June 14, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrea Mitchell of Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Andrea Mitchell of Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for doing this.  So Türkiye has relented; President Erdogan has agreed that Sweden can join NATO.  How many F-16s is he going to get for that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, Andrea, we’re here in Vilnius and we have an Alliance that is stronger; it’s bigger, with two new members now, Sweden coming onboard after Finland; it’s more united than it’s ever been.  And I think you’ll see that reflected not only in Türkiye’s decision to move forward with NATO’s – with Sweden’s accession, but everything else is going to flow from the summit.

QUESTION:  Do you think now you can overcome resistance in both political parties in Congress to the F-16 sale to Türkiye?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, these for us have always been separate issues.  The track of getting Sweden into NATO now moving forward with Türkiye’s agreement to move forward, but at the same time it’s been the policy of this administration that Türkiye should have the upgraded F‑16s, the modernized F-16s – they’re a NATO Ally.  To make sure that all of NATO can work closely together, interoperable – that’s the term that we use – it’s important that Türkiye have this technology.

QUESTION:  But now you think Congress should approve it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, again, I’m not going to speak for members of Congress.  But it’s in the interest of the United States, it’s in the interest of the NATO Alliance, for Türkiye to get these planes.  It’s what we do across the Alliance: make sure that all of its members have the technology they need to make the Alliance as strong as possible.

QUESTION:  You’ve talked about NATO’s unity, but there is disagreement over the cluster munitions, clearly.  More than a hundred nations have banned them.  And we knew that this counteroffensive was coming, and by many reports it’s bogged down, it’s difficult; the Russians are dug in.  So why didn’t we earlier supply enough conventional munitions so that they would have enough ammunition without resorting to these deadly weapons?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Andrea, this comes down to a simple proposition, which is at every step along the way we’ve worked to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, when it needs it, to deal with the Russian aggression and to pursue the counteroffensive to retake territory.  But what’s happened is this – and this is why the decision on the cluster munitions:  The stockpiles around the world and in Ukraine of the unitary munitions – not the cluster   munitions —

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — were running low, about to be depleted.  And so the hard but necessary choice to give them the cluster munitions amounted to this:  If we didn’t do it, we don’t do it, then they will run out of ammunition.  If they run out of ammunition, they will be defenseless.  We have been working very hard to make sure that the productive capacity to make the conventional munitions that they need is being ramped up.  But there was going to be a gap between when they ran really low on those munitions, and when the new ones were able to come online.  These cluster munitions fill the gap, and it’s something that is – in this case, is Ukraine using these munitions in defense of its own territory, in defense of its own people, on its territory.  We know they’re going to use them very carefully, very deliberately.  It’s very different then using these munitions for a war of aggression, which Russia has been doing from day one, using cluster munitions against Ukraine from the start of this war.

QUESTION:  But we’re still seeing the results, the deadly results, of these munitions that were used in Southeast Asia during our war there, all those years, decades ago.  This is going to last forever now for the Ukrainian people.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Already the case; Russia has been using them from day one.  And this is something that is going to be an absolute requirement when the Russian aggression ends; that is, demining, clearing things up.  But that’s already the case because of the Russian use of these munitions.  And again, it comes down to a very basic proposition, which is in the absence of giving them these munitions now to make sure that there’s not a gap between when their inventories of existing munitions run out and when new munitions come online, this is what needed to be done.  The President said a hard but necessary decision.

QUESTION:  The UK’s against it, France, Germany.  Are we ceding the moral ground here, just because Russia’s doing it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Every ally I’ve talked to has said they understand why we’re doing this when we’re doing it.

QUESTION:  And let me ask you about the war itself.  Is this becoming a frozen conflict?  The President said this was a difficult decision, but we’re at a critical point with the counteroffensive.  It’s getting bogged down.  Are you concerned that this is going to be an endless war?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No.  What we’re seeing still is relatively early days in this counteroffensive.  This is something that we’ve said from the beginning was going to play out not just over a matter of weeks but over a matter of months.  And so we see the Ukrainians moving on various lines in the south, in the east.  That continues.  We’ve spent a lot of time – others have spent a lot of time – making sure that they had in hand what they need to do well in this counteroffensive.  We fully expect them to do so.

QUESTION:  Do you think that the pressure for a negotiated solution is going to increase, both at home politically in an election year in the U.S. as well as in Europe, as it gets dragged on and on?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No one wants this war to end sooner than the Ukrainians.  They’ve been on the receiving end of Russia’s aggression.  But they have to decide when they’re at a point when it can end and it can end in a way that is both just and durable.  It’s in Ukraine’s interest, it’s in the interest of countries around the world that this ends in a way that is just, that reflects the basic principles of UN Charter, that doesn’t reward aggression.  And at the same time, we want to make sure that, when it ends, it ends in a durable way, so that Russia doesn’t just repeat everything it’s done a year later.

So this is still going to play out.  Ukraine is really in the – still in the first phase of this counteroffensive.  Let’s see where it goes in the weeks and months ahead.

QUESTION:  Let me ask about Vladimir Putin.  He’s now met with Prigozhin.  Are you surprised that he’s met with Prigozhin?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Watching this, a truly extraordinary thing – as I’ve said before, we were at a place 16 months ago where Russia was on the doorsteps of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.  And now, just a couple of weeks ago, mercenaries of Putin’s own making were on the doorsteps of Moscow.  I don’t think we’ve seen the last chapter in this drama.  The fact that Putin met with Prigozhin, look, it’s an internal matter.  Putin is clearly trying to work his way through something.  But this was a direct challenge to his authority, a direct challenge to the basic premises of the war that he laid out.  And I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.

QUESTION:  Well, the fact that they’ve met and that Prigozhin presumably has survived that, does that indicate something about Putin’s weakness, that he needs Prigozhin, needs the Wagner Group to be somehow incorporated into the Russian military or he’s concerned about them being on the outside?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s not – well, it’s not something that I can speculate on.  What we do know is this.  For years, Putin denied any knowledge of Wagner having anything to do with it, and of course he turned around and said, yeah, Wagner works for us, and of course, not just in Ukraine, but in Syria, in country after country in Africa.  Everywhere that Wagner has gone we’ve seen death, we’ve seen destruction, we’ve seen exploitation across the board.  It has been a potent force for Russia in Ukraine.  So exactly what happens, where it goes, whether it continues to operate alongside Russian military in Ukraine, that’s an open question.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you about China.  You’re heading to Asia after a NATO Summit, after Jakarta.  Are you going to meet with your Chinese counterparts?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, nothing on the books, but we have meetings with a number of countries at ASEAN.  We just had Secretary Yellen in China.  That followed a visit that I made to China, as you know, a couple of weeks before.  We talked to each other there.  I think it’s important that our two countries are talking, that we’re engaged at high levels, that we’ve re-established lines of communication, just to make sure that we’re not – that we fully understand each other, that we’re very clear about our differences, that we’re responsibly managing the relationship.  I would expect that to continue.

QUESTION:  If the result is to clearly understand each other, why have they gained some economic ground by having these communications, by having Secretary Yellen there, but we still do not have military-to-military communications with increasingly aggressive behaviors by China in the air, at sea against our assets?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, this is one of the things that should be re-established.  I think the world expects us to responsibly manage the relationship.  And it’s clearly in the interest of both countries to avoid any kind of miscalculations, especially military.  So that’s something we’ll continue to look for.  But we’ve had the ability through the lengthy discussions that I had in China – Secretary Yellen as well – to talk extensively about the places where we have real and deep differences, to also look at areas where we might cooperate because it’s in our mutual interest to do so.  That’s going to continue.

QUESTION:  With Secretary Kerry, your special envoy on climate, going next week.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  Do you expect that President Xi will be coming to the United States, to San Francisco, in the fall?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, that remains to be seen.  There is a – we’re hosting this meeting of APEC.  China’s a member of the organization, as are we, so we’ll see what happens in the fall.  But what I said we would do in Beijing, which is not only re-establish these lines of communication but see cabinet members from the United States going to China, having our Chinese counterparts come to the United States – all of that, I think, is important, again, to make sure that we’re talking.  We’re clear.  We’re clear about our differences.  We’re also exploring areas of cooperation.  That is fundamentally in the interest of the United States.  It’s also what the world expects us to do.

QUESTION:  When are we going to see President Biden talk to President Xi?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There’s no substitute, at the end of the day, for leader-to-leader contact.  They’ve had extensive conversation; as you know, this goes back many years, when they were both vice president.

QUESTION:  Right.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s when they first met and had extensive conversations then.  They’ve talked extensively in one way or another as president, and I would fully expect that at some point in the months ahead they’ll talk.

QUESTION:  I don’t want to leave this without asking you about Evan Gershkovich and whether there is any hope now to get him out at least prior to the likely conviction, since that is the rote – 99 percent of people on trial there, falsely or otherwise, are convicted – and then sentencing.  Is there any way to get him out?  Is there a trade, anything in the works?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, Andrea, there’s always hope, and it’s something that we’re always exploring.  My number one priority as Secretary of State is to look out for the security, the well-being of Americans abroad, particularly those like Evan who are being unjustly detained.  It’s now, you’re right, more than 100 days, so it’s something that we’re focused on all the time.  And irrespective of where we are in the overall relationship with Russia, we continue to pursue getting him home – Paul Whelan as well, who’s been unjustly detained.  So there’s always hope.  It’s something that we’re always working on.  I don’t have anything more to say or to share at this point, but it’s something I’m very focused on.

QUESTION:  Are you hoping to get them both out at the same time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I don’t want to get into any details.  We want to see both of them come home.

QUESTION:  As well as those Americans still in Iran?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Wherever an American is unjustly detained, arbitrarily detained, my job, my work, is to try to bring them home.  We’ve had, over the course of these last two and a half years, some 27 Americans in different parts of the world who were unjustly detained; we’ve managed to bring them home.  That work continues.  It continues in Iran, it continues in Russia, it continues anywhere an American is unjustly detained.

QUESTION:  And speaking of Iran, the special envoy, Rob Malley, has had his security clearance suspended.  He’s being investigated by the FBI and Diplomatic Security for mishandling classified documents.  Is this a huge setback in any hopes of getting back on track, first of all?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, this is – this is a personnel matter.  There’s only so much I can say about a personnel matter.  What I can say is I’ve known Rob Malley for many, many years, and he’s someone who’s dedicated his life, his career, to serving our country, and he’s done so admirably.  The work that we’re doing on Iran, making sure that it doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon, bringing home those unjustly detained, pushing back in coordination with allies and partners against its behavior in other areas – that continues.

QUESTION:  And there’s a hearing in Washington today on the LIV Golf and the Saudi connections.  Do you have any problem with the amounts of money that are being thrown at sports by the Saudis, and now there’s an offer by the – by another Gulf country for some of our other sports teams?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The only thing I can tell you, Andrea, is it makes me think maybe I should’ve taken up golf.

QUESTION:  I think both of us.  (Laughter.)  Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks very much.  Great to be with you.

QUESTION:  You, too.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-andrea-mitchell-of-andrea-mitchell-reports-on-msnbc/