Department Press Briefing – May 7, 2021
2:03 p.m. EDT
MS PORTER: Good afternoon and Happy Friday everyone. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing. I have several updates at the top, and then I will resume taking your questions.
We are saddened and concerned by yesterday’s attack targeting Maldivian Speaker of Parliament and former President Mohammad Nasheed. We wish for a speedy and full recovery for him, his family, and others injured in the attack. We join President Solih in condemning this attack and all acts of terror, and stand ready to assist in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Next, through a massive mobilization effort, the U.S. Government is delivering on its commitment to stand with the people of India as they fight a devastating second wave of COVID‑19. Over the past week, the U.S. Government rapidly deployed six planeloads of lifesaving supplies to New Delhi in six days and mobilized its partners in India to immediately stand up surge support. Together, U.S. Government assistance to combat the current crisis is about $100 million. The United States is continuing to work closely with Indian officials and health experts to identify and respond to emerging trends in this ongoing crisis.
The generosity of American people will have significant, on-the-ground, lifesaving impacts for critically ill patients battling COVID-19. The six emergency airlifts to India, deployed in just six days, delivered 20,000 courses of remdesivir or 120,000 vials to help critically ill patients – to help treat critically ill patients; nearly 1,500 oxygen cylinders to address India’s critical oxygen shortage, which can be repeatedly refilled at local supply centers; nearly 550 mobile oxygen concentrators that obtain oxygen from ambient air. These units have a lifespan of more than five years and can serve multiple patients at once, depending on their oxygen needs; one million rapid diagnostic tests to quickly identify COVID-19 cases and prevent community spread; nearly 2.5 N95 masks to protect health care professionals and other frontline workers; a large-scale Oxygen Concentration System that can provide oxygen to treat 20 or more patients at a time; 210 pulse oximeters to measure oxygen levels in a patient’s blood to determine whether a higher level of care is needed.
This surge of immediate assistance builds on the United States’ 70-year development partnership with India, and USAID’s ongoing response effort in India since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We also want to express our sympathy for our friends and partners across the region as they fight another wave of this pandemic. We know the COVID situations in Nepal and Bangladesh are very serious and USAID has been assisting these countries to combat the pandemic since it broke out over a year ago. We’ve made a $73 million investment to date to strengthen the COVID-19 response in Bangladesh. Just last week, USAID provided an additional $8.5 million in emergency funding to Nepal. We’ll continue to seek out ways to build our existing humanitarian and global health response to provide assistance for countries around the world to respond to this crisis.
Next, Secretary Blinken has returned from his travel to Europe. Following the G7 meeting in London, the Secretary traveled to Ukraine where he conveyed strong support for deepening the partnership between our countries.
In Kyiv, the Secretary reaffirmed our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression. We’ll continue to strengthen our partnership – our security partnership with Ukraine to defend itself against aggression.
He met with President Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Shmyhal, Minister of Foreign Affairs Kuleba, and representative of Ukrainian civil society and parliament where they discuss reforms, corruption, and our shared democratic values.
Secretary Blinken also made clear that progress must continue on the internal threat Ukraine faces from corruption. He shared that overcoming the challenges of moving ahead on the reform process and anticorruption agenda is of equal importance to countering the external threat from Russia.
With our international partners, we continue to call on Ukrainian officials to strengthen corporate governance to ensure Ukraine’s state-owned enterprises operate as transparent and accountable institutions be led by qualified personnel.
We continue to support and will work with Ukraine to achieve its Euro-Atlantic aspirations so that all Ukrainians will have a bright and prosperous future.
This morning, Secretary Blinken participated in a UN Security Council open debate on multilateralism.
In his remarks, the Secretary underscored that the United States seeks not only to defend the core principles of a rules-based international order, but also to improve and build upon it to ensure the United Nations remains a vital and effective body.
As the Secretary said, multilateral cooperation is not only possible, it is imperative. It is still our best tool for tackling big global challenges such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has already re-engaged vigorously in multilateral institutions. We have rejoined the Paris climate accord, recommitted to the World Health Organization, and we’re seeking to rejoin the Human Rights Council. We’re engaged in diplomacy to return to mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. We are by far the largest contributor to COVAX, the best vehicle for the equitable distribution of COVID‑19 vaccines, and we’re making tens of millions of doses available to others without political considerations.
And finally, we are deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem. As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it is – it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to de-escalate tensions and avoid violent confrontations.
And with that, we’ll give it a few minutes before we start taking your questions.
OPERATOR: Now, once again to queue up for questions, if you haven’t yet done so, press 1 then 0.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.
OPERATOR: Okay, one moment. Okay, your line’s open. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Can you hear me? Hello?
MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you. Is this Said Arikat?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Jalina. I’m responding to your note just a minute ago about calling on all sides to refrain from confrontation and so on. I mean, this seems to be like the routine kind of State Department mantra, “both sides.” There is a clear aggressor in this case. I mean, the Sheikh Jarrah people are being attacked. They’re threatened with evictions. The whole world is saying this should not happen. What is your position on this? Shouldn’t you be urging the Israelis to stop evicting Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah? And I’ll stop with that. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, we are deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in the Silwan neighborhood and in Sheikh Jarrah, of course, many of whom have lived in their homes for generations. But again, as we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace, and that would include evictions, settlement activity, and home demolitions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Matt Lee.
MS PORTER: Hi, Matt.
QUESTION: Hey, there. Happy Friday. Couple really brief ones. Just on what Said just asked about – were you guys asked and then decide not to join the statement from the European allies on the situation in Israel and the West Bank? That’s number one. Two, on COVID, and how much of a role, if at all, is the State Department playing in the effort to lobby other governments on the intellectual property issue before the WTO, or is that something that is strictly being handled by USTR? And then lastly, on the Yemen statement that you guys put out earlier and which criticized the Houthis for not meeting with UN Envoy Griffiths. Did Envoy Lenderking seek or try to meet with the Houthis as well? That’s it. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Okay. Matt, we’ll start with your first question. As far as your reference to the statement from European allies, we have nothing to announce on that.
When it comes to your question on the WTO and IP waivers, I mean, I’ll just start with that the top priority for the United States is, of course, is saving lives caused by this pandemic and truly ending the pandemic not only in our country, in the United States, but also around the world. We’re committed to working together with all relevant stakeholders and that would include WTO members to enable rapid and effective response to COVID-19. And just to reiterate as the President and Ambassador Tai said, the extraordinary circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic calls for extraordinary leadership as well as extraordinary measures. But we also know that text based negotiations will take time given the consensus based nature of the WTO, as well as the complexities of the issues that are involved.
If I still have you hear, you asked about Special Envoy Lenderking, can you repeat that question? I’m sorry.
OPERATOR: We released. We’re trying to get him back. One moment, please. Mr. Lee, if you could try 0 again or 1, 0 again, please.
MS PORTER: I think I remember something about him asking or statement about meeting Special Envoy Lenderking in his meetings, but I will just reiterate that the special envoy traveled to Oman to join the U.S. Government interagency delegation. And again, he’s been working closely with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, obviously, with the goal of promoting a lasting ceasefire as well as transitioning the parties to a political process.
And I’ll just end that one there because it doesn’t sound like we’ve got him.
OPERATOR: We got him back here and he’s open again. Go ahead, Mr. Lee. Ready to go.
MS PORTER: What?
QUESTION: I wanted to (inaudible). Oh, for (inaudible). Hello?
OPERATOR: You’re audible. Go ahead. You’re audible. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just – I can’t tell if you heard the question or not because I was trying to get back in the queue. So anyway, it sounds like you did, but I don’t know.
Did Ambassador Lenderking, Special Envoy Lenderking, try to meet the Houthis as well as UN Envoy Griffiths? That was the question. Thank you.
MS PORTER: There was a little bit of cutting in and out. I don’t have anything further to announce from what was on our statement, but again, Special Envoy Lenderking has always been in close coordination with Special – UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. And obviously, their end goal is promoting a lasting ceasefire and promoting both parties to agree to a political process.
Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.
MS PORTER: Hi, Jennifer, if you can repeat that? The first part of your question was cut off.
QUESTION: Oh, sure. I was wondering if you have any information about the new Climate Change Support Office that the President established today, and who will lead it and what it’ll look like within State. Thank you.
MS PORTER: So the executive order, it merely facilitates the hiring process for members of the special envoy for climate change team. We don’t have anything else to announce outside of that. It won’t affect the role or function or, quite frankly, the structure within the department.
Let’s go to the line of Tejinder Singh.
MS PORTER: Hi.
QUESTION: Okay. This is – I have one question, and that’s: What is the U.S. reaction to reports over last few weeks about the emergence of a China-Pakistan-Turkey nexus on nuclear proliferation, and Pakistan coordinating on capacity-building of the three countries which has been flagged by watchdogs and media? And we all know about Turkish President Erdogan has been quoted as expressing his desperation on developing the caliphate atom bomb to fulfill his neo-Ottoman aspirations. So what is the U.S. reaction to these reports?
MS PORTER: Hi. We have no – nothing to announce on these reports at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS PORTER: Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.
QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. A question about the situation in Burma or Myanmar: It’s been more than three months since the military coup happened. There is a pretty detailed report in The New York Times describing how things seem to have snapped back to before the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in the last decade – people disappearing, people going through kangaroo courts, police stopping people and harassing them, crackdown on internet freedom and press freedom.
Is the U.S. considering any hardening of its treatment of the military junta, including possibly downgrading diplomatic ties? And if not, why not?
MS PORTER: Well, to start with your last question first, Rosiland, we have nothing to announce when it comes to personnel and our diplomatic ties with Burma. But again, we’ll continue to condemn not only the widespread violence or the suppression of personal freedoms and internet freedom that the people – that’s being used against the people of Burma, and we’ll continue to condemn any of the military-imposed internet shutdowns and efforts to silence the people of Burma. And we also continue to – and urge the military regime to release all those who are unjustly detained; again, refrain from its violence; and, ultimately, restore Burma’s path forward as a democracy.
Let’s go to Casey O’Neil.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Friday. Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to follow up again – I know I’ve asked about this issue before – on Americans being arbitrarily detained in Iran. I know, of course, that both the State Department and White House have – excuse me – were very quick to shoot down the reports that a deal had been reached with the Iranians vis-a-vis American detainees there, but just wondering if you could offer any additional insight into concrete steps that both the State Department and the government – the American Government writ large – are taking to address this issue, if Special Envoy Carstens is involved, because it seems like we’re hearing a lot of action is being taken, very – but not a lot of detailed, concrete, substantive details on what’s taking place. So just looking for some additional info there.
MS PORTER: Well, let me start off by saying that the safety and security in – calling for all of those who are unjustly detained, whether they’re in Iran or other places around the world, is of paramount importance to the United States and the State Department, and we’re grateful for the work of Ambassador Carstens and his team that they have been doing for a long time.
But just to reiterate, as we and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain have said, of course – we’ve said that we will always continue to raise the cases of Americans who are detained or missing in Iran, and we’ll – we won’t stop until we’re able to reunite them with their families. Any other specific details I won’t be able to go into from here, but again, we will continue to work until all those who are unjustly detained are reunited and back home with their families.
Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi from AFP.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hear me?
OPERATOR: You’re open. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Jalina. Thank you. I wanted to follow up on Matt’s question on Yemen. So he was asking if Special Envoy Lenderking was willing to meet with the Houthis. My question is: Would he be willing to meet in the future – even if a meeting couldn’t happen this time, is he ready to meet with the Houthis to make some discussion about the peace process? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Well, yeah, just to underscore Secretary Lenderking’s commitment to this, this is obviously – and rebuilding Yemen is an effort that’s ongoing and obviously will take significant international effort and support. During his trip, he met with several senior government officials, and just reiterating what I’ve said previously, obviously, it’s – resolving this conflict in Yemen is a top priority, a top U.S. priority. And promoting a lasting ceasefire as well as transitioning the parties to a political process is something that he’s been working very hard with, obviously in coordination with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.
Let’s go to the line of Carmen Rodriguez.
OPERATOR: Go ahead, Carmen. Your line’s open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for this conference. Could you give us more details on the position in the Biden-Harris administration regarding the situation in El Salvador? We have a breakthrough, considering that this week the deputies of the official party approved the law that protects officials identified for corruptions during the pandemic.
MS PORTER: Well, more broadly speaking, the United States is – has a longstanding commitment to supporting not only the people but the rule of law in El Salvador, and we’ll continue to make the case for rule of law as well as adhering to democratic norms. You have probably seen statements from Vice President Harris in support of promoting El Salvador’s democracy, but outside of that we have nothing further to announce.
Let’s go to Dan DeLuce.
OPERATOR: One moment. Thank you for your patience. Dan, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to ask, given that there are thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters and other roles for the U.S. military and U.S. Government who are still waiting to get visas, and given that U.S. troops are due to withdraw within four months, what is the administration considering how to address this problem? Because obviously, they’re not going to be able – you’re not going to be able to process these visas in that short amount of time. And is some kind of an evacuation option being looked at, as was carried out in other situations in the past? Thank you.
MS PORTER: So let me start off by saying that we are certainly aware of the threats that our Afghan colleagues face, and the State Department takes our role seriously in managing our Special Immigrant Visa Program. And you specifically mentioned deadlines. I don’t have anything to announce specific to that or any specific details now, but we’d be happy to take that question back for you.
Let’s take the last question from Simon Lewis, please.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jalina. Hi. Hi – thank you, Jalina. I just wanted to come back to Myanmar/Burma from the earlier question. There was a statement yesterday from the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council that lobbies on behalf of businesses working in the region requesting that the U.S. appoint a special envoy for Myanmar to handle this crisis. I wondered if that’s something that the administration is considering. And given the seriousness of this sort of ongoing situation, and as I think people have been warning in recent days, this is kind of spilling into a regional crisis with refugees and fighting near the border. Doesn’t that justify a U.S. special envoy to handle your efforts in diplomacy in the region? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Well, again, obviously the U.S., we’re certainly committed to helping Burma restore their path to democracy. And we’re also committed to working with ASEAN members on an array of issues, and obviously that would include the situation in Burma. But when it comes to a special envoy or any personnel, we have nothing to announce at this time.
That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining. I hope you all have a great weekend ahead.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)