Department Press Briefing – May 4, 2021
2:07 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining. I have several updates to announce at the top, and once I am done, I will start taking your questions.
As you are aware, the Secretary is in London for the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting. Among other priorities, the Secretary is using this event to underscore the democratic values and global challenges we share with our G7 partners.
In the meetings on China, the Secretary reiterated the need to work together to engage from a position of unity and strength, with the goal of upholding the rules-based international order, which has helped to keep peace and spread prosperity for more than seven decades.
Throughout his engagements, Secretary Blinken focused on our commitment to our allies and partners as we work together to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, to address shared global challenges such as climate change, and to counter the aggressive and destabilizing activity of malign actors.
We look forward to continued cooperation with our allies and partners on all fronts.
We’re also delighted to welcome Administrator Samantha Power to the United States Agency for International Development. She was sworn in yesterday by Vice President Harris and immediately hit the ground running.
As a former diplomat, professor, activist, and award-winning author, Administrator Power will help lead America’s effort in revitalizing global partnerships and bolstering international prosperity and security.
She has been a strong and consistent advocate for human rights, atrocities prevention, humanitarian aid, and the rule of law throughout her career, and we look forward to USAID’s achievements under her leadership.
Yesterday was also World Press Freedom Day. The United States joined the international community to celebrate the courageous work of journalists around the world and to acknowledge their efforts to provide the public with factual and accurate information even in the face of violence and adversity, including government-enforced internet shutdowns.
The United States is committed to advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms both online and offline. We called on all governments to honor their commitment under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to freedom of expression including the right of all persons to “seek, impart, and receive information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Governments should not impose partial or complete internet shutdowns, which too many use as a tool to severely restrict the ability of independent journalists to serve the public.
I am pleased to announce that yesterday, May 3rd, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced the end of the most recent Ebola outbreak in the country. This is a monumental achievement, especially given that the first case was reported in North Kivu just three months ago. Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to the local communities and public health workers in the DRC and beyond who played a role in ending the latest Ebola outbreak.
Immediately after Ebola was reported in Guinea and the DRC in February, the Biden-Harris administration pledged U.S. support to our African partners to stop these separate outbreaks. On March 26th, Secretary Blinken announced that the U.S. Government allocated up to $30 million in assistance to support the governments’ responses in the DRC and Guinea as well as to strengthen Ebola preparedness in nine high-risk border countries across West, Central, and East Africa. Working together with the affected governments, neighboring countries, and international partners, we’ve demonstrated a robust global response toward ending these outbreaks, strengthening health security, and creating better systems for preventing, detecting, and responding to health emergencies.
As we celebrate the DRC’s announcement, I’ll also note that Guinea has had no new Ebola cases since April 3rd. We look forward to marking the end of Guinea’s outbreak in the near future.
I also want to acknowledge that these most recent Ebola outbreaks have killed 18 people and affected many, many more in both countries. We offer our condolences to the families of all of those impacted by the Ebola outbreaks and recognize the traumatic memories that these events have raised for survivors as well as their community.
Six air shipments funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development have departed the United States, five of which have already landed in India. These flights include health supplies, oxygen and oxygen supplies, N95 masks, rapid diagnostic tests, and medicine. More flights are on the way with the total assistance expected to exceed $100 million.
All over the world, citizens in democratic countries have the unquestionable right to protest peacefully. Violence and vandalism is an abuse of that right.
At the same time, we urge the utmost restraint by the public forces to prevent additional loss of life. We recognize the Government of Colombia’s commitment to investigate reports of police excesses and address any violations of human rights.
We continue to support the Colombian Government – the Colombian Government’s efforts to address the current situation through political dialogue.
And with that, I will start taking your questions in just a minute.
OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder, if you do want to queue up for a question, it’s 1 then 0; 1, 0. One moment, please.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Jose Luis Sanz.
OPERATOR: Okay, your line is open. Please, go ahead. One moment, please. Okay, Mr. Sanz, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Jose Luis Sanz from Elsaro in El Salvador. I have a couple of questions about the political crisis in El Salvador. First one, Vice President Harris said this morning that the U.S. must respond to the removal of the constitutional court from the attorney general in El Salvador. What kind of response is the U.S. considering? And was she referring to the withhold of assistance (inaudible) that representatives make some side as – (inaudible) asked for yesterday?
The second one is: Secretary Blinken met today with European Union High Representative Josep Borrell. Was El Salvador situation part of the conversation?
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. As far as remarks from the Vice President, we certainly won’t get ahead of Vice President Harris. And for anything further, we will want to refer you to the White House. But Secretary Blinken has previously – Secretary Blinken has made calls – has made clear in his call yesterday to President Bukele the United States is obviously deeply concerned about the rule of law in El Salvador, and we know that it’s – we know the rule of law is essential to a functioning democracy. We also know that Secretary Blinken has made clear that anything outside of that are steps in the wrong direction, and we continue to seek a constructive relationship with El Salvador that not only advances our common values and interests around government and anticorruption, but we also seek a mutual adherence to unity and security and as well as migration and economic opportunity.
Let’s go to Tejinder Singh.
OPERATOR: Okay, one moment. Mr. Singh, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. At the beginning of the briefing you mentioned that you have sent the supplies to India, and even at the White House briefing there was a long list of supplies read out. And you mentioned that USAID is coordinating or sending the supplies. Now, there is an office, very big office of USAID India – in India, so are they coordinating anything to do with the distribution? Because our journalists there are saying that with all these supplies landing the distribution is just going nowhere.
MS PORTER: Well, I’ll just repeat that the United States has provided more than $100 million in assistance to India through the U.S. Agency for International Development. Now, when it comes to distribution, it was actually at the request of the Government of India that USAID provided these urgently needed supplies to the Indian Red Cross, and that was just to ensure that they’re reaching those who are most in need and as fast as possible. So for anything beyond that, we’d have to refer you to the Government of India.
Let’s go to Carol Matibe.
OPERATOR: Okay, one moment, please. Ms. Matibe, please, go ahead. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, good afternoon, Jalina. My question is regarding Ethiopia today, and moving further on the topic you mentioned about furthering democratic values. Yesterday, the EU observer mission announced canceling its observer mission to Ethiopia. I just wanted to find out, given the fact that an observer mission is an element that demonstrates democracy, is the United States thinking at this stage, given the EU cancelation yesterday, of sending an observer mission? Has there been any invitation, any discussions around this? And what are you guys perhaps thinking around sending an observer mission, in terms of Ethiopia’s elections slated for June 5th? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Pearl. So we don’t have any comment directly on EU’s cancelation of their observer mission. But what we will say, as I’m sure you’re already apprised of, is that we have a special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, who will lead our diplomatic – our diplomatic efforts to this area, especially when it comes to the crisis in Ethiopia as well, and as we continue to make clear that the Biden administration has made clear that Africa is a priority for our administration, and actually our special envoy will be traveling to the region soon. Outside of that, we don’t have anything to announce.
Let’s go to Matt Lee.
OPERATOR: Okay. And Mr. Lee, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Tuesday. I want to ask you about World Press Freedom Day and the statement that came out yesterday, particularly in light of the case with Julian Assange. Is this administration looking into his case, his detention, his extradition, the request for extradition here, the charges against him? I realize you can’t speak for DOJ, but from the State Department’s perspective, is the current position still – does that still hold? Do you believe that Mr. Assange is a journalist? And given the importance you place on accurate and factual information being disseminated, do you believe that the information that was published based on the U.S. Government documents that he obtained and put out was either un-factual or inaccurate?
And then lastly, on a completely unrelated thing, is the U.S. looking for an independent investigation into the stampede that killed some dozens of people in Israel, including several Americans? Or are you guys going to be okay with whatever investigation the Israeli authorities do on their own? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Hey, Matt, while I have you, can you repeat your second question quickly?
QUESTION: On Israel or the second one on the press freedom?
MS PORTER: No, it was something about – you mentioned about Iran.
QUESTION: Oh yeah, just that there was no mention of Iran in the Secretary’s statement. It talked about abuse – about repression against journalists in China, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia, but I’m just wondering why there was no mention of Iran in there. That’s the second one. But the first one was about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
MS PORTER: So to your specific on Julian Assange, we’ll have to get back to you on that. But when it comes to world press freedom and the rights and freedoms of journalists worldwide, the State Department certainly supports that, and of course we join our partners in the international community to make sure that they’re able to do their work freely and openly without retribution or without regard for their lives being at risk.
And when it comes to your question about Iran, there was no intention to specifically leave Iran out of it. Obviously, we promote the safety and security and freedoms of journalists all over the world, and that includes Iran as well.
When it comes to your question on the stampede and the investigation, we’ll have to take that back.
Let’s go to Said Arikat.
OPERATOR: One moment, please. We’re not showing Said queued up at this time.
MS PORTER: All right. Then let’s go to Laura Kelly.
OPERATOR: All right. One moment, please. Ms. Kelly, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Jalina. Hope you’re doing well. My question is: What efforts, or are there any more efforts being made, to begin distributing vaccines from the U.S. to countries in Central and South America, in particular Brazil? And, if I may, are there any challenges in Americans wanting to come back to the U.S. from some of these countries in Central or South America, or any consideration to raising the threat level warnings for travel? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. So when it comes to any updates to threat level when it comes to travel, we always encourage people to visit our website, travel.state.gov, or specific embassy pages for countries that they may be traveling to, whether they’re in Central America or anywhere in the world. When it comes to your question specifically on Brazil, of course, the United States is committed to collaborating with our partners in Brazil, as well as the government and the private sector, to support the COVID-19 response effort. And we certainly empathize and lament the loss of life in Brazil due to COVID-19, but we’ll also continue to work together to put an end to the pandemic’s high toll on life as well as any of their social and economic impacts to their livelihoods as well.
QUESTION: And any challenges for Americans —
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Tracy Wilkinson.
OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please. All right. And Ms. Wilkinson, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I think my colleague Laura was also asking about Americans trying to return from some of those countries, so maybe you can talk about that.
But my question is: You talked about El Salvador and the Secretary’s comments about their sort of Saturday night massacre, and Kamala Harris, the Vice President, today also. So this raises the question of how can the administration deal with some of these governments who are so far off the rail.
And I understand that she, the Vice President, is going to meet Friday – or virtually meet Friday with the president of Mexico, who just yesterday unleashed this virulent screed against American journalists. So my question, I guess, is how do you – what are you as the State Department advising the Vice President and others in how to deal with these presidents? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So we’re certainly grateful for Vice President Harris in leading our diplomatic efforts when it comes to Central American countries and countries in Mexico as well. When it comes to her upcoming meeting, we certainly won’t get ahead of that. We know she will represent us well and make sure that our voices and our concerns are heard.
I heard you mention too a comment on – made on journalists, and we’ll just go back to what we said about supporting journalists all around the world and supporting their press freedoms. We certainly prioritize supporting their work, making sure that they are safe and free of harm when they’re able to do this work as well.
And going back to your colleague’s questions, I believe it was for Americans who are seeking to travel to some of these countries. Again, I’d just underscore that for Americans who are seeking to either leave or come back or travel to those countries, that they continue to check with local embassy websites as well as updates on specific travel arrangements on travel.state.gov.
It looks like we have Said back, so we’ll go back to him.
OPERATOR: Okay. One moment. Said, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: I can hear you, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. Very quickly: Has there been any contact from the State Department – maybe the Secretary or anyone, any officer from the State Department – with the Palestinians since the PA President Abbas canceled the elections or postponed the elections?
And second, the COVID situation in the Palestinian territories is very desperate. I think less than 10 percent of the population or even less than that have been inoculated or vaccinated. Are there any plans, maybe, to distribute some of the surplus that the United States has? Thank you very kindly.
MS PORTER: When it comes to COVID-19, we certainly join in solidarity with the entire international community as we grapple with this pandemic together. When it comes to specific vaccine allocations to Israel, we have nothing to announce.
And to your first question – I believe it was on elections and contacts – we’ll have to get back to you on that.
Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.
OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please.
MS PORTER: Do we have Rosiland?
OPERATOR: She does not appear to be in queue anymore at this point.
MS PORTER: Okay. Let’s go to Conor Finnegan.
OPERATOR: Okay. One moment. And Mr. Finnegan, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you. I have three follow-up questions, if I could pull a Matt Lee. On Colombia, just on your topper, you urged utmost restraint by security forces. Would you condemn what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called excessive force by those security forces. On El Salvador, just to echo my colleagues, U.S. lawmakers have been urging action at this point, either visa bans or restricting funding through the IMF. Are you considering punitive actions?
And then third, on Ethiopia, can you say who Special Envoy Feltman will meet in Ethiopia and Eritrea? And six months after the Tigray crisis has began, are you considering actions there as well to really increase the pressure on the Abiy government? Is it time to do that? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So to your question on Ethiopia, Special Envoy Feltman will have senior-level engagement, which includes on a range of things. It’ll be on climate change, global health, security, prosperity, and our commitment to these values when it comes to the Horn of Africa. We don’t have anything else to read out at this time for any of his meetings, but certainly, if we do, those will be on our website.
Your – going back to your first question on – I think it was a quote from – I’m sorry, I don’t remember exactly what it was. If you’re still here, can you repeat that?
OPERATOR: One moment, I’ll get him back.
Okay. Mr. Finnegan, one – your line is open again.
MS PORTER: Yeah. I’m sorry. Can you just repeat your first and second question while I have you?
OPERATOR: Just one moment.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) And then on El Salvador, U.S. lawmakers of both parties have called for action – visa bans, restricting financing for the IMF, things like that. Are you considering any punitive action at this point?
MS PORTER: So when it comes to any actions, we have nothing to read out or nothing to announce at this time. But again, when it comes to our support for the Colombian Government, we will continue to stand and address these issues not only through peace and political dialogue, but we’ll do so in a way that puts human rights at the core of our foreign policy.
Let’s take one last question from Tracy Wilkinson.
OPERATOR: Okay. One moment, please.
MS PORTER: Do we have Tracy?
OPERATOR: Not showing Ms. Wilkinson in queue at this time.
MS PORTER: Okay. It looks like we’ve actually reached time, so thank you all for joining us today, and that concludes today’s briefing.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)