any update on the talks with the Houthis? And second, is the U.S. planning to send vaccines to the Palestinian Authority?

MS PORTER: I’ll take your second question first. Again, we absolutely welcome the reports of the arrival of COVAX shipments for the Palestinians. This is a part of the COVAX facility’s commitment to provide a total of 158,000 vaccine doses to the West Bank and Gaza, and as you know, the United States is COVAX’s largest donor.

And when it comes to your question about the Houthis and Yemen, we’ll just reiterate that, again, the United States is building on a UN framework and amplifying it throughout our own diplomatic engagement and expanded regional support. And again, we call on all parties to seize this moment and come to the table when it comes to peace and diplomacy in Yemen.

Can we go to the line of Conor Finnegan – excuse me – of ABC?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. I’m just following up on vaccinations as well. There are reports that the U.S. is holding up to millions of AstraZeneca vaccines that haven’t been approved yet by U.S. authorities. Why are there those – that surplus right now while they’re not approved in the U.S. and vaccines are so desperately needed elsewhere, like in Latin America or Africa? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, Conor. I’m going to do my best to answer your question. A part of it had cut out, but I – I know it was largely due to vaccines. And I’ll just say that President Biden has made it clear that his current priority is to protect U.S. citizens from COVID-19. The accelerated vaccination schedule in the United States has been embraced under President Biden’s leadership and is making that a reality and a goal. At the same time, the President is also focused on the issue of expanding global vaccinations, including manufacturing and delivery, and we know that will be critical in – to ending this pandemic. We certainly look forward to ending this pandemic globally and, again, making sure that we have safe and effective vaccines.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Oh, hi. So on North Korea, Secretary Blinken said in Seoul that the authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systematic and widespread abuses against its own people. So my question is how you are going to handle this human rights issue. The U.S. has been dealing with North Korea’s nuclear issue. So is this – human rights – something that you are trying to address as part of your efforts to achieve denuclearization of North Korea, or is it just a separate issue? Also, will there be a human rights envoy for North Korea in the State Department, which has been vacant more than four years? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Let me take your first question. So broadly speaking, we always center human rights at the forefront of our U.S. – our foreign policy and national security goals. We also remain concerned about North Korea’s nuclear activities and we are committed to denuclearization of North Korea.

When it comes to your second question, if we have an update for you later, we’ll be sure to announce that.

Let’s take one final question from Janne Pak of USA Journal.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Recently, North Korean Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, criticized the United States, but will the U.S. continue to a diplomatic approach to North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So we are conducting a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy towards North Korea, and that includes evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea and its neighbors and the broader international community. And we’re continuing to lead a structured and detailed policy process that has integrated a diverse set of voices from throughout the government, and also incorporated inputs from think tanks as well as outside experts.

This concludes today’s briefing. Thank you, guys, so much for joining us today. We’ll be back again tomorrow at the same time.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:30 p.m.)

# # #

 

Department Press Briefing – March 16, 2021

16 Mar

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:02 p.m. EDT

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi, Jalina.  I was wondering if you have some comments on the fire in Yemen and the request by the UN of an independent inquiry on what happened and if you’re blaming, of course, the Houthis for that.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  I’ll just reiterate some of the comments that we’ve shared in the past, mostly recently as yesterday, that we strongly condemn all egregious Houthi drone and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.  These attacks are unacceptable and they’re dangerous, and quite frankly, they put the lives of civilians at risk.  We remain deeply concerned by the frequency of the Houthi attacks from Saudi Arabia, and attacks like these are not the actions of a group who is serious about peace.  We certainly welcome them to join us on this pathway to peace and diplomacy and, again, we continue to call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire, engage in negotiations under UN auspices in conjunction with Special Envoy Tim Lenderking.  And again, attacks like these underline the critical nature of UN special envoy as well as Special Envoy Lenderking’s work in the region.

Next we’ll go to the line of Cindy Saine.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi, Cindy.  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Oh, yes.  Sorry.  Sorry, Jalina.  Yes, if you would allow me, I have two quick LATAM questions.  One, Russia has expressed its intent to help Haiti restore political stability amid the ongoing violence there.  If you could please comment on that.

And the other is China is providing vaccines to a number of countries in Latin America, and some experts are worried that with the U.S. not doing so, that this could give China a so-called boost in so-called vaccine diplomacy.  Thank you so much.

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Cindy.  Well, to take – I’ll take your last question first.  When it comes to what the Chinese are doing with their vaccine, we’re not in a position to comment on that.  But I will say that the Biden administration is committed to securing – to ensuring that Americans have access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as possible and, in fact, the U.S. has taken a leading role in beating this pandemic globally.  We’ve given $2 billion to COVAX and another $2 billion has actually been committed.  The United States has actually been the largest donor of global health in the world and has invested over $150 billion in global health activities since 2000.  And again, I’ll just reiterate, the administration is engaging with foreign leaders and their staff around the world to stress the importance of strong public health measures.

And to – you know what, if you’re still on the line, can you repeat your second question about Haiti?

QUESTION:  Yes, certainly.  Russia has expressed its intent to help Haiti restore political stability.  Any reaction to that, please?

MS PORTER:  Well, again, what I’ll – I’ll just say – I’ll just stress our commitment to the people of Haiti.  The United States is committed to helping the Haitian people to build a better future.  In January of 2021 we announced an additional $75.5 million in a wide range of issues, which includes democratic governance, health, education, and agricultural development.

Now I’ll go on to the line of Matt Lee.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.  Please, go ahead.  Oh, I’m sorry.  One moment.

The line is now open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hey there.  Hi, Jalina.  You there?

MS PORTER:  Hi, Matt.  How are you?

QUESTION:  I’m okay.  Sorry I missed you yesterday.  I was driving and couldn’t get on the phone.  But anyway, neither here nor there.  On yesterday, though, you did say, according to the transcript, that Zal was going to go to this Afghan conference in Moscow.  And I’m just wondering because there are still plans – or can you say if there are still plans for another conference that you guys are trying to organize?  Or is the Moscow conference going to be the main deal?  And if you are trying to organize another conference, when and where might that be?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your questions, Matt.  Yes, you’re right.  Yesterday I did speak about Ambassador Khalilzad and his trip right now, which he has currently completed a two-day visit to Kabul as a part of his ongoing efforts to try to accelerate the peace process and make a political settlement and permanent ceasefire.  He’s met with President Ghani, Chairman Abdullah, as well as a wide range of political leaders, all who are critical in this entire peace process.

As far as the meeting in Moscow, it’s correct:  He plans to travel on March 18th to this meeting, but let’s just be clear this doesn’t replace other ongoing talks in Doha, and we certainly don’t have any plans to host or reveal any other potential meetings.  And when we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Next, can we go to the line of Simon Lewis?

OPERATOR:  Yes.  Your line is now open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay, great.  I wanted to ask about North Korea.  So there – these comments from Kim Yo-jong that came after the administration said that North Korea hasn’t been responding to requests to talk.  I wonder if you wanted to respond to the comments warning the U.S. not to “give off smell in our land” and “refrain from causing a stink,” according to the statement from Pyongyang.

And I guess my question beyond that is, given that this sort of response has come after you said they weren’t responding to your sort of diplomatic overtures, what’s the plan now in terms of getting some talks open?  Are you still trying the same channels or are there other plans to try to communicate with the regime there?

MS PORTER:  Thanks for your question.  I’ll address the top of your question first.  So we’re certainly aware of these reports.  The Secretary actually spoke to this in Tokyo recently, and just to recap on his remarks if you weren’t, I’ll say, and I quote, “I’m actually most interested in… those of our allies and partners that’s why come to the region.  That’s why we’ve come to Japan, precisely to listen to our allies and to discuss how collectively we might seek to address the threat from North Korea.”  Again, there is a little bit more to that, and I would further direct you to his remarks when it comes to North Korea and that response.

Next, can we go to the line of Michel Ghandour?

QUESTION:  I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Yemen.  On Libya, after the political progress made there, is the U.S. planning to send an ambassador to Tripoli back?

And on Yemen, the Houthis have refused the plan that Special Envoy Lenderking offered a couple weeks ago, and today Lenderking has called Omani and met with the Bahrain ambassador to push the process there.  How can Oman help and how can Bahrain help too?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Michel.  So to take your question on Libya first, we currently have nothing in the works and no plans to announce any ambassador in the region.

And just to reiterate what Special Envoy Lenderking and what we’re doing in Yemen, we’ll just say that, again, this administration is – has made a priority of ending this awful war in Yemen.  And again, what the work of – I’m sorry – Special Envoy Lenderking includes his engagement with UN Special Envoy Griffiths as well as Saudi Arabia and regional states to put forward a nationwide ceasefire.  As you know, Special Envoy Lenderking spent two weeks in the region, and again, he’ll return when the Houthis are prepared to talk.

As we know, this is the worst humanitarian situation, the crisis that we’re in right now.  About 80 percent of the Yemeni population is under Houthi control, and the Houthis have the time to come to the table right now and to meet us on the pathway to peace and diplomacy.  Instead, they’re doubling down with bullets.  So they have a time where they can really come and resume our talks, and we’ll be ready to happen – we’ll do that when that happens.

Let’s go to Laura Kelly.

QUESTION:  Senator Mitt Romney wrote in an op-ed yesterday calling for an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, saying that rather than sending a traditional delegation of diplomats and White House officials, to send Chinese dissidents, religious leaders, and ethnic minorities to represent the U.S.  Do you have a response to Senator Romney’s proposal, or are you making any plans for the Beijing Olympics?

MS PORTER:  Well, what I will say is I haven’t seen Mr. Romney’s op-ed or any of his proposals, and we generally don’t comment on anything congressional.  But what I will say is that the Olympics are in 2022, and that’s – we’ll deal with that when that comes up, but right now that hasn’t been at the forefront of our conversations.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION:  Hey, thanks for doing this.  Just to follow up on Reuters’ question, the Secretary’s comments in Tokyo about U.S. outreach to North Korea, he said, quote, it was to “reduce the risks of escalation.”  Can you clarify whether or not you are just seeking a deconfliction line or whether you’re pursuing diplomatic talks at this point?

MS PORTER:  Well, to that specific question, we don’t have anything to further announce.  But again, what I’ll reiterate is that we are conducting a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy towards North Korea.

Let’s go to the line of Hye Jun Seo.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Hi, I do want to follow up on North Korea.  I want to emphasize on the joint militaries exercise that Kim Yo-jong mentioned.  She said that war practice and dialogue and hostility and cooperation can never coincide.  So what is the State Department’s response to this message?

MS PORTER:  We don’t have anything to comment any further on that.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neill.

OPERATOR:  I’m sorry, I’m not seeing a Casey O’Neill.

MS PORTER:  Let’s move on to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks.  Just one more on North Korea.  We’ve got one of our Pentagon colleague is reporting that U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since Biden took office, and I was wondering if State has any comment.

MS PORTER:  Thanks for your question, Jennifer.  But I’ll have to say that we don’t comment on intelligence, and I’ll have to refer you back to the Pentagon for that one.

Let’s move on to the line of Esha Barlingay.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  I hope you can hear me.

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I would like to follow up with questions on the U.S. and Chinese officials’ meeting in Alaska.  I would like to know what your intentions are and what would you like to gain from this.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  So we’re not going to get ahead of any meetings that are planned on the trip for the Secretary right now.  We’re certainly going to have a readout, and we’ll make sure that you get the readout after these meetings.

Let’s go to the line of Mohammad El Ahmed.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Hi, Jalina.  Thank you.  The French foreign minister said today that tactical problems and domestic situation in Iran hinder the revival of the nuclear talks.  Do you agree with this assessment, and is there any update about the U.S. offer for Iran to have informal talks soon?

Hello?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, thank you.  So as far as a comment to your – part of your first question, we don’t have any specific comment to that.  But what we will say is that – Mohammed, we actually don’t have anything to announce at this time, and when we do, we’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me, Jalina?

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  South Korea’s position is more important than ever in the long-term competition between the United States and China.  Administration of Moon Jae-in, the administration in South Korea, is currently struggling between China and the United States.  What do you think South Korea and Moon Jae-in administration will actually cooperate with the United States to strengthening the alliance?  Do you think that they’re going to more help you, or they’re going to more help China?

MS PORTER:  Well, from what I could hear from your question, I’ll just say that South Korea is a close partner to the United States, which is clearly underscored by Secretary Blinken traveling there, will actually be traveling there tomorrow during his first trip – first physical trip as Secretary of State.

I’m afraid I couldn’t hear the rest of your question.  But again, we want to underscore our relationship with South Korea.

And we will move on to the line of Beatriz Pascual.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I wanted to ask about Bolivia.  I know the United States, like this topic came up in yesterday’s briefing, but I wanted to ask if there has been any contact with governments in the region to address this issue.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So, yes, we addressed the issue in Bolivia at the top of yesterday’s briefing, and we’ll just reiterate that the United States is following with concern the developments surrounding the – Bolivia’s Government with the arrest of former officials.  We’ll also reiterate that a fair and impartial judicial process are the bedrock of democratic societies, which is something that the United States strongly support.  Our concern joins those expressed by the civic, political, and religious leaders in Bolivia, as well as many others in the international community.  And again, as many countries in our hemisphere have realized at one time or another, the people is a gift and we must respectfully handle that.

Let’s go back to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.

(No response.)

MS PORTER:  Are you there?  I can hear you.

OPERATOR:  That line is open.

MS PORTER:  All right, one last time.

(No response.)

MS PORTER:  All right, I think for now we’ll move on.  Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis.

OPERATOR:  Simon Lewis is no longer in the queue.

MS PORTER:  Let’s go to the line of Joel Gehrke.

QUESTION:  I have a question on Afghanistan.  Then-Secretary – Defense Secretary Mattis mentioned in 2017 – he was talking about Afghanistan and Russia’s role there – and had said that the Russians seemed to be choosing to be strategic competitors in a number of areas, particularly Afghanistan, in that moment.  So as we head into this Moscow conference, do you see them convening this meeting still with a competitive mindset, or do you think they’ve adopted a more cooperative approach that could fit into your broader efforts?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Joel.  So I’ll reiterate what we said before.  Ambassador Khalilzad is traveling to Moscow for the meeting, and this meeting is – will complement other international efforts to support the ongoing Afghanistan peace process and reflects the international community’s concerns about progress to date.  And that’s all we have on that.

Let’s go to the line of Young Gyo Kim

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Well, can you hear – sure.  I want to ask about the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.  There are some critics saying that it could raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.  Why is it important for the U.S. to continue this joint military exercise with South Korea?

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  For that I’m going to have to refer you to the DOD.

Let’s go to the line of Hyun Young Park.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Secretary Blinken’s visit to Japan and Korea.  Secretary has emphasized how strengthening U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation is important.  In the press release the State Department sent out, it said, quote, “No relationship is more important than that between Japan and the ROK.”

Could you elaborate more on why this is so important to the U.S.?  Is it in terms of countering Chinese threat, or the North Korean threat?  Why is it so important that Japan and Korea get along in the standpoint of the U.S.?  And Japan and South Korea are at their lowest points in relationships, so does the U.S. plan to actively engage in bringing them together?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, we’ll just say that when it comes to our relationship with Japan and South Korea, we have the cornerstone of our shared values and our shared interests, which include regional security and stability.  I’ll just also underscore that the U.S.-Japan Alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.  Again, Japan resolved to enhance its capabilities to bolster national defense and to further strengthen the alliance.  The United States underscored its unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan through the full range of its capabilities.  We are also aligned together in combating some of these growing geopolitical challenges, which include COVID-19, climate change, as well as revitalizing democracy.

And I will take one final question from Muath Alamri.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Yes, I have a question about Yemen and Iran.  Mr. Lenderking yesterday said in his TV interview that Iran is playing a negative role in Yemen by backing the Houthis.  So have you sent any messages to Iran to switch their role from negative to positive?  And what about the negotiation with them in terms of the hostages?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, yes, I mean, we can definitely reiterate what Special Envoy Lenderking has said.  We do believe that Iran has a chance to reverse what it’s doing and play a more positive, influential role in Yemen.  And I’ll just again reiterate what we’ve said earlier: that we condemn all egregious Houthi drones and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.  And these attacks are plainly unacceptable and dangerous.

Thank you all for joining me here today.  We will be back here telephonically at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, and have a good rest of your day.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)