2:01 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, and thank you so much for joining our briefing this Wednesday. I have two announcements at the top, and then we will start taking your questions.
As you know, Secretary Blinken is currently traveling to Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland this week. In a series of bilateral meetings thus far the Secretary has discussed our strong bilateral ties, commitment to combating the climate crisis, while also promoting human rights.
Secretary Blinken and his counterparts also discussed our shared interest in strengthening the transatlantic relationship, as well as continuing common efforts on the Arctic and High North.
The highlight of the Secretary’s travel is his attendance in Reykjavik at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting today and tomorrow. In Reykjavik he joins the seven other Arctic states and the six permanent participant organizations which represent the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. During meetings, the Secretary is advancing efforts to sustain the Arctic as a peaceful region and address the ever-growing threat and impacts of the climate crisis. The Secretary is also having bilateral meetings with other Arctic states.
Next, the United States continues to be a global leader in the humanitarian crisis response.
On Tuesday, May 18th, in Geneva, the United States announced nearly $155 million in new humanitarian aid for Rohingya refugees and affected host communities in Bangladesh at the launch of the 2021 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis. Of the $155 million more than $138 million is for programs inside Bangladesh.
This brings our total assistance for the crisis response since August 2017 to more than $1.3 billion.
This funding will sustain the efforts of our partners to provide life-saving assistance to affected communities on both sides of the Burma-Bangladesh border, including the nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge in Bangladesh – some 740 million of whom arrived since 2017, when they were forced to flee ethnic cleansing and other horrific atrocities and abuses in Burma’s Rakhine State. This funding will also provide assistance to more than 470,000 Bangladeshi host community members and to others affected by the ongoing violence in Burma.
The United States recognizes the cost and responsibility the response has placed on host countries, especially Bangladesh, and underscores this crisis is not forgotten in the aftermath of the February 1 military coup and the brutal military crackdown in Burma. We call on all parties to respect the rights of Rohingya and ensure that they have a voice in their future.
The funding needs are tremendous. We urge donors who have not yet made a financial contribution toward this humanitarian response to join us and we also call on existing donors to increase their commitments.
The international community must remain steadfast in our commitment to alleviating the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, including through the Rohingya crisis response.
And I’ll take – give it a few minutes before I start taking your questions.
OPERATOR: Now, if you’ve already pressed 1 then 0, you are all set for Q&A. If you wish to place yourself in queue for questions, please press 1 then 0 at any time. You may remove yourself from that queue by simply repeating the 1-then-0 command. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the numbers. Please stand by for the first question.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Michel Ghandour.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) draft resolution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. And second, Tunisian foreign minister has said that the U.S. will grant Tunisia $500 million in aid. Is that accurate? And if you have any more details on that. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Hey, Michel, don’t hang up. Can you repeat your first question? You were cut off at the very beginning.
QUESTION: Yeah. If – what’s the U.S. position towards the French UN Security Council draft resolution on Israel-Palestinian conflict?
MS PORTER: So I’ll answer your second question first. On Tunisia, we’ll have to take that back to you. And while we don’t have anything to say specifically on the French response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, we’ll say broadly speaking that the United States is working tirelessly through various levels of government to bring an end to this conflict. We’ve had over 60 calls in the past week from the President and the Secretary on down with senior leaders in Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority, and across the region.
Let’s go to Tejinder Singh.
OPERATOR: And one moment. Your line is open.
QUESTION: I have two short questions. First one is on Burma. And are we doing anything more than these statements threatening them and telling that okay, we don’t agree with your coup, et cetera? Is there any sanctions coming? Any other kind of pressure that can be put on the military rulers?
The second question is about: Any update on the vaccines that the U.S. has decided to give abroad to other countries, and if any quantity has been sanctioned for going to India or any other country? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. As far as your first one, on Burma, we don’t have any sanctions to preview from here, but I’ll just underscore that the United States position has been clear and that we condemn the Burmese military’s brutality and we encourage all countries to evaluate any links to the Burmese military, and we will continue to support the will of the people of Burma.
Now to your second question, on vaccines. The United States will send 80 million U.S. vaccines to help countries battling the pandemic by the end of June of this year. This equates to all that’s manufactured – 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses – as soon as they’re reviewed by the FDA, as well as another 20 million doses that are authorized for use in the United States. We’ll continue to donate from our excess supply as that supply is delivered to us. As far as distribution, we’ll have more to say about how they’re distributing the vaccines in the coming weeks.
Let’s go to Rich Edson.
QUESTION: What was the calculus for the administration not targeting the Russian companies that provide insurance and certification services on this? And then in balancing U.S. national security interests, and clearly taking into account the perspective of American German allies, how was that balanced against the priorities of those in Central and Eastern Europe? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, broadly speaking, the administration is committing to using all available diplomatic tools to make sure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from being completed. When it comes to broader support that you mentioned, we’ll continue to underscore the strong U.S. bipartisan opposition to this Russian malign influence project. And our goal is to reinforce European energy security as well as safeguard against any type of predatory behavior that Russia has demonstrated in its past actions.
Let’s go to Nike Ching.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. I would like to follow up on the question regarding the Nord Stream 2 project. German Foreign Minister Maas has said that the U.S. is waiving sanctions on the company behind the Nord Stream 2 project and its CEO, and Germany is calling it a constructive step. Could you please comment on the timing of the U.S. sanctions waiver at a time when Secretary Blinken is meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov later today, and how does the U.S. plan to raise the energy security issue with his Russian counterpart? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Nike. Well, I’ll just underscore what I’ve said previously, which our goal is to reinforce European energy security and safeguard against the type of predatory behavior that Russia has demonstrated in its past actions. I won’t get ahead of the Secretary or any call that he’s having. When there’s a readout available we’ll be sure to disseminate that later on.
Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy.
QUESTION: I have a few questions. First off, can you update us on the Hady Amr trip? Is he still there? And what he’s – I mean, is he staying there for a while? And also, the President is coming under pressure and the State Department to try to do more to stop the Israeli aggression against Palestinian civilians in particular. Can you tell us, in the last 10 days since this war has started, what exactly the U.S. is doing apart from condemnation or even statements – not sure about condemnation – of Israeli actions to protect Palestinian civilians? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Nadia. I’ll take your second question first. So again, just to underscore, the United States has been working tirelessly through various levels of government to bring an end to this. (Inaudible) 60 phone calls in the past week, including the President, the Secretary, other senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, as well as across the region. The United States will continue to remain engaged with senior Israeli officials, Palestinian leadership, as well as partners in the region.
And now to your question on Deputy Assistant Secretary Amr, he is still in the region. He’s in Israel and the West Bank to engage with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. This trip is just a part of ongoing high-level engagement by senior U.S. officials on this critical issue. And while he’s there, he’ll continue to reinforce the message that we stress in many of our senior-level engagements with the parties as well as other stakeholders in this past week, and – which is mainly for calling for sustainable calm.
Let’s go to Hiba Nasr.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on the situation in Gaza and between Israel and Hamas also. In the readout the White House read out of the call between the President and the Israeli prime minister, the readout said that President conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire. What do you mean? If there’s not a ceasefire, what are you asking for here? Can you comment on that?
MS PORTER: So I think that readout from the White House is pretty clear. The comments – I won’t get ahead of the President’s comments and would have to refer you back to that. I won’t be able to translate or do anything like that from here, but the readout is pretty clear on what the goal remains.
Let’s go to Laura Rozen.
QUESTION: Now that the international Iran talks wrapped up in Vienna today, can you offer the sense of – the U.S. sense of how it went? The Europeans were expressing the sense that it was more substantive and there was more substantive progress than previous rounds.
MS PORTER: So I don’t have any specifics to read out, but I will say that broadly speaking our Special Envoy Robert Malley will be back in Washington for consultations by the end of this week, which, as you know, is the end of the fourth round of discussions that ended today, and the delegation will actually be set to return to Vienna for a fifth round of talks earlier next week. In some of these discussions, it’s really helped to crystallize choices that may be made by Iran as well as by the United States in order to come back into compliance for compliance, as in a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.
Let’s go to Conor Finnegan.
OPERATOR: Please stand by. Your line is open now.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry about that. Just following up on Nadia’s question first. You said that Hady Amr’s calling for a sustainable calm, but is he now carrying a ceasefire plan? What is his assignment in these meetings that you say he’s continuing to have now that the White House has said the President is encouraging a ceasefire? And then secondly, can you confirm whether the priority for the vaccine doses the administration says the U.S. will now share overseas will go to Latin America? And specifically, Honduran senior officials are saying on the record they may stop recognizing Taiwan in order to get vaccines from China. Do you have any response to that? Is that part of your calculus? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So thank you for your question. I’ll go back to your question on Hady. I didn’t preview any of his assignment specifics, but again, he is in the region and will be there to, again, meeting with senior-level officials and other parties and stakeholders during the week to achieve – with the call for achieving sustainable calm. Any other specifics, I won’t be able to provide at this time. But again, he’s met with everyone from Israeli ministers of foreign affairs, health, finance, and defense. He’s also met with the Palestinian president, prime minister, finance minister. But again, and those specific details I won’t be able to preview from here.
And just to kind of underscore, going back to your question on vaccines, and of course we plan – the U.S. is sending 80 million U.S. vaccines, but we won’t be previewing that right now how. Of course, we’ll have more to say how they’re distributed in the coming weeks and where they’re distributed in the coming weeks.
No comment from here on your final question about, I believe, the recognition of Taiwan from here so – but that’s where I will end it.
Let’s go to Sylvie Lanteaume.
OPERATOR: Okay. It looks like we —
OPERATOR: Yes. We can hear you now. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, sorry. My question was about the negotiations in Vienna with Iran. Some European diplomats are saying that significant progress were made and an agreement is actually taking shape. Can you confirm that?
MS PORTER: Well, I won’t be able to comment from here on any comments from the Europeans on their stance on what’s been taking place in Vienna, but again, I’ll continue to underscore that these last few rounds of discussions have been helpful to crystallize the choices that need to be made by both Iran as well as the United States in order to come back into a mutual return to the compliance of the JCPOA.
Let’s go to Albert Hong.
QUESTION: U.S.-South Korea summit issue – how likely is the North Korean issue or the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea to be discussed at the U.S.-South Korean summit on 21st? Do you think the North Korean human rights issue will be a subject of discussion? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So we won’t get ahead of the summit from here, and there is nothing to announce at this time. When we do have any updates, we’ll be sure to make them readily available.
Let’s go to Janne Pak.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. About North Korea: The United States is considering diplomatic reality North Korea. Is the U.S. reality to improve relations with North Korea or to denuclearization of North Korea? What groundbreaking ideas does the United States have to bring North Korea to the table for denuclearization talks? Thank you very much.
MS PORTER: Well, when it comes to the DPRK, I can’t underscore enough that our goal remains clear, that – our goal is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We’ll take one last question from Beatriz Pascual.
MS PORTER: Hi.
QUESTION: Hi. I wanted to go to the north of Africa. I have two questions. The first one is about one of the cities that Spain has in the north of Africa, Ceuta. Thousands of people, including families and minors have entered this city during the last few days. So I was wondering what was the U.S. opinion on this, if there has been any conversation with Morocco or with Spain about this issue.
And my second question is: Do you have any updates on the review that the State Department is doing on the Western Sahara? And if you could offer us some kind of timeline, if it’s a matter of weeks or months – thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks. So I don’t have any updates on the review for the Western Sahara from here. We’d be happy to take that back for you, but when it comes to your first question, I’ll just say, broadly speaking, that the United States continues to promote humane, orderly, and fair forms of migration through bilateral and multilateral diplomacies as well as targeted capacity-building programs. And on this, we support both Spain and Morocco to work towards a resolution together.
That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining us today.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:28 p.m.)
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