MS PORTER: Hello and happy Friday, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s teleconference. I have one update at the top, and then I will start with taking your questions.
Just over four weeks ago, Putin directed his forces to begin a premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war against Ukraine, the largest assault on a European state since World War II. In 30 days, more than 3.7 million refugees have been forced to flee Ukraine, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. According to the UN Human Rights Office, 1,035 civilians in Ukraine are reported as killed, and 1,650 have been injured. These numbers are actually likely much higher.
As the Secretary announced this week, based on information currently available, the United States Government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Reports estimate that nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action and more than 16,000 wounded since the invasion began, although the Russian Federation is only officially reporting a fraction of the human cost for its own forces and their families.
Over 15,000 people in Russia have been detained for peacefully protesting Putin’s war of choice. Journalists who are covering Putin’s war of choice have also felt the consequences of brutal tactics employed by Putin’s forces, with at least five journalists killed. Ukraine’s economy has ground to a halt as its people are literally fighting for their lives and forced from their homes.
Sanctions from scores of countries have set Russia’s economy back dramatically. Forecasters are now assessing a 20 percent rise in prices for the people of Russia for this year. The central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate, the highest in 20 years, and Russian authorities have forced experts to sell at least 80 percent of their foreign currency they receive to prop up their weakening ruble.
Together with partners and allies, we will step up our efforts to enhance the measures in place and are developing additional ones to increase the cost to Russia. The United States has committed to provide over $2 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including anti-air systems, anti-armor systems, and ammunition. The United States has also prepared to commit more than $1 billion towards humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its severe global impact.
Our support continues. The United States plans to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian citizens, as well as others who are fleeing Russia’s aggression. To meet this commitment, we are considering the full range of legal pathways to the United States, including the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, parole, and visas, with the focus on welcoming Ukrainian citizens who have family members in the United States.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine knows no borders and it impacts the entire global food supply chain. By starting a war between the two world’s most significant producers of agricultural commodities and inputs, Putin is driving up prices for food and fertilizer for everyone in the world, including those most vulnerable. The fastest and best way to stave off a global food crisis is for Putin to end this senseless war. Let farmers safely plant, harvest, and tend their fields, let ships carrying essential food commodities and related goods sail freely, and let businesses and warehouses operate as they did before the invasion.
There is no looming glory on the horizon for Putin and the Russian Federation. The choice for the Kremlin is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian forces to end needless suffering and to allow the people of Ukraine to return home and to live in peace.
Let’s start with Janne Pak, please.
OPERATOR: Pardon me. Can you repeat the name?
MS PORTER: Let’s have Janne Pak, USA Journal Korea.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi. I can hear you. How are you?
QUESTION: Yes, nice to – yeah, nice to hear from you. Happy Friday. I have a few questions.
First question about North Korea’s new ICBM launch yesterday. What is the U.S. position on North Korea’s abolition of the moratorium on this to the international community in 2018?
And my second question is: It will be difficult to pass unless China and Russia cooperate with additional sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council meeting, in particular as the war criminal Russia is not eligible for membership in the UN Security Council. Do you think these two countries – I mean China and Russia – should be expelled from the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council?
Is it – last question. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that he would prepare for the long-term confrontation rather than negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea. How would you comment on that? Thank you very much.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Janne. I will take your first question first and say that the United States strongly condemns the DPRK for its test of long-range ballistic missiles. The President and his national security team are assessing the situation, and they are also in close coordination with our allies and partners. This launch is also a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and it needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the reason – in the region. This action also demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritize its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being and human rights of its own people. We urge all countries to hold the DPRK accountable for such violations, and we also call on the DPRK to come to the table for serious negotiations.
On your second question, regarding Russia and the PRC on the Security Council, I’m not in a position to speak to that. But what I will say is that we are in the early stages of consulting on this issue. There have been developments that should be of concern to all countries, particularly those who share a border with the DPRK. The DPRK’s decision to return to ICBM tests is a clear escalation, and China and Russia should send a strong message to its DPRK partners to refrain from additional provocations and also engage in sustained diplomacy.
To your last question noting confrontations rather than negotiations, I would say that the door to diplomacy is not closed, and that the United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and the Republic of Korea and our Japanese allies.
Let’s please go to Alex Raufoglu.
OPERATOR: Your line is now open.
QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. Thank you so much. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Yes, yes. Happy Friday. Thank you so much for this opportunity. My question is about Azerbaijan and Armenia. Yesterday the State Department urged both sides to use direct communication channels to immediately de-escalate, something that – there’s a plausible on the Azerbaijani side, and there’s a lack of information about what exactly is going on. I was wondering if this – there was another tweet from the State Department, actually, that there was a phone call between the Assistant Secretary Donfried and the foreign ministers. If you have anything further on that call, any readout.
And also, what is the state of U.S. mediation efforts at this point? Is the Minsk Group still around? And given what Russia has been doing in the region, do you still consider Russia a partner on peacemaking in the region? Thank you so much again.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Alex. I’ll start off by saying that we are closely monitoring the situation along the line of contact established between – established following the November 2020 ceasefire. The United States is deeply concerned about Azerbaijan troop movements. Troop movements and other escalatory measures are irresponsible and unnecessarily provocative.
And to your question on the phone call between our Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried, I can confirm that our assistant secretary did speak with both the Armenian and – Armenian foreign minister and the Azerbaijani foreign minister on March 24th, and she just reiterated what Secretary Blinken told the Prime Minister Pashinyan as well as President Aliyev on March 21st and 22nd, which was calling both sides to show restraint and intensify diplomatic engagement to find comprehensive solutions to all of the outstanding issues. Armenia and Azerbaijan just need to use direct communication channels to immediately de-escalate.
Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy, please.
QUESTION: Jalina, Happy Friday. Thank you for taking my call. Two questions. The first is on the attack on Saudi Arabia by the Houthis and the reaction to that, and basically Saudi commander said this is a message from Iran and they are actually targeting oil installation.
And second, on this summit between – that the Secretary of State is going to attend in Israel with the Bahrainis and Emiratis and the Moroccans are attending, can you give us some highlights about this summit, why it came about, and especially that the Secretary was going to meet MBZ in Morocco? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Hi, Nadia. To your second question, I believe you’re referring to the Abraham – or Abraham Accords ministerial, which we can confirm that the Secretary is participating in. And as we said previously, the Abraham Accords are a positive development that has had clear benefits for Israel as well as the region. The United States will continue to look for opportunities to engage Israel as well as other countries to normalize relations and expand cooperation.
And to your second question as far as a reaction of the most recent Houthi attack, we certainly condemn the latest Houthi attack, and the attacks are unacceptable and have also affected Saudi infrastructure as well as schools, mosques, and workplaces, and they’ve endangered the civilian population, including tens of thousands of U.S. citizens living in Saudi Arabia. We will continue to work with our Saudi partners to strengthen their defenses while also working to advance a durable resolution that ends the conflict in Yemen, improves Yemeni lives, and creates a space for Yemenis to collectively determine their own future.
Let’s go to Michele Kelemen, please.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. How are you?
QUESTION: Good. So I want to know about the meetings that were called off in Doha with the Taliban. What were these meetings about? And the statement I saw said that U.S. diplomats made clear to them that this could be a potential turning point in engagement with the Taliban, and I just wonder what that means.
And one quick note on – the sound quality is not great on this. I don’t know if you’re speaking on a speakerphone or on headset, so I just want to point that out. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Michele, if we still have you, can you repeat your last question? Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, the last was just a comment about the sound quality on – when you speak is not great today. There’s a lot of crackling sounds and I don’t know if that’s because you’re on a speaker or a headset, but I just wanted to make that point. But the question was about the meetings with the Taliban.
MS PORTER: Well, I’ll start by apologizing for any of the crackling and background noise or any feedback you or anyone else may be experiencing. We certainly appreciate your patience and appreciate you joining in. We’ll certainly take that feedback to the tech team here at State.
To your first question on canceled meetings in Doha, that’s correct. We have canceled some of our engagements, including planned meetings in Doha and around the Doha Forum, and have made clear that we see this decision as a potential turning point in our engagement. The decision by the Taliban, if it is not swiftly reversed, will profoundly harm the Afghan people, the country’s prospects for economic growth, and the Taliban’s ambition to improve their relations with the international community.
For the sake of Afghanistan’s future and the Taliban’s relations with the international community, we urge the Taliban to live up to their commitments and to their people. We also stand with Afghan girls and their families who see education as a path to realizing their full potential of Afghanistan society and economy. And I hope that was audible on your end. Again, apologize for any confusion.
Let’s take a final question from Endale Getahun.
QUESTION: Hello, good – good afternoon. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Hi. Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jalina. Thanks for taking my call. We just – can we – this will be regarding in East Africa, for Ethiopia. I just – I don’t know if you’ve seen the statement that was put out with chairman from the Foreign Relations Committee with Senator Menendez regarding the – this will be a follow-up question, actually, from my last few questions there.
And he was referring that black migrants are too often excluded on decisions, especially on TPC for Afghan, and apparently was interested on your open statement for Ukraine for the temporary protection status, but Cameroon and Ethiopia should – will be able to fit into this, but the Biden administration and what-have-you seem to – referring that the black migrant was not being excluded to this.
My question is that: Why it’s not – Ethiopia and Cameroon was not into those designation and a deal? Also, the secretary of – Mayorkas has also designated on March 3rd for Ukraine for TPC for those two – for two countries, which is Afghanistan and Cameroon – I’m sorry, Ukraine, but more for Ethiopia was not into that.
My second question is: Also the Tigray government has just came – brought statements regarding – the statement came from the central government of Ethiopia. What is your comments on – or if you have seen it? With that still the banking systems and telecommunications and transportation, others, has not still lifted in Tigray, but that’s still there. So what’s your statement on the current situation in Tigray as well?
And the last question I have: Secretary Blinken has said it, last statement on his, that in Russia there will be numerous collections of evidence on crime or any crime committed by Russia. That was hopefully with – I think the statement was taken 20 days after the Ukraine invasion, but there is almost 500 days on – in Tigray and launched war by Ethiopian Government and Eritreans. Is any evidence that they will consider to show it as a war crime? And why it so – takes so long to name it as genocide, like Congress was asking for the Secretary Blinken when he only made a statement ethnic cleansings only like 10 months ago? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Endale. That was a lot, and I will try to get through as much as possible.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS PORTER: But what I’ll do is start off by saying that the United States is committed to the unity, the sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and seeks peace and stability in Ethiopia to build on the longstanding strong partnership between our governments and our people.
I’ll also say that we welcome the Ethiopian Government’s March 24th declaration of an indefinite humanitarian truce, effective immediately, and welcome the Tigray regional authority’s statement in response expressing its commitment to the cessation of hostilities and all necessary measures to assure unhindered access for humanitarian assistance. We urge all parties to work in collaboration with humanitarian organizations to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all those in need, and we also strongly support these declarations and expect them to be quickly followed by the movement of lifesaving assistance.
To another point that you mentioned in some of your questioning, I’ll say that the Secretary of the Homeland Security has the full authority to designate a foreign state for TPS after consultation with the appropriate government agencies, and that would include the Department of State. We certainly don’t comment on internal U.S. Government deliberations.
And on your question about atrocities, I’ll just say that we have always had strong concerns about atrocities, and we continue to review the situation. But as far as the determination status, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.
Thank you all for joining today’s press briefing. I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:33 p.m.)
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