Department Press Briefing – March 26, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

2:15 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and Happy Friday. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing. I have a few updates I’d like to share at the top, and then we’ll resume taking your questions.

The United States condemns the PRC’s state-led social media campaign and corporate and consumer boycott against companies, including American, European, and Japanese businesses, for their decision to avoid inputs using Xinjiang cotton because of forced labor. And we commend and stand with companies that adhere to the U.S. laws and ensure products we are consuming are not made with forced labor.

We continue – we support and encourage businesses to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The Department of State congratulates Bangladesh on its 50th anniversary of independence. Since the early days of Bangladesh’s independence, the United States and Bangladesh have invested in people-to-people, economic, and humanitarian ties that bind us to this day. The United States values its friendship with Bangladesh, which is based on a commitment to human rights and democracy. We look forward to enhancing our strong cooperation with Bangladesh as a partner on addressing some of the most pressing regional and global challenges, such as climate change and the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. The department extends its best wishes to Bangladesh on its milestone Golden Jubilee.

And finally, later today, Secretary Blinken will deliver closing remarks during the Global Ties U.S. National Meeting. This year’s National Meeting is virtual and brings together 1,000 private- and public-sector leaders who partner with the Department of State to implement international exchange programs in local communities across the country.

In 2020, the Global Ties U.S. Network worked with the Department of State to organize virtual exchange programs for over 2,300 participants in 185 countries. Secretary Blinken will highlight the importance of maintaining our connections with people from other countries and how citizen diplomacy is fundamental to achieving many of our foreign policy priorities.

Over the past 60 years, the State Department has worked with the Global Ties U.S. Network to foster international people-to-people ties through exchange programs such as the International Visitor Leadership Program.

And with that, I’ll give it a few minutes for those of us oncoming to get in the queue before I start taking your questions.

OPERATOR: And ladies and gentlemen, just a quick reminder: If you do have a question, please press 1 then 0, and if you could pause for just a few moments after your name is announced to get our system to open up your line.

MS PORTER: Can we go to the line of Janne Pak, please?

QUESTION: You mean Janne Pak?

MS PORTER: Yes, Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Jalina. I’m Janne Pak with USA Journal Korea. I have a few questions for you on the North Korean missile launch and on human rights issues. First question is yesterday President Biden said that – about the North Korean launched missiles it’s going to be a diplomatic solution the U.S. will take it. But if North Korea doesn’t want a diplomatic approach, what options do you have?

Second question: Are you also on military option possible on North Korea?

And also another question for the human rights issues. Recently, South Korea was (inaudible) from the adoption of the UN Security Council North Korean human rights resolutions. How does the U.S. (inaudible)? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Janne. I’ll just start off by saying that the United States condemns the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile launches, and these launches certainly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and, frankly, threaten the region and the broader international community. And I know you mentioned the President’s comments yesterday. I mean, he was pretty clear in his press conference that we’ll just say that President Biden and the national security team are continuing to assess the situation, and we know that one of our greatest priorities right now is ensuring that we’re on the same page as our allies and partners when it comes to the DPRK.

Can we go to the line of Francesco Fontemaggi, please?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

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

QUESTION: Thank you. I was wondering if you could tell us what the State Department thinks of the announcement by Addis Ababa that Eritrean troops will leave Tigray if it’s sufficient that – or if you ask more for going forward? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for the question. I’ll start off by saying that we’re certainly encouraged by Prime Minister Abiy’s announcement that the government of the state of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia. The immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region will be an important step in de-escalating the conflict as well as restoring regional peace and stability.

And as Secretary Blinken has noted before, we’re certainly grateful to Senator Coons for traveling to Ethiopia on behalf of the President and his role in making this happen. And we appreciate the time and the deliberation that Prime Minister Abiy has provided in meeting and with the senator and continuing to engage on our concerns with the ongoing crisis in the Tigray region.

Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe, please.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Jalina. I hope you’re well today. Immigration has been a topical issue for the United States. I wonder as the – your – as the Biden administration thinks about making changes, will there be any considerations in terms of, for example, Africans who are watching what is happening on the southern border but maybe already are in the United States, or is this mainly going to be a U.S.-Mexico issue?

Will you be considering asylum – African asylum speakers who perhaps have already been in the United States, say, for many years? We – I’ve been hearing from the Department of Homeland Security that they have been back – they have a backlog that maybe extends as far back as 2016. How far true is this? And what can Africans hope for in terms of immigration? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. I’ll just open it up by saying the Biden administration certainly prioritizes responsible and safe migration practices, and this doesn’t preclude anyone, whether you’re in the Northern Triangle or Central America or whether you are from Africa.

So we say to those in Africa who are looking at what’s going on along the border is that our primary message we’re sending to all of our foreign audiences is that the border is and always has been closed to irregular migration, and anyone seeking to come to the U.S. should seek to do so via legal pathways. And we’re also working to highlight the United States commitment to working with our partners – our government partners, NGOs, international organizations, as well as the private sector – to properly address the root causes of irregular migration.

Can we please go to the line of Matt Lee, please?

QUESTION: Hi, there. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hey, Matt. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. Happy Friday. Listen, I’m sorry, I kept getting – I kept losing – my line kept dropping, so I’m not sure if any of these have been asked. They’re very brief. They’re all about the Middle East, though.

One, is there anything you can say more specific than what Jen said at the White House briefing about what you guys might have offered or the Egyptians might have requested in terms of aid about the ship that’s stuck in the canal?

Two, the Iraqis say that the dialogue will resume virtually – the strategic dialogue on April 7th. Can you confirm that?

Three, the Palestinians: You guys announced yesterday $15 million for humanitarian aid for COVID. My question is about whether this signals that there’s going to be a resumption in aid to the Palestinian Authority. And then, related to that, I did get an answer to my question the other day about the threat from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade against Fadi – American citizen Fadi Elsalameen, but I’m just wondering if you guys have told the Palestinians or made any representations to the Palestinians about whether this needs to be condemned or not. And that’s it. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your rounds of questions, Matt. I’ll start with the first one, and probably reiterate what some of – our White House press secretary has already said. But the Biden administration is tracking the situation closely and we understand that Egyptian officials are working to remove the tanker as soon as possible and continue traffic. And as a part of the active dialogue with Egypt, we’ve offered U.S. assistance to Egyptian authorities to help reopen the canal, and we’re also consulting with our Egyptian partners on how best we can support their efforts. And if we do need to respond appropriately, then we’ll do so when and if necessary.

To your second question, on Iraq, and I’m not able to confirm any date of the dialogue, but I’ll just reiterate that the dialogues are a way to comprehensively review and discuss our broad strategic partnership, and that includes our cultural, economic, and diplomatic relationship. And again, we just – we certainly look forward to these discussions with Iraqi leaders.

To your last question, I will have to take that one back. We don’t have any comment at this time. But thanks for calling in.

Let’s go to the line of Michele Kelemen. Thank you.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to just follow up on your statement at the top. What prompted this statement about forced labor in China? Are you hearing concern from U.S. companies? Just a little bit more context about that opening statement. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Well, I mean, the impetus for our opening statement is to simply support and encourage businesses when it comes to human rights and making sure that we’re standing with companies that are adhering to U.S. law when it comes to, like, proper labor practices and that, and make sure that we are doing our part to not in any way support forced labor.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan. Not there?

Let’s go to the line of Beatriz Pascual.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

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

QUESTION: Great. I have a question about Venezuela. Yesterday, Ambassador James Story, he did an interview with a Venezuelan online channel, VPItv. He said that the administration is trying to locate in the United States some people who are connected to the Maduro government, and he mentioned that some of these people might be in Miami and he considered that those people should not have the opportunity to live outside Venezuela. Could you please provide me some details about this? Who are the people in this list and what type of criteria is being used to put people on this list? What are you looking for? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We’ll just candidly say that we’re not familiar with this list, I’m not familiar with this to give an official comment on it. But I’ll just reiterate that the overriding goal of the United States is to support the people of Venezuela, and that includes the peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela as well as free and fair presidential elections, and quite frankly, to rebuild the lives of their country.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

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

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to follow up on Francesco’s question about Ethiopia. Does the U.S. believe that peacekeeping forces need to be sent into Tigray once the Eritrean troops are out? And then, has anyone been named as special envoy for the Horn of Africa yet? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Jennifer. So no to your second question. Nobody has been named as a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. And we’ll certainly make that announcement when we have it.

To your first question on what’s going on in Ethiopia, again, we will continue to applaud Senator Coons for his travel and the work that he has done as the presidential emissary on behalf of President Biden. And again, we certainly welcome Prime Minister Abiy’s public commitment to hold accountable those who are responsible for human rights violations and other atrocities in the region.

Let’s go to the line of Nadia Bilbassy, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. I want to ask you about Yemen. Can you tell us if the State Department, especially the – Tim Lenderking is in Muscat? Have you been in contact with the Houthis? Are you trying to entice them to come back to the negotiation table? If there’s any recent contacts that you had with them through mediators, like Oman? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I can confirm U.S. Special Envoy Tim Lenderking is in Muscat, and it’s going to be the first stop on a regional trip. He is there meeting with government officials. And again, you might have seen this, but we had a media note that went out yesterday just highlighting this, but I’ll just reiterate that he’s there in coordination with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths as well. And again, this is going to be an ongoing joint discussion on our international efforts to promote peace and a lasting ceasefire in Yemen, and again, an inclusive peace agreement as well as to address our efforts of the country’s dire humanitarian crisis.

Can we please go to the line of Will Mauldin?

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thanks so much for having this. I was just trying to understand a little bit more the China/Xinjiang statement. Is this essentially a warning to U.S. businesses not to back off from avoiding products with forced labor or Xinjiang cotton and that more U.S. businesses should do the same thing? Is that how the U.S. is reacting, or is it a warning to Beijing not to penalize U.S. or Western or Japanese companies for that behavior? And if it’s the latter, are there any tools or sanctions, or does State and Commerce have any levers to make sure China doesn’t discriminate against U.S. firms? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. I mean, the way I would categorize it is that we are standing in solidarity with companies that are adhering to U.S. law and, again, these laws and making sure that the products that we’re standing by are not made with forced labor. So, I mean, I wouldn’t categorize it as anything other than that.

Let’s please go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

QUESTION: Hello, Jalina. Happy Friday. Thank you. The Taliban have reacted pretty badly to President Biden’s comments yesterday. They issued a threat to resume attacks on U.S.-led international forces if they’re not out by May the 1st. So I’m wondering, is the administration trying to persuade the Taliban to extending the deadline? What kind of feedback has it received, and is it taking measures to increase the security for the U.S.-led forces there?

And my second, super-quick question is: Russian deputy defense minister met with the Myanmar junta leader and talked about strengthening military ties. What does the U.S. think about this visit at the time when you’re basically trying to build a coalition of countries and increase the pressure on junta to relinquish power? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions, Humeyra. I will take your first one first. I’ll just – I won’t get ahead of what the President already said. He was really clear in his press conference yesterday about the deadline and we won’t go any further than that.

But when it comes to your second question on Russia and what’s going on in Burma, we’ll just – again, we’ll continue to say that we condemn the continued attacks of the Burmese military when it comes to the people of Burma. And again, we’re – continue to be concerned when it comes to those who are unjustly detained, and the United States has called on the military to cease violence and unjust detentions specifically to journalists and many others who are there as well.

We’ll take one last question from Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

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

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you for taking my question. Thank you. I have two questions for you on North Korea. So as a State Department spokesperson said the U.S. would work with partners and members of the Security Council on significant measures to hold the DPRK accountable, I would like to ask you to elaborate on the significant measures. What measures are we talking about? Is there any specific measures you are considering?

And my second question is about your policy review on North Korea. So given the current situation where North Korea fired a ballistic missile, I’d like to know if it would affect your policy review and its outcome, because it seems like the situation is now much different. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha. I’ll just reiterate some comments that we said earlier to this, in that the United States condemns the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile launches. These launches clearly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the region as well as the broader community. North Korea’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs constitute serious threats to international peace and security, and they also undermine global nonproliferation regimes. I can’t underscore enough that the President and his national security team are continuing to assess the situation, and one of our greatest priorities right now is ensuring that we’re on the same page as our allies and partners.

So this concludes Friday’s press briefing. Again, thank you all for joining today and hope you have a good weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:40 p.m.)


* This article was originally published here

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