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Department Press Briefing – December 13, 2021

10 min read

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

2:02 p.m. EST

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and happy Monday. Thank you for joining today’s daily press briefing. I have one update at the top, and then I will resume taking your questions.

As you all know, Secretary Blinken arrived in Jakarta today for the second leg of his trip that will also take him to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Honolulu. This comes off the heels of the Secretary’s first stop in Liverpool, where he attended the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting.

In Liverpool, we had productive discussions with our partners and allies on a range of issues, including geopolitical and security matters; the buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border; development infrastructure through the Build Back Better World, or B3W initiative; COVID-19 vaccines and global health security; and growth in the Indo-Pacific region.

His visits in Southeast Asia will further reaffirm our alliances and partnerships in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.

Earlier today, the Secretary met with the Indonesian president to discuss how the United States and Indonesia can work together to preserve security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, as well as thank him for Indonesia’s work on issues including the climate crisis and COVID-19.

While in Jakarta, the Secretary will meet with government officials, civil society leaders, business stakeholders, and U.S. embassy personnel and address these topics as well as other issues of mutual concern, including the ongoing crisis in Burma.

The Secretary will also deliver remarks on the significance of the Indo-Pacific region and underscore the importance of the U.S.-Indonesia Strategic Partnership.

We invite you to tune in tonight via state.gov to Secretary Blinken’s speech on the United States approach to the Indo Pacific at 9:30 Eastern. And I’ll just give it a few minutes for others to join the queue.

Let’s start things with Shaun Tandon, please.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran. Over the weekend, Iran’s chief negotiator said that there’s been progress in the talks in Vienna, saying that there has been agreement at least on the agenda. Can you give your assessment of where talks are? Do you similarly – you meaning the United States – see similarly an optimistic trend line with this?

And can I also ask you about something last week with India and Russia? India has signed on for a major military contract with Russia. Obviously, this invited sanctions with Turkey. Does the United States have any comment on India’s deliveries from Russia? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Shaun. I’m going to have to take that second question back to the team and get back to you on that.

But to your first question, I won’t preview any certain assessment, but Special Envoy Malley and, of course, his interagency delegation joined the talks just yesterday. But I will say is that our priority is the constructive resumption of these talks with all parties seeking to reach and implement a rapid and mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. It’s just too soon to tell whether Iran has returned to a more constructive approach at this moment.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hey, yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hey, thanks, Jalina. Can you confirm whether Assistant Secretary Donfried has arrived in Kyiv or Moscow yet? Do you have any more detailed readouts of who she’ll meet with on those stops and how the trip is going so far? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Hi, Jenny. Assistant Secretary Donfried is in Kyiv. I don’t have anything to preview, but you can expect that we will have a readout after both of her stops. And that’s all I can say from here.

Let’s go to Pearl Matibe, please.

QUESTION: Hello Jalina, and happy holidays in case I don’t get to speak to you before then. My question is on South Africa. Yesterday, Jalina, unfortunately, President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for COVID-19 after a funeral for Deputy President FW de Klerk in Cape Town, and so he is currently being treated for COVID-19. What I’m wondering is: Has Secretary Blinken – I know he’s on travel – had an opportunity to pick up the phone and call his counterpart, perhaps International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, to find out about President Ramaphosa’s health?

Traditionally, diplomacy has been from government to government, but following the travel restrictions I was wondering perhaps if the State Department is planning on some kind of direct interaction or some kind of show of compassion to the South African general public, as the president is not well at the moment.

MS PORTER: First of all, happy holidays to you, Pearl. I definitely appreciate your holiday cheer. When it comes to your question on the Secretary, I don’t have any calls to read out, but we certainly wish President Ramaphosa a speedy recovery. And again, we, from President Biden and those of us here at State Department, we, again, have been committed on fighting the COVID-19 virus. Of course, none of us are safe until all of us are safe, and we certainly, again, wish him a speedy recovery.

Let’s go to Eunjung Cho, please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. I have two questions. President Moon Jae-in said South Korea is not considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Will Seoul’s decision have any impact on U.S.-ROK alliance?

And my second question is: President Moon also said that U.S., China, and North Korea agreed on fundamental and principal levels to declare a formal end to the Korean War. President Moon added because North Korea is demanding withdrawal of the so-called “hostile policy,” the countries have not been able to enter talks. Do you agree with President Moon’s assessment of where things are with the end-of-war declaration negotiations?

MS PORTER: Thank you, Eunjung. So, I’m going to start with your second question, first. And what I’ll just say is that we remain committed to achieving a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK. And to that end, of course, we’ll seek to engage with the DPRK as a part of a calibrated and practical approach in order to make more tangible progress that increases the security of not only the United States but as well as our allies and our deployed forces.

We certainly have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. And we’re certainly prepared to meet without preconditions, and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach. We’ll continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners about the best way to engage with the DPRK.

To your first question, we have certainly consulted with our allies and partners about the best-informed decision, but I can’t speak for them at this time. And we’ve also made this decision based on the PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we’ve also consulted with and informed our allies and partners of this decision, and that’s how this process has worked.

Let’s go to Nadia Bilbassy, please.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you so much for taking my question. I want to ask you about Libya. There have been talks that the election might be postponed till January. Do you support a delay of the election? If you believe, if the administration believe that it will be the interest of fair and free election to get all the candidates in the right place and have international observers, or do you believe that it is time to have the election in December on time? Thank you so much.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Nadia. On the elections being delayed, I would just say that that’s not a decision for the United States to make. It’s clear that the Libyan people support elections, as demonstrated by the high voter registration numbers. So, we believe that Libyan leaders should work towards making that goal. But what I will say, too, is that United States supports holding peaceful elections and elections that are free and fair, of course, starting on December 24th, that will pave a way for a more stable future for Libya. We’ll also continue to work with Libyan institutions, such as the High National Elections Commission, to make sure that those elections will happen.

Let’s go to Conor Finnegan, please.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hey, yes, I can hear you.

QUESTION: Hey, Jalina. Hey, so just two questions. First, the UK announced that Anne Sacoolas will face criminal proceedings for the death of – excuse me, Harry Dunn, from her dangerous driving accident. Is there any response to that, any change in the U.S. refusal to extradite her? And then secondly, if you just would respond to the Taliban – their foreign minister told the AP that they want good relations with the U.S. and urge the release of frozen funds. Thanks.

MS PORTER: Conor, just so I understand your second question correctly – if we still have you on the line – are you referring to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund? If we can get Conor back on the line, please.

QUESTION: Hello?

OPERATOR: Mr. Finnegan, your line is now open again.

QUESTION: Hey, can you hear me now?

MS PORTER: Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: Hey, sorry. No, just the general – yes, the funds that have been frozen for the –that were for the former Afghan government that the Taliban have been calling on the U.S. Government to unfreeze.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Conor. So, to your first question, we don’t have anything new to announce at this time, and the second question we’ll just have to take back for you. Thanks.

Let’s go to Hiba Nasr this year.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for taking my question. I want to ask you about – I don’t know if somebody asked the question because I joined later. And the question is about the – what Washington Post reported earlier today about the Israeli, the airstrike in Syria that targeted chemical weapons operating on June 8th this year. First, are you aware of this report? Can you confirm it? And what’s the U.S. reaction since Syria denied that it was developing chemical weapons again?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Nadia. So, we’ve certainly seen reports of the airstrikes, but we – we’re not able to comment any further on that today. Thank you.

Let’s go to Christina Anderson, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Jalina. Season’s greetings. Thank you for taking my question. There’s – there are always concerns about security in the Baltic, but I wonder if in recent conversations the Secretary has had expressed to him any additional or more intense concerns about security in the Baltic region, Baltic Sea in particular. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Christina. So, we certainly care about the security of our NATO Allies, but I have nothing further to announce for you from here today.

Let’s go to Seong-min Lee.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you for taking my question. Can you tell me any update of appointing U.S. special envoy for North Korea human right and then U.S. ambassador to South Korea?

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Seong-min. We don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time today.

Let’s go to Janne Pak.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for doing this. I have a question about the Olympics in China. As you know, during a visit to Australia, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he’s not considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics and is concentrating on participating in the Chinese Olympics. What is the U.S. comment on this? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks for your question, Janne. What I would say is that the South Korean president’s decision on their participation in the Olympics is theirs to make. It’s not for the U.S. or any other government to make for themselves. I mean, of course, we made our own decision and we’ve consulted with our allies and partners before the White House announced our decision, and we stand based on that. And of course, anything else beyond that – of course we’re treating these games as business as usual, but of course, we’re doing this in the face of PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang. Thank you.

Let’s take our final question from Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Thank you, Jalina. I’m glad you’re taking my question. And happy holidays. I wanted to ask you if you have any comment on the completion of the iron fence around Gaza? It turns it into a real open-air prison. What is your comment on this? I mean, half of the population in Gaza are children, and to be incarcerated with iron walls and electric walls and all these things without any sort of exit or entry, I wonder if you have any comment on this or the – have you issued any statement on this? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Said. So, we have not issued a statement on this, but what I can say broadly speaking is that, of course, advancing equal measures of freedom and dignity is certainly important to the United States, and of course as a means to negotiating a two-state solution.

That concludes today’s daily press briefing. Thank you all for joining. I hope you have a great week ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

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