Department Press Briefing – June 30, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – June 30, 2021

2:00 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER:  Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing.  I have two quick announcements to make at the top and then we’ll start taking your questions.

As the Secretary announced in a statement today, the department is beginning the process of updating its policies regarding gender markers on U.S. passports and consular reports of birth abroad to better serve all U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender.

Starting today, applicants seeking to change the gender marker on their passport will no longer be required to submit medical certification.  They will self-select their gender, and it does not need to match the gender listed on the applicant’s citizenship and identity documents or prior U.S. passports.

The department has also begun moving towards adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons, and will be evaluating the best approach to achieve this goal.

The process of adding a gender marker is complex and will take some time for extensive systems updates.  Nonetheless, we are committed to getting this right and express our enduring commitment for the LGBTQI+ community today and every day moving forward.

Next, as you’ve recently seen, the United States International Development Finance Corporation announced financing to support a 600 million euro loan for Aspen Pharma in South Africa.  Together with financing from DEG Germany, Proparco France, and the International Finance Corporation, DFC’s financing will expand capacity for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing to Africa.  This financing will help increase capacity to support Aspen’s effort to produce COVID-19 vaccines with Stringent Regulatory Authorization and/or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing, including the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.   This investment in African ingenuity and resilience is the first announcement of several deals the DFC is pursuing to expand vaccine manufacturing globally.

Today’s announcement is another example of our leadership, in concert with our partners and international institutions, to lead the global response to this pandemic.  This effort also demonstrates U.S. work with partner nations and local manufacturers to create the kind of global vaccine production and manufacturing capacity and capabilities that not only can help the world beat this pandemic, but also help prepare the world to respond to future threats.

And with that, let’s go over to the line of Nike Ching.

QUESTION:  Hello, Jalina.  Thank you so much for the call, briefing.  On Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken has said the U.S. is, quote, “working to make good on our obligations to those who helped us with the Special Immigrant Visa program,” end of quote.  My question:  Can we please have an update on efforts to get Afghan interpreters, drivers, fixers, and others who helped the U.S. out of the country?  Also, on the evacuation and relocation efforts, can we please have a breakdown of evacuating the civilian or military aircraft?  And which third countries at least have agreed to take them in before they obtain the visas to enter into the U.S.?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, let me start off by saying that I certainly support and want to uplift what you mentioned about the Secretary and our commitment to this.  And I’ll just reiterate that we’re actively working on every way possible to make sure that we can help those who have helped us.  We’ve identified a group of SIV applicants who’ve served as interpreters and translators, as well as other individuals who have assisted us and that are at risk.  They and their families will have the option to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September in order to complete their special immigrant processing.

At this time, we don’t have any further details to share or specific numbers.  We will provide additional information when we’re able to do so.  However, due to security constraints, we’ll be limited on how much we can share in terms of those numbers, locations, and timing of all these operations.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Thank you for the conference call.  I asked you about the French, Saudi, and U.S. meeting yesterday in Italy on Lebanon.  And do you have anything today, any update on this, any readout?

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Michel.  I don’t have any update to share at this time.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Jalina.  I hope you can hear me well.  Jalina, there’s been some reports that the PA has given the Biden administration 30 objectives for negotiations with Israel.  So I wonder if you could confirm this or if there are any other discussions that are going underway.  And second, my second issue is that demolition in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan are ongoing, and I wonder if you – have you spoken with the Israelis?  Have you urged them not to demolish Palestinians’ homes and so on, and not to do any evictions?  Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER:  So to your first question on the 30 objectives, I’ll just say that we won’t discuss the content of any of our internal diplomatic discussions.  And to your second question, we’ve seen reports that some families made up of approximately 50 Palestinians have been ordered to demolish their homes, and we believe that it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that increase tensions and that would make it more difficult to advance a negotiated two-state solution.  This obviously includes demolitions.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  I really appreciate your availability, so thank you so much for this.  My question is regarding the Kingdom of Eswatini.  What is the U.S. assessment or intelligence on the developments and reports that the government was losing control, that now military are abusing citizens, the internet has been shut down?  Have you got any readout on this absolute monarch, the only last monarch in Africa?  I don’t know, what is your – what is the Biden administration’s assessment of what is going on?

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question and for calling in today, Pearl.  I’ll just start off by saying that we’re certainly following the situation in Eswatini, of course, where protesters are demanding political reform and they are clashing both with the police and the military.  That said, the situation is fluid and we urge the government to exercise restraint and also maintain the utmost respect for human rights.  Of course, as the situation continues to unfold, the United States urges all stakeholders in this situation to not only remain calm but also remain peaceful.  And it goes without saying that the United States strongly supports freedom of expression as well as freedom of peaceful assembly, and that we know an inclusive and peaceful dialogue is essential to progress moving forward.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hey, yes, I can hear you.  How are you?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I’m good, thanks.  The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday said that some officials there caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis related to COVID-19.  Do you have any comments on this, on the current COVID situation in North Korea?  Also, do you have any plans to share humanitarian assistance, including the vaccines?  We learned yesterday that North Korea is not on the list of countries that would get 80 million doses of vaccines that the U.S. will share globally.  Is there any reason – any reason that the U.S. administration excluded North Korea?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So to answer your first question, we’re certainly aware of reports of what Kim Jong-un has said, but we don’t have any comment from here.  And to your second question, just to reiterate, the Biden administration has taken a strong leadership position on being the leader with vaccine diplomacy, and we will continue to do so from here on out.

Let’s go to Michele Kelemen.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I’d like to go back to your answer to Nike’s question at the top about Afghanistan.  You said that you’ve – that the State Department has identified those who will have the option to leave.  Have you informed those people that they have this option?  Do you have commitments from other countries willing to house them temporarily?  And can you confirm that it’s the State Department rather than the Defense Department in charge of this evacuation process?  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Michele.  I’ll just continue to reiterate we don’t have any specific details on numbers or on timing to preview from here, but of course as that information is made available, we’ll certainly share.  And most importantly, due to security restraints, we’re just limited on how much we can share in terms of those numbers and locations at this time.

Let’s go to Missy Ryan, please.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Thanks for taking my question.  I’d like to actually just follow up on Michele’s question regarding the SIV transport and evacuation.  My understanding is that the U.S. military withdrawal is expected to be completed within the next few days barring any additional tasking for the military to be responsible for transporting the SIV applicants outside of Afghanistan.  And can you just address, is it safe to assume, then, that the administration is going to – that the military is not going to be transporting them out of the country, and that they’ll go by a commercial aircraft.  Is it – I mean, one of the confusing things, I think, has been when people are trying to understand what’s going on with the military withdrawal is whether or not the SIV process is going to lengthen the military presence in Afghanistan in these final weeks that they get really close to zero there.  Anything you could provide on that would be helpful, thanks.

MS PORTER:  Specific to the military drawdown, the President has made clear that we will complete that from Afghanistan by early September.  Any other specifics outside of that, I will have to refer you to the DOD.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Jalina, thanks for taking my question.  I – first I missed your answer on the demolition of the Palestinian homes, if you can repeat it.  And I want to ask two question, if I may.  First, if you have any comment on the trial of Entisar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model.  The trial is carried out by the – is carried by the Houthis.  And on the missile attack by the Houthis on Marib, and it killed three persons, including a child.  And also I have a question on Ethiopia.  Assistant secretary – acting assistant secretary for African Affairs said yesterday that if the government’s – the Ethiopian Government’s – announcement of a cessation of hostilities does not result in improvement in the situation and the situation continues to worsen, Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions.  So are you going to impose more sanctions?  Can you elaborate on that, please?

MS PORTER:  So for that, I don’t have any sanctions to preview from here.  But can you repeat your other question?  I think you mentioned something about the Houthis.

QUESTION:  Yes.  First, if you have any comment on the trial of the Yemeni actress, Entisar Al-Hammadi.  And the missile attack carried by the Houthis on Marib.

MS PORTER:  I don’t have anything for you on that.  We’ll have to take that back from you today, but I believe you also asked me to repeat the question posed by Said.  And I’ll just quickly say that, again, we’ve seen the reports that seven families that are made up of about 50 Palestinians have been ordered for their homes to be demolished.  And we believe it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that would increase tensions or make it more difficult to advance our two-state solution, and that would include demolition.

Let’s go to Abigail Williams.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Nice to talk to you.  I wanted to follow up on Said’s line of questioning.  Does the State Department have any response to the decision reached on the West Bank outpost of Evyatar?  And are you concerned (inaudible) the confrontations between the Israeli police and demonstrators there that resulted in the death of four protesters?  And more broadly, can you provide the latest guidance on the State Department’s review of the previous administration’s decision to disavow the 1978 memo that described Israeli settlements as inconsistent with international law?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Abbie.  For your second question, I’ll have to take that back for you.  But just to answer your first, again, I’ll continue to underscore that we believe it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or undercut efforts to advance equal freedoms, security, and prosperity, as well as a negotiated two-state solution.  And this would include establishing outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law.

Let’s go to Joseph Haboush, please.

OPERATOR:  And Joseph, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  I wanted to ask if you could provide any readout or more details of Secretary Blinken’s meeting yesterday with his Saudi and French counterparts, where he tweeted the need – tweeted about the need for Lebanon’s political leaders to implement overdue reforms.  And is there any – is there continued concern over the situation in Lebanon?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So we don’t have anything for you today, but happy to take this and answer this offline.

Let’s take one final question from Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for taking my question.  In Afghanistan, there’s an awful lot of worry over the degrading – what some people describe as a degrading situation as the military is withdrawing or retrograding.  Could you talk a little bit, please, about the hopeful situation ahead for diplomacy and political opportunities for peace in the country and reconciliation?  Is there a framework ahead?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  What I will say is that the United States is committed to our enduring partnership with Afghanistan as well as the Afghan people, and that would include everything from security, civilian, and humanitarian assistance.  And again, we agree that political unity is the way forward and diplomacy is the path of – the way forward.  I wouldn’t want to preview anything else beyond that, but just would underscore that we are committed to not only Afghanistan, and the people of Afghanistan as well.

That concludes today’s briefing.  Thank you all so much for joining today, and we hope you have a good week ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

2:00 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER:  Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you so much for joining today’s briefing.  I have two quick announcements to make at the top and then we’ll start taking your questions.

As the Secretary announced in a statement today, the department is beginning the process of updating its policies regarding gender markers on U.S. passports and consular reports of birth abroad to better serve all U.S. citizens, regardless of their gender.

Starting today, applicants seeking to change the gender marker on their passport will no longer be required to submit medical certification.  They will self-select their gender, and it does not need to match the gender listed on the applicant’s citizenship and identity documents or prior U.S. passports.

The department has also begun moving towards adding a gender marker for non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming persons, and will be evaluating the best approach to achieve this goal.

The process of adding a gender marker is complex and will take some time for extensive systems updates.  Nonetheless, we are committed to getting this right and express our enduring commitment for the LGBTQI+ community today and every day moving forward.

Next, as you’ve recently seen, the United States International Development Finance Corporation announced financing to support a 600 million euro loan for Aspen Pharma in South Africa.  Together with financing from DEG Germany, Proparco France, and the International Finance Corporation, DFC’s financing will expand capacity for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing to Africa.  This financing will help increase capacity to support Aspen’s effort to produce COVID-19 vaccines with Stringent Regulatory Authorization and/or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing, including the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.   This investment in African ingenuity and resilience is the first announcement of several deals the DFC is pursuing to expand vaccine manufacturing globally.

Today’s announcement is another example of our leadership, in concert with our partners and international institutions, to lead the global response to this pandemic.  This effort also demonstrates U.S. work with partner nations and local manufacturers to create the kind of global vaccine production and manufacturing capacity and capabilities that not only can help the world beat this pandemic, but also help prepare the world to respond to future threats.

And with that, let’s go over to the line of Nike Ching.

QUESTION:  Hello, Jalina.  Thank you so much for the call, briefing.  On Afghanistan, Secretary Blinken has said the U.S. is, quote, “working to make good on our obligations to those who helped us with the Special Immigrant Visa program,” end of quote.  My question:  Can we please have an update on efforts to get Afghan interpreters, drivers, fixers, and others who helped the U.S. out of the country?  Also, on the evacuation and relocation efforts, can we please have a breakdown of evacuating the civilian or military aircraft?  And which third countries at least have agreed to take them in before they obtain the visas to enter into the U.S.?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, let me start off by saying that I certainly support and want to uplift what you mentioned about the Secretary and our commitment to this.  And I’ll just reiterate that we’re actively working on every way possible to make sure that we can help those who have helped us.  We’ve identified a group of SIV applicants who’ve served as interpreters and translators, as well as other individuals who have assisted us and that are at risk.  They and their families will have the option to be relocated outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September in order to complete their special immigrant processing.

At this time, we don’t have any further details to share or specific numbers.  We will provide additional information when we’re able to do so.  However, due to security constraints, we’ll be limited on how much we can share in terms of those numbers, locations, and timing of all these operations.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Thank you for the conference call.  I asked you about the French, Saudi, and U.S. meeting yesterday in Italy on Lebanon.  And do you have anything today, any update on this, any readout?

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Michel.  I don’t have any update to share at this time.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Jalina.  I hope you can hear me well.  Jalina, there’s been some reports that the PA has given the Biden administration 30 objectives for negotiations with Israel.  So I wonder if you could confirm this or if there are any other discussions that are going underway.  And second, my second issue is that demolition in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan are ongoing, and I wonder if you – have you spoken with the Israelis?  Have you urged them not to demolish Palestinians’ homes and so on, and not to do any evictions?  Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER:  So to your first question on the 30 objectives, I’ll just say that we won’t discuss the content of any of our internal diplomatic discussions.  And to your second question, we’ve seen reports that some families made up of approximately 50 Palestinians have been ordered to demolish their homes, and we believe that it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that increase tensions and that would make it more difficult to advance a negotiated two-state solution.  This obviously includes demolitions.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  I really appreciate your availability, so thank you so much for this.  My question is regarding the Kingdom of Eswatini.  What is the U.S. assessment or intelligence on the developments and reports that the government was losing control, that now military are abusing citizens, the internet has been shut down?  Have you got any readout on this absolute monarch, the only last monarch in Africa?  I don’t know, what is your – what is the Biden administration’s assessment of what is going on?

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question and for calling in today, Pearl.  I’ll just start off by saying that we’re certainly following the situation in Eswatini, of course, where protesters are demanding political reform and they are clashing both with the police and the military.  That said, the situation is fluid and we urge the government to exercise restraint and also maintain the utmost respect for human rights.  Of course, as the situation continues to unfold, the United States urges all stakeholders in this situation to not only remain calm but also remain peaceful.  And it goes without saying that the United States strongly supports freedom of expression as well as freedom of peaceful assembly, and that we know an inclusive and peaceful dialogue is essential to progress moving forward.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hey, yes, I can hear you.  How are you?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I’m good, thanks.  The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday said that some officials there caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis related to COVID-19.  Do you have any comments on this, on the current COVID situation in North Korea?  Also, do you have any plans to share humanitarian assistance, including the vaccines?  We learned yesterday that North Korea is not on the list of countries that would get 80 million doses of vaccines that the U.S. will share globally.  Is there any reason – any reason that the U.S. administration excluded North Korea?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So to answer your first question, we’re certainly aware of reports of what Kim Jong-un has said, but we don’t have any comment from here.  And to your second question, just to reiterate, the Biden administration has taken a strong leadership position on being the leader with vaccine diplomacy, and we will continue to do so from here on out.

Let’s go to Michele Kelemen.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I’d like to go back to your answer to Nike’s question at the top about Afghanistan.  You said that you’ve – that the State Department has identified those who will have the option to leave.  Have you informed those people that they have this option?  Do you have commitments from other countries willing to house them temporarily?  And can you confirm that it’s the State Department rather than the Defense Department in charge of this evacuation process?  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Michele.  I’ll just continue to reiterate we don’t have any specific details on numbers or on timing to preview from here, but of course as that information is made available, we’ll certainly share.  And most importantly, due to security restraints, we’re just limited on how much we can share in terms of those numbers and locations at this time.

Let’s go to Missy Ryan, please.

QUESTION:  Hi there.  Thanks for taking my question.  I’d like to actually just follow up on Michele’s question regarding the SIV transport and evacuation.  My understanding is that the U.S. military withdrawal is expected to be completed within the next few days barring any additional tasking for the military to be responsible for transporting the SIV applicants outside of Afghanistan.  And can you just address, is it safe to assume, then, that the administration is going to – that the military is not going to be transporting them out of the country, and that they’ll go by a commercial aircraft.  Is it – I mean, one of the confusing things, I think, has been when people are trying to understand what’s going on with the military withdrawal is whether or not the SIV process is going to lengthen the military presence in Afghanistan in these final weeks that they get really close to zero there.  Anything you could provide on that would be helpful, thanks.

MS PORTER:  Specific to the military drawdown, the President has made clear that we will complete that from Afghanistan by early September.  Any other specifics outside of that, I will have to refer you to the DOD.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Jalina, thanks for taking my question.  I – first I missed your answer on the demolition of the Palestinian homes, if you can repeat it.  And I want to ask two question, if I may.  First, if you have any comment on the trial of Entisar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model.  The trial is carried out by the – is carried by the Houthis.  And on the missile attack by the Houthis on Marib, and it killed three persons, including a child.  And also I have a question on Ethiopia.  Assistant secretary – acting assistant secretary for African Affairs said yesterday that if the government’s – the Ethiopian Government’s – announcement of a cessation of hostilities does not result in improvement in the situation and the situation continues to worsen, Ethiopia and Eritrea should anticipate further actions.  So are you going to impose more sanctions?  Can you elaborate on that, please?

MS PORTER:  So for that, I don’t have any sanctions to preview from here.  But can you repeat your other question?  I think you mentioned something about the Houthis.

QUESTION:  Yes.  First, if you have any comment on the trial of the Yemeni actress, Entisar Al-Hammadi.  And the missile attack carried by the Houthis on Marib.

MS PORTER:  I don’t have anything for you on that.  We’ll have to take that back from you today, but I believe you also asked me to repeat the question posed by Said.  And I’ll just quickly say that, again, we’ve seen the reports that seven families that are made up of about 50 Palestinians have been ordered for their homes to be demolished.  And we believe it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that would increase tensions or make it more difficult to advance our two-state solution, and that would include demolition.

Let’s go to Abigail Williams.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Nice to talk to you.  I wanted to follow up on Said’s line of questioning.  Does the State Department have any response to the decision reached on the West Bank outpost of Evyatar?  And are you concerned (inaudible) the confrontations between the Israeli police and demonstrators there that resulted in the death of four protesters?  And more broadly, can you provide the latest guidance on the State Department’s review of the previous administration’s decision to disavow the 1978 memo that described Israeli settlements as inconsistent with international law?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Abbie.  For your second question, I’ll have to take that back for you.  But just to answer your first, again, I’ll continue to underscore that we believe it’s critical to refrain from any unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or undercut efforts to advance equal freedoms, security, and prosperity, as well as a negotiated two-state solution.  And this would include establishing outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law.

Let’s go to Joseph Haboush, please.

OPERATOR:  And Joseph, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  I wanted to ask if you could provide any readout or more details of Secretary Blinken’s meeting yesterday with his Saudi and French counterparts, where he tweeted the need – tweeted about the need for Lebanon’s political leaders to implement overdue reforms.  And is there any – is there continued concern over the situation in Lebanon?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So we don’t have anything for you today, but happy to take this and answer this offline.

Let’s take one final question from Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for taking my question.  In Afghanistan, there’s an awful lot of worry over the degrading – what some people describe as a degrading situation as the military is withdrawing or retrograding.  Could you talk a little bit, please, about the hopeful situation ahead for diplomacy and political opportunities for peace in the country and reconciliation?  Is there a framework ahead?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  What I will say is that the United States is committed to our enduring partnership with Afghanistan as well as the Afghan people, and that would include everything from security, civilian, and humanitarian assistance.  And again, we agree that political unity is the way forward and diplomacy is the path of – the way forward.  I wouldn’t want to preview anything else beyond that, but just would underscore that we are committed to not only Afghanistan, and the people of Afghanistan as well.

That concludes today’s briefing.  Thank you all so much for joining today, and we hope you have a good week ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)