Secretary Antony J. Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at a Joint Press Availability

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

London, United Kingdom

No. 9 Downing

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for joining us.  It’s a huge pleasure to welcome Secretary of State Blinken to the UK.  Tony, it’s great to have you here with us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Warm welcome.  I think it’s fair to say the Biden administration is barely a hundred days old but has already taken a huge number of bold and very welcome steps on issues like climate change, global health, and human rights, and that’s really created a momentum in efforts to tackle these pressing global issues.

Since Tony’s confirmation, we’ve been working very closely together.  And today’s meeting has been another reminder of the depth and breadth of the work that we do together, the convergence of our interests, and the many shared values.

So today, Tony and I discussed a full range of issues.  I’ll give you a highlight of, I think, some of the key points.  We talked about our shared commitment to stand up for open societies, democracy and human rights, protecting fundamental freedoms, tackling disinformation, holding human rights abuses to account.  We talked – a key element of this is defending the rule of law, so we’re determined to reform but reinforce the multilateral system.  We want to keep working together very closely on all of these points through the G7 and President Biden’s democracy summit.

We also discussed China.  I think it’s fair to say we see eye to eye on the need to stand up for our values, holding Beijing to the commitments that they’ve made, whether it’s in relation to Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration or wider commitments, whilst also at the same time finding constructive ways to work with China in a sensible and positive manner where that’s possible.  That’s important, I think, on global issues like climate change.  We want to see China stepping up to the plate and playing its full role.

And Tony and I also discussed a whole range of security issues – Iran, Afghanistan, continuing concerns about Russia, in particular on the border with Ukraine.  We stand shoulder to shoulder on these issues, and I welcome the U.S.’s firm recommitment to the NATO Alliance.  It’s only by working together overseas that we can keep our citizens safe at home, and I think that’s true in NATO and I think it’s true on COVID and the various measures that we’re taking to extend and expand and promote COVAX.

Secretary Blinken and I will see the prime minister tomorrow to continue the discussions that we’ve had.  One of the major areas of common interest is building a broader and stronger set of partnerships among countries that share our values on the most important issues of the day.  So the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting, which begins today, is a great opportunity to really drive that agenda forward.

This is the first opportunity for all G7 foreign ministers to meet together in person since 2019.  I think we’re glad to be able to socialize a bit together and conduct those meetings face to face rather than just doing it all on Zoom and Teams.

And I think it’s also fair to say that the world’s changed quite a bit in those two short years.  Our societies, our economies have been shocked and shaken by coronavirus.  At the same time, we’re responding to a situation where our values are being challenged, the international architecture is at least in some respects being weakened, and there is also the rapid technological change which brings new opportunities.  We’ve seen that with the collaboration on things like the vaccine, but also acute challenges.  And there are global threats from COVID to climate change that frankly demand global solutions, and we are committed to trying to find and forge those solutions.

So in that context, we recognize the importance of building dynamic, agile new partnerships with like-minded countries that share our values.  And that’s why we invited the foreign ministers from India, South Korea, Australia, and Brunei – Brunei also obviously representing ASEAN as the chair – and they’ll be taking part later on in the week.  They’re all key partners for us.  I think they’re also a sign of the growing focus on the Indo-Pacific region as the economic and strategic crucible for this century.

And as for the G7, well, at its core it’s a partnership based on values, and so it’s fitting that today we meet on World Press Freedom Day.  And we’ve seen a whole range of attacks on journalists, from Belarus to Myanmar.  Violations of media freedoms are growing around the world at what I feel is an alarming rate.  And I welcome the unequivocal stance of the United States and the whole G7 on safeguarding those vital democratic bulwarks in our media freedoms.

As co-chair of the Global Media Freedom Coalition, the UK is working with our partners so that we shine a light on the violations, we hold those to account, we support journalists who are trying to shine a light on those abuses around the world, and we try and reverse what is otherwise a dangerous trend.

This cuts, I think, to the core of the values and the interests that the G7 represents right around the world, and it shows again, I think, why it’s so important for us to meet together this week.

Now, let me hand over to Tony.  Tony, again, thanks for being here.  Thanks for our valuable discussions today, and I look forward – and we look forward to welcoming President Biden to the UK in June, and I’m looking forward to a productive G7 meeting this week.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much, Dominic.  Let me actually just start where Dominic left off, which is World Press Freedom Day, which, I have to tell you, I take very much to heart personally as well as professionally.  I actually started my career as a journalist from the relatively safe confines of Washington, D.C.  But as Dominic said, I think we’re seeing every day the work that journalists are doing around the world in increasingly difficult and challenging conditions to inform people, to hold governments and leaders of one kind or another accountable.  Nothing is more fundamental to the good functioning of our democracies, and I think we are both resolute in our support for a free press.  And so it’s fitting that we actually are addressing our colleagues from the press on this day.

And I have to tell you, it’s particularly good to be in London for the first time as Secretary of State.  I realized in thinking about it that the first time I came to the United Kingdom and to London was almost exactly 50 years ago, and many, many times since, but it’s especially good to be here today and especially good, Dominic, to have the chance to spend some real time with you.  We’ve already met twice, I think, in person at NATO.  We’ve been on the phone innumerable times, but there’s nothing quite like being face to face, or sometimes mask to mask, and I’m particularly pleased that we’ve had an opportunity to do that here today and that this will extend on for the next few days.

And to your point, President Biden is very much looking forward to being here for the G7 in just a little over a month.  And I’m also looking forward to the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Johnson tomorrow – very much appreciate that – right next door.

I also do want to take a moment to say in person what I’ve said in private, including to Dominic, which is to offer my own condolences and deep sympathy on the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the Atlantic Charter, which set the foundation for the international rules-based order that our countries so strongly subscribe to and which is, as a result of the openness, security, and economic possibility it’s created, been a tremendous advantage for not only the citizens of our countries but for people around the world.  It’s also the 75th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech at Westminster College in Missouri, where he described the Special Relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States and how vital it is for our two countries and many others around the world.

Three-quarters of a century later, that Special Relationship is enduring.  It’s effective.  It’s dynamic.  And it is close to the hearts of the American people.  The work we do together serves our people’s interests across a vast array of issues, many of which Dominic touched on, including maintaining our national security, rejuvenating our economies on a sustainable and more equitable basis.

I think our bilateral relationship is also vital to the world.  The work that we do together advances progress on the most urgent global issues, global issues that are having a real impact on the lives of our citizens, including stopping COVID-19, addressing the threat of climate change, defending democratic values and open societies.  As Dominic said, we’re going to address these topics over the next several days with our counterparts in the G7.

And Dominic, I want to thank you and the United Kingdom not just for hosting us, but for your leadership in building an incredibly robust agenda that, again, is centered on issues that have a real impact on the lives of our fellow citizens.  We’ll focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, and the United Kingdom shares our commitment to ensuring that the world is better prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to the next pandemic.

We also have to lead a global economic recovery that’s sustainable and that matches growth with equity so that the people hardest hit by the economic impact of COVID are helped, and that aligns also with the urgent need to reduce emissions and build a green economy so we can rise to the challenge of climate change.  To that end, here in London we’ll discuss how the world’s major economies need to raise ambitions on climate action, and I commend the United Kingdom for its new 2035 target, which sets an appropriately high bar.

We’ll talk about threats to the international rules-based order and to democratic values and human rights.  Together, our two countries recently took measures to prevent British and American businesses from inadvertently supporting forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China.  We’ll continue our robust cooperation to address the atrocities in Xinjiang, a crackdown on pro-democracy activists and politicians in Hong Kong – which breaches China’s international commitments – and the repression of media freedom across China and in other parts of the world.

I also want to thank the United Kingdom for joining us in holding Russia to account for its reckless and aggressive actions.  We have reaffirmed our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which I’ll be visiting later this week.  Also welcome the foreign secretary’s recent announcement on the extension of Global Magnitsky sanctions to combat Russian human rights abuses.

And as Dominic said, our two countries are fully committed to NATO and to maintaining transatlantic unity in defense of our common values and in response to direct threats.

One final issue I’ll just mention is Northern Ireland.  The United States remains a steadfast supporter of a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and can enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace.  Like several U.S. presidents before him, President Biden has been unequivocal in his support for the Good Friday Agreement, which was a historic achievement and one that we should protect.  There’s much more that I could say about all the work that the United States and the United Kingdom do every single day in ways quiet and otherwise to serve the interests of our people and, I believe, the broader international community.

We’re connected – it’s often said but always important to reaffirm – we’re connected by ties of friendship, family, history, shared values, and shared sacrifice.  We’ve been reminded of that again in recent weeks as we prepare to draw down our forces from Afghanistan.  We’ve stood shoulder to shoulder for nearly 20 years sharing a mission and having each other’s backs.  We’ll never forget it.  The United States has no closer ally, no closer partner than the United Kingdom, and I am very glad for the chance to say that again here today.  Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Tony, thanks very much.  Okay, we’ll take some questions from the media.  And I think if the tech is working, we’ve got James Landale from the BBC up first.  James, over to you.

QUESTION:  Foreign Secretary, Secretary Blinken, good afternoon.  Foreign Secretary, first of all, what is your assessment of reports out of Iran yesterday suggesting a deal has been agreed to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and that the tank debt was being paid?

And secondly, Foreign Secretary, you are cutting British foreign aid to Yemen, to Syria, to the United Nations Children Fund, the UN Population Fund, the UN AIDS Fund, water, sanitation, hygiene, polio eradication, conflict resolution, humanitarian preparedness, and girls’ education.  How can Britain claim to show global leadership at the G7 when it is cutting so much foreign aid?

And Secretary Blinken, if I may, what is your assessment of reports of a prisoner swap deal between the U.S. and Iran?  Secondly, how much damage do you think has been caused by Britain’s decision to cut its foreign aid budget?  And thirdly, do you think the G7 is fit for purpose?  Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  James, thanks for that.  Look, we – on the detainees and the situation of Nazanin, obviously we’re working very intensively to try and secure their release.  We have been for many months.  I would say that it’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and, in our view, unlawfully.  And the reports I’m afraid are not yet accurate in terms of her – the suggestion of her imminent release.

On aid, James, we – even after the cuts that we’ve had to make not – because of the pressing COVID situation, the biggest contraction of our economy for 300 years, double the budget deficit we faced after the financial crash, we’re still putting 10 billion pounds in:  as a proportion of GDP, still the third biggest G7 donor; doubling our international climate finance contribution; the biggest – one of the biggest bilateral humanitarian donors; the biggest donor to Gavi.

So I appreciate it being a difficult decision, but I think actually if you look at all the areas and all the positives that we are still contributing to, actually I think it shows the scope for us to be an even greater force for good in the world.  But what we need to do is work with our partners in order to magnify and amplify those efforts.  And that’s what the G7 is all about.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great.  Well, thank you very much.  And to Dominic’s point with regard to our detained citizens in Iran, first, this is something that we raise at every opportunity.  I have no higher priority than bringing arbitrarily detained Americans – American hostages – home to the United States.  And that’s across the board.  And as Dominic said, the reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate.  We are very closely engaged ourselves on this issue and we’ll remain so.  And as I said, I am determined to bring every American home.

More broadly on this, we have to take a stand against the arbitrary detention of citizens for political purposes.  I applaud the work that Canada has done in this area, and Dominic and I discussed this as well today.  And I would hope that with time and effort countries could establish a norm that this practice is simply unacceptable, because it is.  And I think we’ll have conversations in the coming weeks and coming months about that.  Countries that engage in these actions need to know that that cannot happen with impunity and it is truly unacceptable.

I have to tell you as well that from Washington’s perspective, the UK is our most vital partner, including working around the world in helping other countries, helping people fulfill their potential, and deal with some of the challenges that have been brought on by many things but including by COVID-19 now as well as the climate crisis.  And I think we share a commitment both in our own countries, but in the work that we’re doing around the world, to, as both the President and Prime Minister have recently said, build back better.

And we see both necessity but also opportunity in the weeks and months ahead to do just that; to restore growth but to do it in a more equitable fashion; to focus on addressing through building back better the climate crisis that we have to address and finding opportunity in that with good new jobs based on green technology.  And of course, we share a commitment to and conviction about the importance of doing development work in different ways and amplifying, as Dominic said, both our respective contributions as well as bringing others along.

And to your question, I think the G7 is very fit for purpose, and it’s especially fit for purpose right now.  We’re seeing this in the leadership of the United Kingdom in producing this incredibly robust agenda and also bringing other critical countries into the mix so that we can, I hope, amplify the effect we’re having, amplify the results.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Thanks, James.  Thanks very much.  I think next on the list is Shaun Tandon from AFP.  Shaun.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Shaun, you’re on mute.  There we go.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Still not.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Still on mute, Shaun.

QUESTION:  Sorry.  Can you hear me now?

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Loud and clear.

QUESTION:  Great.  My apologies.  You touched on the Asia Pacific, being that this has been quite an emphasis this week.  To Secretary Blinken, the policy review that’s supposed to come out on North Korea, how hopeful are you —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Shaun, I think we lost you again.  Could you repeat the question?

QUESTION:  I’m sorry about that.  Can you hear me now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.  Go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  I’m sorry about that.  North Korea, the policy review that has – that was recently completed by the White House, do you believe, Secretary Blinken, that there is some hope for a resumption of diplomacy with North Korea or to return to diplomacy despite the reaction that we have seen so far from North Korea?

Mr. Foreign Secretary, if you also have any thoughts on North Korea, and if both of you have thoughts on the situation in Myanmar/Burma.  We’ve seen an upsurge – an uptick in ethnic violence – violence by ethnic fighters.  There have been persistent killings of protestors.  International resolve, if expressed here, will it have an effect?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  On North Korea, yes, you’re exactly right.  We completed the policy review, and we conducted this review very deliberately in two ways, first with the recognition that this is an incredibly hard problem.  And to state the obvious, it is yet to be solved from administration to administration, Democrat and Republican, over the years.  And so we wanted to take account that history, to look at what works, what doesn’t work, and how we could have an effective policy to advance the goal that we have, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Second, we did it in a deliberate way because we wanted to make sure that we were very actively consulting with all of the concerned countries, starting with our close allies South Korea and Japan, given their own very strong equities in this issue.  And so we did that.  We took the time to do that.

And what we have now is a policy that calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with North Korea to try to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and our deployed forces.  And as we’re doing that, we will continue to be in very close coordination and consultation with allies and partners, starting with the Republic of Korea and Japan, as well as others along the way.

I hope that North Korea will take the opportunity to engage diplomatically and to see if there are ways to move forward toward the objective of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  And so we’ll look to see not only what North Korea says but what it actually does in the coming days and months.  But we have, I think, a clear – a very clear policy that centers on diplomacy, and it is, I think, up to North Korea to decide whether it wants to engage or not on that basis.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Shaun, look, we share the strategic paradigm that Tony set out.  We’ll support and supplement those efforts as conducted by the U.S. and, of course, our friends and partners in the region.

On Myanmar, look, we want to see an end to the violence.  We want to see the military regime return to democracy and the electoral mandate that the government should have representing the people of Myanmar.  We’ve been clear not just in our targeted sanctions, our Magnitsky sanctions, but also wider measures we’re taking to stop UK businesses doing business with conglomerates or businesses controlled by the Tatmadaw, that we’re going to apply pressure that way.

Equally, we’ve been engaged with the partners of the region.  I’ve been discussing that with ASEAN foreign ministers recently, and we’ve obviously got the opportunity with the G7 guests here from Korea, from India, from Australia, but also the foreign minister from Brunei, chair of the – of ASEAN at the moment, to discuss how we shift the dial and get a change for the better in Myanmar.  And so we’ll keep up all of those efforts on the sanctions side, but also on the diplomacy front.

Tony, I don’t know whether you wanted to add anything on Myanmar.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, I think that covered it very well, other than to add that the five-point plan or agreement that ASEAN reached I think is important, and we are looking to ASEAN to move forward with that plan, including designating an envoy for Myanmar and getting that person to Myanmar to be able to engage all of the parties.  But it is vital, regardless of anything else, that the violence cease, that prisoners be released, and that Myanmar return to the path of democracy.  And I subscribe to everything that Dominic said about some of the things that we’re doing or looking at to encourage that.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Shaun, thanks very much.  Next up we’ve got Lucy Fisher from The Telegraph.  Lucy.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Two quick questions, if I may.  Firstly, on Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Blinken, you said the U.S. supports the Good Friday Agreement, but I wanted to ask you and Foreign Secretary Raab how secure you each view the agreement as being and whether the Northern Ireland Protocol should be renegotiated to help maintain peace.

Secondly, on Afghanistan, are you not each concerned about an explosion of violence and outpouring of refugees following the U.S. exit of troops?  And Secretary Blinken, isn’t Washington in effect ignoring allies like Britain, where the head of the military has voiced misgivings over this troop drawdown?

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Let me just say on Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement is absolutely crucial to peace.  We also recognize and appreciate the U.S. contribution to it and the stake that America feels that they have in the Good Friday Agreement. And that ought to be at the center of what we do going forward.  In terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Lucy, obviously there are bits of it that protect the EU equities on the single market, bits that protect the integrity of the single market of the United Kingdom.  We’ve got to make sure in the joint committee we are pragmatic, we work through all of these proposals, we implement them in a balanced way, and that’s the approach that we take going forward, including with our European partners and our friends in Dublin, and indeed, with our American partners.

On Afghanistan, just to be clear, from a UK perspective, we do not feel ignored by our U.S. partners.  We’ve had very good consultation on this and we continued that.  We discussed it today. We certainly see the priority as protecting our troops in the period between now and September, making sure that we preserve the ability to deal with counterterrorism, that the gains that were hard won in Afghanistan are not lost, and also ultimately promoting dialogue and a peace process that benefits all Afghans and leaves Afghanistan as stable as possible, as inclusive as possible.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And Lucy, just to add, as I mentioned in the opening remarks, we very much welcome the provisions in both the trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union as well as the Northern Ireland Protocol that will help protect the gains of the Good Friday Agreement.  As the United Kingdom and the European Union begin implementing the Brexit-related provisions, we will continue to encourage them to prioritize political and economic stability in Northern Ireland.

With regard to Afghanistan, as we work toward the decision that President Biden made, we spent a good deal of time very actively consulting with our NATO partners and NATO Allies.  And as I noted, Dominic and I were in Brussels together on a couple of occasions, both in advance of that decision and as the decision was being announced.  We were on the phone regularly as well talking about this.  And NATO made a commitment, the NATO Allies made a commitment to each other and to our partners: in together, adapt together, out together.  And that’s exactly what we are doing, with an emphasis on the word “together.”  NATO issued a unanimous statement, both in support of President Biden’s decision and taking note of the actions that allies and partners would take.

At the same time, as Dominic said, we are very focused on a deliberate, safe, and orderly drawdown of our forces.  We’ve made absolutely clear that as we withdraw forces from Afghanistan, we will protect them, and if they are attacked, we will take decisive action in response.

But we’ve also been clear that even as our forces are drawing down and pulling out of Afghanistan, we are not withdrawing, we are not disengaging.  We intend to be very active diplomatically in terms of trying to advance negotiations and a political settlement between the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and other key parties.  We intend to sustain our assistance to Afghanistan, including development, economic, humanitarian; our support for Afghanistan’s security forces as well.  And all of that we are doing in very close coordination and very close collaboration not only with the United Kingdom, but with dozens of other countries that share that same commitment.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Lucy, thank you very much.  And finally on the list, we’ve got Michael Crowley from The New York Times.  Michael.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Thank you both for doing this.

President Trump was very interested in seeing Russia rejoin the G7.  That idea now seems clearly off the table.  At the same time, President Biden and other – President Biden and other G7 leaders have said there are many shared interests with Moscow, including climate and Iran.  And Mr. Biden is planning to meet with President Putin soon.  Is there any consideration for including Russia at these gatherings, even informally, at some point?

Meanwhile, China was also not invited even as other – several other major non-G7 nations were.  So more broadly, would it be right to see this gathering as an early incarnation of a broader democratic alliance which aims to counterbalance the autocracies of China and Russia?

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  So from a UK perspective, look, the door for positive relations and diplomacy is always open to us, and I think that’s something shared across many of the NATO countries, but what’s got to change is Russia’s behavior against – as a P5 member of the Security Council – against the basic norms of international law, whether it’s the brinkmanship and the saber-rattling on the border with Ukraine, whether it’s the cyber attacks and the misinformation, or indeed, the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny, which was not just a human rights abuse, but a chemical – a use of chemical weapons on Russian soil.  So the opportunity for a better relationship with Russia is there.  We would welcome it.  But it depends on behavior and deeds.

On the second question, I’m not sure I’m quite as theological as the – Michael, as you were in the way you put it.  But I do see the increasing demand and need for agile clusters of likeminded countries that share the same values and want to protect the multilateral system, and I think you can see that in the guests that we brought in to the G7 – Korea, South Korea, India, Australia, and South Africa.  And so in that organic sense, I think we can see a shift towards that pattern of clusters of likeminded countries agile enough to work together.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And Michael, as with most things, Dominic and I are in violent agreement.  Let me just add a couple of quick words about both Russia and China.

With regard to Russia, as Dominic said, we are focused very much on Russia’s actions and what course it chooses to take.  President Biden’s been very clear for a long time, including before he was President, that if Russia chooses to act recklessly or aggressively, we’ll respond.  But we’re not looking to escalate.  We would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship.  And if Russia moves in that direction, so will we, and I think President Biden will have an opportunity when he meets with President Putin to talk about that directly.  And indeed, there are areas where it is manifestly in the interests of both countries to try to find ways to work together, strategic stability probably being at the top of the list.  And indeed already, despite the profound differences that we have, we managed to extend the New START agreement by five years.  We’ll look for other opportunities.  But to Dominic’s point, this is really a function of what Russia chooses to do or not to.

And with regard to China, let me add I fully subscribe to everything that Dominic said.  Let me just add one other quick thought:  It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down.  What we are trying to do is to uphold the international rules-based order that our countries have invested so much in over so many decades to the benefit, I would argue, not just of our own citizens, but of people around the world – including, by the way, China.  And when any country, China or otherwise, takes actions that challenge or undermine or seek to erode that rules-based order and not make good on the commitments that they’ve made to that order, we will stand up and defend the order.  I think we also have a responsibility to offer and develop a positive vision for the future that brings countries together in common purpose.  And a lot of the work that we’re doing, notably through the G7, is exactly that.

Ultimately, as President Biden said the other night when he was addressing Congress, I think the challenge for us is to demonstrate in very concrete ways that we can deliver for our citizens, for the people that we have been asked to represent.  And when we’re looking at most of the challenges that we face that actually have an impact on their lives, whether it’s this pandemic, whether it is a change in climate, whether it’s the disruptive impact of new technologies, not a single one of those challenges can be effectively met by any one country acting alone – even the United States, even the United Kingdom.

There is, I think, a stronger imperative than at any time since I’ve been involved in these issues to find ways for countries to cooperate, to coordinate, to collaborate.  That’s the way we advance the interests of our citizens.  And the work that Dominic, the United Kingdom are doing through their presidency of the G7, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do, and we’re very grateful to be a partner in that enterprise.

FOREIGN SECRETARY RAAB:  Michael, thank you very much.  I think that brings the questions to a close.  Folks, thanks for joining us, and that brings the press conference to a conclusion.  Thank you all very much.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    This is the French language highlights associated with GAO-21-359. Constats du GAO Au 31 mars 2020, l’Agence des États-Unis pour le développement international (USAID) et les Centres des États-Unis pour le contrôle et la prévention des maladies (CDC) ensemble avaient alloué un total de plus de 1,2 milliard de dollars et avaient décaissé environ 1 milliard pour financer des activités de sécurité sanitaire mondiale (global health security - GHS), sur des fonds affectés durant les années fiscales 2015 à 2019. L’USAID et les CDC ont soutenu des activités de renforcement des capacités des pays dans 11 domaines techniques en rapport avec la lutte contre les maladies infectieuses. Les fonds engagés ont soutenu des activités de GHS dans pas moins de 34 pays, dont 25 étaient partenaires du Programme d’action pour la sécurité sanitaire mondiale (Global Health Security Agenda - GHSA). Activités soutenues par les États-Unis en Éthiopie pour renforcer la sécurité sanitaire mondiale Les évaluations de responsables officiels des États-Unis portant sur les capacités de 17 pays partenaires du GHSA à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses révèlent qu’à la fin de l’année fiscale 2019, la plupart de ces pays avaient des capacités dans chacun des 11 domaines techniques retenus mais connaissaient diverses difficultés. Les équipes-pays interinstitutionnelles américaines réalisent des évaluations de capacités bisannuelles dont le personnel du siège de l’USAID et des CDC se sert pour assurer un suivi des progrès des pays. Selon les évaluations de l’année fiscale 2019, 14 pays avaient développé ou démontré des capacités dans la plupart des domaines techniques. Les rapports ont démontré par ailleurs que la plupart des capacités de ces pays étaient restées stables ou avaient augmenté par rapport à 2016 et 2017. C’est dans le domaine technique de la résistance aux antimicrobiens qu’ont été enregistrées les plus fortes augmentations de capacités, par exemple dans la mise en place de systèmes de surveillance. Dans son analyse des rapports, le GAO a constaté que les difficultés les plus fréquentes en matière de renforcement des capacités de GHS étaient les faiblesses des institutions de l’État et le manque de ressources et de capital humain. Selon des responsables officiels, certaines de ces difficultés peuvent être résolues par plus de financement, d’assistance technique ou d’efforts diplomatiques des États-Unis, mais beaucoup d’autres restent en dehors du control du gouvernement des États-Unis. Ceci est une version publique d’un rapport confidentiel émis par le GAO en février 2021; les informations jugées sensibles par l’USAID et les CDC en ont été omises. Pourquoi cette étude du GAO La survenue de la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) en décembre 2019 a démontré que les maladies infectieuses peuvent causer des pertes de vie catastrophiques et infliger des dommages durables à l’économie mondiale. L’USAID et les CDC dirigent les efforts déployés par les États-Unis pour renforcer la sécurité sanitaire mondiale, à savoir la capacité mondiale à se préparer à lutter contre les maladies infectieuses, à les détecter et à y riposter, ainsi qu’à réduire ou à prévenir leur propagation sur le plan international. Ces efforts comprennent des activités liées au GHSA, qui vise à accélérer l’obtention de progrès en matière de respect des règlements et autres accords mondiaux relatifs à la santé. Le rapport 114-693 de la Chambre des représentants prévoyait un examen, par le Government Accountability Office (GAO), de l’emploi des fonds de GHS. Dans ce rapport, le GAO examine, pour les 5 années fiscales précédant le début de la pandémie de COVID-19 : 1) l’état des financements et des activités de l’USAID et des CDC relatifs à la GHS et 2) des évaluations d’organismes des États -Unis, réalisées à la fin de l’année fiscale 2019, portant sur les capacités des pays partenaires du GHSA à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses et sur les difficultés que ces pays ont dû relever pour renforcer leurs capacités. Le GAO a analysé des documents d’organismes des États-Unis et d’organismes internationaux. Le GAO a aussi interviewé des responsables officiels à Washington et à Atlanta (Géorgie) ainsi qu’en Ethiopie, en Indonésie, au Sénégal et au Viet Nam. Le GAO a choisi ces pays sur la base de critères tels que la présence de personnel de multiples organismes des États-Unis. Le GAO a également analysé des évaluations interinstitutionnelles des capacités des pays à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses durant l’année fiscale 2019 et les a comparées aux données de référence de 2016 et 2017. Pour plus d’informations, s’adresser à David Gootnick au (202) 512-3149 ou à gootnickd@gao.gov.
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  • FY 2020 Excise Tax: Agreed-Upon Procedures Related to Distributions to Trust Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    The procedures that GAO agreed to perform on fiscal year 2020 net excise tax distributions to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) and the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and the results of those procedures are described in the enclosures to this report. The sufficiency of these procedures is solely the responsibility of the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is responsible for certifying quarterly net excise tax collections to be distributed to the AATF and the HTF. The Department of the Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis (OTA) is responsible for developing reasonable estimates of net excise tax collections to be distributed to the AATF and the HTF. These IRS certifications and OTA estimates are the basis of the net excise tax distributions to the AATF and the HTF. GAO was not engaged to perform, and did not perform, an examination or review. Accordingly, GAO does not express such an opinion or conclusion. The purpose of this report is solely to describe agreed-upon procedures related to information representing the basis of amounts distributed from the general fund to the AATF and the HTF during fiscal year 2020, and the report is not suitable for any other purpose. IRS agreed with the findings related to the procedures performed concerning excise tax distributions to the AATF and the HTF during the fiscal year 2020. OTA stated that it had no comments on the report. GAO performed agreed-upon procedures solely to assist the DOT OIG in ascertaining whether the net excise tax revenue distributed to the AATF and the HTF for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2020, is supported by information from the Department of the Treasury, including IRS's excise tax receipt certifications and OTA's estimates. DOT OIG is responsible for the sufficiency of these agreed-upon procedures to meet its objectives, and GAO makes no representation in that respect. The procedures that GAO agreed to perform were related to information representing the basis of amounts distributed from the General Fund to the AATF and the HTF during fiscal year 2020, including (1) IRS's quarterly AATF and HTF excise tax certifications prepared during fiscal year 2020 and (2) OTA's estimates of excise tax amounts to be distributed to the AATF and the HTF for the third and fourth quarters of fiscal year 2020. For more information, contact Cheryl E. Clark at (202) 512-3406 or clarkce@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced that Ronald Wyatt, 22, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to intentionally threatening physical harm to a female victim, T.P., to obstruct T.P.’s free exercise of religion. As part of his plea agreement, Wyatt admitted that he targeted T.P., who is African-American, because of her race. 
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  • Veterans Affairs: Ongoing Financial Management System Modernization Program Would Benefit from Improved Cost and Schedule Estimating
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Financial Management Business Transformation (FMBT) program has begun implementing the Integrated Financial and Acquisition Management System (iFAMS), with the first deployment of certain capabilities at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) on November 9, 2020. FMBT program officials identified various challenges, such as FMBT program funding shortfalls, which represent the difference between VA's original requirement and the President's budget request, and coordination with other major initiatives. VA has taken various steps to address its challenges. For example, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, VA postponed the initial NCA deployment 4 months and converted planning, training, and testing activities to virtual events. In addition, the FMBT program and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) worked together to address the FMBT program funding shortfall by postponing iFAMS implementation at VHA for at least 2 years to coordinate with the implementation of a new logistics system. Following information technology (IT) management best practices on major transformation efforts, such as the FMBT program, can help build a foundation for ensuring responsibility, accountability, and transparency. VA has generally met such practices for program governance, Agile project management, and testing and defect management. However, it has not fully met certain best practices for developing and managing cost and schedule estimates. As a result, its estimates were not reliable. Specifically, VA's estimates substantially met one, and partially or minimally met three of the four characteristics associated with reliable cost and schedule estimates, respectively. For example, VA minimally met the “credible” characteristic associated with reliable cost estimates, in part, because it did not compare its cost estimate to an independently developed estimate. GAO Assessment of VA Cost and Schedule Estimates against Best Practice Characteristics Cost estimate characteristic Assessment of cost estimate Schedule estimate characteristic Assessment of schedule estimate Comprehensive Partially met Comprehensive Partially met Well-documented Substantially met Well-constructed Partially met Accurate Partially met Credible Partially met Credible Minimally met Controlled Substantially met Legend: substantially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a large portion of the criterion; partially met = VA provided evidence that satisfies about one-half of the criterion; minimally met = VA provided evidence that satisfies a small portion of the criterion Source: GAO assessment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Financial Management Business Transformation program documentation. | GAO-21-227 Reliable cost and schedule estimates provide a road map for project execution and are critical elements to delivering large-scale IT systems. Without reliable estimates, VA management may not have the information necessary for informed decision-making. Further, following cost and schedule best practices helps minimize the risk of cost overruns and schedule delays and would better position the FMBT program for effective and successful implementation on future deployments. Why GAO Did This Study VA's core financial system is approximately 30 years old and is not integrated with other relevant IT systems, resulting in inefficient operations and complex work-arounds. The FMBT program is VA's current effort and third attempt to replace its aging financial and acquisition systems with one integrated system. The first two attempts were unsuccessful after years of development and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost. GAO was asked to review the progress of the FMBT program. This report (1) describes the status of the FMBT program, including steps VA has taken to address challenges it has identified, and (2) examines the extent to which VA has followed certain IT management best practices. GAO summarized FMBT program risks and challenges that VA identified, reviewed FMBT program documentation and compared it with relevant guidance and best practices, and interviewed cognizant VA officials.
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  • Electricity Grid Resilience: Climate Change Is Expected to Have Far-reaching Effects and DOE and FERC Should Take Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost billions and could affect every aspect of the grid from generation, transmission, and distribution to demand for electricity, according to several reports GAO reviewed. The type and extent of these effects on the grid will vary by geographic location and other factors. For example, reports GAO reviewed stated that more frequent droughts and changing rainfall patterns may adversely affect hydroelectricity generation in Alaska and the Northwest and Southwest regions of the United States. Further, transmission capacity may be reduced or distribution lines damaged during increasing wildfire activity in some regions due to warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Moreover, climate change effects on the grid could cost utilities and customers billions, including the costs of power outages and infrastructure damage. Examples of Climate Change Effects on the Electricity Grid Since 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions to enhance the resilience of the grid. For example, in 2015, DOE established a partnership with 18 utilities to plan for climate change. In 2018, FERC collected information from grid operators on grid resilience and their risks to hazards such as extreme weather. Nevertheless, opportunities exist for DOE and FERC to take additional actions to enhance grid resilience to climate change. For example, DOE identified climate change as a risk to energy infrastructure, including the grid, but it does not have an overall strategy to guide its efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that federal efforts can focus on risk reduction by creating resilience goals and linking those goals to an overarching strategy. Developing and implementing a department-wide strategy that defines goals and measures progress could help prioritize DOE's climate resilience efforts to ensure that resources are targeted effectively. Regarding FERC, it has not taken steps to identify or assess climate change risks to the grid and, therefore, is not well positioned to determine the actions needed to enhance resilience. Risk management involves identifying and assessing risks to understand the likelihood of impacts and their associated consequences. By doing so, FERC could then plan and implement appropriate actions to respond to the risks and achieve its objective of promoting resilience. Why GAO Did This Study According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, changes in the earth's climate are under way and expected to increase, posing risks to the electricity grid that may affect the nation's economic and national security. Annual costs of weather-related power outages total billions of dollars and may increase with climate change, although resilience investments could help address potential effects, according to the research program. Private companies own most of the electricity grid, but the federal government plays a significant role in promoting grid resilience—the ability to adapt to changing conditions; withstand potentially disruptive events; and, if disrupted, to rapidly recover. DOE, the lead agency for grid resilience efforts, conducts research and provides information and technical assistance to industry. FERC reviews mandatory grid reliability standards. This testimony summarizes GAO's report on grid resilience to climate change. Specifically, the testimony discusses (1) potential climate change effects on the electricity grid; and (2) actions DOE and FERC have taken since 2014 to enhance electricity grid resilience to climate change effects, and additional actions these agencies could take. GAO reviewed reports and interviewed agency officials and 55 relevant stakeholders.
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  • Military Housing: Actions Needed to Improve the Process for Setting Allowances for Servicemembers and Calculating Payments for Privatized Housing Projects
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD) has established a process to determine basic allowance for housing (BAH) rates, which help cover the cost of suitable housing in the private sector for servicemembers. However, DOD has not always collected rental data on the minimum number of rental units needed to estimate the total housing cost for certain locations and housing types. GAO analysis found that 44 percent (788 of 1,806) of locations and housing types had fewer than the minimum sample-size target. Until DOD develops ways to increase its sample size, it will risk providing housing cost compensation that does not accurately represent the cost of suitable housing for servicemembers. DOD followed congressional requirements for calculating BAH reductions and payments to privatized housing projects. However, while the 2019 congressionally mandated payments lessened the financial effects of BAH reductions, as intended, they did not do so commensurate with the amount of the BAH reduction. GAO found that privatized housing projects received payments that were either over or under the amount of revenue lost from reductions made to BAH, in some cases by $1 million or more. (see figure) Number of Privatized Housing Projects and Amounts That Congressionally Mandated Payments Were Above or Below the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction Estimate (in 2019) These distortions occurred because the legal requirements for calculating the BAH reduction and the congressionally mandated payments differ. Specifically, the law requires that the BAH reduction be a set dollar amount, regardless of location, while payments to privatized housing projects are required to differ by location. This required method of calculating the BAH reduction amounts is consistent with how prior reductions were calculated. According to DOD, BAH rates were reduced so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs, and that reduction amount was the same for servicemembers with the same pay grade and dependency status, regardless of location. Until Congress takes steps to ensure congressionally mandated payment calculations are consistent with how BAH reductions are calculated, some privatized housing projects will continue to receive more or less than was intended. DOD spent about $20 billion in fiscal year 2019 on BAH—often one of the largest components of military pay. BAH is designed to cover a portion of servicemembers' housing rental and utility costs in the private sector. Starting in 2015, DOD reduced BAH rates so that servicemembers share a portion of housing costs. The majority of servicemembers rely on the civilian housing market, while others rely on government housing or privatized housing projects. These projects rely on BAH as a key revenue source. In 2018-2020, Congress required DOD to make payments to these projects to help offset the BAH reduction. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to review DOD's BAH process. This report evaluates, among other things, the extent to which (1) DOD established a process to determine BAH and (2) DOD's congressionally mandated payments to projects lessened the effects of BAH reductions. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed relevant guidance and other documents, analyzed key data, and interviewed cognizant DOD officials. GAO is making a matter for congressional consideration to revise statutory language to ensure payments to privatized housing projects are consistent with BAH reductions. GAO is also making three recommendations, including that DOD review its sampling methodology to increase sample size. DOD concurred with two recommendations. DOD also partially concurred with one recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Elizabeth A. Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
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