Department Press Briefing – July 23, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – July 23, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:05 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Hello and Happy Friday, everyone. Thank you so much for joining today’s department press briefing. I have three updates at the top before I start taking your questions.

To start, Deputy Secretary Sherman continued her travel to Asia today with a second day in Seoul, meeting with Republic of Korea First Vice Minister Choi – or, excuse me, First Vice Foreign Minister Choi. Vice Foreign Minister Choi.

Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Foreign Minister Choi emphasized the importance of the U.S.-ROK Alliance promoting peace, security, and prosperity in Northeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific region, and around the world.

The Deputy Secretary and the Vice Foreign Minister discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, address the climate crisis, provide pandemic relief, and promote post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

They also reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation to address the global challenges of the 21st century following their trilateral meeting in Tokyo earlier this week.

Moving on to some vaccine shipment updates. The Biden administration is making good on its promise to be an arsenal of vaccines to the world.

We shipped a record number of doses to a record number of countries this week, 22 million doses to 23 countries, including: Guatemala, Senegal, Zambia, Niger, Gambia, El Salvador, Honduras, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Panama, Vietnam, Georgia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Benin, Morocco, Tajikistan, Colombia, Madagascar, Liberia, and Eswatini.

Every day, driven by the singular goal of saving lives, we continue to make progress on the global vaccination effort.

And finally, while the Taliban have stated they will not harm former interpreters or others who worked for foreign forces, recent reports of violence and atrocities against interpreters and other Afghans indicate local Taliban forces are showing little regard for human life and human rights on the ground.

We vehemently condemn these targeted attacks, the destruction of vital infrastructure, as well as other attacks against the people of Afghanistan.

The Taliban must go beyond issuing statements denying territorial offensives and targeted attacks. If this is truly not Taliban policy, their leadership should condemn these atrocities and violations of basic rights. They must proactively prevent their forces from carrying out these actions on the ground.

We continue to call for an immediate end to ongoing violence, which is largely driven by the Taliban. We call on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement. A negotiated settlement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban is the only way to end 40 years of war,and bring Afghans the peace that they seek and deserve.

The world will not accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. Legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has a basic right – basic respect, excuse me, for human rights.

We continue to do all we can to galvanize and support the diplomatic process toward peace. Together, with the international community, we urge all parties to reach a negotiated political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho, VOA.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, thank you. I want to ask you about North Korea. Human Rights Watch says at least 1,170 North Koreans are currently detained in China and are facing forced repatriation to North Korea. The group says North Korea recently reopened its borders, increasing the risk of forced repatriation. What is the State Department’s stance on China forcefully returning North Korean refugees back to North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. Well, at large, I can say that the United States is certainly committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that’s something you’ve heard President Biden say in the past as well as Secretary Blinken. And of course, this would include in the DPRK.

We’ll also continue to prioritize human rights in our overall approach when it comes to the DPRK. Even when we disagree with a regime like the DPRK, we must work to the best of our ability to alleviate the suffering of its people, and we strive to act in a manner that does not harm the North Korean people and continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid in the hope that the DPRK will accept it.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Happy Friday, Jalina. Thank you so much. My question is regarding Zimbabwe. Now I know that in recent past, the relations between the United States and Zimbabwe have always kind of toppled, gone back and forth, and may not have been the best of relations in recent past.

So, the president’s spokesperson has kind of made some outrageous remarks regarding the vaccines that are going out to Africa. And although the embassy has kind of hit back a little bit about those remarks, what I’m wondering is: Are there any steps between both yourselves and the Government of Zimbabwe that you might be taking to better the relationship between the two countries? I’m really interested to find out what is it that can be done. Or are any – are there any maybe backchannel things that you might be doing or anything that you can share at this point as to where you would like to see this relationship, and is there any hope that this relationship will get better? Thanks, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. While I don’t have anything specific for you on Zimbabwe today, I’d just like to reiterate that Africa is certainly a priority for the Biden administration, and we certainly intend to engage with African countries in pursuing our shared interests and values. And of course, that would include global health and climate change, freedom and democracy, as well as shared prosperity.

We’ll also continue to reinvigorate and restore our partnerships all along the continent as well as build partnerships with African governments and institutions as well as civil society.

Let’s go to Laura Kelly, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. There’s some breaking news from NBC and Reuters that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has left Haiti after gunshots were heard at the funeral for assassinated President Jovenel Moise. I wonder if you can comment on that. And then if I may just ask a second question.

MS PORTER: All right. Well, to your first question, we definitely can – we’re aware of reports that there was gunfire outside of the funeral of President Moise, and the presidential delegation that was there is safe and accounted for and, of course, en route back to the United States. And of course, the United States is deeply concerned about the unrest in Haiti. And of course, in this critical moment, Haiti’s leaders must come together to chart a united path that reflects the will of the Haitian people.

While we still have you, we’ll take your second question.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. House Democrats are calling for the State Department to establish a special envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia and to include anti-Muslim violence per se in next year’s annual human rights reports. Can you offer any reaction to this?

MS PORTER: So, I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time, but I’m certainly happy to do so whenever we have that ability. Thank you.

Let’s go to Guita Aryan.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. My question is about Iran and the ongoing demonstrations in the south protesting the lack of water. Michelle Bachelet, the Human Rights – High Commissioner for Human Rights, has had harsh words for the Government of Iran, saying that they should tend to the people’s demands instead of using excessive force, and arresting people and crushing the protests.

I was wondering whether the United States also agrees that the Iranian Government’s reaction has been harsh. And how can the United States and the international community intervene here and have the government in Iran listen and tend to the people’s demands? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So, we’re certainly following, closely following, the reports on protests in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province, including reports that security forces have opened fire on protesters, which sadly has resulted in multiple deaths. Of course, years of government neglect and a mismanagement of water resources have exacerbated the worst drought Iran has faced in at least 50 years.

The Iranian people have a right to freely voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable. And plainly, we support the rights of Iranians. We support their rights to peacefully assemble, as well as their rights to express themselves freely. And they should be able to do so without fear of violence or arbitrary detention by security forces.

We’re also monitoring reports of government-imposed internet shutdowns in the region, and we urge the Iranian Government to allow its citizens to exercise their universal rights of freedom of expression, as well as freely access internet – excuse me, freely access information online.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

OPERATOR: Thank you, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Jalina. I wanted to follow up on the statement that you guys put out that said the Secretary spoke to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer about the case of American journalist Danny Fenster, who’s jailed in Myanmar. It’s been two months, maybe three months since Danny was detained and he’s being held in Insein Prison, where we understand COVID is rampaging through the population, as it is elsewhere among the population in Myanmar. And it seems, from what he’s said to his family, it sounds like he might be infected himself. I wondered if you could give us an update on what the U.S. officials have been able to learn about Danny’s situation, from consular access or what consular access you have, and what U.S. is doing to try to get him released. And, also, if you have an update on what the administration’s doing towards Myanmar given the broader COVID outbreak there. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. Of course, we remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of Danny Fenster, who of course was working as a journalist in Burma. As far as any updates, Daniel had a virtual hearing on July 15th, which was procedural, and his next hearing is scheduled for July 28th. We’re closely monitoring the progression of Daniel’s case, and we’ll always call for free and independent media as indispensable to building prosperous, resilient, and free societies.

When it comes to the situation – the COVID situation in Burma, of course we’re still deeply troubled by the deteriorating public health situation in Burma, and of course the recent strike – spike in COVID-19 infections. The United States has provided over $20 million in COVID‑related assistance to Burma since the pandemic began, which has helped people protect themselves from infections as well as detecting and clinical care. Since the military coup, regrettably the COVID situation has sharply deteriorated, and we continue to work with international partners to identify ways to effectively respond to the current public health crisis as well as continue to support the people of Burma.

Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this, and happy Friday. We’re following the Iraq strategic dialogue. Can you tell us if we expect a final communique? If they’re breaking into groups, what are these groups, and high representation on each? And, also, as you know, the security and military cooperation is part of it. Do we expect anything indicating the withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Nadia, if we have you on the line, can you repeat your last question, please? It was hard to (inaudible).

OPERATOR: One moment for that. Nadia, your line is open.

QUESTION: Okay, great. I’m sorry about this. Thank you for doing this. My question was about the Iraq strategic dialogue, and whether to expect a final communique. And if you just put us – give us some information about the meeting today, what kind of groups they were breaking into. And as you know, security and military cooperation was discussed. Do we expect anything indicating talking about withdrawal of troops or deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: So, we did issue a note that’s available on our website at the start of the strategic dialogue, and I suspect we’ll have more to read out about that, the details as well. Thank you.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on Simon’s question about Danny Fenster. Are you able to say when he was last – or when the embassy was last given consular access to him and whether they’ve been able to confirm whether he has or had COVID‑19? And then separately on Afghanistan, we’re hearing reports among these interpreters that some of them have been disqualified from the SIV process because they failed polygraph tests. They feel that the tests were not fair – were not given out properly. Is the State Department considering changing this policy on polygraphs? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. We’re going to have to take that last question back to – back for you. On your question on Danny, I’ll just reiterate that he had a virtual hearing on the 15th which was procedural and that’s when our consular had access to him. And, of course, his next one is on the 28th. As far as his health, the status of his health, I’m not able to share distinct details at this time.

Let’s take one final question from Barbara Usher.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open. Barbara, your line is open.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: You can hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Yeah, could you please clarify a few points about the funeral in Haiti. Did the U.S. delegation leave early because of the security concerns, the gunshots that you mentioned? And you also said the delegation was on its way back to the U.S. Did it cut short the trip for Haiti or was that part of the plan?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Barbara. So, I’ll just reiterate the same points I made earlier, and is that the presidential delegation that went – they’re all safe and they’re accounted for, and they’re back to the United States. As far as any details on the entirety of their trip, I don’t have anything to preview at this time. But – and that’s all we’ll share on that today unless you have any follow-on questions.

All right. That concludes today’s department press briefing. Thank you so much for joining, and have a great rest of your weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)

 

2:05 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Hello and Happy Friday, everyone. Thank you so much for joining today’s department press briefing. I have three updates at the top before I start taking your questions.

To start, Deputy Secretary Sherman continued her travel to Asia today with a second day in Seoul, meeting with Republic of Korea First Vice Minister Choi – or, excuse me, First Vice Foreign Minister Choi. Vice Foreign Minister Choi.

Deputy Secretary Sherman and Vice Foreign Minister Choi emphasized the importance of the U.S.-ROK Alliance promoting peace, security, and prosperity in Northeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific region, and around the world.

The Deputy Secretary and the Vice Foreign Minister discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, address the climate crisis, provide pandemic relief, and promote post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

They also reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation to address the global challenges of the 21st century following their trilateral meeting in Tokyo earlier this week.

Moving on to some vaccine shipment updates. The Biden administration is making good on its promise to be an arsenal of vaccines to the world.

We shipped a record number of doses to a record number of countries this week, 22 million doses to 23 countries, including: Guatemala, Senegal, Zambia, Niger, Gambia, El Salvador, Honduras, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Panama, Vietnam, Georgia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Mozambique, Benin, Morocco, Tajikistan, Colombia, Madagascar, Liberia, and Eswatini.

Every day, driven by the singular goal of saving lives, we continue to make progress on the global vaccination effort.

And finally, while the Taliban have stated they will not harm former interpreters or others who worked for foreign forces, recent reports of violence and atrocities against interpreters and other Afghans indicate local Taliban forces are showing little regard for human life and human rights on the ground.

We vehemently condemn these targeted attacks, the destruction of vital infrastructure, as well as other attacks against the people of Afghanistan.

The Taliban must go beyond issuing statements denying territorial offensives and targeted attacks. If this is truly not Taliban policy, their leadership should condemn these atrocities and violations of basic rights. They must proactively prevent their forces from carrying out these actions on the ground.

We continue to call for an immediate end to ongoing violence, which is largely driven by the Taliban. We call on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future that leads to a just and durable settlement. A negotiated settlement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban is the only way to end 40 years of war,and bring Afghans the peace that they seek and deserve.

The world will not accept the imposition by force of a government in Afghanistan. Legitimacy and assistance for any Afghan government can only be possible if that government has a basic right – basic respect, excuse me, for human rights.

We continue to do all we can to galvanize and support the diplomatic process toward peace. Together, with the international community, we urge all parties to reach a negotiated political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho, VOA.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is now open.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, thank you. I want to ask you about North Korea. Human Rights Watch says at least 1,170 North Koreans are currently detained in China and are facing forced repatriation to North Korea. The group says North Korea recently reopened its borders, increasing the risk of forced repatriation. What is the State Department’s stance on China forcefully returning North Korean refugees back to North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. Well, at large, I can say that the United States is certainly committed to placing human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and that’s something you’ve heard President Biden say in the past as well as Secretary Blinken. And of course, this would include in the DPRK.

We’ll also continue to prioritize human rights in our overall approach when it comes to the DPRK. Even when we disagree with a regime like the DPRK, we must work to the best of our ability to alleviate the suffering of its people, and we strive to act in a manner that does not harm the North Korean people and continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid in the hope that the DPRK will accept it.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Happy Friday, Jalina. Thank you so much. My question is regarding Zimbabwe. Now I know that in recent past, the relations between the United States and Zimbabwe have always kind of toppled, gone back and forth, and may not have been the best of relations in recent past.

So, the president’s spokesperson has kind of made some outrageous remarks regarding the vaccines that are going out to Africa. And although the embassy has kind of hit back a little bit about those remarks, what I’m wondering is: Are there any steps between both yourselves and the Government of Zimbabwe that you might be taking to better the relationship between the two countries? I’m really interested to find out what is it that can be done. Or are any – are there any maybe backchannel things that you might be doing or anything that you can share at this point as to where you would like to see this relationship, and is there any hope that this relationship will get better? Thanks, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question, Pearl. While I don’t have anything specific for you on Zimbabwe today, I’d just like to reiterate that Africa is certainly a priority for the Biden administration, and we certainly intend to engage with African countries in pursuing our shared interests and values. And of course, that would include global health and climate change, freedom and democracy, as well as shared prosperity.

We’ll also continue to reinvigorate and restore our partnerships all along the continent as well as build partnerships with African governments and institutions as well as civil society.

Let’s go to Laura Kelly, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. There’s some breaking news from NBC and Reuters that U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has left Haiti after gunshots were heard at the funeral for assassinated President Jovenel Moise. I wonder if you can comment on that. And then if I may just ask a second question.

MS PORTER: All right. Well, to your first question, we definitely can – we’re aware of reports that there was gunfire outside of the funeral of President Moise, and the presidential delegation that was there is safe and accounted for and, of course, en route back to the United States. And of course, the United States is deeply concerned about the unrest in Haiti. And of course, in this critical moment, Haiti’s leaders must come together to chart a united path that reflects the will of the Haitian people.

While we still have you, we’ll take your second question.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. House Democrats are calling for the State Department to establish a special envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia and to include anti-Muslim violence per se in next year’s annual human rights reports. Can you offer any reaction to this?

MS PORTER: So, I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time, but I’m certainly happy to do so whenever we have that ability. Thank you.

Let’s go to Guita Aryan.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. My question is about Iran and the ongoing demonstrations in the south protesting the lack of water. Michelle Bachelet, the Human Rights – High Commissioner for Human Rights, has had harsh words for the Government of Iran, saying that they should tend to the people’s demands instead of using excessive force, and arresting people and crushing the protests.

I was wondering whether the United States also agrees that the Iranian Government’s reaction has been harsh. And how can the United States and the international community intervene here and have the government in Iran listen and tend to the people’s demands? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So, we’re certainly following, closely following, the reports on protests in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province, including reports that security forces have opened fire on protesters, which sadly has resulted in multiple deaths. Of course, years of government neglect and a mismanagement of water resources have exacerbated the worst drought Iran has faced in at least 50 years.

The Iranian people have a right to freely voice their frustrations and hold their government accountable. And plainly, we support the rights of Iranians. We support their rights to peacefully assemble, as well as their rights to express themselves freely. And they should be able to do so without fear of violence or arbitrary detention by security forces.

We’re also monitoring reports of government-imposed internet shutdowns in the region, and we urge the Iranian Government to allow its citizens to exercise their universal rights of freedom of expression, as well as freely access internet – excuse me, freely access information online.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

OPERATOR: Thank you, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Jalina. I wanted to follow up on the statement that you guys put out that said the Secretary spoke to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer about the case of American journalist Danny Fenster, who’s jailed in Myanmar. It’s been two months, maybe three months since Danny was detained and he’s being held in Insein Prison, where we understand COVID is rampaging through the population, as it is elsewhere among the population in Myanmar. And it seems, from what he’s said to his family, it sounds like he might be infected himself. I wondered if you could give us an update on what the U.S. officials have been able to learn about Danny’s situation, from consular access or what consular access you have, and what U.S. is doing to try to get him released. And, also, if you have an update on what the administration’s doing towards Myanmar given the broader COVID outbreak there. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. Of course, we remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of Danny Fenster, who of course was working as a journalist in Burma. As far as any updates, Daniel had a virtual hearing on July 15th, which was procedural, and his next hearing is scheduled for July 28th. We’re closely monitoring the progression of Daniel’s case, and we’ll always call for free and independent media as indispensable to building prosperous, resilient, and free societies.

When it comes to the situation – the COVID situation in Burma, of course we’re still deeply troubled by the deteriorating public health situation in Burma, and of course the recent strike – spike in COVID-19 infections. The United States has provided over $20 million in COVID‑related assistance to Burma since the pandemic began, which has helped people protect themselves from infections as well as detecting and clinical care. Since the military coup, regrettably the COVID situation has sharply deteriorated, and we continue to work with international partners to identify ways to effectively respond to the current public health crisis as well as continue to support the people of Burma.

Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this, and happy Friday. We’re following the Iraq strategic dialogue. Can you tell us if we expect a final communique? If they’re breaking into groups, what are these groups, and high representation on each? And, also, as you know, the security and military cooperation is part of it. Do we expect anything indicating the withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Nadia, if we have you on the line, can you repeat your last question, please? It was hard to (inaudible).

OPERATOR: One moment for that. Nadia, your line is open.

QUESTION: Okay, great. I’m sorry about this. Thank you for doing this. My question was about the Iraq strategic dialogue, and whether to expect a final communique. And if you just put us – give us some information about the meeting today, what kind of groups they were breaking into. And as you know, security and military cooperation was discussed. Do we expect anything indicating talking about withdrawal of troops or deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: So, we did issue a note that’s available on our website at the start of the strategic dialogue, and I suspect we’ll have more to read out about that, the details as well. Thank you.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina, thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on Simon’s question about Danny Fenster. Are you able to say when he was last – or when the embassy was last given consular access to him and whether they’ve been able to confirm whether he has or had COVID‑19? And then separately on Afghanistan, we’re hearing reports among these interpreters that some of them have been disqualified from the SIV process because they failed polygraph tests. They feel that the tests were not fair – were not given out properly. Is the State Department considering changing this policy on polygraphs? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. We’re going to have to take that last question back to – back for you. On your question on Danny, I’ll just reiterate that he had a virtual hearing on the 15th which was procedural and that’s when our consular had access to him. And, of course, his next one is on the 28th. As far as his health, the status of his health, I’m not able to share distinct details at this time.

Let’s take one final question from Barbara Usher.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Your line is open. Barbara, your line is open.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, we can hear you.

QUESTION: You can hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Great. Yeah, could you please clarify a few points about the funeral in Haiti. Did the U.S. delegation leave early because of the security concerns, the gunshots that you mentioned? And you also said the delegation was on its way back to the U.S. Did it cut short the trip for Haiti or was that part of the plan?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Barbara. So, I’ll just reiterate the same points I made earlier, and is that the presidential delegation that went – they’re all safe and they’re accounted for, and they’re back to the United States. As far as any details on the entirety of their trip, I don’t have anything to preview at this time. But – and that’s all we’ll share on that today unless you have any follow-on questions.

All right. That concludes today’s department press briefing. Thank you so much for joining, and have a great rest of your weekend.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)