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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Jake Tapper of CNN’s State of the Union – United States Department of State

QUESTION:  And joining me now is Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Secretary Blinken, thanks for joining us.  I do want to start with this devastating earthquake in Morocco Saturday morning.  The death toll staggering, expected to rise, of course.  Rescuers struggling to reach some hard-to-hit – hard-hit areas.  Obviously the first 24 to 48 hours are the most crucial.  What is the U.S. doing to help?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Jake, you’re right:  This is devastating.  And we’ve reached out immediately to the Moroccan Government to offer any assistance that we can provide.  We have mobilized the government itself to be ready to provide that assistance.  We have U.S. Agency for International Development, which takes the lead in these efforts, that is ready to go.  And we await word from the Moroccan Government to find out how we can help, where we can help.  But we’re ready to go.

QUESTION:  G20 leaders agreed to a joint declaration that in part called for countries to “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition” against other sovereign nations.  That is significantly weaker language than last year’s joint statement, which called for Russia’s “complete and unconditional withdrawal” from Ukraine.  Why did the U.S. agree to a watered-down declaration that does not even condemn Russia by name or explicitly call for Russia to leave Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jake, the G20 countries in the statement all stood up for the importance of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and that’s very clear.  I was in the room when all the leaders spoke today with President Biden, and it was very clear from everything that they said that not only do they want to see this war end, but they want to see it end on just and durable terms, and it was also very clear that the consequences of Russia’s aggression are being felt throughout the G20 countries and throughout the developing world.  So there was, I think, real clarity from the leaders in the room, and again, the statement strongly affirms the proposition that this is about Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty – the principles that are at the heart of the United Nations Charter.

QUESTION:  But I’ve heard you talk about this issue.  You must be disappointed that they couldn’t agree to stronger language.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think it’s very important that the G20 spoke as one.  I mean, to some extent, maybe it’s the G19 because obviously Russia is also here – it’s part of the G20 – but the fact that we have a statement coming out collectively of, again, affirming the importance of Ukraine, its territorial integrity and sovereignty, that speaks loudly.  But what really speaks loudly, again, are the leaders in the room itself.  And I think if you were on the receiving end of what so many of them said, if you were in the Russian seat, it’s pretty clear where the rest of the world stands.

QUESTION:  So Speaker McCarthy right now appears to be moving to separate the nearly $24 billion in new funding to help Ukraine from this potential spending deal to avert a government shutdown later this month.  What would that mean for Ukraine’s offensive if the aid is separated and if that aid ultimately is not approved by Congress?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, this is a moving picture, and I think it’s very clear to us and to many in Congress that this additional assistance is something that Ukraine needs in this moment to continue to carry out the counteroffensive, to regain its territory, as well as to strengthen its defense, its military going forward.  It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart and necessary thing to do in our own interest.  Because as we’ve said from day one, if we allow this Russian aggression to go forward with impunity, it’s not just Ukrainians who are suffering.  It’s virtually everyone around the world who relies on the principles that are at the heart of the UN Charter, including that one big country can’t simply trample on the borders of another, invade it, and try to take it over.

Because if we allow that to go forward with impunity, if we don’t stand up against that, then it’s open season everywhere around the world.  I heard Leader McConnell speak very powerfully to this, other colleagues on the House side like Chairman Mike McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  So we’ve had a strong bipartisan partnership with Congress throughout.  I would expect that to continue.

QUESTION:  So SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has recently confirmed a report that’s in Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk that last year, Musk blocked access to his Starlink satellite network in Crimea in order to disrupt a major Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy there.  In other words, Musk effectively sabotaged a military operation by Ukraine, a U.S. ally, against Russia, an aggressor country that invaded a U.S. ally.  Should there be repercussions for that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jake, I can’t speak to a specific episode.  Here’s what I can tell you:  Starlink has been a vital tool for the Ukrainians to be able to communicate with each other, and particularly for the military to communicate in their effort to defend all of Ukraine’s territory.  It remains so and I would expect it to continue to be critical to their efforts.  So what we would hope and expect is that that technology will remain fully available to the Ukrainians.  It is vital to what they’re doing.

QUESTION:  I don’t know that you can’t speak to it; you won’t speak to it.  Musk says he was reportedly afraid that Russia would retaliate with nuclear weapons.  Musk says that’s based on his private discussions he had with senior Russian officials.  Are you concerned that Musk is apparently conducting his own diplomatic outreach to the Russian Government?  Really, none of this concerns you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jake, I can’t speak to conversations that may or may not have happened.  I don’t know.  I’m focused on the fact that the technology itself – Starlink – has been really important to the Ukrainians.  It remains so and it should continue to be part of what they’re able to call on to be able to communicate with themselves and, again, to have the military be able to communicate.

Throughout this Russian aggression, we have – we ourselves have always had to factor in what Russia may do in response to any given thing that we or others do or the Ukrainians do, and we have.  But what’s so critical now is that Ukraine has had real success over the past year.  I was just in Ukraine, as you know.  The last time I was there was almost exactly a year ago.  In that year, from the last time I was there till this week, the Ukrainians have retaken more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Russia since February of 2022.  They’re now engaged in a critical counteroffensive, and we’re doing everything we can to maximize our support for them along with many other countries so that they can be successful.  Starlink is an important part of their success, and as I said, we expect that it will continue to be so.

QUESTION:  It sounds like Starlink is so important that the U.S. Government doesn’t want to risk offending a capricious billionaire who did some things that I think in another situation the U.S. Government might want to say something about.  But let’s move on.

Last month marked two years since the Abbey Gate bombing in Afghanistan that killed 13 servicemembers during the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal.  I recently spoke to Gold Star family members of those lost servicemembers, and they told me that they think the Biden administration – specifically the Pentagon – is not giving them the answers and the accountability that they need for what happened to their loved ones that day.  Does the Pentagon need to be more forthcoming about what happened that day to those 13 servicemembers?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Jake, I can’t even begin to put myself in the shoes of those who lost their loved ones and who were acting so heroically and bravely.  I can’t begin to imagine what they’re feeling.  I can just say that if I were in their shoes, I’d probably feel exactly the same way.  And we’re determined as an administration to make sure that for the entire duration of the war, including Abbey Gate, that we draw the lessons that we need to draw from it and act accordingly.  And we will and we are.

At the same time, the President made a very difficult but very important decision to end America’s longest war – 20 years.  And we want to make sure, and as a result of what the President did we can make sure, that we’re not going to have another generation going to Afghanistan to fight and die there as we had for 20 years.  So we did the right thing.  But of course, we will look very hard at everything, every aspect of the decisions that we made to make sure that we get it right every time going forward, and that everyone who was involved feels that appropriate justice has been done to the sacrifice of their loved ones.

But again, for me, I had a chance to see many of these families when we brought their loved ones home through Dover, and it’s a – it’s something that, again, I just can’t fully put myself in their shoes.  I have so much admiration for the extraordinary courage of service of Sergeant Gee, Corporals Lopez, Espinoza, so many others.  They were extraordinary.

But I’ll say one last thing.  Like so many other people, I’ve been engaged, as you have, in the war in Afghanistan, Iraq over 20 years.  And during that time, I was in government virtually the entire time.  I was out at Dover repeatedly as we brought the remains of our servicemembers home.  I was in a C-17 with a flag-draped coffin coming back from one of those battlefields.  I know the sacrifice of so many over so many years.  And I know that because President Biden ended America’s longest war, that won’t be the case going forward – that we will not, as I said, be sending another generation of Americans to fight and die there.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, thank you so much for your time today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Jake.

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