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Monday, May 20, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to day 27 of UNGA (inaudible).  (Laughter.)  Welcome to Friday, but the end also of a very (inaudible).

As President Biden said to the General Assembly, we are meeting at an historic inflection point.  The importance of the United Nations Charter and its core principles has never been clearer.  The need for cooperation to address challenges no nation can solve alone has never been greater, and I think you saw both of those ideas come together here in New York this week.

We came into this week clear-eyed about the stakes, committed to showing that we can deliver tangible results for the American people – and people around the world – by working in common cause, and determined to marshal the full force of American diplomacy to mobilize effective coalitions capable of meeting the challenges that we face.

As you heard President Biden say to the General Assembly, we can and we must cooperate to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to reform multilateral development banks to meet the needs of low- and middle-income countries, to invest in infrastructure that lays the foundation for broad-based economic opportunity, to address the climate crisis, to strengthen health and food security.

The United States is the world’s leading contributor to all of these crucial efforts – and, as President Biden pledged, we will continue to be.

At the same time, we can and we must continue to defend the pillars of the United Nations Charter, and work to advance international peace and security, without which we can’t achieve any of our goals to build a more free, a more open, a more secure, a more prosperous world.

There’s no choosing between these priorities.  We can do both.  We have to do both.  And as we’ve showed this week, we are doing both.

And let me just take a couple minutes to suggest how we’re doing that.

We’re delivering affirmative solutions for the challenges that are facing developing countries.

You’ve heard us and you’ve heard the President launch and address the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment, or PGI.  You saw that further in action this week.  We brought together private sector leaders to mobilize additional investment on top of the billions we and our G7 partners are already investing toward our goal of delivering $600 billion in high-quality infrastructure investment by the year 2027.

You saw us talk about and move forward on a program we called VACS.  This is the program we have with the African Union and the United Nations on food security and helping countries in Africa in particular develop their own sustainable and effective sources of food.  And here we’re focused on making sure that with the most nutritious African crops – we’re focused on them.  We are breeding climate-resistant varieties and we’re improving the soil they grow in.  This focus on seeds and soil, as we call it, is a key part of the solution to meeting the global demand for food and making sure that countries in Africa in particular are self-reliant.

We convened countries in support of our multilateral mission in Haiti that the UN is now engaged in and working on.  Kenya stepped forward in its willingness to be the lead nation.  And in the weeks ahead, I suspect you’ll see action here at the UN – at the Security Council – to endorse such a force.  This is a critical moment in trying to address the needs in Haiti; in particular, to stabilizing the country so that everything else can move forward – political transition, humanitarian assistance, development.

We’re also forging fit-for-purpose coalitions to tackle emerging challenges.

We brought together for the second time our Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, here in New York convening more than 100 countries, and we’re developing joint plans of action to deal with every aspect of the synthetic drug problem – public health, regulatory, security solutions – all grounded in cooperative work among countries and organizations.  As you’ve heard me say, this is the number one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49 – in our case fentanyl – but this is a problem that is now taking root in many other parts of the world, and the fact that so many countries are digging in to working together and addressing it is evidence of the fact that there’s a strongly felt need to find cooperative global solutions.

We gathered governments, artificial intelligence developers, civil society to help direct AI toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, to making sure that it is used for good to advance the progress that we know we need.  Fostering its positive uses, minimizing its negative uses is a key part of what the United States is working to do every day, including around the world.

We also continue to strengthen our alliances and partnerships and bring them together in new ways.

We had the first-ever leaders level meeting of the C5+1, the group that brings together our Central Asian partners with the United States.  We had meetings with the Quad, with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with ECOWAS.

We brought together the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation – over 30 countries from 4 continents working together to promote a sustainable ocean economy, to advance greater scientific and technological cooperation, and to address together the climate crisis.

Finally, we affirmed our commitment to upholding and defending the United Nations Charter.

In the Security Council, member-states from every region condemned Russia’s war on Ukraine.  They affirmed Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and territorial integrity.  They expressed support for a just and lasting peace.

And, of course, we advanced our work on these priorities in meetings with leaders from around the world.  By my count and the count of the team, I met with more than 90 countries in both bilateral and multilateral meetings.  So you get to cover a lot of ground over the course of five days.

This included candid and constructive discussions with China’s Vice President Han Zheng – showing that we will continue to seek ways to work together on issues where progress demands our common efforts, while managing our competition responsibly.

So this has been an incredibly full week.  And reflecting on it, I think that we saw an international community that looks to the United States—looks to the United States to bring countries together in a way that’s affirmative, that’s inclusive, and that meets the real challenges that people face, while at the same time upholding the basic principles of the international system that we know are vital to maintaining peace and stability.

We delivered on that this week.  We’re going to build on the momentum from this week as we go forward in the weeks and months ahead.

With that, happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  First question goes to Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.  I wanted to ask you about the Army tactical missiles, the ATACMS that the U.S. has agreed to provide to Ukraine.  Was curious:  What were the factors that led you and the others in the administration to make the decision, and do you think there are some missed opportunities in terms of Ukraine not getting this type of weapon or other systems earlier?

I also just wanted a quick follow-up on your UN remarks.  You met with 90 countries.  Is it – is the UN changing?  Is it important to meet with more smaller and developing countries because some of the larger ones don’t show up or don’t see eye to eye on the Security Council?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Will.  The second part first.

I think what was very striking about this week is the fact that, yes, we engaged, I engaged, with 90 countries.  In some ways, that’s typical of these weeks.  But there – there was an intensity to the engagements I think because so many countries recognized that in different ways we’re at what President Biden calls an inflection point, that the substance of the meetings was significant, and the twin pillars of what we’re working on here: on the one hand, upholding the principles of the charter – sovereignty, territorial integrity; and on the other hand, moving forward on the things that matter to people around the world – the global goods that the United States uniquely is in a position to help advance, whether it’s health, whether it’s food security, whether it’s energy security, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s climate, whether it’s reforming the multilateral development and assistance and financial system.

All of those things were front and center.  And by our presence, by our engagement, by the President’s very forceful speech to the United Nations General Assembly, I think we’ve had an ability to demonstrate once again this week that the United States is the country that others look to for leadership, for support, for assistance, for partnership.  It was very powerful and palpable this week.

With regard to Ukraine, you heard President Zelenskyy’s very powerful address to the General Assembly, and you’ve also seen him at the Security Council.  I think what was particularly instructive there was the fact that virtually every country on the Security Council made very clear their support for the UN Charter, for the principles at the heart of the charter that are being aggressed by Russia, and also noted the second- and third-order consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, consequences that are doing tremendous damage to countries around the world.

With regard to our own support for Ukraine, I think we delivered our – if I have the count right – 47th drawdown package of military equipment.  We are constantly in discussions with Ukraine – and this has been the case from day one – on trying to determine what they need and to make sure that they get it when they need it.  And it’s an ongoing process and we’re doing that virtually every day, and so are dozens of other countries around the world that are supporting Ukraine.

And as you’ve heard me say many, many times before, it’s not just an individual system.  You’ve got to make sure that they have the ability to operate the system, so training comes in in many cases.  You’ve got to make sure they have to ability to maintain the system, so if you provide something it doesn’t fall apart in a week’s time.  And you want to make sure that whatever many other countries are providing, it’s being used in an effective and coherent way.

So that’s literally a daily conversation with them.  I don’t have anything to say or certainly to announce on any given weapons system.  You saw what was in the drawdown package that was announced yesterday, and this will – this whole process will continue going forward in terms of looking to address the needs the Ukrainians have to make sure that they can be as successful as possible in continuing to recover the territory that Russia has taken from them.

MR MILLER:  Olivier O’Mahony with Paris Match.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  So – I’m sorry.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  What do you make of the absence of the leaders of the four other permanent members, member-states of the Security Council?  And more particularly, do you regret the absence of President Macron, who is a big supporter of multilateralism?  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I can’t speak to those who are here or not here, what led to their decisions.  These are obviously choices that governments and leaders make.  I can tell you that certainly the French delegation was extremely active and present, led by Foreign Minister Colonna and by many other French diplomats we worked with very closely throughout the week on a wide variety of issues.  So in my own experience this week, my French colleagues and counterparts have been very much engaged and very much present.

Just coming back to what I said a minute ago, I think from our perspective we’ve seen the intense focus, interest, and in many cases reliance of other countries on the work that the United States is doing both to uphold the core principles of the international system as expressed in the UN Charter as well as working to deliver on the needs that people have around the world if we’re going to have a truly open, stable, prosperous, and secure world.

And everything that we did here this week, we found extremely enthusiastic engagement from countries throughout the world, whether it was in our own hemisphere, Africa, the Middle East, Asia.  So for us, this was an extremely productive week , a very good way to be able to make progress on concrete issues that affect the lives of our own citizens and affect the lives of people around the world.

Again, I’d cite just one example of this was the coalition that I mentioned a moment ago that we brought together on dealing with synthetic opioids – in our case, fentanyl, but there – some of the other synthetic drugs that are having devastating consequences in countries around the world, whether it’s captagon or tramadol or methamphetamines.  And our ability to mobilize others in positive collective action, I think, was very much on display this week.  This coalition, among many other things that we’re doing, is one example of that.

MR MILLER:  Humeyra Pamuk with Reuters.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Thank you.  Hello, Mr. Secretary; thank you.  Two questions.  Saudi Crown Prince MBS in an interview this week said, “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, we must, too.”  I’m wondering:  Don’t you find this kind of desire potentially destabilizing for the region?  And doesn’t that comment give you second thoughts about enabling the kingdom to have civil nuclear program as part of the Saudi-Israel normalization deal?  After all, the Iranian nuclear program began with U.S. technology provided under a 1957 agreement under Shah Pahlavi.

My second question is about Senator Menendez.  There are a lot of details in the indictment on how he ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian Government to other U.S. senators advocating for them to release a hold on 300 million in aid to Egypt.  And just last week, you have used your right to waive human rights conditions on $235 million of military aid to Egypt.  While the allegations are from 2018, I’m wondering:  Don’t you think today’s indictments cast a shadow on that decision, your decision last week?  There are calls for that decision to be reviewed.  What do you say?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Humeyra.  Second part first.  This is obviously an active and ongoing legal matter, so you’ll understand that I have no comment on it.

With regard to Iran and nuclear weapons, I think the comments that you alluded to point to the fact that Iran’s own activities in pursuing a nuclear program are a profoundly destabilizing element and one that risks the security of countries not only in the region but well beyond it, which is why we’re determined – President Biden is determined – that Iran never acquire a nuclear weapon.  And as we’ve said many times, we believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that.  As you know, we tried to work indirectly with Iran as well as with European partners, and even Russia and China, to see if we could get a return to joint compliance with the Iran nuclear agreement, the so-called JCPOA, but Iran couldn’t or wouldn’t do that.  And so the problem is very clear, and the problem is Iran.  That is the destabilizing element.

Just this past week, we saw them remove IAEA inspectors, who are critical to doing the work of the IAEA, to, as best it can, ensure that Iran is being consistent with whatever obligations it has and is – and having a clear sense of what they’re actually doing.  So that is not evidence of an Iran that’s interested in actually being a responsible actor when it comes to its nuclear program, and that is the destabilizing element.

MR MILLER:   Serife Cetin with Anadolu Agency.

QUESTION:  Secretary, thank you for the opportunity.  We’ve seen that the U.S. has been following the developments in Karabakh very closely, and I believe you also spoke about this with your Turkish counterpart.  Mr. Secretary, in a recent phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, you said that the U.S. fully supports Armenia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence.  I’d just like to know if the U.S. also recognizes and supports Azerbaijan’s right to restore its own territorial integrity, including in Karabakh.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Well, first let me say this.  I had the opportunity this week to speak to both leaders – Prime Minister Pashinyan, President Aliyev.  And what I expressed to both is our deep concern about the actions this past week, particularly Azerbaijan’s military actions.  And as a general proposition, for the United States we want to make clear that the use of force is unacceptable and it runs counter to the efforts that we’ve been engaged in – but more important, both countries have been engaged in – to find a just and dignified peace in the region.

This is something that’s manifestly in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Both have invested in it, including President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan.  And this is something that we’ve worked to support along with the European Union.  So the actions that we saw this week simply run counter to that effort, and that kind of just and durable peace that we’re working toward would be a tremendous benefit to both countries, to the region, and also, I think, a strong change for the better in the current of history after 30 years of conflict.

I’m also deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation for the population inside Nagorno-Karabakh, and the imperative of having unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations to reach populations in need is also front and center in our thinking.  So we’ve been in close touch with all sides – we’ve been in close touch with the European Union as well – to try to move this back to a better place.  There have been conversations just over the last 24 hours involving Baku, involving those representing ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.  And moving back to talking, negotiating, diplomacy is where we want to drive this.

When it comes to sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, we stand for those propositions for everyone concerned.

MR MILLER:  And for the final question, Iain Marlow from Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Hi there, Secretary; thank you.  I just wanted to ask on the Canada-India diplomatic spat over the alleged murder of the Sikh leader in Canada by agents of the Indian Government – two questions.  First, there’s been reports that President Biden brought this issue up with Modi personally and that a Five Eyes ally provided signals and human intelligence that formed the backbone of Trudeau’s accusations in parliament earlier this week.  I’m just wondering:  Can you tell us anything about – anything more about U.S. engagement with Canada on this issue?  And ongoing U.S. engagement with India – as people have said – spokespeople from the NSC have said – is ongoing.

And second, in comments in New York yesterday, Trudeau framed Canada’s pursuit of these allegations not just as a process of finding justice for a Canadian citizen who was murdered, but as part of a broader battle to defend the international rules-based order.  And I’m just wondering:  India’s obviously a growing strategic partner of the U.S.  How do these allegations square with India’s desire to play an increasingly prominent role on the world stage?  And if these allegations turned out to be true, doesn’t that undermine the U.S. vision of India as a pillar of democratic values that can help counterbalance China in Asia?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Iain.  Let me say a few things about this.  First, we are deeply concerned about the allegations that Prime Minister Trudeau has raised.  We have been consulting throughout very closely with our Canadian colleagues – and not just consulting, coordinating with them – on this issue.  And from our perspective, it is critical that the Canadian investigation proceed, and it would be important that India work with the Canadians on this investigation.  We want to see accountability, and it’s important that the investigation run its course and lead to that result.

I’m not going to characterize or otherwise speak to diplomatic conversations that we have.  We’ve been engaged directly with the Indian Government as well.  And again, I think the most productive thing that can happen now is to see this investigation move forward, be completed.  And we would hope that our Indian friends would cooperate with that investigation as well.

More broadly – and you’ve heard me speak to this – we are extremely vigilant about any instances of alleged transnational repression, something we take very, very seriously.  And I think it’s important more broadly for the international system that any country that might consider engaging in such acts not do so.  So it’s something that we’re also focused on in a much broader way.

Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-a-press-availability-38/

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