June 14, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at a Joint Press Availability

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at a Joint Press Availability

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Okay.  Most welcome to this press conference, and most welcome to Luleå, Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:   Luleå is the place.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Right now, we are, as we all know, at F 21, an air force wing in northern Sweden, and while we are here, the Arctic Challenge Exercise, the ACE, is taking place at F 21 as well.  Both Swedish-made Gripen fighters and American-made F-16s can be seen operating in the air during the ACE.

The north of Sweden is geographically very important for the Swedish armed forces as it provides strategic depth for us and for our neighboring countries.  The Russian border is actually a six-and-a-half-hour drive from here.  Filling the territorial gap in the north will be one of Sweden’s many security contributions to NATO when we join the Alliance.

On that note, let me express my deep appreciation for the United States support for Sweden’s NATO accession.  That means a lot to us.  We have applied for NATO membership because we realize we need to defend freedom and democracy together, but also because we want to bring our own capabilities to common use.  As a member, Sweden will be a security provider to the entire Alliance.

During our meeting, the Secretary and I have, of course, discussed the most acute security threat to our part of the world, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  For Sweden and for the Swedish EU presidency, supporting Ukraine is a top priority.  I’m very grateful for and impressed by the strong U.S. commitment and the U.S. leadership of this big operation.  It really proves the importance of transatlantic cooperation.

We also discussed the challenges and opportunities from new technology, issues that also will be discussed between the EU and the U.S. in the Trade and Technology Council taking place in Luleå today and tomorrow.  Green transition, innovation, and the tech industry, including 6G, are areas where two nations like Sweden and the U.S. have very many common interests, and common concerns as well, and we should and we could work even closer together.

In northern Sweden, we show in practice how innovation and growth and green transition can go hand-in-hand.  Here Sweden has unique natural resources, rare earth metals, and by tradition, cheap, reliable, and fossil-free electricity, not least thanks to hydro power.

In January this year, it was announced that Europe’s largest deposit for rare earth metals is in Kiruna, just some 350 kilometers from here.  That’s pretty close, if you ask the locals.  And it shows that Sweden has a bright future as a mining nation – increasingly important, again, for the green transition.

I’m happy to conclude that the relations between Sweden and the United States are very strong, with plenty of potential for deepening cooperation both as bilateral partners and as future NATO Allies.

Over to you, Secretary Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Well, Prime Minister, thank you so much.  Thank you for the very, very good meeting that we had.  Thank you for your wonderful hospitality here.  I am grateful to be here to be with you and also our colleagues from the European Union as we engage in the fourth round of the Trade and Technology Council meetings that will start, actually, tonight with dinner, but then in full force tomorrow.

But we’re in Sweden, and then on to Norway and to Finland, at a critical time for our countries and our people – a time of historic strategic convergence between the United States and partners across Europe.  And I think – without speaking for you, Prime Minister, I think we both have that shared assessment of this convergence on the most important issues of our time.

The United States and Sweden are working more closely together than ever on a wide variety of shared interests: Ukraine, Sweden’s NATO accession, our bilateral security partnership, and indeed, here in Luleå, as you heard, Sweden just hosted the Arctic Challenge Exercise 23, joined by the United States and NATO; the climate crisis, where Sweden is a leading partner in the First Movers Coalition, something we saw firsthand today; and our efforts to ensure that the Arctic remains a region free from conflict, where nations act responsibly and in accordance with international law, and economic development and investment take place in a sustainable, secure, and transparent manner.

Tomorrow, as noted, we are going to build on the progress that we’ve made as the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, the U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, and I join our European Union counterparts for the fourth meeting of the U.S.-EU TTC, the Trade and Technology Council.  It is very fitting that we meet here in Luleå.  This city is a model for so much of the work that we’ve been doing and we’ve been focused on through the TTC, from eliminating emissions in carbon-intensive industries to reducing our dependencies on unreliable or autocratic countries for the minerals that are used for products essential to our prosperity and security.

Over the past two years, the TTC has enabled the United States and the European Union, which together make up nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP, to align and shape a collective, affirmative economic and technological future that advances the values that we share, that bolsters our competitiveness, and that delivers tangible results for the people that we represent on both sides of the Atlantic.

At tomorrow’s meeting, we’ll focus on how to ensure that new and emerging technologies – as you heard from the prime minister – like AI, like quantum, like 6G enhance our competitive edge, benefit our citizens, and uphold democratic principles.  We’ll continue to work on our supply chains and on accelerating the green transition, a great example of which we saw earlier today.  We’ll also discuss our joint efforts to address economic coercion and non-market economic policies and practices.

The work that we’ve done over the past two years, including on export controls, has been critical to our efforts to ensure that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains a strategic failure.  Tomorrow, we’ll announce new actions that build on the export controls on the technology that’s found in Iranian drones used to target Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure, to counter Russian misinformation and disinformation, to protect human rights defenders online.

Then Foreign Minister Billström and I will both travel to Oslo for the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting.  As we prepare for the Leaders’ Summit in Vilnius, we’re continuing to make sure that our Alliance is stronger, more united, and better positioned to navigate a changing environment – from Putin’s aggression in Europe, to the PRC challenge, to risks in space and cyberspace.

Sweden again and again has proven its commitment to NATO – to its values, to its mission, to its members.  A strong, vibrant democracy with highly capable forces that have been working shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO members for years, for decades, it is fully dedicated to upholding the commitments that underpin our Alliance, including Article 5.

By joining NATO, Sweden undertakes a commitment to the security of every other Ally.  No one should doubt that commitment, and, of course, every other Ally will be committed to Sweden’s security.  We will continue to work to complete Sweden’s accession by the time our leaders gather in Vilnius for the NATO Summit.

Just days after President Putin invaded Ukraine, Sweden moved swiftly to provide assistance – the first time it’s delivered lethal assistance since it came to Finland’s aid in the Winter War going back to 1939.  Sweden has provided approximately $2 billion in military, humanitarian, and economic support to Ukraine.  It’s welcomed nearly 50,000 refugees from Ukraine, providing pathways not only to have access to public services but also to work, to study, which they want to do so they can contribute to their communities here and, ultimately, to their communities back home in Ukraine.

And in its role as EU – president of the Council of the EU, Sweden has overseen the EU’s 10th sanctions package, launched on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.  It’s also overseen a landmark agreement to jointly procure ammunition for Ukraine and has set up a process to investigate how frozen Russian assets can be used to rebuild the country.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, on so many fronts, as we were discussing, in challenging times, the most important thing is to have close allies, close partners, close friends.  The United States could not ask for a closer partner and friend and, soon, closer Ally than Sweden.

Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, and we’ll open up for a few questions.  We’ll start with the Swedish television, Johan Pisoni.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Mr. Secretary Blinken, what do you make of the fact that there are still two countries blocking the Swedish NATO application?  And is the U.S. willing to add more pressure to these countries in order to speed up the process?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  So the accession process is just that.  It’s a process.  And in fact, if you look at this in historic terms, it’s removed – it’s moved remarkably rapidly with Finland’s accession and, very soon, Sweden’s accession.  Through that process, individual members of the Alliance can bring up issues of concern to them, and, of course, Türkiye has done that over the last months.  And I think it has rightly focused attention on some of its security concerns that both Sweden and Finland have taken remarkable steps to address, important ones.

So I think it’s to Türkiye’s credit that it’s been able to focus all of the Alliance on some of these concerns, but it’s to Sweden’s credit as well as Finland’s credit that they’ve taken concrete action to address those concerns.  From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalize Sweden’s accession.  Again, it’s taken very significant steps to address very legitimate concerns, and I think in terms of its own qualifications for membership, from day one it was qualified precisely because it’s been such a long-time partner for NATO; of course, the European Union; and with values that are fundamentally the same.

So we look forward to this process being completed in the weeks ahead.  We have no doubt that it can be, and it should be, and we expect it to be.

MODERATOR:  Okay, next question goes to Missy Ryan.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Okay, hi.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Missy.

QUESTION:  I’d also like to ask about the Sweden NATO accession issue.  First, for you, Mr.  Prime Minister, have you or any of your advisers been in touch with the Turkish Government since – with Erdogan or his team since the – his re-election?  And do you have any indications that Türkiye is now ready to approve Sweden’s accession to NATO, or are they asking you to take additional steps?  And I know your government has spoken extensively about the benefits that NATO accession will bring to both Sweden and NATO, but what do you think it says about NATO and its ability to provide a strong deterrent that one or two members of NATO have the ability to hold up the enlargement for over a year?

And then for you, Mr. Secretary, President Biden yesterday suggested that there could be some sort of arrangement linking Turkish approval of the Swedish accession bid to the provision of F‑16s to Türkiye.  Do you have any indications that Türkiye will now relent on Sweden’s NATO accession now that the election is over, and do you have any indications that key lawmakers in the United States will now support supplying Türkiye with F-16s.  And then also on the Turkish election, forgive me, given the track record of Erdogan’s government regarding rule of law, democracy, and inclusivity, are you concerned that conditions around those things might deteriorate further in Türkiye following the election since arguably he might see that as a valid – see the results of the election as a validation of his approach?  Thanks.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Well, first, of course, obviously, we have had several contacts also after the election runoff last Sunday, so we have – we are in constant contact with our Turkish counterpart on this specific issue, of course.  So – and just to reiterate what I’ve said before, I mean, we have always known that – two things.  One is we have a memorandum, we are fulfilling it, and the very final part of that is actually being put into force June 1st – that is the day after tomorrow – when the new piece of legislation, actually, in counterterrorism – and that is an important step.  And thereby, we have done what we told the – our Turkish friends and within the framework of the trilateral memorandum – very, very important.  And we acknowledged the fact that they have good reasons to have had concerns on how other countries helped them to protect themselves.

But on the other side, or at the same time, we have always recognized the fact that every NATO Ally has to make its own decision, and only Türkiye can make Türkiye’s decisions, and we fully respect that.  So that’s basically it.  And now we wait for them to make their decision.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And Missy, to your question, first let me just say it is appropriate that every Ally have a clear say in the admission of new members or the accession of new members, because it comes down to Article 5.  Each member is making a solemn commitment to every other member that it will join in coming to their defense if they are the victims of aggression.  And so it’s important that every member have its say in this process.  And as I said earlier, by historic terms, this has moved remarkably rapidly, and we believe it needs to come to a conclusion now.

With regard to Sweden’s accession and the F-16s, these are distinct issues.  Both, though, are vital, in our judgment, to European security.  I’ve already been clear about why it’s profoundly in the interest of the Alliance and the United States to have Sweden as a formal Ally in NATO.  And as I said, we expect that process to be completed in the weeks ahead.  But we know that our Alliance will be stronger and we will be better off when that process is finalized.  And so we urge both Türkiye and Hungary, which has also not yet ratified, to ratify the accession as quickly as possible.  There is no reason for any further time; Sweden is ready now.  That decision should be – should move forward now.

With regard to the F-16s, our administration has been very clear:  We believe it’s important that Türkiye have the F-16s or the F-16 upgrades, as a critical member of the NATO Alliance, to make sure that they are operating at the highest standards of the Alliance, that they’re fully interoperable with every other Ally.  This, too, is in the interest of the United States, and it’s why we brought this forward for consideration.

It’s equally true that there are members of Congress who feel strongly, and while we are not linking the two issues – when I say we, I mean the Biden administration – some members of Congress are.  They are linking Sweden’s accession to NATO to the moving forward on the F‑16s.  Congress is a fully equal and independent branch of government.  Their voice and their vote in any such decisions, of course, is critical.  But from our perspective, we believe that both should go forward and should go forward as quickly as possible, that is to say, Sweden’s accession and moving forward on the F-16 package.  More broadly, as always, we’re focused on the actions of any given government, of any given partner, not on hypotheticals about what they may or may not do in the future.  We will remain focused on their actions.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Next question goes to TT News Agency.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, first of all, welcome to Sweden.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Just a follow-up on the NATO question.  The NATO meeting in Vilnius is only six weeks away.  What would you say the odds are, the chances are that you will see Sweden as a member of NATO before the meeting takes place?  And sort of a follow-up on that, if the process will be further delayed, would that – what might – what might the consequences be for Sweden as well as for NATO?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Do you have a bet on this or are you thinking of putting something – (laughter) —

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t have any inside information that I could or would share.  (Laughter.)  Look, as I said, we believe the time is now, and there is no reason for not moving forward and – as I said before.  And as the prime minister has expressed very eloquently, Türkiye has raised important and legitimate concerns.  Sweden and Finland both addressed those concerns, and so the time to move forward is now.  We’d like to see that happen before the Vilnius Summit.  But again, I can’t put and won’t put odds on it.

What I can say is this:  We and our Allies are both committed to and well-positioned to help Sweden address its security needs irrespective of whether accession happens tomorrow or in two weeks or in a few weeks after that.  We’ve been clear that we will not tolerate any aggression against Sweden no matter its actual status.

Secretary of Defense Austin was here recently, and I think he very clearly reaffirmed that point.  We have a deep existing partnership that is literally being exercised, as the prime minister said, right now through Arctic Challenge 23.  And I think that’s further evidence of the fact that we are working extremely closely together and as partners and, soon, formal Allies.  We’re ready for any contingency.

MODERATOR:  Great.  We’ll do a final question from The Wall Street Journal.  Kim.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Kim Mackrael from The Wall Street Journal.  For Secretary Blinken, can you speak to how close you think the U.S. and European approaches to China are right now?  What do you hope to see from Europe in addressing concerns about non-market practices and export controls?  And also, how big do you think the gap is between what the EU talks about in terms of de-risking and what is often referred to with the U.S. about decoupling with China?  And sorry, if I can also put a question to the prime minster?

MODERATOR:  It’s just one question.

QUESTION:  Just – for the prime minister – it’s on the same topic.  It seems there’s significant debate from member-states over how to redefine Europe’s relationship with China.  So what’s your view on the commission’s proposal for outbound investment screening, and how likely do you think it is that member-states will see some agreement on moving forward with that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  So I think – and the prime minister and I had an opportunity to discuss this at some length – for both the United States and Europe, and indeed for countries in all parts of the world, the relationship with China is among the most consequential, is one of the most – as well as one of the most complex that we have.

And we’ve been very clear about what we’re for and also what we’re not for, and we are not looking for a new cold war.  We are not looking to contain China.  We are looking to make sure that we are upholding our interests and our values in that relationship and that we’re managing it responsibly.  I think there’s a demand signal from countries around the world that both China and the United States manage the relationship responsibly, that we take every reasonable step to make sure that the competition that we’re in does not veer into conflict.

And one of the reasons that President Biden and President Xi agreed when they met in Bali last year to strengthen our lines of communication was precisely to that end, as well as seeing if, when it’s in our mutual interest and in the interest of others, there are areas where we can actually strengthen cooperation.  In my 30 years or so of doing this, I have not seen a time, actually, when there is greater convergence between the United States and Europe, as well as with key partners in Asia, on the approach to China.  I think you see that reflected in what key leaders in Europe are saying, including just today, the prime minister discussing this issue – but I’ll let him speak for himself – the work that we’re doing with the EU through the Trade and Technology Council – the recent speech by President von der Leyen, which I think could very much have been an expression of our own policy.

And when you look at it, I think what you’ve seen over the last couple of years is that increasing convergence.  Both the United States and Europe, I think, believe that, again, this relationship is an important one, one that we seek to sustain, but with our eyes wide open.  And so both the United States and Europe are not in favor of decoupling, but we are in favor of de-risking.  And you’ve heard that from the leadership on both sides of the Atlantic.

But not only have you heard that, you’ve actually seen that in practice through the Trade and Technology Council, as well as other work that we’re doing with the European Union.  You’re seeing country after country put in place investment screening mechanisms, not for the purpose of stopping Chinese investment, but for making sure that in discrete areas, industries, companies, geographic areas where that investment could pose a challenge or – to our security, we have the appropriate mechanisms in place.  We’re now talking about, as well in very discrete ways, looking at outward investment to make sure that it’s not going to support developments in China that could pose a threat to our security.

We’re working more closely together than ever on building supply chain diversification and resilience, with the EU putting in place early warning systems to disruptions in the supply chain, as well as diversifying them.  Again, we’re coming together to do that.  You see it as well in the collaboration that we’ve had on export controls, not for the purpose of cutting off trade with or supplies to China of technology, but, again, in very discrete areas, where that technology may go to, for example, help China develop what is an opaque nuclear weapons program or other things that could pose a threat to our security or challenges to our values like surveillance technology.  Well, we’re taking appropriate measures there.

And when it comes to nonmarket economic practices, there, too, the United States and Europe are increasingly aligned.  And that’s important because individually, if we’re trying to get China to change some of the unfair practices that it’s engaged in, the United States is about 20 percent of the world’s economy; Europe’s about 20 percent of the world’s economy.  When we combine and address these issues together, all of a sudden we’re almost 50 percent of the world’s economy, and that’s a little bit harder for China to ignore when it comes to trying to change some of the practices they’re engaged in.

So I think we’re seeing that it’s profoundly in the mutual interest of both Europe and the United States to be aligned in our approach, as it is for key countries in Asia.  We just came from a G7 meeting where Japan and Korea were both present.  I think you’ve seen a similar alignment, a similar convergence, in the approach that we’re taking to China there as well.  And again, I refer you to the words of key leaders in Europe, as well as some of the key documents and strategies that Europe has put out.  They are almost entirely coincident with our own approach.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Well, basically I very much agree with Secretary Blinken’s kind of basic approach and – to this matter, very much so.  And as you might know, the very final European Council meeting during the Swedish presidency will be, of course, as always, about Ukraine – always – but also on the key issue of relation to China.  So that’s our kind of final part we are preparing.

It happens to be – I just came to here from the Stockholm China Forum, the German Marshall Fund’s annual meeting on China, and I gave – I tried to outline how we see the principal approach to – perhaps just two remarks.  One is Europe needs to unite and stick to the unity on how to have a common approach to China.  It is simply the fact that 27 countries need to stick together to have the clout and to have the power and (inaudible).

And second, transatlantic cooperation is key in this area as well, I would say.  And that has sometimes been questioned, as you know.  And I would say that those now saying that – or asking themselves, does Europe need to choose, as it goes, between the U.S. and China, they simply ask themselves the wrong question.  We should instead unite in a principally anchored idea on how an open world should act, how we reduce dependency, how we de-risk, regardless if China want to be de-risked or not, and try to be as open as possible, taking our own security concerns into account.

I think the U.S. has been a few years ahead of Europe, but I think very many countries now realize this is not the time for naivete.  It’s not the time to stop communicating and cooperating with China either.  Decoupling is not the answer, but to have a serious common approach to this matter I think would be.

So my short answer:  Yeah, I think there is a beginning convergence going on, which I would appreciate very, very much.  And if Sweden can be helpful in that process, I would be very proud of that.

MODERATOR:  Great.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much for everyone for coming.

PRIME MINISTER KRISTERSSON:  Thank you so much.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-swedish-prime-minister-ulf-kristersson-at-a-joint-press-availability/