December 4, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Foreign Affairs Raychelle Omamo at a Joint Press Availability

35 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Nairobi, Kenya

Serena Hotel

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, from various media houses. We are delighted to welcome you to this press conference.  My name is Raychelle Omamo.  I am the cabinet secretary for foreign affairs of the Republic of Kenya, and I’m delighted to be sharing this platform with my dear friend and colleague, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, His Excellency Antony Blinken.  I wish to reiterate our warm words of welcome to the very strong delegation that you traveled with, Excellency, and to say how privileged and joyous it was for us to engage with you today.

Members of the press, I wish to affirm two things.  First, that the United States and the Republic of Kenya have a very special relationship, a unique relationship, a relationship that dates back very many years.  The whole object of this visit – and this is my second point – is to rejuvenate, is to reaffirm, is to deepen this very special relationship.  And I thank you for choosing Kenya as your first port of call as you begin your maiden visit as Secretary of State to our wonderful continent.  Thank you for affirming Kenya’s salience in the foreign policy of the United States and for affirming and reassuring us of the strength of this friendship.

Secretary Blinken has had a very busy day already.  He has this morning held excellent talks with His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta on a variety of issues.  We have just concluded a ministerial meeting, the second one of the U.S. Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, which I co-hosted with my colleague.  We discussed a variety of issues of common concern, whether it was COVID-19 recovery, and the support that we have received from the United States of America, especially the large consignment of vaccine donations that we have recently received.  And we also recalled the very, very strong relationship that the United States has with Kenya’s health sector in so many variety of areas.  We discussed multilateral cooperation, especially within the context of the United Nations Security Council.

We also touched on the pressing regional issues in our region and on our continent.  We looked at the ways in which we could invigorate trade and investment.  We touched on peacekeeping, the huge mandate that is required on our continent.  And we also touched on environment and climate issues which are very dear to the United States of America and also to Kenya.  We hope that this will be the beginning of many more engagements.  We’ve already had engagements by telephone, on the video – on the virtual platforms.  We now have face – actually today, now it’s a mask – face to face.  We’ve had mask to mask, face to face engagements, and we hope that we’ll be able to have many more of this – these engagements as we think about building back better, as we think about reshaping our relationship to contend with the challenges of the day, and affirming that when you hold hands with your brother or your sister, you can move mountains and you can walk great distances for the betterment of humanity.

I would now like to give the floor to my dear brother for you to make some comments, and then thereafter, we’ll take one or two questions from the press.  I thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you so much, Cabinet Secretary Omamo, Raychelle, sister.  It is – it’s wonderful to be with you and thank you for what’s already been an extremely productive day.  This is my first in-person trip to Kenya as Secretary of State.  I’ve had the great pleasure of being here a number of times before, but I’m especially pleased to be here now.  We actually did our first virtual visit to Africa earlier this year, including Kenya, but nothing beats being here in person.

General Kenyatta once said that our children may learn about the heroes of the past; our task is to make ourselves the architects of the future.  That’s exactly what we’re working on.  For decades, Kenya and the United States have worked together to build that future, and today, our governments are partners on virtually every critical issue we face both through our bilateral relationship but also the work we’re doing regionally and through institutions like the United Nations Security Council, where Kenya is serving a two-year term and held the presidency very productively last month.

Beyond our governments, our countries are deeply, deeply connected – business ties, partnerships between our civil societies, family and cultural ties going back generations.  Tens of thousands of people in the United States very proudly claim their Kenyan heritage, including my former boss, President Obama.  Before the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Americans traveled here every year to experience Kenya’s hospitality for themselves, and they will again.  A few weeks ago, we Americans cheered for the two amazing Kenyan runners who won the marathon in my hometown, New York City, something that we often do because Kenyans win a lot.

In short, the friendship between our countries is strong, and it’s not only good for our two countries, but for the region, and I’d argue for the world, and that goes to some of the things that not only did we talk about today but that we’re working on together every day.  And let me just briefly touch on a few of them.

First, on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working to accelerate the global vaccine effort because – as we’ve said repeatedly and we say it repeatedly because it is fundamentally true – no country, no region will be safe until we stop the pandemic everywhere.  As long as the virus is replicating, it’s likely to be mutating, and as long as it’s mutating, it may well come back and defeat some of the vaccines that are so effective and that we put in place.  So we have to continue to make every possible effort to get ahead of this.  That was a major theme of the COVID ministerial that we hosted last week, and I want to thank the cabinet secretary for her very strong participation in that meeting.

We’re working with the African Union, with the African CDC, with COVAX to make COVID-19 vaccines available across the continent.  We’ve provided more than 50 million doses to 43 African countries to date, including, indeed, close to four million doses here in Kenya.  We’ve also given more than $1.9 billion in COVID-related assistance across Africa to help meet health and humanitarian needs, including $76 million to Kenya.  And we’ve done this with no political strings attached.  This is about saving lives.  That is the only metric that matters.

I’m here today with someone well known to many Kenyans and many friends throughout the continent, Gayle Smith, our coordinator for global COVID response and health security, to herald another step that we’re taking in the fight against COVID, and that’s something called the glovid – the Global, excuse me, COVID Corps, a new public-private partnership.  What we found is the so-called last mile challenges, including delivery and logistical hurdles, can make it difficult to turn vaccines into vaccinations – in other words, actually getting shots into arms.  And through this Global COVID Corps, private sector companies will work pro bono to help countries overcome these last mile obstacles.  And we’re very pleased to welcome Kenya’s participation as the first country to partner with the Global COVID Corps.  They’ll begin with an assessment of any gaps that are hindering vaccination efforts and then help address them, but also, critically, help build capacity here that lasts well beyond the engagement of the COVID Corps.

Second, on clean energy, Kenya is a model of investment and renewable energy which now provides 90 percent of this country’s power, and Kenya’s one of the few countries worldwide that has set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.  That’s leadership, and leadership that, as I told the cabinet secretary and President Kenyatta, we like to be able to brag on around the world because it sets a powerful example.  We’re very proud to partner with Kenya on these efforts.

For example, our Development Finance Corporation has facilitated nearly $600 million in investments in windfarms and other renewable projects in Kenya, and we want to do more work together in this space because clean energy infrastructure creates good jobs, it contributes to a stronger economy, and of course, it’s critical in the fight against climate change.

More broadly, we’re proud of the strong economic relationship that our countries have built, which includes about a billion dollars in annual two-way trade.  And recent American private sector investments in Kenya across sectors, ranging from food processing to telecommunications, total more than $725 million, including $93 million in investments in Kenya’s small and medium-size enterprises generated through the great work of USAID.

Third, on advancing peace and security, the attack yesterday in Kampala was a painful reminder of how vital it is that we continue to work together to improve security throughout East Africa.  The United States offers its deepest condolences to those injured in the attacks and to the families and loved ones of those who were killed.  We’re grateful to Kenya for being our security partner.  Our countries consult frequently on critical situations throughout the region.

One place where we’re both deeply concerned is Ethiopia.  The conflict there threatens not just that country, but its neighbors as well.  I very much appreciate President Kenyatta’s engagement on this, including at the United Nations, and in person in Ethiopia.  We’re working closely with Kenya, the African Union, and its high representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, as well as other partners.  Our Special Envoy Jeff Feltman is working with High Representative Obasanjo to press the parties to end hostilities immediately and without preconditions, to stop human rights abuses and violations, to provide humanitarian access for the millions in Northern Ethiopia who are in dire need of life-saving supplies.

Even as we’ve taken prudent measures to reduce our personnel in Addis, our embassy remains fully engaged in these efforts and is providing support to American citizens.  As we have for weeks, we continue to urge all American citizens in Ethiopia to leave the country using the best available options, and again, commercial aviation is working and is functioning normally.

Regarding Somalia, the United States is grateful here as well to Kenya for a very strong security partnership and its contributions to AMISOM as we work together to defeat al-Shabaab and other terrorist organizations.  It’s vital that Somali leaders complete the national elections process as soon as possible and focus again on combating al-Shabaab and bringing greater stability to the region and to the country.

And finally on Sudan, here again we appreciate Kenya’s stance against the military takeover and its role in the African Union’s Peace and Security Council suspension of Sudan from AU activities.  We support the Sudanese people who have repeatedly made clear their aspirations for democracy, and we back their call to restore Sudan’s democratic transition.  We’re continuing to work with the international community to urge the Sudanese military to release all those detained with the takeover.

We’re engaging intensely with representatives from all sides.  I’ve been working the phones.  Molly Phee, our new assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, was in Khartoum earlier this week.  Sudan had been on a path toward democracy and stability.  Returning to that path is the best way for Sudan to attain peace and prosperity, become a leader on the continent, and to restore very strong support from the international community.  Later today, I’ll have a chance to meet with representatives from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is instrumental for promoting peace and sustainable development, to discuss all three of these urgent governance and security challenges.

Fourth, on the relationship between Kenya and the United States, earlier today the cabinet secretary and I, as she noted, completed the second Strategic Dialogue, bringing our countries together.  We’re very much looking forward to hosting Kenya for our next dialogue in Washington next year.  Together, we’re deepening cooperation in the five areas that we set out when the dialogue was initiated: economic prosperity, defense cooperation, governance and civilian security, multilateral and regional issues, and public health cooperation.  Here again, these reflect the strength of our partnership, its depth, which fundamentally is grounded in our shared democratic values.  And we’re constantly working as well to make our democracy stronger and more resilient.

I started this morning with a roundtable conversation with members of Kenya’s very dynamic civil society.  In addition to being deeply impressed by the important work that they’re doing on behalf of their country, we also discussed areas and issues of serious concern, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists.  We want to partner with the Kenyan Government and with civil society to ensure that even while addressing legitimate security concerns, the rule of law and human rights are safeguarded.  That’s how to build public trust in public institutions.

We also discussed next year’s elections.  As we look ahead to 2022, it’s critical that all parties – the government, opposition parties, civil society – work together to ensure safe and stable elections that reflect the will of the Kenyan people.  As we’ve seen again today, Kenya and the United States are firmly focused on building our shared future together.  I’m grateful for the good work we’ve done here in Nairobi.  And ultimately, what we know it comes down to is making a difference in the lives of our people, of our citizens.  That is our responsibility, and everything we’re doing together has that very much in mind.  And with that, thank you very much.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken.  I think you can hear me better now.  Thank you very much, Secretary Blinken, for your kind words and for providing an overview of the manner in which we are managing this special relationship that we have.

I would now like to open the floor to questions.  I don’t know who will be managing that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much —

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  I think we will take two questions, so please, go ahead.

MODERATOR:  Yes.  Thank you very much, Madam Cabinet Secretary and Secretary of State.  We shall have a brief Q&A: two representatives from the local media and two from the American side.  And I will begin with the Kenyan side.  Catherine from Al Jazeera.

QUESTION:  My name is Catherine Soi from Al Jazeera.  I have a question for Secretary Blinken.  You have just – and we have seen a travel advisory urging U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia immediately.  Does that show how dangerous the situation is becoming and that there is no movement forward in terms of ending hostilities?

And my other question is about pressure on the both sides.  We know that the U.S. and other international partners are holding off on sanctions to allow for a dialogue, but beyond that, what more can be done to push the both sides to commit to a ceasefire and talks?  They’re all still being accused of human rights atrocities.  The UN and the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission have said about – up to a thousand Tigrayans have been detained by security forces.  So what more can be done beyond diplomatic talk to make sure and to put pressure on these two groups to commit to a ceasefire?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  We are gravely concerned about the escalating violence, the expansion of fighting throughout the country, and what we see as a growing risk to the unity and to the integrity of the Ethiopian state.  And for that reason, it’s my responsibility, our responsibility to first and foremost ensure the safety and security of American citizens, of embassy personnel, and to be cautious and to make sure that we are doing that.  We have urged Americans who are in Ethiopia to take advantage of the opportunity to leave.  And my strong hope and conviction is we will help move things back to a place where it will be very safe for them to return and for Ethiopia to continue to move forward.  But it is the responsible, prudent, and necessary thing to do to make sure that we are looking out for our citizens and also looking out for our embassy.  We instructed the embassy to reduce its staffing to essential personnel some days ago.

Now, I strongly believe that there is an opportunity – and more than an opportunity, an absolute necessity – for all of the parties to stop, to talk, to pull back, to get humanitarian assistance to flow, and ultimately to be at a table together and negotiate through the various differences that that have emerged over the past year.  I spoke with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mekonnen a few days ago.  I shared our deep concern over the ongoing conflict, emphasizing the urgency of taking concrete steps for peace on the part of everyone involved.  I reiterated our call for all parties to urgently and seriously engage in negotiations on a cessation of hostilities without preconditions.

And I underscored the need for immediate, unhindered humanitarian access to Northern Ethiopia and in support of all Ethiopian communities in need.  Because what we’ve seen is the way the conflict has progressed, more and more parts of the country have become involved and/or are in jeopardy with their citizens bearing the consequences.  And whether that’s in Tigray over the last year, more recently in Amhara, and moving further south toward Addis, the people who suffer are the people, and we have to make sure that they are getting the assistance they need, and that the fighting ceases and the talking starts.

In addition to that, the conflict in Ethiopia is a threat to peace and security in the Horn of Africa, and that is of deep concern to us too and it’s of deep concern to our partners, including here in Kenya.  So we’re looking for all sides, as I said, to step back.  The TPLF and the OLA should halt their advance on Addis.  We’d like to see the parties come together at the table to put in place a cessation of hostilities.  We need to see humanitarian assistance flow freely now, we need to see people detained released, and we need to see everyone engaging in an effort to resolve the differences that exist peacefully and constitutionally.

Let me just add that we are working with a whole host of partners to advance these efforts.  But most important, the representative of the African Union, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who’s leading the mediation efforts – we’re in strong support of what he’s doing.  And we are also very appreciative of the work that other partners, starting with President Kenyatta, have done to try to support President Obasanjo’s efforts, the AU’s efforts to move this forward.  Bottom line is that there is no military solution to this conflict.  Every party has to recognize that and act accordingly.

With regard to atrocities, we have deep concern about that, as we have over the past many months, something that we are looking at very closely, very carefully, and making determinations as we go along.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Our first question will go to John Hudson of The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  A few questions on Ethiopia.  Is Prime Minister Abiy the legitimate leader of Ethiopia?  And if so, how do you view the TPLF, which seek Abiy’s overthrow?  And I know you just mentioned that you’re making considerations, but can you just give us the latest on whether you view what happened in Tigray as a genocide?  And if so, why stay quiet?  And Cabinet Secretary, is the Kenyan Government hopeful for a ceasefire after President Kenyatta’s visit to Addis this weekend?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, John.  I’m happy to start.  The second part of your question first with regard to, as I said, to the atrocities and how we would categorize them.  We’re focused on the facts, and we’re focused on the law.  And we will make a determination, I will make a determination, once we get all the analysis that goes into looking at the facts and looking at the law.

Regardless of that, the fact is that we have seen, we continue to see, atrocities being committed, people suffering.  And regardless of what we call it, it needs to stop.  And there needs to be accountability, and we’re determined that there will be.

I also said that as this moves forward, it is very important that the differences, the conflicts be resolved by people sitting down at the table, talking, discussing, negotiating.  And that needs to be done, in my judgment, pursuant to the constitutional order, including with the duly elected leaders of the country – Prime Minister Abiy – but at the table with all who have grievances and concerns that unfortunately everyone – and tragically, everyone has chosen to express through military means as opposed to using the political process.  It’s vitally important that everyone come back to the political process for resolving differences that exist and moving Ethiopia forward.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Thank you very much for your question, and I think it was as to whether or not we are hopeful for a ceasefire after President Kenyatta’s visits to Ethiopia recently.

President Kenyatta deals with this issue as a friend and as a neighbor of Ethiopia.  And friends and neighbors believe in the potential of their neighbor.  We believe in the potential of Ethiopia to find a resolution to this crisis.  We believe that a ceasefire is possible.  We believe that the other conditions regarding humanitarian access are possible.

We must believe in the fortitude and the wisdom of the Ethiopian people, because in the end the solutions will come from them.  What we must do as neighbors is to support, is to counsel, is to hold hands, is to point in the right direction, to ensure that this crisis, when it ends – and we believe it will end – will leave Ethiopia a stronger nation, will leave Ethiopia a stronger partner and a country that is able once again to guarantee the peace in our region.

Let us not give up hope in the people of Ethiopia.  We must remain steadfast in being positive and being engaged in this crisis.  I thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  My name is Aggrey Mutambo, Nation Media Group.  My first question goes to both secretaries.  I just wanted to know how you intend to elevate the issues of climate change and environmental conservation within your strategic partnerships.  And then I wanted to know specifically for you, Secretary of State:  What role do you think Kenya should play in the Ethiopian crisis?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Raychelle, would you like to start?

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  The first question was how do we propose to integrate climate change into our foreign policy?

QUESTION:  Through strategic partnership with the U.S., yes.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Into our strategic partnership with the U.S.  Well, I think the U.S. and Kenya believe in the same values, in this idea that we all have to engage as a collective to bring down emissions and to facilitate adaptation.  We have already worked together at COP26 on these issues.  We have worked together on conferences that have been called by President Biden on this.  And we will continue to partner in looking at investments in the area of green industries, in the area of energy.

We want to work together to facilitate adaptation measures that will help build resilience in our communities.  We want to ensure that working with the United States, we are able to unlock the climate financing gap and to create new products that will enable countries like us who are in the third world, who are least responsible for global warming, shore up our resilience and our ability to transform our own economies from the green transition.

We must work together on the issue of climate change and its connection with security, its connection with agriculture, its connection with innovation, and its connection with building a body politic of Kenyans and Americans who are interested in preserving our planet.  In our discussions this afternoon, we were able to identify just a few of the possibilities that are available to us.  We must, however, be a little bit more strategic and ensure that we identify those programs, those initiatives that will have the biggest impact not only for our relationship but for our respective people and for this planet that we love.  I thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I really couldn’t say it any better.  Just to quickly add, as I said earlier, we are deeply appreciative of Kenya’s leadership when it comes to climate.  And what Kenya has done particularly in leading on renewables is important not just for Kenya and for Kenyans, it is setting a powerful example for the world, and something that we point to regularly as we’re engaging other countries on climate change.

It is, to your point though, very much – and as the secretary said – very much a part of our partnership, and in these ways:  First, and more broadly, we recognize that as a prosperous country that also has contributed over the years to much of the problem, that we have with other countries similarly situated a special obligation to help other countries build resilience and adapt.  President Biden this spring doubled the commitment that we’re making to resilience and adaptation for countries that need assistance, and then he doubled that again at the UN General Assembly.  And we’re working with Congress to make sure that those funds are available.

Coming out of COP26, we also helped lead the way to working to ensure that countries move even further when it comes to supporting adaptation and resilience for countries that need assistance, and we’re going to be working on that.

In the context of our own partnership, besides working together in these important international meetings and moments, we’re also working directly together in ways that bring together different goals that we have, because they’re complementary.  And so for example, as we’re working to build back better from COVID and advance inclusive growth that benefits our people, one way to do that is to invest in green technology and in sustainable infrastructure.  And that also meets the needs that we have for advancing the fight against climate change.

So as the cabinet secretary said, we’re very focused on initiatives between the United States and Kenya where we can engage in those kind of projects together, where we can make those kinds of investments.  And that’s something that we have a mandate now to look at very carefully.

We have a number of different tools in the United States to help advance those kinds of investments, including the Development Finance Corporation and others.  We’re trying to bring to bear all of these tools on – working with partners, starting with close partners like Kenya – on making these kinds of investments going forward.  They’ll have economic benefits, good jobs, good wages, and they’ll have clear climate benefits.  And we’ll continue together, as we’re working bilaterally, to also coordinate our efforts when it comes to helping other – urging other countries to continue to raise their ambitions and to meet the goal that we share, which is making sure that temperatures don’t rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Because if we’re not able to achieve that goal, then the world has a very, very big problem.

MR PRICE:  Final question.  We’ll go to Michael Crowley, The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you both.  Secretary Blinken, in Sudan, despite the diplomacy you mentioned at the top of your remarks to reinstate Prime Minister Hamdok, the country’s army chief last week appointed himself the head of a new ruling council.  Does the U.S. accept the authority of that council?  And if not, what is your next move for pressuring the military to back down or at least to stop shooting protesters?

For both of you, a question on the bombings in Kampala yesterday.  Cabinet secretary, are you worried that Islamic extremist groups in the region may be growing stronger?  And do you believe current U.S. counterterrorism efforts are adequate?  And Secretary Blinken, could you update us on the status of the administration’s Somalia policy review?  Following President Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. counterterrorism troops there, will U.S. troops be returning to the country?  Thank you both.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, thank you very much.  On Sudan, the most important thing now is for the civilian-led transition to resume, and that means that this civilian-led transition, which was derailed by the military takeover a few weeks ago, needs to be put back on its tracks.  And that, among other things, involves restoring Prime Minister Hamdok to his position as Prime Minister so that this transition led by civilians in cooperation with the military can continue, and also can continue to receive the strong international support, including from the United States and international financial institutions.

People of Sudan have repeatedly made clear their aspirations for democracy, their aspirations for this transition to continue.  So this is what they want.  This is what the international community supports.  We’re working with partners in the international community to urge the Sudanese military to release all of those who have been detained in recent weeks in connection with the takeover, and for the return of the civilian-led transitional government as stated in the constitutional declaration.  We’re also very much engaged with all the parties to try to put that that train back on its tracks.  Our Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee was just in Khartoum a couple of days ago.  She met with Prime Minister Hamdok, among others.  We’ll continue to remain deeply engaged in support of the aspirations of the Sudanese people. And I’ll say again about Prime Minister Hamdok – he is a source of legitimacy and it’s vital that the transition regain the legitimacy that it had before the civilian-led effort was derailed.

But if the – if the military puts this train back on its tracks and does what’s necessary, I think the support that has been very strong from the international community can resume.  That support has largely been suspended and Sudan needs it.  The people of Sudan need it.  Those responsible for Sudan need it.  And so I think the international community not only has a strong voice, but significant leverage in again seeing a return to the civilian-led transition.

QUESTION:  Could you please — you didn’t answer my question.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  I had asked another question which you didn’t answer.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, I’m sorry.  Would you remind me what it was?

QUESTION:  What do you think the role of Kenya in this Ethiopia crisis?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Ah.

QUESTION:  What is the U.S. view of Kenya’s role?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I see.  I’m sorry.  I apologize for missing that.  I think the cabinet secretary said it very, very well.  I will – I’ll just add that we very much appreciate the efforts that President Kenyatta has made personally to engage and to support the efforts that are being led by the AU’s mediator, former President Obasanjo.  We very much applaud President Kenyatta’s engagement on this.  And I’m sorry, over to you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Thank you.  The question was about the bombings in Kampala.  First, let me convey our deepest condolences to all those who perished in that attack and wish quick recovery to those who were injured.  But even as we condemn the attack in Kampala, we must remember that a few days before, there was an attack in the United Kingdom of a similar kind.  What it tells us is that terrorism is a problem for all of us, and the requirement is one of constant vigilance by all.  It is necessary that we continue to collaborate and share intelligence, share best practices so that, as a world, we are able to tackle this problem together, we must also strengthen our communities to be able to detect terrorists and to report them.

We mustn’t sit on our laurels, because if we do then we give terrorists space to advance their evil agenda.  What we must do is to work with partners, and I’m glad that we have been working with the United States and other partners on improving our counterterrorism structures, improving our counterterrorism skills, improving our counter-violent-extremism programs.  That’s what we must do.  And we must look at this threat not only insofar as it affects African countries, but in the way in which it is networked and affects the entire globe.  I thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And Michael, with regard to the question of U.S. forces and Somalia, to your point, the Defense Department in the first instance, and the administration more broadly, are engaged in a global posture review.  That’s not yet complete so I’m not going to get ahead of it.  But that’s in train.  Thanks.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  Well, I thank you all for your kind attention.  And we now bring this press conference to an end.  Thank you all very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY OMAMO:  And thank you, my brother.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

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    More than 10,000 U.S. military servicemembers, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, have been injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those with serious physical and psychological injuries are initially treated at the Department of Defense's (DOD) major military treatment facilities (MTF). The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made provision of services to these servicemembers a high priority. This testimony focuses on the steps VA has taken and the challenges it faces in providing services to the seriously injured and highlights findings from three recent GAO reports that addressed VA's efforts to provide services to the seriously injured. These services include vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) and health care for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).VA has taken steps to provide services as a high priority to seriously injured servicemembers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. To identify and monitor those who may require VA's services, VA and DOD are working on a formal agreement to share data about servicemembers with serious injuries. Meanwhile, VA has relied on its regional offices to coordinate with staff at MTFs and VA medical centers to learn the identities, medical conditions, and military status of seriously injured servicemembers. For servicemembers with PTSD, VA has taken steps to improve care including developing with DOD a clinical practice guideline for identifying and treating individuals with PTSD. The guideline contains a four-question screening tool, which both VA and DOD use to identify those who may be at risk for PTSD. VA faces significant challenges in providing services to seriously injured servicemembers. For example, the individualized nature of recovery makes it difficult to determine when a seriously injured servicemember will be ready for vocational rehabilitation, and DOD has expressed concern that VA's outreach to servicemembers could affect retention for those whose discharge from military service is uncertain. VA is also challenged by the lack of access to DOD data; although VA staff have developed ad hoc arrangements, such informal agreements can break down. Regarding PTSD, inaccurate data limit VA's ability to estimate its capacity for treating additional veterans and to plan for an increased demand for these services.
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  • Veterans Health Care: VA’s Medical Support Role in Emergency Preparedness
    In U.S GAO News
    Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has increased its efforts to plan for and respond to national emergencies, including acts of terrorism and natural disasters. Additionally, in August 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security announced that military and VA medical facilities were potential terrorist targets. In light of military casualties from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and continued threats of terrorist incidents, Congress asked us to review VA's medical support role in emergency preparedness. Specifically, we agreed to provide information on the following questions: (1) What is VA's role in providing medical support within the U.S. to military personnel in wartime and during national emergencies? (2) What actions has VA taken to improve its internal emergency preparedness to ensure that it is ready to maintain continuity of operations and provision of medical services to veterans? (3) What is VA's role in participating in emergency medical response measures with other federal, state, and local agencies?GAO found that Public Law 97-174 authorizes VA to provide inpatient medical care to active duty members of the armed services during or immediately following their involvement in armed conflicts during wartime and national emergencies. According to VA, while the Department of Defense (DOD) has never requested priority care from VA based on this law, VA has routinely reported to the Congress and DOD the number of inpatient beds available for military personnel. We also found that VA has taken numerous actions to improve emergency preparedness, such as developing educational and training materials for its staff, training staff at 134 VA medical centers, and increasing security at its facilities by requiring a minimum of two patrolling VA police officers on duty at all times. Other activities, such as developing a systemwide strategy for protecting its facilities and acquiring decontamination equipment, are still in progress. Finally, VA participates in emergency medical response measures with other federal, state, and local agencies by providing assistance in seven support functions outlined in the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan. For example, if requested, the types of support VA would provide include public health and medical services, emergency management, and public safety and security.
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  • Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2002, destroying the terrorist threat and closing the terrorist safe haven have been key national security goals. The United States has provided Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terror, more than $10.5 billion for military, economic, and development activities. Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border Afghanistan, are vast unpoliced regions attractive to extremists and terrorists seeking a safe haven. GAO was asked to assess (1) the progress in meeting these national security goals for Pakistan's FATA, and (2) the status of U.S. efforts to develop a comprehensive plan for the FATA. To address these objectives, GAO compared national security goals against assessments conducted by U.S. agencies and reviewed available plans.The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there. According to the Department of State, Pakistan deployed 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and helped kill and capture hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives; these efforts cost the lives of approximately 1,400 members of Pakistan's security forces. However, GAO found broad agreement, as documented in the National Intelligence Estimate, State, and embassy documents, as well as Defense officials in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed, as stipulated by the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (2003), called for by an independent commission (2004), and mandated by congressional legislation (2007). Furthermore, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in 2004 specifically to develop comprehensive plans to combat terrorism. However, neither the National Security Council (NSC), NCTC, nor other executive branch departments have developed a comprehensive plan that includes all elements of national power--diplomatic, military, intelligence, development assistance, economic, and law enforcement support--called for by the various national security strategies and Congress. As a result, since 2002, the U.S. embassy in Pakistan has had no Washington-supported, comprehensive plan to combat terrorism and close the terrorist safe haven in the FATA. In 2006, the embassy, in conjunction with Defense, State, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in cooperation with the government of Pakistan, began an effort to focus more attention on other key elements of national power, such as development assistance and public diplomacy, to address U.S. goals in the FATA. However, this does not yet constitute a comprehensive plan.
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  • University of Arkansas Professor Indicted for Wire Fraud and Passport Fraud
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas on 42 counts of wire fraud and two counts of passport fraud.
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  • Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission Announce Agenda for Dec. 6 and 7 Workshop ‘Making Competition Work: Promoting Competition in Labor Markets’
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced an agenda for their upcoming virtual workshop regarding competition in labor markets.
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  • Sexual Harassment: VA Needs to Better Protect Employees
    In U.S GAO News
    According to data from the most recent Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) survey in 2016, an estimated 22 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, and 14 percent of federal employees overall, experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace from mid-2014 through mid-2016. VA has policies to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, but some aspects of the policies and of the complaint processes may hinder those efforts. Misalignment of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Director position: VA's EEO Director oversees both the EEO complaint process, which includes addressing sexual harassment complaints, and general personnel functions. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), this dual role does not adhere to one of its key directives and creates a potential conflict of interest when handling EEO issues. Incomplete or outdated policies and information: VA has an overarching policy for its efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment of its employees. However, some additional policies and information documents are not consistent with VA's overarching policy, are outdated, or are missing information. For example, they may not include all options employees have for reporting sexual harassment, which could result in confusion among employees and managers. Delayed finalization of Harassment Prevention Program (HPP): VA has not formally approved the directive or the implementing guidance for its 4-year-old HPP, which seeks to prevent harassment and address it before it becomes unlawful. Lack of formal approval could limit the program's effectiveness. VA uses complaint data to understand the extent of sexual harassment at the agency, but such data are incomplete. For example, VA compiles information on allegations made through the EEO process and HPP, but does not require managers who receive complaints to report them to VA centrally. As a result, VA is not aware of all sexual harassment allegations across the agency. Without these data, VA may miss opportunities to better track prevalence and to improve its efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment. VA provides training for all employees and managers, but the required training does not have in-depth information on identifying and addressing sexual harassment and does not mention HPP. Some facilities within VA's administrations supplement the training, but providing additional information is not mandatory. Requiring additional training on sexual harassment could improve VA employees' knowledge of the agency's policies and help prevent and address sexual harassment. In June 2020, GAO issued a report entitled Sexual Harassment: Inconsistent and Incomplete Policies and Information Hinder VA's Efforts to Protect Employees (GAO-20-387). This testimony summarizes the findings and recommendations from that report, including (1) the extent to which VA has policies to prevent and address sexual harassment of VA employees, (2) how available data inform VA about sexual harassment of its employees, and (3) training VA provides to employees on preventing and addressing sexual harassment. GAO made seven recommendations in its June 2020 report, including that VA ensure its EEO Director position is not responsible for personnel functions; require managers to report all sexual harassment complaints centrally; and require additional employee training. VA concurred with all but the EEO Director position recommendation, which GAO continues to believe is warranted. For more information, contact Cindy S. Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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  • Three Defendants Sentenced to Prison in Multi-State Dog Fighting Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    Three defendants have been sentenced for their roles in an interstate dog fighting network across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
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  • Information Technology: Key Attributes of Essential Federal Mission-Critical Acquisitions
    In U.S GAO News
    Federal agencies are undertaking information technology (IT) acquisitions that are essential to their missions. GAO identified 16 of these acquisitions as particularly critical to missions ranging from national security, to public health, to the economy (see table). GAO has previously reported on these acquisitions and the programs they support, and has made numerous recommendations to agencies for improvement. The amount agencies expect to spend on the selected acquisitions vary greatly depending on their scope and complexity, as well as the extent of transformation and modernization that agencies envision once the acquisitions are fully deployed. For example, the Department of Defense plans to spend $10.21 billion over 21 years on its health care modernization initiative, while the Department of Homeland Security intends to spend $3.19 billion over 30 years on its system supporting immigration benefits processing. Agencies reported potential cost savings associated with 13 of the 16 mission-critical acquisitions after deployment due to factors such as shutting down legacy systems, eliminating physical paper processing, and improving security, monitoring, and management. Eleven of the 16 selected acquisitions were rebaselined during their development, meaning that the project's cost, schedule, or performance goals were modified to reflect new circumstances. Agencies reported a number of reasons as to why their acquisitions were rebaselined, including delays in defining the cost, schedule, and scope; budget cuts and hiring freezes; technical challenges; and changes in development approach. As shown below, ten of the acquisitions relate to an additional programmatic area that GAO has designated high risk. Federal Agency Mission-Critical Information Technology Acquisitions Department of Agriculture Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems Department of Commerce 2020 Decennial Census* Department of Defense Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization* Global Combat Support System-Army* Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Information System Modernization* U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Transformation* Department of the Interior Automated Fluid Minerals Support System II* Department of Justice Next Generation Identification System Terrorist Screening System Department of State Consular System Modernization Department of Transportation Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Department of the Treasury Customer Account Data Engine 2* Integrated Enterprise Portal* Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Record Modernization* Small Business Administration Application Standard Investment Social Security Administration Disability Case Processing System 2* Legend: *= Acquisition relates to a programmatic area that GAO has previously designated as being high risk. Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-249SP The acquisition of IT systems has presented challenges to federal agencies. Accordingly, in 2015 GAO identified the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area, a designation it retains today. GAO was asked to report on federal IT acquisitions. GAO's specific objective was to identify essential mission-critical IT acquisitions across the federal government and determine their key attributes. To identify acquisitions for the review, GAO administered a questionnaire to the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 asking them to identify their five most important mission-critical IT acquisitions. From a total of 101 acquisitions that were identified, GAO selected 16 mission-critical IT acquisitions to profile in this report. The selection was based on various factors, including the acquisition's criticality to providing service to the nation, its total life cycle costs, and its applicability to the President's Management Agenda. For each of the 16 selected acquisitions, GAO obtained and analyzed documents on cost, schedule, risks, governance, and related information; and interviewed cognizant agency officials. GAO requested comments from the 12 agencies with acquisitions profiled in its draft report and the Office of Management and Budget. In response, one agency (the Social Security Administration) provided comments that discussed the planned use of its system. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
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  • San Benito man sent to prison for robbing bank via threatening message
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  • Former Owner of Michigan Home Healthcare Business Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud
    In Crime News
    A Michigan man pleaded guilty today to filing a false individual income tax return.
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  • Over $1 Billion in Misappropriated 1MDB Funds Now Repatriated to Malaysia
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it has repatriated an additional $452 million in misappropriated 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds to the people of Malaysia, bringing the total returned to over $1.2 billion.
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  • Man Sentenced for Role in International Human Smuggling Conspiracy
    In Crime News
    A Bangladeshi national was sentenced today to 46 months in prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle undocumented individuals from Mexico into the United States.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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