Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability


From U.S. Department of State


Media  – SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.

So we’ve just wrapped up two busy days here at NATO covering a very wide range of issues that face the Alliance, including the future of our presence in Afghanistan, evolving threats from Russia and China, the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and I could go on.  We had a very broad, very full, very important agenda.

We also focused critically on the future of NATO, what work we must do to ensure that the Alliance remains strong and effective for decades to come.  And we laid the groundwork for the upcoming leader-level summit, where even more work will be done to strengthen the Alliance and chart a unified path forward against the threats of our time.

NATO has been the cornerstone of transatlantic security for more than 70 years.  The United States is committed to this Alliance now and in the future.  And I came here to Brussels to consult with our allies because we intend to work with them and our partners wherever and whenever we can.  We share collective security, strategic interests, a long history, people-to-people ties, and a commitment to core values, including democracy, human rights, the rule of law.  In short, we’re in this together.  That’s the spirit of Article 5.  That’s the spirit of the United States commitment to NATO.

Let me just say on a personal note I’m very happy to be back in Brussels for my first visit as Secretary of State.  I’ve been gratified by how our allies have welcomed America back to the table.  We know that our return is being met with high expectations.  We welcome that.  In a few hours, I’ll have an opportunity to speak here at NATO and go into greater depth about how the Biden administration will work with our allies and partners to advance our national security priorities around the world, so I invite you to stay tuned for that.

But for now, let me just end by expressing my personal gratitude and the gratitude of the United States to Secretary General Stoltenberg and everyone here at NATO Headquarters for hosting us this week, and doing it so well and so productively.

And with that, happy to take a few questions.

MR PRICE:  Start with Jennifer Hansler.

QUESTION:  Hi, Mr. Secretary.  Have you relayed what you heard on Afghanistan to President Biden yet?  What was his reaction?  And you said yesterday that you would leave together when the time is right.  Is now the right time, and what would have to change in the about a month before May 1st to make it the right time to meet that deadline?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So as you know, as we’ve discussed already, we have this review underway.  And I came here to do two things: to share some of the thinking that we have with our allies, but just as important, to hear from them, to consult with them, because that’s what we’re – what allies do.  And indeed, I relayed back the views that I heard yesterday from our allies to the President.  And I think that’s going to be an important factor in informing his thinking about the way forward.

We heard this the other week at the defense ministerial, we’ve heard this refrain as well this week, and it remains true:  We went in together, we adjusted together, and when the time is right, we will leave together.  And the common theme, as I noted the other day, is “together,” and that was re-emphasized in our meetings here this week.

Again, last week the President noted it would be tough to meet the May 1 deadline for a full withdrawal, but whatever we end up doing, again, is going to be informed by the thinking of our allies.  And tactical decisions aside, we’re united with those allies in a few things: in making sure that we – as we move forward, we seek to bring a responsible end to the conflict, to remove our troops from harm’s way, and to ensure that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorists that would threaten the United States or any of our allies.

So we’re in very close consultation, very close coordination with our allies and partners.  That was reinforced over the last 24 hours.  And again, I think this will be extremely helpful in informing the President’s thinking as we go forward.

MR PRICE:  Over to Steve Erlanger, The New York Times.


QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to see you.

QUESTION:  Good to see you.  You just had a long discussion about Russia, and there are lots of things I wanted to ask you, but what I’m going to ask you is:  Do you agree now, without an INF treaty in place, that there’s a real nuclear vulnerability in Europe to Russian INF and even tactical nuclear weapons?  And if you do, what’s the right answer?  And if you don’t, does it mean that NATO still needs German nuclear sharing, which is becoming increasingly controversial there?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, let me say this:  We had – a couple of things.  We had a lengthy discussion about Russia this morning with our colleagues.  And before getting into the specific question, I think a few things stood out.  I think we all expect our relationship with Russia to remain a challenge into the foreseeable future, but it’s one that we’re prepared for.  And ultimately, I think what we can hope is to have a relationship with Russia that is at least predictable and stable, and so given that, our intent is to engage Russia in ways that advance our interests while remaining very clear-eyed about the challenges that it poses.

So even as we work with Russia to advance our interests and advance alliance interests, we’ll also work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions.  I think we’ve already demonstrated that, particularly with the extension of New START for five years, but also with the actions we’ve already taken to hold Russia to account.  But one of the areas where I think we have a clear mutual interest in seeing if we can work together is on strategic stability, to include all of Russia’s nuclear weapons systems, including those that may not be covered by New START.  And I think that’s clearly in the interest of the United States, in the interest of our allies, and – I can’t speak for Russia – in Russia’s interest too.

So Steve, that’s what we’ll be looking at.  When President Biden spoke to President Putin, they both did note the possibilities of exploring beyond the extension of New START where we might go on strategic stability.  And again, that would have to encompass all of the systems that Russia possesses.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Dan Michaels.

QUESTION:  Dan Michaels with The Wall Street Journal.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  First, if I could just quickly follow up on Afghanistan, can you say what you’ve told your NATO Allies about the timing of the administration’s review?  And what if the Taliban doesn’t agree to an extension on the timeline?

And second, if I may quickly, it’s clear that the atmospherics here have improved.  Are you at all concerned that allies will take that as a leeway to be a bit more relaxed about meeting some of the commitments that they’ve faced a lot of pressure on over the past four years?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So thank you, Dan.  Look, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals about what the Taliban may or may not do, what we may or may not do.  This is a very active review.  And again, as I said, it’s now fully informed by the views of our allies, and that was really what our goal was coming here, to make sure that we could do that.

As you know as well, the diplomacy on Afghanistan has been moving forward, even as we’ve been reviewing the question of the May 1 deadline.

We saw a, I think, very productive meeting in Moscow with the so-called Troika-plus one: Russia, China, Pakistan, the United States.  The statement that came out from that meeting, I think, is important and significant in underscoring the view of all four countries that it was important for the parties to accelerate their efforts at finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, important that there be a reduction in violence, a clear rejection of the establishment or re-establishment of an Emirate in Afghanistan.  So there is a lot of common denominators among these four countries, which otherwise occasionally have their differences.  So I think that’s significant.

And we’re also tracking to a meeting hosted by Turkey in the coming weeks that would bring together leadership of the Afghan Government and the Taliban, again, in an effort to advance on the diplomacy and to advance toward some kind of agreement for a peaceful political resolution of the conflict.  So all of that is moving forward.

You’re right that I think we found a very positive reception here from allies and partners, so I’ll take that for today and for this week.  (Laughter.)  That may not last forever, but in all seriousness, it was extremely gratifying.  But again, I think it starts with the fact that we expressed very clearly, and I expressed very clearly on behalf of President Biden, our commitment to this Alliance and our determination to engage, to consult, to listen, to work together with our allies.

But we also discussed in some detail the need not only to look at what NATO has to do to make sure it is engaged on the challenges of our time, not just the time the Alliance was founded.  We also discussed the need to properly resource that, and certainly, we believe strongly, the United States believes strongly, that we do need to do that.

Allies made commitments at the Wales Summit in 2014 that, in fact, they’re making good progress on, but there are other aspects to this that are important.  The financial commitments are significant.  They’re vital, they’re important, and we’re determined that we all see them through together.  But there are also important questions of readiness of our forces.  There are important questions of our ability to actually raise the necessary forces for particular missions.  Those are vital things too.

And finally, Dan, I would say that we also recognize that while it’s very important that we remain true to the commitments that we all made as allies in 2014 in Wales, it’s also true that different allies and partners who are not allies contribute to our security, defined largely, in many ways.  And it’s important, I think, for the United States to recognize that too.  For example, development assistance is a vital part of security, and a number of our allies, a number of our partners make very significant per-capita contributions to development.  And so that’s – that’s something we don’t want to lose sight of either.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to Teri Schultz.

QUESTION:  Hello, Mr. Secretary.  Up here.


QUESTION:  Teri Schultz for NPR.  Thank you very much.  Despite the improved atmosphere, there are still some pretty significant areas where the U.S. and its European allies and its partners at the EU are on different pages.  Specifically on China, the Biden administration, before it was in office, sent out signals that they would like to see the EU wait on its investment deal, and that didn’t happen.  You’ll be speaking with Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell later.  Are you hoping to pull them more toward the U.S. view that they should not be doing business with China to the extent that European governments are at the moment?  Are you concerned about this?

And the other issue is Iran.  The E3 would very much like to see you and Iran sit down.  There was an invitation.  I understand that the U.S. says it’s waiting for Iran to make the first move; Iran says it’s waiting for you to make the first move.  I mean, why can’t you come to an agreement to sit down and talk on this?  What’s the holdup?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good, thank you.  So first, with regard to the EU and particularly China, you’re right.  I have the opportunity actually this afternoon to sit down with our very close partners and the leadership.  Maybe more important than that, President Biden is going to be speaking to the council tomorrow via video, all – both important, and especially the President, important evidence of our commitment to work closely with the European Union.  We see the European Union as a partner of first resort on a broad array of issues, and China is one of them.  We are looking very much forward to actually having close consultations between the United States and the EU on China.  That’ll be an opportunity to share the concerns that we have, including those related to trade, investment, human rights, and indeed, I’ll have an opportunity to do that this afternoon with my counterparts.

With regards to the comprehensive agreement on investment, our judgment is that the onus is really going to be on China to demonstrate that the pledges it’s made on forced labor, on state-owned enterprises, on subsidies, are not just talk and that the Chinese Government will follow through on the commitments that it’s made.  So I suspect that not only will we be looking to that, but so will the European Union.  But we’ll also continue to engage with European counterparts, including members of the European Parliament, on how to advance our shared economic interests and to counter some of China’s aggressive and coercive actions as well as its failures, at least in the past, to uphold its international commitments.

And I think, again, what’s so important both with regard to NATO and the issues we’re dealing with, but also the EU and our partnership with the EU, is that when we are working together, when we are speaking with one voice, when we’re acting together, we are much stronger and much more effective than if any single one of us is doing it alone.

And so, for example, when it comes to dealing with some of China’s practices in the commercial area and the trade and investment and economic area that we all object to, if the United States is taking those on on its own – we’re about 25 percent of world GDP – when we’re actually working with our European partners, Asian partners, and others, we might be 40, 50, or 60 percent of world GDP.  That’s a lot harder for Beijing to ignore.  So that’s another reason why we are really focusing on revitalizing, recommitting to our alliances and partnerships.

So with regard to Iran, we have been very clear that the path to diplomacy is open.  And as you noted, when the EU suggested bringing together all of the participants in the JCPOA to look at how we might come back to compliance with the JCPOA, we said yes, and to date Iran has chosen not to engage.  So as we’ve said, the ball is really in their court to see if they want to take the path to diplomacy and returning to compliance with the agreement.  And should that happen, we would then seek, as we’ve said, to build a longer and stronger agreement, but also to engage on some of the other issues where Iran’s actions and conduct are particularly problematic: destabilization of countries in the region, ballistic missile program, et cetera.

So I had a meeting last night with our E3 partners, with the UK, with Germany, and France.  We are all very much on the same page when it comes to – when it comes to Iran, when it comes to our common interest in seeing if Iran wants to engage in diplomacy to come back fully into compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA.  We are, again, prepared to engage on that.  To date Iran has not been, but let’s see what happens in the weeks ahead.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a final question from Robin Emmott.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Robin Emmott from Reuters.  You said yesterday that you had a bilateral with Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and I wanted to ask you about Nord Stream.  So the pipeline is almost complete.  I wonder what you see as the solution in this issue, because Ambassador Ischinger has put forward this idea that construction could actually be completed, but there would be some kind of kill switch whereby gas could always be shut off if, say, Russia moved against Ukraine.  So I wondered, first of all, was that discussed yesterday between you and yourself – and Heiko Maas?  And if not, what is a solution?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first let me say that Germany is among our closest allies, and we have a real disagreement on Nord Stream 2 – that’s not a secret to anyone.  But we’re not going to let that stand in the way of the work we’re doing together on issue after issue that is of direct concern to the citizens of both of our countries.  And indeed, I’ve had great conversations with Heiko Maas and German colleagues about the agenda that we have together, both as partners ourselves, through NATO, the EU, at the UN – you name it.

But it’s also true that President Biden has been very clear for a long time in his view that Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea.  And I reiterated that view directly to Foreign Minister Maas, and I also made clear that firms engaged in pipeline construction risk U.S. sanctions.  The pipeline divides Europe; it exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russian manipulation and coercion; it goes against Europe’s own stated energy security goals.  So what I said was that we will continue to monitor activity to complete or certify the pipeline, and if that activity takes place, we will make a determination on the applicability of sanctions.  And this was, I think, useful as well for me to have an opportunity to discuss directly with Foreign Minister Maas just to make clear our position and to make sure that there’s no ambiguity, and that’s exactly what I did.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, everyone.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks very much.

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