2:02 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing. I have just a few updates I’d like to share with you, and then we’ll start by taking your questions.
As you know, Secretary Blinken arrived in Brussels yesterday evening to attend the NATO Foreign Ministerial, engage with European leaders, and meet with Belgian officials.
The Secretary’s program is well underway. Today, he participated in a Moderated Conversation with Secretary General Stoltenberg and had a meeting with the Secretary General. The Secretary noted our steadfast commitment to the NATO Alliance, which has been the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and stability for the transatlantic community for more than 70 years. He also reaffirmed that our commitment to mutual defense under Article 5 is unshakable and noted that we would consult closely on common security challenges and work toward mutually advantageous ways to share responsibility for our common defense. Secretary Blinken is also participating in the NATO ministerial sessions and has additional bilateral and multilateral meetings planned.
The Secretary looks forward to his additional meetings and engagements today, as well as to his meetings tomorrow and Thursday with European Union and Belgian Government leaders.
The Secretary’s engagements in Brussels emphasize the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance and reinvigorate our ties with allies and partners.
Moving on, today, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution to promote human rights in Sri Lanka. The United States co-sponsored this resolution and together with the international community calls on Sri Lanka to safeguard the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, human rights defenders, and civil society actors, and to take credible and meaningful steps to address its past, promote reconciliation, and guarantee equal access to justice for all its people.
The resolution expands reporting requirements for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and includes a mandate to collect and preserve evidence for future accountability processes and expresses concern about the trends over the past year. The long-term security and prosperity of Sri Lanka depends on respecting human rights today and committing to peace and reconciliation for the future.
With that, we’ll give it a few minutes for folks to join the queue and we’ll start taking your questions.
OPERATOR: And once again, it’s 1 and then 0 for your questions or comments.
MS PORTER: Let’s start off on the line of Matt Lee, please.
OPERATOR: And Matt, your line is open.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hey, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Matt.
QUESTION: Yes? Okay, great. I’ve got three really brief ones, or at least I expect they’ll be really brief.
In order, one, there were reports out of Iraq, out of Baghdad, that the Iraqis have asked for a resumption in talks about U.S. troop withdrawal. And I’m just wondering if you guys have gotten that request – apparently, it was sent to Ambassador Tueller – and if you have gotten it, if you have anything to say about it.
Secondly, after the Secretary’s tweets last night about having spoken with Senator Coons about his trip, the senator’s trip to Ethiopia, I’m wondering if you guys have anything more to say about that.
And then the last, I’m wondering if you are aware of – and if you are, if you have any comment about – death threats that have been issued to a Palestinian American human rights activist named Fadi Elsalameen that came from a branch of Fatah, which is the Palestinian president’s political party. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Matt. I’ll start off by saying we can definitely take your question in regards to Senator Coons and his visit to Ethiopia. For the other two, we’ll definitely have to get back to you.
But just to talk about that trip, Senator Coons had a successful visit when he traveled to Ethiopia, and obviously on behalf of President Biden. He went there, obviously, as a presidential emissary and expressed concerns – he expressed our concern for the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
And the reason we’re calling it successful is because Prime Minister Abiy publicly committed to deepening in a meaningful dialogue with the international community to address this conflict in Tigray, and he also shared publicly that he condemns the human rights violations that are going on. And again, we are grateful for Senator Coons traveling on our behalf to Ethiopia.
Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neil.
OPERATOR: Casey, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks, Jalina. So just on China’s detention of the two Michaels, I’m sure we all saw the tweet that Secretary Blinken sent out earlier. But President Biden has pledged that the United States would play a “significant role” in assisting Canada with securing the release of the two Michaels. So with that being said, has Secretary Blinken or any other senior U.S. official discussed the case of the two Michaels with any senior Chinese officials? And two, why hasn’t the United States imposed sanctions on China specifically tied to the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Casey. As far as your questions concerning any conversations between the Secretary and PRC officials, we definitely don’t have any comment on that. But we can’t underscore enough that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for the immediate release of both Michaels, Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, and continue to condemn the lack of minimal procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention.
Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.
OPERATOR: Jiha, your line is open.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. Hi, Jalina. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson today said sanctions and pressure on North Korea won’t solve anything. Do you have any comment on that? Also, this administration has been stressing the importance of coordinating with allies like South Korea and Japan when it comes to North Korea. How about China? How important is it for you to engage with China on this issue? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. I will just reiterate what we have said previously in that the United States has a vital interest in deterring North Korea, defending against its provocations or use of force, limiting the reach of its most dangerous weapons programs, and above all keeping Americans safe and keeping our allies and partners in the region safe.
I’ll just also say that the Biden administration is currently reviewing our approach when it comes a broader North Korea policy, and that’s all we’ll say about that.
Let’s go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.
QUESTION: Hello. Hi. Can you hear me?
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. I was wondering, the French President Macron just said that France will reopen their – its embassy in Libya, in Tripoli. I know this administration has been trying to coordinate steps with its Western allies, so I wonder if you guys have any plans to do the same, to reopen the embassy in Tripoli and not in Tunis. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Hi. Thank you for your question. I definitely want to just remind and reiterate some of the points we’ve talked about our embassy in Libya previously. And again, the history of it is that the embassy in Libya – our operations suspended there in 2014, but we do have an ambassador to Libya who works in our embassy in Tunisia. And obviously, he travels to the region periodically for meetings, and our intent is to begin a process of resuming the U.S. embassy operations opening in Libya as soon as the security situation permits. And again, when we have an update on that, we obviously will be sure to announce that, and you’ll be the first to know. Thank you.
Let’s go to the line of Laura Kelly, please.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you, if you can hear me.
OPERATOR: Your line is open, Laura.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for taking my question. Is there worry within the Biden administration that the hardline stance against the Chinese Government contributes to attacks on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community here at home, given the reaction to the shootings in Atlanta where six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent, and the protests that have taken place in the aftermath?
MS PORTER: Well, for that specifically I’d have to refer you to the White House, but I can’t say enough and can’t underscore enough that both President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made it abundantly clear that violence, particularly violence aimed at our Asian American citizens, is unwelcome in the United States of America. And yeah, for more details on that, I’d – again, I’d have to refer you to the White House.
Let’s go to the line of Nicole Gaouette.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) President Biden is going to be addressing NATO —
OPERATOR: Nicole, your line is open. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, please wait for me to announce that your line is open before you speak. Please, go ahead, Nicole.
QUESTION: Thank you. Matt has asked my question about Iraq, so I hope you share whatever answers you have widely. I wanted to ask when we might expect an announcement on Afghanistan, and whether it might come tomorrow, when I understand President Biden is set to address NATO virtually. And then I have a question about Haiti on behalf of a colleague.
MS PORTER: So I wouldn’t want to get ahead of the President, but I will say that we haven’t made any decisions about our posture in Afghanistan after May 1. But again, we’ll have to wait till President Biden makes his announcement from – directly from himself. And I’ll take your next question on Haiti, please.
QUESTION: Okay. And that is: Why is the U.S. supporting Haiti’s plans to hold a constitutional referendum this summer, given that changing the constitution by referendum is expressly forbidden in the current constitution?
MS PORTER: Well, I will say broadly that it’s the responsibility of Haiti’s government to organize elections that are free, fair, and credible. And the U.S. certainly joins the international community in calling Haitian stakeholders to come together and find a way forward, and that we know the Haitian people deserve the best opportunity to elect their leaders and to restore their democratic institutions.
Let’s go to the line of Erin Ji, Radio Free Asia, please.
OPERATOR: And Erin, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. Just another follow-up on North Korea. North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged messages reaffirming cooperation, but North Korea has not responded to U.S. Government’s efforts to reach out. So I was wondering if you have any comment on North Korea seeking to reach out and strengthen its ties with China. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. We won’t comment on the relations between North Korea and China, but thank you for your question.
Let’s go to the line of Pearl Atibe.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for taking my question today, Jalina. I appreciate that. It’s a two-part question.
My first question is a follow-up to the statement yesterday by Ned Price on Zimbabwe. And I just wanted to find out if you have any comment for those of our audience who might say these are perhaps iterations of regime change, and at the same time you have a different audience who might say solutions to – for Africa by Africans is not working for the majority.
What kind of comment would you say in the face – for instance, this week, the president in Zimbabwe is putting forth two bills, one on cyber security which he intends to set up interception of communications of the population, and also amendments to the constitution which will basically serve to increase the powers of the executive at the expense of the legislature and the judiciary.
My second part of the question is: Does the Biden administration have an approach to countries in our region (inaudible) Africa, that are where you might compete with China and Russia when some countries are increasing their ties with China and Russia? Is that – does your administration have an approach to this phenomena? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions, Pearl. I’ll start off with your first one and say that this administration will continue to promote democracy of Zimbabwean citizens, and we will also call on the Government of Zimbabwe to comply with its obligation to respect these freedoms of expression and freedoms of association enshrined in their constitution.
Secondly, to your question on how we’ll approach Africa when it comes to competing with China and Russia, I can’t underscore enough that we will always come from a posture of strength when it comes to that. The Biden administration prioritizes Africa, and we definitely want those there to know that and then to understand that as well, and we will intend to engage African countries as partners in pursuing our shared interests and values. And that’s everything from security, global health, climate change, democracy, and again, shared prosperity. And so we want to make sure that our policies are including strengthening your democratic institutions and advancing peace, as well as developing trade, investment, and promoting sustainable health in the region. So I hope your listeners will be able to take that back, and thank you so much for calling today.
Let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen.
OPERATOR: Michele, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to follow up on Matt’s question about Ethiopia. Senator Coons said he was optimistic that there is going to be humanitarian access to the Tigray region now. Do you share that optimism?
And then one personnel question: Now that Deputy Secretary McKeon is in place, when will we see a nomination for the diversity officer – chief diversity officer and other assistant secretaries and other appointments? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I definitely want to reiterate that Senator Coons had successful meetings in Ethiopia, and they were productive. I mean, him meeting with Prime Minister Abiy on a range of issues, including making sure that Prime Minister Abiy’s views on human rights violations were public, that was – underscored how important those meetings were and how much we appreciate the senator for taking his time to travel there.
And we’ll also say that Prime Minister Abiy has consistently reiterated that – his government’s commitment to provide unhindered humanitarian access and to also move forward the notification system for humanitarian operators to travel throughout Tigray was welcomed from Senator Coons. And again, we will continue to underscore that – Prime Minister Abiy’s humanitarian operators’ need for both extended visas as well as to continue to progress on outstanding issues as well. So again, this was just a first step, but it was a first step in the right direction. So if there are any updates later, we’ll be sure to make those available.
To your second question on appointments and personnel, we don’t have any updates when it comes to personnel. And I think your first question was about the chief diversity and inclusion officer, and we can’t underscore enough that not only President Biden has made it a policy priority to include racial equity as a part of his term; and then, obviously, Secretary Blinken has made it very clear to the workforce that diversity, equity, inclusion will be embedded in every part of what we do, not only from creating this office but making sure that at the deputy assistant secretary level within every bureau that this is a top-down effort and that we’re all working to making sure that inclusion is a part of our national security priority because it strengthens us.
But again, when it comes to actually announcing the people for those positions, we don’t have anything to announce today, and what we – hopefully that will be soon, and we’ll be able to get that information to you as soon as we have an announcement to share.
Let’s go to the line of Nick Schifrin, please.
OPERATOR: And Nick, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jalina. Two questions related to COVID and global issues. One is vaccine diplomacy. The U.S. is now about a quarter of the world’s production but pretty much zero percent of the export. Do you have any updates on exporting of vaccines, whether it’s Mexico, Canada, or anywhere else in the world that the U.S. is considering or may be doing that I’m just missing?
And two, on AstraZeneca, as the Europeans know all too well, there are major concerns about that. Have there been any Americans in Europe, whether working for the State Department or not, that the State Department is aware of who have been getting AstraZeneca and/or are caught up in the questions about AstraZeneca in Europe? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Nick. So to your second question, we’ll have to get back to that, but to take your first question, as you know, the Biden administration has been very serious and very rapid when it comes to COVID diplomacy and being a leader in solving the global pandemic when it comes to COVID-19. And as you’re probably aware, but the United States is also the world’s largest single donor supporting COVAX, and to date the $2 billion represents nearly 40 percent of all commitments to COVAX, again, which pools the demand for funding, helping fund low and middle-income economies. And – but at the end of the day, we can’t do this alone, and we certainly call on others to raise the ambition for global access when it comes to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.
OPERATOR: Said, your line is open. Said, your line is open. Please check your mute button. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hello? Can – okay. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very kindly. Very quickly, the Israelis revoked the travel document of the Palestinian foreign minister. I know I asked about this before and you guys had no comment, but I’m surprised that you have no comment, because if there’s anyone who is likely to travel and meet with the Americans and so on, whether – at any point, would be this foreign minister, Riyad Maliki. So you still don’t have any comment on the fact that the Israelis revoked his travel document?
MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. Our position on that hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple of follow-ups. Also the Israelis are set to demolish maybe 200 homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area, which is part of East Jerusalem, maybe displacing a few thousand Palestinians. Do you have a position on that?
MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just say that we believe it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.
And with that, I’ll take one final question from Hiba Nasr.
OPERATOR: And Hiba, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina, for doing this. I wanted to ask, is the Secretary planning to meet his Turkish counterpart in Brussels? And I want to ask about a letter sent by senators to President Biden to officially recognize the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian genocide. Is the administration considering taking such a step?
MS PORTER: From what I heard of your question, I believe you asked about Armenia, but we don’t have any change in our current policy to announce on that.
And with that, thank you all for calling in today, and I appreciate your time.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)