Quotes from the news wire:
Blinken tested positive for COVID-19 this afternoon via a PCR test. The Secretary is fully vaccinated and boosted against the virus and is experiencing only mild symptoms, the Secretary tested negative on Tuesday and again as recently as this morning. The Secretary has not seen President Biden in person for several days, and the President is not considered a close contact according to guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention( CDC).
When it comes to our efforts to free Americans, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Ambassador( Roger) Carstens -- he will go anywhere, he will talk to anyone if it means that we're able to come home with an American, to reunite that American with her or his family, that is true in the case of Austin Tice. It is true in the case of Paul Whelan. It is true in the case of the Americans who are detained in Iran and Americans who are detained around the world.
I think the world has continued to be shocked by the level of atrocity, the level of violence, the level of brutality, that Russia's forces have engaged in against the Ukrainian people. I think that will necessarily maintain this level of consensus within the international community, there is no sense that these countries are preparing to move on, to look the other way, and in fact, every time we gather, there is renewed horror, there is renewed condemnation, there is renewed determination to continue to see to it that our Ukrainian partners have what they need.
United States've spoken of the unprecedented nature of sanctions and other economic measures that would befall the Russian Federation in the event of an invasion. Were Belarus -- what should be a sovereign, independent country -- if that country were to support such an invasion, United States response would also be swift and decisive.
We are working currently with a few dozen U.S. citizens and their families who have identified themselves as prepared to depart and who have the necessary travel documents to do so, we believe at this point that, in addition to those few dozen U.S. citizens and their families, there is a relatively small number, probably fewer than 200 – again, with all the caveats that apply to these numbers fluctuating – but we’re in touch with about 150 other U.S. citizens who don’t want to leave Afghanistan at this point or otherwise not ready to depart.
We have continued as well to do what we can to support Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, and that includes those who fall within the category of the [ Special Immigrant Visas ], we are looking at alternatives to processing for the larger cohort within this category knowing that, even though our presence on the ground in Afghanistan is no more, we are doing what we can from other posts and looking at creative solutions to continue our efforts to safely relocate those individuals who wish to depart the country.
We've also been very clear that this is not a process that can go on indefinitely and if the Iranians through their actions or through their inactions demonstrate or suggest that they lack that good faith, that they lack that clarity of purpose, we'll have to turn to other means, we have a variety of other means we're discussing those with our allies and partners.
The point we have made is that even with the creation of this new bureau, even with the creation of the new cyber envoy, these issues are going to be pervasive across State Department, across the government. So it's not going to be squarely defined -- solely defined to one bureau, to one special envoy -- but we do see tremendous value in ensuring that we have a bureau that is focused on these issues, squarely on some of the most important elements of these issues.
We’ve also consistently said there’s a slightly larger universe of Americans with whom we’re in touch and who are not yet ready, for whatever reason, to leave, that number is also far from immutable as Americans reach out to us, and given the dynamic – the very dynamic nature of human decision-making.
When it comes to Merida, look, this is an initiative that has been on the books for, I think it is, 13 years now, we believe we are due for an updated look at our bilateral security cooperation, and we need an approach that addresses the concerns and the priorities of both governments, and this will really be one of the core elements of the discussions tomorrow.
We have been very clear about what we want to see happen. We are committed to the principle that dialogue will allow us to pursue our ultimate objective and that's quite simply the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. We have been very clear about that. What we seek to do is to reduce the threat to the North Korea, to our allies in the region, and that includes the ROK( Republic of Korea or South Korea) and Japan, and we think we can do that through diplomacy with the ROK.
We have brought to safety, with our partners, more than 100,000 individuals, many of these individuals were precisely in that position – fearing that were they to have stayed behind they could be subject to intimidation, to violence, or worse … that is why we have worked so assiduously, together with our partners, to effect this evacuation – the results of which speak for themselves.
The Deputy Secretary raised concerns in private -- as we have in public -- about a range of PRC actions that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies and partners, and that undermine the international rules-based order, she raised our concerns about human rights, including Beijing's anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong ; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang ; abuses in Tibet ; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press.
As we have said in the context of attacks that have taken place in recent months, they have been carried out by Iran-backed militias and President Biden in turn has responded, responded in different ways but of course, perhaps most visibly by authorizing the military strikes most recently, late last month but also, before that as well on Iran-backed militia infrastructure in Iraq and Syria, i wouldn't want to speak to the motivation of these attacks. I will say that what we recognize is that these attacks reflect and are representative of the threat that Iran-backed militias present fundamentally to Iraq's sovereignty, and to Iraq's stability.
This buildup is concerning. It raises questions about the PRC’s intent. And for us, it reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures to reduce nuclear risks, we encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races - potentially destabilizing tensions.
We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence, it is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount -- in word and in practice.
India is enduring a deeply concerning outbreak and the entire country has been affected. We obviously do have a large diplomatic presence within India, it is tantamount to the deep engagement and partnership we have with India, but I'm not in a position to speak to any cases within our staff or embassy community.
We condemn any violence against the people of Burma and reiterate our calls on the Burmese military to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters, we will work with partners and allies to press the Burmese military to reverse its actions and to help the people of Burma realize their aspirations for peace, democracyand the rule of law.
We continue to be seriously concerned over the treatments of American citizens David Whelan and Trevor Reed. Both men traveled to Russia as tourists, were arrested, and were then convicted without credible evidence, we hope Russia will do the right thing and return them to their families in David Whelan. They have been deprived of their freedom for far too long. We'll continue to speak out on behalf of those cases.
Among those taking part will be representatives of the Department's employee affinity groups as well as members of the workforce from different bureaus and career tracks. Participants will also be in different stages of their careers -- some very senior and some relatively junior -- and will represent many of the functions that are so critical to our operations, whether that's custodial support or policymaking.
There has been no substantial progress since transition officials spoke to the intransigence of the Department's political leadership late last week, as we said then, The Department is more pivotal to our national security than the Department of Defense, and an unwillingness to work together could have consequences well beyond January 20.