Here's a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:
The United States continues to support Ukraine in fending off Russian aggression and provides assistance to refugees fleeing the country in search of safety.
Wednesday (March 16,) President Joe Biden described the latest U.S. package of security assistance to Ukraine – valued at nearly $1 billion - shortly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to the U.S. Congress for more help in a virtual address. On Tuesday, Biden signed a spending bill that includes around $13.6 billion for Ukraine.
This week, the State Department announced sanctions on key members of Russia’s defense enterprise and individuals.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced more sanctions on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for his role as an ally of Russia during the invasion of Ukraine, blocking Lukashenko and his family from accessing U.S. property and limiting the ability of Americans to conduct business with them.
US-North and South Korea
Two recent North Korean missile launches were tests of a new intercontinental ballistic missile system, according to U.S. officials, who announced fresh sanctions on Pyongyang and warned of a "serious escalation" in tensions. The launches on Feb. 26 and March 4 did not demonstrate ICBM range but were likely meant to evaluate the new system before conducting a future test at full range, potentially disguised as a space launch.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the launches “a clear violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions” and said they demonstrated “the threat that is posed by the DPRK’s illicit weapons” and missile programs.
South Korea elected main opposition People Power Party candidate and ex-prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl as the country's next leader. Yoon, a conservative, is expected to take a hardline approach toward North Korea. The State Department congratulated President-elect Yoon and said Washington looked forward to expanding its "ironclad" alliance with Seoul.
Iran has claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck early Sunday (March 13) near a sprawling U.S. consulate complex in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, saying it was retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.
No injuries were reported in the attack, which marked a significant escalation between the U.S. and Iran. Hostility between the longtime foes has often played out in Iraq, whose government is allied with both countries.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with both Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Masrour Barzani to "express solidarity and condemn the recent Iranian attack that violated Iraq’s sovereignty." Blinken also discussed Iraqi national unity and Kurdish unity, as well as the need to form a government that protects Iraqis and their territory.
Iran Claims Missile Barrage Near US Consulate in Iraq
The Afghan embassy and two consulates in the United States will cease operations at noon March 23. Officials from the U.S. State Department met Afghan diplomats on Monday (March 14) to inform them about what they call an “orderly shutdown of operation” of the three Afghan missions.
The move comes seven months after the fall of the former Afghan government in Kabul and several months of administrative and diplomatic wrangling in Washington.
Under the shutdown plan, the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions will take over the protection and preservation of the embassy in Washington and the consulates in New York and Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan women, Rina Amiri, says women’s rights in Afghanistan “suffered a tremendous setback” after the Taliban seized power in August, but that supporting Afghan women is “one area where there is solidarity” in the United States and international community.
Women of Courage
The United States honored 12 women from Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Vietnam and other countries, with the State Department saying they have demonstrated leadership and a willingness to sacrifice for others at an "International Women of Courage Award" ceremony Monday (March 14) in Washington.
Jailed Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang did not attend the virtual award ceremony, since she is currently in prison. "We condemn her unjust imprisonment. We call for her immediate release," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Ei Thinzar Maung, a pro-democracy leader from Myanmar, was honored for her commitment to democracy and work for a strong, inclusive and democratic Myanmar that respects human rights.
"We are not going to ever give up. Democracy must be restored," said Ei Thinzar Maung in a pre-taped message. While being forced into hiding due to torture and death threats, Ei Thinzar Maung continues to speak out against a military coup that toppled the democratically elected government of Myanmar on Feb. 1, 2021.
Pro-democracy Leaders, Jailed Journalist Among US 'Women of Courage' Honorees