Government

Department Press Briefing – September 17, 2021 – United States Department of State

2:00 p.m. EDT

MS PORTER: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s State Department press briefing. I have one item for you at the top, and then I’ll start taking your questions.

Next week, the Secretary of State will attend the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he will continue to advance U.S. interests and promote a healthier, more peaceful, and secure world.

This UNGA High-Level Week is going to look different than others given the ongoing pandemic. The United States delegation will be smaller, and we have worked within the UN, the CDC, and the City of New York to put into place several COVID-19 mitigation measures. The safety of UNGA participants and New Yorkers is a top priority.

I’d like to take a few moments to also give you a sense of the administration’s goals and objectives for this year’s UNGA, which fall into three overarching themes.

It will come as no surprise that sustained action to defeat COVID-19 is the administration’s top priority at UNGA this year.

The U.S. is committed to leading the global response to COVID-19, to galvanizing commitments to bring an end the pandemic, and to financing global health security so the world is better prepared to avert and respond to future outbreaks.

We are building a global coalition to accelerate vaccine production and expand access to lifesaving treatments around the world.

We look forward to working with our international partners at UNGA to end this pandemic and build back better for the future.

The United States will also use UNGA High-Level Week to reinvigorate global communities – a excuse me, commitments to combat the climate crisis.

President Biden committed to rejoining the Paris Agreement on Day 1 of his administration in recognition that climate change is the greatest existential threat facing our world today – and quite simply there is no time to delay.

This year at UNGA, we will urge the international community to make ambitious goals – ambitious global and national commitments to combat climate change in this decisive decade.

Finally, the U.S. will use UNGA High-Level Week to voice support for universal human rights, democratic values, and the rules-based international order.

Defending human rights and democratic values at home and around the world is essential to renewing the United States’ national strength and advancing our interests.

It is incumbent upon democracies, including through action in the UN system, to prove that we can deliver for our people in the face of unprecedented global challenges.

We look forward to a week of bold and energetic engagement with our international partners at UNGA High-Level Week.

Let’s start with Daphne, please.

QUESTION: On Ethiopia, the administration painted the executive order as a warning shot with several officials, promising sanctions would be imposed if a negotiated solution is not reached and humanitarian access is not allowed. How long is the administration willing to give parties to the conflict to make these changes? We’re 10 months into this. Are you looking to wait weeks, months to see if these changes are made before imposing sanctions?

MS PORTER: So we haven’t made any announcements when it comes to sanctions, and we certainly wouldn’t preview that from here. But what I will say in response to the growing conflict as well as the humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia, which has quite frankly threatened the peace, security, and stability of Ethiopia and the greater Horn of Africa region, President Biden signed an executive order imposing sanctions on certain persons with respect to human rights and human – the humanitarian crisis and human rights in Ethiopia.

This EO provides the Secretary of the Treasury, as well as in consultation with Secretary of State Secretary Blinken, the authority to impose sanctions on persons in connection with the crisis in northern Ethiopia. It also authorizes the imposition of financial sanctions on those who are responsible for threatening peace and also threatening stability, obstructing humanitarian access to progress towards a negotiated ceasefire, or committing serious human rights abuses.

Let’s go to Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Excellent. Two quick questions. One, related to the virtual meeting this morning on the one-year anniversary of the normalization accords, the Abraham Accords. Well, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken emphasized time and again the need to achieve a final goal of two-state solution. Yet this administration has done absolutely nothing in that regard over the past eight months. And in fact, his Israeli counterpart didn’t even mention the word Palestinians except maybe in some sort of a economic thing or at one time in his talk. So are there any plans to actually take any steps in that regard?

And the second one is related to where you began at the top at UNGA. Will Secretary Blinken meet with any Palestinian officials in his UNGA meetings? Thank you.

MS PORTER: I’ll start with your second question first. When it comes to UNGA meetings, we don’t have anything to preview specific to the Secretary’s schedule at this moment in time.

In regards to your first question, I will underscore what we’ve said from here before, which is that we believe a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And to reiterate what President Biden has said, he believes the United States believes that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. He has also said that, “My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end.”

Let’s go over to Pearl Matibe.

QUESTION: Happy Friday, and hope you enjoy your weekend. My question, I guess, is twofold here. I do appreciate that you are not able to preview anything that Secretary of State Blinken will be doing in terms of meeting people on the margins at the United Nations come next week, but I trust that you will keep us closely informed, for example, if he does meet with any African leaders on the margins and so on. So I’d appreciate that.

My question is related to Ethiopia. So I do see that the former president Obasanjo is playing a key role now. I’m wondering: Were all other avenues exhausted before President Biden decided to go the route of sanctions? For example, Kenya played a key role in Sudan’s transition through IGAD. Did they at least try to rope in the Ghanaian president or, for example, President Cyril Ramaphosa from South Africa or Kenya, for example, to try and work together with Obasanjo? So I’m just wondering: Were all other avenues exhausted to try to get President Abiy to cease what’s going on in northern Ethiopia?

Thank you.

MS PORTER: Pearl, I’d want to reiterate about the EO. No sanctions – we’ve announced no sanctions at this time. But when it comes to what I understand that you’re asking is any consultations with former leaders, I certainly wouldn’t be able to preview any diplomatic discussions with current leaders, so I wouldn’t be able to do the former as well. So that’s all I have for you, but if there’s anything else specific, we’d be happy to take that back to the team offline.

Let’s go to Dan Noyes.

QUESTION: Hi Jalina, I appreciate you taking my call. I wonder if you have a readout on the [redacted] family. There is a three-year-old boy from California who was born in California, a U.S. citizen. His parents worked with the Americans in Kabul, and they were stranded at the airport. I understand that today they’re on a charter flight that was arranged by the State Department. Is there any more information? I wonder what the biggest challenge was and what took three – almost three weeks to get them out. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question. So for security and privacy reasons, we are unable to comment on specific and/or individual cases. But our commitment remains there that we are continuing to get people out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our team here has been working on a 24/7 operation, and we’ll continue to do so moving forward.

Let’s go to Cindy Saine.

QUESTION: Yes, hello, Jalina, and thank you. Yeah, my question is also on the tweet by Special Representative Khalilzad that more Americans were able to leave Afghanistan – not on any specific person, but if you could tell us approximately how many, and in general who these people were, any information that you could provide. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Cindy. So I can confirm that a flight did depart from Kabul, but all of that, we’ll have information for you later on offline.

Let’s go to Luis Martinez.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. It’s Luis Martinez with ABC News. My question has to do with, I think, the previous question. Can you provide any details about this flight? Was it a Qatari Airways flight? How many individuals? We’ve seen numbers have been – so many as 170 people aboard. And if you can’t talk about it right now, can you tell us in what format you will talk about it offline, as you indicated before? And what are the current numbers that you have for Americans and legal permanent residents who have been able to leave Afghanistan, either through overland routes or through aircraft? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I’ll start off by saying that the situation is very dynamic, and as we have more precise and specific details, we’ll be able to provide those. So excuse me, by mentioning the word “offline” I just mentioned to say that when we have those details we’ll be able to share them when they’re more precise and accurate and available.

Again, I think your first question was verifying the airline. So we can confirm that it was a Qatari Airlines flight, excuse me. And I’ll just underscore, while I have you, that we’ve said repeatedly in the context of Afghanistan that we will always provide accurate and timely information as we have it.

When it comes to the number of U.S. citizens as well as lawful permanent residents aboard the latest flight, we are going to cross-reference those individuals that we believe were on the plane when it departed Kabul International Airport.

To your other question concerning numbers, in total between the charter flights and the overland crossings that we’ve discussed, 36 U.S. citizens and 24 lawful permanent residents have departed Afghanistan with our assistance since August 31st of this year.

Let’s go to Francesco Fontemaggi.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday. I wanted to ask you about UNGA and Iran. Even if you guys haven’t previewed any direct contact with the Iranians while in New York, the President will be addressing the General Assembly virtually and the foreign minister will be there. Do you hope or do you expect to have a better sense at the end of next week about what are – what is the stance of the new Iranian Government towards saving the JCPOA? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, I can say broadly from here that our interests with Iran remain that a mutual return to compliance is in the United States’ national interest, and the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program as well as provide a platform for – to address its destabilizing conduct. And again, we – what we’re seeking is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.

When it comes to any specific engagement at UNGA, again, we don’t have anything to preview at this time.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering if State has any update on the flights out of Mazar-e-Sharif. Is there any movement on that front? How many green card holders and American citizens do you estimate are in the area? And then does the State Department support the current Afghan ambassador to the UN keeping that seat for UNGA with – given that the Ghani government has collapsed? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. To your second question, I would have to refer you to colleagues at the UN for their response. The first one we’re actually going to have to take back to the team.

Kristina Anderson, please.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I was wondering if there’s any update on the human rights group in Belarus that is calling for some action now to raise awareness about their members who have been arrested.

MS PORTER: Well, what I can say broadly from here is that this administration takes a high priority when it comes to human rights, and in fact, we’re centering it around our foreign policy. The United States stands strong in support of the Belarusian people’s aspiration for a democratic, prosperous future that is free and independent.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina, for the opportunity. I want to ask you about North Korea. North Korea’s state media today issued commentary accusing the United States of double standards over military activities, saying it – U.S. actively shields some countries while antagonizing others. Just to remind you, both South and North Korea test-fired ballistic missiles this week. The North Korean commentary also said unless the United States drops hostile policy on North Korea, negotiations are futile. So what is State Department’s reaction to the commentary from North Korea? And what can you tell us about the latest efforts to restart dialogue with North Korea? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, what I can say from here is that the United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, and we also call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.

Let’s take our final question from Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Okay. Jalina, thank you for doing this. I have two questions. First question: During a recent visit to South Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the relationship between South Korea and China is inseparable. At the same time, he reaffirmed his commitment to a strategic cooperation between South Korea and China. So what is the effect of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s gesture on the ROK-U.S. alliance?

Second question: Will the Secretary Blinken attend the UN General Assembly next week to discuss the North Korean nuclear and missile issue with his counter-partners? Thank you very much.

MS PORTER: Janne, if I still have you here, to answer your second question, again, we won’t get ahead of the UNGA meetings or preview anything about it from here.

I want to be sure I fully understand your first question, so if we still have you, do you mind re-asking it?

QUESTION: Hello?

MS PORTER: Yes. Can you re-ask your first question?

QUESTION: You want to – yeah, so do you want to repeat the first question or what?

MS PORTER: Yes, please repeat your first question.

QUESTION: Yes. During a recent visit to South Korea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the relationship between South Korea and China is inseparable. At the same time, he reaffirmed his commitment to a strategic cooperation partnership between South Korea and China. What is the effect of Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s gesture on the ROK-United States alliance? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Well, the – our relationship with the ROK is rock solid. That hasn’t changed. I’m not in a position to speak on hypotheticals, but what I will say is that our relationship with the ROK is – centers at the cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity, and is integral to a thriving Indo-Pacific region as well as around the world.

QUESTION: All right, thank you.

MS PORTER: That concludes today’s press briefing. Thank you all for joining. I hope you have a safe weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

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