Department Press Briefing – February 8, 2022
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining today’s press briefing. I don’t have any elements at the top, but I’ll give it a few extra minutes to have some more reporters filter in the queue before I start taking your questions.
So, let’s start off with the line of Cindy Spang, please.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. Good afternoon. I have a question about Jamshid Sharmahd, a German Iranian dissident and longtime California resident who was abducted by Iran and went on trial Sunday and could face the death penalty. Would you have any comment or reaction to that, please? And thank you.
Let’s please go to Janne Pak.
MS PORTER: Hello.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Janne. Great to hear from you.
QUESTION: Yeah, because very hard to – this signal here. So, I have two questions for you. And it is an important time for the U.S. and ROK-Japan trilateral alliance to respond to North Korea’s successive provocations. Will there be any discussion about the South Korea’s ascension to the Quad at the three-party foreign ministers meeting in Hawaii?
Second question: It is reported that the North Korea is operating on ICBM bases on the border between North Korea and China. My question is: Do you have any specific information about this? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Janne. I’ll start with your first question first. And just broadly speaking, I’d like to say that the Quad is an essential multilateral grouping that convenes four like-minded democracies. Of course, that’s the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India. And the purpose, of course, is to make tangible progress on pressing challenges within the Indo Pacific. It’s also based on our shared values and capability. Each Quad member shares collective commitments to democracy, peace, security, and prosperity in the region.
To answer your questions about South Korea’s ascension into the Quad, I certainly don’t have any details to share other than what we issued in our readout – that was our travel announcement, excuse me, that was issued last Friday.
But what I would say is that we continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan, as well as other allies and partners on how to best engage the DPRK. The United States condemned the DPRK’s missile launches, and of course the DPRK wants to normalize illicit weapons testing, but we’re taking a calibrated approach, as we’ve said previously, to these provocations based on the degree of threat to the United States as well as to our allies.
Of course, as it can’t be understated, a number times, that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK and remain open to meeting the DPRK without preconditions. Of course, however, we also have an obligation to address the DPRK’s recent provocations and enforce UNSCRs that are already in place.
To your second question, on the ICBM base on the border with China, I would say that our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK constitutes a threat to international peace and security and the global nonproliferation regime. It’s – the United States has a vital interest in deterring the DPRK. That includes defending against its provocations or uses of force, limiting the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs, and above all keeping the American people, our deployed forces, and our allies safe.
Let’s please go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. How has the resumption of Iran talks in Vienna gone today? Has any progress been made? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Daphne. Special Envoy Malley has actually just recently returned to Vienna. He returned yesterday for the eighth round of talks that resumed today. I don’t have anything to read out from there. Of course, he continues to meet on the sidelines with our partners in Vienna. He also continues to brief Congress virtually, but outside of that I don’t have anything else to say, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get ahead of the talks. Of course, if we do have updates, we’ll be certain to share them with you as soon as we have them.
Let’s go to the line of Michel Ghandour, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for the call. I have a question on Iran talks, but since you have no update, I will ask you about Lebanon and Senior Advisor Hochstein who’s in Beirut today. Is he bringing any U.S. plan or offer to solve the maritime dispute between Lebanon and Israel? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Michel. So, what I would say at the top is that the maritime boundary is a decision for both Israel and Lebanon to make. And of course, the U.S. stands ready to facilitate negotiations on the maritime boundary between both Lebanon and Israel, and we support efforts to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan, please.
QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, Conor, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Hey. Hey, Jalina. Two questions for you. On Ukraine first, any response to the talks between Presidents Macron and Putin, now that we’ve heard a bit more about them from both sides? Macron specifically said today that Putin told him Russia wouldn’t initiate an escalation. I’m wondering if you believe that’s true.
And then a second question on Honduras. The information that was declassified and publicized last night that former President Hernández was included on the list of corrupt and undemocratic actors – why was this information declassified now, and does it send the wrong message that heads of government would only face repercussions like this once they leave power? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So, Conor, I will start with your first question. On Macron, I would just say that we are engaged in intensive diplomacy with our allies and partners, but I’m – I just can’t get into detail about private meetings. But one of the messages that we’ve tried to send very clearly to Russia is that the West is united, and the fact is that there’s still more than 100,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine. Russia continues to surge troops and equipment to the borders of Ukraine, and we believe that they are in a position where they can invade at any time.
Of course, we just can’t control what Russia will do next, but what we can do is make clear with our allies and partners that there will be massive consequences to Russia should Putin choose to further invade Ukraine. And if Russia does invade, it will end up in a weaker position over time, and the NATO Alliance will be stronger and more united.
To your second question on Honduras, we’re declassifying and publicizing the inclusion of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in the Corrupt Undemocratic Actors List under Section 353 of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhancement Engagement Act. The department included Hernández on this list effective July 1st on – in 2021.
According to multiple credible media outlets, Juan Orlando Hernández has engaged in significant corruption by committing or facilitating acts of corruption and narcotrafficking and using proceeds of illicit activity to facilitate political campaigns.
I would say in addition Hernández was identified by name in a sworn witness testimony in a U.S. Federal criminal proceeding as having received narcotrafficking proceeds as a part of his campaign funding. And pursuant to Section 353 of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhancement Engagement Act, individuals identified through this list are generally ineligible for visas to travel to the United States.
I would also add that the United States encourages the fight against corruption as a core national security priority. And of course, we’re engaged in a careful, thorough effort to combat corruption in Honduras as well as across the region and as well as around the world.
Let’s please go to the line of Matt Lee.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hey Matt, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, I have two brief ones on Iran. I realize you don’t have a readout from Vienna, but I’m just wondering: Can you say if Rob Malley and the team has at least begun to have meetings – the indirect meetings – with the Europeans, or are they just kind of waiting for – to have – to begin those contacts tomorrow or later today?
And then secondly, you guys have made the case that the sanctions waivers that were signed on Friday by the Secretary do not invoke or do not require the provisions of INARA to be followed because it’s not a quid pro quo or part of a – part of an agreement. But you probably will have seen a letter that has been sent by, I think, 33 Republican senators that says that it does actually, and, also, more – perhaps more importantly that they will block or move to block any kind of an agreement that you do – that you may reach with Iran if it is not submitted to Congress first.
And so, part – and so without getting into congressional correspondence, I’m just wondering if you can assure members of Congress now that you will be submitting any agreement that you get in Vienna to Congress for its approval. And then also very briefly, just to remind you of the first one, have the actual meetings with the U.S. team begun? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Hey Matt, I think I want to go back to your first question. I thought you asked initially had meetings with Special Envoy Malley started with the Europeans yet. And if that’s correct, I don’t have anything to share or read out at the moment.
But to your second question on Congress, I’d reiterate at the top what I shared on the – with one of the questions of your colleagues, which is that Special Envoy Malley continues to brief members of Congress even remotely. But what I’ll say more specifically is that the administration will carefully consider the facts as well as the circumstances of any U.S. return to the JCPOA to determine the legal implications, which would include under INARA. We’re committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are satisfied.
And the President believes that a bipartisan approach to Iran is the strongest way to safeguard U.S. interests for the long term. And the administration officials have reached out at all levels to members of Congress as well as their staff to discuss our approach to Iran. Special Envoy Malley remains deeply committed to continued close engagement with Congress in a bipartisan manner as Iran policy continues to develop.
Let’s please go to the line of Luis Rojas.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. I have only one question today. Do you have any update on the possible retabulation of remittance to Cuba or on the sending of diplomatic personnel to the United States Embassy in Havana, please?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Luis. To your second question, I don’t have any announcements or any updates to make about personnel issues, but I’d just reiterate what we have shared in the past to your first question, which was: following the July 2021 protest the administration created a remittance working group to explore options to facilitate remittances to Cuba that would go to maximally benefit the Cuban people, and that would also include by allowing Cuban families to support each other and also minimize or eliminate benefits to the Cuban regime and its military.
Also, in August of 2021, the remittance working group shared its analysis that includes potential options with other members of the administration, and the administration continues to consider these options and explore innovative solutions such as digital payment. Outside of that, we don’t have any specific timetables for a decision or any other updates to share, at this time.
Let’s please go to the line of Will Mauldin.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Jalina. I just wanted to follow up on Conor’s question about the French diplomacy in Russia and Ukraine, and was wondering if Secretary Blinken – I know he’s traveling, but he has a pretty good telephone set on board – or any of the other senior members of the department, Under Secretary Nuland or Deputy Secretary Sherman, had been in touch with the French or were expected to, or other people in the administration. And if they – and what was the general view on that? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Will. I don’t have anything much else to add from what I shared with Conor in that we are – we continue to be in close consultation and coordination with our allies and partners, and we continue to be in alliance with them as well.
Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. I have two questions for you today. Yesterday, VOA reported that a North Korean defector, who is a military officer, who is also known as a cryptocurrency expert, was arrested by Russia and now imprisoned in a North Korean consulate in Vladivostok. Some expect that he will be sent back to North Korea. Do you have any concerns that this may be another forced repatriation case that we have seen in China many times? Some human rights experts suggest that the State Department should ask Russia to free this person. So, what’s your position on this?
And my second question is about China’s remark yesterday at the Security Council. The Chinese ambassador said that there have been serious humanitarian consequences in North Korea and the import of humanitarian livelihood goods have been severely restricted because of the sanctions on North Korea. But in fact, there are many aid groups who have received sanctions exemptions, and quite many of them are ready to send those important items, but the problem is North Korea’s border closure. So, do you have any response or comment on this? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I’ll start with your second question. The United States has led efforts to streamline the process for humanitarian sanctions exemptions at the UN and it has also committed to reviewing such applications as quickly as possible. We’ve also maintained broad exemptions and authorizations across many of the sanctions programs, including the DPRK program, aimed at ensuring that U.S. sanctions don’t hamper the transfer and delivery of humanitarian aid.
And to your first question, I would have to refer you to colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security.
Let’s go to the line of Albert Hong, please.
QUESTION: One more North Korean issue. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it had never committed a cyber crime. North Korea also accused the United States for cyber crime. What is the State Department’s position of that?
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. While I haven’t seen those reports before your question, I would just say that U.S. diplomats work with countries around the world to promote the stability in cyberspace and also reduce the risk of conflict. They coordinate with partners and allies to call out and impose consequences on states that use cyber capabilities irresponsibly. They also implement programs to enhance the capacity of partner countries to implement effective cyber policies, respond to cyber threats, which would include cyber crime, and also participate in international conversations on cyber issues.
Let’s take a final question from Anas Elsabbar.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Jalina. My question regarding the designation of Houthis as a terrorist group. I don’t know if you have any update on this. And also, there were news about designating some Houthis’ top leaders and sanctioning them in the near future. I don’t know if you have any update on that as well.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Anas. I, actually, don’t have any updates on either to share at this time, but certainly happy to share them as soon as we do.
Now, before I close today’s briefing I just – I thought this might have come up, but since it didn’t, I just wanted to take a moment to address something very specific that has been in our news cycle. Following the Secretary’s hearing in Congress last week on Afghanistan, there has been renewed reflection on events from last year as well as interest in our Afghan relocation efforts.
There was a media report today recounting internal discussions and deliberations from a Department of Defense internal report related to the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan from last summer. Cherry-picked comments do not reflect the months of work that were already underway or the whole picture of what the U.S. diplomats undertook to facilitate the evacuation and relocation of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and allies – Afghan allies from Afghanistan. Some of the claims allegedly included in the report regarding State Department personnel and plans are outright false and shamefully so.
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the career Foreign Service officers who were in Afghanistan, who demonstrated immense bravery, professionalism, and dedication to doing the mission during extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They put their lives at risk, standing shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces at gates to the airport, and in the end helping 124,000 Americans, foreigners, Afghan allies and their families leave Kabul.
Of course, this mission continues today. Many of these courageous colleagues have volunteered to be part of the team at State Department leading our ongoing Afghan relocation efforts. And this Department is proud of their service and their sacrifice, and I am personally honored to serve with them.
That ends today’s press briefing. I hope you have a wonderful day, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)