Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson
I want to reiterate that we vehemently condemn the terrorist attack in Elad, Israel, which killed at least three and wounded many others. This was a horrific attack targeting innocent men and women and was particularly heinous coming as Israel celebrated its Independence Day. Our hearts are with the victims and loved ones of those killed, and we wish those injured a speedy recovery. We remain in close contact with our Israeli friends and partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack.
Separately, we understand that Israel announced a meeting to advance new West Bank settlements for – West Bank settlement units for May 12. The Biden administration has been clear from the outset. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties. Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospect for a two-state solution.
Let’s go to the line of Ron Kampeas, please.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking the call. What if anything will be the repercussions for Israel’s announcement of approvals for 4,000 more units? I know that you’re saying that you – you’re condemning this, but will there be any repercussions, particularly related to President Biden’s visit next month?
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I’ll just say from here that we have been clear about the need to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions and make it more difficult to preserve the viability of a two-state solution. I have nothing to comment about the President’s upcoming trip.
Let’s go to Endale Getahun.
QUESTION: Yes. Good morning, Jalina. Can you hear me? This is Endale.
MS PORTER: Good afternoon. I can hear you, thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. I have two questions.
One is – will be on the statement that was made by our Secretary Blinken on April 29 regarding Tigrayan for Ethiopia. I think the statement was – I hope you have seen it, I believe. But on the statement was given, it says Ethiopia’s conflict since like most of the statement was given, it says conflict. But 10 months ago, when he appears in front the lawmakers to make a statement, he did mention by saying ethnic cleansing. But when it says conflict, it seems to make the situation in east Africa and even Tigray and the whole – seems to – not a conflict but as an actual war. So I was wondering why the word was lowered from ethnic cleansing to conflict. It seems to most Tigrayans and around the world was asked – made in statements on Twitter. So that’s the comment that was on Twitter that was based on the Secretary of State made the statement there is a piece that the coming – direction is going. But has anyone spoke to the Tigray region? Have he visited, just like he visited Ukraine? Has anyone – has a State Department official visited in Tigray region, as has only visited in Addis Ababa?
The second question I have is regarding the Tigrayan general, former general commander, which he used to be an African Union mission in Somalia, which he has worked with U.S. African Command, which is AFRICOM. He just passed away in the custody of Ethiopian Government. As you know, al-Shabaab was a threat to U.S. security. So this commander has worked shoulder to shoulder with American officials and service folks, and so have you heard or are you going to ask the death – the cause of the death? Because some said that he was poisoned or so, but I’m not ready to confirm that, but I just wanted to make sure if you know about from the general commander government, Fikadu. It’s is spelled G-e-b-r-e-m-e-d-h-i-n. Last name is F-i-k-a-d-u, Fikadu. Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Endale. To your most recent question on the cause of death, I’m actually just learning of these reports. So if we have anything to share, we’ll certainly update you and get back to you.
To your first question regarding the conflict in Ethiopia, I certainly don’t have any travel to announce for the Secretary. But what I would underscore from here is what we’ve said previously, in that we’re encouraged that the Government of Ethiopia as well as regional authorities in Tigray and Afar have taken steps to enable the delivery of desperately needed food and aid in the war-affected communities. And we also urge parties to accelerate, uphold, and expand these efforts to ensure, as President Biden has said, the immediate, sustained, and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Ethiopians who are impacted by this conflict.
Let’s go to Shannon Crawford.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for briefing. I just wanted to ask: Are there any updates on the Victory Day show of support for Ukraine from the U.S. and its allies that Ned previewed yesterday? Specifically, can we expect that announcement to come from the State Department or the White House?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Shannon. We don’t have anything to share at the moment, but I imagine you’ll be hearing something pretty soon. Thank you.
Let’s go over to Eunjung Cho.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Eunjung.
QUESTION: Thank you. The CNN reports quoting three U.S. officials that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies assess that North Korea could be ready to conduct a nuclear test by the end of this month. Does the State Department hold the same assessment that North Korea could be ready for a nuclear test by the end of this month?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Eunjung. The United States assesses that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month, which would be its seventh test. This assessment is consistent with the DPRK’s own recent public statements.
We’ve shared this information with allies and partners, and we’ll continue closely coordinating with them as well. We’ll also build on this close coordination when the President travels to the Republic of Korea and Japan later this month to strengthen our alliances and demonstrate our commitment to their security is ironclad.
I’ll have the operator repeat the instructions on if anyone wants to get in the Q&A queue.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.
MS PORTER: Let’s go over to Rosiland Jordan.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to get an update on the Secretary’s health, what he’s been doing today. Has he had any engagements on Ukraine or on Russia?
And separately, is there any update on the status of Brittney Griner and other Americans being held in Russia? Thanks.
And on to your question about Brittney Griner and others who are detained in Russia, what we’ve said and will continue to say from here is that we have no other priority than the safety and security of the United States citizens who are overseas, and we continue to insist that the Government of Russia allow for consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizens – U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pretrial detention – in compliance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and bilateral consular convention with the United States. Our requests for access are consistently delayed or denied, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.
Let’s go to Matt Lee.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Matt. I think you’re referring to Eunjung’s question. What we said before is that the United States assesses that the DPRK is preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month, which would be its seventh test. This assessment is also consistent with the DPRK’s own recent public statements. We’ve shared this information with allies and partners and will continue to closely coordinate with them, and we’ll also build on this close coordination when the President travels to the Republic of Korea and Japan later this month to strengthen our alliances and demonstrate that our commitment to their security is ironclad.
Let’s go over to Paulina Smolinski.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I just wanted to follow up on the Brittney Griner statement. Do you guys have any (inaudible), any comment on former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson helping out with this?
MS PORTER: If we still have you, Paulina, do you mind repeating your question a tad bit louder, please?
QUESTION: Sorry. Do you have any comment on reports that former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson is helping with Brittney Griner’s case?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Paulina. We don’t have any updates to share on her specific case. We continue to be in contact with her legal team, and, of course, we continue to press again for fair treatment for not only her, but all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia.
Let’s go back over to Shannon Crawford.
QUESTION: Thanks again. I just wanted to ask about those sanctions on the cryptocurrency Blender – cryptocurrency mixer Blender, excuse me. Do you – does the State Department think that is going to be effective, and is it pushing for more proactive measures to stop this illicit financial activity before it takes place?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Shannon. We don’t have anything further to announce, but I would say as a result of today’s action, all property and interest in the property of the entity of Blender.io that’s in the United States or in possession or control of U.S. persons is blocked and must be reported to OFAC, or the Office of Foreign Asset Control. In addition, any entities that are owned directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.
We’ll take the final question back to Rosiland Jordan.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks again. Completely different topic: The U.S. Government, as do many other governments, use social media in order to connect with its citizens. In light of Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter, there is a lot of discussion about how much control one private citizen should have over what is a de facto public space. Is there that concern within the State Department that a private citizen, no matter who it is, could decide who has access to this platform, could possibly interfere with the communication between a government and its citizens? And is the State Department looking at alternatives to using Twitter should this purchase go through? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Ros. We use a range of platforms from the State Department, which would include Twitter and other social media platforms, not only to connect with Americans but to connect with the global community abroad. I don’t have anything to share from here. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to share whether that would change or whether we would interfere in a platform as large as Twitter, but we certainly appreciate that we do have that platform and are able to connect not only with other governments, but the American people and the global community.
Thank you all for joining today. That concludes today’s briefing. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)
# # #