Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Press at an Election Transparency Hackathon Event

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kinshasa, DRC

Kinshasa Digital Academy

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So one of the most powerful facts is that in the next couple of years, by 2025, half of the population of Africa will be 25 years old or younger.  And as I’ve said as well, in the next couple of decades, one in four people on our planet will be African.

So Africa really is the future, and we’ve you’ve seen an example of that here today by the extraordinary work that young people are doing to help make sure that, as the Democratic Republic of the Congo heads into elections next year, that voters have the information they need to fully participate in elections, that misinformation is combated, and that this country can have a genuinely inclusive electoral process.  And I’ve got to say I am incredibly impressed by some of the projects that I was able to see today.

It’s a competition – I think everyone is a winner based on what I’ve seen – but it’s going to have a real impact on the elections next year.  And it’s so important that there be free, fair, and on‑time elections.  I think the DRC has an opportunity to set a powerful example – not just for the region, not just for the continent, but actually for the world at a time when we see some real challenges to democracy around the world.

So it was incredibly encouraging to see this.  I’m very excited to see who actually wins the competition, but as I said, everything I saw was a winner.  Incredibly impressive – it’s going to make a real difference in for participation.  It’s going to make a real difference for the confidence that people have in the integrity of the elections.

Even as we’re seeing these projects, we’ve seen just in the last 24 hours a possible setback to the importance of having the right environment for elections and the civic space with the detention of a opposition political leader.  We’re trying to get more facts.  We’ve raised this with our colleagues among – in the government here.  We have full respect for the laws of the DRC, but we are concerned about any steps taken that could actually reduce the political space, especially as the country heads into elections.  So it’s something that we’ll be looking at.

But for today, as well, I’ve just got to say how wonderful it is to see not only these projects, but just to see the engagement of a rising generation of Congolese in the democratic process.  That really is the future of this country.  It’s also the future of the continent and something that it’s very, very inspiring to be able to witness.  Thank you.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before Meeting with Civil Society Representatives from Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Chief of Mission Residence

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a real pleasure to have an opportunity to talk to the extremely, extremely (inaudible) civil society here in Congo.  A strong, vibrant, independent civil society is essential to any democracy; it’s essential here.  And it’s really critical to helping to meet the challenges that the DRC is facing.

So we’ll have an opportunity to talk about some of those challenges, to get the perspectives of these leaders to include the situation in eastern Congo, the challenges faced there; the upcoming elections next week, and everything that can be done to make sure that they happen on time and in a fair way; and other challenges that the Congolese people are facing, including strengthening their democracy, especially the rights and full participation of Congolese in all the most important questions the country and the future.

I just want to thank all of you for being here today and being willing to share with us your insights, your experiences, and your ideas.

Thank you.

MAGA Hot Mic: Darren Bailey Doubles Down on Extreme Holocaust Comparison

10 Aug

For the second day in a row, MAGA Hot Mic honors fall on Illinois state Senator and GOP candidate for governor Darren Bailey.

In 2017, Darren Bailey said “The attempted extermination of the Jews of World War II doesn’t even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion…”

CBS Chicago: “‘I believe that abortion is one of the greatest atrocities of our day, and I believe it’s one of the greatest atrocities probably forever. The attempted extermination of the Jews of World War II doesn’t even compare on a shadow of the life that has been lost with abortion since its legalization,’ Bailey said in the video.”

This past weekend, when asked if he should apologize, Darren Bailey doubled down on saying he was “right.” 

REPORTER: “Do you think the Jewish community needs an apology on that?”

BAILEY: *scoffs* “The Jewish community themselves have told me that I’m right.”

And let’s not forget — these comments came after Bailey established he fully supports an abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest

CBS Chicago: “Bailey opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape or incest”

NBC5 Chicago: “Bailey has repeatedly said that he would support a total ban on abortion in the state of Illinois, and would not offer exceptions in the case of rape or incest.”

We said it yesterday, we’ll say it again today, and we will continue to say it every day because Americans cannot afford the GOP’s dangerous, anti-choice agenda. Darren Bailey and extreme MAGA Republicans keep reminding Americans they are too extreme to be in power.

The post MAGA Hot Mic: Darren Bailey Doubles Down on Extreme Holocaust Comparison appeared first on Democrats.

Tenth Anniversary of the Captivity of Austin Tice

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

American journalist Austin Tice was abducted in Syria ten years ago this week. We continue to demand that Syrian officials fulfill their obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to acknowledge the detention of Austin and every other U.S. national held in Syria, a responsibility under international law and an important step in securing their release.

I am committed to bringing home all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees held around the world. As the President said directly to the Tice family, we will continue to pursue all available avenues to bring Austin home and work tirelessly until we succeed in doing so. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will continue to engage with the Syrian government in close coordination with the White House, Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, and our team here at the State Department.

Every passing day adds to Austin’s and his family’s unfathomable ordeal. We will do everything possible to see to it that Austin comes home to his loved ones who miss him dearly and to the country that awaits him eagerly. Each and every day we will strive to bring Austin home, where he belongs.

Kristi Noem Brings Her Woes On The Road

10 Aug

As anti-choice extremist Kristi Noem descends on Massachusetts to stump for Geoff Diehl, the pro-Trump GOP candidate for Massachusetts governor, let’s not forget: Noem is currently under investigation in her home state of South Dakota for possible ethics violations. 

You read that right: Noem is currently under investigation by South Dakota’s state ethics board for not one, but two potential violations, indicating that Noem may have used the power of her office for personal political gain.

Associated Press: “Noem, a potential 2024 White House contender, is under scrutiny from the state’s Government Accountability Board for allegations that she misused the powers of her office by interfering in her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser license and flying on state-owned airplanes to political events. She has denied any wrongdoing.”

Both of these complaints were brought forward by the former Republican attorney general. Noem attempted to shut down the investigation, but the board is pressing forward.

Associated Press: “The board’s three retired judges… voted unanimously to deny the governor’s requests to dismiss the complaints.”

As Noem takes her extreme brand of anti-choice MAGA politics on the road, let’s also not forget that she actually went on the record defending South Dakota’s draconian abortion ban. In the same breath, she even said that she would force a 10-year-old rape victim to give birth to their rapist’s child.

CNN: “South Dakota governor defends state’s abortion ‘trigger’ ban when asked if 10-year-old should be forced to give birth”

Let’s be clear: Noem can run, but she can’t hide. The people of Massachusetts simply do not want the extreme agenda she and Diehl are selling.

The post Kristi Noem Brings Her Woes On The Road appeared first on Democrats.

Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with DRC Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde

10 Aug

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Democratic Republic of the Congo Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde in Kinshasa. Secretary Blinken and Prime Minister Lukonde discussed the importance of organizing and holding free and fair elections as scheduled in 2023. The Secretary noted USAID will provide an additional $10 million to promote peaceful political participation and transparency in the elections, bringing total U.S. support of the DRC elections to $23.75 million. The two also discussed promoting respect for human rights, improving the investment climate, protecting the environment, countering corruption, and securing supply chains of critical minerals necessary for the global transition to cleaner forms of energy. The Secretary also emphasized the longstanding, close U.S.-DRC partnership on global health – most notably combating Ebola outbreaks – and on sustainable food production.

The United States and Rwanda: Strategic Partners

10 Aug

Office of the Spokesperson

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Rwanda on August 11, where he will meet with senior officials and civil society.  The United States and Rwanda cooperate on global and regional priorities, including ending the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and investing in health systems, addressing the climate crisis including support for clean energy, food security and production, building back to more inclusive global economic growth and development, and strengthening democracy, security, and respect for human rights.

U.S. – Rwanda Relations

  • The United States established diplomatic relations with Rwanda in 1962, following its independence from a Belgian-administered trusteeship. From 1990 to 1994, the country experienced civil war and genocide.  The United States seeks to help Rwanda meet the needs of its population, including increased social cohesion in a peaceful, democratic, and inclusive country that provides good governance and an enabling environment for private sector-led growth.
  • The United States assists Rwanda in improving the quality and sustainability of its health system; expanding economic opportunities in rural areas, particularly through a strengthened agricultural production and food security program; strengthening engagement between civil society and government; expanding access to electricity; and improving the foundational educational system and skills (literacy, numeracy, and workforce readiness) that prepare Rwandan youth for a modern service-based economy. These goals are carried out through a range of programs, including various presidential initiatives such as Feed the Future; Power Africa; Prosper Africa; the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI); and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
  • U.S. humanitarian assistance supports over 127,000 refugees hosted in Rwanda with lifesaving health, protection, and livelihood programs. U.S assistance also promotes regional economic integration to spur business development, entrepreneurship, and increased employment opportunities.
  • The United States provided over $147 million in bilateral assistance to Rwanda in FY 2021, supporting integrated programming to advance goals in democracy and governance; health and nutrition; basic and higher education; youth, and economic growth including food security; and environment programs. Other assistance includes Power Africa, support for renewable energy projects, and programs to address transnational crime, police accountability, and peacekeeping activities.

Health Assistance and Pandemic Response

  • The U.S. government is the largest contributor to Rwanda’s health sector with annual investment of about $116 million in the last three years, benefitting an estimated 13 million Rwandans. As a result of our investments in partnership with the Government of Rwanda, 93% of Rwandans living with HIV are currently receiving life-saving HIV treatment, the mortality rate of children under age five has decreased by about 77 percent since 2000, and the average Rwanda’s life expectancy has increased by 20 years over the same period.
  • The United States and Rwanda have collaborated closely to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and address the economic challenges of the pandemic. Our support has been a key factor in Rwanda’s success in vaccinating close to 70% of its total population, making it a leader among Sub-Saharan African countries.  The United States has provided nearly $23 million in assistance to Rwanda to fight and respond to COVID-19.  Since August 2021, the United States, in partnership with COVAX, has provided 5,550,030 safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine doses for the people of Rwanda – free of cost.  This includes 5,214,030 Pfizer doses (including 254,400 pediatric vaccine doses delivered in June 2022) and 336,000 J&J doses.

U.S.-Rwanda Economic Relationship:   

  • In 2021, U.S. imports from Rwanda totaled $31.4 million and U.S. exports to Rwanda were worth $49.9 million. Over the last decade, U.S.-Rwanda goods trade has been roughly even, with approximately $74.4 million in annual trade.
  • In November 2019, an American Chamber of Commerce was formed in Rwanda with 50 members. U.S. exports to Rwanda include aircraft, pharmaceutical and scientific products, machinery, optical and medical instruments, construction equipment, and agricultural products. U.S. imports from Rwanda include coffee and other agricultural products, tantalum and tungsten ores, basketwork, handbags, and apparel. Rwanda is currently eligible for limited preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
  • The United States and Rwanda have a trade and investment framework agreement (entered into force in 2006) and a bilateral investment treaty (entered into force in 2012). The United States has also signed trade and investment framework agreements with the East African Community (EAC) and with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Rwanda is a member of both regional organizations.  S. business interests in Rwanda are expanding, with private U.S. investment in tea, coffee, energy, mining, water treatment, banking, franchising, services, and manufacturing.

Climate and Energy:

  • The U.S. Government is supporting Rwanda to realize its clean energy goals through financing, grants, technical assistance, advocacy, and promotion of investments in renewable energy.
  • The U.S. government, working with the U.S. private sector through Power Africa, has facilitated about 566,246 off-grid and on-grid connections for homes and businesses across the country, bringing electricity to over 2,831,230 Rwandans over the past six years. In many rural areas, mini-grids and off-grid connections are providing households and businesses with electricity for the first time.
  • In line with our commitments to the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE), USAID is providing climate information to more than 100,000 Rwanda farmers so that they can make more climate informed decisions about when and what to plant. Eighty-one percent of those farmers used that info to make better decisions about when to plant and what to plant, which resulted in 56 percent increase in income even in the face of climate change.

U.S. Security Cooperation with Rwanda

  • In FY 2021, U.S. peace and security bilateral assistance for Rwanda totaled $500,000. The U.S. support to the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) includes border security, aviation security, training for peacekeepers, and broader professionalization efforts.
  • The United States supports Rwandan law enforcement to promote police accountability and reform and support anti-corruption efforts within Rwandan institutions. Other programs include support to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, initiatives to build the capacity of civil society organizations, and justice sector reform.

Governance and Human Rights    

  • The United States works with Rwanda to strengthen institutions and processes at the national and local levels to increase public participation in governance and foster greater transparency and accountability; advance gender equality and women’s empowerment; improve the operating space for civil society and the media; and deepen respect for human rights, including in combatting gender-based violence.
  • U.S. government democracy and governance bilateral assistance to Rwanda totaled approximately $2 million for FY 2021. This includes support for governance reform, anti-corruption efforts, and national reconciliation initiatives.

Humanitarian Assistance to Refugees  

  • Rwanda hosts over 127,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. In addition, Rwanda serves as a transit center for refugees and asylum seekers evacuating from Libya and has supported over 900 evacuees since 2019.
  • U.S. humanitarian assistance provides lifesaving and lifechanging support to refugees and asylum seekers through the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, and other international and non-governmental organizations. Since FY 2021, the United States provided more than $74 million in humanitarian assistance for Rwanda, including more than $36 million in FY 2022 alone.

People-to-People Ties 

  • In 2021, approximately 2,000 Americans visited Rwanda and approximately 2,500 Americans were resident in the country. The U.S. Embassy’s consular section issued 387 immigrant visas in FY 2021 and 855 non-immigrant visas (including 490 student visas).  Visa issuance for all visa categories experienced an approximately 25 percent drop during the COVID-19 pandemic but should return to exceed historical norms.
  • Over 100 Rwandans participate in U.S. government-sponsored in-person and virtual exchange programs annually, and the exchange program alumni community has more than 2,500 members. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two American Spaces in Rwanda received more than 39,000 visits per year.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Democratic Republic of Congo Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Before Their Meeting

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Primature

PRIME MINISTER LUKONDE:  (Via interpreter) I’d like to welcome the Secretary, and of course the meetings already began yesterday.  And welcome to the house of the prime minister.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  (Via interpreter) I am delighted to meet with the prime minister and to continue the discussions we started yesterday.  I do know that we have a very important agenda around various topics: food security, climate, the work that we’re conducting together to bring peace and security in the east of Congo.  All of these topics reflect the depth of our relationship.

(In English) It’s a pleasure to be here working on so many different things with the prime minister, following up on the discussions that we had yesterday with the president.  I think the agenda that we have is proof of the breadth and depth of the partnership between the United States and the DRC, a partnership, as we’ve called it, for peace and prosperity, for preservation of the environment.  And I’m very pleased with the opportunity to speak with the prime minister today about the work that we’re doing together.  Thanks.

Ecuador’s Independence Day

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States and the American people, I send warm greetings as you celebrate the 213th anniversary of your declaration of independence.

The United States proudly stands with Ecuador, a democratic leader in our hemisphere.  Our bilateral relationship grew over the past year as we worked closely to strengthen regional security and promote inclusive economic development.  During my October 2021 visit to Quito, I witnessed firsthand the ingenuity of Ecuadorian entrepreneurs and the commitment of the Ecuadorian people to defend human rights and fight corruption.

I commend Ecuador’s leadership and hospitality as host to hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees seeking a safe and better life.  The United States also applauds Ecuador’s significant contribution to tackling climate change.  President Lasso’s historic announcement this past year to vastly expand the marine reserve around the Galapagos Islands protects vital fisheries and this important world heritage site for generations to come.

The strong ties and shared values between our people provide the foundation to continue to grow our relationship in the years to come.

I extend my best wishes to the Ecuadorian people on this important day.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Democratic Republic of Congo Vice Prime Minister And Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula at a Joint Press Availability

10 Aug

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Cite de l’OUA

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) (In progress) Prime Minister of Foreign Affair, thank you for putting to our disposal the media – the international media present in this room (inaudible) conference, the first one, the first parts will be (inaudible) taking the floor His Excellency Mr. Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is going to (inaudible) Americans here.   And then he will submit the floor to (inaudible) the Secretary of State Mr. Blinken, and will take part (inaudible) this conference.  We will first submit the floor to the media so that they can submit their questions, and not just regarding the bilateral meeting (inaudible) but particularly regarding the meeting, face-to-face meeting with the president of the republic that (inaudible). Mr. President of the Democratic Republic of Congo allow, allow me to break in.  And Mr. Prime Minister, Vice Prime Minister, I submit the floor to you for your opening remarks.

VICE PRIME MINISTER LUTUNDULA:  (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary of State, in September of last year, receiving you in an audience in New York, the president of the republic Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo suggested to conduct an official visit to DRC, and you accepted the suggestion, the proposal.  And on June 2nd of last year, during our meeting in our cabinets, the Department of State in Washington, then after the decision of the chiefs of states, we communicated officially the invitation of the government of my country and to actually accept that visit.  And you told us, dear Antony, that you will come to DRC before the end of this year.  And given words and taken words (inaudible).

So this is evidence of the interests United States has to DRC to willing – the will of its leaders to develop with our country a cooperation and partnership, strategic partnership, and fruitful for American people and Congolese people.  Thank you very much for keeping your words, and thank you very much for this interest, and this will confirm today officially.  So we ensure that the chief of state, His Excellency Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the same dispositions of mind or of state of mind.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it’s based on this, on political will shared, to advance our old friendship that resists to the time and different challenges that we’ve faced throughout history, whatever they have been.  And it’s on –  it’s based on this and still based on it that have been marked by determination of the United States and of DRC to consolidate their partnership in a period that you actually know which is really, really turbulent.  And either in the international level or on the eastern side of the country, always in trouble, facing challenges with terrorists and an armed group that is – are killing our populations since two decades ago now.

And it’s based on this that we have exchanged and discussed bilaterally with the delegation, the American delegation, conducted by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and exchanging – exchanged on common interests, particularly in the following fields:  defense and security, focusing on security in the eastern side of the Congo, and military cooperations, finance and economy, precisely regarding the program of reform – economic reforms and foreign investment of the government, and the exploitation of natural resources industries.  We also exchanged on environment, mining, and democracy.

And based on all those materials, we have exchanged our analysis to develop a common understanding.  And more importantly, we have underlined new perspectives based on the reciprocal engagements.  And the hardest part remains to come, is yet to come.  And the main challenge that we are facing is actually on the implementation – the implementation of these new perspectives and this involvement in order to give real content to – tangible content to our cooperation or friendship, but also a content – a profitable content to Congolese and Americans, and that will give legitimacy to democracy and the fate and the well-being that you actually know in Democratic Republic of Congo, the ultimate goal, the outcomes of all political actions.

And on his part, Mr. Secretary of State, DRC will make biggest effort to honor his engagement and involvement, and I say it on the behalf of the chief of government that DRC has not – doesn’t have any reason, objective reason, to not believe that it will be – it will be likewise on behalf of Americans’ government.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  (Via interpreter) Dear Minister, dear Christophe, I’m happy to meet with you and to be in Kinshasa, and I would like to thank you and thank your President Tshisekedi for this very deep and productive meeting that we just had about an hour ago.

If you may, allow me to continue in English.

Good afternoon.  Good evening, everyone.  And just to repeat, it is a real pleasure to be here in Kinshasa.  This is my first visit as Secretary of State.  And as my friend Christophe said, I’m following up on a very kind invitation from the president and from the foreign minister, and now we’re here and very pleased to be so.  I again want to thank the president, the foreign minister, the entire team for the excellent conversations that we had this afternoon.  I was able to spend some time just one-on-one with the president.  The teams got together, and I think the fact that we have a very strong delegation here and we were able to spend time with our counterparts reflects the strength – the growing strength of the partnership between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the United States.

The DRC is central to pursuit of peace and prosperity in Africa and beyond.  Your commitment to democracy will shape not only your future but the region’s as well: the fight against corruption and the promotion of transparency, for example in the mining sector, these are critical to regional stability.  The Congo’s stewardship of its part of the Congo Basin, the rainforest, one of the largest on Earth, is vital to dealing with the climate crisis.  Your response to infectious disease protects people beyond your borders as well as within them.  In short, what happens here is felt in many places.  That’s why the work that our countries do together is so important.

Today, we had a chance, as the foreign minister said, to discuss a broad range of issues, to include our efforts – shared efforts to bring peace to the eastern DRC, our support for free, fair, and on-time elections next year, efforts to promote respect for human rights, to protect the environment, to promote clean energy, to improve the investment climate, to strengthen food security – all critical steps for the DRC to become the anchor of stability and prosperity that it can become.  And in these efforts, the United States is your steadfast partner.

Yesterday in South Africa, I had a chance to speak about what being a partner to countries across Africa actually means to us.  And as I said – but it’s worth repeating – too often African nations have been treated as instruments of other nations’ progress rather than as authors of their own progress.  Resources have been exploited for other countries’ gains.  People of the DRC know this all too well.  That is not what the United States will do.  We don’t want a one-sided transactional relationship.  Instead, we want to work with you on shared priorities in pursuit of shared goals.

One of those goals is strengthening democracy.  And we discussed reforms that reflect the will and aspirations of the Congolese people, including, as I said, preparations for next year’s free, fair, and on-time elections.

The DRC was a strong participant in the Summit for Democracy last year.  The work that’s already been done here to advance the rule of law, good governance, citizen participation, and human rights is commendable, but there’s more to do and I know that the DRC is committed to going forward.  To reduce the allure of joining armed groups, the young people of the DRC must see that there is a true path forward, a better path, a brighter future.

On the situation in the eastern DRC, we share a strong desire here – and that of so many people across the region and beyond – for the violence and suffering there to end at long last.  As we discussed, an enduring peace will require a political solution that respects the DRC’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.  To that end, the United States strongly supports the mediation efforts led by Angola and Kenya, and we urge continued cooperation with the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO and agree on the importance of its mandate to protect civilians.  And we fully endorse the pursuit of dialogue and cooperation between the DRC and its neighbors.  I intend to build on our discussions when I visit Rwanda tomorrow.

On climate, the Democratic Republic of Congo is vital to the future of the planet.  It’s as simple as that.  The Congo Basin rainforest absorbs more carbon than is emitted by the entire continent of Africa.  It’s a place of tremendous biodiversity.  Its rainfall helps sustain agriculture across the region.

We appreciate the short-term economic challenges confronting the Congo – the challenges facing countries all over the world, including the United States.  We agreed to work together to establish a formal working group to help Congolese achieve a balanced approach to responsible development of the country’s resources that contributes to Congo’s economic growth and to generating jobs.  By conserving irreplaceable forests and other ecosystems and by undertaking development projects only after carrying out rigorous environmental impact assessments, the DRC can act on behalf of all the world’s people to protect our shared home.

We talked about reforms to the mining sector.  We’ll continue to work together to ensure that investments in the DRC support best practices, that companies are engaged in a race to the top on environmental protections, labor rights, good governance, and transparency, not a race to the bottom that ends up hurting workers, hurting the environment, fueling armed conflict.

And on food security we’re very pleased that the DRC joined the Feed the Future program this summer.  This is a flagship program for the United States.  And even as we respond to some immediate humanitarian challenges and the crisis that has been created in food insecurity as a result of climate, of COVID, of conflict – Russia’s aggression in Ukraine – we’re also very focused on working in partnership with countries around the world to invest in sustainable, resilient food production for the long term.  That’s what Feed the Future is all about, and we’re very pleased that the DRC is a part of that.

At a moment when COVID-19, climate change, and conflict are all doing their part, as I said, to intensify food insecurity, it’s more important than ever that we tackle the root causes of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition, and we do it together.  We’re looking forward to working closely with the DRC on this in the months ahead.

The United States is committed to this partnership.  We see tremendous potential for us to do more together to advance stability, opportunity, democracy, health, and security for the people of Congo, our people, people in many other countries and regions whose lives will be shaped in part by your success and by your progress.

So that’s why I’ve come to Kinshasa, and why, again, I’m so pleased to be here.  And Christophe, thank you very much for your hospitality and for the very good meetings we’ve had so far.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, Excellencies, for your respective opening remarks and (inaudible) conference of press, and I’ll associate my dear fellow also be conveyed or invited to give (inaudible) interventions, and there will actually be four interventions on the side of media, two from the American side and two others from the Congolese side.  And I would then invite my colleague to choose two reporters that are ready for the questions.

MR PRICE:  We’ll start with Tracy Wilkinson, LA Times.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you just mentioned that you will be raising the issue of the violence in eastern Congo tomorrow when you are in Rwanda.  Will you be raising allegations that Rwanda is, in fact, backing the militias that have been attacking civilians in Congo?  Do you – does your government concur with the United Nations report that makes those allegations and seems to substantiate them?

And finally, here in Congo there is a public clamor for the United States to do more and help with this issue, to the extent that there are some people who believe that the United States is sort of turning a blind eye to this issue.  How do you respond to that?

And Mr. Minister, have you received assurances from the Secretary that he will seriously raise this issue of Rwanda’s support for the militias?  And do you have confidence that that’s going to help?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  I think it’s fair to say that we’re certainly not turning a blind eye.  In fact, I’m here.  I’m going to Rwanda tomorrow, and a big focus of this trip – but not just this trip, the work that we’re doing day in, day out – is to make sure the United States is doing everything it can to support the very important African-led mediation efforts, particularly processes that are being led by Kenya and Angola, to bring peace, security, and stability to the eastern Congo.

We are not only following this very closely and carefully, we’re engaged on it.  And I had the opportunity to speak at length to the minister about this a couple months ago in Washington.  Of course, it was a focus of my conversation with the president today.  It’ll be a focus of the conversation with President Kagame when we’re in Rwanda.

We are very concerned by credible reports that Rwanda has provided support to M23.  We call on all parties in the region to stop any support or cooperation with M23 or, for that matter, any other non-state armed group.  That is essential to actually bringing peace and security to the region.  And we urge the groups themselves – M23, all non-state armed groups operating in the eastern DRC – to cease violence, to demilitarize, to pursue talks, as necessary, with the government.

Let me simply add that all countries have to respect their neighbors’ territorial integrity.  This is a proposition that we take very seriously around the world.  We’ve spent some time talking about that when it comes to Ukraine.  It’s equally important here.  Any entry of foreign forces into the DRC must be done transparently, with the consent of the DRC, de-conflicted from the UN mission, and pre-notified to the Security Council, consistent with the UN resolution.

So to circle back to where you were, this is a front and center, part of the reason I’m here, as well as deepening and expanding the broader partnership that we have with the DRC on the issues that the minister and I talked about.

VICE PRIME MINISTER LUTUNDULA:  (Via interpreter) (In progress) regarding to what the Secretary of State just said.  So I want to – also to remind you in reality the United States was – were our first – the first country to care about the presence and to support of Rwanda to the M23.  And remember that the declaration that has been delivered by the representative, diplomatic representative of United States in Kinshasa, and initiated the talk or discussion with the representative of member-states’ ambassadors and the Secretary (inaudible).  And the embassy was expressing its – the appreciation of the United States regarding to this information that we have received.

So I followed today the interview of the Secretary of State.  I think it was (inaudible) from Johannesburg.  He didn’t hide it at all, the way Americans perceive the issue, and he said it himself that it’s thematic, in fact, that will it be discussed, and he’s done well to state it again.  He said he would talk about it in bilateral meeting.  And as I say, there is no reason not to believe to what the Secretary of State said, and more again because it’s the truth.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Next question, American side.

MR PRICE:  Edward Wong, New York Times.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you.  Mr. Minister, last year, the – your government pledged to help protect the rainforest resources here in the DRC, but your call for companies to step forward on – and bid for up to 30 blocks of rainforest land to do energy extraction from there seems to undermine the pledge from the government.  How do you address the criticism of that?  And what would you say to the international organizations and donors that stepped forward to support your pledge when it was made?

And Mr. Secretary, the DRC has made the argument that it needs the revenue from this energy to help bring its citizens out of poverty and to get its economic engine going. You mentioned that yourself and acknowledged that.  You said that you were forming a working group.  Are there any concrete plans or proposals related to trade or economics that you’re putting forward to the DRC to try and stem this auction that they’ve called for?  Thank you.

VICE PRIME MINISTER LUTUNDULA:  (Via interpreter) So our commitment to protect, as I said, the biodiversity and to ensure – I want to assure everybody here that we will stay firm regarding to the commitment and we’re not going to settle (inaudible).  So the call for the – I think which is (inaudible) 27 petroleum blocks and gas blocks (inaudible) recissions.  So the first one we’re not selling them.  There are concessions that will be (inaudible).  We’re not selling the public auction ones.

So the second is generally we’re protecting the ecosystem for the well-being for mankind.  That mean (inaudible) here to eat, to enjoy, to heat – heat electricity, water, and so forth.  So today, DRC finds paradox that’s – conduct as to – the DRC is – is rich, is a wealthy country, but with a very poor population.  But the challenge is to find an equilibrium, a balance between the well-being of Congolese people and also the necessity to guarantee the – a framework, a development framework, an ecological framework (inaudible).

And what we have done is exactly to make sure that the nature in (inaudible) as is wealth in our country to protect it without – preventing the destructions.  But as you know, we know that there are some countries that are exploiting DRC’s riches as for – since years now and not respecting at all the biodiversity.  And so what we are trying to do is not to damage the ecosystem.  So they’re in Africa, in Europe, and so on.

So what is important for us is that – it’s what we’ve been talking about.  What we talked about with the American delegation is that whoever has the technology, I mean, that we need to do a lot – to save and secure our ecological system, the ecosystem, are welcome in our country.  We’re counting on (inaudible) capacities, technology capacities of countries like United States (inaudible) and so on to actually help us securing nature diversity and biodiversity.  This is how we conceive or perceive the issue and certainly did in conditional – in the standards that we’re going to establish in (inaudible) over – it won’t be – it’s enterprises that will come to exploit the resources we not allow them to kill, to destroy the nature.  But what we’re doing is to put the nature into the service of the human Congolese people and humanity entire.

So this is what I wanted to say, and once more I was satisfied to the same – the same understanding – to share the same understanding with the Secretary of State, and then we are also happy that we’re going to work together.  And I also seize the opportunity to say that United States and DRC will quickly set a working group on climate change and which going to be our consultation framework where we share a common interest.  And that’s also a guarantee, a structure that is going to help us to (inaudible) necessity to see Congolese people profiting from this.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And just to follow up on the minister, President Tshisekedi very eloquently talked about Congo as a solution country when it comes to climate change, when it comes to protecting the environment, conserving and protecting the Congo Basin, the rainforest in particular.  DRC is home to vast forests and peatlands, and this is a critical habitat for plants, wildlife, and it’s crucial for us to avoiding climate catastrophe.  And there’s a strong track record of leadership on conservation and climate as part of our relationship.  Back at COP26, the world made a collective pledge, $1.5 billion, to support the Congo Basin’s forest.

So in that context, we had concerns about the announcement of the auction of these oil and gas exploration blocks.  Some of the blocks infringe on sensitive rainforest and peatland areas, including in the Virunga National Park and Salonga National Park.

But what you just heard from the foreign minister is exactly what the president said to me: a commitment to make sure that DRC is a solution country when it comes to protecting the environment and combating climate change, and in particular to make sure that everything contemplated will proceed – or not proceed, I should say – in the absence of full environmental impact assessments and studies and making sure that any development that is done is not done in a way that harms the environment or that undermines the important role that DRC plays in combating climate change.

But to that end, as the minister said, as I noted earlier, we agreed today to form a working group on this issue.  Because as the minister said, here’s the challenge:  The DRC needs additional resources, support, financing in order to do what is necessary to fully protect the rainforest and the peatlands, which are already under tremendous challenge, irrespective of any energy exploration or exploitation.  We see deforestation that’s already taking place; we see a challenge to the resources that are already there.  And the government wants to be able to act on that.  But it needs assistance, it needs help to do that.

That’s exactly the commitment that was made by countries around the world at COP26.  So what we want to do is now get together and work this very closely together to make sure that on the one hand these resources are being protected and that what’s irreplaceable is not damaged, but at the same time that the necessary support is there for the DRC to do the work that it needs to do to preserve the rainforest, the peatlands, and to create opportunity for its people.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Excellencies.  And now we are going to submit our (inaudible) question.  We’ll begin with Madam Tudieshe of VOA.

QUESTION:  Merci.  Mr. Blinken, would you prefer me to ask the question in English or in French?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Either way.  (inaudible)

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good morning, Mr. Blinken, (inaudible).  Secretary of State, you are visiting for the first time the biggest countries of – French-speaking countries in Africa, and you’re staying 24 hours.  And it seems that you are staying – you stayed – you will stay is twice this time, like 24 hours, 48 hours, in Rwanda.  So do you understand that the short stay that – in DRC is not really appreciated as we wished in DRC?

And to you, Mr. Lutundula, you have been a star in social medias in Congo and abroad, and when you are intervene at the Security Council of UN you made last May.  And meanwhile, there were this UN report that explained clearly that Rwanda was still behind M23.  So we – our (inaudible) has been established in the (inaudible) regarding the (inaudible) are clear in the rest of the world, and stand and say what’s come of this and been talked about decades ago.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  (In French.)

In fact, just for what it’s worth, I’m spending pretty much the same amount of time in the DRC as I am in Rwanda, and we’re here for – I wish we could be here longer.  But we’re here for about 24 hours; we’ll be in Rwanda for about 24 hours.  So if we’re comparing schedules, it’s pretty much the same thing.

But what is most important is the work that we’ve gotten done today, we’ll continue to get done tomorrow between the United States and the DRC, and both of us have talked about it.  There is an extraordinary breadth as well as depth to the work that we’re doing together.  It covers numerous issues of concern to the people in both of our countries, the region, and the world.

And while the focus of this trip is eastern Congo and the United States doing what it can to support efforts to mediate and prevent a crisis from erupting, as we both discussed, there was a lot more that we talked about today and that we’re working on together today, including work that we’re doing together to combat climate change, to provide economic opportunity here in the DRC, to deal with the food insecurity crisis, to pursue democratic reforms, and many other things that we talked about.

So I would simply invite you to look at everything that the minister set out as part of our agenda today as evidence of the breadth and depth of this partnership and the commitment that we both have to growing it even stronger in the months and years ahead.

VICE PRIME MINISTER LUTUNDULA:  (Via interpreter) (In progress) talked about the (inaudible) so we do not (inaudible).  So as you know in this field and in – as it in other fields, the responsibilities are not claimed (inaudible).  They – we prove them, but we don’t claim them.  So to prove them, so there are some trust issues (inaudible) state of (inaudible) that state of (inaudible) is some pillars over construction of Democratic State of Congo, is authority the chief of states (inaudible).  And then all that’s can support to establish this enforcement the goal is to identify the other, as we’ve said previously to our neighbor, that whoever is going to be caught with being in a lie over those M23 armed forces will be, and the persons haven’t (inaudible).  So the sanction will fall in compliance with what’s (inaudible).  The work has to be conducted on the level – at a level of the ones who have the responsibilities of DRC, the DRC like military – the army and the justice (inaudible) – and will have sanctions for them.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I would to invite Mr. Jacques Kini of Univers TV to ask his question.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much.  The first question is addressed to Mr. Blinken.  Mr. Blinken, (inaudible) yesterday morning in South Africa (inaudible) you’re worrying about a possible advance in the conflict in Rwanda.  And of course, the – because of the war caused by the M23 you tried to reduce, mitigate the conflict.  So I want to know how the United States want to make it into a good decision between DRC and Rwanda.

My second question is addressed to Vice Prime Minister Mr. Lutundula.  (Inaudible) of DRC, as stated, are established, but what are DRC (inaudible) of Rwanda in supporting M23 (inaudible)?  Where is DRC regarding United Nations and also to – regarding all the war materials?  And the second question is: Are we going to expect acknowledge from the United States as – as they stated, the inventory is terrorism problem.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Merci, thank you.  As I noted earlier, the big focus of my visit here and then tomorrow’s visit to Rwanda is to support the important medication efforts that are already underway – African-led – to try to stop conflict, violence in the eastern DRC.  And this is an opportunity for me, of course, to speak directly with the president, with the foreign minister.  I’ll have the same opportunity with President Kagame in Rwanda.  And our focus right now is on supporting the efforts that are underway, notably by Angola and Kenya, to bring this challenge to an end, to cease violence and demobilize armed group, to pursue talks as well.

So I don’t want to get ahead of myself any further because I’ll have an opportunity to pursue this as well in conversations with the Rwandan Government over the next 24 hours.  But we’re in very regular contact about this.  I’m in very regular contact as well with partners in Africa, to include the Kenyans, the Angolans.  And our hope is to do whatever we can in support of these mediation efforts to prevent further violence, to end conflict, to preserve the territorial integrity of the DRC as we do it.

VICE PRIME MINISTER LUTUNDULA:   (Via interpreter) (In progress) the report of the experts group proved that the support of Rwanda to M23 and the presence of its military on Congo soil.  I think that we have to acknowledge that diplomacy for peace, for cooperations, and friendship between people that President Tshisekedi is conducting since his (inaudible) is moving forward and bearing fruit.  It’s obviously the – it’s obviously the (inaudible) can notice  (inaudible) where we have – is conducted so far by the President Tshisekedi.

And today, the problem that reports – that we highlight in the report that we want – need to be examined by the Council of Security.  In Congo we have an unfortunate experience.  The mapping reports that has been submitted, I think, about 10 years ago now, hasn’t been examined.  They were talking about it, and we did not know at last what we’re going to do with it one day.  So we’re asking and (inaudible) that the Security Council firstly publish the report as it is integrally and then examine it.  And then we have written yesterday to the president of Security Council.  The letter has been sent, delivered yesterday.  And today, we received the commission’s – African Commission.

So the Government of Republic of Congo under the authority of (inaudible) has started this exam, examination of this report and its contributions.  It’s very important – its contribution by all the (inaudible) bilateral and multilateral in order to remove (inaudible) of greater share that are created deliberately, and find a solution, a sustainable solution.  This means that the report is actually the diagnosis that will allow us to find medicines that we need.

So of course, it’s a big issue that – of course, the resolution that have been voted lately didn’t please everybody.  But it’s also true that we have technology that we could at least try to manage the issue in order that some kind of weapons that are no longer used.  So it’s an – I can say an improvement, but the real – the challenge is still real, still effective.  So it is that there’s a suspicion on DRC that’s made that the trust – the convenience, banks, and even (inaudible) that we can legally to (inaudible) and to buy weapons.  We do not do it because at level of United States and the Security Council, we are on the blacklists.  We are blacklisted and it’s not a small thing.

So we can see the (inaudible) of the republic is (inaudible) and we continue to insist to our partners like United States, who is with us all the time, and in order to remove this barriers, in order to be completely clean, in order to allow this to become – to start building a powerful defense system and also to equip us with instruments, defense equipment through our army.

So the folder is still open.  The issue is open.  So can we expect that the United States acknowledge the M23 as a terrorist group – is that the question?  I hope – it’s not to me that you need to ask.  I cannot respond to that question.  But what I know, I can – I will say it.  The first country before the global coalition’s (inaudible) acknowledges at Marrakesh, where we have participated to a session to that organization to which we belong, the United States and – let me say are the first to acknowledge and tell to the world that there is – how can I say it – cancer, I can say cancer test, cancer disease kind of in DRC, on the eastern side of DRC.

So I think the United States will really take it in consideration.  So this is what I can tell – I can tell you regarding – to your questions.  So we’re trying to make sure that every – our partners understand that M23 are not difference to terrorist movement.  So still on that point, you can bet on the – you can watch the conversion of the African Union, I think it was, of 2002.  That conference classify M23 as a terrorist group and it’s inside of our country.  So that’s what I can say.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) So Excellencies, on the behalf of all the media here present, we thank you for your availability, and good evening to you.