Department Press Briefing – January 28, 2022
2:05 p.m. EST
MS PORTER: Hello, good afternoon, and happy Friday. Thank you all for joining today’s press briefing. I don’t have anything to announce at the top, so I’m just going to give it a few minutes to let you filter in the queue before I start taking your questions.
And Mr. Operator, if you can remind people how to opt in the queue, that would be great.
OPERATOR: To ask a question – to signal you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me? Hi. Thanks so much for the call. Wanted to find out first whether the Secretary has had any significant phone calls in the last 24 hours – Foreign Minister Lavrov, Foreign Minister Kuleba, anyone at that level. And then secondly, what is he expected to be focused on this weekend? Will he be working with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield on the open meeting at the Security Council on Monday? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Rosiland. The Secretary – we don’t have any phone calls or anything like that to read out, but as you said, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will participate in the Security Council meeting on that and she will take the lead on that. As you know, the Security Council has the responsibility to discuss and convene international peace and security, and she will be taking the lead on that on Monday, but I wouldn’t want to get ahead of her responsibilities there. Thank you.
Let’s go to Abigail Williams, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks so much for doing the call today. I had a quick question on Afghanistan. Can you confirm that the charter flights for Afghans headed for the U.S. through Qatar have resumed out of Kabul? And can you say whether any Americans are on board the flights that have departed since they resumed? And I’m just looking for the latest update on the number of Americans who are still in Afghanistan and are wishing to depart. Thanks so much.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Abby. I don’t have anything for your first question, but to take your second question, as you know, since August 31st of last year, we have assisted in the departure of nearly 500 U.S. citizens as well as 455 lawful permanent residents. And of course, as you know and as the Secretary has continued to underscore, that there is no deadline for this effort. But we’d certainly be able to take back the first question for you.
Let’s go to the line of – let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I wanted to see if you would like to respond – see if you had any response to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy today basically saying that the way that Washington has been talking about the current situation in Ukraine and the potential for an invasion is a mistake. He’s saying that the administration has been excessively highlighting the risk of a large-scale war. He doesn’t consider the situation now any more than tense than before, although he’s saying risk of an escalation is possible, and he’s saying Ukraine is not the Titanic, we shouldn’t be – people shouldn’t be talking about it as such. I wondered if you wanted to respond to that. Is the administration’s language about the threat of Russian invasion exaggerated? And is there a danger that you are sort of talking down Ukraine by doing this in a way that’s damaging them and potentially damaging your relationship with the Zelenskyy government? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. What I would say is that Russia has well over, as I’m sure you know, 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, amassed on the border. And they’ve been also surging troops into Belarus. And we’re seeing Russia undertake these efforts by trying to destabilize Ukraine, and of course, this is all a part of the Russia toolkit that we’ve seen before. I’ll say of course it’s a dangerous situation, and we’ve been saying for over a week that Russia could of course invade at any time. And I’ll just kind of underscore what President Biden has said, and he’s reaffirmed that the United States, of course, along with our partners and allies, are ready to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.
Let’s go to the line of another Simon, Simon Ateba, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for doing this and thank you for taking my question. Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington. On the UN Security Council meeting on Monday, the three African countries – Gabon, Ghana, Kenya – who are nonpermanent members of the Security Council – has anyone reached out to them from the State Department or the White House to discuss Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, or do you just take their support for granted?
And also, can you give us an update on the situation in Burkina Faso? I know that the U.S. expressed concern the other day following the military takeover. And yesterday, Human Rights Watch learned that the coup threatens human right in Burkina Faso. Any update about what the U.S. is doing to help restore the rule of law there? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Simon. On the Security Council meeting, of course, as I mentioned before, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will take the lead on Monday in that. Of course, as you know, she’s in close coordination with her counterparts, not only on the council but with also her counterparts in several African countries. But I certainly won’t get ahead of those discussions or the meeting on Monday.
To your question on Burkina Faso, I’ll just start off by saying that the United States is deeply concerned, of course, by the events in Burkina Faso, and we condemn the actions by military officers who claim to have dissolved the government and national assembly and suspended the constitution. Of course, we promote Burkina Faso’s efforts to return the country to peace and stability, and of course we call for the immediate release of all members of the government in detention, and for all members of the security forces to respect the country’s constitution as well as their civilian leadership. We also condemn these acts and call on those responsible to de-escalate the situation, release the president as well as members of his government in detention, and return to elected civilian-led government as well as constitutional order.
Let’s go to the line of Elizabeth Hagedorn, please.
MS PORTER: The Secretary has yet to make a decision regarding the 130 million in foreign military financing since September 2021 until the Government of Egypt affirmatively addresses specific human rights-related conditions. And we have no further updates at this time on the status of the funding.
Let’s go to the line of Marian Baksh.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi, yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Sorry. Thanks. Thanks so much for taking my question. I was hoping to get an update on the email outage from yesterday morning. Can you please let us know whether this is ongoing, this challenge, and how widespread the outage was, and whether the investigation has yielded any results in terms of what was responsible?
MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. I can confirm there is no longer an email outage at the Department of State. And of course, as you know, the State Department takes seriously its responsibility to not only safeguard our information and our systems, but also for the safety and security of our employees and personnel. At this time, we don’t have any indication that this outage had anything to do with malicious activity. And again, we’re proud to say that it’s a thing of the past as of now. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Shaun Tandon, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) about Iran. As you know, the talks are breaking for the weekend in Vienna. There’s been a call by the Europeans and by the U.S. for political decisions to be taken in capitals. What are you looking for and what are you hoping for? Do you think a deal could come together next week? What are you looking for from – particularly from the Iranians?
And on a different note, if I’m not mistaken this is one year since the administration announced a review of Cuba policy. Is that policy review still underway? Do you have any updates on that? When do you expect it to conclude if it hasn’t been concluded? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Shaun. So as of now, we are of course reaching the final stages, to your first point on Iran. But Special Envoy Malley is actually on his way back to Washington. He should return tomorrow, as everyone has been tasked for – back to their capitals for consultations at this moment. Beyond that, I don’t have anything else to read out on the negotiations or any specific details.
When it comes to your question on Cuba policy, I don’t have anything to offer at this time, but I imagine we’ll have more to say at a later time and we’d be happy to get you more information.
Let’s go to Lara Jakes, please.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hey, Lara, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Hi. Thank you. So to follow up on the earlier question about Egypt, the 130 million – there are lawmakers on the Hill who are already saying publicly that this money has been reprogrammed. Is this wrong? I see that Secretary Blinken talked to Minister Shoukry yesterday. I assume this came up. But is it wrong for us to report now that this has been reprogrammed?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Lara. Again, I won’t speak directly to anything stated from the Hill or in our private discussions with the Hill. But again, I’ll just have to underscore that the Secretary hasn’t made a decision yet regarding the $130 million, and outside of that I just don’t have anything to read out.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you. Let’s go to Said Arikat, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. A couple quick question on the Palestinian issue. Jalina, it’s been reported in the Israeli press first and the regional press that the Biden administration has suggested to the PA to stop paying the stipend to the prisoners and find a way through social welfare and so on, and that – and then it was also reported that the PL – the PA has rejected that. And my question to you: If that is the situation, can you confirm that first? And second, if that is the case, if the PA rejected, how will that impact the relationship or the efforts to reignite the relations with the – or to deepen, as you keep saying, relations with the Palestinians?
And second, let me ask you my second question as well. And second, the – it’s been reported in Axios that Israel’s top priority is to discredit the UN probe into excessive force and so on last May. I was wondering if you know of this issue and whether you will support Israel’s effort, considering that the Biden administration cut support to the – financial support by 25 percent to the council. Thank you, Jalina.
MS PORTER: Hi, thank you so much, Said. I will start – first question. I’ll just say that the United States Congress has made its views known on Palestinian payments to prisoners for several years. And of course, I would include the U.S. law and of course, likewise, every U.S. administration has held discussions with both Israelis and Palestinians on this very issue. It’s been a longstanding U.S. Government policy that we encourage reform on the prisoner payment system.
And to move on to your second question, we are concerned with the UN Human Rights Council’s commission on inquiry on Israel and into – and its investigation into all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. We have previously issued a statement expressing our deep disappointment in it and opposition to the commission on inquiry’s establishment. In addition, the U.S. delegation expressed concerns over the commission on inquiry during the General Assembly session, with the president of the HCR this past October of course noting continued and egregious bias towards Israel in the HRC and the problematic nature of the open-ended duration of its mandate.
The United States will not cooperate with the commission on inquiry and we encourage other member states to follow our lead, and we’ll continue to advocate for Israel to be treated fairly in the Human Rights Council.
We believe the UNHCR – HRC, excuse me – plays a crucial role in promoting respect for human rights as well as fundamental freedoms all around the world. Nevertheless, it does have flaws, including most blatantly its agenda item focused only on Israel, which perpetuates unacceptable anti-Israel bias.
Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question, and happy Friday. The State Department just issued a statement on the return of Mr. Lenderking from the Gulf states and London. I’m just wondering how different is this statement from the previous one, and what did he achieve on this visit? Because if I read the statement, while it says that he urged the parties to de-escalate and that’s not the case on the ground, there’s no more fighting, talk about the humanitarian suffering is still there, nothing changes, and protecting Gulf allies – the Houthis have increased their attacks on them.
So can you just tell us what’s different this time, what did he achieve on this trip? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Nadia. And you’re correct on what you read on the readout. So Special Envoy Lenderking did conclude his trip and returned today. He focused on his engagements in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and the UK on, again, the urgent need for de-escalation and protection of civilians, which include detained both U.S. and UN locally employed Yemeni staff in Sanaa; bringing the parties together to support a UN-led inclusive peace process; intensifying efforts to improve economic stability; as well as pressing for action to improve humanitarian (inaudible) and address the fuel crisis.
Of course, we urge the parties to de-escalate, seize opportunities for peace this year, and cooperate with the international community as we help – try to help create the space for Yemenis to dialogue and determine their own future.
We’ll take one last question from Jenny Hansler.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks so much. I wanted to follow up on Russia and Iran. On Iran, does Special Envoy Malley plan to brief the President on this issue? Is this a decision that is ultimately coming down to the President given the statements from the U.S. and others that this is now a political decision?
On Russia, is there anything on the calendar for the Secretary speaking with the Russians? He said he anticipated talking to Lavrov in the coming days on Wednesday.
And then, do you feel it’s harder to conduct effective diplomacy with the Ukrainians if they are saying they disagree with the U.S. assessment of the imminence of a potential Russian invasion? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. To your first question, we don’t have anything to announce as far as Special Envoy Malley briefing the President.
And to your second question, we also don’t have anything to preview as far as the Secretary and any upcoming engagements as well.
Thank you all for joining today. That concludes today’s press briefing. I hope you all have a great weekend ahead, and we’ll see you on Monday.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)