Department Press Briefing – March 18, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:01 p.m. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right. Your other two questions, please?

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

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

And I’ll take your last question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, can you hear me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me now?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me better today?

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

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

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

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

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

Can we go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUESTION: Hello? Hello?

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

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

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

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

# # #

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    In U.S GAO News
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    In U.S GAO News
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    Two individuals were charged in an indictment that was unsealed today for their alleged participation in a scheme to obtain, through multiple fraudulent loan applications, more than $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
    [Read More…]
  • The Federal Republic of Somalia’s National Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Two Companies and Nine Individuals Indicted for Alleged Large-Scale Visa Fraud Employment Scheme
    In Crime News
    An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.
    [Read More…]
  • NASA Telescope Named for ‘Mother of Hubble’ Nancy Grace Roman
    In Space
    At the agency’s [Read More…]