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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Darius Rochebin of LCI/TF1

QUESTION:  Good evening, Mr. Secretary of State.  Antony Blinken, you’re head of U.S. foreign policy.  First, Ukraine’s cry for help.  Is the United States in a position to promise that the Ukrainian state, that Kyiv, will never fall into Russian hands?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I am convinced we already have.  In other words, it is not happening, it’s never going to happen.  At the beginning of the Russian aggression in 2022, we thought there was a possibility that Kyiv would fall.  But thanks to the incredible resistance of the Ukrainian people, and thanks also to the support given to Ukraine by the United States, France and other countries, Putin’s desire to conquer the whole country, to wipe it off the map, to make it part of a greater Russia, has not materialized and it won’t.

QUESTION:  Mr. Zelenskyy said: “We’re not 100% sure that Putin won’t use nuclear weapons.”  And he added, “That’s what makes President Biden cautious.”  Do you, indeed, have to take that risk into account?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: From the start, from day one, President Biden was convinced of two things: that we had to do everything possible to support Ukraine, because the aggression against Ukraine was not just an aggression against the Ukrainian people and against the country, but against all the basic principles of the international system.  But he was also convinced that we had to avoid a war with Russia.

QUESTION:  A nuclear escalation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  An escalation, whether conventional or nuclear.  And so, since then, he’s been leading with great clarity in this direction: supporting Ukraine but avoiding a war with Russia.

QUESTION: It’s not just theoretical.  Don’t we remember the warning that went out about a possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine?  If that were to happen, would the United States respond?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  There was indeed a moment when there was fear. I think that —

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) there were concrete messages to that effect.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All I can say is that there was a fear that it was possible.  But I think the Russians heard not only from the United States, not only from France, but from many other countries, including China, that a nuclear weapon should absolutely not be used.

QUESTION:  But in principle, Mr. Secretary of State, compared to the use of conventional weapons, would the slightest nuclear use, even tactical weapons, be a complete change?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  For us, it would be a complete change, yes.

QUESTION:  With consequences for Russia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  With consequences.  But we’re doing everything, of course, to avoid this possibility and to avoid a war, a bigger war.  But at the same time, we absolutely must support Ukraine, because the Russian aggression continues to this day, it continues to do appalling damage within Ukraine, and it continues to present a danger not only to Ukraine, but to Europe as well.

QUESTION:  The Balts are expressing their fear of a more conventional war.  It would be a Russian incursion into the Baltic territories and, as in Crimea in 2014, a fait accompli.  Would the United States militarily prevent it this time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  You know, we have an exceptional asset, which is NATO.  And the basic idea of NATO is that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on everyone.

QUESTION:  Article 5.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Article 5.  And I don’t think it’s in Mr. Putin’s interest to widen the conflict, especially with or against a NATO member.

QUESTION:  Mr. Blinken, do you understand that this is the crucial question – for the Balts, in particular? Can they be assured that even one foot of a Russian soldier on Baltic territory would lead to a military response from the United States of America?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: A millimeter or a centimeter.  For us, Article 5 is essential.

QUESTION: With a military reaction?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I won’t go into specific hypotheses, but I think that any adversary who is aggressive against a NATO member knows that he will get a response from NATO, including the United States.

QUESTION:  That’s you.  If it’s Mr. Trump, does that change?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  You know, all I can do is manage today and do the best I can with all my colleagues.  The future —

QUESTION:  But do you understand, excuse me, Mr. Secretary of State, the fear of Europeans who wonder, ‟If Mr. Trump is there, there may be a disengagement from NATO?”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I hear fears coming from my colleagues, from my fellow citizens, but, you know, there are often fears when there are changes in democracies, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s France, whether it’s any democratic country where there’s a change of government every four years, every six years or whatever, there’s always something, because of course you get used to what you’ve got.  You don’t know what’s coming next, but what I can tell you is that this year will mark 75 years of NATO, 75 years of American administrations, Republicans and Democrats, supporting NATO.  I’m convinced that it will continue, no matter what.

QUESTION:  You have helped Ukraine powerfully.  You rule out – that’s clear – American troops in Ukraine, don’t you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  However, what happens if the French – Mr. Macron has said, “it’s not out of the question” – the Finns, the Poles go for it.  It’s their choice.  Will it require a NATO consensus?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I stay away from making hypotheses for the future.  Our policy is clear.  President Biden’s policy is clear.  There will be no American troops on Ukrainian soil.

QUESTION:  Why not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Because for us, it’s something that will lead closer to a direct conflict with Russia, which we want to avoid.  It’s not in our interest and it’s not in the interest of the Allies. But at the same time —

QUESTION:  Excuse me.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Would it be like a stab in the pact since, let’s say, the Cold War when there’s been no direct confrontation between the two nuclear powers, for ground troops to take place?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  For us, it’s a matter of national interest.  It’s not in our interest to have a direct conflict with Russia.  I don’t think it’s in the interest of any of the NATO members.  But at the same time, there is a determination, a conviction that we must do our utmost to support Ukraine, and do so not only this year, but in the years to come.

Because the real danger – there is an immediate danger on the ground – but the greatest danger is the idea that may be in Putin’s head, that he can outlast us, that we’ll end up fading away, whether it’s us, Europe or the other partners.  I think it’s essential to convince Putin that this won’t be the case.

QUESTION:  But, Antony Blinken, once again, if the French also go, the Finns, the Poles, etc., is it at our peril or do you think it will involve NATO?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Everyone must make decisions on a national level and on an Alliance level too.

QUESTION:  Will the Alliance have to come to an agreement?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, I won’t go into hypotheticals, but I know very well that, with the relations we have within the Alliance, the relations we have directly with France, everything we do, we do together.  We talk about it, we discuss it, and we decide together.

QUESTION:  In Brazil, President Macron raised the possibility of Vladimir Putin taking part in the next G20 meeting, provided, he said, that it would be useful and that there was a consensus among all G20 members.  Do you see this as a possibility, under these conditions?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  If there’s a consensus among all the members and if it’s useful, yes.  In the current situation, it’s hard to see how it could be useful and how there could be a consensus among all the members —

QUESTION:  For you, would a Putin-Biden handshake be conceivable, provided, of course, that it was useful?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The idea has never been to exclude Russia or Mr. Putin.  It’s the actions, it’s the policy of Russia and of Mr. Putin that triggers what happens in terms of Russia’s relations with the G20 or with the G7, with the world.  So, if policy changes, we don’t rule anything out.  The problem is that we don’t have any proof, for the moment, that policy is changing.

QUESTION:  But if the policy changes, can we talk to Mr. Putin again very directly, even at a summit?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I hope there will be a day, and I hope that day will come sooner rather than later, when relations between our countries and Russia will be quite different from the current one.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and it’s not the case because of Mr. Putin’s policies.

QUESTION:  So, to be perfectly clear, he’s not a pariah forever?  Not necessarily?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Russia is not a pariah, and for us, it’s not so much the individuals, the personalities, that count, it’s the policy pursued by a country.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary of State, there is obviously another major crisis, in the Middle East, and you’ve made no secret of your disagreements with Benjamin Netanyahu.  We won’t go into them in detail, but in your opinion, how dangerous is the strong-arm policy he’s pursuing?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There is an extraordinary challenge for Israel.  It’s what to do after the October 7 attack, the day after.  How to live with Hamas and the danger it represents, a continuous danger?  It was not only normal, but almost an obligation to respond, and to respond in such a way that October 7 could never happen again.  And don’t forget that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

There have been attacks on Israel by Hamas in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2021, 2023.  At the same time, we have said from the outset that we support Israel’s right to protect itself, to ensure that October 7 does not happen again.  But how Israel goes about this mission is also important.

QUESTION:  Is it too brutal?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  What we’ve seen with the loss of life, the children, the women, the men who find themselves in the middle of this confrontation, the damage is terrible.  At the same time, the fact that humanitarian aid isn’t enough for the people of Gaza, that’s a danger and an immediate necessity.

QUESTION:  Antony Blinken, we understand the necessity of security for Israel.  But we also need to give hope to the Palestinians.  Some say they will unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state right from the start.  Today, the Prime minister of Spain says he might do so.  Emmanuel Macron has said that this is a tool that can be used when the time comes.  Do you share this opinion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Our desire, our goal, is the establishment of a Palestinian state, because we are convinced —

QUESTION:  But it seems a long way off.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Especially today, it can seem a long way off.  Even before October 7, it seemed very far away.

QUESTION:  But that means that the act of saying, OK, we’re already recognizing, now, we’re making this political act of saying, obviously, we must protect Israel, but at the same time, we’re recognizing a Palestinian state.  Is that possible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: What’s important is that there should be a real agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, not an agreement that is applied unilaterally by other countries, but a real agreement between the two.  But there also needs to be leadership from the world’s major countries to try and reach this destination.  Let me give you an example.

Israel wants to have a normal relationship with Saudi Arabia.  That would be something historic and extraordinary.  We’re working on it, but in order – and I think it’s possible – to make it a reality, we’ll need two things:  calm in Gaza and an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So we can see, if you like, a possible path.

QUESTION:  In many cases, compromises are necessary, compromises in the Middle East, or compromises, and I come back to this, in Ukraine.  Will a territorial compromise ever be necessary?  Some people are thinking of the Donbass and Crimea.  Or do you believe that it is a matter of international law, and we should not mess with it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  For us, what matters is the desire, the will of the Ukrainian people.  It’s up to them to decide.  Whatever they decide, we’ll support them.  But I am also convinced of one thing: despite the present challenges, first of all, we have a defeat, a strategic debacle for Russia in Ukraine.  Russia is militarily, economically and diplomatically weaker.  The Ukrainian people are united, in solidarity, against Russia, which was not the case before 2014, the first aggression against Ukraine.

Europe has cut off its dependence on Russia for energy, and NATO is now stronger, bigger, with two new members.  This was something we didn’t contemplate at all before 2022.  So we already know that.  And we also know that Ukraine has the capacity to be a strong state, militarily, economically and democratically.

The path is there, it’s taking shape, but we need the support of the United States, France and Europe.

QUESTION:  One last word, Antony Blinken.  We’re here at the U.S. residence.  Thank you for your French.  (Inaudible) of Jefferson, the Founding father, he’s here.  He used this striking phrase, “the United States, Empire of Liberty.”  Even today, you’re an imperial power.  The war of aggression in Iraq, the NSA wiretaps, but at the same time, you say:  No.  A little bit? A lot?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Imperial, no.  We have no desire to conquer territory, to keep territory.  We’ve had interventions that, with hindsight, with time, we would have done something else.

QUESTION:  Do you regret them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  But all I can say is —

QUESTION:  You haven’t answered my question.  Do you regret them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes, I have regrets, absolutely, about Iraq, like many people.

QUESTION:  But, sorry, I was going to say you’re at the same time a defender of freedom for Western Europe, we need you.  Are you still the world’s policeman?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m convinced of two things.  First, for just about all the problems that have an impact on the lives of the American people or the lives of the French, we need to cooperate and coordinate with other countries, whether it’s the United States or France.  Alone, we don’t have the capacity to manage all these problems.  But I’m convinced of another thing too: without the commitment of the United States, things will be more difficult to try to manage and reach a common goal.  So for us, the essential thing is to create partnerships, to create better coordination.  And that starts with long-standing allies like France.  But any country willing to play by the rules of the international game is a partner, and we’re up for it.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary of State, thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-darius-rochebin-of-lci-tf1/

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