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Department Press Briefing – March 18, 2022

14 min read

Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson

Washington, D.C.

MS PORTER: Good afternoon and Happy Friday, everyone. Thank you for joining today’s daily press briefing. I have one update at the top and then I will start with taking your questions.

Let me first start off with dispelling some recent false news. There is wide reporting that there were three U.S. soldiers who were killed in Donbas, which is patently false and a deliberate fabrication. There are no U.S. soldiers in Ukraine. The imagery used is – on this false reporting is from 2018, and those depicted in the picture returned safely to their home the next year in 2019. They are accounted for, safe, and not, as the article erroneously states, U.S. mercenaries killed in Donetsk.

As the Secretary said yesterday in reference to Putin’s war of choice, those responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine will be held to account. The Kremlin’s heinous acts against Ukraine affects us all, and they strike at the core of our common humanity. This is why we will continue to work in conjunction with the international efforts to investigate and document war crimes and bring all those responsible to justice. Moscow attempts to deny responsibility by telling the world that Ukraine is purposely targeting its own civilians. This is nonsense and reveals the depths of Moscow’s cynicism and contempt for the truth.

We see new and heartbreaking images every day of Ukraine’s schools, homes, hospitals, bread lines, and civilians, including children, being hit by the Russian Federation’s missiles and shelling. The senseless death and destruction are escalating from Putin’s brutal war of choice. As the Secretary has said, reports that the Russian Federation is intentionally targeting civilians are very credible. Targeting civilians is considered a war crime.

Yesterday you heard the Secretary confirm the death of an American citizen in Ukraine. We send our most heartfelt condolences to his loved ones, and we also reiterate while we all feel this loss, we know that every loss, every victim of the Kremlin’s senseless aggression, leaves every family heartbroken and those loved ones heartbroken as well.

The Kremlin’s cold-blooded tactics and utter disregard for human life are appalling. International organizations are unable to deliver humanitarian aid to those in Mariupol. According to one humanitarian organization, without aid, the people in Mariupol are being suffocated. These are just the latest examples of the Kremlin’s disregard for human life.

The Kremlin has a long track record of accusing the West of being – of very horrific acts to (inaudible) it is actually perpetrating. Over the past months, we’ve seen the Kremlin intensify this tactic in an obvious ploy to justify Putin’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attacks on Ukraine. We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use chemical or biological weapons and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attack on civilians. Creating a false narrative to justify escalatory use of military force is yet another Kremlin tactic.

The world is watching, and we are documenting everything we see. We’re supporting a range of mechanisms to document and pursue accountability for potential war crimes as well as other atrocities in Ukraine. This includes efforts by Ukraine’s authorities, international accountability mechanisms, and the important work of human rights defenders in Ukraine. We’ve long said that if Putin invades Ukraine, we would help Ukraine defend itself and uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity while imposing costs on the aggressor, the Russian Federation, as well as all its enablers.

Let me also take a minute to address the people of Russia. You are not our enemy. We know you did not choose this war. You have a right to know about the human costs of this war, not just about the deaths of Ukrainians, but also of your own sons who are dying needlessly by the thousands. We and our allies and partners will continue working to keep civilians safe, respond to the needs of refugees and those displaced inside Ukraine, and provide critical life-saving supplies. Through it all, we have not lost sight on who is responsible. We’re holding Vladimir Putin and his enablers accountable.

We call for an immediate end to this senseless war and the growing human suffering it’s influencing every single day. We stand with the people of Ukraine and we stand with Ukraine.

Let’s take our first question from Said Arikat, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Before asking your question, please wait until your line is addressed. Said, your line is open.

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

MS PORTER: Yes, Said. I can —

QUESTION: Yeah – hi, Jalina. Thank you for doing this. Very quickly, not pertaining to Ukraine or Russia, I wanted to ask a question about the Palestinian-Israeli issue, if I may, very quickly, statements that were made by Ambassador Nides. He said that – when he talks about equality, he gave a lengthy interview, although he spoke before the Peace Now movement in Israel and talked that – suggested that equality means, like, G4 technology, maybe some improvement in the economic situation for the Palestinians. Did not really speak about the state of (inaudible). He did condemn the settlements, or he spoke very negatively of the settlements and said that there were obstacles to any prospect of the two-state solution. My question to you: Is that the position? And why – how do you explain what he said about that he is not able to undo any single settlement? Is the United States not able to undo the settlements? Thank you, Jalina.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Said. I’ll start off by first saying that Ambassador Nides couldn’t have been any more clear that the Biden-Harris administration believes that there should be a viable and democratic Palestinian state living in peace alongside a Jewish and democratic state. We believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the administration has also made clear on numerous occasions that Israelis and Palestinians alike equally deserve to live in security, prosperity, and freedom.

On equality, we’ve said this before that advancing equal measures of freedom and dignity is important in its own right and as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution. We’ll continue to focus our efforts on an affirmative and practical approach that is constructive, positive steps that help us keep the possibility of a negotiated two state solution alive.

Let’s go to Endale Getahun.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Endale, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much. Good morning. My name is Endale, and I thank you for taking my question, Deputy Spokesperson Porter. It’s my first time asking you since I’ve been covering this office for – since 1998, and I’m so glad to ask you a question. I would like to ask a question regarding, as you know, today, the 500 days of the decision and war taken place at the East Africa in Ethiopia and Tigray region.

As you know, this morning there were – demonstrating in front of your office from Tigrayan Americans and others. What is your response on the situation, especially as you just gave a statement right now about Ukraine within 26 days now that the United States Government has taken a very swift action on Russia? But when it comes to the African – most Africans are concerned about the – action was taken by the United States is – only seems to be lip service by saying only: we’re concerned, we’re concerned. So what is your response to that regarding the situation in Tigray?

As you speak, also, your ambassador’s also visited the Amhara region just past week. But in the response to the concern they have regarding – the support that was given to Ukraine is kind of swift, but when it comes to the Africans, to the black Africans, (inaudible) are very – was asking – the action was taken by the Secretary himself to call it genocide. What’s your response on that regarding – especially with the African concern regarding – some like I can refer by locally, there wasn’t – doesn’t say this morning – referring to no African life matter. Because if they’re Ukraine are Europeans, but the African continent, the Tigray regions, especially today that are 500 days since the siege. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Endale. Let me just first start off by saying that the United States, the Biden-Harris administration as well as our Secretary, first and foremost values all African lives, black Africans just as much as they do the lives of Ukrainians who are experiencing a war right now.

I would also say, at the same time, these are two separate situations, and I wouldn’t want to conflate either one of them. But we certainly have a high regard and are certainly concerned about what’s going on in Tigray.

I would also say that the United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, as well as the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and seeks peace and stability in Ethiopia to build on the longstanding, strong partnerships that we have been our governments, and that we have between our peoples.

I would also note that, again, in echoing the fact that the Biden-Harris administration is very firm on putting human rights in the center of our foreign policy, that the United States has consistently called out human rights abuses by all armed actors in this conflict, and we will continue doing so. We also believe that victims of these abuses deserve justice, and those responsible must be held accountable through a transparent and inclusive process.

Now, when it comes to the conflict and the length of time that you mentioned, again, we are not letting our foot off the gas on this. We definitely call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, as well as unhindered humanitarian access, transparent investigations into human rights abuses, and we certainly seek a resolution to this conflict in Ethiopia.

Let’s please go to Kristina Anderson.

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

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for taking my question. I’m wondering if you would like to speak to any updates regarding the tensions in the Indo-Pacific, and what that might mean looking forward. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Hi, Kristina. If we have you still on the line, can you be a little bit more explicit on what you mean by tensions in the Indo-Pacific?

QUESTION: Yes, along the border between China and India, as well as Taiwan, and the concerns that Japan has had, also, about Chinese aggression in the straits there, and overflights. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you. As far as your first question, on the first dispute, we don’t have anything when it comes to Taiwan. I would just reiterate what we have shared before and that our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region.

I think, as you well know, we are definitely committed to the Indo-Pacific as a region. Of course, as President Biden has said time and time over, that America is a part of that region, and we are certainly committed to strengthening ties, as is outlined in our Indo-Pacific Strategy, which I would be happy to refer you to the White House for that document.

Let’s go to Simon Lewis, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Simon, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. I hope you’re having a good Friday. I just wanted to follow up on something that Secretary Blinken said yesterday in his remarks to the press, and in light of the call this morning between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Secretary Blinken said that one of the messages that was being passed to the Chinese is the U.S. will not hesitate to impose costs on Beijing if they are supporting – if they are supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine. So I wondered if you could sort of lay out for us a little bit – in a little bit more detail, is there a specific red line or specific action by the Chinese that you’re looking for that would trigger those costs? And would those costs include sanctions of the kind that we’ve seen against Russia? What kind of sanctions would that be? Thanks.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Simon. I’ll let the Secretary’s remarks speak for themselves, and I wouldn’t want to get into any hypotheticals, and we certainly don’t preview sanctions. But again, what we have done is we’ve encouraged our allies and partners in the international community to band together to condemn this senseless war that Russia has gotten itself into. Anything outside of that, I have nothing else to share at this time.

Let’s go to Camilla Schick, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Camilla, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Also following up on something that the Secretary said yesterday, he said we believe Russia will bring its mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries to Ukraine, so he’s using the future tense there. Today we also had General McKenzie mention that there’s little evidence of Russia recruiting from Syria, foreign fighters from Syria. So I was wondering if you could comment on the timeframe that the Secretary was referring to, whether he was referring to something that’s going to happen soon, and whether you could give any more detail on what makes the State Department believe that the Russians will indeed be recruiting mercenaries from places like the Middle East. Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Camilla. To your question about a timeline, I’m certainly not able to predict or share a timeline in reference to the Secretary’s remarks yesterday, but what I will say is that we have been consistent from day one, before this war started, in calling out what Russia’s playbook – their playbook and ploys, and unfortunately we’ve been proven right on what they’ve been doing. Outside of that, I don’t have any more to share.

Let’s go to Rosiland Jordan, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Rosiland, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Happy Friday.

MS PORTER: Happy Friday.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on the recent meetings between U.S. and Venezuelan officials. Have there been any additional contacts, discussions on – have there been any progress – has there been any progress on getting the rest of the Americans released from Venezuelan custody? And is there any progress on discussions about accessing Venezuelan oil for the U.S. market? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Ros. I’ll start off by saying that U.S. officials’ visit to Venezuela focused on securing the release of the U.S. wrongful detainees, and urging the Maduro regime to return to the negotiating table in Mexico with the democratic opposition, the Unitary Platform, to restore democracy in Venezuela.

The visit also reinforced the U.S.’s support for Interim President Juan Guaidó’s call for a negotiated solution through the Mexico process.

Let’s go to Guita Aryan.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Guita, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Jalina. I have a question about the nuclear talks with Iran. The U.S. is saying that it is waiting for these political decisions by Iran, and Iran is basically saying the same thing, that the ball is in the U.S. court. I was wondering if, here in D.C., there’s any discussion going on with regards to a possible deal, the deal itself, and what’s involved in it. Or the U.S. has kind of closed the case and is just waiting to hear from Iran? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thank you, Guita. Well, I certainly wouldn’t make the assessment that this is a closed case for the U.S. I’ll say that Special Envoy Malley and his interagency delegation are in Washington and they’re actively still working on these issues. Of course, there are a number of complex negotiations and we continue to work through them, and there are a number of difficult ones at that that I won’t be able to preview from here. Outside of that, I don’t have any further information to share about their schedule moving forward.

Let’s go to Jenny Hansler, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Jennifer, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks, Jalina. Do you have any updates on Brittney Griner’s case? Has she been granted consular access yet? And does the U.S. see the extension of her detention as retaliation for sanctions that were placed on Russia for its war on Ukraine? Thank you.

MS PORTER: Thanks, Jenny. What I’ll say from here is that we are closely engaged on this case and are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team. And we’ve actually said this many times before, but we have no higher priority than the safety and security and health of the – of our U.S. citizens. Whenever a U.S. citizen is arrested overseas, we provide all appropriate consular services and we take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously. And we consistently press for fair and transparent treatment.

Let’s go to Paul Handley, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Paul, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, I had the same question, but – on Brittney Griner. I’m wondering if you can tell us what you know of her condition and why we aren’t getting more information about her. What is the problem there?

MS PORTER: Thank you for the question. Well, we don’t have too much on those specifics at this time, but what I will say is that Embassy Moscow continues to press, thus far unsuccessfully so, for consular access under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral consular convention to U.S. detainees in Russia. For all detainees, and that includes Ms. Griner, we’re deeply concerned about our inability to access any of these U.S. citizens in recent months.

Let’s take a final question from Eunjung Cho, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Eunjung, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Can you hear me?

MS PORTER: Hi, Eunjung. I can hear you.

QUESTION: Great, great. So I have a North Korea question. North Korea is escalating its missile provocations starting with short-range missiles in the – earlier in the year to ICBM range in recent weeks. Are the U.S. efforts also intensifying proportionately, whether it be pressure or diplomacy? And is it North Korea’s miscalculation that the war in Ukraine presents an opportunity for North Korea to pursue its weapons development?

MS PORTER: Thanks, Eunjung. So as we have said before and North Korean officials including Kim Jong-un have publicly noted, we seek to – continue to seek diplomacy and we’re prepared to meet without preconditions. President Biden himself has also made clear that he’s open to meeting with Kim Jong-un where there is a serious agreement on the table which we need to be on the basis of working-level negotiations, because as we’ve seen in the past administrations, leader-level summits alone are no guarantee of progress. The DPRK continues to not respond.

And the DPRK’s decision to pursue escalating tests of ballistic missiles risks raising tensions, and they are destabilizing to the Indo-Pacific. And, of course, while the door remains open to diplomacy, the United States will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and that of our allies.

Thank you for joining today’s daily press briefing. I hope you have a good weekend ahead.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:34 p.m.)

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