On December 6-7, 2021, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez will travel to Houston, Texas, for the World Petroleum Congress (WPC) and to engage local stakeholders and foreign government officials on global issues that matter to the American public, including supply chains, energy security, and building an equitable clean energy economy of the future.
During this trip, the Under Secretary will also meet with the Houston Mayor’s office, students and researchers at Texas Southern University, a historically Black university, and leaders of the local Asian American and Pacific Islander business community to discuss partnering on a range of activities such as building transparency and resiliency in supply chains and promoting equitable access to U.S. government resources, tools, and support for small- and medium-sized businesses, including in U.S. advocacy and support for American companies abroad.
In line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment that U.S. foreign policy will deliver for the American middle class, the Under Secretary is committed to hearing from a broad and diverse range of U.S. stakeholders and communities on issues such as promoting sustainable and inclusive global economic growth and strengthening global climate ambition.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Stefano Sannino will participate in a virtual conversation on “U.S.-EU cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” hosted by the Brookings Institution on Friday, December 3 at 2:30 p.m. EST.
The event comes after the second session of the U.S.-EU Dialogue on China, co-chaired by Deputy Secretary Sherman and EEAS Secretary General Sannino on December 2, and high-level consultations on the Indo-Pacific earlier in the day on December 3.
QUESTION: Mr. Blinken, thank you so much for your time. Very happy to see you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I would like to start with a question. How do you see current security situation in the Baltics?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think we have – what we’ve seen here – first of all, Latvia’s done a wonderful job in hosting the NATO alliance, bringing all of us together, and at an important moment, because there are security challenges that we’re all concerned by, especially the situation involving both Ukraine and Belarus. But for our Baltic allies and partners – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – I think we’ve seen a very clear recommitment among all the Allies to the alliance, to Article 5, and also a recognition of the very important contributions that Latvia and our other Baltic partners make to the alliance.
QUESTION: So we are on the same side at the moment?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we’re allies, and allies have commitments. And President Biden feels very strongly about those commitments – about the NATO alliance, about Article 5, and the basic proposition that an attack on one is an attack on all. As you know, the only time Article 5 was invoked in the history of NATO was in defense of the United States after the attacks on 9/11. It’s something we’ll never forget, and we have the same commitment to our allies and partners.
QUESTION: Can I (inaudible) – I wanted to ask you: You are here at a very difficult moment for us because we have the situation in – on Belarusian and Polish border.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: And Lithuania and also Latvia, we are involved in the situation. How do you see – should NATO get involved more?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We strongly condemn the use by the Lukashenka regime of innocent migrants as a political weapon, as an effort at destabilization. We’ve stood up strongly against that; so has Latvia. We’re working very closely with the European Union, including on additional sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, both for what it’s done in weaponizing migration but also what it’s done to oppress the rights of the Belarusian people. And we appreciate very much the stand that Latvia has taken, the support that it’s given to the Belarusian opposition. And I think what I heard among all of the allies was strong support for democracy in Belarus and opposition to the actions of the regime, both in terms of migration and in terms of democracy in Belarus.
QUESTION: Speaking about this meeting, one of the key questions is a new concept of NATO.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: The Strategic Concept.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: And we have heard that it might change a lot because the world around NATO has changed a lot. And for us, it’s very interesting. We know so far Russia has mentioned – has been mentioned as partner, current Strategic Concept.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: What about the future? How would you define Russia in the future?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, you’re exactly right. The last time we – that NATO wrote a Strategic Concept was in 2010, and the world looked very different. Russia was referred to as a partner; China was not mentioned. And all sorts of new challenges, new threats, particularly in cyberspace, hybrid conflict, outer space – none of that was part of it because it was a different world. So the new Strategic Concept which the Allies agreed to pursue at the last summit and agreed to conclude by the next summit in Spain next spring will reflect the challenges that the alliance faces today, not the challenges that it faced a decade ago.
But Russia remains very much front and center in our concerns, so does terrorism, and I think the basic foundation that we have of making sure that we have strong defense and deterrence, that we have the ability to engage in appropriate management of conflicts as well as strengthening partnerships with other countries, including in different parts of the world, those will remain the foundation. But the Strategic Concept will reflect the world that we’re living in now, not the world we were living in 2010.
QUESTION: Tomorrow, you go see Mr. Lavrov, foreign affairs minister of Russia, in Stockholm. What are you going to tell him? What are you expecting out of this meeting? Which message would you like to provide?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, before I see Foreign Minister Lavrov, I’ll be seeing Foreign Minister of Kuleba of Ukraine. I’ve spent the last two days here in Latvia consulting very closely with our Allies in NATO. We’ve had many consultations with allies and partners in recent weeks, all focused on the concerns we have about the situation in and around Ukraine, and particularly the – what we’re seeing in terms of very irregular movements and mobilization of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, the deep concern that that is provoking among all the Allies. And we’ve already had the opportunity to share those concerns directly with Moscow.
I will – I’ll do the same thing tomorrow when I see Mr. Lavrov, but I’ll do that having heard and consulted with all of our Allies here at NATO, and both here in Latvia and in recent weeks. And I think I’ll be able to reflect not just the view of the United States, but the view of all of the NATO Allies, both in terms of the concern that we have, and as well the conviction that if Russia were to engage in further aggression against Ukraine, there would be serious consequences.
QUESTION: What kind of —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I’m not going to get into that, but I can tell you that there’s clear resolve. At the same time, there is a diplomatic path forward that’s available. The Russians say that they believe the Minsk agreement should be implemented. The Ukrainians say the same thing. Well, I think if that were to happen, that at least would resolve the problem in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. It doesn’t resolve Crimea, but it does resolve the problem in eastern Ukraine. And so we’ll see if they’re serious about that. But there has to be a very clear understanding that if there’s further aggression in Ukraine, there’ll be consequences.
QUESTION: Mr. Blinken, thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to talk to you.
After President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law into law, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison kicked off a virtual press tour across several swing states to highlight how the president and Democrats across the country are delivering for the American people with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. From Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, Chair Harrison spoke about the importance of these investments and how they are going to deliver real, tangible results for Americans across the country.
Touting the $1 trillion dollar infrastructure package signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month, Democrats in Wisconsin and across the country continue to promote the boost to jobs, roads and bridges which they promise is coming.
“This is a big deal, it’s a really big deal and particularly for the people of Wisconsin,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison told Spectrum News 1. “In this legislation, $5.2 billion will go toward rebuilding roads and bridges in Wisconsin, almost $1 billion for clean drinking water, $592 million for public transit and one aspect of this bill which I believe is really, really important — the money for broadband…”
WTOC also speaking with Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison from South Carolina about the plans that would send millions to fix roads in need of repair in Georgia and South Carolina. Focusing in on Georgia, Harrison says the state will get nearly 9 million dollars to repair its roads and bridges, something he says both big cities and small will benefit from.
“That’s going to be extremely, extremely helpful for a lot of communities to have the infrastructure to make it easier to get to work and back and make it less dangerous. You know, I’ve driven the roads of both Georgia and South Carolina and I know that in some places there are potholes bigger than I am […] People have to get front-end alignments and flat tires and all that because the infrastructure is so poor.”
“You will start to see, and the people in Pennsylvania will start to see, immediate impact for many of the dollars that are coming through this infrastructure bill,” said Jaime Harrison, Chair of the Democratic National Committee.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. A short while ago, the NATO foreign ministers finished our final session. And I want to start by thanking our Latvian hosts for doing a wonderful job in bringing us all together, in hosting the alliance for two very productive days.
This meeting came at a critical time. In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up planning for potential military action in Ukraine, including positioning tens of thousands of additional combat forces near the Ukrainian border. The Lukashenka regime in Belarus has callously exploited the desperation of thousands of migrants to provoke a crisis along Belarus’s borders with Latvia, Poland, and Lithuania. Three months after Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan ended, the alliance remains focused on the fight against terrorism, including ISIS-K. And we’re pressing ahead in writing a new Strategic Concept for NATO to make sure the alliance is prepared for emerging threats in a changing world.
So here in Riga we discussed these topics and more. Secretary General Stoltenberg did a remarkable job leading our discussions, as he has done leading the alliance these past years. And he just covered a lot of ground in his own press conference, so let me just speak briefly to four key issues before taking questions.
First, on Russia and Ukraine. We’re deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine. The plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large scale military operations.
Now, we’ve seen this playbook before, in 2014 when Russia last invaded Ukraine. Then, as now, they significantly increased combat forces near the border. Then, as now, they intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor to justify pre-planned military action. We’ve seen that tactic again in just the past 24 hours.
And in recent weeks, we’ve also observed a massive spike – more than tenfold – in social media activity pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda, approaching levels last seen in the leadup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
Now, we don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide. So despite uncertainty about intentions and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to it that Russia reverses course.
The United States has been engaging intensively with allies and partners on this issue, and directly with President Putin. President Biden convened the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany on the situation in Ukraine at the G20 meeting in Rome a few weeks ago. Then, at the President’s direction, CIA Director Burns traveled to Moscow to convey our concerns, our commitment to a diplomatic process, and the severe consequences should Russia follow the path of confrontation and military action. We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.
Following my own meetings with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba last month, other senior State Department officials have been enegaging with Ukrainian partners, with NATO Allies, and with the Russians. And I came here to Riga to consult and coordinate with our Allies, and it is evident they are as resolute as we are. I heard that loud and clear in our discussions yesterday and today from virtually all NATO members, and in direct consultations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
We are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine. NATO is prepared to reinforce its defenses on the eastern flank.
My consultations will continue tomorrow at the OSCE foreign ministers meeting, where I’ll also meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The United States remains unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and committed to our security partnership with Ukraine. And just as we’ve been clear with Moscow, we’re also urging Ukraine to continue to exercise restraint. Because again, the Russian playbook is to claim provocation for something that they were planning to do all along.
Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis. The most promising avenue for diplomacy is for Russia and Ukraine to returnt to dialogue in the context of the Minsk agreements, which aims to end the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. President Putin said recently, and I quote, “There is no alternative to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.” President Zelenskyy has also reiterated Ukraine’s continued commitment to Minsk.
The United States reaffirms our support for diplomacy and for implementing the Minsk agreements. We call on all sides to restore the ceasefire to July 2020 levels. And we urge Russia to de-escalate, to reverse the recent troop buildup, to return forces to normal peace-time positions, to pull back heavy weapons and forces from the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, to refrain from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine internally, and to leave plans for further military action behind.
That’s how we can turn back from a crisis that would have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for our bilateral relations with Moscow, for Russia’s relations with Europe, for international peace and security.
Second, on Belarus. In light of the destabilizing actions taken by the Lukashenka regime, the North Atlantic Council has suspended cooperation with Belarus. The United States is preparing additional sanctions in close coordination with the European Union and other partners and allies. We call on the regime to immediately stop using migrants as political weapons. We will hold the regime accountable for its ongoing disregard for democracy, for human rights, for the rule of law.
Third, on Afghanistan. Three months after the end of NATO military operations in Afghanistan, our work together continues. For 20 years, NATO made sure that Afghanistan could not again become a safe haven for terrorists to threaten our countries and our people. That’s why we went there in the first place. No attacks on allies or partners originated in Afghanistan during that time, and together we decimated al-Qaida’s capacity to attack any of our countries or people from Afghanistan. Now, NATO remains fully committed to the fight against terrorism worldwide and will use all our capabilities to aid in that fight.
I also took the opportunity to thank NATO Allies and partners again for all the contributions that they made to the end of Operation Resolute Support and the successful evacuation of more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan. From providing military bases for transit to setting up temporary housing facilities for Afghan evacuees and their families to stepping forward to welcome those families to new permanent homes, NATO Allies and partners did whatever it took to get the job done.
For our part, the United States has facilitated the departure since September 1st of 470 U.S. citizens, 417 lawful permanent residents, and other Afghans at risk. Around 83,000 Afghans have arrived in the United States to start new chapters in their lives. And together, as an alliance, we’re discussing and tackling many of the challenges that remain, from humanitarian concerns to the security situation.
Fourth, the new Strategic Concept for NATO. The work that we’ll do on that Strategic Concept between now and the summit next year is vitally important for modernizing our alliance, making sure that it’s able to address challenges we’ll face in the future, fostering unity among the Allies as we navigate an increasingly complex and unpredictable security environment. I think as you know, the current Strategic Concept, the one that we’re operating under now, dates to 2010, when Russia was considered a partner, China was not mentioned, and the alliance did not yet account for new challenges like cyber threats and the climate crisis.
I again want to commend Secretary General Stoltenberg for leading this process so effectively. We’ll do our part to help produce a Strategic Concept that reflects the world that we live in and the unique strengths that the alliance brings to bear on that world, because the United States is deeply committed to NATO. It’s critical to our security. It’s built on shared values. It’s a powerful force for stability in Europe and North America. And at a moment when many democracies are facing serious challenges and the international rules-based order is increasingly under threat, NATO must remain strong; it must remain united. President Biden has made revitalizing America’s alliances, starting with NATO, a number-one priority. And our commitment to the security of our Allies and to Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all – is ironclad.
And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.
MR PRICE: We have time for three questions. We’ll start with Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: You’ve just warned Russia of economic consequences, but what exactly are those measures? Will the U.S., for example, go as far as cutting off Moscow from the global financial system? And since Russia has already been sanctioned and weathered those sanctions, what makes you think that Putin will be deterred by today’s warning?
And super-quickly, if I may add, Russia said today it was ordering U.S. embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to leave by end-January. What is your response? And isn’t this diplomatic row and already tense relations setting you up for a rather challenging meeting tomorrow with your counterpart, Sergey Lavrov? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, first, let me say that we’ve already demonstrated in the 10 months or so of this administration that we can and we will respond to harmful Russian actions: SolarWinds, election interference, repression against Mr. Navalny, and others. Should Russia follow the path of confrontation when it comes to Ukraine, we’ve made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past.
I’m not going to spell those out to you today, but what I can tell you is this: We’ve shared our thinking with allies and partners, and I found a tremendous solidarity across the board in a determination and willingness to pursue strong measures if Russia invades Ukraine and commits renewed acts of aggression. We’ll be working closely with allies and partners in the days and weeks ahead to flesh out the details. We will be in lockstep with our allies on this. And again, should Russia reject diplomacy and reinvade Ukraine, we will be prepared to act.
It’s very important that, again, Russia understand that any of the actions that it’s contemplating will have serious consequences. Equally important, we are making sure that – Allies are making sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself, and at the same time, the alliance will look at what it needs to do in the event of further Russian aggression to shore up its own defenses.
Finally, as I said, we continue to believe that there is a diplomatic path forward, and that is by far the preferred path. We are certainly not looking for conflict. And that diplomatic path forward lies in the Minsk agreements that were reached in 2014 and 2015 but that have not been implemented, principally because Russia has reneged on its commitments. But both parties, Ukraine and Russia, have made commitments under the Minsk agreements. If both actually implement them and hold to them, then there is a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine and the Donbas, and we strongly urge Russia to follow that path, and at the same time, now to pull back from what it is doing, to remove the buildup of forces from the borders, to restore the ceasefire to where it was in July 2020, to stop the destabilizing and provocative actions that it’s engaged in.
And I’ll certainly share that with Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow, just as we’ve already shared that at the highest levels with our Russian counterparts. We’ve said, President Biden has made clear to President Putin that our strong preference would be for a stable and predictable relationship. Russia’s actions toward Ukraine go in exactly the opposite direction, and we urge them strongly to reconsider.
MR PRICE: Alex Marquardt, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Would Russia actually need to carry out some sort of military action in order to face the serious – these serious consequences? Or is there a level of intervention, some of which you just described in terms of their disinformation campaigns, which would trigger some of these consequences? And though you said you won’t go into some of the detail today, what level of detail will you give to Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow?
And if I may just ask you to respond to some comments that President Putin made today. He said that he will insist on an elaboration from the U.S. and Allies of an exclusion of further NATO advancement in the east and deployment of weapon systems in the immediate vicinity of Russia. If you could respond to that.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure. Thanks, Alex. Again, I’m not going to spell out today the specifics. We will at the appropriate time share that with Moscow so that they, again, understand fully what’s at risk, what the consequences would be if they commit further aggression against Ukraine, and at the same time we will work through all of the details with our partners and Allies, again, who are – who have a shared conviction that the Russians must not engage in these actions, as well as a clear, shared commitment – certainly one I heard directly from France, from Germany, and the United Kingdom – to make sure that there is a price to be paid and real consequences for any actions that Russia might take. And again, the purpose of this is to dissuade Mr. Putin from making the wrong decision when it comes to aggression on Ukraine.
I saw the statement that you referred to and, quite frankly, it’s perplexing because the idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia is – would be a bad joke if things weren’t so serious. NATO itself is a defensive alliance. We’re not a threat to Russia. We don’t have aggressive intent toward Russia. Every step that we take is designed to make sure that we have in place effective defensive measures to protect the members of the alliance, as well to help our partners have in place the defensive needs so that they can properly defend themselves against aggression. That is the purpose of the alliance. And the idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia or, for that matter, that NATO represents a threat to Russia is profoundly wrong and misguided.
MR PRICE: Our final question will go to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks a lot, and good afternoon. My question is not on Ukraine but on disarmament, which was also on your agenda of this meeting. The incoming German government intends to join the Conference of Parties at the – or for the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, much as the government – much like the government in Norway, which has taken a similar decision. So my question to you is: How do you assess that in view of an alliance that continues to rely on nuclear deterrence? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Let me say a few things on that. First and most important, we the United States are committed to our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That’s what’s been at the heart of the global nonproliferation and disarmament effort for now more than 50 years. We also very much understand and share the desire to advance nuclear disarmament goals. We are committed to those goals, and we’ve demonstrated that by actions that we’ve taken over many years, including in the efforts to pursue disarmament with Russia – most recently, again, with the extension of the New START agreement. But we do not support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons because, simply put, it will do nothing to help us achieve those goals.
To put a finer point on it, seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that does not include any of the countries that actually possess nuclear weapons is not likely to produce any results. Our position on this issue has spanned administrations. It’s shared by all the other nuclear weapon states and our NATO Allies as the alliance reiterated during our summit in June, and other allies covered by our nuclear umbrella.
We welcome the German coalition’s announcement that they plan to remain part of the NATO nuclear sharing agreement. We stand ready to work with all countries on tangible and verifiable measures to reduce strategic risk and enable real progress on nuclear disarmament. That is the objective. And to be clear, and I just want to emphasize this, we don’t for a minute question the motivations of TPNW supporters, but we simply don’t believe that the treaty will aid in actually meeting the objectives that we share.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, everyone.
Poor Kevin McCarthy. Not only are two of his members locked in a vicious and deeply personal Twitter war, but he’s been exposed yet again as a totally incompetent leader who’s so weak he can’t control his caucus even if he tried. While President Biden and Democrats are using every tool at their disposal to lower the costs for families and continue to grow the economy, Kevin McCarthy’s clown show of a Republican caucus has fully gone off the rails.
Kevin McCarthy’s attempt to settle a day-long, vicious, and very public feud between two of his members failed miserably, as Marjorie Taylor Greene walked out on him and both members continued trading barbs.
Politico: “Mace and Greene keep feuding, despite McCarthy’s effort to intervene”
Wall Street Journal: “A spokesman for GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) didn’t return a request for comment. The war of words between the two lawmakers continued on Twitter and in television interviews well into the afternoon. Late in the day, Mr. McCarthy met with them individually in his office.”
CNN’s Manu Raju: “Just this evening, behind closed doors, Kevin McCarthy summoned each of them for private meetings, discussing with them, telling them this message. He wanted them to ‘stop it.’ That message did not take hold.”
CNN: “But despite McCarthy’s efforts to privately cool the intraparty tensions, his tactics don’t seem to be having much of an effect on the far-right conservatives. After leaving the meeting with McCarthy, Greene told CNN that she and Trump would back a primary challenge against Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college, who had been seen by party leaders as a top recruit last cycle.”
But yesterday’s humiliation is just the latest example of Kevin McCarthy’s total lack of leadership. His caucus has been driven by chaos and infighting all year, and there’s no end in sight.
Republican Lawmaker: “If Kevin McCarthy does not get Marjorie Taylor Greene in line somewhat, either through the conference disciplining her, or privately, it is going to undermine our efforts […] And this is where leadership can step up. And I think if he doesn’t, you’re going to have a bit more of a civil war on your hands.”
MSNBC: “As 2021 has unfolded, GOP lawmakers have spent much of the year going after one another. Wyoming’s Liz Cheney has been a popular target for her Republican colleagues, as has Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger. There’s been some intra-party grumbling about Arizona’s Paul Gosar, too. More recently, the 13 House Republicans who voted for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package faced an intense backlash from their ostensible partisan allies.”
The Hill: “McCarthy’s behind-the-scenes strategy has had its limits, as GOP lawmakers he’s counseled have repeatedly either doubled down on the infighting or remained unrepentant.”
On behalf of the United States of America, I congratulate the people of Laos on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
We were honored this year to commemorate the fifth anniversary of our Comprehensive Partnership, which former President Obama first launched in 2016. Our partnership is based on mutual respect, a shared commitment to Lao sovereignty, and the centrality of ASEAN.
We are proud of the strong people-to-people ties that exist between our countries, and our Comprehensive Partnership reflects the United States’ strong commitment to work with Laos to achieve progress in many areas, including health, education, rule of law, economic development, law enforcement, and trade.
The Department of State is pleased to announce the appointment of David B. Sullivan as the new U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (on Responsible Business Conduct) and a Senior Adviser for Corporate Social Responsibility. This is an important position for promoting business conduct that is commercially viable and conducted in a manner consistent with high standards related to labor, the environment, human rights, and other sustainability factors. Mr. Sullivan’s appointment reflects our objective to further enhance the NCP role, as a part of broader efforts to promote sustainable economic policies, including a foreign policy that benefits all Americans.
The Guidelines, established in 1976, and most recently updated in 2011, are the leading set of comprehensive guidance from governments on responsible business conduct. The role of the NCP is to promote awareness of the Guidelines, to facilitate their practical application, and to seek to resolve, through mediation or conciliation, disputes or “specific instances” regarding an enterprise’s conduct.
Mr. Sullivan brings to this role a wealth of experience in human rights, investment policy, dispute settlement, and multilateral diplomacy. His years of service in a number of important positions within the Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser have included close work with both business and civil society.
“We strongly support the OSCE Chair’s efforts to make progress on the region’s peace and security. Sweden can count on the U.S. as a partner to advance OSCE principles.”
-Secretary Blinken January 29, 2021
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest and most comprehensive regional security organization with 57 participating states from Europe and Eurasia, as well as Canada and the United States. The OSCE’s foundational principles, enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, constitute a comprehensive approach to security, recognizing that peace and prosperity in the region depends on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States as well as on respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals.
The OSCE is the primary multilateral organization through which the United States advances our goals across a vast region in the political-military, economic-environmental, and human dimensions of security.
U.S. engagement in the OSCE helps to: prevent and resolve conflicts; address regional and transnational threats; rebuild and enhance military transparency and predictability; promote sustainable economic and environmental policies; combat corruption; advance democratic reforms; defend human rights and fundamental freedoms; support civil society and independent media; and promote tolerance and non-discrimination.
Our engagement in the OSCE together with our democratic Allies and partners plays an important role in defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine against aggression. This aggression includes Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea and its ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine. The United States supports implementation of the Minsk agreements through various fora, especially the OSCE-led Trilateral Contact Group, as well as Normandy format consultations. The United States is the largest single contributor of financing and personnel to the multinational OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, which provides critical information on the security situation in Ukraine. The United States supports the OSCE’s work on Europe’s protracted conflicts and its role in the Geneva International Discussions, which address the security and humanitarian consequences of Russia’s 2008 war in Georgia; the 5+2 talks to settle the Transnistrian conflict in Moldova; and the Minsk Group Co-Chair process to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The United States continues to press for modernization of the OSCE’s Vienna Document to begin to rebuild trust and predictability through additional transparency and verification measures covering the participating States’ armed forces and their major equipment systems.
Economic and Environmental Dimension
The OSCE’s Second Dimension encompasses economic and environmental issues as an integral element of comprehensive security.
The United States supports the OSCE’s work to combat corruption and promote good governance, advance women’s economic empowerment, promote energy security, encourage environmental protection, expand consideration of climate-related security risks, and build climate resilience.
The United States has supported a number of projects under the OSCE Office of the Coordinator of Economic and Environmental Activities in its efforts to build the capacity of participating States to combat corruption and money laundering and to protect energy networks from natural and man-made disasters.
The United States is a leading voice in OSCE meetings and events, championing human rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief. The OSCE is our premier venue in the region for defending the role of civil society and independent media, advancing democratic principles of government including free and fair elections and the rule of law, pressing for the release of political prisoners, condemning intolerance, and upholding the inherent dignity and equal rights of all individuals.
The United States supports the work of the three independent OSCE institutions – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM), and the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM). We also support the efforts of OSCE Personal Representatives of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) on Combating: Anti-Semitism; Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims; and Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions. We value the contributions of the OSCE experts who fight corruption, combat trafficking in persons, foster gender equality, and promote respect for the human rights of Roma and Sinti.
Key Point: “More than 75 years after Truman first proposed universal coverage, Democrats are still chasing his dream. If President Biden’s social policy bill becomes law, they will make major strides toward fulfilling it. … The bill would expand health care access for children, make insurance more affordable for working-age adults and improve Medicare benefits for the disabled and older Americans.”
New York Times: Democrats’ Bill Would Go Far Toward ‘Patching the Holes’ in Health Coverage By Reed Abelson, Sarah Kliff, Margot Sanger-Katz and Sheryl Gay Stolberg December 1, 2021
More than 75 years after Truman first proposed universal coverage, Democrats are still chasing his dream. If President Biden’s social policy bill becomes law, they will make major strides toward fulfilling it.
An estimated 3.4 million Americans would gain health insurance as a result of the legislation, which passed the House last month but faces a tough road in the 50-50 Senate. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said Tuesday that his goal is to have it pass before Christmas.
The bill would expand health care access for children, make insurance more affordable for working-age adults and improve Medicare benefits for the disabled and older Americans. Separately, its health provisions are a “piecemeal of incremental changes,” said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president for health care at NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization.
But taken together, these policies represent the biggest step toward universal coverage since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
“This is a moment of extraordinary opportunity for improving health policy and improving the health coverage that people get,” said Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation at the advocacy group Families USA.
Here are some of the programs — and people — the legislation would affect.
Providing Medicaid to New Mothers for a Year Christina Ruiz had plenty to worry about when she gave birth two months early, in August 2020.
Her infant daughter had to spend five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit while Ms. Ruiz, 34, dealt with her own postpartum complications. She developed high blood pressure, and the stitches on her C-section incision began to unravel three weeks after delivery.
One thing Ms. Ruiz did not have to worry about: medical bills. She had enrolled in Medicaid early in her pregnancy, and it fully covered both her and her daughter’s costs.
The social policy bill would provide Medicaid to new mothers for a full year after delivery instead of just two months, allowing more time to address postpartum medical issues that can surface later.
The Century Foundation estimates the provision would extend coverage to about one million women over the next decade.
The postpartum coverage could help Ms. Ruiz, who is now pregnant with her second child.“It makes all the difference,” she said, “not having to worry about health care bills.”
Erasing the ‘Coverage Gap’ for Poor Adults Tim Floyd of Guntown, Miss., was working construction jobs in 2012 when he noticed numbness in his foot. It was neuropathy, a sign of diabetes. But he was uninsured and could not afford a doctor visit.
By the time Mr. Floyd learned he had diabetic ulcers, the infection had spread to his bones, leaving him no choice but to have his leg amputated from the knee down.
He lives in one of 12 states where Republicans have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, citing the cost, of which states would eventually pay 10 percent. The social policy bill would close the so-called Medicaid coverage gap by offering an estimated 2.2 million low-income adults like Mr. Floyd free private insurance — but only for four years.
He waited a year, then saw a doctor, who told him he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Mr. Floyd said a social worker at North Mississippi Medical Center helped arrange for free treatments — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. “The preventive care,” he said, “is what I couldn’t get.”
Providing Premium Subsidies to Middle-Class Americans Jill Swenson and her husband were raising buffalo in upstate New York in 2009, when he had a recurrence of skin cancer. The couple had no health insurance, a factor that Ms. Swenson says contributed to her husband’s suicide. The Affordable Care Act made coverage accessible to her again in 2014, and she has had it every year since, but it was still a stretch.
During the pandemic, Congress has temporarily increased the premium subsidies provided under the health law — a $200-a-month discount that Ms. Swenson, 63, said has allowed her to buy birthday gifts for her niece and nephew, keep up with rising grocery costs, and pay utility bills and her mortgage.
“There’s nothing to cut,” she said. “It’s not like I’m living high on the hog.”
The temporary boost in subsidies extends up and down the income spectrum, lowering the cost of insurance for almost everyone who buys it through the Obamacare marketplaces. The social policy bill would keep it in place until the end of 2025.
Expanding Home Care, and Raising Wages for Those Who Provide It After she recovered from cancer, Shara Clark decided to become a home health aide in June as a way to give back. “When you go through a medical scare such as I did, you develop empathy for others,” she said.
But Ms. Clark, 41, also has two part-time jobs. “Because I’m only getting paid $10 an hour, that does not match the cost of living,” she said.
The $150 billion in the spending bill for home and community-based services has two goals. It would allow more elderly and disabled people on Medicaid to qualify for subsidized care in their homes or at community programs, helping them avoid moving to a nursing home. There are currently an estimated 800,000 people on waiting lists for these services.
But the money is also supposed to go toward raising wages for home care workers like Ms. Clark.
Home care workers make an average of under $14 an hour, or less than $30,000 a year, according to a new study from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal group. Most of the workers are women, and many are of color.
“Wages have to go up if services are going to go up,” said Ai-jen Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an advocacy group. “Those two goals are absolutely interdependent.”
Capping How Much Medicare Recipients Spend on Drugs […]
There is currently no limit on how much Medicare recipients can be expected to pay out of pocket for their drugs, a situation that leaves some who take expensive medicines with annual bills of $15,000 or more. But for the 2.5 million beneficiaries who spend more than $2,000 a year on their drugs, Medicare would pay all their costs above that amount under the bill.
The legislation would also cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $35 a month. That change alone could affect the more than three million Medicare beneficiaries who take the drug to manage their diabetes.
Ms. Forster Olson, of La Crosse, Wis., who qualifies for Medicare because she is disabled, said her drug costs could be as high as $7,000 next year without a change. “A cap of $2,000 would be amazing,” she said.
Hearing Aids for Older Americans Anne Madison, a retired computer systems engineer in Baltimore, started losing her hearing in her 50s. Now 71, she cannot afford hearing aids, which can cost as much as $5,000. Medicare will not pay for them.
“I can’t whip out the Mastercard,” she said. “If I put that much money on it, I’ll be in trouble for the rest of my life.”
Nearly two-thirds of Americans older than 70 have hearing loss, but fewer than 20 percent of them use hearing aids, said Dr. Frank Lin, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
The House-passed bill would add coverage of hearing services to Medicare beginning in 2023. Audiology services, including counseling for hearing aids, would be reimbursed, and the devices themselves would be covered for people with “profound or severe hearing loss.”
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