Department Press Briefing – May 5, 2021
2:03 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining. This is Jalina Porter. I have one trip update at the top and then we will start with taking your questions.
Secretary Blinken concluded his participation in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting today. In multilateral and bilateral meetings, the Secretary continued to affirm to our partners and allies that the United States is back and committed to working through multilateral fora to build back better from this pandemic. Throughout the meeting, the Secretary underscored the importance of media freedom as well as other shared values foundational to our democratic societies.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power participated in the G7 develop meetings virtually in her first international appearance. She announced a new five-year award for the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. She also endorsed three joint statements covering equitable access to vaccines, education targets for girls in developing countries, and humanitarian protection for all civilians, including women and children.
Secretary Blinken and Administrator Power discussed shared priorities around vaccines and health, climate, girls’ education, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and food security.
While in London, Secretary Blinken also met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab to discuss shared U.S.-UK priorities and reaffirmed the strong alliance between our countries.
These G7 meetings were held in advance of the June Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall, UK. The Secretary will now travel onward to Kyiv, Ukraine.
We’ll give it about a minute and a half before we start taking your questions.
Let’s go to the line of Michael Lavers.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for the call today. I just wanted to ask a quick question about the fast approval of a bill in Uganda’s parliament on Monday that further criminalizes consensual same-sex acts among adults. Does the State Department have any comment on that?
MS PORTER: Well, I’ll start by saying that the United States certainly stands up and defends the human rights of our LGBTQI+ persons all around the world. And we also stand firmly in opposing violence and discrimination against all LGBTQI people – persons, excuse me. And we’ll also urge governments to repeal laws that criminalize their status or conduct.
We’re certainly concerned about the legislation in Uganda, and we would undermine that the human rights of LGBTQ+ – BTQI+, excuse me, persons or people who target them for who they are. And obviously, we will continue to condemn any violence or discrimination of vulnerable populations, including our LGBTQI+ people, whether they’re in Uganda or whether they’re anywhere in the world.
Let’s go the line of Rosiland Jordan.
OPERATOR: Rosiland, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much. First, I wanted to see if the administration had any comment about the reports of Israeli settlers burning Palestinian farmland in occupied West Bank, and whether the U.S. has any ability to try to mitigate the tensions between the two sides given that there’s no sitting government in Jerusalem right now. And I also wanted to find out whether in light of reports that the U.S. is telling states to “use it or lose it” when it comes to COVID vaccines, is USAID in a position to help distribute vaccines if the decision is made to distribute the surplus internationally? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thanks. I will start with your first question. We are, of course, concerned, deeply concerned about the reports, but we’ll continue to underscore that it’s critical for Israel to refrain from any unilateral steps that certainly would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace.
When it comes to the role of USAID and COVID distribution, again, as we mentioned previously, Administrator Power obviously has shared priorities, which would include vaccines and health, climate, girls, gender equality, and as well as overall health rights and food security. Outside of that, we don’t have anything to announce.
Let’s go to Matt Lee.
MS PORTER: Hi, Matt.
QUESTION: Hey. Good Wednesday to you. I’ve got two really, really brief ones and then one that you may have to take.
First, did you – were you able to get an answer to my question yesterday about Julian Assange and the statements on World Press Freedom Day? To remind you, my questions were whether this administration is reviewing the extradition request; if it considers him to be a journalist; and whether or not you think that the things that were published based on the information, based on the documents that he released were inaccurate or un-factual. That’s number one.
Number two, on Israel, I just wanted to – your response to Rosiland’s question – Rosiland’s question. I – and I just wanted to make sure when you say, “It’s critical for Israel to refrain from any unilateral steps,” you also mean that it’s critical for the Palestinians to refrain from any unilateral steps that would take us away from peace. I just want to make sure that’s the case.
And then my last one, which is the one that I’m not sure you’re going to be able to answer at the moment, but it has to do with the refugee cap and the staffing and budget for the PRM Bureau. Can you give any details about how that’s – both staffing and budget are being ramped up in order to get close to the 62,500 that the President announced the other day? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, that was certainly a mouthful, Matt. For your last question, we’ll go ahead and take that.
As it stands, my response to Rosiland is correct as it stands.
When it comes to your first question on Mr. Assange, I certainly won’t comment on his status from here, and any extradition, we’ll have to refer you to the DOJ. Anything beyond that we’ll take back for you.
Let’s go to Michele Kelemen.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I see that Jeffrey Feltman met today with Egyptian President Sisi. I wonder what the – what his messages were to Egypt. Did he raise concerns about human rights? And what the Biden administration’s position is on the Renaissance Dam. Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. Right now we don’t have anything to read out as far as the meeting, but we’ll just continue to underscore that Secretary Blinken’s appointment of Jeffrey Feltman to serve as the special envoy for the Horn of Africa certainly underscores the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to lead a sustained diplomatic effort to address the interlinked political, security, and humanitarian crises that exist right now on the Horn of Africa, specifically the volatile situation in Ethiopia, to escalating tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan, and lastly, to the dispute over the GERD as well.
Let’s go to Simon Lewis.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. I wonder since there’s been a bit of a COVID outbreak at the G7 inside the – it seems to be inside the Indian delegation, did anyone from the U.S. delegation meet with anyone from the Indian delegation, and can you confirm that everyone in the delegation is in good health and getting negative results, COVID test results? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Well, we certainly understand that there are members of the Indian delegation to the G7 that have tested positive for COVID-19, and at the same time we send our well wishes for good health and a speedy recovery along the way. The U.S. delegation was advised, and including by the UK public health professionals, that our stringent masking as well as social distancing and daily testing protocols would – will permit us to continue the meeting with the G7 activities as planned, and at this time we don’t have reason to believe that any of our delegation is at risk, and we’ll also continue to follow along those specific guidances of public health professionals moving forward.
Let’s go to Michel Ghandour.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. One on Iran. Any updates on the talks with Iran in Vienna? And second, on Saudi Arabia, it looks like it’s going to reopen its embassy in Damascus. Do you encourage such moves and do you support the normalization between the Arab states and the Assad regime?
MS PORTER: To your first question, on Vienna, so for the past month the U.S. delegation, which is led by Special Envoy Robert Malley, has been exploring concrete approaches concerning the steps both that Iran and the U.S. will need to take to make – to return to a mutual compliance. And of course the U.S. delegation will be returning to Vienna this week for the next phase of multi-round negotiations. To your second question on Damascus specifically, I believe there’s nothing to announce at this time.
Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.
QUESTION: All right, thank you. Happy Wednesday. I have two questions for you.
I know that the review of the United States policy towards North Korea is over. You mentioned a few details about it. It was only done recently. You noted that the United States applies particularly principle of the (inaudible) policy against North Korea. Please tell us specifically what (inaudible) meaning is. So I want to know about (inaudible).
My second question: In order to strengthen North Korea deterrence such as the nuclear and weapons of mass destruction, WMD, the U.S. and South Korea, Japan, the three-way cooperation is desperately needed. South Korea has not joined the Quad yet. Is the United States highly willing to recommend (inaudible)? Thank you very much.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Janne. So we have completed our DPRK policy review, and it was a process that was thorough, rigorous, and inclusive. We consulted closely with outside experts as well as predecessors from several administrations, and our way forward involves their lessons learned and shared (inaudible). And again, I’ll continue to underscore from here that our main goal is consistent and remains that – is that it’s to – complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Let’s go to Laura Kelly.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me? I was waiting for the “line is open.”
MS PORTER: Yeah, I can hear you. Thanks, Laura.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. I’m sorry. I joined the call a little late, so if you’ve already covered this issue, I apologize. Ned Price and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain have said that reports of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran are not true. But are exchanging prisoners part of discussions being had with Iran over a return to the nuclear deal? I feel that – I heard from the State Department maybe like a few months ago or something at the beginning of these discussion – talks about getting back into the deal with Iran that while the issue of Americans detained there is always brought up, they’re not – it’s going to be dealt with as a separate issue from the nuclear file.
MS PORTER: Well, I’m not in a position to give any specific details to that specifically. But again, I’ll just underscore that we welcome a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. And again, I think you mentioned you had just got on the call, but just to reiterate too that our delegation, the U.S. delegation, will be returning to Vienna this week to actually continue talks on the next phase of multi-round negotiations, which will cover a range of issues.
Let’s go to Kylie Atwood.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. Sticking on Iran, two quick questions. This next round of talks, do you have an expectation for how long it’s expected to last, and if it will be the final round of talks before the May deadline of this IAEA-Iran agreement will end?
And then my second question is on the Swiss diplomat who was found dead in Iran this week. Does the State Department have any comment on that? And did that Swiss diplomat ever work with U.S. officials? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Kylie. When it comes to your first question, we don’t have any specific timelines to preview at this time. But – and to your second one, we’ve certainly seen the reports of the tragic passing of the member of the Swiss embassy in Tehran, and we extend our condolences to that officer’s family and colleagues as well. Anything beyond that, we have to refer you to the Swiss Government.
Let’s go to Guita Aryan.
QUESTION: My question is also a follow-up to my colleagues’ questions about Iran. On Monday in London, Secretary Blinken in an interview with the Financial Times, asking about what impact the Iranian presidential election may have on the talks, he said that – basically, that it doesn’t make any difference because the final decision-maker is the supreme leader. But at any rate, the person designated by the new administration in Iran to handle the negotiations – the personality would make a difference. Do you think a – with a new person in place, the foreign minister or at whatever level – deputy foreign minister – would it make it any easier for the U.S.?
And also, a second part of my question is: If and when the two sides or the joint commission finally resolves the issue, and both countries, Iran and the U.S., come back into compliance with the JCPOA, is the U.S. negotiating team considering an approach, a plan for afterwards – for Iran to be able to – as many U.S. administration officials have said, for Iran to be able to reap the benefits of the sanctions being lifted? Because if you recall, during the Obama administration, after the agreement, then-Secretary of State John Kerry and many Treasury officials had to travel across the world, convince countries, banks, financial institutions to tell them it’s okay. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, let me take at least part of your second question first on – when it comes to sanctions. Of course, when the team returns to Vienna, when it comes to sanctions, the team of course continues to explore and discuss issues, and that would include options via sanctions relief. But of course, as mentioned previously, some progress has been made. Of course, we’re neither dragging our feet or speeding things up, and of course, when it comes to talks (inaudible), we’re doing it at a pace that is appropriate with the significant issues that are being negotiated.
To your first question, we’ll have to take back. I’m not in a position to comment on that from here today.
Let’s go to Conor Finnegan.
QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. I have two questions on Venezuela. First, is there any U.S. Government response to the legislature approving a new board of directors for the National Election Council, whether or not you welcome that and see it as a step towards free and fair elections?
And then secondly, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks said yesterday that there is a, quote, “window of opportunity” for engagement between the administration and the Maduro government. Does the administration see it the same way, and if so, is there any new chance for negotiations? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Conor, let me start with your first question first. The overriding goal of the Biden-Harris administration has been and always remains to support a peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela through free and fair presidential as well as parliamentary elections, and also to help the people of Venezuela rebuild their lives and their country.
When it comes to comments of Chairman Meeks, we have nothing to announce or discuss at this time, and would have to refer you back to his office.
Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. I have two questions, the first one on Yemen. The State Department just tweeted, talking about the efforts along with Martin Griffiths and others in Riyadh to bring relief and lasting solutions to the Yemeni people and bring a halt in the attack on Marib: “Are the Houthis ready to commit?” That was your question.
Is this a new way to communicate with the Houthis? And can you brief us if there is any communication between Mr. Lenderking and the Houthis in Oman?
And if you’ll allow me on Iran, it was reported that centrifuges issues was an obstacle that prevented the delegation from going forward. Can you confirm that that was the case? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: To your question on the special envoy, so Special Envoy Lenderking traveled to Amman, Jordan, to join a senior U.S. Government interagency delegation for regional discussions. And of course, he had meetings with leaders as well as Senator Murphy and continuing to talk about peace efforts in Yemen. And of course, he’s continuing to have meetings with other senior government officials and jointly with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths. U.S. Special Envoy Lenderking’s discussions have been focused on ensuring regular delivery of commodities as well as humanitarian assistance throughout Yemen, promoting a lasting ceasefire, and as well as transitioning the parties to a political process.
To your second question on Iran and centrifuges, we will have to take that one back.
Let’s go to Kristina Anderson.
OPERATOR: Kristina, your line is —
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. So I’m wondering – one of the issues that seems to be a sticking point between Japan and South Korea are the issue of comfort women, and I’m wondering if the U.S. has taken as strong a stand as they need to take or as they might take in supporting the fact that this is – this kind of thing is really a breach of human rights for women. And the reason I ask is because not making that very clear – and I know there are – you don’t want to disrupt the relationships, but not making it clear I think also sends a signal to the rest of the world about women’s rights and that – these are aging women and you would kind of think they deserve a little more recognition for the pain that they’ve been through, and that maybe this sort of thing should be condemned as not to happen again. And I know we’ve spoken out, but I’m wondering if you have any additional comments. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for your question. So I’ll just kind of start off with saying that we are committed, the United States is committed and centering foreign policy that is centered around human rights, and that includes the rights of women and girls all around the world. And we’ve also long encouraged Japan and the ROK to work together on the history-related issues in a way that promotes healing and reconciliation. And as we’ve also stated, we welcome efforts such as the 2015 Comfort Women Agreement as an example of the two countries’ commitment to forging a more productive and constructive bilateral relationship.
Let’s take one last question from Tejinder Singh.
MS PORTER: Hi.
QUESTION: Is the line open?
MS PORTER: Yes, your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s a short question on Burma. At G7, Secretary Blinken had urged all countries to reconsider economic ties to the Burmese military. So which are the countries which you feel are the problem countries? And what is the U.S. doing more than just the statements to bring some sort of peace to the Burmese people who are protesting a lot in Washington D.C. at the Chinese embassy and other places.
MS PORTER: Well, we certainly won’t put any labels on any countries from here, but when it comes to the people of Burma, we will continue to underscore that the people of Burma have made clear that they reject the military rule. And since day one, we have called on the military to reverse its course, cease all of its violence against the people of Burma, release leaders and – leaders and all those who were unjustly detained. And we’ll continue to respect the will of the people of Burma.
That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you all for joining today.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:34 p.m.)
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