January 25, 2022

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Department Press Briefing – April 30, 2021

20 min read

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:00 p.m. EDT

(ON THE RECORD/OFF-CAMERA UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MS PORTER:  Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining this afternoon’s briefing.  I have one update at the top, and then we’ll start taking your questions.

Today, Secretary Blinken announced his travel to London, UK and Kyiv, Ukraine.  In London, May 3rd to 5th, the Secretary will attend the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting.  As the Secretary has said, wherever the rules for international security and the global economy are being written, America will be there to represent the interests of the American people.  The G7 is a crucial forum for that effort.

The Secretary is looking forward to discussing the democratic values that we share with our G7 partners and addressing key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic.  Tackling the COVID-19 and climate crisis will feature prominently on the agenda as well as advancing economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment.

While in London, the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab to discuss shared U.S.-UK priorities on various global issues and affirm the strong alliance between our countries.

The Secretary will then travel to Kyiv, May 5th through 6th.  There he’ll meet with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba as well as other officials and representatives of Ukrainian civil society.  He will reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.  He will also encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform and anti-corruption agenda, which is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic future.

Now with that, I’ll give it a few minutes for those who are still calling in, and then we’ll begin to take your questions.

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

QUESTION:  Thanks, Jalina.  Happy Friday, and thanks so much for doing this.  Two questions for you.  First on personnel, I know last night Ambassador Nuland was confirmed by the Senate to serve as Under Secretary for Political Affairs.  Just curious as to when she’s starting.  Was today her first day?  I know that on the public schedule it still indicated that Under Secretary Hale was on the job.

And then secondly on COVID restrictions and the travel of State Department personnel, I know that of course you have announced Secretary Blinken’s travel to Ukraine and the UK.  I’m just wondering – of course, he recently virtually traveled to the African continent.  I’m just wondering what kind of message the Department is sending when the Secretary is virtually traveling some places and others he’s actually physically traveling.  Is there a matrix or guidelines that you all are using to determine when the Secretary is virtually traveling?  I’m just kind of looking for some insight into how those decisions are made.  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  I will start with your second question first.  So, yes, as you noted, the Secretary has not only done virtual travel to Africa, but he’s done several virtual visits as well as some in-person visits.  And we’ll continue to underscore that the health and safety of State Department personnel – obviously with Secretary Blinken included in that – is our highest priority.  And when he’s traveling on these trips and when staff are accommodating him as well as members of the press corps, we are following stringent COVID protocols.

But when it comes to all of our visits, we consider that an accomplishment to everything we’re doing to advance diplomacy.  And everything that we’ve done in the first 100 days, including our climate summit that we participated in as well.  So I wouldn’t say that any one is more important than the other, but are continuing to make sure that when we do our visits, whether they’re in-person, that we are abiding by COVID restrictions, but we’re also making sure that we are engaging diplomatically virtually as well to make sure that we are upholding safety and security.

And when it comes to your question on Ambassador Nuland, we don’t have any other personnel announcements.  Other than that, we are very excited for her to join us here at the State Department, but we don’t have anything to announce as far as her first day on the job.

Let’s go to the line of Jiha Ham.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  My question is about the policy review on North Korea.  It looks like you have completed the review.  Could you tell us whether you are going to formally announce and share the details of this new policy?  Also, about a month ago, we learned that the U.S. reached out to the North Korean Government through several channels in February.  I’m wondering if you have tried to reach out again and share this new policy.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thanks for your question.  When it comes to specifics of the policy, I won’t be previewing any of that from here, but what I will say is that – to confirm that we have completed our DPRK policy review which was thorough, rigorous, and inclusive as well.  And we have consulted closely with not only outside experts, but our predecessors from several previous administrations.  And our way forward simply draws from their lessons learned and shared.  I’ll just continue to underscore that our ultimate goal remains clear, and that is complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Go to the line of Simon Ateba.

QUESTION:  Simon Ateba for Today’s News Africa in Washington, D.C.  Thank you for taking my question.  And it’s almost a follow-up to the previous question, if Africa is really a priority for the Biden administration.  We know that the Secretary of State just had a virtual trip to Africa, and Africa has the lowest infection and dead – COVID-19 dead.  So I was wondering why he chose to travel virtually in Africa, and then travel in person to Europe.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your question.  I’d love to reiterate that Africa is absolutely a priority the Biden administration and certainly a priority for Secretary Blinken.  And as you noted well, he met with President Kenyatta as well as President Buhari, and he also wanted to make sure that he met with Africa’s youth from the Young African Leaders Initiative across the continent.  And obviously, this demographic certainly represents a cohort of Africa’s population, a large cohort that is, and it’s a very dynamic population as well.  And again, as we’ve engaged early on in this administration with our African partners, you also probably remember that President Biden has addressed on occasion the African Union Summit as well.

So we’re continuing to make sure that we engage – not only engage regularly and openly, but consistently with our partners, because we do have shared interests and shared values.  And of course, again, I’ll continue to underscore that Africa is certainly a priority for the Biden administration.

Let’s go to the line of Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION:  Hi Jalina, thanks for doing this.  On India, I was wondering if you had any additional details on the authorized departure for family members of the mission there, and whether the State Department will be providing charters or if they’re expected to rely on commercial options.  Is the State Department considering chartering any flights for American citizens who are looking to leave that country?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thanks, Jen.  I don’t have anything to announce or update at this time when it comes to authorized departures in India.

Let’s go to the line of Rosiland Jordan, please.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Happy Friday.  First, a housekeeping question:  Will there be any briefings here in Washington next week, either in person or on the phone?  Then a policy question:  Is there a department reaction to the decision to postpone the elections in the Palestinian territories?  Thanks.

MS PORTER:  Well, I’ll just reach your second question.  Thank you, Rosiland.  As we’ve said before, obviously, the exercise of democratic elections matter for the Palestinian people, and it’s a matter for them to determine as well as their leadership to determine as well.  But we also encourage all parties to remain calm in the process.

As far as just housekeeping, we definitely regularly host our Friday briefings telephonically, so we’ll have that.  And we will brief next week telephonically where I’ll be happy to let you know offline what days those will be as well.

Let’s go to the line of Said Arikat.

QUESTION:  Jalina, thank you for taking my question.  Can you hear me?  Hello?

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Just to follow up on Rosiland – on Ros’ question on the election.  Now, look, Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote is something that the United States basically ironed out and helped work out – the Clinton administration, then the Bush administration.  So why can’t you call on the Israelis to allow Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote, as the Bush administration had and so on, as the European Union?  Because that definitely will be (inaudible).  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thank you, Said.  Well, I certainly don’t want to comment on the posture of previous administrations and their decisions, but I’d be happy to repeat again that the democratic process and the composition of the democratic elections – excuse me – is a matter for the Palestinian people, and it’s a matter of their leadership to determine.

Let’s go to the line of Mouhamed Elahmed.

OPERATOR:  Mouhamed, your line is open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  Thanks, Jalina.  I have a question about Afghanistan.  The Taliban spokesperson posted a Tweet a couple of minutes ago in which he said that a delegation of Taliban participated in expanded Troika meeting in Doha, and that the meeting was attended by the Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as officials from Russia, China, and Pakistan.  My question is:  Do you have any readout that you could share about this meeting?  And how would this meeting add to the efforts for the preparation of the Istanbul Conference?

And also on Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, how long does he plan to stay in the region, whether he’s going to – is he going to stay in the region till the upcoming Istanbul conference?  Thank you so much.

MS PORTER:  Thank you for your questions.  As far as the meeting, we don’t have a readout for that at this time.  But when it comes to the Istanbul conference, of course, we’ve seen the announcement that the conference is being postponed, and of course, we’re looking forward to a later date.  But as far as the specific details, I would just have to refer you to the organizers of the conference – obviously, the governments of Turkey and Qatar and the UN – for any additional details.

Let’s go to the line of Henry Kohn.

QUESTION:  Hi, this is Henry Kohn of Today News Africa.  Thank you for taking my question.  So subsequent to the Secretary’s calls with the foreign ministers of Morocco and Algeria, I’d like to ask how – what is the U.S.’s approach to promoting security and economic prosperity in North Africa, and is this, in the Biden administration’s view, different than the previous administration?

And then secondly, in the readout of the Secretary’s call with the Moroccan foreign minister, it says that the Secretary encouraged Morocco to reaffirm its commitment to protecting and promoting human rights.  And my question is: What specifically in terms of human rights in Morocco is the U.S. concerned about, and was Western Sahara brought up in this conversation?  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  So when it comes to Western Sahara, we are consulting privately with parties on how to best halt the violence there.  There is nothing specific to read out and what you just mentioned, but we would also talk about having the goal to achieve a lasting settlement.  Anything beyond that, I don’t have anything further to announce at this time.

Let’s go to the line of Luis Rojas.

QUESTION:  Hi, Jalina.  Can you hear me?

MS PORTER:  Yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION:  Thank you, thank you, and Happy Friday.  Next Monday is World Press Freedom Day.  Secretary Blinken has spoken of the United States working to expand access to information for the people of Venezuela, so community journalist projects.  Can you explain what is this project on, what is the point of priority of the United States in these points?

Second, (inaudible) in hunger strike ask for Cuba Government to respect his rights and return his (inaudible).  Any comment from the United States Government on this situation?  Thank you.

Hello?

MS PORTER:  Hi.  Yes, some of your question cut out, but I think you started the question by touching on World Press Freedom Day.  Of course, the United States supports a free and open press and democratic society, that we know that when journalists and the media are able to do their job, they are able to not only inform the public, but they’re able to expose corruption and human rights abuses.  And of course, the United States stands firm in holding human rights abusers accountable so that whether that’s in Venezuela or whether that’s anywhere else in the world.

But I think specifically when it comes to Venezuela, we’ll just reiterate that we stand with the people of Venezuela as they continue to struggle for democracy and rule of law.  And we also are committed to working with our Venezuelan as well as international partners to foster an environment where all Venezuelans can have a peaceful course during their current crisis.

Let’s go to the line of Tejinder Singh..

OPERATOR:  Tejinder Singh, your line is open.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I have just two short questions.  One is:  We are sending these planeloads of material to India.  But our journalist in Delhi is reporting that even after trying for two days he’s been unable to find out who is taking away the oxygen concentration, medicines, or how much is arriving.  There’s no website or transparent system where people can apply to get this.  So this accountability for the U.S. taxpayers’ money being sent, is there anything being done to check on how it is being distributed, the aid that we are sending?

MS PORTER:  Well, we certainly want to assure our partners in India that not only are we committed to supporting them in this time of crisis, but help is there right now and additional help is on the way, and obviously that would include an array of supplies, including our oxygen – oxygen cylinders, regulators, and pulse oximeters, as well as N95 masks to make sure that we’re protecting India’s frontline health care workers.

As far as a specific website when it comes to tracking, we have nothing to read out or announce at this time.  But rest assured that the United States is committed to making sure that our partners in India are taken care of in this crisis.

We’ll take one last question from Rich Edson.

QUESTION:  Real quick.  Just wondering if you can confirm or comment this report that just came out from CNN that on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the Biden administration is going to restrict travel from India starting May 4th, which would be next week.  Thank you.

MS PORTER:  Thanks for the question, Rich.  We have nothing to announce on that.  And I’d have to refer you to the White House for any other questions.

Thank you all for joining this afternoon.  That concludes this afternoon’s briefing.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)

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  • Sexual Harassment: NNSA Could Improve Prevention and Response Efforts in Its Nuclear Security Forces
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—within the Department of Energy (DOE)—and its contractors may have limited information on the prevalence of sexual harassment within the nuclear security forces. NNSA's nuclear security forces include federal agents in NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation (OST), which is responsible for transporting nuclear materials, and contracted guard forces at four of its sites. Federal officials at NNSA and contractor representatives at four NNSA sites that process weapons-usable nuclear material reported very few cases of sexual harassment from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Research shows that the least common response to harassment is to report it or file a complaint. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—which enforces federal laws prohibiting harassment—suggests organizations survey employees to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem in their organization. NNSA does not survey employees on this topic, nor does NNSA call for such surveys in its contracts for security forces. Because NNSA relies solely on reported incidents, it may not have full knowledge into the nature or extent of sexual harassment in OST or by its contractors at its sites. Surveying employees would better position them to identify actions to effectively prevent and respond to harassment. To varying degrees, NNSA and its contractors follow EEOC's recommended practices to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in their nuclear security forces. For example, with respect to recommended training practices, NNSA and its contractors provide antiharassment training to all employees, but only one force offers workplace-specific training that addresses sexual harassment risk factors relevant to the security forces. Because NNSA has not formally reviewed EEOC's practices and considered which to adopt for its nuclear security forces, or made similar considerations for its security force contractors, the agency may be missing opportunities to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. Selected EEOC Practices for Effective Training to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Harassment and Number of NNSA's Nuclear Security Forces That Reflect Those Practices in Training EEOC Promising Practice Number of forces that reflect the practice Provided to employees at every level and location of the organization 5 of 5 Tailored to the specific workplace and workforce 1 of 5 Explains the complaint process, as well as any voluntary alternative dispute resolution processes 2 of 5 Explains the range of possible consequences for engaging in prohibited conduct 1 of 5 Source: GAO comparison of National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and protective force contractor information with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) November 2017 Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment . | GAO-21-307 EEOC has found that NNSA and DOE do not meet all EEOC requirements relevant to preventing and responding to sexual harassment. For example, NNSA does not have an antiharassment program or a compliant antiharassment policy. According to EEOC officials, NNSA and DOE efforts to date have improved some aspects of their EEO programs, but because the agencies have not fully implemented their plans to address deficiencies identified by EEOC, DOE and NNSA may be missing opportunities to establish and maintain effective programs that include protection from and response to sexual harassment. Why GAO Did This Study Federal law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Besides being harmful to those harassed, sexual harassment can decrease organizational performance and increase turnover. In January 2019, public allegations of sexual harassment in NNSA's nuclear security forces drew attention to this issue. House Report 116-120 provided that GAO review sexual harassment in NNSA's nuclear security force. This report examines (1) what NNSA and its contractors know about the prevalence of sexual harassment in their nuclear security forces, (2) the extent to which NNSA and its contractors implement EEOC recommendations to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, and (3) the extent to which EEOC found that NNSA and DOE meet its requirements relevant to sexual harassment. GAO reviewed information on sexual harassment and programs to address such harassment at DOE and NNSA from fiscal years 2015 through 2020. GAO analyzed documents and data, conducted a literature review, interviewed NNSA officials, and compared NNSA and contractor actions with EEOC-recommended practices for preventing harassment.
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    In Justice News
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  • Two Individuals Charged in Hawaii Tax Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in Honolulu, Hawaii, returned a 15-count indictment charging two individuals with conspiring to defraud the United States, filing false tax returns and money laundering.
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  • VA Health Care: VA Needs to Continue to Strengthen Its Oversight of Quality of State Veterans Homes
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays over $1 billion a year to state veterans homes (SVH)—homes owned and operated by the states—to provide nursing home care to approximately 20,000 veterans. In fiscal year 2019, VA paid SVHs $1.17 billion for an average daily census of 20,072 veterans (51 percent of the total veterans receiving nursing home care through VA). Further, VA projects its payments to SVHs will continue to increase; VA projects it will pay $1.7 billion to SVHs to provide care to veterans in fiscal year 2022. VA oversees the quality of care veterans receive at SVHs mainly through annual inspections that VA hires a contractor to perform. In its July 2019 report, GAO found that VA's SVH contractor performed the required annual inspections for all SVHs in 2018, but VA needed to take action to enhance its oversight of SVHs and to ensure that information on quality of care provided in this setting is publicly available to veterans. Specifically, GAO found the following: VA does not require its SVH contractor to identify all failures to meet quality standards during its inspections as deficiencies . For example, GAO found that VA allows its SVH contractor to cite some failures to meet quality standards as “recommendations,” rather than as deficiencies. VA officials said they do not track or monitor the nature of the recommendations or whether they have been addressed. As a result, VA does not have complete information on all failures to meet quality standards at SVHs and cannot track this information to identify trends in quality across these homes. VA is not conducting all monitoring of its SVH contractor. GAO found that, at the time of its review, VA had not monitored the SVH contractor's performance of inspections through regular observational assessments to ensure that contractor staff effectively determine whether SVHs are meeting required standards. Specifically, VA officials said they intended to observe the SVH contractor's inspections on a quarterly basis; however, at the time of GAO's review, VA officials could not recall when VA last observed the SVH contractor's inspections. In July 2020, VA provided information indicating that they will regularly monitor the SVH contractor's performance in conducting inspections through observational assessments. VA does not share information on the quality of SVHs on its website. GAO found that, while VA provides information on the quality of other nursing home care settings on its website, it does not do so for SVHs. According to VA officials, there is no requirement to provide information on SVH quality on its website, as SVHs are owned and operated by the states. VA is the only federal agency that conducts regular oversight inspection on the quality of care of all SVHs and, as a result, is the only agency that could share such quality information on its website. Veterans—like over a million other Americans—rely on nursing home care to help meet their health needs. For eligible veterans whose health needs require skilled nursing and personal care, VA provides or pays for nursing home care in three nursing home settings: the VA-owned and -operated community living centers, public- or privately owned community nursing homes, and state-owned and -operated SVHs. In fiscal year 2019, VA provided or paid for nursing home care for over 39,000 veterans. The majority of these veterans received care at SVHs. This statement summarizes the GAO's July 2019 report, GAO-19-428 , with a focus on issues related to SVHs. Specifically, it describes the: (1) use of and expenditures for SVHs, (2) inspections used by VA to assess the quality of SVH care and VA's oversight of the inspection process, and (3) information VA provides publicly on the quality of SVH care. As part of that work GAO analyzed VA data on expenditures for SVHs and interviewed VA officials. For this statement GAO reviewed expenditure and utilization data for fiscal year 2019. In its July 2019 report, GAO made three recommendations related to SVHs, including that VA require that all failures to meet quality standards are cited as deficiencies on SVH inspections. VA concurred with two recommendations and concurred in principle with the third. VA has addressed one recommendation and continued attention is needed to address the two remaining recommendations. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.
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  • Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale Addresses the International Coalition for the Sahel Ministerial
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Justice Department Settles Claims Against Toms River, New Jersey Over Zoning Code That Restricts Houses of Worship
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today announced an agreement with the Township of Toms River, New Jersey, to resolve allegations that the Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by severely restricting where houses of worship can locate within its jurisdiction.
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  • Mortality in Local Jails, 2000-2018 – Statistical Tables
    In Justice News
    (Publication)
    This report presents detailed statistical tables on mortality in local jails. It provides information on cause of death; decedent characteristics, and mortality rates of inmate populations.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Judiciary Urges Dialogue on Electronic Case Files Bills, Seeks Delay in Action
    In U.S Courts
    The Judiciary sent letters to Congress this week urging lawmakers to defer action on pending bills affecting the federal courts’ electronic records management system until a “meaningful two-way dialogue” between the two branches of government can take place to resolve important concerns.
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