Department Press Briefing – June 2, 2021
2:02 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining today’s briefing. I have three updates at the top and then we’ll resume taking your questions. I’d like to start off today by noting the tragic passing of our friend and colleague Tejinder Singh, who was the founder and editor of India America Today. Tejinder covered the State Department for 11 years, participating in many State Department briefings both in person and also calling in every telephonic briefing. We already miss seeing his name in the question queue here today. Tejinder was well-known for being a kind and generous colleague, and also for keeping us on our toes with his questions. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues as we grieve his loss. And I speak for my colleagues here when I say that he was such a pleasure to work with for all of us, and his presence will be sorely missed.
Yesterday the United States began celebrating the first day of Pride Month. Not only do we recognize how far we have come in the fight for the protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons, but we also acknowledge the distance that remains on the path to full equality and equity.
The United States is committed to increasing U.S. engagement on LGBTQI+ issues intersectionally, working to ensure the same-sex spouses for our diplomats assigned abroad are afforded the same privileges and immunities as opposite-sex spouses, and empowering local movements and persons advancing the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. We are proud of our work with local and international partners to build a more inclusive global society for all LGBTQI+ communities.
We seek to increase the visibility of and address the acute challenges faced by particularly marginalized members of these communities, including women and girls, transgender, non-binary, and intersex persons. Although the United States still has work to do, we strive to lead by example in the promotion and protection of human rights for all persons.
And finally, as you know, Secretary Blinken was in Costa Rica yesterday and today, where he met with senior government officials from across the Central American region to discuss how our countries can work together to create a more democratic, prosperous, and secure region. They also worked to deepening the region’s collaborative approach to shared challenges of irregular migration.
Yesterday, the Secretary attended a meeting with foreign ministers and vice ministers from all seven Central American countries, as well as Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They discussed issues essential to the wellbeing of people in this region, including strategies for addressing root causes of migration and managing migration flows in and throughout the region; combating corruption and strengthening democratic institutions; generating inclusive economic growth; recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic; and healthy environmental stewardship.
Secretary Blinken also met yesterday with President Alvarado and Foreign Minister Solano of Costa Rica to discuss the strong partnership between our countries on migration, climate change, and security. In addition, he met with the foreign secretary of Mexico and the foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to discuss vital work to address migration and other challenges within those countries.
This morning, Secretary Blinken visited a pair of joint U.S.-Costa Rican initiatives that show how the United States can successfully partner with the region to help build a better future. He first visited a neighborhood that benefits from “Sembremos Seguridad,” an initiative citizen security program for at-risk youth. He then visited an environmental stewardship initiative that sets a model for efforts to reduce deforestation and fight climate change in the region. He also sat down with a Costa Rican media outlet to communicate with local audiences and demonstrate support for media independence in Central America.
This trip is a part of the administration’s focus on Central America. Vice President Harris will be headed to the region next week to further advance our efforts to improve conditions for people of Central America, which also advances the interests of people in the United States.
And with that, we’ll give it a few minutes before taking your questions.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1, 0 command. If you are using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Pearl Matibe, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Good afternoon. Hope you’re having a great day today. My question is regarding President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. And I’m just wondering after the sanctions and recent diplomatic tools you’re using regarding Ethiopia, Russia is now preparing to have an Africa summit in 2022. Is Africa going to be part of the agenda between President Biden and President Putin given the fact that Africa over the next decades beyond Biden’s administration will have such a huge population and role to play in the world? Is Africa going to be a significant topic on that agenda, and does the United States anticipate an Africa summit as well? Do you have anything to share? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. Well, what I will say broadly is that Africa is a priority for – the relationship with Africa is a priority for the Biden administration, but I certainly won’t get ahead of any meetings and don’t have anything to share for you at this time.
Let’s go to Casey O’Neill.
QUESTION: Yes, hi, Jalina. Thanks so much for doing this. I – my question is actually on Myanmar. So I know today – earlier today, excuse me – Deputy Secretary Sherman in Bangkok delivered some remarks and spoke about the two American journalists that are detained in Myanmar, Danny Fenster and Nathan Maung. Their – excuse me – Mr. Fenster’s family has also been making the rounds on television and spoke earlier this morning and said that the United States Government has requested consular access, but so far that request has not been addressed by the military junta in Myanmar. So I’m just wondering if you could provide us any update on steps that the U.S. Government is taking to ensure that these two detained journalists are safe and if you have any update on whether or not the embassy personnel have been able to gain consular access to them. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Casey. Well, I’ll start off by saying that the safety and safe return of U.S. citizens is a priority for the United States. At this time we have nothing to announce or any updates about these two specific cases.
Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for taking my call. I have two questions. One: The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is coming up. Is the U.S. sending a message to Beijing about how its security forces should handle themselves on this anniversary, both in mainland China and in Hong Kong?
And the other question has to do with, one, the sinking of an Iranian oil tanker, the Kharg, in the Gulf of Oman, was – does the U.S. have any more information about whether this was an accident or perhaps an act of sabotage? And connected to that, does the U.S. have any more updates on the travel of two Iranian warships that rumor – that the rumors suggest may be heading to Venezuela? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Rosiland. I’ll start with your first question on Tiananmen, and I’ll start by broadly saying that the United States condemns actions by Hong Kong authorities that prompted organizers to close the June 4th Museum that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. As far as your question of sending any particular messages, no, we’re not sending any direct messages at this time, other than saying that Hong Kong and Beijing authorities continue to silence dissenting voices by also attempting to erase the horrific massacre from history.
And to your question on Iran, speaking of the naval ships on the Gulf of Oman, well, we’ve definitely seen the media reports on the Iranian naval vessels that have caught fire and have sank. Other than that, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.
Let’s go to Rich Edson.
QUESTION: Jalina, just looking into the conclusion of the World Health Assembly, there is really no sense of a phase two investigation or commitment to one, Taiwan was excluded from the proceedings, Syria and Belarus are now on the executive committee. I was just wondering if you could provide what the State Department’s assessment of the proceedings were and how the U.S. plans on attempting to follow through with reforms of the World Health Organization.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Rich. What I’ll say is to your point about countries that you’ve mentioned. We have grave concerns that Syria and Belarus have been elected for a three-year term by the World Health Assembly Executive Board. Members of the executive board each have a duty to advance public health and likewise are expected to uphold universal values as well as human rights. And, of course, this would include providing access for delivery of lifesaving humanitarian supplies, and that would include medical equipment as well. We don’t believe the actions of either Syria or Belarus demonstrate this, and although the U.S. is not currently part of the executive board, we’ll continue to monitor closely the board’s activities and make clear that – U.S. exemptions that the board members uphold the highest standards of human rights.
Let’s go to Laura Rozen.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. So the delegation led by Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley is currently in Vienna, and he’s in Vienna for a fifth round of talks. And any update to share that he actually may come back to Washington for consultations at the end of the week. Outside of that, I’d just underscore that these last few rounds of discussion have actually helped crystallize the choices that need to be made by Iran, and also by us, the United States, in order to achieve a mutual return to compliance of the JCPOA.
Let’s go to Soyoung Kim, please.
QUESTION: About North Korea, Deputy Secretary Sherman said today that the U.S. has made its policy known to the DPRK. Can you clarify whether this means the U.S. recently reached out to North Korea again or the separate contact made a few months ago the Department of State had confirmed before? And any response from North Korea?
MS PORTER: Hi, thanks for the question. I won’t get ahead of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s comments, and any other update we’ll be able to preview at a later time but nothing’s going out today.
Let’s go to Said Arikat.
OPERATOR: Said’s line has left the queue.
MS PORTER: All right. With that, let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.
QUESTION: I have two questions on Iran. Sources in Vienna said that the parties reached a draft agreement. Can you confirm that? And any comment on the fire in Tehran’s refinery today?
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. Nothing to announce. I’m not able to confirm the reports of a fire in Tehran today, but just to underscore what was mentioned previously, our Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, he’s currently in Vienna for his fifth round of talks and should be coming back to Washington sometime later this week. Anything beyond that and the decisions and the discussions that have been made, I have nothing to announce.
Looks like we have Said Arikat back in the queue. We’ll go to Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jalina. And I also want to thank you for mentioning my good friend, Tejinder. May God bless his soul. We will miss him dearly. Jalina, I wanted to ask you about two issues: one, if you have any comment on a report by The Washington Post that Israel is preventing cancer patients from leaving Gaza through the Erez Crossing, if you have any comment on that. I also want to ask about the whereabouts of Mr. Hady Amr right now, and what is next on his agenda? What is he doing? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Said. And again, to underscore, we definitely will all miss Tejinder and his spirit, and his vigor and his contributions to not only foreign affairs but journalism as well.
To your first question on cancer, I certainly look forward to these reports and would have to get back to you specifically on that question. And I’d have to do the same for your question on Hady and what he’s doing. We don’t have anything to announce at this time.
Let’s go to Lara Jakes.
OPERATOR: I do not see Lara Jakes’s line in queue.
MS PORTER: Okay. Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.
OPERATOR: It looks like Jennifer’s line is not in queue either.
MS PORTER: All right. Let’s go to the line of Hiba Nasr.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay. I have one question about Israel. First, we saw during Secretary Blinken’s visit to Israel two weeks ago, he extended an invitation to the Israeli president to visit Washington, and tomorrow that Israeli defense minister is visiting Washington. Did this administration extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Washington? And my second question is on Nord Stream 2; yesterday Republicans in the House sent a letter to Secretary Blinken expressing concern over the decision to – over the decision to apply a waiver to some sanctions. Do you have any comments on that?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Hiba, for your first question on extending an invitation – on invites. We have nothing at all to announce on that. And your second question on NS2, I’ll have to take that one back for you.
Let’s go to Claudia Uceda.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for taking my questions. I have two questions. First is: How can Costa Rica help stop illegal immigration flow into the U.S.? What is the Secretary looking into specifically? And my second question is about Nicaragua. I would like a reaction to the fact that Nicaraguan prosecutors question and are investigating 16 independent journalists, and they are threatening them with a criminal investigation related to money laundering investigation into Violeta Chamorro, who is a prospective candidate. What’s your reaction to that? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Claudia. So to your first question, I won’t get into specifics on what Costa Rica should be doing when it comes to the fight for regular migration, but I will say that Costa Rica honestly is a top partner of the United States and it has a strong democracy. And we do have shared values as well as shared commitments. And part of that is championing human rights across the board, and that will be integral into fighting that common challenge together. To your second question, I’ll just say broadly speaking that the United States supports the freedom of the press and will continue to champion that not only in Nicaragua but all over the world.
Let’s go to Nick Wadhams.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) press you a tiny bit more on Iran. In the past, you guys have said that there had been progress in the talks, though a lot of differences remained, and the U.S. and Iran were sort of closer to the start of the talks than they were toward the end of the talks. So do you believe that progress continues to be made? Have those talks stalled? And do you feel that the two sides are gradually inching closer to a resolution? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Well, certainly some progress has been made, and like I said, Rob Malley is in Vienna. He’ll be returning to Washington pretty soon. And again, talks are ongoing. And they will continue at a pace that’s honestly appropriate to address the significance of the issues that are currently on the table being negotiated right now. And I’ll continue to underscore that discussions like this are always thorough. They’re thoughtful. They’re businesslike even though they are indirect. And of course that’s to be expected. This isn’t going to be a quick or easy process.
It looks like we have Jennifer Hansler back on the line, so I’ll take that last question from her.
MS PORTER: Hi, Jennifer.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks so much for taking my question. Just a little more on Iran, can you confirm that the indirect talks will resume next week? And then separately, has there been any communication with Russia in the wake of the latest cyber-attack on JBS? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Jennifer. To your first one, I don’t have anything to announce of any – for any future talks. And the second question, we’ll have to take that one back for you.
And thank you all very much for joining today’s briefing. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)
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