Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Before Their Meeting

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

Reykjavik, Iceland

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening.  I’m pleased to be meeting with Sergey for the first time in my capacity as the Secretary of State.  And as President Biden shared with President Putin, we seek a predictable, stable relationship with Russia.  We think that’s good for our people, good for the Russian people, and, indeed, good for the world.  And we find ourselves here today, actually, for the Arctic Council meetings, where Russia and the United States have cooperated well in the past, and we look forward and hope certainly to do that going forward, especially as you assume the chairmanship of the council.

It’s also no secret that we have our differences.  And when it comes to those differences, as President Biden has also shared with President Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we’ll respond.  And President Biden has demonstrated that in both word and deed – not for purposes of escalation, not to seek conflict, but to defend our interests.

But having said that, there are many areas where our interests intersect and overlap and we believe that we can work together and, indeed, build on those interests.  Whether it is dealing with COVID-19 and the pandemic, combatting climate change, dealing with the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan, there are many areas of intersecting interests.

It’s our view that if the leaders of Russia and the United States can work together cooperatively, our people, the world can be a safer and more secure place, and that’s what we seek.

Sergey, welcome.  It’s good to see you.

FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV:  (Via interpreter) Thank you very much, Tony.  And right off the bat, thank you for your proposal to call the meeting here.  It is indeed important for our relations.  And as our presidents want us, we need to decide what to do next with our relations.  Indeed, everyone understands when a routine meeting between ministers of foreign affairs of two Arctic Council states on the margins of this ministerial meeting between Russia and the U.S. becomes such a sensation, such an event, where everybody can see why.  And our task that we have at hand is a continuation of the telephone conversations between our presidents to decide how we are going to move forward with our relations.

We greatly diverge when it comes to our assessment of the international situation and our approaches towards how we should resolve it.  Our position is clear.  We are prepared to discuss all issues on the table with the understanding that our discussions will be honest, factual, and with mutual respect.  Laws of diplomacy recommend mutuality, especially when it comes to response to any kind of hostile actions.  Our task is to make the best of the diplomatic opportunities we have, and we are glad to see that you are demonstrating such (inaudible).  You can always rely on us to respond mutually to such intentions.

As you’ve said, the status of relations between Moscow and Washington greatly influences the international situation in general.  As far as I understand – and our presidents during their telephone conversations have confirmed it – they agree that we need to cooperate on issues where we have similar views and when we can achieve positive outcomes, for example, in resolving conflicts and on other issues such as strategic stability.  And even with such topics as the Korean Peninsula, the Iran nuclear issue, Afghanistan, all those topics where our representatives are already interacting with each other, and I hope that today we’ll have a review of all those issues.  And we’ll be ready to deal with this great workload that we have from the previous administration regarding the missions of Russia in the U.S. and the missions of the U.S. in Russia.  And if we would not continue with the global diplomatic issues, we will undermine the very basis of diplomacy, which is building bridges and improving relations.

Thank you once again for this meeting.  I hope for a productive meeting.

Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you all.

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    GAO's analysis of federal data found that about 1 percent of companies with Department of Defense (DOD) contracts were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor violations in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, these data do not indicate whether the violations occurred while performing work related to a defense contract. Companies with DOD Contracts Cited for Willful or Repeated Violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 Because of limitations in available data, GAO could not determine the total incidence of willful or repeated violations of safety, health, or fair labor standards among all companies with a defense contract in this 5-year time frame. Specifically, about 43 percent of the Department of Labor's (Labor) safety and health violation data did not include key company identification numbers. These numbers are necessary to match federal contracting data to violation data. GAO recommended in February 2019 that Labor explore ways to address this issue. While Labor neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, it issued a memorandum in May 2019 directing its Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff to make every reasonable effort to collect this information during inspections and enter it into its database. About 1 percent of Labor's data on fair labor violations were missing these key company identification numbers. The nature of the willful or repeated violations for companies with DOD contracts during fiscal years 2015 through 2019 varied. According to GAO's analysis of Labor data, the most frequently found willful or repeated safety and health violations related to toxic substances and machinery. For that same time frame, the most frequently found willful or repeated fair labor violations related to failure to pay overtime. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to report on the number of DOD contractors that Labor found to have committed willful or repeated violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) or the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. This report examines the number of DOD contractors that were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations under the OSH Act or FLSA, and the nature of those violations for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal contracting data to identify companies that had defense contracts in fiscal years 2015 through 2019, and matched them to Labor data on companies cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations. In addition, GAO used the Labor data to identify information on the nature of the violations. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, and agency documents. For more information, contact William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov, or Thomas Costa at (202) 512-7215 or costat@gao.gov.
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    A California man has been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for partnering with call centers in Peru that defrauded Spanish-speaking U.S. residents through lies and threats.
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    In Crime News
    San Diego Christian College (SDCC), based in Santee, California, will pay $225,000 to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act for submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Education in violation of the federal ban on incentive-based compensation, the Justice Department announced today.
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    In Crime News
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  • Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to data from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through February 2021, over 7,000 Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol employees reported being infected with COVID-19, and 24 died due to COVID-19-related illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 OFO and Border Patrol employees were unable to work at some point due to COVID-19-related illnesses or quarantining in the same time period. OFO officials noted that employee absences due to COVID-19 did not generally have a significant impact on port operations, given relatively low travel volumes. In contrast, officials interviewed by GAO at three of four Border Patrol locations said that COVID-19 absences had impacted operations to some extent. COVID-19 Cases within Customs and Border Protection, through February 2021 CBP regularly updated guidance, used workplace flexibilities, and implemented safety precautions against COVID-19. Between January and December 2020, CBP updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions and how managers should address possible exposures. CBP also used a variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework and weather and safety leave to minimize the number of employees in the workplace, when appropriate. Meanwhile, CBP field locations moved some processing functions outdoors, encouraged social distancing, and provided protective equipment to employees and the public. In addition, some field locations took steps to modify infrastructure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as installing acrylic barriers or improving airflow in facilities. Challenges implementing operational changes included insufficient equipment for telework at three field locations, and shortages of respirators at a quarter of the ports of entry GAO contacted. CBP adjusted operations in response to COVID-19 and executive actions. As travel and trade volumes declined, some ports of entry reallocated personnel to other operations, such as cargo processing. In contrast, starting in May 2020 Border Patrol encounters with noncitizens steadily increased. As a result, Border Patrol requested additional resources. It also shifted its deployment strategy to operate as closely to the border as practical to intercept individuals who could be infected with COVID-19. Accordingly, some Border Patrol sectors modified interior operations, such as limiting resources at immigration checkpoints. CBP also assisted in implementing a Centers for Disease Control order that provided the ability to quickly expel apprehended individuals. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of society, including travel to and from the U.S. In response to COVID-19, the administration issued executive actions with the intention of decreasing the number of individuals entering the U.S. and reducing transmission of the virus. Within CBP, OFO is responsible for implementing these actions at ports of entry through which travelers enter the U.S., and Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the areas between ports of entry to prevent individuals and goods from entering the U.S. illegally. Based on their role in facilitating legitimate travel and trade and securing the borders, CBP employees risk exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty. GAO was asked to review how CBP managed its field operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes: (1) available data on the number of CBP employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work; (2) actions CBP has taken related to protecting its workforce and the public from COVID-19; and (3) the extent to which CBP adjusted operations in response to the pandemic and related travel restrictions. GAO reviewed key guidance documents and analyzed data on travel and trade at ports of entry, Border Patrol enforcement, and COVID-19 exposures among CBP employees. GAO also interviewed officials at CBP headquarters, employee unions' representatives, and 12 CBP field locations, selected for factors such as geographic diversity, traffic levels, and COVID-19 infection rates. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, I am pleased to join you today at the ABA Antitrust Fall Forum, my fourth as Assistant Attorney General. I’d like to thank the Chair of the ABA Antitrust Law Section, Gary Zanfagna and the Conference Co-Chairs, Melanie Aitken and Anant Raut for their efforts in organizing this event.
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  • Two Indicted for $2 Million Scheme that Defrauded Over 20 Investors
    In Crime News
    An indictment charging a District of Columbia man and Connecticut woman with perpetrating an advance fee and investment fraud scheme that defrauded more than 20 victims of more than $2 million was unsealed today in the District of Columbia.
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    In Crime News
    The President today submitted his Budget for Fiscal Year 2022 to Congress, totaling $35.3 billion for the Department of Justice (DOJ).  
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    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury sitting in Atlanta, Georgia, returned an indictment today charging an Atlanta certified public accountant with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; 24 counts of wire fraud; 32 counts of aiding or assisting in the preparation of false federal tax returns; and five counts of filing false federal tax returns relating to a wide-ranging, abusive tax shelter scheme. 
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    In Crime News
    JOON LLC, d/b/a AJIN USA (Ajin), an auto-parts manufacturing company, was sentenced in federal court today in Montgomery, Alabama, after pleading guilty to a charge related to the death of a machinery operator.
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  • Veterans Affairs: Use of Additional Funding for COVID-19 Relief
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received $19.6 billion in supplemental funding—additional funding above the annual appropriation—in March 2020 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO's analysis of VA data shows that through March 2021, VA had obligated $9.9 billion and expended $8.1 billion of the supplemental funding. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Reported Obligations and Expenditures of CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act Funding through March 2021 Note: An obligation is a definite commitment that creates a legal liability to pay, and an expenditure is the actual spending of money. The majority of the obligated supplemental funding ($8.3 billion) was obligated by VA's Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for care provided to veterans by non-VA providers, the additional costs of salaries (such as for overtime) and related expenses of VHA staff, supplies and materials, and support for homeless veterans, due to COVID-19 response. The remaining obligations included costs of VA's transition to telehealth and telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily through the Office of Information Technology (OIT). According to spend plan documents and department officials, VA plans to obligate its remaining $9.7 billion in funding on activities including COVID-19 testing, purchasing supplies and equipment, and distributing COVID-19 vaccines. VA mainly relies on its standard financial management processes to oversee the use of supplemental funds, including establishing new versions of standard financial codes to account for and report on use of funds through VA's financial system. VA also collected details about the use of supplemental funding, such as descriptions of the activities for which funds were obligated, that were not available in its financial system. In addition, the VA components that received the majority of the supplemental funding—VHA and OIT—set up additional processes and issued guidance specific to the use of supplemental funding, such as establishing councils to review funding requests. Why GAO Did This Study As of April 14, 2021, VA reported 224,538 cumulative veteran cases of COVID-19, and 11,366 deaths. The CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act included supplemental funding for COVID-19 relief, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, permitted VA additional flexibility to transfer these funds across the department. The CARES Act also included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines 1) VA's obligations and expenditures of COVID-19 supplemental funding, as well as its plans to obligate remaining funds, and 2) how VA oversees the use of COVID-19 supplemental funds. GAO reviewed VA data on obligations, expenditures, and spend plans for COVID-19 supplemental funding, as well as contracting documentation and documentation on the processes and guidance VA developed to oversee the use of funds. GAO interviewed VA officials responsible for oversight of the supplemental funding, including officials from five regional networks, selected based on funding levels and geography, to gather information about their roles in overseeing the use of and accounting for supplemental funding. VA reviewed a draft of this report and provided a technical comment, which was incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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