Department Press Briefing – September 28, 2021

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Department Press Briefing – September 28, 2021

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:06 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and happy Tuesday. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing from the State Department. I have two quick announcements at the top and I will start taking your questions.

Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez will travel to Miami, Florida and Port-au-Prince, Haiti from September 29th through October 1st. While in Miami on September 29th, they will meet with Cuban-American and Haitian-American stakeholders. While in Haiti from September 30th through October 1st, they will meet with civil society groups, political stakeholders, and Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph to discuss a Haitian-led process charting the path to democratic elections in Haiti, the Haitian migration response, security, and support for and recovery from the August 14th earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, we are pleased that the Secretary of Homeland Security has designated Croatia as the 40th country for entry into the Visa Waiver Program.

Our rock-solid relationship with Croatia is built upon shared values, shared security, as well as shared prosperity. Its designation into the Visa Waiver Program is a pivotal milestone in our partnership and also a testament to Croatia’s hard work in meeting the strict program requirements.

Croatia’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program will facilitate travel between our nations while increasing security. We recognize the importance of business and tourist travel to both our countries and our shared interest in making travel more secure as we continue to expand our economic and people-to-people ties.

Participant countries must meet strict criteria to join the Visa Waiver Program. We applaud the Croatian Government for successfully meeting all Visa Waiver Program requirements.

The Department of Homeland Security will announce the date when Croatian citizens planning travel for business or tourism, including B-1 and B-2 visas, and all who meet the other requirements can apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as ESTA.

We expect that Croatians will be able to apply for ESTA by December 1st of 2021.

Croatia is a trusted partner and NATO Ally, and travel between our countries both increases and deepens our strong ties.

With that, I’m going to give it just two minutes and we’ll start taking your questions.

Let’s start with Said Arikat, please.

QUESTION: I have two quick questions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The prime minister of Israel, the Prime Minister Bennett, he said his government rejects the reopening of the Jerusalem – the American consulate in Jerusalem. I wonder if you have any comment on that or have there been any concessions made in that regard?

And my other question – there were no meetings whatsoever between American and Palestinian officials on the periphery of UNGA. Are there anything ongoing in that regard, perhaps behind closed doors? Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. To your first question, I believe the Secretary actually shared with us earlier this year that the U.S. will move forward with the process to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. At this time, I don’t have anything to share beyond that as far as specific dates.

But when it comes to your second question on interactions between American officials and Palestinian officials in UNGA, I won’t get too deep into the weeds of some of those discussions, but I can say that our U.S. deputy representative to the UN, Ambassador Mills, did engage with Palestinian officials, but again, these engagements were informal. But they were very much strategic and just the same as our U.S. representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield – any time that we engage on issues of – surrounding Palestine they are strategic, but again, I won’t get into the details of those conversations. But what I will say is that our interest remains in supporting peace and stability. And, of course, that certainly requires having constructive engagement around this issue.

As we’ve said before, we believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And this administration has made clear on a number of occasions that the Israelis and Palestinians both equally deserve to live in security, prosperity, and freedom.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the call. I have a couple of questions. First, do you have any comment on Jordan decision to resume commercial travel and reopen main crossing with Syria this week?

Second, any comment on the suspension of the investigation into Beirut explosion and the threats that Hizballah made to the investigator?

And third, on the French president comment on the U.S. and that Europe should rely on itself in defending itself, not on the United States?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Michel. Well, I’ll let the French president’s words speak for themselves. We don’t have any comment from here.

And to your question on the investigation in Beirut, we’re going to have to take that back to you.

When it comes to commercial travel and Jordan, we certainly welcome this announcement.

Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION: Wanted to follow up on what you said on Haiti. Can you say a little bit more about what the message will be of Mr. Nichols and Mr. Gonzalez in Port-au-Prince, particularly regarding migration? Are they going to look for ways to stop migration, as has been said by some here in Washington, looking for a more humane way? What’s the message on that?

And also related to Haiti, it seems that the elections have been postponed indefinitely. The U.S. has been calling for elections this year. Does the U.S. have any reaction to that?

And finally, are there any plans for a new special envoy in Haiti? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shaun. To your question on a new special envoy in Haiti, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.

To your question on the elections, these – reports are imminent, but we are just seeing these reports. What we can state from here is that we do support a Haitian-led process that would chart Haiti’s path to free and fair elections. Obviously we know that this a very, very challenging time for the people of Haiti and we know that it’s crucial for Haiti’s government, their political parties, civil society, as well as the private sector that they lead and work together during this process and that they do what’s best for the interests of the Haitian people.

To your question at the top regarding the meetings, well, I won’t get ahead of those meetings, but again, those meetings are to serve as a conduit to meet with civil society, both with Haitian-American equities as well as Cuban-American equities, to find viable solutions to the problems that are going on right now.

Let’s go to Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: Jalina, thanks for doing this. Secretary Austin just said that the U.S. got an additional 21 American citizens and their family members out of Afghanistan today and I was hoping you could give us a little more detail about how they were taken out of the country and whether any permanent residents or SIVs were also involved in those evacuation efforts today.

And then separately, has the State Department or the U.S. Government been in touch with the family and the surviving members of those killed in the drone strike in Kabul? Will they be offered resettlement in the United States? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. So we aren’t in a position from here to confirm additional departures for security reasons. Anything from Secretary Austin I would have to refer you back to the DOD.

Let’s go to Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking my question. SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has released a report on the World Food Program activities in Lebanon, and there in the report, which is quite detailed and lengthy, they do find that the program is a source of stability in the country at this point. Would you like to comment on the situation in Lebanon, and if – I don’t know if you’ve read the report – on the report, perhaps, and the work of SIPRI? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I actually have not read the report or seen the report at this time, and so I’m not in the position to make a comment on the situation in Lebanon. But if that’s something that you need, we’d be happy to take it offline and get you something for later today.

QUESTION: I would appreciate that. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. I have two questions today.

Yesterday, the State Department said that North Korea’s missile launch yesterday was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. As you know, if it was a ballistic missile, then it is a clear violation, of course. But we still don’t know whether it was a ballistic missile or not, so I’m wondering if you are assessing this missile as a ballistic one. And is this why you said it was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions?

Also yesterday, Kim Song, the North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said that the U.S. should give up its hostile policy, the joint military exercises with the ROK, and all kind of strategic weapons deployment if the U.S. wants to see the Korean War come to an end. So what’s your reaction to that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha.

I won’t from here do any specific classifications, but I can lead you to the statement that we did release yesterday on this, and I will just reiterate that the U.S. condemns the DPRK’s missile launch. Again, this launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and it also poses a threat to DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we also call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

To your second question, we don’t have anything to announce from here.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you.

Just firstly, I wanted to clarify something I think in response to one of the questions earlier about Jordan and Syria. You – I think you said that the U.S. welcomes the resumption of commercial flights. Could you just clarify that? You don’t have diplomatic relations with Syria and there previously hasn’t been relations between the two – between Jordan and Syria. So are you – is the U.S. supporting a rapprochement between the two countries, and does this sort of change your – the status of your relations with Syria, if you say you’re welcoming that move? I wonder if you want to clarify that.

And secondly, there’s some reporting about the – some new Havana syndrome cases, specifically in The Wall Street Journal talking about CIA officers. But I wonder if there’s any update you can give us on State Department officials, any new cases or numbers of cases that you can tell us about, and if there’s an update on the progress of sort of ongoing investigation and work on that that you announced earlier. Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to your first question, I have nothing to announce as far as the status of the relationship or any change in policy. What I can say is that we’re certainly reviewing the announcement.

To your second question, what I can say from here is that, in close coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating the reports of possible anomalous health incidents wherever they have been reported, and the State Department is taking this extremely seriously. We have been doing everything possible to ensure that employees who have reported any of these incidents have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

More broadly, these incidents have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken, who has also set clear goals for the Health Incidents Response Task Force to strengthen the department’s communications with our workforce and also provide care for affected employees as well as their family members.

Let’s go to Laura Barros.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. I would like to know if you have any details about the meeting today between Secretary Blinken and Dominican Republic Minister Roberto Alvarez. Have – you have any details? Have they talk about the Haiti situation, for example? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So we don’t have anything to read out from the meeting. I know that we did produce the remarks that were at the top of the meeting on our website just from – Secretary Blinken welcoming the – Foreign Minister Alvarez to the State Department and that he is appreciative of the leadership of the Dominican Republic. Outside of that, I don’t have anything to share at this time.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. If I may, I have three questions.

First, I want to follow up on Said’s question when he asked about the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. I understood that the Secretary made it clear that he will move on with the process to open a consulate in Jerusalem, that media quoted Israeli PM saying that this won’t happen. How do you respond to this?

And on Lebanon, as we know, the Beirut explosion was the largest non-nuclear explosion, so – and the U.S. called for a transparent investigation. Another judge was dismissed, was suspended yesterday. Don’t you have any message to the Lebanese leaders, to them?

And on the reopening of the main crossing border between Syria and Jordan – sorry – were you not notified in advance? Because this is not isolated. There are many things happening at the same time. We saw the meetings between the Syrian foreign minister and other foreign ministers and – on the sidelines of UNGA. So can you comment on that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Hiba.

So to your first question, I’ll just have to reiterate what I’ve already told Said is that, again, we don’t have a deadline, unfortunately, to announce today, but again, we will move forward with a process to reopen the consulate.

To your second question on the explosions in Lebanon, we’re just seeing these reports and don’t have anything to share at this time.

And your last question we’re going to have to take back. Thank you.

We’ll take a final question from Hye Jun Seo.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. So I have a similar question on North Korea. So on the DPRK ambassador Song Kim – Kim Song saying that U.S. has a hostile policy and that U.S. should show it by actions not by words, what is the State Department’s comment on this? How will State Department engage in dialogue with North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We have said this from here before and I think it’s worth repeating that we are committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and again, we call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)

2:06 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and happy Tuesday. Thank you for joining today’s press briefing from the State Department. I have two quick announcements at the top and I will start taking your questions.

Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian A. Nichols and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez will travel to Miami, Florida and Port-au-Prince, Haiti from September 29th through October 1st. While in Miami on September 29th, they will meet with Cuban-American and Haitian-American stakeholders. While in Haiti from September 30th through October 1st, they will meet with civil society groups, political stakeholders, and Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Foreign Minister Claude Joseph to discuss a Haitian-led process charting the path to democratic elections in Haiti, the Haitian migration response, security, and support for and recovery from the August 14th earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, we are pleased that the Secretary of Homeland Security has designated Croatia as the 40th country for entry into the Visa Waiver Program.

Our rock-solid relationship with Croatia is built upon shared values, shared security, as well as shared prosperity. Its designation into the Visa Waiver Program is a pivotal milestone in our partnership and also a testament to Croatia’s hard work in meeting the strict program requirements.

Croatia’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program will facilitate travel between our nations while increasing security. We recognize the importance of business and tourist travel to both our countries and our shared interest in making travel more secure as we continue to expand our economic and people-to-people ties.

Participant countries must meet strict criteria to join the Visa Waiver Program. We applaud the Croatian Government for successfully meeting all Visa Waiver Program requirements.

The Department of Homeland Security will announce the date when Croatian citizens planning travel for business or tourism, including B-1 and B-2 visas, and all who meet the other requirements can apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as ESTA.

We expect that Croatians will be able to apply for ESTA by December 1st of 2021.

Croatia is a trusted partner and NATO Ally, and travel between our countries both increases and deepens our strong ties.

With that, I’m going to give it just two minutes and we’ll start taking your questions.

Let’s start with Said Arikat, please.

QUESTION: I have two quick questions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue. The prime minister of Israel, the Prime Minister Bennett, he said his government rejects the reopening of the Jerusalem – the American consulate in Jerusalem. I wonder if you have any comment on that or have there been any concessions made in that regard?

And my other question – there were no meetings whatsoever between American and Palestinian officials on the periphery of UNGA. Are there anything ongoing in that regard, perhaps behind closed doors? Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Said. To your first question, I believe the Secretary actually shared with us earlier this year that the U.S. will move forward with the process to reopening the consulate in Jerusalem. At this time, I don’t have anything to share beyond that as far as specific dates.

But when it comes to your second question on interactions between American officials and Palestinian officials in UNGA, I won’t get too deep into the weeds of some of those discussions, but I can say that our U.S. deputy representative to the UN, Ambassador Mills, did engage with Palestinian officials, but again, these engagements were informal. But they were very much strategic and just the same as our U.S. representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield – any time that we engage on issues of – surrounding Palestine they are strategic, but again, I won’t get into the details of those conversations. But what I will say is that our interest remains in supporting peace and stability. And, of course, that certainly requires having constructive engagement around this issue.

As we’ve said before, we believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And this administration has made clear on a number of occasions that the Israelis and Palestinians both equally deserve to live in security, prosperity, and freedom.

Let’s go to Michel Ghandour, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the call. I have a couple of questions. First, do you have any comment on Jordan decision to resume commercial travel and reopen main crossing with Syria this week?

Second, any comment on the suspension of the investigation into Beirut explosion and the threats that Hizballah made to the investigator?

And third, on the French president comment on the U.S. and that Europe should rely on itself in defending itself, not on the United States?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Michel. Well, I’ll let the French president’s words speak for themselves. We don’t have any comment from here.

And to your question on the investigation in Beirut, we’re going to have to take that back to you.

When it comes to commercial travel and Jordan, we certainly welcome this announcement.[1]

Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION: Wanted to follow up on what you said on Haiti. Can you say a little bit more about what the message will be of Mr. Nichols and Mr. Gonzalez in Port-au-Prince, particularly regarding migration? Are they going to look for ways to stop migration, as has been said by some here in Washington, looking for a more humane way? What’s the message on that?

And also related to Haiti, it seems that the elections have been postponed indefinitely. The U.S. has been calling for elections this year. Does the U.S. have any reaction to that?

And finally, are there any plans for a new special envoy in Haiti? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shaun. To your question on a new special envoy in Haiti, we don’t have anything to announce at this time.

To your question on the elections, these – reports are imminent, but we are just seeing these reports. What we can state from here is that we do support a Haitian-led process that would chart Haiti’s path to free and fair elections. Obviously we know that this a very, very challenging time for the people of Haiti and we know that it’s crucial for Haiti’s government, their political parties, civil society, as well as the private sector that they lead and work together during this process and that they do what’s best for the interests of the Haitian people.

To your question at the top regarding the meetings, well, I won’t get ahead of those meetings, but again, those meetings are to serve as a conduit to meet with civil society, both with Haitian-American equities as well as Cuban-American equities, to find viable solutions to the problems that are going on right now.

Let’s go to Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION: Jalina, thanks for doing this. Secretary Austin just said that the U.S. got an additional 21 American citizens and their family members out of Afghanistan today and I was hoping you could give us a little more detail about how they were taken out of the country and whether any permanent residents or SIVs were also involved in those evacuation efforts today.

And then separately, has the State Department or the U.S. Government been in touch with the family and the surviving members of those killed in the drone strike in Kabul? Will they be offered resettlement in the United States? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. So we aren’t in a position from here to confirm additional departures for security reasons. Anything from Secretary Austin I would have to refer you back to the DOD.

Let’s go to Kristina Anderson.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) taking my question. SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has released a report on the World Food Program activities in Lebanon, and there in the report, which is quite detailed and lengthy, they do find that the program is a source of stability in the country at this point. Would you like to comment on the situation in Lebanon, and if – I don’t know if you’ve read the report – on the report, perhaps, and the work of SIPRI? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I actually have not read the report or seen the report at this time, and so I’m not in the position to make a comment on the situation in Lebanon. But if that’s something that you need, we’d be happy to take it offline and get you something for later today.

QUESTION: I would appreciate that. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you.

Let’s go to Jiha Ham.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my questions. I have two questions today.

Yesterday, the State Department said that North Korea’s missile launch yesterday was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. As you know, if it was a ballistic missile, then it is a clear violation, of course. But we still don’t know whether it was a ballistic missile or not, so I’m wondering if you are assessing this missile as a ballistic one. And is this why you said it was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions?

Also yesterday, Kim Song, the North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, said that the U.S. should give up its hostile policy, the joint military exercises with the ROK, and all kind of strategic weapons deployment if the U.S. wants to see the Korean War come to an end. So what’s your reaction to that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jiha.

I won’t from here do any specific classifications, but I can lead you to the statement that we did release yesterday on this, and I will just reiterate that the U.S. condemns the DPRK’s missile launch. Again, this launch is in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and it also poses a threat to DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we also call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

To your second question, we don’t have anything to announce from here.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you.

Just firstly, I wanted to clarify something I think in response to one of the questions earlier about Jordan and Syria. You – I think you said that the U.S. welcomes the resumption of commercial flights. Could you just clarify that? You don’t have diplomatic relations with Syria and there previously hasn’t been relations between the two – between Jordan and Syria. So are you – is the U.S. supporting a rapprochement between the two countries, and does this sort of change your – the status of your relations with Syria, if you say you’re welcoming that move? I wonder if you want to clarify that.

And secondly, there’s some reporting about the – some new Havana syndrome cases, specifically in The Wall Street Journal talking about CIA officers. But I wonder if there’s any update you can give us on State Department officials, any new cases or numbers of cases that you can tell us about, and if there’s an update on the progress of sort of ongoing investigation and work on that that you announced earlier. Thank you.

MS PORTER: So to your first question, I have nothing to announce as far as the status of the relationship or any change in policy. What I can say is that we’re certainly reviewing the announcement.

To your second question, what I can say from here is that, in close coordination with our partners across the U.S. Government, we are vigorously investigating the reports of possible anomalous health incidents wherever they have been reported, and the State Department is taking this extremely seriously. We have been doing everything possible to ensure that employees who have reported any of these incidents have received immediate and appropriate attention and care.

More broadly, these incidents have been a top priority for Secretary Blinken, who has also set clear goals for the Health Incidents Response Task Force to strengthen the department’s communications with our workforce and also provide care for affected employees as well as their family members.

Let’s go to Laura Barros.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. I would like to know if you have any details about the meeting today between Secretary Blinken and Dominican Republic Minister Roberto Alvarez. Have – you have any details? Have they talk about the Haiti situation, for example? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. So we don’t have anything to read out from the meeting. I know that we did produce the remarks that were at the top of the meeting on our website just from – Secretary Blinken welcoming the – Foreign Minister Alvarez to the State Department and that he is appreciative of the leadership of the Dominican Republic. Outside of that, I don’t have anything to share at this time.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for taking my question. If I may, I have three questions.

First, I want to follow up on Said’s question when he asked about the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. I understood that the Secretary made it clear that he will move on with the process to open a consulate in Jerusalem, that media quoted Israeli PM saying that this won’t happen. How do you respond to this?

And on Lebanon, as we know, the Beirut explosion was the largest non-nuclear explosion, so – and the U.S. called for a transparent investigation. Another judge was dismissed, was suspended yesterday. Don’t you have any message to the Lebanese leaders, to them?

And on the reopening of the main crossing border between Syria and Jordan – sorry – were you not notified in advance? Because this is not isolated. There are many things happening at the same time. We saw the meetings between the Syrian foreign minister and other foreign ministers and – on the sidelines of UNGA. So can you comment on that? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Hiba.

So to your first question, I’ll just have to reiterate what I’ve already told Said is that, again, we don’t have a deadline, unfortunately, to announce today, but again, we will move forward with a process to reopen the consulate.

To your second question on the explosions in Lebanon, we’re just seeing these reports and don’t have anything to share at this time.

And your last question we’re going to have to take back. Thank you.

We’ll take a final question from Hye Jun Seo.

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Hi.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you for taking my question. So I have a similar question on North Korea. So on the DPRK ambassador Song Kim – Kim Song saying that U.S. has a hostile policy and that U.S. should show it by actions not by words, what is the State Department’s comment on this? How will State Department engage in dialogue with North Korea?

MS PORTER: Thank you for your question. We have said this from here before and I think it’s worth repeating that we are committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and again, we call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

That concludes today’s briefing. Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:29 p.m.)