2:01 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining the briefing today. I have two announcements to make and then I will resume taking your questions.
We’re deeply saddened by the news of the passing of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
He was a true friend to the United States. Throughout his decades of service, he met and counseled presidents, vice presidents, and other public officials and leaves behind a legacy of inspiration for people all around the world.
On behalf of the American people, I wish to offer my deepest condolences to the royal family and to the people of the United Kingdom.
Our thoughts are also with the people of Saint Vincent as we continue to closely monitor the situation regarding the eruption of the La Soufriere volcano. USAID disaster experts are closely monitoring increased activity of the La Soufriere volcano. Local authorities are evacuating up to 19,000 people.
And with that, I’ll leave a few minutes for the queue to fill so we can start taking your questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 and then 0. Your line will be entered into the queue. Your name will be called when your line is ready to be opened. Please allow for me to tell you your line is open before speaking. Once again, for questions, press 1 and then 0. And one moment, please, for the first question.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.
QUESTION: — for taking my question. Actually, this is a two —
OPERATOR: Pearl, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, Pearl, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you so much. It’s a two-part question. African troops on the African continent have often defended United States interests, including Chad. Now we’ve got three countries who are having elections. Today was Djibouti, and over the weekend we will see Chad and Benin who will have elections, and it’s expected that continued terms into the sixth and fifth term are expected for some of these. I just wanted to find out if you’ve got any readout that you may have regarding elections in these countries and elections on the continent in general.
And then my second-part question is: The IMF and the World Bank were having their annual spring meetings, and I wanted to find out since South Africa has the chairmanship over the African Union, do you – do you think that things are getting better or worse with their leadership, or what is – do you have any readout on that, too? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, to answer your second question, we don’t have any specific readout on the situation in South Africa.
But to address your first questions on elections that are taking place today in Djibouti and also this weekend in Chad and Benin, I’ll just say that the United States supports the rights of the people of Chad and Benin to exercise their freedom of expression as well as their freedom of assembly as granted to them in their constitution as well as the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
The U.S. regularly conveys our concerns about the adherence to human rights as well as limits on democratic freedoms to the people of Benin and Chad authorities so that citizens can meaningfully engage so that they’re able to influence their government and their democratic process. And again, we continue to watch these elections closely, and we call on everyone who are there to remain peaceful.
Can we go to the line of Laura Kelly, please?
OPERATOR: One moment. And Laura, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. I have two, if you don’t mind. Since the State Department announced resuming assistance to Palestinians, when are those funds expected to be delivered or available for use, and are you receiving any pushback from Congress?
And my second question: Is the State Department concerned that countries in Africa receiving vaccines through COVAX do not have enough money to ensure administration of vaccine shots? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Laura. We’ll have to take your second question back.
But just to address your first question, the U.S. definitely plans to restart aid for Palestinians with economic and development assistance programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as security assistance and humanitarian assistance through UNRWA. And this step, of course, aligns with U.S. values and interests as well as for those – and our allies and partners. And again, this assistance will be provided in a manner that is always consistent with U.S. law.
Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neill, please.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Casey, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks so much and hi, Jalina. Happy Friday and thanks so much for doing this. Two questions for you.
So first on Burma, earlier today during a meeting of the Security Council, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated that, quote, “Only concrete action will change the military calculus,” unquote, with regard to the situation in Burma. The situation, as you know, continues to deteriorate daily. So my question is: What additional concrete action is the U.S. willing to take to pressure the junta to cease its violent crackdown, which, as you know, has included the slaughtering of hundreds of civilians, including children?
And then my second question for you, switching gears, on Belfast: Do you have any diplomatic engagements to real out that Charge Lempert in London has been involved in vis-a-vis the current situation in Northern Ireland? Thanks so much.
MS PORTER: Thank you. I will start by taking your first question on Burma first. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of what Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has already stated, but we will continue to underscore that the regime’s message demonstrates military leaders’ biggest concern, and that’s clearly an unprecedented movement of people rising up across the country and plain and simply rejecting the military rule. We know that the people of Burma are united in their rejection of the military’s actions and continue to call on the regime’s actions to lead to greater stability as well as look out for mounting economic, health, and humanitarian crises that are – continue to be on the rise, as you have said already.
And to your second question on Belfast, we don’t have any diplomatic readouts at this time. But when we do, we’ll be sure to publish those as well.
Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham, please.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Jiha, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. Thank you. I have a question on North Korea. Ambassador John Bolton, former national security advisor, said yesterday during an interview with VOA Korean Service that the prospects for efforts to achieve denuclearization of North Korea through diplomacy remain slim. I understand the review is still ongoing, but could you tell us whether you assess that the U.S. still can achieve a denuclearization of North Korea through the diplomatic efforts? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I won’t speak to any comments made from Mr. Bolton, but I definitely want to reinforce and underscore that the United States remains committed to the denuclearization of North Korea. As you know, this is a priority for the Biden-Harris administration. And again, the review is ongoing, but we will continue to focus on reducing the threat to the United States as well as our allies, and we’ll also continue to strive to improve the lives of North and South Korean people.
Let’s go to the line of Matt Lee, please.
OPERATOR: And Matt, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you, Matt.
QUESTION: Happy Friday if you can hear me. If not, still Happy Friday. Anyway, earlier today you guys put out two readouts of calls the Secretary had with the French and the German foreign ministers that focused on Ukraine and Russia. I presume they also talked about Iran, but I guess we can get into that in a later call. So just focusing on the Ukraine and Russia, without repeating word for word or even – without repeating what’s in the – those readouts, has the situation on the border with the buildup of Russian troops reached a point where you guys think that it is no longer just the Russians moving troops around in their own country and that it is a serious threat of invasion or something else? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Hi, Matt, and Happy Friday to you as well. And again, as you said before, we already gave readouts on this, so that information is already readily available on our website, so of course, I won’t repeat any of it word for word. But what I will say is that, again, we continue to be concerned about the actions Russia has taken to escalate the tensions in Ukraine, and of course, we commend the Ukraine for its ongoing restraint in the face of Russia’s provocations in that current situation. Again, any – I would direct anyone to our website specifically to learn about what happened in those readouts.
Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan, please.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Rosiland, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for the call, Jalina. First, is there an update on the ongoing peace talks in Doha? Do you have a readout on anything that Ambassador Khalilzad is doing?
And two, to follow up on Matt’s question about the phone calls to Foreign Ministers Le Drian and Foreign Minister Maas, there’s also this rumor about the U.S. military moving vessels possibly into the Black Sea. Would it be fair to say that the Biden administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Moscow to not doing anything untoward in Ukrainian territory? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Rosiland. I’ll take your first question first. As we noted for Ambassador Khalilzad, he actually wrapped up in his time meeting in Doha. He’s actually currently in Kabul at the moment, continuing his ongoing meetings with Afghan leaders as well as civil society on accelerating progress for peace in the region.
To your second question, I wouldn’t categorize – specifically categorize what you said the administration is doing, but I’ll just continue to underscore that the United States is concerned by the actions the Russian is – the Russians are taking that are escalating the tensions in Ukraine. And we also continue to monitor the situation closely in coordination with Ukrainian officials as well as our allies and partners in the region. But when it comes to Russia specifically, we have made clear that our engagement with Moscow – that it needs to refrain from any escalatory actions. And we’ll continue to hold them accountable.
Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak, please.
OPERATOR: One moment. Janne, your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much, Jalina. I actually have two questions for you. One is China and then one is North Korea. And as we all know, China is a broad alliance with North Korea, and the United States and South Korea are allies. How do you analyze the impact of the strategic cooperation, partnership between South Korea and China on the U.S. and South Korea alliance?
Secondly, as you know, the former President Trump exchange letters from (inaudible) to North Korean leader Kim Jung-un actually delayed the resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. Will you reconsider such (inaudible) for carrots and sticks for the new U.S. policy toward North Korea? And what is your groundbreaking plan for the new North Korea policy that will allow North Korea to come to the table for denuclearization? Thank you very much. (Inaudible.)
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Janne. When it comes to the alliances you mentioned with – between China and North Korea, I’m not in a position to comment on that specifically, but what I will say and underscore is the commitment that we have with the Republic of Korea and our commitment to strengthening our alliance there in the Indo-Pacific region when it comes to promoting peace, security, and prosperity around the world.
Let’s go to the line of Will Mauldin, please.
OPERATOR: And Will, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for having this. I just wondered on – Secretary Austin is doing a trip to Israel this weekend and other places. Just wondering if Secretary Blinken has any plans to visit Israel or why he’s not going there with Secretary Austin. And also Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Defense Minister Gantz have said that they have concerns and won’t support any Iran nuclear deal – new deal that doesn’t – that doesn’t keep Iran away from a nuclear weapon. They won’t support anything that provides only a temporary, brief halt to Iran’s nuclear activities. Do you see that being a problem for the nuclear talks currently going on in Vienna? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Will. To your first question, we don’t have anything to preview as far as the Secretary’s travel, but obviously as already mentioned, the trip to Israel is for Secretary Austin, and Secretary Blinken has already made a trip, a two-for-two visit, in the Indo-Pacific region previously. But we have nothing to preview as far as any future trip for the Secretary at this time.
To your second question, of course, talking about the – referring to the talks in Vienna, at this time delegations are actually returning to their respective capitals for consultations. But we do anticipate that the resumption of working groups will happen next week. I wouldn’t want to go any further than that, because right before this call we actually released information for an on-background briefing with a senior State Department official discussing what’s happening in Vienna regarding the JCPOA, and that’ll actually take place at 4:45 p.m. today. So I suggest that you do tune into that for further details about what’s going on in Vienna.
Let’s go to the line of Albert Hong.
OPERATOR: And Albert, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. April 15 is – it’s a North Korean issue. The April 15th is Kim Il-sung’s birthday. So I’m concerned about the possibility of North Korea’s provocation. What is the State Department’s position on this? And when will the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea come out? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, again, I’ll just underscore that, again, that the policy is ongoing. We don’t have a firm timeline of when it will be finalized, but we’ll continue to stress that this administration is committed to denuclearization of North Korea, and we intend to promote the safety of American people, which is of paramount importance for this administration. We also, again, are committed to focusing on reducing the threat to not only us in the United States, but as well as our allies and partners.
Let’s go to the line of Mouhamed Elahmed.
OPERATOR: And Mouhamed, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. I have two questions, on Iran and Afghanistan. First, can you confirm if Special Envoy Rob Malley has returned to Washington, D.C., or is he still in Vienna? You said a couple of minutes ago the delegations are on their way back to their capitals. So I just want to confirm if he is still there, or he has already returned to Washington, D.C. And second, all the – since all the parties agreed that the first round of talks were constructive, is it fair to say that there is a breakthrough of some sort?
And my second question on Afghanistan: Ned said yesterday that he preparation for Istanbul conference are ongoing. Are you able to give us a heads-up about the level of the U.S. participation, and who would lead the U.S. delegation in this conference? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: So I can confirm that Special Envoy Malley is returning back to Washington and should be here today. To your second question on what’s happening in Turkey and in – what’s happening in —
Yeah, so we don’t have any other updates for you on Afghanistan, but we’ll be sure to let you know when we do.
Let’s take one last question from Samira Gharaei.
OPERATOR: And Samira, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you, Ms. Porter, for taking my question. It’s on Iran. My question is that there are talks and speculations of United States easing non-nuclear sanctions with Iran. How is that consistent with President Biden’s pledge to hold Iran accountable for its non-nuclear malign behavior? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just say that we’re prepared to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the JCPOA, and that would include lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with it. And, of course, the nature of sanctions-related steps that the U.S. would need to take to achieve this objective is still the subject of these talks. And again, I would remind you or welcome you that we do have an on-background briefing to preview a little bit more detail this afternoon at 4:45 if you’d like to dial in.
That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining, and everyone have a good weekend.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)