Fact Sheet: Activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology

16 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

For more than a year, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has systematically prevented a transparent and thorough investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic’s origin, choosing instead to devote enormous resources to deceit and disinformation. Nearly two million people have died. Their families deserve to know the truth. Only through transparency can we learn what caused this pandemic and how to prevent the next one.

The U.S. government does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus—known as SARS-CoV-2—was transmitted initially to humans. We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

The virus could have emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals, spreading in a pattern consistent with a natural epidemic. Alternatively, a laboratory accident could resemble a natural outbreak if the initial exposure included only a few individuals and was compounded by asymptomatic infection. Scientists in China have researched animal-derived coronaviruses under conditions that increased the risk for accidental and potentially unwitting exposure.

The CCP’s deadly obsession with secrecy and control comes at the expense of public health in China and around the world. The previously undisclosed information in this fact sheet, combined with open-source reporting, highlights three elements about COVID-19’s origin that deserve greater scrutiny:

1. Illnesses inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV):

  • The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was “zero infection” among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.
  • Accidental infections in labs have caused several previous virus outbreaks in China and elsewhere, including a 2004 SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people, killing one.
  • The CCP has prevented independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities from interviewing researchers at the WIV, including those who were ill in the fall of 2019. Any credible inquiry into the origin of the virus must include interviews with these researchers and a full accounting of their previously unreported illness.

2. Research at the WIV:

  • Starting in at least 2016 – and with no indication of a stop prior to the COVID-19 outbreak – WIV researchers conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar). The WIV became a focal point for international coronavirus research after the 2003 SARS outbreak and has since studied animals including mice, bats, and pangolins.
  • The WIV has a published record of conducting “gain-of-function” research to engineer chimeric viruses. But the WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the COVID-19 virus, including “RaTG13,” which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness.
  • WHO investigators must have access to the records of the WIV’s work on bat and other coronaviruses before the COVID-19 outbreak. As part of a thorough inquiry, they must have a full accounting of why the WIV altered and then removed online records of its work with RaTG13 and other viruses.

3. Secret military activity at the WIV:

  • Secrecy and non-disclosure are standard practice for Beijing. For many years the United States has publicly raised concerns about China’s past biological weapons work, which Beijing has neither documented nor demonstrably eliminated, despite its clear obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.
  • Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.
  • The United States and other donors who funded or collaborated on civilian research at the WIV have a right and obligation to determine whether any of our research funding was diverted to secret Chinese military projects at the WIV.

Today’s revelations just scratch the surface of what is still hidden about COVID-19’s origin in China. Any credible investigation into the origin of COVID-19 demands complete, transparent access to the research labs in Wuhan, including their facilities, samples, personnel, and records.

As the world continues to battle this pandemic – and as WHO investigators begin their work, after more than a year of delays – the virus’s origin remains uncertain. The United States will continue to do everything it can to support a credible and thorough investigation, including by continuing to demand transparency on the part of Chinese authorities.

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The Ministerial Conference in Support of the Autonomy Initiative Under Moroccan Sovereignty

15 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The text of the following Chair’s Summary was released by the Governments of the United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco.

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1. At the invitation of the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States of America, the Ministerial Conference in support of the Autonomy Initiative under Morocco’s sovereignty was held virtually on January 15, 2021.

2. Forty countries participated in the Conference, among which 27 were represented at the ministerial level.

3. The Conference participants expressed strong support for Morocco’s autonomy initiative as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to this regional dispute.

4. The Co-Chairs recalled the Proclamation of the United States of America of December 10, 2020, entitled “Recognizing the Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco over Western Sahara,” which reaffirmed support for Morocco’s serious, credible, and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory. The Proclamation also urged the parties to engage in discussions in coordination with the United Nations without delay.

5. Co-Chairs also underlined that the U.S. Presidential Proclamation provides guidance for efforts to advance the UN-exclusive political process aimed at reaching a lasting political solution, with the autonomy initiative as the only realistic basis for such a solution. This Proclamation will strengthen the international consensus in support of the UN-exclusive political process.

6. The Conference highlighted the decision of twenty United Nations Member States to open Consulates General in the Moroccan cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, considering that such steps will promote economic and business opportunities for the region, strengthen the vocation of the Sahara region as an economic hub for the entire continent and advance progress towards reaching a long-awaited final political solution to this protracted dispute.

7. Participants welcomed the development endeavors launched in the region including in the framework of Morocco’s “New Development Model for the Southern Provinces” initiative.

8. Participants committed to continue their advocacy for a solution, using Morocco’s autonomy plan as the sole framework for resolving the Western Sahara dispute.

End Text

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United States-Eswatini Declaration on 5G Security

15 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The following joint declaration was issued by the Governments of the United States of America and the Kingdom of Eswatini on January 15, 2021.

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Taking into account that secure fifth generation wireless communications networks (5G) will be vital to both future prosperity and national security, the United States and Eswatini declare their desire to strengthen cooperation on 5G.  5G will enable a vast array of new applications, including the provision of critical services to the public, which will benefit our citizens and our economies.  Increased amounts of data on 5G networks will further interconnect the economies of the world, including the United States and Eswatini, and facilitate cross-border services and commerce.  Protecting these next generation communications networks from disruption or manipulation and ensuring the privacy and individual liberties of the citizens of the United States and Eswatini are vital to ensuring that our citizens are able to take advantage of the tremendous economic opportunities 5G will enable.

Therefore, the United States and Eswatini recognize the Chairman’s statement from the Prague 5G Security Conference—the “Prague Proposals” —as an important step toward developing a common approach to 5G network security, and ensuring a secure, resilient, and trustworthy 5G ecosystem.  The Prague Proposals emphasize the need to develop, deploy, and commercialize 5G networks based on the foundation of free and fair competition, transparency, and the rule of law.

The United States and Eswatini emphasize the importance of encouraging the participation of reliable and trustworthy network hardware and software suppliers in 5G markets, taking into account risk profile assessments, and promoting frameworks that effectively protect 5G networks from unauthorized access or interference.  The United States and Eswatini further recognize that 5G suppliers should provide products and services that enable innovation and promote efficiency.  These products and services should also enable fair competition and encourage downstream development by the maximum number of market participants.  The United States and Eswatini each expressed their belief that all governments have a shared responsibility to undertake a careful, balanced evaluation of 5G hardware and software suppliers and supply chains to promote a secure and resilient 5G architecture.

To promote a vibrant and robust 5G ecosystem, a rigorous evaluation of suppliers should take into account the rule of law; the security environment; ethical supplier practices; and a supplier’s compliance with secure standards and industry best practices. Specifically, evaluations should include the following elements:

  • Whether network hardware and software suppliers are subject, without independent judicial review, to control by a foreign government;
  • Whether network hardware and software suppliers are financed openly and transparently using standard best practices in procurement, investment, and contracting;
  • Whether network hardware and software suppliers have transparent ownership, partnerships, and corporate governance structures; and
  • Whether network hardware and software suppliers exemplify a commitment to innovation and respect for intellectual property rights.

The United States and Eswatini believe that it is critical for countries to transition from untrusted network hardware and software suppliers in existing networks to trusted ones through regular lifecycle replacements. Such efforts will not only improve national security, but also provide opportunities for private sector innovators to succeed under free and fair competition and benefit our respective digital economies.

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U.S. Coast Guard Operation Southern Cross Builds Multilateral Cooperation to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing in the South Atlantic

15 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The Department of State is proud to support the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Operation Southern Cross as part of our efforts to build regional maritime security partnerships and counter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the South Atlantic.  The multi-month inaugural deployment of the new USCG Legend-class National Security Cutter, the Stone (WMSL 758), will strengthen cooperation and enhance security throughout the region.

In Guyana on January 9, the USCG Cutter Stone and the Guyanese Defense Force Coast Guard engaged in a series of cooperative exercises that support combatting IUU fishing, the first such operations conducted in conjunction with a new shiprider agreement ratified in 2020.

The USCG Cutter Stone will next partner with the Brazilian Navy on joint patrols, making port calls in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.  The Stone will also visit Montevideo, Uruguay, the first visit of a U.S. Coast Guard ship in over a decade.  For its southernmost stop, the Stone will visit Mar del Plata, Argentina for a ceremonial welcome by the Coast Guard’s sister service, the Argentine Naval Prefecture before the cutter returns home.  An observer from the Portuguese navy is embarked on the Stone, supporting its crew and the Operation daily.

While underway, the USCG Cutter Stone will also perform the full range of USCG statutory missions as circumstances warrant.  The Stone crew has already interdicted one go-fast vessel in the Caribbean, seizing over 900 kilograms of cocaine on January 7 south of the Dominican Republic.

The United States is a global leader in efforts to tackle IUU fishing, including through work in multilateral institutions to strengthen the rules governing international fisheries and bilateral engagement with the world’s coastal, port, and market States.  The value of global capture fish production in 2018 was over $151 billion, and it is estimated that IUU fishing results in tens of billions of dollars of lost revenue every year.  IUU fishing jeopardizes global food security, destabilizes the economic security of coastal States, and violates state sovereignty by undermining international agreements and fisheries conservation measures.  In the South Atlantic, we encourage our regional partners to be vigilant as we work together to protect the waters we share, and we urge our partners to both ratify and implement international measures such as the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures.

Operation Southern Cross is the Coast Guard’s first patrol to the South Atlantic in recent memory.

For updates and photos on the Cutter Stone, visit this story on DVIDS.

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Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Christodoulides

15 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The following is attributable to Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus:‎

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke today with Republic of Cyprus (ROC) Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.  Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Christodoulides agreed that the strength of the U.S.-ROC relationship is at an all-time high as a result of our partnership on significant issues including the temporary waiver of International Traffic in Arms Regulations restrictions, the entry of the ROC into the International Military Education and Training Program, and the launch of the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security (CYCLOPS) regional border security training center.

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United States to Host World Data System’s International Program Office

14 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The Department of State is proud to see that the World Data System (WDS), a non-governmental body for norms and standards for scientific data, has selected the Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee (ORI at UT) to host its International Program Office for a five-year term starting in 2021. The Office will promote U.S. leadership in values-based international norms and standards for data and scientific research over the next five years. With the strong support of the Department of State, this selection is a testament to American scientific leadership and innovation, reflecting U.S. universities’ and laboratories’ long-standing tradition of excellence, freedom, openness, and transparency in science and technology.

The Department of State is committed to the development and promotion of trusted data and internationally recognized norms and standards that form the bedrock of the robust U.S. innovation ecosystem. Values-based norms and standards also serve as the foundation for the Clean Network Initiative, which protects data privacy, intellectual property, security, and human rights. The World Data System’s decision for the International Program Office to be based in the United States signals the importance of trusted data as the foundation for scientific research, emerging technologies, open societies, and innovation.

The Department looks forward to working with the World Data System and ORI at UT once the arrangements for the International Program Office are finalized. This work will advance norms and standards on data, leverage America’s expertise in this field, and ensure the global scientific enterprise can benefit from U.S. leadership.

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State Department Terrorist Designation Reviews and Amendments

14 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The Department of State has amended the terrorist designations of Lashkar i Jhangvi (LJ) and ISIL Sinai Peninsula (ISIL-SP) to include additional aliases. These aliases have been added to LJ and ISIL-SP’s designations as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) under Executive Order 13224.

Additionally, the Department of State has reviewed and maintained the FTO designations of LJ, ISIL-SP, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al Naqshabandi, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (Ansaru), al-Nusrah Front, Continuity Irish Republican Army, and the National Liberation Army, pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended (8 U.S.C. § 1189).

FTO and SDGT designations seek to deny these terrorist organizations the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks. Among other consequences of designations, all of the groups’ property and interests that are within the United States or that come within the United States or that come within the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them. In addition, as designated FTOs, it is a federal crime to knowingly provide, or attempt or conspire to provide, material support or resources to them.

Today’s actions notify the U.S. public and the international community of additional aliases of LJ and ISIL-SP, and that all of these groups remain terrorist organizations. Designations of terrorist individuals and groups expose and isolate them and deny them access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and governments.

A list of State Department-designated FTOs and SDGTs is available here: https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designations-and-state-sponsors-of-terrorism/.

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State Department Terrorist Designations of HASM and Its Leaders and Maintenance of PIJ FTO Designation

14 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

The Department of State has increased sanctions against Harakat Sawa’d Misr – also known as HASM – by designating the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). HASM was previously designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 in January 2018 for posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism. The Department has also designated Yahya al-Sayyid Ibrahim Musa and Alaa Ali Ali Mohammed al-Samahi as SDGTs under Section 1(a)(ii)(B) of E.O. 13224 for being leaders of HASM. Additionally, the Department has also reviewed the FTO designation of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and maintained it, in accordance with section 219 of the INA.

These designations seek to deny HASM and its leadership the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks. Among other consequences of designations, all of HASM’s, Musa’s, and al-Samahi’s property and interests that are within the United States or that come within the United States or that come within the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them. In addition, as a designated FTO, it is a federal crime to knowingly provide, or attempt or conspire to provide, material support or resources to HASM.

HASM is a terrorist group active in Egypt. Formed in 2015, the group claimed responsibility for the assassination of Egyptian National Security Agency officer Ibrahim Azzazy, as well as the attempted assassination of Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa. HASM also claimed responsibility for a September 30, 2017 attack on Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo. In August 2019, HASM was responsible for a powerful car-bomb that exploded outside of a hospital in Cairo, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens. Musa is a Turkey-based HASM leader. Al-Samahi is as well; he is a senior HASM official with an operational role in the group. He has participated in attacking planning, to include target selection, and manages aspects of the group’s finances and allocation of funds. Some of the leaders of HASM were previously associated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

PIJ was founded in 1979-1980 in Egypt by Palestinian students Fathi Shaqaqi, Abd al-Aziz Odah, and Bashir Musa. It emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood movement and was inspired by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. PIJ is committed to the destruction of Israel and to the creation of an Islamic state in historic Palestine, including present-day Israel. PIJ terrorists have conducted numerous attacks, including large-scale suicide bombings, against Israeli civilians and military targets.

Today’s designations notify the U.S. public and the international community that HASM and PIJ remain terrorist organizations. Designations of terrorists, both individuals and groups, expose and isolate them and deny them access to the U.S. financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and governments.

A list of State Department-designated FTOs and SDGTs is available here: https://www.state.gov/terrorist-designations-and-state-sponsor.

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United States and Morocco Sign Cultural Property Agreement

14 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

Today, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco David T. Fischer and Morocco’s Minister of Culture Othmane El Ferdaous signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding that protects Moroccan cultural property.

This agreement is an example of the United States’ enduring work with Morocco to combat cultural property trafficking and to preserve heritage items by allowing the U.S. to establish import restrictions on certain categories of Morocco’s cultural property.  The agreement also gives U.S. law enforcement the ability to repatriate trafficked cultural objects back to Morocco while fostering the interchange of Moroccan cultural heritage with U.S. institutions.

The United States has been unwavering in its commitment to protect and preserve cultural heritage around the world and to restrict trafficking in cultural property, which is often used to fund terrorist and criminal networks. This cultural property agreement with Morocco was negotiated by the State Department under the U.S. law implementing the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  The United States has cultural property agreements with countries around the world, as well as emergency import restrictions on cultural property from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

For further information, please contact eca-press@state.gov.  Follow @ECA_AS on Twitter for updates.

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Launch of United Women’s Economic Development Network

14 Jan

Office of the Spokesperson

Women business leaders and entrepreneurs from the United States, Bahrain, Morocco, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Kosovo convened today for the virtual launch of the United Women’s Economic Development Network, hosted by U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie, Special Envoy for Economic Normalization Aryeh Lightstone, and U.S. International Development Finance Corporation Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Global Women’s Issues Charity Wallace.

Following the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, signatory parties have worked to establish across the region a warm peace, inclusive of all, and to develop new cross-country economic partnerships. In pursuit of those goals, the advancement of women’s economic empowerment has come to occupy a role of central importance.

The United Women’s Economic Development Network will provide a platform for building ties and trust among women in each country, deepening the greater regional cooperation promised by the Abraham Accords and bringing the economic benefits of normalization to businesswomen and leaders in Abraham Accords countries and other likeminded countries. The Network will also advance women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, a major facet of U.S. foreign policy, in line with the White House-led Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative.

Special Envoy for Economic Normalization Aryeh Lightstone welcomed the group of approximately 40 women to the event, noting that in business you look for trends, and trends on women’s economic empowerment are positive. He also noted that the Abraham Accords countries are ascendant and female entrepreneurship in those countries has unlimited potential. Lightstone closed by stating that the women leaders at the event today are building directly on the Abraham Accords and translating it into tangible and sustainable benefits that will reach all sectors of society.

In her remarks, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie applauded Marwa Al Mansouri, an Emirati entrepreneur and board member of the UAE’s Economic Collaboration Committee, and Netta Korin, co-founder of Israel’s largest blockchain infrastructure company Orbs, for founding the network, which will complement U.S. objectives under W-GDP and contribute to lasting peace across the region. The launch of the Network also builds on the announcement last week of the DFC’s W-GDP 2X MENA initiative, launched in Morocco by Ambassador Currie and DFC SVP Wallace.

 

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