Thursday, May 30, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Solo Press Availability


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  It is a great pleasure to be here in Capri, in Italy.  And I want to begin by thanking our hosts – Prime Minister Meloni, my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister Tajani – for not only their wonderful hospitality but also their remarkable leadership. 

The G7 is in many ways a steering committee for the world’s most advanced democracies.  And we emerge from this meeting of foreign ministers more united than ever – more united in facing critical challenges that lie before the international community, including Russian aggression against Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, and as well the importance of sustaining, supporting a free and open Indo-Pacific.  These and many other subjects were the focus of our conversations over the last two days, which I found to be extremely productive.  And again, what strikes me the most – and it – you can really see this over the last three years – is the extraordinary convergence in our approaches to these challenges, convergence between the United States, Europe, and major partners in Asia. 

Let me touch on some of the most important things that we discussed and concluded over these past couple of days, and of course I’ll – I commend to you the statement that we put out or will soon be out on the part of the entire G7.  First, the G7 condemned the unprecedented Iranian attack on Israel, unprecedented in scope and scale – scope, because it was a direct attack on Israel from Iran; scale, because it involved more than 300 munitions, including ballistic missiles.  We’re committed to Israel’s security.  We’re also committed to de-escalating, to trying to bring this tension to a close. 

You saw as well, or you’ll see soon in the G7 statement a commitment to hold Iran to account – to account for its destabilizing activities, holding into account by degrading its missile and drone capabilities.  And yesterday the United States announced additional sanctions on Iran, targeting UAV programs, the steel industry, companies that are associated with the IRGC, the Ministry of Defence, and its armed forces logistics.  The G7 statement makes clear that G7 countries will adopt additional sanctions or other measures in the days ahead. 

Even as we’ve been dealing with the conflict in the Middle East, and again, the unprecedented attack by Iran on Israel, we’ve remained intensely focused on Gaza.  We urge the rapid implementation of Israel’s humanitarian assistance commitments – more aid, more crossings, better deconfliction, better distribution of the assistance to all who need it.  We have seen important steps over the last couple of weeks, with more crossings opening, more aid getting in, more aid getting around, but we need to see sustained results.  And we need, in particular, to make sure that there is distribution throughout Gaza. 

We also focused on the imperative of getting to a ceasefire with the release of hostages.  Such a ceasefire would facilitate the dramatic expansion of the humanitarian assistance.  It would also let Gazans returned to the north, those who have been displaced from the north.  The only thing – the only thing – standing between the Gazan people and a ceasefire is Hamas.  It’s rejected generous proposals from Israel.  It seems more interested in a regional conflict than it is in a ceasefire that would immediately improve the lives of the Palestinian people.  It continues to move the goalposts, and the world needs to know and needs to understand, again, that the only thing standing between a ceasefire and the Gazan people is Hamas. 

The G7 is also very clear in its unwavering support for Ukraine, faced with aggression from Russia.  Putin thinks that he can outwait Ukraine and outwait Ukraine’s supporters.  The message coming out of Capri is:  He can’t.  Every G7 member’s making extraordinary contributions to Ukraine’s defense.  And, as I said before, this is the best burden-sharing that I’ve ever seen across the Atlantic in more than 30 years of being engaged in these issues, with Europe as well as Asian partners picking up more than their share of the load. 

I want to particularly recognize Prime Minister Meloni for her leadership, her decisive leadership.  We can see two things right now.  Together we are helping to put Ukraine on a long-term path where it will stand strongly on its own two feet militarily, economically, democratically.  More than now 30 countries are engaged in negotiating – and some have concluded negotiations – with Ukraine on security pacts.  And together with what I’m convinced will emerge from the NATO summit, you can see Ukraine effectively building a force for the future – one that can deter aggression and defeat it as necessary. 

We’re working to drive private sector investment into Ukraine, and also help it develop its own defense industrial base in ways that will provide for a strong, enduring economy.  And of course, now that the accession path to the EU is open, that will help Ukraine deep-root its democracy.  But even as we’re doing all of that, we heard clearly from Foreign Minister Kuleba that it’s imperative that – in this moment, Ukraine get more resources that it needs to deal with the ongoing Russian aggression.  It needs more air defenses, it needs more munitions, it needs more artillery. 

Allies and partners, including the G7 countries, are committed to delivering on that.  We discussed steps to provide more assistance more immediately to Ukraine.  We also discussed ways to protect and help restore its energy grid, which Russia has sought to decimate.  And here, again, I think we can see the important steps that were already taken, but more to come in making sure that Ukraine has sustainable energy for its people. 

We’re also working to strengthen efforts to disrupt the transfer of weapons, and also inputs for Russia’s defense industrial base.  When it comes to weapons, what we’ve seen, of course, is North Korea and Iran primarily providing things to Russia.  But when it comes to Russia’s defense industrial base, the primary contributor in this moment to that is China.  We see China sharing machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade.  Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.  And you don’t have to just take that from me – this is what I heard around the table at the G7. 

Progress on solutions also to use Russia’s sovereign assets for Ukraine was on the agenda.  And here, I think we’re working on getting to an agreement on that consistent with international law, consistent with different countries’ laws.  The Kremlin has called this theft.  The real theft is in Ukrainians’ lives taken, in so much of Ukraine’s infrastructure destroyed, in so much of its land seized.  Being able to use these Russian sovereign assets to help rebuild Ukraine is critical, and it’s also something that – one way or another, one day or another – is going to happen.  It’s also a complement to, but not a substitute for, the assistance that we all need to be providing in the moment to Ukraine, and in particular the supplementary budget request that President Biden has made and that it appears will be before the House this weekend.

And again, I just want to emphasize two things.  First, this money and everything it’ll provide is urgently needed by Ukraine, by its people who are so bravely defending their country and defending their democracy.  Second, as I said, we have European and other partners, including in Asia, who are doing so much themselves to help provide for Ukraine.  And finally, virtually all of the supplemental, will be invested in the United States in defense production, in our own defense industrial base, and that means good jobs in the United States. 

Finally, we focused intensely over these last couple of days on reaching out to new partners, and this includes in the Indo-Pacific, where we’re working to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.  Here, I think it’s very instructive that the support that Russia’s received from China, from North Korea, from Iran demonstrates that security in Europe, security in Asia, and other parts of the world are indivisible.  They’re deeply connected.  And this is something, again, that we heard around the table over these last couple of days. 

The G7 is united on the need for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and also united in standing up to China’s unfair and non-market practices, especially when it comes to overcapacity that is flooding the markets of our own countries with new products and technologies that are heavily subsidized and so underpriced, driving our own businesses out of the market and seeking to dominate these markets themselves.  Again, this is a very clear common concern among all of our countries.

And finally, the other piece of this is that the G7 continues to work to deepen engagement with global partners to help deliver results everywhere.  We had the chair of the African Union with us yesterday for very good conversations.  And what we’re really looking at is working in practical ways with countries in Africa and beyond to make clear, tangible, deliverable improvements in the lives of their people and, as a result, the lives of our own people. 

We have the AU that’s now a member of the G20.  We’re particularly focused on how Africa can play its rightful role in meeting both regional and global challenges.  There’s a growing collaboration on infrastructure and technology to improve connectivity, to build resilience.  We’ve reaffirmed our commitment to sustainable development and especially to the Sustainable Development Goals – also to reforming the international financial institutions, multilateral development banks to make them both more representative and more effective and responsive to meeting the needs of countries around the world, addressing issues like climate change, debt, food security.

So, in all of these areas, I found the conversations and the work over the last couple of days – reflected in the statement that you’ll see – to be extremely productive and also, maybe most importantly, a very good setup for the leaders that are – the meeting that our leaders will have, excuse me, in June.  That’s what we’re tracking toward.  We’ll continue the work that we did here over the next couple of months, and the leaders will follow up.

With that, happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  The first question goes to Olivia Gazis with CBS News.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary, there is a lot to ask you about today, so with your indulgence – first, on Israel’s strikes in Iran, was the U.S. indeed alerted in advance, how far ahead of time, and did it raise any objections when it was?  Are the strikes now over, and do you have any indication at this early stage via direct or indirect messaging that Iran will respond?  And have there been any changes in Iran’s nuclear program?

On Israel, there are reports that your department has made recommendations to cut military aid to certain Israeli units for possible human rights violations in the West Bank, before October 7th.  Will you take action on those recommendations?

And finally, on the recent U.S. assessments you mentioned that China may be growing its support for Russia for its war effort in Ukraine, do you believe that President Xi is sensing an opportunity amid flagging U.S. support to the Ukrainians? 

Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great.  Thanks, Olivia.  On the first question, the reports that you’ve seen, I’m not going to speak to that, except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations.  What we’re focused on, what the G7 is focused on – and again, it’s reflected in our statement and in our conversation – is our work to de-escalate tensions, to de-escalate from any potential conflict.  You saw Israel on the receiving end of an unprecedented attack, but our focus has been on, of course, making sure that Israel can effectively defend itself, but also de-escalating tensions, avoiding conflict.  And that remains our focus.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I’m not going to speak to anything other than to say we were not involved in any offensive operations.

With regard to the other questions, first, on China and Russia – look, I think that what we’re seeing is a product of the relationship between those two countries.  You’ve heard them speak to it, including just before Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  We’ve made very clear to China – and many other countries have as well – that they should not be supplying Russia with weapons for use in its aggression against Ukraine.  We’ve not seen the direct supply of weapons, but as I said, what we have seen is not only the direct supply but the critical supply of inputs, of components for Russia’s defense industrial base, which is allowing two things: It’s allowing Russia to continue the aggression against Ukraine.  It’s also helping Russia overall rebuild its defense forces and defense capacity that so much damage has been done to by the Ukrainians, but also by our sanctions and export controls.  And that means that not only is Russia a current threat to Ukraine – it will remain an enduring threat to other European countries. 

And that’s why I said China can’t have it both ways.  It can’t purport to want to have positive, friendly relations with countries in Europe and at the same time be fueling the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.  That was very clear from our conversations around the table.  I believe Europeans have expressed that and will continue to express that clearly to China in the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION:  And Israel’s violations of human rights —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, I’m sorry.  So, on that, I think you’re referring to the so-called Leahy Law and our work under that.  So, this is a very important law, and it’s one that we apply across the board.  And when we’re doing these investigations, these inquiries, it’s something that takes time, that has to be done very carefully both in collecting the facts and analyzing them – and that’s exactly what we’ve done.  And I think it’s fair to say that you’ll see results very soon. I’ve made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead. 

MR MILLER:  For the next question, Oliviero Bergamini with RAI TGI1.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  Two quick questions.  First, do you have the feeling that today’s strike was limited so that Iran was not compelled to react?  In that sense, are you optimistic about not a big war breaking out?  And there is an Iran issue.  Do you think that in the future other countries – like Italy that has historical ties with Iran – could play a role in the de-escalation and the stabilization that you mentioned?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Well, two things.  Again, I’m not going to speak to these reported events.  All I can say is that for our part and for the entire G7, our focus has been on de-escalation, on avoiding a larger conflict, and actually that’s been true since day one after the horrific events of October 7th.  A big part of our approach has been to prevent the conflict from spreading, to avoid escalation everywhere, and that’s a common policy across the G7 and it’s very much our approach now.  So, we’ve been engaged in efforts to avoid escalation.  Those efforts will continue. 

Italy plays a critical role in this as a leading country, as a country that’s engaged around the world with many other countries that have their own relationships with countries involved in the Middle East.  Italy has its own direct engagements.  And I think what we’ve seen over the past 10 days or so – couple of weeks – is that those engagements have been and remain very important to keeping things calm, to avoiding escalation, to preventing a larger conflict.  Italy is an important player in this.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Nadia Bilbassy with Al Arabiya.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, I want to pursue again on the Iran question.  It seems that both the Iranian and the Israeli responses were measured and calculated.  Would you say that now we’re averting a major confrontation and a possible war?  And what messages would the U.S. play in sending to both sides to – for restraint?  And are we back to the proxy war? 

And if – if you allow me on Rafah.  U.S. position is very clear:  You’re opposed a military operation in Rafah as long as there is no plan to evacuate one and a half million Palestinian civilians.  The Israeli Government is adamant to go ahead.  What is your understanding of the plan now, and what is acceptable for the U.S.? 

And finally, on the UN Security Council, the United States looks isolated.  Yesterday, your allies – close allies – France, Japan, and South Korea – both voted for admitting Palestine as a member.  The Israelis, including Netanyahu, on the record saying they oppose two-state solution.  So, what is the path forward and what message do you give to Palestinians and to moderates in the region if you truly want to isolate extremists?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks very much for the questions.  Let me simply, first of all, repeat what our focus has been and what it remains: de-escalation, avoiding conflict.  And so, yes, calling on all concerned to exercise restraint.  That’s what we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, and as necessary that’s what we’ll continue to do.  And again, that’s reflected in the statement that you’ll see coming from all of the G7 countries. 

On Rafah, we have been clear about this, President Biden has been very clear about this:  We cannot support a major military operation in Rafah.  First, there are currently somewhere around 1.4 million people in Rafah, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza.  In the first instance, it’s imperative that people are able to get out of the way of any conflict, and doing that – getting people out of harm’s way – is a monumental task for which we have yet to see a plan.  And not only getting them out of harm’s way, making sure that they can be supported with humanitarian assistance if they’re out of harm’s way.  But second, even if people are largely out of harm’s way, inevitably there’s going to remain a pretty significant civilian population in Rafah, and we believe that a major military operation with a large presence of the civilian population would have terrible consequences for that population. 

We are committed, as Israel is, to ensuring that Gaza cannot be controlled by Hamas.  We’ve seen the devastation and destruction that have resulted from Hamas’s leadership, and the actions that it’s taken – and well before October 7th, what it was providing or, rather, not providing for the Palestinian people made clear that its concern had nothing to do with the Palestinian people – and everything to do with its objectives to destroy Israel.  So, making sure that Hamas cannot repeat the events of October 7th, that’s something that we are united in.  But in terms of major military operations in Rafah, that’s something that we don’t support, and we believe that the objective can be achieved by other means.  We’ve been engaged in conversations at senior levels with Israel over the past couple of weeks on this, including as recently as this week.  Those conversations continue. 

Finally, on the UN Security Council resolution.  First, we are committed – the United States is committed to achieving a Palestinian state.  We believe that is vital to having long-term, sustainable, durable peace and security.  And, of course, it’s the only way to fulfill the aspirations – the rightful aspirations – of the Palestinian people.  But getting to that, achieving that state, has to be done through diplomacy, not through imposition.  And the resolution that was voted at the Security Council will have no effect on actually moving things forward and achieving a Palestinian state.  Again, that can only be accomplished by diplomatic means. 

It’s also important to point this out:  Under United States law, even if we had wanted to vote for this resolution, had we done so, under our law it would have obligated us to cut off all of our funding to the United Nations – clearly not in the interests of anyone, including the Palestinians, particularly given the contributions we make to programs that are vital to them.  But as I said, we’re committed to working to achieve a Palestinian state with the necessary guarantees for Israel’s security.  And we’ve been working on that, including as part of a potential normalization process between Israel and Saudi Arabia – something that we’ve intensely engaged on over the last several months and weeks. 

So, you can see an important path forward that’s there.  And in fact, we saw it in the wake of the unprecedented Iranian attack on Israel. 

We can see, for Israel, a future where a coalition of countries are working together, working together to deal with the Iranian threat and to isolate it, with Israel that’s integrated into the region, with normal relations with its neighbors, and a resolution to the Palestinian question, which is necessary to really deep-root and achieve that coalition.  That’s an incredibly powerful future.  It answers what Israel has long sought, which is to have normal relations throughout the region.  It deals with the single biggest threat to Israel’s security and, for that matter, to the security of most countries in the region and our own, which is Iran and its proxies. 

But to get there, it’s going to require calm in Gaza and it’s going to require a clear pathway to a Palestinian state.  So, we see that as one of the best ways to actually achieve results.  Again, you can put something down on a piece of paper and wave it around – it has no effect.  What does and can have an effect is actual diplomacy, working to achieve these agreements, and then delivering concrete results.  That’s what we’re focused on. 

Finally, I would say this.  Also take a look at the G7 statement today, which shows unity on this question.  It says that there’s going to be a proper time, a rightful time, for recognition.  This is not that time.  We need to do the diplomacy.  We need to do the hard work to bring parties together, to bring the region together, and to demonstrate that there’s a much better future that awaits everyone if they follow this path.

MR MILLER:  And for the final question, Jessica Parker with BBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Jessica Parker, BBC News.  If I can first ask why won’t you address events that have happened overnight?  Isn’t it important that you do so?  Can you tell us if you’ve spoken to your Israeli counterparts?  And I’m interested to know how you would characterize the U.S.-Israel relationship right now.  And, if I can, on Ukraine as well, hopes are obviously rising that the U.S. may pass this $60 billion aid package for Ukraine.  But given the amount of time it’s taken, given the situation in Ukraine, is it coming too late?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, I’m going to be incredibly boring and not make your day by saying, again, I’m not going to speak to what’s been reported, other than to say that United States has not been involved in any offensive operations.  The United States, along with our partners, will continue to work for de-escalation.

On Ukraine, most important thing is getting this aid voted and moving it forward.  And it will, I know, make a profound difference, and make a profound difference almost right away in making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself effectively against the ongoing Russian aggression.  No – is it too late?  No.  If it happens now, it’s not too late.  If it doesn’t happen or takes a lot more time, there is a real risk that, yes, it will be too late.  And you’ve heard others speak to it, including the Secretary of Defense. 

Now, would it have been – would it be better if that aid had been voted months ago? Absolutely.  But in terms of meeting Ukraine’s urgent needs, it’s incredibly timely to get it done right away – this weekend.  So, I’m convinced and all of our experts are convinced that it can and will make a hugely important material difference in the success of Ukraine’s defense and the success in repelling the Russian aggression.  But if this continues to linger, yes, there is a real risk that we will get to a point where it’s simply too late. 

QUESTION:  And the U.S.-Israel relationship, sir? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are engaged on a regular, pretty much daily basis.  And we’re committed to helping Israel defend itself, and as necessary, participating in this defense, as you saw just a few days ago – and as you saw not only from us but from a number of other countries.  Again, Israel makes its own decisions, but we have a commitment to defending it.  And you saw an unprecedented attack from Iran into Israel and the United States and others working with Israel to make sure that that attack would not have devastating consequences.  And thankfully, it did not. 

But on all of these issues, whether it’s relationship with Iran, whether it’s the conflict in Gaza, whether it’s Lebanon – you name it – we’re in constant engagement with Israel, just as we’re in constant engagement with allies and partners throughout the region and around the world.  This is a collective effort to try to manage the conflict in the Middle East, to bring the conflict in Gaza to a close, to achieve a ceasefire and the release of hostages. 

And, by the way, a number of other countries around the table today also have hostages in Gaza held by Hamas and other groups.  And it’s also important to remember because I sometimes think that people have forgotten this: we have American hostages – American hostages who’ve been held in the most deplorable conditions all of this time.  So, all of us are working on all of these issues, and what’s so important and what’s reflected in the G7 statement is we’re doing it together. 

And my belief is that our collective influence, our collective diplomacy can make a real difference, first of all, in ending the conflict in Gaza; ensuring that Hamas can never repeat October 7th; getting that ceasefire, the release of hostages; a major expansion in humanitarian assistance; and then turning the corner for the people of Gaza so that we can help rebuild their lives, their livelihoods – and, as I said – deal with the critical long-term issues to enduring peace and stability, including a Palestinian state. 

Thank you. 

MR MILLER:  Thank you all.

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