Department Press Briefing – May 14, 2021
2:09 p.m. EST
MS PORTER: Hello. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining us this Friday. I have three quick updates at the top, and then we’ll resume taking of questions.
On behalf of the Department of State, I want to wish Eid greetings to Muslims in the United States and around the world who celebrated Eid al-Fitr which marked the end of Ramadan yesterday. During this holy month of fasting and reflections, many Muslims made special efforts to contribute to the building a safer, more just, and equitable world. Here at the Department, I would like to recognize the contributions of Muslim colleagues advancing a broad range of our national interests both at home and abroad.
I’d like to highlight Mosaic, a new Employee Affinity Group that was recognized this past January. Mosaic fosters community and promotes professional development for department employees who are Muslim or are interested in cultures of traditions of Muslim communities. We look forward to working with Mosaic and other employee affinity groups to realize our collective vision of a 21st Century workforce that draws on our rich diversity of all Americans. Eid Mubarak.
Next, we are deeply troubled by reports that Russian authorities have frozen Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s bank account. This is Russia’s latest attempt to suppress independent media and deny the Russian people access to objective news.
We will continue to unequivocally support RFE/RL, and its affiliates, and to stand up for freedom of expression including members of the press.
The people of Russia deserve access to a wide range of information and opinions and a government that respects freedom of expression and keeping with Russian’s international obligations and OSCE commitments.
Finally, as you’re aware, flags at all U.S. State Departments facilities will be at half-staff on Saturday, May 15, 2021 by presidential proclamation to recognize Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week. We honor the U.S. and partner-nation law enforcement professionals who have died in the line of serving – service protecting American diplomacy all around the world.
Here at the department, we remember four Diplomatic Security service special agents who gave their lives, as well as their 34 host nation law enforcement colleagues from around the globe who have died in service of diplomatic security. They are honored on the Diplomatic Security Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
This Peace Officers Memorial Day, we reflect upon the men and women who protect us and who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their watch may have ended, but our gratitude for their service will not. And with that, I’ll give it a few more minutes for you to file in the queue and start taking your questions.
OPERATOR: And once again on the phone lines, if you do have a question press 1 and then 0. Please do not start your question until I state that your line is open. Once again, you may queue up by pressing 1 and then 0. Please do not start your question until I state your line is open.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Shaun, your line is open.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you. Thanks, Jalina. I’d like to ask you about the latest in the Middle East. To begin with, can you give us an update on Envoy Hady Amr so what he’s doing, when does he expect to have meetings there, and what his goal will be? And give an assessment of where things stand right now. There have been calls for de-escalation. We’ve seen renewed violence. We saw the operation last night in Gaza from the Israelis. Is this consistent with the calls for de-escalation that we’ve seen from the United States? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let me just start off by saying that we remain deeply concerned about the current violence, and we are working towards achieving a sustainable calm. We are – when it comes to your question about Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr, he is in Israel and the West Bank to engage with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. As you know that Amr has decades of experience in this issue. His trip is a part of an ongoing high level engagements by senior U.S. officials on these critical issues. But while he’s there, he’ll reinforce our message that we have stressed in many senior level engagements with the parties and other stakeholders this past week, which of course namely achieving a sustainable calm.
Let’s go to Michele Kelemen.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Michele, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to go back to something you mentioned at the top about RFE/RL. The actions against RFE/RL happened a day after the Secretary spoke to Lavrov. I wonder if that came up in the conversation. Is the fact that Russia’s continuing this crackdown a sign that U.S.-Russia relations are heading in the wrong direction? And also if you could kind of clarify what’s happening with the situation at the embassy and Russia’s decision to put off but still force you not to have any foreign national employees?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Michelle. So as far as your first question on the conversation I have nothing additional to announce or read out from that. And to your second question on – I believe you asked about embassy personnel. At this point, we won’t discuss any internal staffing of our – of individuals who are there, but anything else we will certainly get back to you on.
Let’s go to Laura Kelly.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Laura, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Happy Friday, Jalina. My question is: Is the State Department concerned about claims by the Armenian Government that Azerbaijan has launched an incursion into their territory? How does this charge impact U.S. military and security assistance to Azerbaijan, and are you considering revoking the waiver of Section 907 and halt security assistance to Azerbaijan?
MS PORTER: I have nothing to announce when it comes to security assistance, but what I can say more broadly is that we’re closely monitoring the situation along the demarked border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Military movements in disputed territories are irresponsible, and they’re also unnecessarily provocative. And of course we’ve seen the reports of some withdrawal and would welcome that, if confirmed, but we expect that Azerbaijan to pull back all forces immediately and cease further provocation.
We’ve also urged both sides to approach demarcation issues through discussion as well as negotiation.
Let’s go to Matt Lee.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Matt, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hello. A very Happy Friday to you all. I just have – who has Hady Amr met with so far in Israel and in the West Bank? And secondly, is Rob Malley back or is the (inaudible) delegation still in Vienna? What’s going on there? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr is meeting with senior officials. We have nothing further to announce on the specifics on those engagements. And we’ll have to take that question back on Rob Malley.
Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.
OPERATOR: One moment. Rosiland, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Jalina. I need to follow up on Matt and Shaun’s questions about DASD Amr’s trip to Israel and the territory. Is his work being buttressed by phone calls, contacts, by the Secretary, or the official in charge of Near Eastern Affairs for the time being? And is this administration concerned that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be taking advantage of the current crisis to try to bolster his internal political standing? We’ve already seen the efforts to try to form a government under Yair Lapid called off, and now there is pressure coming from some of the prime minister’s supporters suggesting that perhaps he should be allowed to stay in office because of the existential threat to Israel’s existence.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Rosiland. So to answer your first question, there have been several rounds of engagements, including phone calls from Secretary Blinken to his counterpart, from obviously the President as well. And the fact that Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr is there, he’s there in full support of Secretary Blinken meeting and engaging with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to make sure that we are achieving a sustainable calm.
If you still have Rosiland on the line, operator, can you repeat your second question.
OPERATOR: And Rosiland, you would have to queue up again by pressing 1 and then 0. One moment, please. And Rosiland, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Yes, Jalina. My second question is: Is the Biden administration worried or concerned or outraged or pick whatever adjective you want that Prime Minister Netanyahu may be using this crisis in order to bolster his domestic political standing? There is no formal government. He’s in essence a prime – a lame duck prime minister right now. The efforts for Yair Lapid to form a government have been suspended because of the violence, and now Naftali Bennett, who is one of the prime minister’s supporters, is suggesting that perhaps Netanyahu should just simply stay in office open ended regardless of the last election’s results because of this existential threat to Israel’s security.
MS PORTER: Well, I don’t have anything to offer specifically on your comment to Prime Minister Netanyahu. But as far as being concerned, I will say that we are deeply concerned about the current violence, and of course are working to achieving a sustainable calm. And this is what we’re encouraging from our side.
Of course, we’ve been very clear that Hamas’s ongoing rocket attacks into civilian areas of Israel are completely unacceptable and that they must cease. Of course, Israel has the right to defend itself from these rocket attacks, and both Israelis and Palestinians – I will just leave it there and kind of just reiterate that we are concerned. It remains that we’re deeply concerned about the violence that’s happening right now.
Let’s go to Jiha Ham.
OPERATOR: One moment. Jiha, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. Thank you. As the administration now has the completed version of their policy towards North Korea, I have to ask you this question again. Will there be a Secretary announcement of what the detailed North Korean policy will be? If so, when will it be? Also, could you tell us if the State Department has reached out to the North Korean Government through the diplomatic channels as to convey the results of their policy review? If so, was there any response from them? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Jiha. So we won’t disclose any private diplomatic correspondences, and we certainly don’t have a timeline to announce the specifics of a review. But of course we have completed this review in a way that was very through and very rigorous, and of course our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. When we have any updates to share outside of that, we will be certainly – certain to share them through these channels.
Let’s go to Pranshu Verma.
OPERATOR: One moment. And I’m sorry, what was that name again?
MS PORTER: Pranshu Verma.
OPERATOR: All right. Thank you. One moment. And Pranshu, did you still have a question? If so, press 1 and then 0. And right now I’m not seeing Pranshu in queue.
MS PORTER: Okay. Let’s go to Kylie Atwood.
OPERATOR: One moment. Kylie, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. I had a quick question about the Russian diplomats, the Russian officials that the Biden administration expelled last month. The date that the Biden administration announced that they were being expelled was April 15th, so tomorrow would mark the 30 days that they had to leave the country. And I’m wondering if the Biden administration has received confirmation that they have left or if that confirmation will be coming tomorrow? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Kylie. We don’t have any announcements to make on that at this time. But we’ll be happy to take that back for you.
Let’s go to Bryant Harris.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Bryant, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hey, thank you. So are there – is the Biden administration doing anything specifically to discourage Israel from a potential ground invasion in Gaza? And moving to Ethiopia, a few sources on Capitol Hill are saying that the administration is reviewing all options deal with the Tigray crisis. Does that include potential Global Magnitsky sanctions on Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, if Eritrea continues to refuse to withdraw from Tigray? Thank you.
MS PORTER: I’ll take your first question first. So the United States will continue to remain engaged with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian leadership and other partners in the region. And of course, we’re continuing to – continuing at an intensive pace of high-level calls and meetings by senior-level U.S. officials with other senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, their partners, as well as other stakeholders. And of course, that includes the visit by our Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr to the region.
And if you’re still on, if you can re-ask your question. I believe it was on Ethiopia.
Okay. I’m not sure if we have him back in the queue. But from what I gathered from his question is we certainly won’t preview sanctions from here, but of course we are – remain concerned about the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region as other reports of any human rights abuses and atrocities. And we are working with international partners to address the crisis in Tigray, and that includes through action with the UN and other relevant bodies.
Let’s go to Rich Edson.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Rich, your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. Hi, Jalina. The President said yesterday there was a strong reason to believe that the criminals who carried out the Colonial Pipeline attack are living in Russia. What responsibility does the United States believe the Russian Government has here in punishing the actors or preventing attacks like this from happening?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Rich. Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to get ahead of President Biden and would have to direct that question back to our colleagues at the White House.
Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Nadia, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. The chief (inaudible) to the Israeli army just said that they have targets to finish in Gaza, actually quoting what he said. And the administration, whether it’s the State Department or the President, who just released a statement saying that he wants to achieve sustainable calm. So would you say that Hady Amr’s visit is mission impossible if he is not able to achieve ceasefire? And what is it exactly that asked to do? What would you call a success of his visit? Is it coming back to Washington and declaring that actually both sides have a ceasefire?
And also, as you know – sorry, it’s a long question – but as you know, Egypt is a mediator with Hamas. So we don’t expect him obviously to speak with Hamas, but why he’s not going to Cairo as well? Is it just enough to talk by phone? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Nadia. So, I mean, we won’t go into specific details from here or say that there’s any specific measure of success. And of course, we’ll underscore that Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr is in the region, of course, at the full confidence of Secretary Blinken. Of course he’s there meeting with senior officials, senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, to achieve sustainable calm and to achieve sustainable peace as well. And after that, we have nothing to add from here. But his time in the area is well spent, and we appreciate him being there.
Let’s take this final question from Tejinder Singh.
OPERATOR: One moment. Was that Tenji?
MS PORTER: Tejinder Singh.
OPERATOR: One moment. And Tejinder, your line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just have a quick follow-up to the ongoing subject of Israel and Palestinians. According to an AP report, an Egyptian diplomatic team is on the ground in Israel, and after meeting Hamas people and then crossing by land route, to explore ceasefire. The question is: Are the U.S. diplomats in touch with them? What’s your take on the Egyptian role and efforts?
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So we are actively engaging Egypt as well as other regional partners to work towards achieving a sustainable calm in the region.
Thank you all for joining today, and that concludes today’s briefing.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)