Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you very much for joining us. Let’s start with Ukraine. We know from what the Ukrainians themselves are saying, what the reporting is, that they are now being massively outgunned by the Russians. They say their weapons are not being replaced quickly enough or adequately; they don’t have close to the amount of weapons and ammunition they need. The tide has turned in Russia’s favor?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, I think, Judy, what we’re seeing is a very intense fight in the Donbas, in eastern and also in southern Ukraine. There are significant causalities on both sides. It’s horrific, and it’s the result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. There is a very intense effort that is ongoing as we speak to make sure that the Ukrainians are getting what they need, when they need it, to deal with the Russian aggression. And it’s not going to be linear. There are, tragically, ups and downs in this. And again, there are significant causalities on both sides. But there is a very, very significantly coordinated effort being undertaken to make sure that the Ukrainians get what they need when they need it, and that will continue.
We’ve said for some time that, unfortunately, this is likely to go on for some time, and this is what we’re seeing on the ground. But there’s a big difference. The Ukrainians are fighting for their country; they’re fighting for their future; they’re fighting for their freedom. It’s unclear what the Russians are fighting for, except to advance the whims of Vladimir Putin and the bizarre belief that Ukraine is not a sovereign, independent country and needs to be subsumed somehow into Russia. So I am convinced and confident that, at the end of the day, Ukraine’s independence, Ukraine’s sovereignty will prevail and will be there long after Vladimir Putin has left the scene.
But meanwhile, there is terrible death, there’s terrible discussion, and that’s the result of Russia’s aggression. We are determined that Ukraine get what it needs to deal with this aggression and ultimately to have a strong hand at any negotiating table that emerges.
QUESTION: And right now, though, the Ukrainians say they are not getting what they need. What more can the U.S. do right now to help them?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Judy, it’s literally happening as we speak. Some weeks ago Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put together a group of about 40 countries in Ramstein, Germany, to make sure that all of the assistance that Ukraine needs is being actively coordinated and getting in. That group of countries is working every single day to make sure it’s happening.
But of course, there’s tremendous suffering on the front lines, on the battlefield. The Ukrainians are feeling that; they’re suffering from that. We’re deeply concerned by it, but we’re also working 24/7 to make sure that they get what they need.
QUESTION: Well, what we’re hearing from experts, though, at the same time, is no matter how unfair or repugnant it may seem, that it is now appearing inevitable that Ukraine is going to have to make territorial concessions in the east. Is that what you see, that they are going to have to bow to Vladimir Putin and give him that territory that he says he wants?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Judy, Ukraine’s future is up to the Ukrainians. It’s up to the Ukrainian people and, ultimately, those decisions will be made by its democratically elected government, including President Zelenskyy. He will have to determine what’s in the best interests of his country, of his people, and we’ll support that. We’re not going to be less Ukrainian than the Ukrainians; we’re not going to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians. But it is fundamentally up to them. And that’s ultimately what this is about. Vladimir Putin is trying to take away from Ukrainians the right to determine their own future. We strongly support that right and we’ll look to the Ukrainians to decide what’s in their best interest.
QUESTION: Let me turn to the Middle East, Mr. Secretary. President Biden’s July trip to the region announced today, including a stop in Saudi Arabia and a meeting with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence, as you know, has said had a role – masterminded the murder and the dismemberment of Washington Post journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. The President had called the crown prince a pariah and said that any meeting would be antithetical to what America stands for. He’s now done a 180. How is this not a triumph of oil and energy over values and human rights?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think the President spoke to this the other day when he made very clear that human rights remains central to our foreign policy, as well as our obligation to advance American interests and American values. And when it comes to Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of different things at play. This has been a longstanding partner for the United States, over decades, generations, a vital partner in dealing with extremism, in contending with the challenge posed by Iran. We have about 70,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, when we came in, the President made clear that we were determined to recalibrate the relationship – not rupture it, recalibrate it, to make sure that it better reflected our interests and our values. When it comes to Khashoggi, when it comes to the – his murder, one of the earliest things that we did was to release the full report on what happened, including assessing blame for and responsibility for the murder, with the full imprimatur of the U.S. Government, a report that I released. We instituted the Khashoggi Ban to try to make sure that countries that sought to repress critics in other countries would pay a price for doing that, and we’ve actually used the Khashoggi Ban more than 70 times now.
So we’ve been very clear about both responsibility and accountability for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. At the same time, we have a lot of – we have other values at stake. One of them is making sure that one of the worst wars that we’ve seen in the last decade, one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world, in Yemen, that that war comes to an end. Saudi Arabia has been indispensable in helping us to achieve something that many have not taken much note of, but is hugely important. We have a truce now in Yemen, the first one in eight years, and it’s now been extended for its ninth week. That’s a lot of humanitarian assistance to get to people who hadn’t been getting it for years. Some of the guns have stopped firing. And as a result, we also have an opportunity – fragile – to get something sustainable and to really build an enduring peace in Yemen. That advances our interests, it also advances our values, and Saudi Arabia is critical to that.
QUESTION: Well, in this meeting, will the President confront the crown prince on the Khashoggi murder? And if not, why not?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of what’s going to happen in Saudi Arabia, but I can say this – and again, the President’s been very clear – human rights will remain at the heart of our agenda, along with the other interests and values that we’re trying to advance. In my own conversations with Saudi counterparts and Saudi officials, I regularly raise human rights, including individual cases and more systemic challenges that continue to be posed in Saudi Arabia. I would expect the President to do the same.
QUESTION: And one other follow-up there: In return for the U.S. reprieve on this, it’s been reported that the Saudis agreed to increase oil production. Is this the case? And if so, how long do you expect that to continue?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Energy is one of the issues that we talk about with Saudi Arabia, along with everything else that I just mentioned, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s dealing with extremism, whether it’s contending with Iran, whether it’s building greater regional integration. We’ve seen remarkable things happen in the last few years in bringing countries in the region closer together, including Israel, and that, I’m sure, will be a topic as well. But we will engage the Saudis on energy as we have for years, especially at a time when we want to make sure that there’s more energy on the markets and that ultimately prices come down.
QUESTION: Let me turn you quickly to China. There are growing opinions out there, including retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, saying that it’s less likely, they believe, that China would attack Taiwan now, watching what Vladimir Putin is experiencing in Ukraine and also with a look ahead to the 20th Party Congress later this year. Do you agree that it’s less likely that China’s going to move on Taiwan right now – anytime soon?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Judy, I can’t speculate on what China will do or won’t do. And ultimately, what we’re doing is to try to shape the environment in which they’re acting so that that may have an influence on what – on their decisions. But when it comes to Taiwan, we’ve had a longstanding policy that hasn’t changed. There was a status quo that existed, and we’ve been determined to see that no one unilaterally moves to change that status quo. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the last 10 years is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad, to include actions that it’s taken with regard to Taiwan that are potentially dangerous and destabilizing.
China has to make those calculations; we can’t make it for them. But what we can do, as I said, is to shape the environment. One of the things I think that China has to factor into any calculus is the response that we’ve seen to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and so many countries coming together to stand against that aggression, both by making sure that Ukraine had the support that it needed and also making sure that Russia paid a price for the aggression. That’s something that I think China has to look at as it thinks about the future.
QUESTION: Two quick follow-ups to that. One, if China were to attack Taiwan, would the U.S. militarily come to Taiwan’s defense?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been very clear that our commitment to help Taiwan defend itself continues and will be sustained. We’re committed to, as we’ve said many times, our “one China” policy, but also the Taiwan Relations Act and our responsibilities under the Taiwan Relations Act to make sure that Taiwan has the means to effectively defend itself and ultimately, preferably, to deter any aggression.
QUESTION: And a final question on Iran. Now that they have turned off most of the cameras monitoring their nuclear activity, does that mean the prospects for a deal with Iran over its nuclear program and the U.S. are dead?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It certainly makes it even more difficult than it already is. But the fact is, Judy, that we’ve spent a lot of time with our European partners, with China – with Russia, even – over the last year seeking to get back into compliance with the so-called JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal. Much of that work on the deal itself has been done. And unfortunately – more than unfortunately – as you know, in pulling out of the deal, and then in Iran taking steps to restart its nuclear program, we’ve seen terrible results because the breakout time that Iran had under the deal – that is, the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon – has moved from one year when the agreement was enforced to a matter of weeks or less right now.
But the details are there if Iran chooses to move forward in getting back into compliance. What’s happened is that Iran has basically sought to insert extraneous issues into this negotiation that had nothing to do with the JCPOA. It’s also taken actions like the one you cited in starting to remove cameras from facilities that would make it increasingly difficult to get back into the JCPOA, because those cameras are necessary for verifying the agreement. This agreement had probably the most effective and intrusive inspections and monitoring regime of any arms control agreement. If Iran is taking those pieces apart as well, it’s just going to make it more difficult to get back into compliance.
So again, this is up to Iran. It has the ability if it chooses – if it stops trying to insert extraneous issues, if it stops trying to take down these cameras, then there’s still the possibility of getting back into the agreement, which would advance our security, our interests, as well as those of our allies and partners. But the course it’s on right now is moving in the other direction.
QUESTION: Secretary Antony Blinken, thank you very much. A lot on your plate.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you, Judy. Thank you.