USA

Department Press Briefing – July 16, 2021

2:03 p.m. EST

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and Happy Friday. Thank you for joining today’s department press briefing. I have two updates at the top before I start taking your questions.

We are deeply saddened to hear that Reuters photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed while covering fighting in Afghanistan. Mr. Siddiqui was celebrated for his work on some of the world’s most urgent and challenging news stories and for creating striking images that conveyed a wealth of emotion and the face – and the human face behind the headlines. His brilliant reporting on the Rohingya refugee crisis earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2018. Siddiqui’s death is a tremendous loss, not only for Reuters and for his media colleagues, but also for the rest of the world. Far too many journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. We continue to call for an end to the violence. A just and durable peace settlement is the only way forward in Afghanistan.

Next, a quick note here on the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic: The Biden administration continues to send vaccines to countries all around the world. By Monday, we expect to deliver millions of vaccines to Bhutan, Nepal, Moldova, Costa Rica, Haiti, Laos, Sri Lanka, Fiji, the Philippines, Argentina, and Jordan. Additionally, in the partnership with the African Union and COVAX, the United States is proud to announce the donation of 25 million COVID-19 vaccines to 49 African countries. The first shipments, planned for the coming days, will head to Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Burkina Faso. We are making progress on this global vaccination effort each day and we will continue to update you as additional doses are shipped.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler to start us off, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. I was wondering if you could provide us an update on the SIV operation to relocate these Afghans, and whether or not you’re considering expanding that pool out to women and minorities who may be at risk as well. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. So our immediate focus are on eligible and interested Afghan nationals and their families – and of course, that would include women and minorities who are vulnerable and at risk – who have supported the United States and our partners in Afghanistan and are in the SIV application pipeline. As it stands, there are approximately 20,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of the SIV process, and as of July of 2021, approximately 50 percent of these applicants are at the initial stage of the process and are pending applicant application. And out of that 20,000, approximately 10,000 of these applicants, they would need to take some action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. First, I want to add my voice to mourning Danish Siddiqui. A tremendous loss, tremendous loss.

And second, two quick questions on the Palestinian issue. It is reported that Mr. Hady Amr has informed the Israelis that there is a tremendous crisis within the Palestinian Authority, especially an economic one, and asked them to help. Can you give us – can you update us on this, and what kind of help is he seeking?

And second, Jalina, very quickly, I mean, 2021 has been a really terrible year for the Palestinians. I mean, so far, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, 474 Palestinian-owned homes and structures have been destroyed, including 150 donor-funded ones, displacing about 656 people, including 259 children. My question is: When will the U.S. say – will say enough is enough on this, time to end it? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. To your first question, well, we don’t have – we don’t discuss private diplomatic conversations, so I don’t have anything further to add to you on that.

And to your second question, I’ll just continue to underscore from here that we know for a fact that President Biden, now obviously Secretary Blinken as well, have always said that the U.S. will center our foreign policy on human rights, and that has not changed. And we believe it is critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that increase tensions and make it more difficult to advance a negotiated two-state solution, and of course, this includes demolition.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for your comments about our colleague. I wanted to follow up on that, actually, since that’s something that’s happened in Afghanistan and kind of reflects the worsening security situation in the country. I was wondering, given that the U.S. is in the middle of a pullout of troops from the country, I wondered if you could comment on the worsening security situation. And do you – is this what was expected when the pullout happened, that the country would sort of descend into more violence and more chaos? And is that what you expect to continue to happen as this pullout continues? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Well, Simon, I will tell you that we will always call for peace and, of course, an ongoing end to the violence that plagues Afghanistan. We have urged both sides to, of course, engage in serious negotiations when it comes to a just and durable peace settlement, and outside of that I don’t have anything else to preview for you today.

Let’s go to the line of Eunjung Cho, and I apologize if I mispronounced your name.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. That was perfect. My name is Eunjung Cho with the Voice of America. Can you give us an update on Deputy Secretary Sherman’s trip to Asia? There are reports today quoting senior State Department official that her – she may visit China and that she may discuss North Korea with China. Is it in deputy secretary’s plans to discuss North Korea with China during her trip to Asia?

And my second question: The trilateral meeting among the vice foreign ministers of the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are being resumed after being suspended during the Trump administration. What does the State Department hope to achieve with the revival of this trilateral meeting?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So what I’ll say is that the – Deputy Secretary Sherman will travel to the region. I don’t have anything else to go on beyond what we have in our readouts. I certainly don’t have any travel to announce at this time. If we do, we’ll certainly make those. And I certainly don’t want to get ahead of her meetings for her trip, but that’s all we’ll preview today.

Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to get some more information about the advisory to U.S. businesses about doing any business in Hong Kong with any entities based there and the possible risks to their running afoul of U.S. law. Can you give more context on why the U.S. decided to issue this advisory now, and perhaps just as important, to issue sanctions, secondary sanctions against seven people who work in the office that essentially oversees Hong Kong?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Rosiland. I’ll start off by saying that the United States resolutely stands with the people in Hong Kong. And we’re promoting accountability with additional sanctions on officials connected with the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy as well as their democratic institutions and freedoms. And we’re also promoting transparency with a business advisory outlining some of the increased risks of doing business in Hong Kong.

And just to your specific question on sanctions, of course, yes, seven officials were sanctioned today for their actions threatening the peace, security, and stability and autonomy of Hong Kong. Anything beyond that will be issued in our statement online.

Let’s go to the line of Endale Getahun.

QUESTION: Yes, Jalina, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much for taking my call from KETO.

I just wanted to follow up on your statement earlier regarding the COVID assistance to Africa. I just wanted to just get to the hotspot in Ethiopia. I know Ethiopian Government is using a – whatever in Tigray region. So how are you going to be verifying this assistance will be a benefit to Tigray region, for the COVID assistance?

And also, I have another follow-up, maybe if you can just touch up – do you have any statements from your embassy in Addis Ababa or the others for the Tigrayans (inaudible) in Addis Ababa and some of them have been detained and incarcerated in an undisclosed area with the Ethiopian Government, and at the same time there – another region, also there is a conflict (inaudible). So what’s your statements on the current situation in Ethiopia? Thank you for taking my call.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your questions. So the United States, of course, is gravely concerned by reports of ongoing hostilities in Tigray, and evidence of escalating military confluence – conflict in Tigray’s western and southern zones. There is, of course, significant risk that such conflict may expand outside of that region. All parties need to end the hostilities and pursue a negotiated ceasefire immediately. Escalating fire will only undermine critical ongoing efforts to deliver much-needed humanitarian relief to the famine-affected populations in Tigray.

Let’s go to Rich Edson.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks, Jalina. I’m just wondering if I can get a response from you on the WHO’s director general saying that there needs to be more access within China to discover the origins of COVID and whether the U.S. views this as sort of the international community – an additional sense of it – pushing more pressure on the Chinese Government.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Rich. I don’t have anything for you on that today, but happy to get back to you with any updates forthcoming.

Let’s go to Guita Aryan.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. My question is about Iran. Demonstrations have snowballed, and starting from demonstrations against past-due salaries and wages to shortage of electricity and now shortage of water. Do you have any comment on that?

And then my second question is about the Vienna talks. At the end of the sixth round it was reported that the Iranians want guarantee from the U.S. that future administrations will not leave the JCPOA should they come to an agreement now. And now I’m seeing reports that they specifically want the agreement – should any future administration want to leave the agreement, that it should be taken up at the UN Security Council. Can you comment on that as well, please? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you. I won’t – I certainly won’t project or comment on any future administrations, but I’ll talk about the one for the time being. Of course, we haven’t gotten to the seventh round of talks yet, but as Secretary Blinken has noted, we are certainly committed to seeking a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA by both the United States and Iran. And if we succeed in doing so, we intend to build on that as a part of a comprehensive approach using a variety of policy tools to address nuclear and other issues of concern.

Now, your question on – to your first question, we’ve certainly seen the reports of Iran shortages and resulting protests, and we continue to urge the Iranian Government to support the Iranian people as they exercise their universal rights to freedom of expression as well as freedom of peaceful assembly.

Let’s go to Doug Byun.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear?

MS PORTER: Hi, yes. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi. Thanks for taking my question. I was just wondering if you have any updates on U.S. overtures to North Korea? I mean, has there been any direct or meaningful response from North Korea since Special Envoy Sung Kim reached out to them saying the United States is ready to meet with them anytime, anywhere? And I also have a short follow-up about the deputy secretary’s trip.

MS PORTER: So I don’t have any updates to your first question, so while I still have you on the line, let’s take your second one, please.

QUESTION: Sure. I was just wondering if Special Envoy Sung Kim would be joining the deputy secretary in Tokyo or Seoul since her trip is going to be somewhat focused on North Korea as well.

MS PORTER: I don’t have any updates to make about her trip. For anything further or for any other specific details, I would have to guide you to her announcement with those details.

Let’s take our final question from Owen Churchill.

QUESTION: Hi, yeah. Thanks so much for taking my question, Jalina. Going back to Hong Kong, a couple of questions on that. First of all, what would be your – what would be the State Department’s measure of success with these new sanctions and the business advisory? Are you anticipating any kind of change in Beijing’s behavior as a result of the actions?

And then secondly, we also understand that there were some calls on the administration from advocacy groups to roll out immigration measures to support those fleeing Hong Kong, like either offering asylum or relaxing immigration processes for those people. Can you give us an update on any – on the deliberations on that front, whether there will be any kind of executive action in that department? Thanks a lot.

MS PORTER: So to answer both of your questions, I’ll just say that we stand with Hong Kongers against the PRC’s egregious policies and their actions as well. PRC and Hong Kong authorities wield the national security law and other legislation to make politically motivated arrests as well as prosecution of journalists, opposition politicians, activists, and peaceful protesters. These authorities have created an atmosphere of fear and censorship among the general populace.

So our measures today are in response to these and other actions by the PRC and Hong Kong authorities to undermine protected rights and freedoms as well as democratic institutions and the high degree of autonomy promised to Hong Kong. We will deliver all options to respond to the PRC’s further undermining of protected freedoms and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. The United States supports the aspirations of people in Hong Kong to sustain the protected freedoms and rights that were promised to them in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a binding international agreement.

That concludes today’s department briefing. Thank you so much for joining us today and have a great weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

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