HomeUnited StatesDepartment Press Briefing – March 16, 2021

Department Press Briefing – March 16, 2021

2:02 p.m. EDT

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi, Jalina.  I was wondering if you have some comments on the fire in Yemen and the request by the UN of an independent inquiry on what happened and if you’re blaming, of course, the Houthis for that.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  I’ll just reiterate some of the comments that we’ve shared in the past, mostly recently as yesterday, that we strongly condemn all egregious Houthi drone and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.  These attacks are unacceptable and they’re dangerous, and quite frankly, they put the lives of civilians at risk.  We remain deeply concerned by the frequency of the Houthi attacks from Saudi Arabia, and attacks like these are not the actions of a group who is serious about peace.  We certainly welcome them to join us on this pathway to peace and diplomacy and, again, we continue to call on all parties to seriously commit to a ceasefire, engage in negotiations under UN auspices in conjunction with Special Envoy Tim Lenderking.  And again, attacks like these underline the critical nature of UN special envoy as well as Special Envoy Lenderking’s work in the region.

Next we’ll go to the line of Cindy Saine.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, can you hear me?

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

QUESTION:  Oh, yes.  Sorry.  Sorry, Jalina.  Yes, if you would allow me, I have two quick LATAM questions.  One, Russia has expressed its intent to help Haiti restore political stability amid the ongoing violence there.  If you could please comment on that.

And the other is China is providing vaccines to a number of countries in Latin America, and some experts are worried that with the U.S. not doing so, that this could give China a so-called boost in so-called vaccine diplomacy.  Thank you so much.

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Cindy.  Well, to take – I’ll take your last question first.  When it comes to what the Chinese are doing with their vaccine, we’re not in a position to comment on that.  But I will say that the Biden administration is committed to securing – to ensuring that Americans have access to safe and effective vaccines as soon as possible and, in fact, the U.S. has taken a leading role in beating this pandemic globally.  We’ve given $2 billion to COVAX and another $2 billion has actually been committed.  The United States has actually been the largest donor of global health in the world and has invested over $150 billion in global health activities since 2000.  And again, I’ll just reiterate, the administration is engaging with foreign leaders and their staff around the world to stress the importance of strong public health measures.

And to – you know what, if you’re still on the line, can you repeat your second question about Haiti?

QUESTION:  Yes, certainly.  Russia has expressed its intent to help Haiti restore political stability.  Any reaction to that, please?

MS PORTER:  Well, again, what I’ll – I’ll just say – I’ll just stress our commitment to the people of Haiti.  The United States is committed to helping the Haitian people to build a better future.  In January of 2021 we announced an additional $75.5 million in a wide range of issues, which includes democratic governance, health, education, and agricultural development.

Now I’ll go on to the line of Matt Lee.

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.  Please, go ahead.  Oh, I’m sorry.  One moment.

The line is now open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hey there.  Hi, Jalina.  You there?

MS PORTER:  Hi, Matt.  How are you?

QUESTION:  I’m okay.  Sorry I missed you yesterday.  I was driving and couldn’t get on the phone.  But anyway, neither here nor there.  On yesterday, though, you did say, according to the transcript, that Zal was going to go to this Afghan conference in Moscow.  And I’m just wondering because there are still plans – or can you say if there are still plans for another conference that you guys are trying to organize?  Or is the Moscow conference going to be the main deal?  And if you are trying to organize another conference, when and where might that be?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your questions, Matt.  Yes, you’re right.  Yesterday I did speak about Ambassador Khalilzad and his trip right now, which he has currently completed a two-day visit to Kabul as a part of his ongoing efforts to try to accelerate the peace process and make a political settlement and permanent ceasefire.  He’s met with President Ghani, Chairman Abdullah, as well as a wide range of political leaders, all who are critical in this entire peace process.

As far as the meeting in Moscow, it’s correct:  He plans to travel on March 18th to this meeting, but let’s just be clear this doesn’t replace other ongoing talks in Doha, and we certainly don’t have any plans to host or reveal any other potential meetings.  And when we do, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Next, can we go to the line of Simon Lewis?

OPERATOR:  Yes.  Your line is now open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay, great.  I wanted to ask about North Korea.  So there – these comments from Kim Yo-jong that came after the administration said that North Korea hasn’t been responding to requests to talk.  I wonder if you wanted to respond to the comments warning the U.S. not to “give off [a gunpowder] smell in our land” and “refrain from causing a stink,” according to the statement from Pyongyang.

And I guess my question beyond that is, given that this sort of response has come after you said they weren’t responding to your sort of diplomatic overtures, what’s the plan now in terms of getting some talks open?  Are you still trying the same channels or are there other plans to try to communicate with the regime there?

MS PORTER:  Thanks for your question.  I’ll address the top of your question first.  So we’re certainly aware of these reports.  The Secretary actually spoke to this in Tokyo recently, and just to recap on his remarks if you weren’t, I’ll say, and I quote, “I’m actually most interested in… those of our allies and partners [and] that’s why [I’ve] come to the region.  That’s why we’ve come to Japan, precisely to listen to our allies and to discuss how collectively we might seek to address the threat from North Korea.”  Again, there is a little bit more to that, and I would further direct you to his remarks when it comes to North Korea and that response.

Next, can we go to the line of Michel Ghandour?

QUESTION:  I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Yemen.  On Libya, after the political progress made there, is the U.S. planning to send an ambassador to Tripoli back?

And on Yemen, the Houthis have refused the plan that Special Envoy Lenderking offered a couple weeks ago, and today Lenderking has called Omani and met with the Bahrain ambassador to push the process there.  How can Oman help and how can Bahrain help too?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Michel.  So to take your question on Libya first, we currently have nothing in the works and no plans to announce any ambassador in the region.

And just to reiterate what Special Envoy Lenderking and what we’re doing in Yemen, we’ll just say that, again, this administration is – has made a priority of ending this awful war in Yemen.  And again, what the work of – I’m sorry – Special Envoy Lenderking includes his engagement with UN Special Envoy Griffiths as well as Saudi Arabia and regional states to put forward a nationwide ceasefire.  As you know, Special Envoy Lenderking spent two weeks in the region, and again, he’ll return when the Houthis are prepared to talk.

As we know, this is the worst humanitarian situation, the crisis that we’re in right now.  About 80 percent of the Yemeni population is under Houthi control, and the Houthis have the time to come to the table right now and to meet us on the pathway to peace and diplomacy.  Instead, they’re doubling down with bullets.  So they have a time where they can really come and resume our talks, and we’ll be ready to happen – we’ll do that when that happens.

Let’s go to Laura Kelly.

QUESTION:  Senator Mitt Romney wrote in an op-ed yesterday calling for an economic and diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, saying that rather than sending a traditional delegation of diplomats and White House officials, to send Chinese dissidents, religious leaders, and ethnic minorities to represent the U.S.  Do you have a response to Senator Romney’s proposal, or are you making any plans for the Beijing Olympics?

MS PORTER:  Well, what I will say is I haven’t seen Mr. Romney’s op-ed or any of his proposals, and we generally don’t comment on anything congressional.  But what I will say is that the Olympics are in 2022, and that’s – we’ll deal with that when that comes up, but right now that hasn’t been at the forefront of our conversations.

Let’s go to the line of Conor Finnegan.

QUESTION:  Hey, thanks for doing this.  Just to follow up on Reuters’ question, the Secretary’s comments in Tokyo about U.S. outreach to North Korea, he said, quote, it was to “reduce the risks of escalation.”  Can you clarify whether or not you are just seeking a deconfliction line or whether you’re pursuing diplomatic talks at this point?

MS PORTER:  Well, to that specific question, we don’t have anything to further announce.  But again, what I’ll reiterate is that we are conducting a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy towards North Korea.

Let’s go to the line of Hye Jun Seo.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Hi, I do want to follow up on North Korea.  I want to emphasize on the joint militaries exercise that Kim Yo-jong mentioned.  She said that war practice and dialogue and hostility and cooperation can never coincide.  So what is the State Department’s response to this message?

MS PORTER:  We don’t have anything to comment any further on that.

Let’s go to the line of Casey O’Neill.

OPERATOR:  I’m sorry, I’m not seeing a Casey O’Neill.

MS PORTER:  Let’s move on to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks.  Just one more on North Korea.  We’ve got one of our Pentagon colleague is reporting that U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea could be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since Biden took office, and I was wondering if State has any comment.

MS PORTER:  Thanks for your question, Jennifer.  But I’ll have to say that we don’t comment on intelligence, and I’ll have to refer you back to the Pentagon for that one.

Let’s move on to the line of Esha Barlingay.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  I hope you can hear me.

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I would like to follow up with questions on the U.S. and Chinese officials’ meeting in Alaska.  I would like to know what your intentions are and what would you like to gain from this.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  So we’re not going to get ahead of any meetings that are planned on the trip for the Secretary right now.  We’re certainly going to have a readout, and we’ll make sure that you get the readout after these meetings.

Let’s go to the line of Mohammad El Ahmed.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Hi, Jalina.  Thank you.  The French foreign minister said today that tactical problems and domestic situation in Iran hinder the revival of the nuclear talks.  Do you agree with this assessment, and is there any update about the U.S. offer for Iran to have informal talks soon?


MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, thank you.  So as far as a comment to your – part of your first question, we don’t have any specific comment to that.  But what we will say is that – Mohammed, we actually don’t have anything to announce at this time, and when we do, we’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible.

Let’s go to the line of Janne Pak.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me, Jalina?

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  South Korea’s position is more important than ever in the long-term competition between the United States and China.  Administration of Moon Jae-in, the administration in South Korea, is currently struggling between China and the United States.  What do you think South Korea and Moon Jae-in administration will actually cooperate with the United States to strengthening the alliance?  Do you think that they’re going to more help you, or they’re going to more help China?

MS PORTER:  Well, from what I could hear from your question, I’ll just say that South Korea is a close partner to the United States, which is clearly underscored by Secretary Blinken traveling there, will actually be traveling there tomorrow during his first trip – first physical trip as Secretary of State.

I’m afraid I couldn’t hear the rest of your question.  But again, we want to underscore our relationship with South Korea.

And we will move on to the line of Beatriz Pascual.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I wanted to ask about Bolivia.  I know the United States, like this topic came up in yesterday’s briefing, but I wanted to ask if there has been any contact with governments in the region to address this issue.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So, yes, we addressed the issue in Bolivia at the top of yesterday’s briefing, and we’ll just reiterate that the United States is following with concern the developments surrounding the – Bolivia’s Government with the arrest of former officials.  We’ll also reiterate that a fair and impartial judicial process are the bedrock of democratic societies, which is something that the United States strongly support.  Our concern joins those expressed by the civic, political, and religious leaders in Bolivia, as well as many others in the international community.  And again, as many countries in our hemisphere have realized at one time or another, the people[1] is a gift and we must respectfully handle that.

Let’s go back to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, I can hear you.

(No response.)

MS PORTER:  Are you there?  I can hear you.

OPERATOR:  That line is open.

MS PORTER:  All right, one last time.

(No response.)

MS PORTER:  All right, I think for now we’ll move on.  Let’s go to the line of Simon Lewis.

OPERATOR:  Simon Lewis is no longer in the queue.

MS PORTER:  Let’s go to the line of Joel Gehrke.

QUESTION:  I have a question on Afghanistan.  Then-Secretary – Defense Secretary Mattis mentioned in 2017 – he was talking about Afghanistan and Russia’s role there – and had said that the Russians seemed to be choosing to be strategic competitors in a number of areas, particularly Afghanistan, in that moment.  So as we head into this Moscow conference, do you see them convening this meeting still with a competitive mindset, or do you think they’ve adopted a more cooperative approach that could fit into your broader efforts?

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Joel.  So I’ll reiterate what we said before.  Ambassador Khalilzad is traveling to Moscow for the meeting, and this meeting is – will complement other international efforts to support the ongoing Afghanistan peace process and reflects the international community’s concerns about progress to date.  And that’s all we have on that.

Let’s go to the line of Young Gyo Kim

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Well, can you hear – sure.  I want to ask about the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises.  There are some critics saying that it could raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.  Why is it important for the U.S. to continue this joint military exercise with South Korea?

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  For that I’m going to have to refer you to the DOD.

Let’s go to the line of Hyun Young Park.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Secretary Blinken’s visit to Japan and Korea.  Secretary has emphasized how strengthening U.S.-Japan-ROK cooperation is important.  In the press release the State Department sent out, it said, quote, “No relationship is more important than that between Japan and the ROK.”

Could you elaborate more on why this is so important to the U.S.?  Is it in terms of countering Chinese threat, or the North Korean threat?  Why is it so important that Japan and Korea get along in the standpoint of the U.S.?  And Japan and South Korea are at their lowest points in relationships, so does the U.S. plan to actively engage in bringing them together?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, we’ll just say that when it comes to our relationship with Japan and South Korea, we have the cornerstone of our shared values and our shared interests, which include regional security and stability.  I’ll just also underscore that the U.S.-Japan Alliance remains the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.  Again, Japan resolved to enhance its capabilities to bolster national defense and to further strengthen the alliance.  The United States underscored its unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan through the full range of its capabilities.  We are also aligned together in combating some of these growing geopolitical challenges, which include COVID-19, climate change, as well as revitalizing democracy.

And I will take one final question from Muath Alamri.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Yes, I have a question about Yemen and Iran.  Mr. Lenderking yesterday said in his TV interview that Iran is playing a negative role in Yemen by backing the Houthis.  So have you sent any messages to Iran to switch their role from negative to positive?  And what about the negotiation with them in terms of the hostages?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Well, yes, I mean, we can definitely reiterate what Special Envoy Lenderking has said.  We do believe that Iran has a chance to reverse what it’s doing and play a more positive, influential role in Yemen.  And I’ll just again reiterate what we’ve said earlier: that we condemn all egregious Houthi drones and missile attacks against Saudi Arabia.  And these attacks are plainly unacceptable and dangerous.

Thank you all for joining me here today.  We will be back here telephonically at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, and have a good rest of your day.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)


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