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07/27/2021 04:59 PM EDT
Jalina Porter, Principal Deputy Spokesperson
2:06 p.m. EST
MS PORTER: Good afternoon and Happy Tuesday. Thank you for joining today’s department press briefing. I have a few announcements to make at the top, and I’ll proceed with your questions.
[] The United States has made clear to the highest levels of Government of Guatemala our view that the fight against corruption is essential to our shared goals of strengthening the rule of law, increasing economic opportunity, and addressing the root causes of irregular migration. The message has been delivered consistently, without equivocation, by our ambassador in Guatemala and during recent visits of high-level U.S. Government officials that reaffirmed the partnership of our two nations, including the visit of Vice President Kamala Harris, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ July 23rd decision to remove Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, or FECI, Chief Juan Francisco Sandoval fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent judicial and prosecutorial processes. As a result, we have lost confidence in the attorney general and their decision – and intention to cooperate with the U.S. Government and fight corruption in good faith. We understand the removal of the FECI Chief was a decision by a Guatemalan official acting within the official’s authority, but our concern is with the implications with this decision for the rule of law and regional stability.
As a result of the attorney general’s actions, the U.S. Government is temporarily pausing programmatic cooperation with the Public Ministry while it conducts a review of our assistance to activities the attorney general leads. We’re watching closely for additional actions that would undermine the rule of law or judicial independence in Guatemala.
[] Next, we are deeply concerned about credible reports of attacks by military forces affiliated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Tigrayan militias against Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region, particularly reports of violence in refugee camps.
We call on all armed actors in Tigray to stop attacks and intimidation against Eritrean forces and all refugees, asylum seekers and people displaced by the ongoing violence, as well as against the aid workers attempting to respond to the humanitarian disaster more broadly.
This is not the first time Eritrean populations have been targeted in Tigray. In January, credible reports indicated that Eritrean refugees suffered killings, targeted abductions, and forced returns to Eritrea at the hands of Eritrean forces.
We call on all parties to adhere strictly to their obligations under international humanitarian law, and for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses to be held accountable through independent and transparent international processes.
And finally, the State Department’s 12th Annual EducationUSA Forum opened yesterday and will run through Friday of this week.
Addressing the open Plenary, Secretary Blinken and Education Secretary Cardona announced a Joint Statement of Principles in support of international education, emphasizing our shared commitment to promoting international education at home and abroad and highlighting the benefit to all Americans.
International education makes critical contributions to U.S. diplomacy, national security, economic prosperity, and leadership in research and innovation.
Held virtually this year, the EducationUSA Forum organized by the Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, or ECA, showcases our global network of over 430 student advising centers in more than 175 countries.
Approximately 2,000 registrants for the Forum represent hundreds of accredited U.S. colleges and universities along with other higher education sector stakeholders. Participation will explore strategies to strengthen the United States’ status as a top study destination for international students from around the globe.
As international students study at U.S. colleges and universities, they participate in a world-class education while enriching their classrooms and communities with diverse perspectives and developing ties with their American peers. These ties form the basis of our country’s success in business and trade, science and innovation, and government relations. International students also contributed over $39 billion to the U.S. economy in 2020, representing a top service sector export, and supporting an estimated 415,000 U.S. jobs. Supporting international education is important to our national effort to achieve a strong, durable economic recovery from the pandemic.
And with that, I will start taking your questions. Let’s go to the line of Pearl Matibe.
OPERATOR: I do apologize. Could you please repeat the name?
MS PORTER: Pearl Matibe.
QUESTION: Hello, Jalina. Good —
OPERATOR: Pearl, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
[]QUESTION: Thank you very much. Good morning, Jalina. My question is on Zambia. They have elections in about three weeks, and now we are already seeing that this is going to be an unlevel playing field. And observers from the European Union already have a strong team ahead of the elections, which is great, but there have been criticism of the international community failing to identify manipulation ahead of an election. So I wondered does the U.S. have a close eye on the upcoming Zambian election and if you have anything to share about worries right now. Watch dogs are being silenced and so on, three weeks left to go. Thanks, Jalina.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Pearl. What I can say more broadly is that the United States certainly supports free and fair elections, and we know that’s the way of upholding democratic institutions not only in Zambia but around the world. I don’t have anything other than that for you. Anything else, we’ll have to take that question back for you.
Casey O’Neill, please.
OPERATOR: Casey, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, Jalina. I was wondering if we can turn to Tunisia. So yesterday at the White House press briefing, Jen Psaki was asked about whether or not the U.S. has made a determination on whether or not a coup took place in Tunisia. Jen Psaki stated that the State Department had not made a legal determination. But then yesterday evening, Secretary Blinken, as I’m sure you’re aware, sent out two tweets regarding Tunisia, the first essentially saying that he had a, quote, “good phone call” with President Saied of Tunisia. And then hours later, he appeared to attempt to backpedal on that tweet, outlining essentially a conversation saying he encouraged the president to adhere to the principles of democracy, human rights, et cetera.
So just a couple questions for you. The first: Has the State Department made a legal determination as to whether or not a coup has taken place in Tunisia? And secondly, if not, why did Secretary Blinken tweet out that he had a, quote, “good phone call” with a president who is being investigated, for lack of a better word, for potentially inciting or carrying out a coup in his country? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thanks for your questions. Well, I’ll just start off by saying that we are closely monitoring the situation in Tunisia. And we encourage all political actors to comply with the Tunisian constitution, as well as to respect democracy and human rights.
To your questions on the Secretary and his tweets, listen, Secretary Blinken spoke at great length with the Tunisian president, President Saied, yesterday. And the Secretary urged the President Saied to maintain open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people. And I’ll just, again, just reiterate that the events in Tunisia are currently still ongoing, and we are closely monitoring the situation.
Let’s go to Daphne Psaledakis.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I wanted to follow up on that question on Tunisia. Can you say whether the U.S. is determining whether a military coup has taken place and therefore whether the U.S. Government is required to cut off all assistance to the country other than democracy-related assistance?
And then separately, if I may, there are reports that a swastika was found yesterday etched into the wall of the State Department elevator near the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Can you confirm this? And if so, how is the State Department responding to this? Has Blinken addressed it, and what was his message to staff, if so?
MS PORTER: I’m sorry. Can you repeat your – the first part of your second question on the special envoy?
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. There are reports that a swastika was found yesterday etched into the wall of a State Department elevator near the office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Could you confirm that? And what will the State Department – how will the State Department handle this? Has Blinken addressed it?
[]MS PORTER: So thank you for your question. And yes, unfortunately, late yesterday a swastika was found carved in an elevator in our building here at the State Department. This hateful graffiti has been removed and this incident will be investigated. As the Secretary has shared with a message to all of our employees, this is completely abhorrent. It’s a painful reminder, and anti-Semitism isn’t a relic of the past; it’s still a force that we’re dealing with in the world, and unfortunately, we’re dealing with it close to home. It has to be said that anti-Semitism has no place in the United States and certainly has no place in the State Department. We can and must be relentless in standing up and rejecting this type of hate and hate in all forms.
We also know that from our history and from history of other nations that anti-Semitism often goes hand in hand with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and any other hatred that you can name. None of these ideologies have a place in our workplace and they certainly have no place in the United States.
As far as any personnel updates, we don’t have any specific update to share outside of that Secretary Blinken, when he spoke to members of Congress last month, that we are working very diligently to – on the nomination of a special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, and we surely hope that the person is in place soon.
[] Again, outside of – going back to your first question on Tunisia, I’ll just continue to underscore that the situation in Tunisia is evolving and we’re closely monitoring the situation. We certainly encourage all political actors to comply with the Tunisian constitution and as well as to respect democracy and human rights.
Let’s go to Shaun Tandon.
QUESTION: More on Tunisia. In the mention of the Secretary saying that there should be the adherence to democratic principles, what specifically is he looking for the Tunisian president to do? Does he want him to reverse the decision to suspend parliament, to un-sack, if you will, the prime minister without further conversation? And what pressure points, if any, were listed there in terms of ways to get him to move in that direction?
And secondly, if you don’t mind, North and South Korea. They announced a restoration of communications, of cross-border communications. Do you have any reaction to that? And how does that impact the United States? Does this pave the way at all for dialogue with North Korea potentially? Thank you.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Shaun. So we did issue a readout of the Secretary’s call with the Tunisian president. I won’t go anything beyond the readout.
[] And to your second question, I’ll say that the U.S. supports inter-Korean dialogue and engagement, and of course welcomes today’s announcement of restoration of inter-Korean communication lines, and we certainly believe that this is a positive step. I’ll also say that diplomacy and dialogue are essential to achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Let’s go to Hiba Nasr. Do we have Hiba Nasr?
OPERATOR: Your line is now open. Please, go ahead.
[]QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thanks for taking my question. My first question is on Lebanon. Yesterday we had a new prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati. Do you have any comment on that and a new message to the Lebanese leaders?
And my second question, on Iraq. We saw the statement yesterday. And till now, there are many officials that are emphasizing – who are emphasizing that this is a withdrawal, U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Is it a withdrawal or not?
MS PORTER: Thank you, Hiba. I’ll take – start with your first question. We’re certainly aware of the president of Lebanon’s appointment as Lebanon’s prime minister-designate as on June – I’m sorry, on July 26th, the U.S. renews its calls to quickly form a government that’s empowered and a government that’s also committed to implementing critical reforms.
[] To your question on Iraq, our countries issued a joint communique which outlines our bilateral agreements and outcomes from our fourth strategic dialogue. We also released a fact sheet, if you haven’t seen that – we released that on Friday – which outlines the depth of our partnership. I’d have to refer you to that readout for more details.
Hiba, I’m sorry. If we still have you, I wanted to answer your question about the withdrawal too. Frankly, no, the key point here is that we agreed with the Iraqis that U.S. forces, military forces, will remain in Iraq to focus on training, enabling, and advising our Iraqi partners.
Let’s go to Matt Lee, please.
QUESTION: Happy Tuesday. Two things real quick. One, do you have anything more to say about tomorrow’s strategic talks in Geneva that Deputy Secretary Sherman is leading? By “more to say,” I mean anything more than the announcement of it from Friday, like are you expecting any kind of a significant announcement out of it.
[] And then secondly, really briefly on this swastika incident, can – the report that this was found near the office of the anti-Semitism envoy is part of the question that I’m interested in getting an answer to, because not to make any kind of light of this, but if it was in an elevator, doesn’t – the proximity of it to any number of offices depending on what floor the elevator is on is a question. So my question is: Is the department treating it at the moment, pending an investigation, as something that was directly related to that office? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Matt. Well, I’ll say again that the situation with the swastika is currently being investigated, and as far as proximity, I mean, anywhere inside or nearby the State Department or inside or nearby – in the United States is just unwelcome, and we will continue to condemn it.
[] To your first question on the strategic stability dialogue, not much to say outside of what you’ve already seen. Of course, no specific announcements, but for people who may be listening and would like to know that the United States and Russia have agreed to convene a strategic stability dialogue in Geneva on the 28th, so tomorrow. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead the U.S. delegation. She’ll also be joined by our newest under secretary, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins, who will provide additional leadership for the delegation.
Let’s go to Laura Kelly.
[]QUESTION: Hi, Jalina. Thank you for taking my question. Human Rights Watch issued a report today that concludes the Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip in May apparently amount to war crimes and that the Israeli military used U.S.-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs during at least one particular attack on al-Wehda Street. And the human rights group says that while the Israeli military said it was a legitimate target, Human Rights Watch had not received details to support that claim. Do you have any comment on the Human Rights Watch report and are you concerned about reports of U.S. missiles or bombs being used or being implicated in deaths of civilians?
MS PORTER: Thanks, Laura. I have not seen the report, so I have nothing to share at this time. We’ll have to take that question back for you.
Let’s go to Laura Rozen.
OPERATOR: Laura, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
[]QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks for taking this. Do you have a readout of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s trip to Oman? And also, can you say if she’s using her visit there to send messages to Iran, including on detained U.S. citizens in Iran? Thanks.
MS PORTER: Thank you, Laura. So Deputy Secretary Sherman did meet in – I’m sorry, she met in Oman with Deputy Foreign Minister Khalifa Al Harthy in Muscat. They discussed advancing peace and security in the region as well as our shared commitment to bolstering the U.S.-Oman bilateral relationship, which includes advancing new opportunities for trade and investment. The deputy secretary also thanked the deputy foreign minister for Oman’s role in mediating peace in the region and also underscored the importance of an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire to help bring the war to an end – the war in Yemen to an end.
We’ll take one last question from Muhammad El Ahmed.
OPERATOR: And your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello? Yes, hi. Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. I have actually two questions – or actually, three questions.
First, what leverage does the U.S. – sorry, what leverage is the U.S. planning to exercise on President Kais Saied to avoid the Egyptian scenario, and how concerned that any miscalculation in the fragile Tunisia could backfire in the already-hot region, especially in Libya?
My second question, the other question is about Yemen. Today, State Department issued a statement about new trip to – Special Envoy Lenderking to the region. This is, I believe, the first trip there. Is there any updates about the possibilities of reaching an agreement, or it’s just part of regular consultations that the SE is doing there?
And finally, on Deputy Secretary Sherman’s visit to Oman, would her schedule include other meetings with regional players or it would take only two meetings with Omani official? Thank you so much.
MS PORTER: Thanks, Muhammad. To the deputy secretary’s meeting in Oman, I would have to refer you to the readout.
[] To your question on Special Envoy Lenderking, we can confirm that our U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking arrived in Saudi Arabia today and he’ll be meeting with senior officials from Saudi as well – and the Republic of Yemen governments. He will discuss the growing consequences of the Houthi offensive on Marib which is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis as well as triggering instability elsewhere in the country. He’ll also address the need for efforts by the Republic of Yemen Government and Saudi Arabia to stabilize Yemen’s economy, and also to facilitate the timely import of fuel to northern Yemen and the need for the Houthis to end their manipulation of fuel imports and prices inside of Yemen.
[] To your first question, I believe that was on Tunisia, and any leverage, again, I’ll just repeat that Secretary Blinken spoke, again, at great length with Tunisian President Saied yesterday, and he urged the president – President Saied to maintain an open dialogue with all political prisoners – I’m sorry, political actors and the Tunisian people.
That concludes today’s press briefing. Thank you all for joining. I hope you have a great rest of your day.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)
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